Careers: Interviews
Internationally Recognized Top-Level Consultant, Writer, Author, Public Speaker, and Webcaster on Microsoft Technologies

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Kenton Gardinier.

Kenton Gardinier is a senior consultant with Convergent Computing. He has designed and implemented technical and business driven solutions for organizations of all sizes around the world for over 10 years. He has also led early adopter engagements implementing products such as Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 prior to the products' release for numerous organizations.

Kenton is an internationally recognized author and public speaker. His speaking engagements include various industry renowned conferences as well as web casts. He has authored, co-authored, and contributed to several books on Windows, Exchange, security, performance tuning, administration, and systems management. Kenton has also written several magazine columns specializing in various technologies. He holds many certifications including MCSE, CISSP, and MCSA.

His latest book credits which are attracting widespread reader attention are, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Unleashed, Second Edition (Sams) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Unleashed (Sams).

Discussion:

Q: Kenton, as an acknowledged world authority in Microsoft technologies, we are very fortunate to have you with us for this interview. Thank you for taking the time!

A: Thank you Stephen, I welcome the opportunity.

Q: With such an extensive background in computing, can you share any surprising experiences?

A: Interestingly enough, being a consultant on a variety of projects for organizations around the world has in some ways numbed me to a majority of surprises. What some may consider to be alarming issues, like a company not backing up critical infrastructure or having wide-open security, are more commonplace than anyone would like to believe. I have to admit though that when a company prides itself on a particular technology, like selling products over the web, but doesn’t invest enough into the infrastructure, such as not providing enough redundancy or failing to follow industry standard security best practices, it always surprises me a little.

Q: Can you share with us, any humorous stories?

A: I’m not sure if you’d categorize this as humorous but you definitely have to take a slightly light-hearted approach or go insane. The first is the ever classic consultant/client relationship where the client informs you that a particular system or solution has been working flawlessly and that it hasn’t needed to be taken offline for a considerably long time. Of course, when you happen to be in the same building when it suddenly breaks, you may be asked why you didn’t warn them or provide advice on how to mitigate the risk of downtime. Fortunately this doesn’t happen very often. Before anyone learns this hard lesson, always make sure that you have gained as complete an understanding of the environment or integrated parts before designing or implementing a solution. Also, communication and documentation can be lifesavers as well.

Q: Describe your work as a senior consultant with Convergent Computing.

A: As a senior consultant, I’m constantly faced with new and challenging opportunities which make the work all the more exciting. It also gives me the chance to interact with many different people, various management and operational styles, a myriad of technical solutions, as well as a variety of different industries. One of the best aspects of consulting is always determining business requirements and translating them into technical requirements. You’re not just implementing technical solutions because it’s the latest and greatest thing. You’re actually solving real-world problems by leveraging your knowledge, soft skills, and experiences at other companies.

Q: You have designed and implemented solutions worldwide. Share with us two case studies and the lessons you have learned from each one.

A: Case 1: A fairly recent world-wide implementation of SharePoint Portal Server 2003 really reminded me how important it is to get the business side of the company intimately involved early on. This wasn’t necessarily completely reflective of the fact that it was a world-wide implementation, but rather was an important consideration in any size engagement. The business’ requirements and requests definitely helped shape the solution but all the interaction between the various groups also helped everyone understand other points of view, motivations, and constraints.

Case 2: Another important lesson quickly learned from some of the larger solutions that I’ve helped deploy was very much influenced because it was taking shape on a world-wide stage. For instance, something as simple as working out scheduled downtimes for maintenance turned out to require more than simply choosing appropriate times during after business hours. Since this organization was located throughout the world, we had to take time zones, cultures, and various lines of business (that worked on different shifts) into account. As you can imagine, this influenced our design as well. This is just one of many examples of why planning is critical to all projects but especially to those larger ones.

Q: Talk about your early adopter engagements implementing products such as Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 prior to the products' release for numerous organizations.

A: Early adopter programs are great opportunities for all parties involved. It’s a win-win because everyone learns about the product in great detail way in advance of others and you have an opportunity to make the product(s) work better while providing a solution to fit the business and technical needs of the organization. The teams that I have worked with at Microsoft have been phenomenal and I keep up with them to this day.

