Uncomfortable Truths In Enterprise IT and more...


Uncomfortable Truths In Enterprise IT

Change_oracleYes, I've moved to Oracle to work on infrastructure products and solutions.

What I haven't shared yet was my real motivation -- a deep and fundamental shift in my personal perspective of what's really going on in the enterprise IT industry -- and what's happening in enterprise IT shops.

For me, when I realize the world has substantially changed, then I inevitably have to make a change in response.  

That's a decent piece of career advice, by the way.

Needless to say, ours is a dynamic industry -- both on the supply side and the demand side.

Enterprise IT shops are getting slammed to do more with less.  They don't have the time, the money or the people to address even a small fraction of what they could potentially contribute. 

Worse, they tend to spend far too much time on things that don't create unique value, and far too little time on things that could really move the needle.

That's the uncomfortable truth.

Enterprise IT vendors are getting slammed as well: the commoditization of IT infrastructure, death-match competition, overly-funded startups running amok, the cloud in all of its many forms, activist investors -- you name it, it's happening.  

That's another uncomfortable truth.

What attracted me to Oracle is that they have good, solid and substantiated answers to both challenges.

It's All About Control Points

Control_pointEnterprise IT -- information technology -- is really about information and much less about technology.  

The people who pay the bills care greatly about the former, and almost nothing about the latter.

Perhaps the most interesting view of enterprise IT strategy and operations is through the lens of control points -- which roles control what functions, and why?

The Storage-Centric View

Storage_centerHistorically speaking, my first perspective was as a storage guy.  

All the enterprise's information lives on storage, so -- theoretically speaking -- shouldn't the storage administrator be in a privileged position to make decisions and tradeoffs based on the value of information?

After all -- he or she has complete visibility to every byte of that precious enterprise information -- right?

Unfortunately, that's not the case.  A storage admin has precisely zero knowledge of the importance or relevance of information unless he or she is explicitly informed of its business value.  After all, from a storage perspective, it's all undifferentiated 1s and 0s.

To gain that knowledge, workflows have to be engineered to explicitly inform the storage team what's important, and what's not.  Changes in status take time and effort to propagate; feedback on infrastructure tradeoffs and optimizations back to the people who understand the information's value take even longer.

Not an ideal situation, and no obvious way out of it.  Not a winning model, in my view.

The Hypervisor-Centric View

Hypervisor_centricLater on, when I was working for VMware, I initially thought -- well, that's better.  

At least the virtualization admin sees all the individual VMs, and can make better informed decisions about information and how it's handled in the infrastructure.

True, but there are limitations here as well.  For the vSphere administrator, their abstraction is the virtual machine.  It may contain an important application and its data, or an unimportant application, or maybe an application with a mix of both.

The intrinsic value of enterprise information is largely opaque to the virtualization administrator, in much the same way that it's opaque to the storage administrator.  Both need to be explicitly informed by someone else, changes are cumbersome to propagate, tradeoffs and optimizations can't easily be discussed, etc.  Same story, different actors.

If enterprise IT is all about enterprise information, and making informed choices about how to treat and manage that information, which role is most privileged to make those decisions?

Sorry infrastructure folks, it's the database administrator.

The Database-Centric View

Another uncomfortable truth?  

Oracle_EngineeredThe vast majority of important enterprise information lives in databases, and the vast majority of that lives in Oracle databases.  

Despite everything you might read in the popular media, that's not changing and that's not likely to change anytime soon.

The DBA sees it all -- applications, middleware, databases -- all the stuff that really matters to the enterprise.  They know what's exactly needed: access, performance, protection, security, etc.  

One intellectually appealing element of Oracle's infrastructure strategy is simple: empower the database administrator to make informed infrastructure choices from their privileged perspective.  If it's important, it lives in a database, and most likely an Oracle database.  

Who else would be better privileged to understand the intrinsic value of most critical enterprise information? 

Oracle_blog_Pic_1That database-privileged view extends to the infrastructure products Oracle builds: Oracle Engineered Systems (Exadata and its brethren), Oracle Application Engineered Storage (the all-flash FS1 and the ZFS Storage Appliance), data protection (RMAN and the new Zero Data Loss Recovery Appliance) and equivalent (and compatible) offerings in the Oracle Cloud.

