Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Pain of Upgrades

We all like up-to-date software. Who can say "no" to new features or more stable code. The past few weeks have seen major new versions of the popular open source browser Firefox, and Konfabulator, now called Yahoo! Widgets. The other great Mozilla application, Thunderbird (which is to e-mail what firefox is to web browsing) is expected within weeks. What great holiday presents. Or, they would be if the actual updates weren't so difficult. This is the tale of three such upgrades.

Windows XP SP2
I will be the first to admit that I made things difficult on myself. I chose to finally upgrade to Windows XP SP2 and install every update that was pending. It was about time. The new features don't matter much - I don't need yet another firewall - but the patches and security features were due.

This one, I must say went relatively smooth. Okay, I had to reboot like a half dozen times. You would think that by now someone would have figured out how to stage these updates so that we don't have to restart after each one. In the grand scheme of things this is an annoyance.

What is not an annoyance is when applications stop working. My favorite graphics program no longer displayed anything loaded into it. The software thought that pictures were there but refused to display them. After another round of updates, it started working again. This leads me to believe that it was not the graphics applications. Instead, it was probably one of the updates. Updates are supposed to fix things not break them.

The second problem occured when I went to run Windows Media Player. It acted like this was the first time I had installed it. It made me run through the whole "first run" process. How stupid. This is an UPGRADE not a new installation. There is no good reason to make us go through the start up process again and again.

Firefox 1.5
The actual installation was a breeze (notice a pattern). It updated my installation in a snap. That's when the fun began. It turns out that a lot of extensions and themes that I had installed no longer worked and there were no updates to them available. This is the Achilles heal of open source. You can't expect that the free extras will work when things change in the main application. Given that Firefox 1.5 has been in Beta for months, you have to wonder why this is so. I have to assume it is because the folks that write these extensions have real lives and simply couldn't spend time on it. That doesn't explain why the AskJeeves toolbar wasn't ready. They're supposed to be a real company, right?

The oddest thing about this upgrade were the inconsistancies between my laptop installation and the desktop one. I had fewer problems on the laptop even though the software is mostly the same and the hardware pretty close. Go figure. A good example is the Greasemonkey script engine. It installed well on both machines but did not work on my desktop. On both it wiped out my existing scripts (a real pain in the neck) but on my desktop machine it wouldn't allow me to install and new scripts (a bigger pain in the neck). I was left scriptless and perhaps witless. That was not the case on my laptop where it worked fine. Hmmmm. As Alice would have said "Curiouser and curiouser". I finally found a resolution on a forum somewhere. Apparently, in some cases a file directory doesn't get created. Without this file (which can be empty), Greasemonkey can't install new scripts.

Again, I know that this is free and all but if things like this continue to happen, open source will eventually die. It will be too expensive and hard to maintain. Microsoft will win and it will be the end for the open source movement. Not that I'm a prophet of doom or anything

Now if they could only fix the memory leak that causes my browser to continue to east memory until it's all gone, I would be happier.

The Software Formerly Known as Konfabulator
First question: Why change the name? I know that Yahoo is all about brand but why not Yahoo! Konfabulator? That at least sounds cool. Yahoo! Widgets sounds so pedestrian. Are they trying to copyright the word "widget"? That can't be since "widget" has been used in this context since the dawn of computing.

By any measure, the upgrade is a mess. The fact that they released three versions of the program in less then a week is an indicator of some pretty poor testing. One look at the forums shows installation errors a-plenty, not to mention broken widgets all over the place. Lots of other problems have been reported including runaway memory usage and endlessly spawning process. Overall the mood is ugly.

My problems were with the installer. Yahoo! has you download a small bit of code which then installs the rest over the Internet. In my case, the installer just plain crashed. In the end, I scrounged around for a full install that worked fine. After that, I had no problems but others have not been as lucky.

Unlike the Mozilla people, Yahoo! has few excuses for this. They have the resources to properly test this code better. It is supposed to be a major step in their overall strategy to tie us to Yahoo services. It's a nice integration too. The Notes widget (which looks like a stick notepad) is integrated with Yahoo! Notepad and the Day Planner with Yahoo! Calender. It sure is a value-add to these services, though I'm not sure how Yahoo! will make money from it. There's no advertising on any of these widgets. Whatever the strategy, it won't work if the software is a bust. It's hard to make money by pissing off your customers.

