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.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another One Bites The Dust

The CDP consolidation continues! It was announced today that Symantec, who acquired Veritas some time back, has acquired the assets and intellectual property of Revivio. This is totally predictable. Symantec/Veritas was one of the few major backup software vendors without a decent CDP feature and Revivio was struggling to stay alive. Revivio's investors get something, Symantec gets a key feature.

This is all part of the ongoing absorption of VTL and CDP players into the portfolios of larger technology companies. Just recently we saw Avamar picked up by EMC and XOSoft plucked by CA. This absorption was inevitable. CDP and VTL are both features, not products. The do not change the data protection model so much as extend it and give it a new performance envelope. They are in no way disruptive in the way SANs were to storage and data protection.

There are now precious few independent CDP companies left. Timespring comes to mind plus a few others. How long can a CDP vendor stay independent? With this move by Symantec most of the major data protection companies now have this feature. Netapp might go for an acquisition here. They have the NearStore VTL software but not true CDP. HDS is more likely to source than buy CDP. The field is getting very narrow indeed.

Of course, CDP vendors may opt to stay the course and not sell out. That's fine if you enjoy getting stomped by one of the big boys. Most data protection vendors can now offer a full spectrum of solutions, hardware and software. Independents are left to pick up the scraps.Despite the customers they already have time is running out on these companies. There will be fewer and fewer folks ready to buy from a small company when they can get it as an add-on or feature of their backup software. Eventually the big boys will start pricing this software to move until it finally is a standard feature. Then what?

My advice to those still trying to swim against the tide is to get out of the ocean while you can. Otherwise, there will be nowhere left to swim to.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Another One for the AOL DUH List

It is absolutely incredible how much AOL has lost it's way. In times gone by, AOL single-handedly made "on-line" cool with their flagship service. Another component of AOL, Netscape, practically defined the current Internet experience. Yet look at them now. The ISP part of the business is going away. No more "You got mail!" followed by that screechy modem sound. Netscape went from being the premier (and coolest) browser and one of the best Web servers to being eaten alive by open source products. Both have been transformed into lame on-line web sites who's only real value is in their storied names. It's like having a skateboard from Lincoln-Mercury. Not the same and a sad reminder of what was once a couple of great companies.

Business gurus and high tech pundits will analyze this one to death for years to come. Was it the misguided merger with Time-Warner? Was it Steve Case's ego? Maybe both. However, one factor I'm sure of - AOL forgot what is meant to be cool. As proof I offer you the latest atrocity from AOL. None other than the AOL Toolbar for Firefox.

It's kind of ironic that AOL has a toolbar for Firefox. It's a sad admission that they really don't do technology anymore. It's also not the toolbar itself that is the problem. It's just a toolbar. Use it or don't. Like it or not. What really shows the less-than-happy place that AOL lives in right now is the entry for it at the Firefox Extensions download site. Now, it is customary to put up a paragraph or two to describe what the extension does. That's just polite. Besides, if people have to guess what it does, they won't use it.

AOL, on the other hand, was not happy with a simple description. Nope. Not them. Instead they have (and I'm not making this up) a 4195 word, 7 page entry. Now, you may well ask yourself "What the heck could make a simple toolbar extension entry this long?" An End User License Agreement commonly known as a EULA, that's what. I'm not making this up either. It is a EULA that has 22 sections not including the introductory paragraph. What could be more offputting than that? Maybe the warnings that Canadians put on cigarette packages but the Canadian government doesn't want people to use cigarettes. Presumably, AOL made this toolbar so that people would use it and want to go to their site, making their advertisers happy. So what's the thinking here? Did someone say "If we put a huge batch of confusing legalese in the entry, people will love it"? Or "The computer geeks that love Firefox, can't wait to read 7 pages of legal documentation!" I can't imagine being at the meeting where this was proposed and not laughing out loud.

What this shows is how little cool is left at AOL. I would also have to question their product strategy if this is part of it. Some might argue that software, even consumer software, is no longer about cool. It's all about brand and fashion, like sweaters. Maybe I'm old school but I don't think so. Look at Google. They exude "cool" from their very pores and have a massive market valuation to show for it. That's why people still use their sites, despite all the ads, and why "to google" has become a verb.

I think that if AOL becomes a verb it will be more like "What an AOL you are!" Or even better "EULA AOL!" Not too cool.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mozilla Firefox 2.0 Update

Well, I finally got Firefox 2.0 to work. It required an extension (Tab Mix Plus) that allows you to control the behavior of tabs and links better. I am mystified as to why this isn't a core function. It's not like this is new. There have been extensions for this since the browser was first released and tab management extensions are among the most popular. By leaving it to extensions, there is always some lag between when a new version is released and the functionality becomes available again.

I was also able to change the security settings. When I first installed the software, it didn't want to recognize a previous profile for my local web server. Now it does. I don't know why that is, just that it is. That's a bit disconcerting. Things should only change when you make them change, not on their own. Change is good. Unpredictable change is not.

So far, I can say that I don't see many major improvements in Firefox. Certainly not enough to warrant wallowing in upgrade hell. It's a bit quicker and appears to have a lower memory footprint. The tab and session management options are okay, though not as important as the ones the extensions provide. I would argue that Mozilla has it backward in this regard. Tab sorting and session saving could be left to extensions while link behavior configuration made a core function.

The other big feature is the anti-phishing capabilities. I can't say I've noticed anything. Perhaps I've been around the block enough times to not be fooled so I don't run into the problem. I'm guessing it has more to do with not using webmail very often. Whatever. It does not add to my quality of life. If this was in Thunderbird, then you would have something.

