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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Don't Read Chinese or Korean or Japanese

This is a quick note to the folks who keep leaving posts here in an Asian language:

1. I moderate comments. That means I see what they say before allowing them to post. It is the only way to keep the spammers out.

2. If I can't access your profile, I will not allow the comment. Sorry. If you can't take responsibility for your comments then I don't want them.

3. I do not speak, let alone read, any Asian languages. Sorry again. I took French in High School and learned a little Italian later. My best languages are C, C++, Java, and PHP.

What this means is that by leaving comments in a language I can't read from a profile I can't see, you are wasting your time.

Next time try:

if (post <> like(me) ) {
print("This sucks");
} else {
print("This is cool!);

That I understand.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Sun Sets

A friend of mine asked me what I thought of the talks between Sun and IBM. At first I was trying to ignore it. The timing of it, coming on the heels of the Cisco announcement and a bunch of Sun talk on cloud computing, seemed suspicious.

But as I wrote my email, I realized that I did have a bunch of opinions on this and, what the heck, might was well put them here for everyone to see.

Before going into all of my deep thoughts, it's full disclosure time. I have Sun stock. Big deal, so do a lot of people who do lousy in the market. That was mean but fair. I have always been a proponent of Sun technology, despite feeling that Solaris is mostly irrelevant to all but a few folks who just don't know when to let go (like Sun).

I see several scenarios for the Sun-IBM merger deal.

Scenario 1. It might not happen at all so don't get too excited. A lot of folks think that IBM might overpay for Sun and I can see it getting killed by somewhat frugal shareholders. It's hard to value technology companies since the intellectual property often far outweighs earnings. You can see that being the case with Sun. Besides, they are only in “talks”. More can happen to kill the deal then can happen to help it to close. Who knows what what the result will be when CEO egos bump into each other.

Scenario 2. Also known as the doomsday scenario where Sun turns into a brown dwarf and burns out. Sun needs this more than IBM. They have great technology but they can't seem to sell it. It is really sad to see where they are financially, especially of you are a shareholder like myself. Sun has to do something while there is still something left that has value. Worst case scenario, Sun runs out of money, market share, and ideas. Then, everyone loses. What's truly awful is the nagging suspicion that they have already run out of ideas and the money and market share will follow soon. The doomsday scenario is unlikely but not impossible. Luckily, they have a few bright lights in their constellation and many loyal followers and customers.

The related scenarios are not much better. One that is more likely then the doomsday is the slow death. Sun continues to spiral slowly downward until they cease to be relevant. Over time they sell off or shut down unit after unit. Storage first (the perennial underachiever of the data storage industry), then networking, and finally servers until only the software and services is left. These assets get sold off piecemeal to at fire sale prices.

Scenario 3. IBM does the deal. Sun has technology that is important to IBM, especially Java and Solaris. For instance, much of IBM's own software products rely heavily on Java and, to some extent, MySQL including Eclipse and Domino . A lot of that IBM software runs on Solaris machines. If someone else were to buy up Sun at a fire sale, say Microsoft, it could be devastating to IBM. They need to protect Sun so that they aren't beholden to someone who is less cooperative.

I think that the deal will happen because of this. Sun can't risk either going under or the slow death of a thousand cuts. It's in Sun's best interest to sell off the entire company and let IBM worry about the product overlap. IBM can pick up a few good people and customers, which is a bonus. I don't know how much they will want to value the non-software parts of the business. It might come down to getting hardware and services for essentially nothing while paying a high price for the software business.

Scenario 4. An alternate scenario has Sun breaking up the company, with the hardware and services group trying to make a go of it while IBM buys the software component. Services would include cloud computing and the “data center in a cargo container” business as well as the traditional support business. All of these service offerings have merit and could make it as a standalone business. IBM doesn't need them and gets very little value from them. I doubt that will happen since Sun already knows it can't make it in hardware and the services business would be saddled with all of that also ran hardware.

Maybe sell software, close hardware, and create a services company? That might work but it would be pretty complicated to decouple all of that.

The more I think about it, the more I think the deal makes sense for both of them. IBM has to protect itself, can use some of Sun's products and services, and will keep a good number of mutual customers happy. Sun needs to do a deal so they don't end up in the tech company equivalent of an unmarked grave.

Unless finicky shareholders or squabbling CEO's mess this up, Sun will be consumed by IBM and cease to exist. Too bad, so sad.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fatal Attraction from Cisco

Finally, Cisco announced what had been about the worst kept secret in the tech industry – that they would be making servers. They put a wrapper around it that they called the Unified Computing System which packages together everything you want in your data center and uses virtualization to make it “simple” (their word not mine). The name is not very imaginative (how many Unified somethings do we have any way) but at least it describes their ambition.

Thirty seconds after the announcement, both the Cisco haters and Cisco apologists launched their offensives into the skies of the blogsphere and the beaches of the social networks. Cisco's own press release sounded down right militaristic claiming “Cisco Unleashes the Power of Virtualization with Industry's First Unified Computing System”. You can still smell the burning wiring from the initial volleys.