Overall, consumer software upgrades are too sloppy. This type of behavior will drive people to hosted applications.Maybe that's the strategy. If the software on your PC is so hard to maintain, everyone will use the hosted applications instead. Then, companies will be able to shove advertising in front of our eyeballs... or wherever else they might want to shove it.

Okay. Now I get it...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Okay! Now I get VMWare

I started goofing around with VMWare. There has been an awful lot of noise about virtual machines and how they will change everything. I was compelled to download VMWare's VMPlayer and see how it worked.

At first I was mystified. Okay, running Linux in a box on my Windows desktop was cool but was it useful? I struggled to find a reason for it. Sure, there are a lot of developers out there that do cross platform work and this saves them having to have multiple machines. Everyone knows that multi-boot machines are a pain in the neck and you have to constantly reboot to use them. Still, how many people is that really? A handful.

So, as I'm goofing around with the VMPlayer, it dawns on me. With the right scripts, I can run legacy operating systems and hence, legacy software on my computer. Cool! That old DOS program that I like but can't run under Windows XP is once again usable. Perhaps in the future, I can even run the Intel version of MAC OS X (a fantastic operating system) and Windows together.

Even that is not the real reason that VMWare and it's kin (such as QEMU) matter. Instead, what these emulators represent is upgarde security. There is nothing worse then upgrading to a new OS (for example Vista) and discovering that your old applications don't run. Heack I just upgraded to Win X SP2 and found one of my old favorite applications isn't working right anymore. With the virtual machine technology, that's not nearly as big a concern. That also explains why Microsoft has there own VM technology. No more refusing to upgrade because of that one old application that you absolutely rely on. No need to upgrade all your applications for the new OS. Run the old stuff in a box if it won't run native.

Hopefully, this makes up for the 2000/XP Command Prompt program that looks like DOS but doesn't run DOS programs well. In fact, shouldn't this be part of the OS? Sure should. Not that Microsoft is going to listen to me. Okay, maybe they will make it part of the server OS but that will miss the point entirely.

In the meantime, maybe my new favorite folks ar VMWare will give us some legacy operating system scripts and such. Then, I can run cranky old programs on my new computer. Huzzah!

Friday, December 02, 2005

I got the new Firefox. Yawn!

I just installed the newest version of Firefox (v1.5), my most favorite browser. This was touted as a major release with all kinds of improvements. Unfortunately, most of the improvments are under the hood. It seems like the same ole Firefox to the me - which is not a bad thing. The bad thing is that some of my extensions aren't working anymore, especially Bookmark Sychronizer.

Adblock, one of my favorite and most important extensions, is still working but differently. Instead of the neat little tab that used to be displayed that allowed me to block Flash ads, I have to go through new gyrations and use the Overlay Flash feature. It's not a big deal but not a positive improvement. I also don't understand why all the search plug-ins I used to have loaded simply disappeared. It would be less of an annoyance if the plug-in site was accesible, which it isn't right now.

Many of the new features, such as the ability to rearrange tabs, have always been available via extensions like Tabbrowser Extensions. Others are just not obvious. Perhaps they have benchmarks that show that the back and forth buttons work faster but I don't see it. It's never been much of a problem for me so it's not something I would notice.

What I like the best is the new error message handling. Since the dawn of the Internet, error messages have been less then useful. If you didn't know what the rather common 404 was, you would just sit there perplexed. Firefox 1.5 seems to be able to interpret errors better and actually provide useful feedback. This is very timely indeed since most of the Mozilla web sites are timing out, probably because they are being hammered.

Ultimately, this looks like a minor release and not the major one that Mozilla has been touting. Maybe that's why it's still 1.5 instead of 2.0. To quote Dom Deluise in The History of the World Part I (a really funny movie) it's "Nice. Not thrilling but nice". For all the hype, there shoudl be something more .. innovative.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The SNW Snore

Well, I just got back from Storage Networking World in Orlando. No, it was not swept away by Hurricane Wilma, though I doubt anyone would have noticed if it had been. Why you may ask? Because it was dull and boring. A big snore.