Probably the best part of the upgrade is that it forced extensions makers to upgrade their extensions and fix bugs. A bunch of non-critical yet annoying bugs have been fixed in add-ons. Perhaps these are really manifestations of the "under the cover" changes that pundits and Mozilla supports keeping crowing about. However it came about, I don't care. Stuff works better now and that's what matters.

So, once again, I love Firefox. I don't think this was much for a major release. It's still the best browser and IE 7.0 is still playing catch up.

Time May Change Me, But I Can't Trace Time

The title of this entry is from the David Bowie song "Changes" off the album "Hunky Dory". While I know he didn't have computer data in mind when he sang these words, it sure applies. How do we trace time? Can we track changes in data and adjust resources based on change? The answer lies in another quote from Maestro Bowie "It Ain't Easy".

I've been researching a paper around the idea of just-in-time data protection. It pulls together some concepts that I have been batting around for quite some time including the idea of Service-Oriented Architectures and dynamic data protection. I've written about both of these topics before. In looking at how to make the data protection environment more responsive, I started to realize that resource allocation needs to be adjusted according to how quickly the data is changing. The rate of change of the data, should then drive one of the major data protection metrics, Recovery Point Objective or RPO. RPO basically says how far back in time you are committed to recover some piece of data. My thinking goes like this: Why spend money to provide high performance backup to data that isn't changing? Conversely, rapidly changing data justifies a short time frame RPO and more resources.

As I went about talking with vendors and IT people I quickly discovered that there was no good and easy way to determine the rate of change of data. We simply don't track data that way. There are some indirect measures, especially the rate of growth of disk storage. For homogeneous data stores, such as a single database on a disk, this works well, assuming your unit of measure is the entire database. It doesn't work well at all for unstructured data, especially file data. We might be able to look at how much space is used in a volume but that's a pretty gross measure. Databases have some tools to show how fast data is changing but that does not translate to the disk block level and does nothing for file systems.

What we need to understand is how often individual files are changing and then adjust their data protection accordingly. If a file is changing an awful lot, then it might justify a very short RPO. If it's not changing at all, perhaps we don't need to back it up at all so long as a version exists in an archive. In other words, we need to assign resources that match the metrics and rate of change affects the metrics. This is complicated because how often data changes is variable. It might follow along with a predictable lifecycle but then again, it might be more variable than that. The only way to know is to actually measure the rate of change of data, especially file data.

The simple solution is a system that tracks changes in the file system and calculates rate of change for individual files. This information would then be used to calculate an appropriate RPO and assign data protection resources that meet the metrics. The best system would so this on the fly and dynamically reassign data protection resources. A system like this would be cost effective while providing high levels of data protection.

No one has this yet. I'm thinking it is two to five years before this idea really takes hold in products. That's okay. It's usually a long time before something goes from a good idea to a usable product. We have to start with the good idea.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More Fun for You at SNW

After last year, I had pretty low expectations of SNW this year. There was so little new and interesting that it was discouraging. So, going into this year's Expo I have to admit that I had a bad attitude. I am happy to report that I was mistaken and actually found some interesting trends and technology. That is not to say all is rosy. There is still a lot of silliness out there but that is easily balanced by intelligent responses to real problems.

The Most Interesting Announcement

The announcement that caught my attention right away was EMC's acquisition of Avamar. Avamar was an early entry into disk-to-disk backup. What is most interesting about Avamar is their software. The hardware is beside the point. They are leaders in making backup more efficient by only bothering with changed data, called de-duping. They have done a great job with presenting backed up data so that it is easy to find and retrieve.

This fills a significant hole in EMC's lineup. They now have traditional backup (from Legato), CDP, disk-to-disk backup, and remote copy. Pretty much a full spectrum data protection product line. Nice.

Application Specific Storage

There are way too many storage array vendors in the marketplace. They can't all survive. However, there is a nice trend emerging, one that I think may have legs - Application Specific Storage. By this I mean storage systems tailored for specific types of applications. In general, we have taken general purpose arrays and tweaked them for specific purposes. In some cases, some vendors have specialized arrays and software for certain industries such as graphics, media, or the large files typical in oil and gas explorations.

The newest classes of storage are similar in concept - build arrays that fit certain application criteria. This is married to specialized files systems and network operating systems as well as other hardware to make networked storage that is able to meet the performance and management needs of common applications. This is a trend to watch.

Annoying Techspeak

Okay, there are lots of silly acronyms and marketing speak in the computer technology industry. What I really hate is when it is downright misleading. I saw the term "adaptive data protection" tossed on some booths. That attracted me like a moth to a lightbulb of course. Unfortunately, there was nothing adaptive about it. What I found was configurable (read manually configurable) CDP. Aw comeon! Adaptive means that it changes when the environment changes. It does not mean that I can change it when I notice that something is different.

ILM In A Narrow Band

There is much less talk about ILM than last year or even than the year before. What there is now is more focused ILM products. Lots of advanced classification software and search and index engines. This is good. It shows the maturation of the ILM space.

Oh You Pretty Things!

Design has finally come to storage. I don't mean engineering design, functional but unattractive. Instead, design in terms of form and attractiveness. Lets face it, a lot of storage gear is downright ugly. Some of it so ugly that you need to put a paper bag over it before you put it in your data center. Now we have curves and glowing logos. You actually want to look at the stuff.

Gimme Shelter

Yes! More secure products. Software, secure storage, and security appliances. Not only is there critical mass in security products, but more and more security is integrated into other components. Let the black hats penetrate the network and server perimeters. They'll hit the wall with storage.

Give Me Some Relief

And what do IT professionals want? Relief. Relief from regulators and lawyers. Relief from high costs. And relief from the crying and wailing over lost data. They want to keep what they want while ditching what the lawyers want to ditch.

Perhaps this is a sign that things are changing in the storage industry. Innovation still exists and is growing. That's very good news.