Archive for April, 2009

Community involvement or free labor?

I’ve been following Andrew McAfee’s blog for a couple of weeks now, as a result of someone twittering a link to one of his blog entries. In his latest blog post, “Three Mantras“, McAfee discusses something many of the tech industry will recognize, self support systems. McAfee nicely summarizes the business opportunity to build around online communities as support subsystems.

I posted some of my thoughts on the topic in comments, namely the question of recognition and reward, not for participating, but for those that stay on and continue to participate. Initial participation is often self rewarding, we go look for help, experience or education in order to achieve some work related task. Need to get some help using a particular programming language or API – as Apple could have said “there’s a community forum for that!”

What makes McAfees blog interesting is his recognition of this phenomena, and his translation of it in to business terms and impact. For Dell, the guys that are part of the TechCenter have been doing a great job recently of creating knowledge and sharing it. They’ve recently run a number of demo and tech sessions on some of our key management technologies. You can find the Dell TechCenter here. It provides links into a wiki, Discussion Forums(just like the ones discussed by McAfee, the techcenter forum currently has some 34,000 topics) and the increasingly popular TechTuesday chats.

As I said in a comment to McAfee’s blog, this isn’t a new phenomena, as long ago as the late 1970’s I was first introduced to VMSHARE. A User run online bulletinboard/time sharing system aka forum to support and help users of IBM’s VM/370 operating system. While today there are many, many more forums, technologies and places to go for help, you can gain as much value from them today as I did then, because, and thats especially true for the Dell Techcenter, the people who participate are knowledgeable, dedicated and passionate about what they do, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

Dell Management Console and 11G Server Launch

I spent Friday afternoon in a wet Round Rock parking lot where we held the launch thank you party for the team that put together the 11th Generation of Dell servers and the associated management software. We don’t complain about rain in Austin, it feeds some of the best things about town, namely Barton Springs, Lake Travis, which feeds Town Lake where I run, and the lake at Pure Austin North where I swim, in perfect conditions, twice per week. The celebration was sponsored by our partner Broadcom.

The event was hosted by our executives, including Michael Dell, and they made some important observations on the process to design the servers, market acceptance and customer feedback. While I was waiting in the food line, one the other folks and I got talking, he said “I looked at your blog the other day and you didn’t write anything on the Dell Management Console”. And he’s right.

It’s a significant step forward for Dell customers and for Dell. The DMC is based on the modular Symantec Management Platform architecture and offers a comprehensive set of features at no additional cost. While I was in IBM Power Systems, one of the fights I had with them was over their console and management strategy. While I’m sure they had good reasons the way they did, what they did, their ongoing strategy couldn’t follow the same path of fragmented consoles for this, consoles for that, different interfaces, different terminology for the same things etc. I’m hopeful still that when they introduce their next generation of servers, they’ll have learned the lessons that Dell already has.

DMC replaces the existing Dell hardware management console, Dell OpenManage IT Assistant. DMC has a plug-in architecture that allows the console to be extended with additional function and to be used as a manager for other scenarios, devices etc. However, true to the Dell mission to simply IT, Reduce TCO and one way we are doing that is to included a significant amount of function in the base, rather than as chargeable plugins. Here’s a summary of the major functions and improvements over prior offerings:

  • Hardware – multiple choices on how to explore, report and understand hardware configs plus export as tables; many pre-configured reports asd well as the ability to create your own.

    Proactive heartbeat monitoring is also supported, based on a user defined schedule; event suscription is also supported for Dell servers and MIBs can be imported for non-Dell hardware.

    You can push config changes and agent, BIOS, driver and firmware patches to many servers simultaneously without scripting.

  • Security – you can group devices and servers by geographical, logical, organisztional or type, or create your own. These can then be managed using role based secuity. You can create your own roles, or import them from Microsoft Active Directory.
  • Software – Support for hypervisors such as VMware(r) ESXi as well as Microsoft and Citrix. Health monitoring, discovery of virtual machines, associate to physical host server etc. Also included is the normal OS monitoring of utilization for memory, processors, free space and I/O.
  • Networking – The console includes support for a broad range of devices, but also includes support for Fibre Channel switches.

Thats an outline of the support in the new Dell Management Console, powered by Altiris from Symantec. I went to look for a couple of white papers to include links for. One with a more detailed list of device support and a second with a more comprehensive strategy that showed the plug-in architecture and the other function available for DMC. I came across this great resource, the Dell POWER Solutions magazine(just a hint of irony).

Here is a link where you can download the entire magazine, as a 21Mb PDF file. Alternatively, here is a link for an index into the articles where you can review each article seperately.

