Posts Tagged Microsoft

NERD ALERT: The “Cloud Computing” Phenomenon

Cloud ComputingThis one goes out to all my geek peeps. Word to your mutha.

For about a year now,  I have been hearing/reading the phrase “Cloud Computing” shoved down my throat flashed unashamedly from top vendors everywhere: Microsoft, Novell, VMWare (particularly VMWare) and Cisco. As a matter of fact, it’s hailed as nothing less than revolutionary, kind of like, as John Stewart has humorously referred to as, vendors “talking about it while hiding an erection.”

Let me give you the best definition I have seen of Cloud Computing, and believe me, I’ve seen a bunch:

Cloud Computing – An approach to computing that leverages the efficient pooling of on-demand, self-managed virtual infrastructure consumed as a service.

Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but I have really struggled with this Cloud Computing thing since I first grasped the concept.

The struggle for me is that I didn’t think it was a big deal (I still don’t . . . sort of). I kept asking myself, “Am I missing something?” Cloud Computing, to me, looks conspicuously like a fancy-schmancy phrase for virtualization, which is nothing new. I have been using virtualization professionally for a little over 4 years now. So, I just don’t understand the hype.

I am not alone in this. Most of my peers have felt the same way, and they just wave their hand at it and affectionately tell me to STFU about it and move on. But, me being the analytical type, I have been on this quest, until recently, to find out what the hype is about Cloud Computing.

In my profession I go to a lot of vendor events. I run into company insiders all the time. I have asked Vendor Engineers (who shall remain anonymous) to give me an example of Cloud Computing. Goes like this:

ME: Can you give me an example of Cloud Computing that makes it different from Virtualization?
Vendor Dude: Sure. You can pool resources together for instant scalability.
ME: That’s virtualization. I’m asking about cloud computing.
Vendor Dude: (looking perplexed) OK. You can utilize your SAN for centralized storage of Virtual Machines for ease of provisioning.
ME: That’s virtualization. I’m asking about cloud computing. What makes cloud computing different?
Vendor Dude: Hmm. Not sure what you mean.

/facepalm

I recently came to a revelation about it at the most recent VMWare Forum I attended.

I’m not fucking missing anything.

Cloud Computing = Virtualization

Now, that isn’t completely true when I say that; I did find a minor difference, but not enough that it isn’t going out on a limb to say that.

Now that we’ve established that, here’s my take on Cloud Computing:

  1. I know I’m bragging when I say this, but the reason why I didn’t see the significance is that I am ahead of the curve in my career. Those of us who have been doing virtualization for a while, have already been using cloud computing for a long time now. Hence we’re so close to it we don’t see the difference.
  2. Cloud Computing is mostly a mind shift in how IT is designed, not a new technology. Most of the technology behind cloud computing has been around for years.
  3. “Cloud Computing” is also a marketing term for CXO’s who don’t understand virtualization. I think vendors got so sick and tired of trying to explain virtualization, they had to change their marketing approach. We all know how much CXO’s love cheesy catch phrases. Think about it, have you ever tried to explain enterprise virtualization to someone who doesn’t even understand the basics of how an Operating System works? But put it into a cheesy catch phrase like “Cloud Computing”, make the symbol for it look like the internet, and talk about the business benefits like, “Instant scalability without additional cost” and they’ll start listening.

But, there are a couple of subtle differences between virtualization and the ultimate goal of cloud computing, meaning virtualization as a means to an end to bring about:

