A Better Flow of Data - Storage and Conference Calls

We recently held one of our regular department update calls that included as a guest speaker the Lead Technologist responsible for driving flash memory across Sun's product portfolio. Truly fascinating stuff. In his presentation, he illustrated how storage technology has not kept pace with advances in servers (especially multi-core systems). The result is that today's systems spend significant time "waiting" for data to be accessed from storage and insuring that it is not altered or corrupted.

Although flash technology has been around for years ( think of your cellphone or camera), it has only now developed to the point that it can be used in servers. The result is a system that is faster, but uses significantly less energy. (There are also no moving parts as with traditional disk drives.)

But it is not just advances in flash technology that enable this shift in server design. It also requires an operating system that is able to recognize and manage different types of storage (e.g. flash, tape, disk). That's the beauty of the Solaris operating system with its ZFS file system - that, and the fact that it's open source.

The presentation caused me to think about a human analog to the same problem of data flow. One that was right before me - our conference call. It's purpose is to provide a quick and effective flow of information (i.e. data) to employees located in differing time zones around the world. We rely on technology - in our case, a live conference call using a WebEx interface - but technology alone is not the answer. At some point it comes down to changing human behavior. As a test, I periodically listen to the recorded version of our calls so that I can have the same experience as an export person in Germany or an attorney in China. It can be painful to listen. Some calls don't begin promptly, people speak over one another, there are distracting noises and unidentified speakers. The result is that those dialing in are likely to tune out or worse yet, hang up and that important information is never received.

So, while we are solving the problem of data flow in the technology world, the human element requires much more continuous work. In that vein, I found this to be a pretty good start. It's excerpted (with thanks) from Management for the Rest of Us.

++++++++++++++++++++++

Conference Call Tips

Do get comfortable with the fact you will be talking in front of a group and receiving no visual cues or feedback.

Do use the right phone in a quiet, undisturbed room.

Don’t use cell phones or phones that pick up background noise. Calling from an open plan office is the equivalent of having a conversation in a nightclub. If you really can’t find a quiet room, use the mute button until you are required to speak.

Do learn to use the mute button and other phone technology to avoid a Homer Simpson style "Doh” moment. Your intelligent contributions mean nothing if no one can hear them.

Do set up the meeting in advance and communicate the dial in number, passcodes and other information. “Spring forward, fall back” is something to keep in mind for your timezone crossing colleagues. Don’t work out time differences on your fingers – check on the internet or even phone a colleague in that country and ask what time it is!

Do start the meeting absolutely on time; don’t reward latecomers’ bad behaviour by waiting for them. Take a role call at the start of the meeting, highlighting the missing attendees. Go on, get tough, people will love you for it!

Do treat the conference call as if it were a meeting. You know the routine; prepare and circulate an agenda, take notes ya-de-ya-de-ya.

Do get each caller to say hello and introduce themselves. Even though you may never meet in person, it’s a good relationship builder and gets the shyest of people to at least say their name.

Don’t assume everyone recognises your voice. Unless you are dis-respecting the boss and want to stay incognito, say your name before you speak. This is particularly important for the poor soul taking meeting notes.

Do make use of guest speakers. Invite a special or important guest and get them to say a few words at the beginning of the meeting. No one will know they slipped out after five minutes and you’ll get the benefit of undivided attention and best behaviour.

Don’t allow the topic to wander. Be an iron fist in a velvet glove – polite but firm if people talk too long or over each other. If your callers are at home sitting in their pyjamas nursing a hot chocolate, be considerate that all they want is to go to bed.

Do ask for input by using a person’s name. People will pay more attention to avoid the embarrassment of needing the question repeated.

Don’t shuffle papers; scrape chairs, pencil tap, hum or other distracting, noisy activities. It…….drives…………people…………mad!

Do close the meeting formally, thanking everybody for their time. That little bit of recognition will make them feel good about talking to you again."

Comments:

One more:

Don't have a room full of people with a speaker phone while everyone else is on single lines. Put everyone on a level playing field on their own phones.

Posted by Chris Gerhard on February 10, 2009 at 01:46 AM PST #

How about using MPK2.0 instead (your internal Project Wonderland for remote working) ? That looks like neat conferencing technology light years ahead of WebEx.

Posted by Kevin Hutchinson on February 10, 2009 at 07:24 AM PST #

Thanks for the tips. They're a good reminder. The last five minutes of a meeting are the most important. It's during this time that all action items should be covered. Who is going to do what by when. Otherwise the meeting is just a chat session.

Google displays an image of a clock on the wall counting down the minutes for the scheduled length of the meeting. I've never seen it in action, but I bet it helps cut out the chaff.

Posted by Andrew Mitton on February 17, 2009 at 08:55 AM PST #

@ Kevin

Good point. I understand the Sun Labs team are now using Wonderland for their internal meetings, perhaps with the version 0.5 release it might be "good enough" for primetime?

Sun has a real winner on their hands with Wonderland IMO...

Posted by Dave on March 01, 2009 at 12:23 PM PST #

Great post...
The tips you given about conference call are really helpful.
Keep posting more new information like this...

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Google displays an image of a clock on the wall counting down the minutes for the scheduled length of the meeting.

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