Each had a database-centric view.  Each has a raft of unique and compelling Oracle database-specific features that you just won't find in generic server, storage or virtualization solutions.  Each is con-engineered and delivered as a product, not a project.

Coming from my previous background, it's an eye-opening experience.  

No one else can do what Oracle does, period.

Here's the equation: if enterprise information matters, the database administrator ends up in a privileged role.  Oracle designs engineered infrastructure solutions for this information-centric model. 

It's unique, it's differentiated and it creates significant value.  And only Oracle can do this.

The Industry View

I've been in and around the infrastructure end of the IT vendor business for over 30 years now.  Times are not great for most.  

StormOn one side, commoditization is eating the heart out of margins, starving R&D -- true for server, storage and network vendors alike.  

On the other side, public clouds are starting to change the fundamental consumption model for enterprise IT -- infrastructure and applications as a variable operational expense, and not a capital investment.

I think Oracle has great answers to both.  Oracle's legendary database and application franchise creates ample opportunity for highly differentiated answers in a world of me-too.  The Oracle Cloud is built for enterprise IT -- technologically and operationally compatible with Oracle's on-premises solutions.

Both are showing signs of strong growth.   More enterprise IT leaders are coming around to the view that information matters, and productized solutions that are inherently information (and database) centric can offer a better answer than generic, un-differentiated do-it-yourself projects.

The enterprise IT world is changing, and changing fast.  

And rapid change can be an uncomfortable -- and unpopular -- thing.

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We're Getting The Band Back Together

TogetherIt’s been a long time since Jake and Elwood got the Blues Brothers back together. 

Similarly, it’s been a very long time since I’ve worked for Dave Donatelli when I was at EMC.  I really enjoyed the experience, and now I have a chance to do it again.

Starting August 24th, I’ll be working for Dave, this time at Oracle’s new converged infrastructure group.  Yes, I’m excited about the new opportunity.
 
I thought I’d share a few personal thoughts behind my move.


 The Lure Of A Great Leader

DonatelliVery early in my career, Dave was my boss, my mentor and my friend.  We started working together at a time when EMC was essentially a single-product company: Symmetrix. 

When Symmetrix demand inevitably started to wane, Dave drove the Data General acquisition, which gave EMC the Clariion product line -- the right thing at the right time.   It was a critical turning point for EMC.  From there, other acquisitions came fast and steady, creating the modern EMC we see today.

Even though that period in time was a rough patch for everyone at EMC, I really learned a lot from watching Dave in action.  Without that opportunity, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.  
 
The idea of working for him again is very, very appealing.
 
The Lure Of A Great Company
 
Oracle_logoFrom any industry perspective, Oracle is a perpetual powerhouse. 

Within our familiar enterprise IT segment, they are a force of nature.  ~$170B market cap, ~120K employees and a breathtaking portfolio that ranges from powerful business software to advanced infrastructure.

The Oracle vision is to deliver an engineered version of the entire stack that customers need to power their businesses: from compelling applications all the way to powerful servers and storage.  Better yet, that stack can be consumed in the data center, in Oracle’s cloud or any combination.
 
The strategy is working, and appears to be accelerating.  The Oracle executive team is extremely seasoned and inarguably successful.  Having the chance to work on the converged infrastructure part of the equation is very, very appealing to me — something I just can’t pass up.
 
But Some Regrets
 
CentriplexI joined EMC in 1994.  I think I met Dave that year as well.  Nineteen years later, I decided I wanted to work the software side of infrastructure, and landed in VMware’s new storage business unit: VSAN et. al.  
 
EMC is an amazing company, and I treasure my time spent there.  VMware is an equally amazing company, and has a compelling opportunity to change how we think about software-defined storage in the enterprise.  I expect VSAN to continue to do well.

Had I not been offered the chance to go work with Dave at Oracle, I’d still be enthusiastically at VMware.
 
That makes 21 years at the EMC Federation — a lot of history and relationships to leave behind.  I truly wish everyone continued success in their ventures.
 
The Road Ahead
 
For those of you who are wondering exactly what I'll be doing at Oracle, the answer is "probably a lot of the stuff I've done before, plus some new stuff".

