Archive for the 'VIS' Category

Software, Swainson, Forrestor analysis

Forrestor have published an interesting analysis of the new announcement that John Swainson will be joing Dell next month, I’m not sure about the protocol for passing on information such as this, by I thought it was an interesting analysis. “Suddenly Dell is a software company, and can flourish under new President John Swainson“. Kevin Kwang, over on ZDNet Asia expands on the Forrestor analysis here.

I need…

I had planned a long year end post that was around of all that happened in the past year, including some important updates on some of the software development that’s been going on here at Dell. Suffice to say the complexity of writing something that wouldn’t get me in trouble either for disclosing too much, or making it sound like finger pointing, which it wouldn’t have been, meant it never got written.

I had a great end of year Christmas trip back to the UK, the main reason for the trip was to get a new US Work visa, since my change of status, Permanent Residence aka Green card hadn’t been approved. After a few days in the West End dealing with that, I decamped to Islington and spent a few days out there including a great trip out to Stratford and the site of the 2012 Olympics. While in East London I caught this track a few times, called, I need – performed by Maverick Sabre who is now from Hackney, East London.

Maverick was of course one of our software project code names, the words made me laugh, “I need sunshine, I need Angels, I need something good and I need”. The irony won’t be lost. Enjoy.

The first Maverick Sabre album, Lonely are the brave, will be out Feb 6th, 2012.

OSGI and simplicty

from my conversation with James Governor after my flying visit to London for Dell Tech Camp, I’d known James was interested in OSGI from our conversations when it was an emerging technology and I was still at IBM; I hadn’t realized how much though until our recent discussion, and his blog entry for today, James quotes Kevin Cochrane, VP of marketing, CEM at Adobe. Kevin says of OSGI:

“There are 3 OSGi use cases relevant to customers:

1. updates. ie bug fixes to customer production systems. there is no need to bring them down.

2. extending new services. you might have 12 services, and a huge user community – you can still roll out extensions with no downtime.

3. discovery of new services. find a pre-packaged piece of code. browse, integrate and deploy.”

And yes, those are the key benefits that I can see us exploiting and delivering direct customer value through what they enable, rather than simply what they are. OSGI has many other “technical” benefits in the architecture and development space, but these three deliver the most value to the customer.

OSGI features, functions

Image from @kkirk.com

NeuralSoft and Dell VIS — Improving IT Efficiency

One of our customers, NeuralSoft, gives a high level overview of their use of VIS/AIM.

New VIS Blog/web sites

A couple of new VIS related web sites to be aware of.

First up there’s a new converged infrastructure web site on dell.com – It’s a great launch point to get an overview and links to the complete space we are working on under the VIS umbrella.

Second, as part of it’s Ziff Davis Enterprise web site, dell has sponsored the Dell Virtual Integrated System blog, written by Sean Gallagher. This isn’t product specific but covers some useful supporting, background and industry news.

Getting the ball moving

It’s getting interesting now as we start VIS 1.1 planning and design, while also working on the technology evaluations for VIS 2.0. At the same time seeing VIS 1.0 coming toward the end of it’s development sprints, with the final “tuxedo” UI replacing the “pyjama” UI, the simplicity and ease of use is looking really good.

So it was good to see this IDC White paper, sponsored by Dell, on  improving datacenter productivity. The IDC opinion section of the report aligns, unsurprisingly with the key areas we are working on, at lists the key capabilities. Mary Johnston Turner from IDC has also provided some useful background information.

Simplicity versus, well non-simplicity

I’ve had an interesting week, last Friday my corporate Blackberry Torch that was only 2-months old, was put in a ziploc bag with my name on it, and I was given a Dell Venue Pro phone with Windows Phone 7 in it’s place. I’ve written a detailed breakdown of what I liked and didn’t like. The phone itself is pretty rock solid, well designed, nice size, weight etc. and a great screen. Here is a video review which captures my views on the phone itself, a great piece of work from Dell.

What is interesting though is the Windows Phone software. Microsoft have obviously put a lot of time and effort into the User Interface and design experience. Although it features the usual finger touch actions we’ve come to expect, the UI itself, and the features it exposes have been carefully designed to make it simple to do simple things. There really are very few things you can change, alter, almost no settings, only very minimal menu choices etc.

