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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Volunteering a Marathon

It was a usual email broadcast across the company, out of curiosity I registered myself.

I have had experience volunteer-participation in charity organizations (Edhi, Pakistan), organizing cricket tournaments, and other sports; but this was one of its kind. A Marathon?! Well…

I am a big fan of running, and trekking, and walking but I never really thought about “racing”; let alone a marathon.

Last I took part in a racing competition was in School, St. Jude’s, and I was nowhere near finish line when the race was over already. I felt I was more like those Marshalls, guiding runners along the route… just that, from behind.

Coming back, I thought of participating for what it’s worth, AED150, with some cogent but incomprehendable arguments: What if I win? What if I have that hidden talent in me? I could visualize myself winning all the way to finish line. My name, in Gulf news? Wow. “Cloud-9”.

While I was still in a process of convincing myself and visualizing the “essence” of it, my jaw dropped to the floor when I read that the race track is 20KM (21.1km, precisely).

Okay wait. Am I a runner? Yes, I am. But… well, I am just the 4-to-5km kinda runner, may be every alternate day if not every day; which clearly makes me no way near to the professional athletes.

With heavy heart and broken dream, I brought myself back into reality. Twenty one point one kilometers. Shooh! Just the thought of it, and a shiver ran through my spine… I felt I was sinking down a whirlpool somewhere in the middle of Pacific Ocean.

Friday 18th October; up at 4:30 am, changed, made some coffee, and headed towards the destination in the dark. While way, I had to turn on my GPS since I couldn’t see any sign of “Emirates Hills Golf Course” next to JLT.

People who know me, know my usual “sense of direction”. 4am, a wrong turn, and a road that ends up nowhere – yep, a dead end – Ah! this life.

Amusingly, a car was following me, I couldn’t think of a reason of why he’d follow me, or what he would do on this road, except that he was either lost, or assumed that I am on the right track. Funny.

Well, I reversed, and he started following again. The kind of reflexes I possess, immediately rang the alarm, that something is wrong, I thought of items if I had anything important that I may lose, in case this ought to be an armed robbery?

Ah ha! Turned out he was a race participant; as I drove myself into the parking.

Though, I wonder how in the world he figured I was heading that way.

While parking the car in front of the metro station, a couple of ladies walked towards me and asked if they can park here and if there are any charges. I don’t know in what mind, I told them yes, and no. And I left. Clearly, no parking charges because it was 5am, and meter starts at 8am.

Later, I figured that answer to the ladies, was the after effects of lack of sleep and drowsiness. I thought I will find them, and tell them it was a mistake. Yep, it was Friday, free parking day.

I thought for a moment I’d have to walk less if I park the car inside; therefore took a chance, and drove in to the Club. The guard stopped, looked at me, and then my tiny KIA Rio, and then looked again, and humbly requested me to park outside, because “apparently” only members are allowed inside with car.

I’d like to “believe” I was looking fairly decent in sports attire; though I am not sure about the car.

Must be the car. I thought.

So I walked in.

Surprise-surprise. At 5 in the morning there appeared to be thousands and thousands of people gathered already. Half of Dubai, I must say.

Thank god, I dint participate – was my immediate thought. Those slim winning chances, which I may have had, appeared slimmer and dimmer and then, well, disappeared in the thin air. Racing thoughts.

Tried to pacify myself, “good show dude, saved 150bucks, saved the day”.

I know I am crazy, but I figured there are at least 401+ people crazier than myself. I felt good about that. I wasn’t alone.

I was no way close to them, anyway.

And I realized, in this scenario, the best case for me was to be an marathon-administrative-“office boy”.
Well-ah-fellah, with a pinch of guilt, and mixed emotions, I accepted the damage to my Khan-istic pride, and swallowed the role assigned to me.


Later, to my calculations, registration was opened for ~600 people, ~400 showed up, ~50ish were no-show, and 3 people joined in half hour later when race started. And one random guy came at the end of the race just to collect his sports kit. Wow.

Anyway, so I walked in looking for Pascale, a French sportswoman, who claims to be marathon athlete champion of 2007; she discussed the role assigned, and the way it would work.

Although 53(yep, she told me her age), in her black shorts-tshirt and red Nike cap; she was dynamic and full of energy. She works as a volunteer.

People with energy attract me; unlike poles attract each other anyway - they say.

It was a good 3 minutes discussion with her in the morning.

Dizzy. I wanted more caffeine in my blood, a thought ran by.

The race was organized by FBA Sports ( Ticket and registration was available from Premier Marathon’s web site (

The process was:
  • Register online and pay the fee
  • Collect the race pack collection from Saucony Store, Dubai Mall (containing, race tag number with name, race tracker, a t-shirt your size, and a banana - yep)
I was told the breakfast is “on-the-house”(read: free).