  1. A change in how an “Operating System” will function. It is my prediction that in 5-8 years, what we currently know as an Operating System will be vastly different. OS’s will be far more special purpose, suited to the Application that runs on it. This is already accomplished through pre-built Virtual Machines, but we’re going to see that become far more streamlined. Or, applications will run as detached from an underlying operating system.
  2. User self-management. Currently, setup is done by admins at the request of users. We get a list of all the shit the users need called a “User Requirement Document”, we then go into some dark room and build the infrastructure accordingly. Instead, with cloud computing, we’ll pre-build everything and have it “lie dormant” so to speak on a set of virtualized servers somewhere (hint-hint “the cloud”), provide the users with a web-based interface, and they’ll tick off check boxes of the features they want, click submit, and the cloud will enable these features on the back-end in an automated fashion. That’s the software-as-a-service (SaaS) part of Cloud Computing.
  3. Further ease of large scale deployments. This is more of an evolutionary concept than the previous two points. This is already accomplished through a bunch of pretty technical concepts like primary data deduplication on the SAN, and automated deployment tools. I have seen enterprise environments that can roll out 500 virtualized desktops and the user accounts that go with them in 8 minutes. This will become a lot more mainstream as the technologies mature.

So there you go, you now have some cool catch phrases and acronyms with which you can impress people at parties. Don’t ever say that GUAC isn’t informative. :)

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Google and Apple and Schmidt, Oh My

google-apple-schmidtThere was an interesting article by Tom Krazit on Webware today.  In it, he directly addresses the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and calls for Schmidt to step down from his seat on the Board of Directors at Apple.  While some in the comments became hung up on the delivery of the message, found an opportunity to take a shot a Microsoft, or talked about the Google conspiracy of stealing all of your secrets, I read more into the meat of the article.

The quick background as to why Krazit wrote his article is because Google announced today that they will be releasing a new product called “Google Chrome OS” next year.  The OS, or Operating System, is the “root” of what runs your computer’s software, modern mobile phone, GPS and just about anything else.  In the PC world, there are several, most notable are Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX and many flavors of Linux.  Google already had a web browser, released last year, called Chrome.  The big deal here is Chrome OS is it’s own operating system that sits on a Linux kernel.  The main focus will be accessing the web, and that’s it.  Because it cuts out the idea of native applications (apps that are installed locally and thus take up system resources), this OS can be stripped down to the bare minimum, and be extremely fast and versatile.  Anything that it runs will be web-based, which means anything that you can access now online will run on it.  Google explained further that it will be available, initially, on netbook computers starting in the latter half of 2010, a year from now.  You have to start some place, right?  Oh wait, they already did!  Google acquired the mobile phone software company, Android, back in 2005, and created (along with the Open Handset Alliance), the Android mobile phone operating system, which was installed on mobile phones starting last year.  People who use it like the phones, although the hardware itself gets more of the negative press.

We’re in a world of technological change, and that change is happening faster than anything we have ever seen before.  It’s not only because of the big companies and their big software.  A lot of the driving force now is from the small developers.  Apple opened the iPhone/Touch App Store to any developer, and allowing those developers to set the prices.  At last press release in June, Apple stated there were over 50,000 apps in their Apps Store.  Research In Motion, the manufacturer of the Blackberry phones, created their own App World with the same concept back in April, and already has over 2000 applications.  The Android Market boasts the same for Android users.
Another aspect of this drive is something called “open source”.  Basically what it means is the code is free to the public to alter, update, fix and enhance, collaboratively.  This has been around for a long time, and is what the Linux OS and it’s many flavors is based on.  There have been many open source applications available for essentially all platforms, and most of that software is free.  Because it’s run by the community, the support is usually excellent and fast, if you know where to look.  Never is the support for an open source program outsourced to someone not speaking your language who has no knowledge of what you’re talking about, and is simply running through a prepared script.  Well Google stated that Chrome OS will be released to open source later this year.  The myriad of “new eyes” will optimize the code, make it more secure, and concentrate on web coding standards that the likes of Internet Explorer abandoned and manipulated for their own purpose in years past.

