Archive for October 2009

L.A. to go to cloud-based email

October 28, 2009

The city of Los Angeles is moving their email (for 30,000 employees) to Google.  This will be a good viability test for the system.  I know they’re mainly concerned about security, but I think it will also be a good test of uptime and customer service.

I think it will be a good practice run for Google.  If they can support this many users with business-level security and uptime needs, it will be a good starting point for selling the same service to other government organizations.

It should be noted, before we get too excited, that this is EMAIL.  Not file servers, not thin client desktops linked to a cloud-based array, just email.  It’s a fitting place for L.A. to start, since cloud-based email has been around for a long time already.  We’ll see if they migrate more areas over to cloud-based solutions as time goes on.

Here’s the L.A. Times article.

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GeoCities and musing on growing up digital

October 26, 2009

RIP GeoCities (1995-2009)

We will miss your animated GIFs, your annoying <MARQUEE> tags (or <BLINK> if you used that other browser). Seriously, I shouldn’t care – I hosted my site on Angelfire -but the memories of hand-coded sites (or un-user-friendly site wizards) from the teenage years are making me feel so nostalgic. It was a good run, GeoCities. Thanks for helping the Web through its adolescence.

And last night, I watched live as Bono, The Edge, and the other two guys rocked Pasadena and the world watched on YouTube.  IMO, the blog community, in addition to YouTube and MySpace (which are both arguably just blogs 2.0 anyhow) were direct descendants of the 1990s trend toward a personal presence on the Web for those who don’t want to toil over code.  The fact I grasp how to edit the URL of this post (which I just did) started with the 90s and personal Web sites.

GeoCities (and the other wannabe GeoCities sites) really did bring the Web a long way by making it possible for nontechnical people to easily post content to the Web.  And while the Web was perhaps a teenager at the time, for me (and lots of others who were teenagers in the 90s) it helped US through our adolescence.

I was a late bloomer, and I caught on around 1998.  I got a giant tome on HTML from the public library, and started reading and coding.  Before long, I was lost in the world of <BR> and <A HREF>, where I searched long and hard for websites with free horizontal-bar JPEGs and JavaScript snippets to add a scrolling status bar.  It was my first experience in speaking a language a machine could understand, and it significantly influenced my development as a technologist.

My site only contained some personal views and a very long list of music-related jokes (Why do violinists put rags on their shoulder?  So they don’t drool on themselves!!!  Yes, that one was on there).  It was not impressive, but it WAS to me because I had my own world where I was the WEBMASTER, and the WEB was still just a little bit mysterious. =)  These days, it’s a glut of information, smut, and third-rate instantiations of Godwin’s Law (and parodies of such instantiations, and parodies of the parodies).  Still mystery, but more like the Badlands are mysterious, rather than the first-girlfriend mystery I felt back then.  Or maybe the Web WAS actually lame back then, and it was really just adolescence being mysterious.

So we will miss thee, GeoCities of yore.  Thank you for the precedent you set of free personal web pages for everyone.  We hope you understand how deeply you affected a generation.

My experience with Active@ Boot Disk

October 19, 2009

Our office recently needed to do some data recovery.  We usually don’t have to, since all saved data is supposed to go onto a network share.  But there’s always the user who thinks they know better and keeps 3 GB of data on their desktop (not just the desktop computer, but the Windows desktop).  And of course, this would also be the user whose hard disk dies.  My sense of responsibility got the better of my schadenfreude, so I started trying to retrieve the data.

Occasionally, I’ve been able to retrieve data by fiddling with things until I can temporarily access the data.  Didn’t work this time.  Enter Active@ Boot Disk.  I’ve used the demo DOS-based version of their software before, and I wasn’t particularly impressed.  But we decided to spring for the Windows-based version, and I’m glad we did.  It’s intuitive, effective, and I will consequently spend much less time recovering files in the future.  Check it out if you have a chance.

Some of the particular things that impressed me about the Win version are:

– ability to map a network drive, then save recovered files to it
– use Remote Desktop to control another computer
–  reset Windows passwords (I already have a freeware tool that does this, but it’s nice to have)
– registry editor
– web browser, mail sender, FTP and Telnet clients
– disk wipe tools
– partition tools
– imaging tool
– hex editor to read data directly from the disk (I don’t know if I’ll ever use that, but hey…)

So you get the idea – it’s got a lot to offer.  If you’re needing a preinstall environment, especially for doing file recovery, check it out.

Only thing I wish it had – ability to integrate malware scanners into the PE.  Oh well, can’t have everything.  And at $80 US, it’s a great value.

The future of IT is Big

October 13, 2009

The New York Times is running an interesting piece about the ever growing glut of data. The article details IBM and Google’s concern over the data glut and if new and upcoming students trained to handle the explosion of data. It is quite a fascinating piece.

At the heart of this criticism is data. Researchers and workers in fields as diverse as bio-technology, astronomy and computer science will soon find themselves overwhelmed with information. Better telescopes and genome sequencers are as much to blame for this data glut as are faster computers and bigger hard drives.

Please click through and read the whole article. It is very good and very true. This topic should be at the forefront of any person who works in the Computer/Technology field. First there is the problem of how to store this much data. Currently I work for a small publisher (O’Reilly media). It is easy to think that a small publisher probably doesn’t have huge storage needs. But so far since I’ve started working here (1 full year going on my second) we just ordered our second storage shelf, this time for almost 14TB. The new shelf has yet to be installed, but the other day my IT coworker was talking to management in a meeting. Our last shelf was around 1TB, but lasted less than a year. He said at almost 14TB this should last us a long time, but then added, “But we say this every time.” It is so true, especially with storage so cheap and drives so big. It reminds me of my first computer in the mid 90’s with 10GB of storage. I told my parents I’d never needed a bigger hard drive. Then I went away for my freshmen year of college and filled it right up with stupid pictures and movie files.

When I worked for the University of Illinois Engineering department the problems were worse. One research group that I worked for had 1 professor and maybe 5 students (including undergrad). They were relatively new so there was no infrastructure or file server and there really wasn’t much money for it anyway. One day I went to the Professor’s office. He must have had at least 30 hard drives each at least 500GB if not 1TB. Those were just the hard drives he had his students carried around a handful themselves. Another research group, with decades of history, started a scanning project. They would scan hundreds of slides at once each producing around 1MB of data. We installed a file array starting off at 4TB, but was expandable to 14. Unfortunately I left and am not sure what they have or need now. My point is that data storage is a huge problem. And is growing extremely fast. The article mentioned facebook’s 1Petabyte of photos, I’m guilty of quite a few of those, but that is just mentioning one company, many more could have been mentioned. Finally there is even personal space. Since I got my new camera I myself am looking at more storage for home. I am looking for personal NAS boxes. So I see the basic point. The future of IT is data and what to do with it.

Computer scientists and, for that matter, any scientists need to pay special attention. Not only do we need a way to store a lot of this data, but probably more importantly we need to do something with it. A lot of this will rest on programmers, but it isn’t limited to them. When I worked at the U of I the students worked on a cluster I built for them. They would code in C tweaking their algorithm to save every last processor cycle. These students weren’t in Computer Science. This summer I took a course at Boston University. One of my classmates was clearly not a computer person. I asked her why she took the course. She was a statistician and was heading to Grad School for statistics. The school asked her to take programming courses so she could analyze data sets. And of course then there are the Computer Scientists, and our future depends upon analyzing such data.

The future is big data; lots of it. And it is no longer just Google and IBM analyzing and storing it. Now even the smallest of research groups or a little publisher can generating mounds of information. Time to start paying very close attention.