Interview Series: Mark Brookfield

Meet our next participant in the Cloudfix Interview Series! Enjoy the read, feedback is always welcome!!



Full Name: Mark Brookfield
Company: NIU
Certifications: VCAP5-DCA, VCAP5-DCD, VCP4/5/6-DCV, VCP5/6-DT(M), MCITP, MCTS, MCSE w/Security/Messsaging, CCNA, ITIL
Twitter: @virtualhobbit




Who is Mark Brookfield?

I’m an IT architect who’s been in IT for eighteen years. I’ve lived in the UK, the US, and currently I live in The Netherlands.

I don’t see what I do as “work” or “my job” – it’s something I do that people are kind enough to pay me for. I’m almost tempted to say I’d do my job for free, but I don’t want to give my boss any ideas…

Can you tell us something about your employer/company?

My current role is Technical Evangelist for NIU, a managed services provider in the UK. I report directly to the CTO and am tasked with finding new and innovative ways in which technology can make the business more successful. Fortunately, I’m not “hands-on” operational anymore, so I don’t break as much stuff 😉

NIU designs and builds solutions for a wide-range of clients, ranging from financial services to retail. We have approximately two hundred employees and our headquarters is in central London.


Can you describe your IT infrastructure in short?

We’re a IBM partner, so our compute and storage hardware centers around their product catalog. Our networking is provided solely by Cisco. Various other vendors compliment these technologies, VMware playing a large part in every solution we offer.

We have numerous datacenters in the UK, providing both primary and secondary solutions to customers. These datacenters are very much “lights-out”, with our Operations Team supporting them from our offices in Bagshot, Surrey.


What is the main purpose for this IT platform?

Each solution we design and build is tailored to each individual customer. However, a number of core technologies are consistently used. An example of this would be VMware vSphere, coupled with IBM XIV replication and Site Recovery Manager, to provide a site-resilient managed Microsoft Exchange platform.

Another solution we often provide is VDI. A number of our clients have realized the benefits of moving to a virtualized desktop infrastructure, and are keen to take advantage of our vast experience in this area.


If you had the chance to design and build this environment all over again, would you change anything? If so, what would you do differently?

The harsh reality for service providers is that there’s no money to be made in hardware anymore. You just can’t compete with the size and scale of cloud providers such as AWS or vCloud Air. Together with that, customers are no longer prepared to wait the sort of lead times they’ve experienced previously for new hardware and services, hence the emergence of “shadow IT”.

With that in mind, we could have taken advantage of cloud platforms a little sooner.

Fortunately, our new CTO recoqnises the value cloud platforms offer the modern enterprise, and we now have strategic partnerships in place to provide “best of breed” solutions for our customers.


What are new developments or solutions which caught your eye and why?

Managing such a large environment presents a number of issues, configuration drift being the biggest. Creating the perfect solution is one thing, but if you cannot maintain this configuration over time, it creates additional support issues. This kind of “snowflake configuration”, where each is perfectly formed but yet different from the next, is currently the biggest challenge facing our business today.

There are a number of products on the market which will help you manage this lifecycle – Puppet, Ansible and Chef to name a few. It is the latter that we are looking at closely.


What are your thoughts on applying these on your own environment?

As a company we are fully committed to this technology/product. We have reorganized our business structure to start a DevOps transition and Chef is going to be a fundamental part of achieving that.


How do you see IT change in the next 5 years?

More and more customers will try to embrace “DevOps”, despite not fully understanding what it means. Many will focus on the technology, not realizing that culture and processes play the biggest part. Just because you can spin-up multiple Docker instances and configure them with Salt does not mean you have embraced DevOps.

Hopefully a number of companies will emerge that do it right. They will recognize business bottlenecks, and use process and culture, coupled with technology, to aid the business to be more profitable. They will transform IT from being a cost centre into being a core part of the business.


How do you think this will translate to your current working environment?

We will be one of those companies 🙂


Who is your biggest influencer in IT and why?

Scott Lowe (@scott_lowe). I’ve followed him for years and he continues to impress me. The breadth of his skillset is breathtaking, and he refuses to be siloed. I’ve read his books, followed his blog and attended his sessions, and each time I’m reminded of the vast scale of his knowledge.

I may even have to replace that IronMan poster in my bedroom with one of him…


What’s the greatest tech disruption you’ve seen in your career?

I have to pinch myself when saying this, but I would have to say Microsoft. Whist I’ve not always been their biggest fan, it would be hard to deny their recent achievements.

I’m not just referring to their cloud platform, Azure, but their commitment to becoming a more open and platform-agnostic company. Visual Studio Code, supported on both Linux and Mac OSX… Bash on Windows… all examples of a company that’s taken a sharp change in direction.

Recently I was talking with Alan Renouf and Jeffrey Snover (Technical Fellow at Microsoft, creator or PowerShell) who agreed that bringing PowerShell to the Mac would be “a great idea”. This sort of thinking would have been unheard of three years ago.


What would you do for a living if you had not ended up in IT

I come from a family with a strong military background, so in all likelihood I would have worked to have been commissioned into the British Army as an officer. So instead of visiting hot and sandy countries to install IT infrastructure, I’d been kitted out in Kevlar and being shot at.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!!

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My main focus is infrastructure (Storage, Networking and Computing), but I'm also very interested in designing and implementing VDI and Server Based Computing-environments.
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