Innovation will be the end result of all of this.  Innovation driven by independent coders.  They will continue to see the opportunity to build a business for themselves, take part in something they love doing, or take pride in making something better for others.  Innovation driven by competition.  Microsoft, the behemoth, has been slapped around in the browser wars lately because faster, less bloated, and more standards-compliant browsers have been released by Mozilla (Firefox), Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome) and Opera.  It has forced Microsoft to go back and do things differently.  Internet Explorer 8, released in March, is faster and more standards-compliant than it has been in a very long time.  (Still not good enough for me to go back to, but that’s a digression.)  That’s good.  Apple and Linux OS releases have also hurt Microsoft’s Windows foothold and gained ground in the install base.  No small feat considering the market share Windows has enjoyed.  Granted it’s partly because of Apple’s rebirth, Linux becoming more mainstream-friendly, and in no small part Vista’s horrendous launch and subsequent 2-1/2 year marketing damage control efforts.  We’re hearing from many locations that the new version, Windows 7, is better than all previous releases.  That’s good.
If they push each other, if the coders push on each other, and consumers push via our money… we win, as innovation happens.

Getting back to Mr. Krazit’s call for Schmidt to step down from Apple’s board, I agree.  Government regulators have come down ridiculously hard on Microsoft regarding their anti-trust practices.  Was Microsoft practicing hard-handed anti-trust?  Of course they were.  But some regulators have taken it far enough to stifle some of Microsoft’s innovation, and in some areas it seems Microsoft is playing catch-up.  Regulators have started paying more attention to Google because of their increasing size and scope.  If the CEO of Google, who is now in the business of application development as well as operating system development, is also on a Apple’s Board, who also develops applications and operating systems, these regulators will pay even more attention.  More attention may lead to government intervention, anti-trust issues, extensive costs, and less innovation.

I use products from Microsoft, Linux, Apple and Google every day.  I do love them, but I want them to be better.  I’m selfish.  I want innovation.

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Apple and the State of Biased Tech

OK, here’s the background on yours truly.  I’ve never owned an Apple product, until the iPod 3rd Generation (first non-Mini with the click-wheel).  Now we (my wife and I) have a total of three Apple products.  I have my iPod (and use it every day for my podcast and audiobook absorbtion on my commute), an iPhone 3G as my phone, and my wife has an iPod Nano.  I’ve always owned, and built, PC’s based on Windows.  In my years working in IT (over 20 now), I’ve never come across an Apple computer that I had to support.
apple-iphone-3g-sSo as can be assessed by this little bit of information, I’m in no way an Apple fanboy.  My iPod changed the way I ingest media, as I no longer carry CDs in my car, I listen to a bunch of podcasts and also listen to audiobooks on my 45+ minute commute each way.  All of our CDs are boxed up in the basement.  My daughter sleeps to music every night, and until recently listened to “kids music” on CD… then she became a Beatles fan.  We have The Beatles: One, and she asked for the CD to listen to… it took 20 minutes to find the damn thing!  I almost considered buying her an iPod, but her radio doesn’t have an input jack… but I digress.
My iPod changed the way I listen to music, and more importantly to me, how I get entertainment in my car.  My iPhone changed the way I use my phone.  Admittedly it’s the first true “smart phone” I’ve ever had.  I played with a few PDA’s in the past, but they lost their luster for me quickly.  They were either clunky, feature-poor, or just not a good user experience.  My iPhone is the first device where I have my phone, email, gaming and the full Internet on one device, right in my pocket.  Never have bathroom breaks been more enjoyable!  This is the second generation iPhone, not the original one.  I wish I were an early adopter, but to be honest, I can’t afford to be one.  Instead, I rely heavily on unbiased consumer opinions moreso than the mainstream tech “pundits”.  I consider myself a smart consumer as a result, mostly out of necessity… I personally can’t drop hundreds of dollars on an unproven piece of tech, no matter how awesome it may seem, and more to the point, how much I may wanty.  For me, it was just good timing all around.  My three-plus year old Motorola Razr was literally falling apart (one of the two hinges had a piece missing, so I had to be careful with the flip of my flip phone), I was “eligible for an upgrade” (one of the biggest pieces of bullshit anti-consumerism out there, but I won’t talk about it right now), and the iPhone 3G was just released.  I was interested in the original iPhone, but it wasn’t until the advent of the iTunes “App Store” that really had me excited.  The fact that any developer could create applications for the iPhone was huge, and iPhone (and iPod Touch) owners were no longer just tethered to the limited number of applications that come pre-installed… well that was the selling point.
In the eleven months that I’ve had it, I’m amazed at how many practical things I’ve been able to do with it, look up on it and help me make decisions with it.  It’s a computer with Internet connectivity, and it happens to have a phone built in.