Q: Share your top five tips from each of these items.

A: 1) Speaking engagements:

a) Know your audience – without knowing who you’re speaking to you may be caught unprepared or worse deliver a presentation that doesn’t excite or attract your audience.
b) Prepare your presentation according to your audience
.
c) Know your subject matter cold - Technical audiences are more forgiving towards speaking inadequacies but not on technical content.
d) Integrate the audience - Provide demos, questions, and other interactions to bring the audience into the presentation. People don’t always want to be lectured.
e) When you think you are prepared, go back and think about what people may want to find out.

2) Windows, Exchange, security, performance tuning, administration, and systems management:

a) Be proactive in everything that you do. Employ systems and operational management tools to help you better understand the changing environment.
b) Seek and obtain executive sponsorship so that decisions are driven mostly by the business rather than the latest technology.
c) Take a methodical approach to projects and include time for planning, design, prototyping, piloting, implementation, and support.
d) Be flexible and listen carefully.
e) Do your research, learn from others, and try to improve upon what you’ve learned or implemented.

3) Magazine columns

a) Start the writing process by outlining the flow.
b) Know your material inside out… you’re bound to get questions from readers.
c) Illustrate what you’re trying to convey with examples and screen shots.
d) Help the reader along by providing step-by-steps.
e) Be clear and concise!

4) Obtaining certifications including your MCSE, CISSP, and MCSA.

a) It goes without saying that diligently studying the material is a necessity.
b) Implement the products or technologies several times in the real-world or a lab before taking the test.
c) Consult magazines, newsgroups, colleagues, etc. to gain more insight.
d) Keep in mind that the Microsoft exams reflect real-world scenarios more so now than they ever have before so experience will help you pass more than mere memorization. 
e) Hands-on knowledge is almost always more valuable than certification.

Q: Provide an overview of your latest book credit, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Unleashed, Second Edition (Sams). Why should our readers study this book? What differentiates it from other books?

A: One of the biggest factors that compels me to recommend the book is that it is written through hands-on experience. We’ve implemented Windows Server 2003 for countless organizations of all sizes and many of those were well in advance of the product’s release. All these experiences are shared in this book. One way that clearly differentiates it from the competition is not only the content but the way it is organized. Plus, there isn’t a lot of nonsense, rambling, or fluff just to make the book bigger.

Q: Provide ten tips from the book.

A: 1) Establish a caching-only server in small branch office situations to alleviate large amounts of client query traffic across the network and to eliminate the need to replicate entire DNS zones to remote locations.
2) Use SMTP-based replication if the physical links on which the replication traffic passes are not always on (or intermittent).
3) When using ADMT, migrate groups into a new domain first to keep users’ group membership intact.
4) Use the No Override and Block settings in GPOs sparingly.
5) Use MOM or third-party operations management application to proactively manage Windows Server 2003.
6) Use WMI to access and manipulate server files and file security.
7) Document daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly maintenance tasks to ensure the health of the systems.
8) Use EAP-TLS authentication for both PPTP and L2TP connections.
9) When load balancing Terminal Services, use Session Directory server to manage sessions.
10) Automate patch management processes and procedures using SUS, SMS, or a third-party product.

Q: Provide your viewpoints on the major technologies today and where you see them in the future.

A: Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this question and it greatly depends on an organization’s needs. For instance, some organizations feel that tools for managing customer data with customer relationship software is far more important than how employees access the internal network.

With all the technologies that are out there, it is still difficult to manage and make the best use of information that we have. Improvements in database and search engine technologies are making it easier to manage and work with information, but what exists today is going to be vastly different tomorrow. These technologies comprise the backend infrastructure for so many other technologies, applications, and solutions. Whether you’re talking about messaging, directories, customer relationship management, document management, or simple file storage, database and search technologies usually are integral to them all. We’ll more than likely continue to see dramatic improvements on those technologies as the information expands and demands to understand it increase.

No matter what technology you’re designing or implementing, security concerns will be at the forefront for some time to come as well. It’s no longer totally up to companies how they’ll protect their assets; the government is now actively involved and creating regulatory compliances. 