Yes, I’m still going to be blogging, just from a different perspective.  And I’d like to think that good blogging is just that — things viewed from different perspectives.
 
I hope you’ll continue to follow me at http://chucksblog.typepad.com, or subscribe via email.
 
If nothing else, it should be interesting!

     

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The Trivialization Of Enterprise IT

Trivial_PursuitScan any half-dozen vendor pitches, and you come away with the impression that doing enterprise IT isn’t all that difficult.  

After all, all you have to do is buy/use/implement a few simple things, and the rest is easy, right?

Just consider the marketing phrases we’re using: single pane of glass, pushbutton automation, cloud, one click to upgrade, etc.

It conjures up the naive picture that in some strange alternate reality, IT admins sit comfy chairs -- idly monitoring a bunch of green lights and occasionally clicking on an icon when needed.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it’s true that enterprise IT is inherently complex — and could certainly be simpler — no one is doing anyone any favors by creating a false impression of the challenges involved.

Doing enterprise IT right is hard work, and it means knowing the details.  A healthy dose of skepticism doesn't hurt, either ...

A Short Digression?

Home_theater_rack_beforeI went through an expensive period when I was seriously into home theatre.  Amps, pre-amps, multiple video and sound sources, multiple speaker routings, etc.  I could make it do exactly what I wanted to.  Geek nirvana.

But there was a tiny problem — I was the only one who knew how to operate the setup.  After all, I had built it.  My wife put it succinctly: “you’ve made it so I can’t watch a movie”.

Uh-oh.

So I invested in automation: a programmed uber-remote with big buttons like “WATCH MOVIE”.  Nice, but that created another problem: when it didn’t work as expected, someone had to know the underlying details of exactly was connected to what, and how to debug it.  And that happened a lot.

Here’s the point: getting to simple isn’t always easy.

Where Vendors Lose The Thread

I fully understand what it means to be working for an IT vendor, and the strong temptations that inevitably result.  Here, it's simple: most enterprise IT organizations are fighting a constant battle with complexity, and are always on the lookout for something that makes their lives somewhat simpler and easier.

Hey — all we as a vendor need to do is tell customers that our new product/service will make their lives simpler — and we win!

SurpriseHowever, it’s inevitable that the new, supposedly-simpler thing creates an entirely new class of problems and challenges — call them unexpected externalities.  

They inevitably result from any effort to simplify things.  They cannot be ignored, and should be fully considered.

I think IT professionals deserve full disclosure on the gives and gets associated with any technology proposition — after all, it should be about helping people make informed choices - especially in resource-limited enterprise IT environments.  

And no one likes surprises.

Some Examples?

One of my favorite examples of “unexpected externalities” involves public cloud services.  The marketed premise is simple: public clouds are simpler (and cheaper) than using internal IT resources.

No argument: simplistic workloads can potentially be simpler/cheaper on public clouds.  But enterprise IT isn’t comprised of simplistic workloads.  Thus, most of the public cloud discussions result in a trivialization of the harsh realities of enterprise IT.

Some_assemblyGetting your existing apps to run in a public cloud isn’t trivial.  Getting your operational processes to integrate isn’t trivial either.  

I have met a few larger IT shops who have made the decision to go “cloud first”, and I inevitably see one army of IT professionals being exchanged for another.

Not exactly clear to me where the win is — or when they’re going to get there.

Another example of an unexpected externality I’ve found in IT shops who have decided to go all-in on IT automation.  Don’t get me wrong — automation is a great thing, to be sure.

But so often these top-down automation projects run into the twin harsh realities of technologies that aren’t designed to be automated (e.g. software defined for lack of a better term) as well as organizations with traditional silos and workflows.  Getting the right technology underneath isn’t trivial; evolving an IT organization and its culture is certainly not for timid.

Cracked_foundationThe best automation products in the world can’t fix those things by themselves, just like the best coat of paint won’t fix your house’s cracked foundation.

A close cousin is the infamous “single pane of glass”.

In any IT operation with multiple roles, you’re inevitably talking about the need for multiple focused presentations, each tailored to the needs of the individual involved.  Not everyone is doing the same thing.

Forcing everyone to use the same pane of glass is a recipe for rebellion — and completely unrealistic.  Shared context for the team — great.  New converged interfaces for a new class of converged roles -- great.  But too often, “single pane of glass” is a meaningless trivialization of what’s really going on in enterprise IT.