What makes this interesting for me is this is exactly the approach we’ve taken with our UI. When trying to take 79-steps, involving 7x different products and simplify and automate it, it would be easy to make every step really complicated, and just reduce the number of steps. However, all that does is mean that there would be more chance of getting something wrong with each step; my experience with this type of design is that not only is the human operator more likely to make a mistake, but the number of options, configurations and choices drive up the complexity and testing costs become prohibitive, and eventually mistakes are made. Combinations not expected are not tested, tests are run in orthogonal configurations.

Back when the autonomic computing initiative was launched some 10-years ago at IBM, there seemed to be these two diametrically opposed desires. One desire was to simplify technology, the other was to make systems self managing. The problem with self managing is that it introduces an additional layer, in many cases, to automate and manage the existing complexity. To make this automation more flexible and to make it more adaptable, the automation was made more sophisticated and thus, more complex. The IBM Autonomic Computing website still exists and while I’m sure the research has moved on, as have the products, the mission and objectives are the same.

Our Virtual Integrated System work isn’t anywhere near as grandiose. Yet, in a small way it attempts to address whats at the core of IBMs’ Autonomic Computing, how to change the way we do things, how to be more efficient and effective with what we have. And that takes me back to Windows Phone 7. It’s great at what it does, but as a power user, it doesn’t do enough for me. I guess what I’m hoping at this point is that we’ll create a new category of system, it is neither simple, nor complex, it does what you want, the way you want it, but with flexibility. We’ll see.

Plug-in, turn off..

Plug-in, turn-off

Plug-in, turn-off

Work on the full VIS Unified automation and orchestration engine continues apace here in Round Rock, one of the first fruits on the Dev. teams efforts was announced this week, the Dell Management Plug-In for VMware vCenter.

In essence what it does is rather than require an additional console to manage, monitor hardware, it integrates the management for Dell PowerEdge servers directly into VMware vCenter so it can be access directly from there.

We’ll be leveraging this technology as a core component in VIS Unified, it’s got a solid delivery off a well thought through programming spec. and has already received numerous positive reviews. There is a good review here, along with some screen shots that will give you an idea of what the product does. Any questions, let me know.

What’s on your glass?

James Governor, @monkchips, makes some great points about UI design in his latest blog post. James discusses how Adobe is changing it’s toolchain to better support, endorse HTML5 and how open is a growth accelerator, not just a philosophical perspective. He get’s a useful plug in for the Dell Streak, and it as a piece of glass too ;-)

I’ve alluded to it here before, we are heading in the same direction for both our PowerEdge 12g Lifecycle Controller and iDrac UI for one to one management of our servers; also for the simplified UI for the Virtual Integrated System, aka VIS. Flash/Flex/Silverlight had their time, they solved problems that at the time couldn’t be solved any other way. However, it was clear to me and I suspect to all those involved in the HTML5 standards efforts, that we were headed down a dead end of walled gardens“. What put this in perspective for me wasn’t James’ post, but one from fellow Redmonk, Cote, last year in which he discussed the web UI landscape.

Web UI Landscape by Cote of Redmonk

The details actually were not important, Cote ostentatiously discussing Apache Pivot, summarizes by saying “Closed source GUI frameworks have a tough time at it now-a-days, where-as open source ones by virtue of being free and open, potentially have an easier time to dig into the minds of Java developers.”

 

But really, it was the diagram that accompanied the article for me. It laid it the options as a flower, and as we know, flowers are grown in gardens, in this case, each was being cultivated in its’ own walled garden.

I cancelled the FLASH/WSMAN[1] proof of concept we’d built for the gen-next UI, and decided the right move was to adopt a more traditional MVC-like approach using open standards for our UI strategy.

We don’t have a commitment yet to deliver or exploit HTML5, but we’ve already adopted a REST style using HTTP for browser and HTML clients to interact with a number of our products, using Javascript and JSON and building towards having a foundation of re-useable UI artifacts. Off the back of this we’ve already seen some useful Android pilots.