The expo, where the discerning buyer goes to puruse the latest gizmos and gadgets of the storage world, was about as exciting as staring at a screen saver. You know it's a bad sign when folks are walking around with piles of swag.

Actually the swag was the best part of the expo. Diligent's white paper (a pretty good one by Michael Peterson) on a flash drive was a nice idea. A 64Meg flash drive for free is something worth listening to a corporate pitch for. NEC, which was introducing a tape autoloader (help.. me.. to.. stay.. awake) gave out these neat little Japanese post-it notes with cute monkeys and other strange-looking animals on them. My 9-year old daughter thought they were the best. There were lots of pens and t-shirts too. As Ren and Stimpy would say "Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy."

The actual products were a different story. They came in two types - the-same-ole-stuff and the-stuff-everyone-else-has. In the first category were the usual array of disk arrays, tape libraries and SAN equipment. Not much new there. I can already hear all the vendors screaming that they had lots of new features. Well maybe a couple of new features. Alright, they fixed a couple of bugs. I'm falling asleep just thinking about it.

In the second category were the now millions of CDP, virtual tape, and iSCSI vendors. Don't get me wrong. I like all of these technologies and think them actually useful. But come on! How many startups can IT support, especially when it all looks the same. Exactly the same. Not one of the companies could convince me that they had anything other than a feature that one day the big boys would have for less money. I counted more than ten CDP vendors alone, then got bored and stopped counting. Worse yet, none of these technologies represent real sustainable products. They are features. I doubt I will see most of them next year.


To be honest, I didn't go to many of the sessions. Reading the agenda, there was little to grab my attention. As the Talking Heads said "Same as it ever was." There was a lot of ILM talks this year but they were mostly the same as last year. An awful lot of gabbing about virtualization. When are vendors going to realize that that dog won't hunt. IT wants it as a free feature they can use when they need it. After something like six or seven years, you would think it would be by now. It's like paying extra for RAID. Same goes for encryption and compression. But I digress...

Special Thanks

Special thanks to the brilliant minds that decided to roll out the Haagen Daz ice cream carts just as a bunch of sessions were starting - mine included. It looked like a food drop at a disaster site. Attendees basically ran for the carts like they held their last great hope of a meal for a long time to come.

Needless to say not many people attended the sessions after that. Instead, they sat around like a herd of lions after a particularly good wildebeest. This persisted into the next sessions. I've never seen that before. True thanks to those who put aside the urge to gorge themselves on ice cream and actually did what their companies paid them to do - sit in a session and learn something.

So as not to appear to be too much of a crumudgeon about SNW I'll mention something very good about it. The real value was in meeting people. Usually these conferences/trade shows/extended commercials are so crazy that you never get to have a decent conversation. Not true here. With the talks generally boring and the expo dull, people had lots of time to sit and talk business, politics, and technology. Great stuff!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I Want a New Toy.

My apologies to Lena Lovich. And if you don't know who Lena Lovich is and have never heard her music, go find out! But I digress.

The new "toy" that I've been playing with is called SyncToy. It's one of the many Power Toys - small but useful utilities - that Microsoft comes up with from time to time. Some of their Power Toys are okay, some a waste of bits, and others genuninely useful. SyncToy is in the last category. It's very useful indeed.

It is simple in concept. SyncToy allows you to choose two folders, aptly called a "Folder Pair", and synchronize them. There is the usual basket of options. Completely synchronize both folders, only copy from one folder to another, that sort of thing. You can also have many different folder pairs and choose which ones to run all together and which ones to run manually.

So what's the big deal? It's a neat way to back up your critical desktop files to a network drive. One of the big reasons that people lose data such as word processor files is because they don't copy them to a network drive where the usual backup system can take over. SyncToy automates this process, makign it quite painless. This is especially important for people who work in a SOHO environment which does not have hefty IT resources.

Now, you can also set up SyncToy to run automatically. You can use the Windows Scheduled Tasks feature to launch SyncToy at a specific time (say, the end of the day). If you use the -R switch on the SyncToy command line, it will automatically run whatever group of Folder Pairs that you have configured to run. I've set up scheduled tasks to run SyncToy every day at the end of the day and sync my critical files to my network drive. Instant backups!

So, if you want a toy to play with, try SyncToy. It's not as much fun as Doom 3 but its way more useful.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What's REALLY Cool About Skype and eBay.