Invisible_manThe most recent addition to this growing marketing lexicon comes from one of our competitors, who has decided to get behind the term “invisible infrastructure”.  This one strikes me as particularly dangerous.

Anyone with an enterprise IT background will tell you that infrastructure certainly isn’t invisible -- and if you pretend it is, bad things will inevitably result.  

Yet another frustrating example of the trivialization of enterprise IT.

Are Vendors Responsible?

Yes, I believe so.  Maybe they aren’t entirely responsible for the state of affairs in enterprise IT today, but they are certainly responsible for communicating with their customers and prospects in a transparent and clear-eyed manner.  We owe it to people.

Here are the plusses.  And here are a few other things you should consider before investing.

That second bit gets left out a lot.

When I see an IT vendor crossing the line, I cringe a bit.  Yes, our industry is full of steely-eyed pros who’ve seen it all before and have an appropriately jaundiced view of vendor claims.  That’s the good news.

But that’s not the whole picture, and that’s where I despair.

HopefulThere are many people involved in enterprise IT who might not have the benefit of twenty years of servitude in the school of hard knocks.  Other people will exhibit a strong need to believe in the potential of a better world, and not ask the hard questions.  And, of course, a few people who end up falling for vendor hype — plain and simple.

I do what I can.  In any product team I'm working with, I’m the one who’s pushing back on the eager marketeers towards a more balanced (and realistic) perspective.  I don't make many friends when I do this.  

I’m not always successful, but I feel it’s my duty.  In addition, I occasionally will call out competitors who have lost sight of their customers (and their integrity).  

This doesn’t make the most popular person in the world, though :)

You Can Help

When you see something, say something.  That’s what all this social media stuff is for.  All you have to do is toughen up a bit, and have at it.  The right kind of vendor will attempt to engage you in a fact-based discussion.  The wrong kind of vendor will round up their social media gang and attempt to bully you into silence.

No, it's not pleasant when that happens.  But if anything, you owe it to your colleagues.

Because enterprise IT certainly isn’t trivial, and shouldn’t be marketed that way.

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On Competing

PillowfightMany of you who follow the going-ons in our little corner of the IT industry may have noticed a continuing dust-up between myself and many Nutanix employees.

Competition is generally a good thing for our industry, when done right.  Maybe I'm naive, but I think that IT professionals deserve ready access to critical information that could impact their decision.  

As every IT pro knows, a lot is at stake when you sign that PO for that new thing :)

It's funny -- not many folks want to go toe-to-toe against another company in a public forum.  For some reason, that isn't a problem for me.  I consider it a healthy industry behavior.

Since this isn't my first competitive rodeo in the industry, I thought I'd share how I go about being a strong industry competitor when the situation arises.  Usually, the trigger is a competitor who is seriously and consistently misrepresenting reality, as I believe the case is here.  And getting to the truth can be hard for many IT pros -- so I do want to help.

Who knows?  For those of you who work at IT vendors, you too might be called to do what I do!

#1 -- It's About The Customer

CustomerA lot of dirt gets thrown around once things get going, but -- at the end of the day -- I try to keep it focused on things that customers tend to care about:

  • suitability for the task at hand -- the first question on everyone's mind
  • performance and cost -- always popular!
  • manageability, support, availability, stability -- important considerations
  • sharp edges, interactions with other commonly used products
  • and so on ...

If your competitive claim doesn't directly apply in clear ways to things that actual users would tend to care about, it really isn't that interesting.  So move on.

#2 -- Believe In The Mission

I would never fight for a product that I didn't believe in.  

MissionYou are always welcome to question my judgment, but I have to be personally assured that the product and the company I represent offers a better alternative (in most situations) than my competitor does.

This really isn't up for question.  If I don't believe, I can't go to battle.

Currently, I am hip-deep in the VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) product.  I work with the engineers, the support folks, the sales team, etc. etc.  Nothing -- and I mean nothing -- is hidden from me.

And, as a result, I truly believe in the product.  That's important to me.

#3 -- Get Real Data

Getting good comparison data on things like performance, cost, feature sets, etc. takes time and money.  It ain't easy.  I don't simply recycle other people's opinions -- I want to see data that I can trust before taking on a public position against a competitor.