There were 4 counters, and I was given the task of registering and verifying the runners for various categories, providing them with their sports kit, and keeping their bags. I was provided with a boy of 22ish age, Ashish to help.

It was an interesting experience, a flood of people coming to you with various kinds of questions (sometimes, silly and obvious) and you must respond to them even though you don’t have the answer to that question. Or, provide them with an alternate, less attractive solution rather than answering their question.

And interesting reactions too, a woman got angry when we told them they have to bring their own towel for shower; and a guy who got upset and requested replacement because he couldn’t find the banana in his race-kit.

Now you may think why would you ever want to volunteer?

Okay, a fair question, and following might help clarify the perplexity of the entwined minds:
  • Because, you may have interest in that particular area, administration, or sports, event organizations, etc.?
  • Some leisure time, and you want to try something different altogether?
  • You’re hungry and you know you’ll get a free lunch pass, t-shirts, and etc.; just kidding. This shouldn’t be a reason. Volunteering means, providing services free of charges.
As they put it, helping others kindles happiness. If you think you’re ready, then you should be prepared for any task, role, job no matter how petty or important it may be.

Does volunteering help, in any way?
Well, volunteer is a service free of charge and expectation. It is about giving back. Most important is the “experience” that you gain.

That’s the core of non-governmental organizations. In “ideal” scenarios, an NGO is supposed to help those is in need; financial, social, educational, providing shelter, health services, clean water, etc.

You can help by bringing in your expertise in specific area of your interest. Or if that isn’t your domain, then you can get to learn how it works.
  • Diversify your social network, expand your circle
  • How to think fast, and how to do it quick
  • Learn to get along with people of different nature and nationalities
  • Develop a new skill
  • Working with experienced people from different professional domains, has its own benefits; one for instance, on how they think and respond to problems, and the approach they take on solving them
  • And how to solve, without “spawning” side effects or more problems
  • Especially if you are in a public facing role, you must “tone” down your vocab and conversational skills to “generalize” it for all kinds of people popping in front of you without offending them.
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Helps your brain to start thinking in different ways
  • Lots other…
It is a very strange feeling when you walk into an entirely stranger crowed and start talking to them and helping them with everything. And then you walk out, not many people know about you; not much you about them. All they and you know is that you helped them, and that is all that was needed.

Next volunteering expedition is expected in Mar-2014.

Happy volunteering! (0:
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to setup a SaaS cloud? Multi-tenant, CRM 2011, Outlook2010

Recently, I had a chance to provide a solution architecture and setup the services cloud. It gets quite interesting when you have the resources, and you can propose the best possible solution.

Business context:
We had applications built on top of MS Dynamics CRM 2011 for various business verticals, health care system for instance, computerized maintenance management system (CMMS),  enterprise asset management system, procurement system, drag and drop scheduling system (scheduled/automatic), etc – all on top of CRM 2011.
Given that we were internet services provider as well, so we have several corporate customers for our mailbox services. So, the Outlook 2010 multi-tenancy services was a must-have.
Idea was to provide these Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

To setup SaaS based cloud for various solutions, primarily for CRM 2011 and Exchange 2010, using Active Directory Federated Services (ADFS) v2.1.

Following were are few constraints to be considered while developing the solution:
  • High availability
  • Scalability
  • Migration
  • Backup
  • Time

We came up with the solution architecture having following main ingredients of the recipe:
  1. Virtual Machines on top VMWare VBlock Solution (yep, we had VBlock from VMWare that provides pre-configured storage and virtualization solutions; altho its pretty darn challenging getting caught in the configuration of VBlock – it is a large metallic cupboard)
  2. Windows Server 2008 R2
  3. Domain controller + DNS
  4. Exchange 2010 SP3
  5. SQL Server 2008 R2
  6. CRM 2011
  7. ADFS for all SaaS based application (CRM 2011, Outlook OWA, etc)
  8. Exchange 2010 Open Web Access (OWA, that is, internet browser based access)
  9. Exchange 2010 SP3 Multi Tenancy Configuration (Build or buy off-the-shelf various control panels available through Microsoft Partners)
  10. SharePoint 2010 (Good old, SharePoint)
So now, what would you do when you have two host with multiple guests? In this case, how would you provide high availability what should be done?
Provide SQL Server Cluster on Virtual machines? or provide them on two different host groups?
In this case,
  • HOST=Bare metal machine,
  • GUEST=Virtual machine
  • HOST Group = Set of guests, labeled as a group

