The Old Man and the Mouse

June 30, 2010

I remember a story told at a tech conference back in the 90′s about a company testing PC’s. They had set up a desk with a PC, monitor, mouse, and keyboard in a room with a one way mirror for observation. The subjects had varying levels of computer skills and were given a list of tasks to perform. One subject was an older man. He approached the setup, stopped, stared, then picked up the mouse and began speaking his commands into it. The observers laughed and retold the story for years. Moral of the story is none of them stopped to ask why couldn’t it work this way?

I’ve had real life experience with this as well. A company I support is a scale based operation. Several years ago their scale interfaces were parallel based and the software system was DOS based. This system was very efficient. In businesses like this time is money and any delay costs this company and the truck drivers money. The software vendor decided it was time to upgrade to a NT network with Windows clients. A hotshot 20-something programmer developed the system without ever getting his shoes dusty at a client site. Delivery day came and the vendor owner armed with techs show up at the site. After working their way through hundreds of trucks lined up for the scale to open, they made it to the scale house and unloaded their equipment. The owner came into the office looking startled and mumbled, “this will never work”.

I always find it fascinating and frequently informative to watch people at the companies I support in how they use technology. It may not be “be the book” but they get the job done. An engineer once told me when reviewing an elaborate but poor drainage design that you can do all you want water is taking the quickest, easiest path.

Escaping Technology Structures

I know there is balance in design and we cannot let end users design every system. Otherwise we would have many more entries in the Rube Goldberg Award contest. I thought about several reviews recently of the iPad and several discussions I have heard saying it is simply a toy. I personally find it useful. It may be that neither my nor other techies opinions matter. What are people doing or attempting to do with this technology? I brought my iPad along for a recent trip to the doctor’s office. My doctor and I had a conversation about the coolness of it but then she told me about other doctors determined to make it work in their practice. They are not waiting for others to make it happen, they are forcing it to happen. I am certain this is not an isolated case.

My question is who is going to run with this? Who is going to make the devices, who will write the apps, who will design the infrastructure? Let’s not laugh at the ones attempting to use iPads in different ways. Let them tell the story years from now about how we embraced it and brought forward the next leap in technology.


FourSquare for the Rest of Us

June 28, 2010

A few years ago I was introduced to geocaching. I had never heard of it but was told all about it by a friend of my sister at a Super Bowl party. This enthusiast and his family enjoy geocaching and plan weekend activities and vacations around it.
Late last year, I began seeing people checking in on Twitter and announcing mayorships by something called Foursquare. I decided to investigate. I loved the social networking aspects and it appealed to the competitive side as I quickly racked up points, badges, and mayorships.
I quickly hit the badge ceiling for a user such as myself. I live in a rural area with few local friends using Foursquare, and I am not a 20-something out until 3:00 am (although I did earn the School Night badge by traveling home after a business trip).
I was excited to learn about the use of Four Square at EMC World 2010 in Boston. Len Devana and his fellow EMC Social media friends had setup a charitable donation tied to Foursquare use. Plans were ruined quickly by a local superuser who began deleting our sites. Also Foursquare was not very cooperative about creating a badge for the conference.

Four Square, much like Facebook, did not start out with people like me in mind but here we are. Now what? Four Square is the most popular but there are other geo-tagging apps out there, most notably Gowalla. Gowalla adds some nice features like the ability to add photos. So far, not many of my friends have embraced it either and I have not seen it used with any businesses for specials. So where does this leave us? Will Four Square be bought by someone else? They have a long list of rumored suitors. Will they obtain financing and go it alone as was reported last week by TechCrunch (found here)? Will Gowalla or someone else step in and take over leaving Four Square in territory occupied by MySpace?