When eBay announced that it was acquiring Skype, the free VoIP service, for more money than most of us can imagine, there was a feeding frenzy amongst all of us pundits. Everyone jumped up and down trying to explain why an on-line marketplace would buy an on-line phone company.

There was a lot of speculation that it would allow eBay to connect buyers and sellers using voice. This way , if you had a question about an item and the seller was around, you could just phone them. Wow! That must be it.

Not! The whole point of eBay is that you don't have to have long conversations to buy and sell things. Can you imagine what it would be like to be an eBay seller and have every moron in town who didn't understand what you were selling, or simply wanted to haggle around the auction system, bugging you on the phone? It would drive sellers away in droves.

Even as a buyer, I don't see much to like about this. So I can ask a seller questions. That only gives them an opportunity to talk around problems with their products. If a seller is going to yank my chain they will do it more easily on the phone then via e-mail, where it's written down. Again, where's the advantage.

I think that the advantage is really in the other direction. As someone who has used Skype for some time now, especially for business purposes, I can attest that it works and is really useful. It's free as long as you stay in the network. If you want to call a regular old PSTN phone, then you have to pay a fee. Same goes if you want the ability to have old-fashioned phones call you. You buy minutes, just like a cell phone.

There's the clue. Mobile phones suffer from the need to predict your usage in advance. No ones usage is ever that steady. Sometimes, you want to talk a lot. Other times, very little. So you either end up paying overage fees or not using the minutes you have already paid for.

Now, imagine for a minute, if you could sell your unused minutes to someone who needs them now. Later on, you could buy more minutes from someone who has extra that they aren't using. How would you price these minutes? Should you price them higher because it's the holidays and you know people want to talk? Price them lower because you don't know what the demand is? Too high, and no one buys them. Too low and you leave money on the table and feel like an idiot. What if you let the market decide? What if you instead open the sale up to bidding? Like on eBay.

If you think this is far fetched, please be reminded that telecommunications companies do this all the time. They buy and sell bandwidth (and minutes are a form of bandwidth) on exchange markets. Electricity is sold this way too. The only difference is that the big boys do it in massive quantaties, in closed markets, that are hard to join. They aren't interested in your 50 extra minutes not do they really want you to try and sell them. They especially don't want someone to buy them and not pay overage fees.

Skype and eBay have a different perspective on markets. Skype offers basic services for free and would love to have us all buy Skype minutes. Since you don't lose them like most cell phone plans, they really don't care who uses the minutes so long as people buy them in the first place.

eBay, loves small transactions. That's what they do.They enable regular joes and jills to sell anything no mater how small or odd, so long as it's legal. As long as activity is generated, they make money.

So, it is in the best interest of both companies to create a communications system where a small number of minutes can be purchased, then resold many times over. A combined eBay/Skype makes money selling minutes and again when consumers buy and sell them.

For consumers, this could be a true breakthrough in telecommunications - The ability to make maximum use of the resources we purchase. I don't doubt that it will be only a matter of time before other premium minutes become trasnferable and hence open for sale.

I'm sure there is tremendous risk to eBay in this acquisition. It's expensive and based on an unproven busienss model. But if it works, it will transform telecommunications forever.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Watch That Linux Distro If You Care About Your Data

Data protection is driven by software. All the tape drives, disk drives, SANs, network capability, and big pieces of iron are useless if there is no software driving the data protection process. Software is what performs backups. It's what performs replication and remote copy. Software is the tool.

The problem comes when you have Linux-based systems. Don't get me wrong - I like Linux. I've had a Linux system running somewhere for ten years. Software vendors appear to like Linux too. Almost every major data protection software company has support for Linux - or so it would seem.

What vendors support is specific, major, distributions. It's no different then their Windows and UNIX support. They can't engineer solutions for all flavors so they pick what they think will be the most common ones or the ones where they can get support from the manufacturer.

That makes it tough for Linux users because not all Linux distros are released by companies or organizations with a lot of market presence or support staff. From the software vendor's perspective, that distro is not worthwhile. Support for major companies' Linux products are certainly available. If you are a Red Hat or Suse/Novell user, you're usually in luck. If Debian, Knoppix, Slackware, or some other distro is your favorite flavor, your chances are much less that you will find decent support for advanced data protection features.