The issue at stake is whether this is just a thinly veiled blade server launch (big snore everyone) or a radical new way to approach computing. As is always the case, the truth is somewhere in between. Still, I'm leaning to the YABS (yet another blade server) side of the argument. There is little that Cisco is offering that others have not offered before. By others I mean every major IT equipment company. We used to call it end-to-end solutions but I guess everyone will say Unified something or other from now on. I'm waiting for the Unified Unity of the Universe of Computing before I build my next data center. I want it to do everything I have yet to dream of including wash my car.

I'm not against Cisco by the way. I like their network equipment, a lot of nice people work there, and they help fund my son's Cisco networking class in high school. Okay the last one is probably a bit self serving on their part. I have no doubt they are helping to create the next generation of Cisco apologist zombies but the kid likes it so who am to complain.

What I am willing to rail against is monoculture. Buying everything from one company opens you up to a world of pain. Monoculture is like a jealous lover. It demand undying loyalty and only gives to you what it wants you to have when it thinks you deserve it. Given enough time, monoculture turns into Fatal Attraction.

It starts innocently enough. “ Baby, don't you want only one place to go to for support? I know you do.” And “I can give you everything you want and it will all work together. You don't need those other systems.” And of course “ Honey, I can make it so easy for you, so easy.” Then, it turns ugly. Want that new feature that the other companies already have? Sorry. You'll get it when your lover wants you to have it. Found a rather disturbing flaw? It's might be everywhere. Thinking of leaving? Well don't. With it's claws in you this deep, the pain won't be worth it. Instead, you will continue to take the abuse until, one day, your monoculture system company decides it will leave you. They don't call it End of Life for nothing.

I won't beat on Cisco for making this move. It's kind of gutsy in a recession. I won't embrace it either. Buying a unified anything has enormous risks. Buying a unified data center is asking for trouble.

If Cisco wants to slug it out in the server wars against its own partners, that's their business. Don't know if it's smart but I don't care. They have money to throw at initiatives like this and the storage switch play worked. Just don't expect me to invite it to my house where it can kill my pets.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Computer Is The Stereo

When is a stereo not a stereo?

When it is a computer. Music on a computer is nothing new. Since the 1990's we have had CD players in our computers and and digital music files. We've had speakers systems with separate base speakers and sound cards with amplifiers capable of awesome sound. Internet “radio” is also something that has been around awhile and is in most respects better then terrestrial radio. For the past several years there have been sound distribution systems – used to stream sound to an amplifier - and USB turntables. I just got one of each myself and they are amazing. They have USB cassette decks too, but I figured out how to rig that up without buying something.

What is different now are two things. First, all the pieces are finally in place to have a complete music experience using computer technology. This makes it viable to replace your old stereo with your computer system. While I continue to use my old amp and receiver, the music comes from my computers.

The second big change is a social one, one I see mostly in people younger than myself - a complete acceptance of digital music. My kids listen to music on portable music players (little computers) or on their PC's. Even though they have traditional stereos, they never use them. Now, I can hear all the traditionalists out there whining that they will never know the joys of vinyl or some such claptrap. That's like saying that folks in my age group never knew what we were missing with mono 78's. I'm sure the kids will suffer through it.

Truth is, a digital music system is so much more efficient. One constant problem that a true musical gourmand has is space. I have overstuffed my 500 CD storage unit. It's a big piece of furniture and, quite frankly, I don't have room for more. That doesn't include all the space absorbed by my vinyl record collection and cassette tapes. By getting my music via download and digitally, I have solved that problem. With disk storage stupid cheap, it is easier (and cheaper) to just buy more and bigger hard drives then big, honking pieces of furniture. Software also makes it much easier to organize and find what's in my collection, a rather difficult chore in the analog world.

Mobility is also a key factor for the all-digital-music library. I can literally carry my entire collection around on a portable hard drive or shove 12 hours worth of music on a cheap MP3 player that is smaller than a pack of gum. Try doing that with record albums. Even CD's and cassette tapes are no where near as mobile as digital music.

I am the first to admit that we are losing something in this move to digital music. Changes like this always require some compromise. Record stores – real record stores, not big box retailers with a bunch of CDs in the back for old folks who want to here the latest dinosaur rock – are as extinct as the dodo bird. I truly miss pursuing the stacks of albums, waiting for something to leap out at me and say “You gotta have this!” is just not the same experience.

The sound is different too. Music today has so much dynamic compression and digital manipulation that it hardly sounds real any more. This goes for older music transferred to CD or remastered for digital formats. When I bought the USB turntable I tried a little experiment. I listened to albums that I had on both CD and vinyl to see the difference. The vinyl sound was warmer and sounded more like live music. This is not a function of the computer though. It is how they are engineering albums these days. It doesn't have to be that way.

Altogether, I can live with these changes in return for better storage, more mobility, and the ability to distribute music around my house without moving media around. It all makes perfect sense to those somewhat younger than me. In ten years, a traditional stereo will seem like a relic from the past.