Unfortunately, some companies have blanket restrictions in their EULAs against publishing any form of performance or feature comparison, which is unfortunate.  Some go to great lengths to hide things like pricing, or specific feature sets.  Sigh.

When it comes to performance testing, VMware is far more progressive than most in that all they ask is a chance to review the test methodology ahead of publication.

The harsh reality is that many people try to do head-to-head product testing.  Not many are all that good at it.  So we have a vested interest in making sure that published tests use reasonable methodologies, even if we don't look the best all the time.

Even if I'm restricted from publishing the reams of comparison data I've got, having it all at my fingertips makes me very confident in making my assertions.

#4 -- Be Professional At All Times

Keep-calm-and-be-professional-1When you get into the heat of a lively competitive discussion, emotions can run hot.  They shouldn't.

For example, I don't attack people personally -- and I think it's very unprofessional when I am the personal target of someone's rant.  

This is about customers, products and technologies.  Feel free to attack the argument, but try to avoid attacking the person making that argument.  

#5 -- Be Prepared To Engage

EngageI wrote an unfavorable piece on Nutanix here on this blog a while back, and I think I heard from each and every Nutanix employee over the next week.  I posted all but the most unprofessional comments -- many of them quite unfavorable -- and patiently responded to each and every one of them.  

I couldn't publish all of them, as  -- well -- some of them weren't really suitable for public consumption.  There are some very foul mouths out there.  My house, my rules.

But it did make for very colorful reading :)

If you're going to publicly point out flaws in a given product or technology, be prepared for a response.  

Don't simply delete comments that you don't personally agree with -- and I'm looking at you @LukasLundell !!

#6 -- Make Your Points Clear

If you're going to compete aggressively, make sure your points are focused and clear.

With regards to my current tete-a-tete with Nutanix, I've boiled down my arguments to three simple statements:

  • Nutanix offers substandard performance running data center workloads when compared to both external storage arrays and especially an equivalently configured VSAN cluster.
  • Nutanix uses considerably more server resources than VSAN, which results in both poorer consolidation ratios and poorer TCO.
  • Nutanix appears to charge at least twice as much (after discounting) for equivalently configured vSphere / VSAN configurations, while delivering both poorer performance and poorer consolidation ratios.

I could make a very long list if I choose, but that's not going to be effective -- you need to hone your arguments.

You may agree or not with those particular statements above, but at least my position is very simple and very clear.  Provable, too.  And, I would argue, many customers would care about those things.  Some might not, though -- it's a big, diverse world out there.

Target#7 -- Relax, And Enjoy The Ride

I've been working in IT for close to 30 years.  I don't take myself seriously, and neither should you.  

Lighten up, have some fun, and don't make everything a personal grudge match.

#8 -- And, Don't Forget, It's All About The Customer

Did I mention that already?  I guess I did.  Goes to show how important I think it is.

Unless you can show competitive differentiation that will matter in the eyes of most customers, do everyone a favor and move on to something else.

 

 

On Being Happy

HappyWhat makes us truly happy?   One of life's most important questions, no?

A group of researchers at Mayo Clinic think they may have the answer: train the mind to focus on positive experiences vs. negative ones.

The rationale is simple: we are conditioned by evolution to focus on — and thus avoid — the negatives in our lives vs. celebrating the positives.

Although few of us will have the opportunity to partake in their 10 week, four-step program — it made me reflect on how I’ve been challenged over the years to crack that code for myself.  It wasn’t easy.

And I meet so many good people who are trying to be happier.

I don't know what will work for them, but I do know what worked for me.

The Early Career Years

Kid_carWhen I got out of school, for me it was all about proving yourself: getting a good job, a good salary, having cool friends, driving a cool car, the latest toys, etc.

It seemed to me that everyone had a head start on this life thing, and I was the one playing catch-up.

When I eventually got what I thought I wanted, I wasn’t really happy.  Life hadn't changed much.  

I told myself I was doing well, therefore I should be happy — but it wasn’t the truth.

Something was clearly missing.

Getting Married And Having Young Kids

I believe I am genetically wired to be in a stable, long-term relationship.  Not everyone is, but I am.  After I met and married my wife — and we started having kids — I was certainly much happier than before.