To get an in-your-face example of this, look at the offerings from Symantec (what used to be Veritas). We are talking about one of the most important data protection software companies in the industry. Linux Support is only for SUSE and Red Hat. There is no application specific supprot for any of the common open source databases used with Linux. No MySQL support and no PostGresql support.

And if you think the Open Source community will ride to the rescue, think again. Although the Open Source database folks are putting features like replication in their databases, the tools available from the Linux community are pretty scarce. The reason for this, is that this stuff is very hard to do. It's not for the weak. A bunch of people writing code on weekends isn't going to come up with good data protection software. A lot of specific skills are needed and the people with those skill are working for Microsoft, IBM, or Symantec.

So folks. If you are serious about Linux, you need to stick with SUSE and Red Hat. Otherwise, you simply won't have the tools needed to keep your data safe.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Web Clipping with Jeeves

In my line of work (as a technology analyst), you need to keep articles and informaiton that you find on the Web all the time. Company announcments, new regulations, news, you name it. I need to keep it. As a business owner who does a lot of business on the Internet, it's good to be able to store all those order forms as well.

In the past I had to save web pages to my hard drive. I found my hard drive filling up with useless web pages. Managing them was a bit of a pain as well. Worse yet, if I wanted access to these web pages while I was traveling, I had to make copies of them on my laptop, which predicably has a much smaller hard drive.

The best solution is web clipping. With web clipping, you keep a reference or copy of the page in an application that helps to organize the pages. I've mostly used Sage, an application that hooks into the Firefox browser as an extension. It makes it easy to save and manage clippings but still suffers from the problems of clogging my hard drive and lack of prortability.

So, it was with great excitement that I greeted the arrival of Web based clipping applications from Yahoo and Ask Jeeves. Both plug into your browser and give you a little toolbar to save pages to their servers. The toolbars have a bunch of other functions, mostly to help access their web sites, but the primary reason I care about them is the clipping. Now I can save my clippings to a web site where I can retrieve them whenever I want.

After a bit of goofing around I have come to the conclusion that the Ask Jeeves version (part of the MyJeeves Beta) is the best. Why? Because it is so easy to use. I can save clippings, save them different folders, even with a set of my own notes attached. All with the click of a button. Better yet, I can access my clipping whereever I am, assuming I have an Internet connection. I can also save my bookmarks/favorites as well for access on the road.

The other services are pretty good too, although not all the bugs are worked out yet. At least for now, MyJeeves is where it's at (pun intended).

Friday, September 09, 2005

Continuous Data Protection: Is It A Product Or Feature?

Backup used to be the backwater of the storage world. Even though it was the single most important way of protecting data for just about everyone, it was also the most boring. Little that was new was happening and most everyone was trying to tweak the same model. Every night, we copied data to tapes. The addition of a SAN helped make tape backup work better but did not change the model. Even disk-to-disk backup was a new twist on the old ways of doing things.

Continuous data protection (CDP) is a major change in the way back up is performed. Instead of the staged backup that happens once a day, information is backed up as it is created and changes. The backup medium is generally another disk or disk array, not tapes. A major problem with backups, loss of data since the last daily backup, is alleviated. CDP also does this (or should do this) in a seamless fashion. CDP transforms backup into a non-disruptive system function, rather then management function that causes system interruptions.

So the question that comes to mind is: Is this really a product or simply a feature of backup software? The question is important because it affects how companies invest in the technology. Should you invest in a product when what it does will be part of a suite? Would it work better as part of a suite of backup and data protection software?

The answer is that CDP is quickly becoming a feature. We know this because backup software companies are investing in CDP or acquiring companies that make CDP products. Clearly they think that CDP is feature. In fact, CDP is what backup will be in the future. The idea of remembering to backup critical files on some artificial schedule no longer fits the dynamic IT environment of today (or tomorrow).

So, as we peer into the crystal ball we see CDP being the usual way of backing up critical data, with tape the preferred archive medium. CDP will become a feature of a data protection or backup suite. Soon. Very soon…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Search Engine Pain

I love and hate my desktop search engines. After much knocking around with all the major engines, I settled on Google. The interface is not what I would choose but it supports most of my applications.