In light of all of this, here is my wish list for Foursquare, Gowalla, or anyone else.
First, I love the idea of making this a game. Keep the point system. Give points for each check-in, with bonuses for first time at locations. Add bonus for checking in at a place where you are the mayor. Add some incentive based bonuses like referring friends, having someone following your tip, or being tagged in a photo on site. Add points for badges earned. Make a few user levels based on points.
It would be nice to provide location/business owners a dashboard with some options for their business like placing ads that would function much like tips and would be targeted to people in the area or searching the area. Also a scoreboard for their business so they can identify star customers and offer treats to them. Obviously this could be a revenue stream for the owner of this app. Give them options for badges.
The infamous badges. I will probably never attend South-by-Southwest so there are a number of badges that will be off limits to me. Anyone who has been a Boy Scout or Girl Scout knows the thrill of earning a badge. I understand part of the thrill of the badge is exclusivity. If there are hundreds of thousands of badges, the thrill of earning them is diminished. If this segment of apps continues to grow, it would be helpful to allow users to identify themselves with groups and/or communities. I would segment badges based on these groups and communities. This would allow for numerous badges without losing the exclusivity. There could then be some corporate badges along with family oriented badges without diminishing the Playa Please badge. In technology, several leading companies have embraced social networking. They would be willing partners in this venture. Give me a badge for EMC World 2010 or Cisco Live. Give me a badge when I become certified.
Linking brings power. I would like the ability to find a restaurant in Four Square and click on a link in Urban Spoon or Open Table to find more info or make a reservation. If I check in at a Major League Ballpark, I would like to link to MLB.com or an app on my device to get info and share with others at the park. What if I could plan activities by searching places, tips, events, and offers in locations? Linking to other sites or apps would harness more info and more functionality.
Finally a sore subject to Facebook users. Data and linking to other sites. If I check in to my local Chick-Fil-A two days a week for lunch, would I care if the owner of this store or Chick-Fil-A corporate knows this? I would think that if they knew this, I may get an occasional coupon or free shake for being a good customer. Obviously the data this activity generates would quickly become valuable. Be open and honest about this from the beginning and offer me a little something in return for my info and participation and I am ok with this.

So there is my wish list for Four Square or anyone else in this space listening. Bring it on, I’ll embrace it.


Stackwars

May 24, 2010

In a galaxy far, far away…

Sorry but the nerd in me couldn’t resist.  I won’t take this further and ascribe the dark side to one of the players and try to decide if Larry Ellison is Skywalker, Obi Wan or Vader.

After attending EMC World and learning more about the VBLOCK and the VCE coalition, I have been learning more about the so called stacks emerging in datacenters.  It is difficult to talk about because there does not seem to be a consensus of what comprises a stack.  For a great discussion, check out the recent Podcast from Gestalt IT here.

In order to go further, we need to have a working definition of a stack so what I have to say makes sense.  When I discuss it, I am talking about the hardware (storage, servers, switches, power), OS (VMware, Hyper-V), storage management software, and hardware management software.  I will not consider professional services for this discussion although if I were shopping for a system, that would be a consideration.

When I first heard about VBLOCK I didn’t think I would like the solution.  I have preferred putting together my own solutions and using “best of breed” for each component.  I have worked in Compaq and HP shops my entire career and I am used to their hardware and management systems.  I prefer Cisco networking products because of familiarity and as the saying goes, no one ever got fired for buying Cisco.  I was concerned with the companies aligning themselves and that I couldn’t have my Cisco switch in an HP Blade chassis.  I thought, I would be a rebel and still nibble from the technology buffet until they force me to order off the menu.

After attending a few sessions where VBLOCK was discussed and seeing it in action at the vendor showcase,  I began seeing the benefits in some circumstances.  I saw it as more of a turnkey solution.  Order a stack, install it, and have one interface to manage it.   I spent a lot of time last week troubleshooting issues with blades and VMware.  I think this experience may help push me further toward stacks.   Chasing firmware updates, VMware patches, bouncing back and forth between support sites for HP, Cisco, Microsoft,  and VMware I thought a unified solution would have saved me a lot of time.

Will these stack solutions from VCE, HP, and Oracle solve these issues?  Will firmware and patching still be a separate issue?  Will they offer a single interface to manage storage, servers, and switching? Can I give up HP hardware, Cisco switches, or both?  I am looking forward to finding these answers over the next year and seeing if a stack is in my future.

Where does it fit in your world?


EMC World 2010 – The Final Days

May 17, 2010

The first few days were spent mostly on software and concepts. The last two were more of a look under the hood and the hardware. What are the building blocks and makes this all work?
In the case of smaller companies with apps with smaller workloads, Celerra and Clariion offer solutions to meet those needs. In my introduction to Celerra several years ago I was impresses that I was getting a great NAS with a SAN under the hood. If needs change, we could “bust open” the Celerra to provide fibre access to the SAN. The Celerra provides multiple protocol access to the storage. You can access via CIFS, NFS, FTP, and iSCSI. Moving forward I am sure you are hearing more and more about Fibre Channel over Ethernet, FCoE. With switch costs dropping some, a SAN is now becoming a option for more people. Also prices of 10 GB Ethernet switches are coming down to make the performance of a NAS more suitable for a lot of applications. With 40 GB and 100 GB Ethernet on the horizon and 16 GB and 32 GB Fibre Channel coming on the scene along with changes in cabling standards, the table is being set for FCoE to become the standard in most data centers in the future.
Will those of us in small to medium companies see this technology? Yes, maybe not in this go around but soon.
This is the wrap up of my impressions of EMC World. The posts are from my notes from sessions. They offer my impressions and opinions of the information provided. Any inaccuracies are purely my fault and not that of the presenter. The conference fee was paid by my employer and other than the traditional conference swag and the Bloggers Lounge provided by EMC, I was not compensated for any of these posts.


iPad Road Test

May 12, 2010

I brought my iPad with me to EMC World to give it a good road test. This is my experience.