Which takes us back to James post. He summarizes with “If the world of the API-driven web has taught us anything its that you can’t second guess User Interfaces. Someone else will always build one better. If you’re only allowing for deployment on one platform that cuts you off from innovation.” – Right on the money.

DISCLOSURE:
Redmonk are providing technology analysis for Dells Virtual Integrated System; James and I have professional contacts since 1996.

NOTES:
[1]WSMAN remains our key technology implementation for external partners and consoles to use to get information from the servers, and to send updates etc.

VIS from the top

Michael Dell recently spoke at the 2010 Gartner conference. One of the questions he was asked was about the evolutionary and revolutionary approaches to IT, most recently amplified by the cloud discussion. Michael nails it when discussing the Dell approach with our Data Center Solutions business, our PowerEdge C servers and the Virtual Integrated System aka VIS.

Senior Architect – Enterprise Systems Management and more

With things really rolling here at Dell on the software front we are still in the process of hiring,and are looking for some key people to fit into, or lead teams working on current and future software projects. At least currently these are based with our team here in Round Rock, TX. However, I’d like to hear if you’d be interested in joining our Dell west coast software labs in Sunnyvale and Palo Alto.

Here are a few of the current vacancies:

Senior SOA Architect – Enterprise Systems Management
Performance Engineer – SOA Infrastructure Management
Senior Java Developer – Systems Management
Senior Software Engineer – Systems Management-10069ZNS

Depending on how you count, there are over a 100 of us now working on the VIS and AIM products, with a whole lot more to come in 2011. Come join me and help make a fundamental change at Dell and be in on the beginning of something big!

Flash, Flex, the real web experience and eating your own dog food

I watched with interest a few weeks back when Apple Steve Jobs launched into positioning Apple products, namely the iPad against other soon-to-be tablet PC’s. Now this isn’t a robust defense of the Dell Streak (5-inch) Internet phone/wifi device/tablet, it is commentary on what happened next.

A few days later, RIM CEO Jim Balsillie fired back at Jobs with a great media qoute about Apples “Distortion Field”. Saying amongst other things that the RIM 7-inch tablet aka Playbook, will get a good market share and that “we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience”.

Blackberry Torch 6 Home screen

Blackberry Torch 6 Home screen

Which brings up an interesting point. I just got a brand new Blackberry Torch, which has Blackerrys latest 6.0 OS, a touch screen and some really nice software and service integration that combines RSS, Facebook and Twitter feeds together. The phone has also been pretty reliable in my first 3-weeks of use, I’ve only had to remove the battery once to force a reboot.

Every time I visit a web page that has flash, the webkit enabled browser reports “This graphic requires version 9 or higher of Adobe Flash Player.” and provides a helpful link to “Get the latest Flash Player”. Sadly, clicking on that link just gets the screen that has welcomed a million* iPhone users…

“Sorry Adobe Flasy Player is not available from adobe.com for your device’s operating system or browser”

And thats that. So, Mr Balsillie, where’s my real web experience on your flagship phone product?

Of course, this disappointment was made all the more ironic in that last week I got an email from Brian Gladden, Chief Financial Officer, Ron Garriques, President, Communication Solutions, and Robin Johnson, Chief Information Officer here at Dell announcing that they will be moving all Dell-issued Blackberry phone users over to Dell based devices like the Dell Streak Tablet and Dell Aero Smartphone over the next 2-years as Blackberry contracts expire.

Now thats great news as I’m a big believer in eating your own dogfood, something we didn’t do often enough at IBM. Getting IT Suppliers and manufacturers to use their own new products is a key move in my opinion. It’s one of the things that drove some great innovation into the early virtual machine operating systems at IBM. However, our internal IT team are under just as much pressure to modernize and adapt new technology, possibly more so than our customers. Adopting these Dell devices will give us some valuable experience in what our customers will have to go through.

For my part, Dell IT already have deployments of our Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM) and getting good results. In the design and architecture for VIS, we’ve so far managed to avoid and eliminate any use of flex/flash technology in our User Interface design and requirements, and that is great at it means we have a greater freedom of action by being able to develop for a much wider range of devices, and still deliver a quality interface and user experience.

*OK, ok, millions and millions…


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group. I was formerly Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell, and an IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

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