So what prompted all of this is last week was the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, where historically, Apple will announce new and updated products.  As expected, they announced an updated iPhone, the ‘3G S’ model.  It’s faster, has a better camera, a new magnetometer, larger drive, but most of all, the updated operating system, version 3.0.  The phone itself comes out today, June 19th, but they made the OS available to us existing iPhone and iPod Touch users on Wednesday.  It’s an incremental update, and includes a bunch of features that should have been in the device from the very beginning (cut, copy & paste, a universal search ability, a voice recorder), but the Apple fanboys rejoice and jump around like it’s the coolest tech in the world (despite other devices already having those things).  I know that fanboys exist in anything related to tech and where “sides” can be chosen.  I’ve always been of the side of where it works best, regardless of who made it.  I mean, who really wants to get in a debate over whether a PC or a Mac computer is best?  Who really needs to throw barbs as to how the iPod is superior to the Microsoft Zune? (maybe a bad example here)  What person needs to belittle another over the “fact” that an XBox 360 pwns the PlayStation 3?

I don’t get it.  I’m thrilled that there is competition, and it drives the others to release better, more innovative products.  I’m a PC, but I love the fact that Mac is gaining market share… Windows 7 is looking great so far as a result.  I wonder how hard Microsoft would have pushed their R&D if the Nintendo Wii didn’t come from left field and take market share, mostly because of their innovative new controllers.  Microsoft announced Project Natal at E3, a full body controller (I wrote about it in a previous post).

Taking sides?  I choose innovation, over ANY side.  I want things to be better, stronger, faster.  I want my gaming, online and media experiences to wow me.  If it edges in that direction, I win, hell we all win.  I’ll choose the direction of my purchases based on the honest opinions of the reviewers out there.  If your review has high praise, and there’s a single “but”, I’ll take you seriously.  If you do nothing but praise and love and buy a product simply because it has “Apple”, “EA”, “RIM” as the manufacturer, then take your review and shove it.  You’re a putz not worthy of my read, simply open your eyes already, will you?  You’re an elitist, congratulations… now bite me.

I’ll sit down and tell you WHY I bought a product, and if I realize that I made a mistake after the fact, I’ll admit it.  I won’t, though, sit down and tell you why I’m right and why you’re wrong… and don’t try that with me.

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Microsoft XBox 360 at E3

xbox360-logoYesterday was Microsoft’s big day at E3 in Los Angeles.  E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is a yearly convention and trade show primarily for the gaming industry.  I say “primarily” because the lines continue to blur in the gaming, entertainment and media world.  The conference itself has had it’s ups and downs the last several years in terms of popularity and attendance, as the organizers made drastic changes to the “rules” of the convention.  Despite the changes, and rampant rumors that E3 was doomed, many gaming publishers and developers hold off on releasing news of upcoming products for the fanfare of this expo.

Microsoft entered the console gaming industry as an enormous underdog with their XBox console back in 2001.  At the time, Sony’s PlayStation 2 was fully entrenched, the Nintendo GameCube and the waning Sega DreamCast consoles were still selling as well.  Definitely not an easy road of entry.  Some good games, and their new XBox Live service helped boost sales for the mostly PC-software-based company.

In 2005 Microsoft released the XBox 360 console.  It was completely redesigned from the ground up, which essentially what every console release, from every manufacturer, has been.  Only this time, Microsoft changed the paradigm of consoles.  This console came out of the box with all the standard fare: better graphics, faster processor, the ability to play new games (duh), some compatibility with previous-generation games, and Internet connectivity.  What was new, in the console realm, was a hard drive built in to save games, plus consumers had the ability to upgrade the hard drive to a larger one.  Never before had consoles been upgradeable on the storage end (most of them just had cartridge slots only).  Microsoft now had the ability to expand on their base console in ways we, as consumers, were only able to if you owned a PC.  They have been able to completely redesign the XBox 360 operating system, integrated the console into your home network (allowing for music and picture sharing), and they recognized the shift in how consumers can use the 360… as a home entertainment medium, and not just for gaming.  Last year they partnered with the online DVD renting company, Netflix, to provide streaming movies right through the 360.  Previously, people could watch DVDs, but now they can conveniently stream movies as well.