High Availability:
When we consider high availability (HA), we tend to use a certain configuration (Active-Active, Active-Passive, etc). There could be several options, but the ones that I considered was:
  • Option 1: Cluster the guests in single group. For instance, guest1(SQL-Active) in host1 is clustered to guest2(SQL-Passive) in host1.
    • This option has major flaw, which is, if the host is down, all the guests will be down. Killed the option.
  • Option 2: Cluster the guests in multiple groups. For instance, a guest1 (SQL - Active) in host1 is clustered to guest2 (SQL – Passive) in host2.
    • This option is fairly better and is in production at many places. In this case, if host1 is down the service is redirected to the corresponding guest in host2
  • Option 3: Cluster the hosts. For instance, host2 (Active) will be copy of host1 (Active). In this case, anything that goes wrong with host1, the host2 will automatically takes control. This is the easiest but a bit expensive option. Why? two copies of highly smart machine, at any point in time, one machine is sitting idle and doing nothing. Waste of resources unless you configure load balancing.
So, we went with option 2 in our case. And proposed following breakup of guest machines:

# Virtual Machine(VM) # Description
1. VM1 Active directory 1
2. VM2 Active directory 2
3. VM3 SQL server 2008 R2 Enterprise – 1
4. VM4 SQL server 2008 R2 Enterprise – 2
5. VM5 Microsoft Exchange server 2010 – 1 Mailbox
6. VM6 Microsoft Exchange server 2010 – 2 Mailbox
7. VM7 Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 – 1 HUB & CAS
8. VM8 Microsoft Exchange server 2010 – 2 HUB & CAS
9. VM9 Microsoft CRM 2011 – 1
10. VM10 Microsoft CRM 2011 - 2
11. VM11 SharePoint 2010 – 1
12. VM12 SharePoint 2010 -2
13. VM13 ADFS -1
14. VM 14 System Centre suite 2012 -1
15. VM 15 Forefront TMG 2010 -1

With a Virtual Machine (VM) level configuration, we proposed a SAN storage of 1TB to include all sorts of database, files, etc:
# Server Qty Hardware Configuration OS Computer name Product Edition Required
1. Active Directory 2 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6GHz
· Minimum 12GB Memory
C: drive Minimum 80 gb

· Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise or Standard Primary DC :-

Secondary DC:-

· Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 bit Standard OR Enterprise Edition
· Active directory roles
2. Application Server 2 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6GHz
· Minimum 16GB Memory
· C: drive Minimum 200 gb

· Windows server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise SharePoint server 1 :-


SharePoint Server 2 :-


· Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 Standard Edition
· Microsoft Office 2010 x64
· .NET Framework 3.5 and later versions supported as well
· Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.5

3. Mail server 4 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6 GHZ
· Minimum 16 GB Memory
· C drive minimum 100 gb

· Mailbox- Windows server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise
· HUB & CAS – Windows server 2008 R2 SP1 standard
2 Mailbox servers :

2 HUB & CAS servers

· Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 enterprise
· Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 standard
4. CRM server 2 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6 GHZ
· Minimum 16 GB memory
· C drive minimum 100 gb

· Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise 2 CRM servers

· Microsoft CRM 2011
· CRM2011 rollup 12
5. System Center Suite 2012 1 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6 GHZ
· Minimum 16 GB memory
· C drive minimum 100 gb

· Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise SCM-01 · System Centre Suite 2012
6. F ForeFront TMG 2010 1 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6 GHZ
· Minimum 16 GB memory
· C drive minimum 100 gb

· Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise TMG Server
· Forefront TMG 2010
7. ADFS 2.0 1 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6 GHZ
· Minimum 12 GB memory
· C drive Minimum 80 GB

· Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise FS-01 · ADFS 2.1
8. Database Server 2 · 2 x Intel R Xeon 2.6GHz
· Minimum 32GB Memory
· HDD 2 x 500GB NTFS
· 2 NIC

· Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise 2 node SQL Server

· SQL Server Database 2008 R2 x64 bit Enterprise Edition

FIG 1: Proposed network architecture

To cater the guests, following were the hosts, outta VBlock solution:
# Server Description
1. ESX1 VBlock baremetal machine, called “Host” running VMs
2. ESX2 Host running VMs
3. ESX3 Host as above
4 ESX4 Host as above

You can see the 4 host machines, in which 3 and 4 are clustered to provide high availability, for instance for SQL setup.

It took 15 VMs for initial cloud setup. Which includes a domain controller, directory services, and a dns on single machine.

Next… will add installation steps, from directory services to crm, and outlook software. Installation of outlook 2010 will include various “control panels” providers in the market to setup multi tenancy for Outlook 2010 and onwards.

Happy SaaSing!

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why become and ITIL certified professional?

Organizations are increasingly becoming dependent on IT and seem to be an integral part of any business. Focus has shifted to customer outcomes and the value a service demand brings. IT can help streamline end to end inter organizations business processes which in turn brings the transparency and control. This has led organizations in reduced operational costs, reduced helpdesk calls, decreased response time, improved quality of service, user satisfaction, etc.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of industry standards widely used in IT environment to control the IT oriented business services and its management. ITIL is not project management. Its core focus is on delivery of IT services to customer.