What is driving me nuts is that it can't seem to figure out what I mean. It's great at looking for what I say but can't get a handle on what I mean. This is the Achilles heel of this technology. If you already know what you are looking for, they excel. If not, they actually waste your time looking through useless hits.

Here's an example. Several months ago, I had created a spreadsheet to show me the true costs of a VoIP provider. The spreadsheet compared those costs against the actual costs of my traditional phone provider. Now that I'm getting serious about getting VoIP, I went looking for this spreadsheet. The problem was that I hadn't actually put the term VoIP anywhere in the spreadsheet and couldn't remember the name of the providor I had run the analysis on.

Of course, I searched on VoIP, Vonage (a competitor), and Internet Phone. No luck. I found the file the old fashioned way. I picked through a bunch of folders until I saw the file name. At that point I slapped myself in the forehead and said "Oh right! That was the name of the file!" If only the search engine knew what I wanted rather than what I said.

I can already hear the shouts of "but that's not what it was intended to do!" True, very true. But that's what people want it to do. The problem - the real pain - is not that we can't remember where we put stuff. It's that we can't even remember what it was in the first place.

So, if you are one of those really smart people who knows how to find what I'm looking for, even when I don't know what I'm looking for, let me know. You will have my eternal gratitude.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Desktop Search Engines

I've been testing out just about every freely available desktop search engine. I love the idea but tend to hate the implementations. My major complaints are:

  1. File support is lacking. I know they can't support all file formats but Microsoft Office is not the only office suite out there. Outlook is also not the only e-mail client. Some support the suite, Firefox and Thunderbord exists but it's hit or miss.
  2. The interfaces are terrible. Google gives you something akin to their web page but it's too small for a big result set. Yahoo and Copernic do a bit better, with a grid-like list that is more compact and straightforward.
  3. Results are inconsistent. It's the typical problem of balance. Some return too few results. which means you miss what you are looking for. Others too many which nullifies the whole reason for the desktop search engine.
If we had the Google engine with a better interface, it would probably be the winner. The plug-in architecture makes the difference. So what if Google doesn't search documents. There is a plug-in for it. It also seems to have the best balance between too little and too much information.

If only the interface was better...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Open Source Fails for Enterprise Applications

I have this real affection for open source software. The whole idea of legions of programmers, working together for the shear joy of creating is very attractive. It speaks to the geek in me. What bothers me is the near religious fervor of the open source community coupled with this "open source everywhere" attitude. I'm sorry folks, but open source doesn't work for everything.

Let's, for the moment, set aside the whole "what is open source and what is not" debate. Sure, some products marketed as open source aren't really and open source is not necessarily the same thing as free. That doesn't take away from the usefulness of the model. It is a detail that still needs attention.

It is more useful to dialog about where open source is useful and where it is not. Clearly, open source has shown that it is attractive as infrastructure. Linux and the Apache web server, to name two popular packages, are the backbones of many corporate systems.

On the desktop, open source makes infinite sense. Applications like Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice are popular because they are multi-platform and evolve features more quickly than commercial applications. Even more interesting is that the development agenda tends to coincide closely with the end-user's agenda. They are not hampered by the need to make money.

When you step up to Enterprise applications, open source's advantages dim. Look at a typical open source Enterprise applications such as ERP or CRM. These are complex applications that rely on a host of infrastructure products. Practically none support commercial products such as Oracle. The true cost of these products is not in the liecense costs but maintenance, development, and administration.

I'm constantly amazed at how long the list of required software is for an open source application. Commercial Enterprise applications almost always ship with most of the software they need. The list of non-bundled software is short, usually only a database and operating system, sometimes a development framework.

Contrast that with the a typical open source version. One product I saw required Linux, MySQL, Apache web server, Tomcat, Perl, PHP, and three other open source products I hadn't even heard of. You had to get that all in place, tested, and fully operational befor installing the application.

That's an incredible amount of work. It also doesn't plug-in to the infrastructure of many companies which rely on Windows and Oracle. I can even understand the need to first install the database and maybe a development framework, but the all the other packages? I can't see too many companies wanting to do that unless they have already made a committment to these applications and packages.
This complexity makes maintenance cost more, not less.