Oracle gets big on Sun

Predicting the Future, The Oracle concept watches by Designer Andy Kurovets mixes time with Chinese philosophy

Predicting the Future, The Oracle concept watches by Designer Andy Kurovets mixes time with Chinese philosophy

Fascinating news. I didn’t see a single consultant, analyst, journalist predict this. WRT to the supposed IBM/SUN on/off deal, I guess the biggest part to work out is how this will effect Oracle products on IBM Power Systems servers.

Oracle was definately the most significant software product on Power systems, I assume if Oracle decides it wants to keep the SPARC hardware architecture alive, it’s going to have to start favouring SPARC over Power. If nothing else, one assumes the fees IBM pays Oracle for Power support/currency/testing etc. will likely go up. Fascinating indeed.

I guess that also puts Oracle into competition with Dell and HP too, not just becuase of their SUN x86 hardware, but also again for platform currency. I didn’t dial-in to the investor call this morning, but I wonder how many are already wondering what the chances are of Oracle spending a year to work out how to sell-off the parts of Sun it doesn’t want, like the hardware business, but keeping the bits it does want, like Java and the other key software assets and intellectual property. Fascinating indeed.

However, if this knoxnews.com picture is anything to go by, Oracle have some work to do on their Industrial design and human factors for their hardware.

Profiles in, err, courage

Back in March I caught an early morning bus on Saturday to downtown Austin to attend Bar Camp IV, suffice to say it’s mostly not a bar, and doesn’t involve camping(anymore).

I attend a few interesting sessions, I learned a few things about Windows 7, mobile development and attended a session on airships and blimps that I assumed was some kind of coded language for a session on clouds, but it wasn’t it WAS about airships and blimps and more.

Big-up to @whurley @sarad and @linearb for organising and to the various sponsors which included not only free attendance, but also free lunch and libations.

I was on my way out when I bumped into Texas Social Media Awards finalist and local tech analyst and sometime contact, Michael Cote from Redmonk. We passed the time of day, and he asked me if I wanted to be interviewed for a podcast, why not?

I learned a ton about Cote from the interview, mostly that he doesn’t forget anything. We’ve met probably 5-6 times in the past and he seemed to pull 1x question from each discussion. I mostly laughed the whole way through, I thought it was going to be a tech discussion, and we did touch on a few topics, but it was just a fun way to spend 10-mins. You can hear the podcast and read the liner notes here on Redmonk Radio Episode 55. – And no, I have no idea why the series was called “profiles in courage”, why I was selected, a why I giggled all the way through. It’s been a while since I did my press training, I don’t remember them telling us about giggling as a technique!

Social networking/Web 2.0 amnesia

I’d never really thought about longevity of email addresses, I’ve no idea how long I’ve had my yahoo.co.uk address, probably not 10-years but I have no idea. [Update: Yahoo think’s I’ve had my email since Oct. 1999]

When I was first at IBM UK they insisted on openness and transparency, and so we were encouraged to use our work Internet address by default. So – was name@vnet.ibm.com and then name@uk.ibm.com for most email from 1987. But then I got in a legal fight over an online triathlon forum I ran, and the companies lawyers wrote to IBM to complain as that was the only way they had to contact me. My boss at the time suggested it would be smart to separate my identities, I figure that was only about 2001. Since then I’ve fairly successfullly kept my online persona separate.

I don’t recall having an Internet email address before I joined IBM, but we’d had teletype and terminal systems where we could send messages between systems across the world, kinda like twitter but point to point mostly. My first memory of this was around 1978…

Transparency and declarative living have really been the default since then, the tools have got better overtime. I like the way things are coalescing around a few tools. Facebook is becoming a useful repository, being able to redirect via RSS your journal, tweets, pictures, friends, social contacts, travel plans via tripit etc.

Livejournal really hasn’t kept up and really serves little purpose these days except its original use, as a journal. Here it still stacks up better than many other blogging platforms as it still has private, friends, public entries.

However, I continue to be concerned that Facebook will eventually have a screw-up that will amount to mass amnesia, all sorts of content and contacts will be lost and irrecoverable. For that reason I still do 6-monthly backups of Livejournal to PDF’s via LJBook – that way my memories still have some collective memory, although I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I’ve often thought about giving my lawyer passwords for key accounts etc. along with my will…

Have any others given this any thought ? Are there any Facebook backup or data extraction tools? What have you done about longterm password, or data storage? In 30-years time, possibly after you pass on, how will that picture get removed from Flicker ?


About & Contact

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


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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