ITIL is incorporated by organizations to streamline their business and operations, and enhance customer services.

So, why should I would you do that?

If you are a service delivery manager, working in service desk, IT manager, Project Manager, Process Manager, or something similar along these roles, then this will add value to your skills.

Why did I do it?

Its been a while since I last (Action plan: How to become a project management professional) attempted an exam, my reasons were quite a few, for instance, I had a chance to work in a customer services level 2 support, so I was aware of the service processes.

Interestingly, I helped setup a customer service unit for our new internet banking software product for level 1 and 2 support. And level 3 support from product team. We used SharePoint 2010 for automating the process. If you know anything of this sort, this exam is for you.

Moreover it was to help myself understand the industry best practices for service management.

How to approach ITIL v3 2011 Foundation Exam?

I spent 1 to 2 hours a day (4 to six hours every week), depending on the time I had, and went through all of the 13 modules. Each module a day, it took me ~4 to six weeks to complete, reread and clear the concepts.

After that I attempted the mock exams; there are several available online. Many web sites provides a list of questions that seems to be the closest match to exam or in some cases exact dump.

Exam appeared to be fairly simple, but I must add that I have been in the IT industry for over 12 years now, and I have experienced several of similar processes, seen and used the terms off and on; also the study notes during project management professional (PMP) certification – most of the things in ITIL just made sense.

Note that there are three levels of ITIL certificate: Foundation, Practitioner and Manager. A foundation exam only prepares you to understand areas in service management domain, and then practice and manage them.

I attempted the test through Prometric test center in Abu Dhabi called, New Horizons Training Institute. You can go online at,

Technorati Tags:
  • Exam Name: ITIL Foundation (syllabus 2011) -
  • ITIL Exam ID: EX0-117
  • Last syllabus revision: 2011 (latest so far)
  • Exam type: Computed aided test (CAT), multiple choices (MCQs)
  • Fee: USD159.00/- (~AED572.40/- or ~PKR16000/-)
  • Total questions: 40
  • Passing marks: 26 must correct out of 40 (that is, 65% marks)
  • Time available: 60 minutes (1 hour)

Areas of study:

  • · Service Management as a Practice
  • · ITIL Service Strategy
  • · ITIL Service Strategy Processes
  • · ITIL Service Design
  • · ITIL Service Design Processes
  • · ITIL Service Transition
  • · ITIL Service Transition (SACM)
  • · ITIL Service Transition (Change and Evaluation)
  • · ITIL Service Operation
  • · ITIL Service Operation Functions
  • · ITIL Service Operation Processes
  • · ITIL Continual Service Improvement
  • · ITIL CSI Improvement Processes


Training material:

The following resources were the building blocks and extremely helpful; a good level of understanding the framework and build concepts.


IMO, a certification or a certified professional cannot in any way be ranked above or below or a non-certified professional. In industry like ours (IT), what counts is experience, thorough knowledge and “technical wisdom”.

A certification only signifies (usually approved by a third party) that you have adequate knowledge (and in some cases expertise) in the area of certification, even before you’re called in for interview. For some organizations certifications are required to show competency level. It helps you stand apart.

Labels: ITIL,Organizations,Focus,customer,outcomes,transparency,response,user,satisfaction,Information,Technology,Infrastructure,Library,industry,environment,management,manager,desk,Project,roles,skills,instance,setup,unit,product,team,SharePoint,exam,Moreover,Foundation,hours,modules,module,concepts,exams,Many,certification,Note,certificate,Practitioner,areas,domain,Prometric,Dhabi,Horizons,Institute,Technorati,Tags,Name,syllabus,Last,revision,MCQs,Total,Time,hour,Service,Practice,Strategy,Processes,Design,Transition,SACM,Change,Evaluation,Operation,Functions,Continual,Improvement,resources,framework,presentations,Study,Notes,Disclaimer,knowledge,wisdom,expertise,area,certifications,competency

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WordPress: Call ASMX web service from PHP?

How about a scenario, where you have a brand new virgin machine, and you have been asked a question on how, a php code would call an asmx from a WordPress website?

So, you have literally nothing: No visual studio, no TextPad, no Notepad++, no IIS installed anywhere over the network, no php editor, no server to deploy php code -- Do you think you can answer the question? No?

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hating YouTube Location Suggestion bar? Great!

Hating YouTube Location Suggestion bar? Great! (0:

Copy following content in a .CSS and place it  in Mozilla Firefox runtime directory( in Windows. Start run--> %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\xxxxxxxx.default\ and press enter to open the folder.

@-moz-document domain( {
 div#default-language-box  {display:none !important}

Restart the browser, and enjoy!

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