If I think about it, I now had things in my life that mattered to me more than my own personal needs: my wife, my kids, my community, etc.  Now less important: job, status, etc.

Family-StickerBut it wasn’t long before I fell into a very typical trap: hey, if I get a better job and make more money, I can provide better for my wife and kids.  And that should make me happy.  

I should have known better.

As I found out, burning the candle at both ends made me miserable.  The harder I worked, the more miserable I became.  I was becoming a stranger to my family, and when I was with them I wasn’t a happy puppy.  Worse, I become increasingly irritable and frustrated at work.  I was killing myself — where was the promised land?

I eventually realized the problem was me — and my unrealistic expectations.

The Kids Get Older

At some point, you wake up on a Saturday morning, and realize that your kids have plans that don’t require you to be directly involved: their new job, meeting with friends, a school activity, hanging out online, etc.

Time_freeAs a result, you get the incredibly precious gift of free time.  You can pick up a hobby, watch endless sports on TV, or basically anything you like.  What would make me happier?

For me, it was getting back into music.  

I was a decent keyboard player through college, but all of that went on the shelf for about 20 years, due to career and kids.  So I sat down at the piano, and started playing.  

When I felt I was good enough, I sought out a local garage band with similar folks.  From there, better bands and better gigs as I improved.  I have to say, I am quite pleased with how proficient I have become as a result.  It makes me happy.

Everyone’s brain is wired differently, but mine lights up like a pinball machine when I’m deeply engrossed in music.  I enter a very happy world for a brief moment.

Two important things resulted from this investment in time.

First, I now had a very satisfying activity and identity that had nothing to do with my job or my industry.  I had a personal life outside of work and family.

Playing in a band is an essentially cooperative act (or should be).  When you play with other musicians, all they care about is how good you are at what you do.  Not much else matters much: what car you drive, what kind of house you live in, etc.  You’re expected to bring game — that’s about it.

Second, I started to meet an extended circle of truly happy people who had taken a very different path than I had chosen: truck drivers, carpenters, insurance salesmen, etc.  They were very satisfied with who they were and how their life was working.

Key-lifebalanceI was very intrigued, and more than a little jealous.

What I learned from them is that these people had achieved an almost Zen-like balance between work, family and life.  They weren’t measuring themselves against others, they were measuring themselves against themselves.  

If it made them happy, they did it.  It didn't matter to them what other people thought.

This shouldn’t have been a major revelation to me, but it was.  I realized that I was subconsciously comparing myself to others in multiple dimensions, and it was making me miserable.

I was doing it to myself.   So I decided to fix that.

Without the benefit of a Mayo Clinic ten week, four-step program, I eventually taught myself to focus on the positives in my life, and encouraged the people around me to focus on the positives in their lives.  What other people were doing might be working for them, here's what's working for me.

I became infinitely happier as a result.  Almost annoyingly so.  The more I did it, the better I got at it.

The Kids Move Out

For many of us, that day comes when the kids go off to college or whatever is next for them.  All of the sudden, it’s me, my wife of thirty years — and our four dogs.

NestMy priorities change as a result.  I still want to work — and work hard — but it has to be very satisfying on multiple levels — no stressful, grinding gig for me, please.  Life is now too short.

My current VMware role fits my desires to a tee: great product, great company, great people, etc.

I also want more time to invest in my life outside of work: meet new people, and do new things. Retirement (or more likely semi-retirement) is somewhere on the horizon — how do we go about setting up our lives for the next thing?

I very much want to do something to give back — yes financially, but more importantly to invest more time in helping people that might be going through a rough patch.  I haven’t figured out exactly what I want to do, but I’m researching it.

And, when I have the time, I think that’s going to make me even happier.

What I’ve Learned Along The Way

1. Learn to measure yourself against yourself, not others.

2. Respect the tripod: work, family and personal life — all three pillars should be strong.

3. Give back any way you can, any time you can.

4. Reprogram yourself to focus on the positives, and not obsess on the negatives.

5. Celebrate the progress you’ve made. Maybe we can never live in a state of pure joy, but we can get better each and every day.

And, you know you’re winning when you can honestly say, “yes, I’m happy”.

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