Miracles: An Epic of Tranformation

copyright 2000, Rex Ballard

Going to the Major League

Hitting 24 companies in 18 months

Eventually I joined IBM Global Services as a Distributed Systems Architect. I quickly became very effective at going to various corporations, and solving their business problems. As a national practice consultant I served over 20 clients in my first two years, mostly fortune 50 clients.

Even though my formal focus is middleware such as MQ Series and MQ Series Integrator, my ability to bring the power of Open Source and Linux as project accelerators created the ability to integrate entire corporations and even multiple corpoations (B to B) using highly leveragable resources.

One of the significant breakthroughs was that I was able to not only enroll leaders in client companies, but several of the projects were with partner companies like Anderson Consulting, Price Waterhouse Coopers, and Earnst "&" Young. Each firm took a keen interest in my "Linux Avocacy" and joined the comp.os.linux.* newsgroups. Although I saved some of the "jewels" for IBM.

There was clearly a shift. Even at CSC, a previous employer. Each firm began finding ways to train their own "Open Source" teams for deployment in open source projects. In fact, nearly 60 developers and managers actually thanked me for introducing them to Linux and asked for initial help. Several even atarted using it on their desktops and Laptops.

Finally, I found myself being hunted by consulting firms all over the country. The wanted to build their awn consulting practices. I was soon speaking the remainder of the biggest consulting firms. Even though I didn't accept their offers, I was able to direct them to my web site, which provided pointers to my usenet postings. I had created a "following of nearly 25,000 consultants, managers, officers, and executives. Most were lurkers.

Microsoft was acutely aware of my acivities and had even attempted to hire me. I didn't speak to Bill, but I did speak to people who reported directly to him. They spent 18 hours pumping me for design ideas for Windows 2000 and then withdrew their offer (which I wasn't going to accept anyway). They said I didn't have the "Microsoft Religion". But they incorporated about 20 of the 30 reccomendations I proposed.

The World Trade Center Attack - Changing how we work

I had interviewed for an IBM consulting engagement at JP Morgan Chase, at the 96th floor of the World Trade Center. I realized I wasn't a good fit for what they needed, and reccomended a good alternative. Little did I know, at that time, that I had just saved my own life.

Instead I went to work on the IBM web sites and interfaces to business partners via Rosetta Net. I was part of a team responsible for integrating the Web Servers to the back-end systems, including mainframes, AIX databases, and other back-end systems. I had been working late on September 10th 2001, and had decided to go in a bit late. I went to breakfast at the hotel where I watched the planes crash into the twin towers. I was astonished that the towers hadn't collapsed immediately. As the towers collapsed, I quietly remembered many friends who worked in those towers. People I had met through Landmark Education, through A.A., through N.A., and through various projects at McGraw-Hill, Quick & Reilly, and Linux groups. I woudn't know all of the people who died until the one year anniversery, but I felt the loss immediately

The Air travel got very difficult for IBM practitioners, and shortly after 9/11 it was taking up to 4 hours to get through security, clear the plane to take-off, and deal with the other additional security. The sight of 18 year-old boys with M-16s in combat Uniforms looking a bit too eager to shoot something didn't make us feel more secure either.

We began looking for ways to reduce or eliminate the travel. We started using remote access consoles such as VNC to access NT servers, and started realizing the advantages of Linux and Unix servers for things like databases and IRC based "chat" conversations. We began to use cygwin to get ssh access to the remote servers from NT workstations. IBM eventually created more secure versions including SameTime, PC Anywhere, and F-Secure, for those who didn't feel comfortable with cygwin. In a very covert way, Linux had found it's way onto the desktops of nearly everyone on the project

Soon, the trips to Raleigh became trips to Southbury, which was less than a 2 hour drive away, with shared access from a conference room. Eventually, we reached the point where we had 150 people on the project, all fully actively working on the project, collaborating very interactively, often in 3-5 conversations at a time, from the comfort of our homes.

I did eventually have to go back to Raleigh for a few weeks to help with the testing during the holiday season. We had a flakey NT server that needed regular attention and was not responding well to remote access tools like PC Anywhere. The server was in a server closet with about 200 other servers, ranging from rack-mount NT servers to refrigerator sized racks of AIX servers. After being in this room for 18 hours, leaving only for a brief lunch, I noticed a ringing in my ears. The ringing was getting so severe by the end of the second day that it was painful. I took an hour off to go buy some ear plugs and some ear covering headphones, but it was too late.

I soon learned that the damage was permanent, and that I would have tinnitus for the rest of my life. There was nothing I to be done about it, but since I still had excellent hearing (actually better hearing), I just had to accept it. To fall asleep, I would play music so that the ringing didn't seem as loud. Attempting to sleep without the music or television was futile. The squeal would get louder until it almost felt like thunder. I eventually found out that I was able to lower the intensity of the ringing by reducing my salt intake as much as possible.

By the time of the 9/11 attack, I had reached a weight of nearly 330 lbs. I decided that I would try the Atkins diet. I couldn't eat that much fat, especially saturated fat, but I did find that I didn't get hungry as often, and didn't need as much to get full. I lost about 65 pounds and then just stopped losing. Even though I tried going back to the strict levels several times, it didn't seem to make a difference.

At some point, I started having some pains in my arm and neck, they seemed to be the wrong side for a heart attack, but I went to the doctor to check it out anyway. After an EKG and a stress test, they decided that they did need to do an angiogram. I was awake during the operation and they let me watch the monitor. When they found the obstruction, in a secondary artery, they wanted a better look, so they flushed a bit more dye into the artery. It was almost like the draino commercial, the clog started to break up and after a few more flushes of saline and dye, the obstruction was cleared out. I was later told that I was lucky I came in when I did. Had I gotten used to the pain, I might have waited until it was fully obstructed and that would have been too late. As it was, I hadn't even had a heart attack. Just a tell-tale heart rythm.

The BTCIO project eventually ended, but many of the innovations introduced by myself and my team were eventually opproved by the security organization and IBM even adopted formal policies for the use of Open Source and Linux on IBM engagements. Rather than referring to it as "eating our own dog food" we referred to it as "drinking our own champaigne".

Within just a few months after 9/11 we had found a way to substantially reduce the amount of travel required to successfully deliver IT projects. We had created the office of the 21st century. We had also reduced travel costs by as much as 80%, since most of the team was able to work from local offices or home if they had high speed Internet connectivity. This often meant that customers and clients had more to spend on the hardware, software, and consulting, because they were spending less on hotels and air-fare. That little investment in Linux had paid off handsomely.

By the time we had gotten into the test phase, we had over 150 people on the team actively engaging in issue resolution, including teams in NY, NJ, Atlanta, CT, Chicago, Denver, Boulder, and California. We also had teams in England. Not only had the "virtual office" eliminated domestic travel, but it also improved the viability of global solutions