Q: What are the ten most compelling issues facing IT and business professionals today and in the future? How can they be resolved? 

A: 1) Reactive mode – Use tools that will help you to understand the current environment and keep watch over how it is changing. This will help everyone from help desk personnel to the decision makers.

2) Lack of standardization – Standardization through the enterprise helps everyone with regards to training, management, maintenance, support, and more. It sets a common ground to work from. This could mean many things including which applications and versions the organization supports, how systems are built, what technologies to deploy, and more. The goal of standardization is to maximize efficiency and effectiveness to save on the bottom line.

3) Poor planning and design – Don’t implement something because there is a need. Instead focus on how the solution can affect the systems that it interacts with and give sufficient time for planning and design.

4) Lack of documentation – Like planning and design, it is important to set aside time for documenting configurations, policies, and procedures. This will help reduce the learning curve with others as well as build upon standardization within the company.

5) Security – Learn how your implementation can affect the company’s security and determine ways to mitigate those risks.

6) Understanding the technologies – Reading or studying about a technology doesn’t always give you enough insight. Work with the technology in a lab before trying to implement it in a production environment.

7) Training – Training coincides with understanding the technologies but the focus here is more on the provision of materials, time, and resources that a company dedicates to training their employees. Because so many companies are under more pressure to do more with less, training is often the first to go or is severely decreased. Managers should dedicate at least some time each year for training and education. Doing so will help employees work more effectively and efficiently while at the same time it’ll improve employee moral.

8) Understanding the business – Good communication with the sponsors of a project or solution is key to deploying the best and most appropriate solution.

9) Budget – While the economy is getting better and better everyday, it is important to be cost conscious and plan ahead.

10) Taking initiative and responsibility – It’s important to push forward and step up to the plate to drive projects and the business in the right direction. This doesn’t mean go jump on a thin limb, but it does mean that calculated risks may be necessary to take in order to see improvements.

Q: List the 10 best resources for technology and business professionals.

A: 1) Our books
2) Magazines
3) User groups
4) Resource kits
5) Web casts
6) Colleagues
7) Internal documentation
8) Newsgroups
9) IT conferences
10) A lab environment

Q: What future books can we expect from you?

A: Probably something involving security since that has been a major focus of mine for some time now.

Q: What do you consider to be the most important trends to watch, and please provide some recommendations?

A: 1) Security – All technologies
2) Databases – On the Microsoft front, pay particular attention to SQL Server and integration with other products.
3) Product convergence – Home automation, car integration, and more are all getting hotter and hotter.
4) Windows integration with UNIX systems is getting more and more important. Companies are always looking for the best technology fit and it’s not uncommon for a solution to only exist on one of the two platforms. You don’t need to be an expert with both operating system platforms but it is highly recommended to familiarize yourself with both.
5) Companies are expecting better-rounded employees to take on multiple facets of responsibilities. They’re looking for people with both business understanding and technical know-how. Try to balance interpersonal soft skills and technical experience.

Q: How do you keep up with the latest technologies and trends?

A: I use the resources that I mentioned earlier to learn what others have experienced. I also use a lab environment with a variety of systems and technologies for building and testing purposes so that I can try to stay one step ahead. However, with the sheer number of technologies and products that are out there you can’t expect to be an expert at all of them. Instead I pick the ones that interest me the most and run with it. Then I delve into other technologies and products to make sure I have a pretty good grip on how those systems work. I occasionally look into areas that I don’t know or don’t well enough and take the initiative to learn as much as possible about those technologies.

Q: If you were doing this interview, what question would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answer?

A: Q1: How do you feel your expertise has helped other IT professionals?

A1: Hopefully by reading this interview and checking out any of my publications or presentations, others can get excited about learning a new product or technology and reduce the amount of troubleshooting they may experience. When I was the president of the Triangle NT User Group, the best reward for all my efforts was seeing how people got excited about learning something new and then commenting awhile later how quickly they came up to speed.

Q: Kenton, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.

A: It was my pleasure… thanks again for the opportunity!

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