When I first got started in virtualization it was a very new technology and during that time there were not that many resources available to the virtualization administrator and sometimes it would have been nice to be able to see what others were doing and to be able to share my thoughts and ideas with others to make sure I was presenting the best possible solution to my customers. During these early years the VMTN Community Forum was established and these forums were the place to do this collaboration. I found this to be one of the best arenas to ask questions and share ideas. The VMTN Community area quickly took off and in a lot of cases was the quickest way to find an answer, solution to your problem or issue you were trying to resolve.
Although the Community Forums were a great place to present and answer questions about virtualization, it would have been better to meet with others in person to be able to talk virtualization shop. Around this time VMware was starting to establish a local user group in the major cities around the United States. During this time I was living in South Florida and thought this would be great to be a part of. I contacted VMware and founded the Miami Area VMware User Group or Miami VMUG. At the first meeting we had about twenty people show up and it really grew from there.
During this time as the leader of the user group I noticed a couple of different types of people that would show up for the meetings. First, there would be the very novice individuals that would show up and lurk for lack of a better word. They would come and sit in the back and just listen to what others had to say but never really spoke up themselves. Then there were the others that came to the meeting with a mission in mind. They had questions and were looking to share their questions to get some validation on their ideas.
During the next few years the user group community grew bigger and bigger and I had a hand in helping start multiple user groups in the South Florida Area. I took a new position in Orlando and one of the first things I did was establish the Orlando VMUG and while building this group I noticed I still pretty much had the same group of people attend, the lurkers and the men on a mission. That was the issue I needed to, wanted to, overcome. I wanted to get everyone talking and everyone sharing ideas and at the same time feel comfortable doing so.
Whether you are a user group member or user group leader I would like to share my experiences over the years to help you get the most out of the user groups and help you on your virtualization journey. The biggest tip to share is the local user group is one of the best places to network and meet your virtualization peers local to your area. You may find that a certain technology you have been researching and exploring as a possible solution in your environment, might have already been put into production in your area. You could use this opportunity to take a tour and see the technology at work and really better evaluate the technology itself. Along with that networking your local area group will give you a heads up on what companies have really adapted virtualization and give you an idea of who to talk to should you ever be in a position where you are looking for new opportunities. Sometimes in life it is not what you know but, who you know.
While leading the larger user groups I would try to get a couple of topic areas of virtualization like disaster recovery, backups and/or automation as an example. I would break the main group up into smaller groups to give people an opportunity to interact one on one with each other to get them to talk and share in an area they really had a question in. I would appoint somebody ahead of time that would lead the smaller groups with the task of asking everyone what they were doing now in the technology topic to give everyone a chance to share. If all went well, I would hear, “How did you do that?” or “What issues did you have deploying that design?” This seemed to be a way to get everyone talking, get involved and take away some knowledge in an area that interested them in the first place.
Tonight I just got back from the Orlando VMUG which I am working on getting started again after over a year without a meeting. I had to step down from the role as leader since I work for a VMware partner, but as founder I have a vested interest in getting this going again. From the networking I was able to find a new leader to take over and I will be in a position to support them and help in the rebuilding process. Tonight, we had about twenty five people in attendance, which I consider a smaller group, so to get people talking I had everyone introduce themselves and share something they had done with virtualization that they were most proud of. Once we went around the room, I pointed out the different type of companies that were represented and that we all have things to share.
Once the meeting was over everyone stayed around for another half hour talking and sharing ideas. Success!! Again, VMUGS are a great resource, but lurking through the meetings will not really benefit you, so speak up! Remember, there are no bad questions, just questions that are not asked.
Stephen Beaver is the co-author of VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center and Scripting VMware Power Tools: Automating Virtual Infrastructure Administration as well as being contributing author of Mastering VMware vSphere 4 and How to Cheat at Configuring VMware ESX Server. Stephen is an IT Veteran with over 15 years experience in the industry. Stephen is a moderator on the VMware Communities Forum and was elected vExpert for 2009 and 2010. Stephen can also be seen regularly presenting on different topics at national and international virtualization conferences.