Changing gears a bit, to the Internet-only world…  it’s no news that social media has become extremely popular not only with the tech-savvy, young or geek crowd.  Social media sites and services like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, and hundreds of others, have become the most popular “hangouts” on the net.  News agencies, superstar celebrities, corporations and even the middle-aged non-geek, are all over these sites.  I’m not going to get into these specifically, but gamers use these services to organize planned meetups, the games they’ll play, and when.  Microsoft has seen this trend and worked to integrate this social aspect not only into the game (which the game developers have done already, and what Microsoft did in a previous operating system update), but into the before-game aspect.  How?  Well Microsoft announced yesterday that they will be integrating the two most popular social media entities, Facebook and Twitter, into their system.

facebook_logoMost gamers would dismiss this as crap and rebel against it if they can, but I see it a bit differently.  I’ve tried, a number of times, to organize just a few of us to play on the 360 on a Friday night.  All of us have full-time jobs, are either married or living with our better half, and some of us have kids… it’s not easy.  I’ve used email, phone calls and text messages all to organize a couple of hours of game time.  Normally, my console gaming is completely separate from my PC.  The way I have my home setup is pretty sweet, as my computer is right behind the TV that I play my 360 on, so I just have to swing my chair twitter_logoaround.  For most, the console is in the living room, and the computer is not.  Even if you have a laptop, it still doesn’t matter, they are on two separate devices.  I’m either on the PC, or I’m on my 360.  I’m usually not going to take the time to stop playing, log into whatever on my PC to see who’s online and who might be interested in playing, I just want to play.

With this social media integration, gamers will be able to not only easily communicate with those that you wish to play with, but also let others know that you are gaming, and playing a specific game.  If your buddy Johnny Bravo was checking the latest drama or taking a test on what Golden Girl he’s most like on Facebook, he can also see that you’re playing Left 4 Dead, and feel the urge to squash some zombies with extreme force.  Where good ol’ Johnny may not have been wanting to play earlier, now he’s all over it, thanks to your update on Facebook via the 360.  I see more of the advantage of that “alert system” than anything else.  Just like not stopping to go on my PC, I’m also not going to stop playing to go on the 360 version of Twitter or Facebook and have a conversation.  Typing things out without an actual keyboard interface is painful, and a waste of time.  So if the implementation is done right, it could make it much easier for us gamers to get the word out, to organize it, and get your friends into it.

Microsoft also announced a number of games yesterday, but I won’t go too far into them, although Left 4 Dead 2 makes me want to speed up time until it comes out.  I do have to say it must have been quite a, umm, moment, when both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr came out and talked about The Beatles: Rock Band.  As my seven year old daughter loves the Beatles, it’s a must buy.  Oh yeah, there were also a couple of flagship Halo games coming out as well, as well as Metal Gear Solid Rising.

One of the most innovative announcements was the direct result of how the Nintendo Wii changed game controlling.  It’s called Project Natal, and it is a full body motion controller, facial recognition, voice recognition, and you can control games and other areas of the 360 with motions… that means NO controller.  Sounds like an amazing technology, but I question whether it’s mature enough to really work.  I guess we’ll see, as it is compatible with all existing 360’s, and Microsoft will be selling it with all new ones.
Another minor announcement, well minor to me because I probably won’t use it, is the partnership with the music site, Last.fm.  Microsoft Live Gold members will have the ability to play music from Last.fm at no additional charge.  That Netflix deal from last year also gets a full 1080p resolution upgrade, with the ability to add movies to your queue within the 360.  Did I say earlier that the lines continue to blur in the gaming, entertainment and media world?  Microsoft, at least their XBox division, is the one with the giant pink eraser, no longer in the corner of the room.

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