Apple iPad

Decisions, decisions

For the first day, I decided to carry it and leave my laptop behind. Kind of live without a net approach. I arrived at the Bloggers Lounge, connected, and cranked out blog post #1. I emailed a picture from my iPhone to myself and copied to my iPad. I made a note to find a better way to get photos on my iPad.
My iPad is the WiFi model and this is where my trouble began. This was no shortcoming of the iPad but of the wireless access provided at the conference center. I kept having issues getting an IP address and kept turning off WiFi and back on to attempt to reconnect. This was impossible upon returning to the Bloggers Lounge for the first keynote address. When all the attendees converged in the keynote area with laptops and smart phones, none of us could connect. This is where the 3G model or my Cradle Point would have been handy.
When you take an iPad off line, what is left? A note taking machine. I used it to make notes during sessions in the iWorks Pages app. This app is handy and makes formatting a breeze.
When I could connect, I used it to post to Twitter via Tweetdeck. I started composing a blog post with the WordPress app. I checked in on the world with the Wall Street Journal app, and I used Google Reader to follow blogs and articles of fellow atendees.
During some downtime, I searched the AppStore for some photo apps. I found Camera for iPad. At $0.99, the price was right for a try out. This app installs on both the iPad and iPhone and connects the two over Bluetooth or WiFi and displays what the camera sees on the iPad. It copies the picture from the iPhoneto the iPad and allows the iPad to serve as a flash for the camera. This was what I needed to make blogging easier. I also created an album using the Picasa app and tagged and up loaded my photos.

A call went out on day 2 to share notes. I was able to do this via my iWorks folder. I am finding more and more of my average, daily functions can be performed with it. Sharing information was a bit of a task. iWorks makes sharing easy but no collaboration unless others have iPads or Macs running iWorks.

I have been composing blogs from my notes. I have found a bug in the WordPress app making pasting into it a hit or miss prospect. This proved to be the biggest setback and made composing blog posts more difficult.

Overall, I would call my experiment with the iPad a success. It was a useful tool during the conference allowing me to take and organize notes from sessions, take and organize pictures, keep up with social media, blog, and search for information. So in addition to being THE media consumption device, it is a useful tool for my daily life. Also, Pinball 3D is an awesome way to spend some downtime and doesn’t require quarters!


Information Intelligence

May 12, 2010

Information Intelligence. EMC’s name for the group of ECM and information governance products. Most of my day was spent in Momentum sessions and mostly with SourceOne products. Information governance leading to an information policy was a point well taken. If not, lawyers / corporate counsels were there to drive the point home. A lot of the sessions focused on broadening our thinking about data we should include such as email, IM, and SharePoint pages.
I also managed to sneak in some time for archiving hardware. We got an depth look at how Centera works. Tag line of the session was a simple description of why Centera exists; to store lots and lots of data for decades.
At the Avamar session we focused on woking with VMware. There is integration with vSphere to back up files and images and optimize both with Avamar technology.
I ended my time at the Studio E reception and met a storage admin from ESPN. I learned more about storage in 15 minutes of conversation than years reading on my own. I can’t emphasize enough the value of these type of opportunities.
Tired feet, swollen and aching knee and I can’t wait for what will come today.

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There’s Gold In Them There Words!

May 11, 2010

We are “information” technology or “knowledge” workers but do we know what information or knowledge is important to our companies? When most people think of business information, they think of data in files such as Word documents, spreadsheets, email, and databases. As technology evolves and we use tools like instant messaging and collaborative tools like SharePoint and eRoom we add to the information which flows through our systems. In content management we learn to look at data as structured and unstructured. We find ways to wrap some structure around data through products like Documentum and capture data with Captiva, eCopy and Kofax Ascent.

These are means to an end. That end is to get value out of the knowledge that exists in the information that exists in our companies.
We are at the beginning of an information revolution known ad social networking and social media. This revolution is slowly coming to our businesses and if we embrace it, it will provide ways for employees to collaborate and share more knowledge which we as technology workers must capture, manage, and provide ways to get the value.

Information governance is at core of getting the value of this information. What data is valuable to your company? Where should you store it? How long do you keep it? These are the questions to start you on the path to an information policy and information governance.
I read once in a blurb from a Franklin Planner that if you don’t have a plan for yourself then you fall into someone else’s plan and you can be certain they did not spend a lot of time planning for you. This applies to managing information. If you don’t have a data policy, your data will manage you. You are really wasting money of you do not have a policy before purchasing a storage solution. What are the characteristics of the data you want to store, how long do you need to keep it, who has access to it? Knowing the answers to these questions are key to buying wisely.


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