On top of that, who is going to support it? The application vendor will provide support for their product but support for the ten other pieces of software are either going to come from a bunch of other vendors or "the community". That won't give a system administrator a warm and fuzzy for sure.

The idea of Enterprise open source is great. The packaging is all wrong. Vendors need to make all products available in a single install, expand support for non-open source infrastructure especially databases, and reduce the shear number of contingent packages. Otherwise, this will be great for hobbyists but never for the datacenter.

Meanwhile, I'll keep using Firefox and OpenOffice which install everything I need nice and easy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

While the hardware integrates, the software decouples

In my last post I spoke of the trend toward hardware integration. What's interesting is that the opposite is happening in software. Proof of that is my PC. I have a Wintel computer that looks and behaves very much like an Apple OS X machine. By using various skinning and modding applications I have transformed the Microsoft Windows interface into fair approximation of OS X down to the Finder and cool toolbar at the bottom. The last of the great tests of software uniqueness - look and feel - has been swept away.

Why is this possible? Because software has been pulled apart into components, even operating system software. The GUI is dissassociated from the applications frameworks, which is further decoupled from the device interfaces and hardware. What began in the 1980s with the first PC is now reaching its logical conclusion - complete seperation of software functions. In the Windows world, we have a very mutable GUI, sitting atop frameworks such as .Net or JSEE, on top of the core Windows XP OS which, in turn, is seperated from hardware through devices drivers and the HAL. Everything is abstracted and, hence, changable and extensible.

This is very good indeed. We as consumers of computing products can now choose the best underlying OS for our needs, with the type of framework that fits or applications, and the GUI that works best for us. These can be put into different types of devices that suit our needs for performance, size, and features.

Of course, this tends to strip away many of the advantages touted by manufacturers of operating systems. I won't buy an Apple based on the GUI when I can have that GUI on the platform of my choice. If I can choose a Windows application layer (like Mono which is an open source .Net implementaion) for my Linux box then I can have my favorite applications on any platform I choose. I don't need to choose Wintel.

For users of computer technology (and proponents of open source applications) this will bring more choices at lower cost. Good for us. Now, if vendors can only find a way to make money in that environment...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Storage Gets Small

I'm constantly amazed at how quickly technology products can shrink. Technology products always start off big and massive but shrink rapidly to a very compact size. A typical technology product starts with something the size of a refrigerator, which shrinks to pizza box or mailbox size, next down to shoebox size or smaller, and finally onto a single chip. We have seen this happen with computers (Mainframe to mini to PC to computer on a chip), networking products, and now, storage.

Take the typical NAS device. Originally large and cumbersome, you can now buy a small NAS device with 200G to 300G of disk space for under $250 and only slightly larger than a hard drive. These products do not have the features of the high-end NAS products but work well in small office and home environments. Their larger brethren have more capacity and features but are take up less space (for a comparable amount of storage) than any previous NAS device.

Alongside the trend toward becoming smaller, there is also a tendency to integrate features in a single box. It is usual, for example, to find networking products that encorporate DNS, DHCP, firewalls, virus protection, and routing into a switch. Ten years ago these would all have been seperate products on several different servers or appliances. This integration makes management and deployment much easier.

The same is happening in storage products. We are seeing the advent of the unified or universal storage platform that integrates SAN switching with the storage, as well as a variety of storage network services. Products from major vendors include virtualization, security, file services, and QoS in a single extensible platform.

Ultimately, much of what we think of as storage networking will reside on a single chip. It will handle switching, network services, file services, and routing functions all on a single piece of silicon. That, in turn, will lead to very compact storage networking devices. These devices will be less expensive and more powerful than huge collections of products today.

For more on the Unified Storage Platform and the trend it represents, check out the whitepaper on Storage Consolidation on my website at

Monday, July 18, 2005

Tom's Technology Take

This blog is where you may find the musings on technology by Tom Petrocelli, President and Chief Analyst with Technology Alignment Partners and author of Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management. It will have my thoughts on enterprise and personal technology. In the future I plan to cover:

* Desktop Search Engines - Been through them all!
* Blade Servers - Why they are so cool
* NAS for Home - Now you can have you own little NAS device at home
* Continuous Data Protection - Product or feature?

If you are interested in any of my previous articles, you will find a partial list at my company's website