mPulse

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 - Where were you?

On that Tuesday morning, I was in the air, on a flight from San Francisco to Denver, the first leg of a trip to Boston on business. I was excited - it was a client I had been looking forward to working with, and it seemed like an exciting opportunity. The flight was mostly empty and I had the luxury of a Bulkhead seat on a 777 - the middle section of my row was my kingdom to command, at least until Denver.

I don't know where we were (probably near Tahoe) when the plane made a hard and very sudden turn away from the direction we should have been traveling in. All the passengers on this mostly empty flight (remember those flights?) seemed to get a quizzical look on there faces. This turned to concerned looks on our faces when the pilot came on the intercom to announce that the flight had been diverted to Sacramento in response to a "National Security request".

Through the remainder of the short flight to Sacramento, it was clear that the flight attendants were visibly shaken (it was a United flight) and were having a hard time holding it together. Professional to a fault, they graciously brought me an extra yogurt when I asked. I had no clue.

The landing in Sacramento, an airport that was just barely long enough to accept a 777, is one that I remember to this day. As soon as the wheel touched the tarmac, the brakes screamed and reverse thrusters howled, the pilots trying to bring a "heavy" plane to a stop on a runway that was nominally rated for the beast they were bringing in.

We were still unsure what had happened, but the few of us who had the limited Web available on our phones were reading very conflicting and inaccurate news items. The flight attendants asked us to put them away, but for once they were doing it for optics, knowing full well we wanted to know what was going on as much as they did.

Outside the windows, planes of all stripes and sizes, from airlines I had never heard of or only seen in the air on approach to SFO. And clearly, there were two problems.

  1. There were no gates for us to pull up to.

  2. When we pulled to stop, the ground crew looked at us with dazed looks, going "How the hell do we offload a 777?"


We finally staggered off the plane, via a 60s style airplane ladder. By this time, the flight attendants were crying and holding each other. It wasn't until later that I realized that they had all lost friends on the planes.

After this process, the few of us streamed into the Sacramento terminal, headed for the baggage carousels. It was then that we saw the first tvs.

The line of passengers briefly stopped in shock. A few of them peeled off to the bar, where it was clear that the drinks were on the owner. The rest of us grabbed our bags and shuffled out of the terminal.

I called my wife and got through to our house on the second or third try. My mother-in-law, who was visiting, picked up the phone. I said I was alright, and asked to speak to my wife. SJE picked up and I told her I was on the ground in Sacramento and I was alright.

She was clearly confused and asked why I was calling. Our youngest was only a few months old, and sleep was at a bit of a premium. I knew she would have had no clue, and told her to go turn on the tv. Five minutes later, she called back and, in a clear but very stressed voice, told me that she was going to come and get me.

By that time, I told her that it was completely unnecessary. By an act of organization that has amazed me and endeared me to United until this day, they had arranged for a bus to come to the Sacramento terminal and take us back to SFO.

The bus ride was surreal. Completely quiet, except CNN radio. No one spoke. No one spoke on cell phones. We were all processing what we thought had happened, as CNN Radio tried to do the same.

The bus arrived back at SFO, making us some of the few who at least got back to where we had started our day. We gathered our bags, and shuffled off to wherever we were going to go. In an eerie silence.

Coming down the stairs from the top level of the airport, I saw the pandemonium at the ticketing counters as thousands of people desperately sought a way to get somewhere - home, away, flee. I was lucky. I got to go down to the arrivals area and wait.

I was picked up by SJE about 20 minutes after I got off the bus. As we headed home, south on 101, we watched a lonely aircraft descend out of the crystal blue (ok, it's the Bay Area - gray brown) sky. It was clearly one of the final flights to land at SFO that day. The 747, a plane from one of the major Asian national carriers was a glorious sight as it approached. But then we noticed the frightening parentheses that summed up the day - this glorious feat of engineering was bringing its passengers in accompanied by two F-16s.

We heard the roar of the fighters peeling off as the 747 put its wheels down behind us. And, as we drove, the great silence began.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pain at Every Level - Web Performance in the Organization

People in every organization are happy (in an unhappy way) to tell you exactly what their level of Web performance pain is. They go into great detail on how every performance issue affects them and and why it makes every day an unpredictable and almost unmanageable challenge.

If you take the personal perspective of Web performance pain, the risk not finding the real problem, the true cause of the pain.

Talking to customers at all levels of organizations has shown that when you ask "where it hurts", they can tell you exactly what they want you to work on. And once you solve that problem, you get another person from the same organization with a different pain coming to you, complaining that you have ignored them.

A whole-organization focus is required when working to solve a customers Web performance pain. And it starts by asking questions of everyone in a company, not just the one who came to you for the initial diagnosis. Different groups at different levels have different questions.

Here's a (very basic) list of some of those that you should be prepared to answer as you work to diagnose a company's Web performance issues.

C-Level

  • How am I doing against my competitors?

  • How does performance affect my revenue?

  • If I want to use the Web for more revenue, what do I need to do to make it work?

  • How does Mobile deliver what I need?


VP, Operations



  • How much will it cost me to deliver the necessary Web performance?

  • What is critical for me to deliver now, and what can I delay until the next budget cycle?

  • How do I ensure that Web performance issues don't affect revenue?

  • Are my partners helping or hindering us?

  • How do I get Marketing to the table to understand the technology boundaries we have?


VP, Marketing



  • How do I effectively use the Web without alienating customers with slow performance?

  • How do I ensure that our design is delivered appropriately to both fixed-Web and mobile users?

  • What parts of the site are customers unsatisfied with due to performance?

  • Do my promotions scale to handle the surge in customers?

  • How do I get Operations to understand that delivering new experiences with leading-edge technology is critical for us to be successful?


Director, Operations



  • I spend most of my time on troubleshooting conference calls. How can I reduce this drain on my time and resources?

  • My team spends most of its time trying to correlate data between 5 different systems. Help!

  • The latest design is putting a massive strain on our infrastructure. Didn't anyone test this on the production servers before it went live?

  • I know that we need to take a load of our servers, but I don't know how to choose a CDN. What do I need to do?



Operations Staff, NOC



  • Man, I get a lot of alerts. How do I tell which ones I need to care about?

  • This sure looks like a problem. How do I show the appropriate folks that this issue is their responsibility?

  • Most of the time, the issues I investigate are with one third-party. Who is responsible for fixing this and does it really affect customers?

  • I get bonused on fast MTTR. How can I figure out what the problem is faster?





In the sections above, notice that none of the questions need to be answered with product descriptions. Companies are desperate to understand not how other companies deployed the latest Kazoo to solve their Waka-waka problem, but how they made life easier and more manageable.

Coming to the customer with an open mind and a listening ear is the new hallmark of Web performance.