Archive for September, 2011

Dell vStart 50 – Start simple… stay that way

Dell vstart 50One thing I’ve think I’ve been fairly consistent about is taking the complexity out of IT. Seems to me that one of the big wins that people are getting from using public cloud based apps, systems, is that they are easy to get started with. PaaS, Saas etc. offer the options of quick deployments, not just flexible utilization deployment and elastic resource consumption.

Since it will be a very long time before cloud is the de facto deployment environment, and especially while virtualization continues to gain significant traction across the spectrum of businesses, I was delighted to see the formal announcement of the Dell vStart 50 which is a significant effort to deliver that same simplicity of deployment into small and mid-sized businesses.

We’d previously announced the Dell vStart 100, and Dell vStart 200 but they were firmly aimed at larger businesses looking into what’s become known as private cloud, and a virtualization fast start. It is a classic example of what we use to describe as a server consolidation solutions, with the pre-validated, pre-wired vStart system, which can integrate nto your existing infrastructure.

Apart from the smaller physical, logical and virtualized size of the Dell vStart 50, it continues the simplification thread, delivering a package  that delivers both servers, storage and switch configs. The Dell vStart 50 will be sold in two versions – vStart 50m with support for Microsoft Hyper-V, and vStart 50v with support for VMware ESXi. The main web page for additional information is

Windows 8 and is change ever good?

The tech sector thrives on change, it is what lets the next generation discover the mistakes of older generation, except in a new context. It is also why there are still thousands of new patents every year, same invention different context and use. People in all walks seem to be afraid of change, just recently the South Congress merchants association fought the city of Austin as they felt it would harm their businesses, drivers complained as it changed the “user interface”. Yet a month or so on and it seems to be working perfectly.

And so it’s no surprise to find Microsoft having to re-assure people over the upcoming UI change in Windows 8. This reminds me of almost every other big change, making sure people know you have not forgotten or overlooked what is important for them.

And so it will be with Windows 8. I had a version of the metro UI installed for a while, but I never really got to use it much. None of my apps exploited it, I never really put in any time to learn how to operate it, with a mouse since I don’t have a touchscreen laptop, well apparently thats the same as Mary-Jo. Introducing new interfaces, either user or programming, is always problematical. Ultimately something will end up going into “sustaining mode” and become pure cost to maintain compatibility. The only question is which it will be, the new or the old?

And there’s the rub, maintain two entirely different and to a degree incompatible sets of interfaces, is an entirely different game. When they are on the same platform, even more so. The question is will there be enough benefit over time to drive PC users to use the new interface exploitation, or should Microsoft just gone with the new UI for the new platform/form factor tablets?

This is what Apple have done fabulously well on. Picking the form factor device and building around it. As I’ve posited a few times in the last week, Steve Jobs wasn’t the best innovator, he didn’t deliver any earth shattering new technology. What Apple did under his recent reign was to deliver on a set of previously established technologies, but deliver them in such a way that the user experience was as good as it could be, even when that meant forcing change.

An interesting question for all those change loving technologists, are we reaching a point where the technology is good enough, and getting it right is more important than changing it?

I guess that depends on what change is. I’ve nailed my colors to the mast pretty much, simplification isn’t change, removing complexity is one of the most important things we can do, and it is one of the biggest barriers to entry.

VM Master Class

As is the way, the older you get the more entangled your life becomes. My ex-Wife, Wendy Cathcart, nee Foster, died of cancer recently, such a waste, a fantastic, vibrant woman and great Mother to our children. After the funeral the kids were saying how they’d hardly got any video of her. I had on my shelf, unwatched for probably 10-years or more a stack of VCR tapes. I’d meant to do something with them, but never got around to it.

I put the tapes into Expressions in video here in Austin, they were ever so helpful and were able to go from UK PAL format VCR tapes to DVD, to MPEG-4. Two of the tapes contained the summary videos from the 1992 and 1993, IBM VM Master Class conferences. And, here’s were the entanglement comes in. Wendy never much got involved in my work, we went on many business trips together, one of the most memorable was driving from North London to Cannes in the South of France. I had a number of presentations to give, and the first one was after lunch on Monday, the first day. I went to do registration and other related stuff Monday morning. I came back to the room to get the car keys and go and collect my overhead transparencies and handout copies from the car. Unfortunately for me, Wendy had set off in the car with a number of the other wives to go visit Nice, France and my slides and handouts were in the trunk/boot. D’oh.

Unlike this week where my twitter stream has been tweet bombed by #VMWorld, back in the 1980’s there were almost no VM conferences. IBM had held a couple of internal conferences, and the SHARE User group in the USA had a very active virtual machine group, there really wasn’t anything in Europe except 1-day user group meetings. My UK VM User Group, had been inspirational for me and I wanted to give something back and give other virtual machine systems programmers and administrators and chance to get together over an extended period, talk with each other, learn about the latest technologies and hear from some of the masters in the field.

And so it was that I worked through 1990 and 1991 with Paul Maceke to plan, and deliver the first ever VM Master Class. We held it at an IBM Education facility, La Hulpe, which was in a forest outside of Brussels, Belgium. As I recall, we had people met at the airport and bused them in in Sunday and the conference ran through Friday lunchtime, when we bused them back to the airport. Everything was done on site, meals, classes and hotel rooms. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s in was required for computer systems to be represented by something iconic, for VM it was the bear. You can read why and almost everything else about the history of VM here on Melinda Varians web page, heck you can even get kindle format version of the history.

So, when it came to the Master Class we needed a bear related logo. Thats where Wendy came in. She drew the “graduate bear”, for which Paul got not only included in the folders, but also metal pins, what a star. Come the 1993 VM Master Class, Wendy did the artwork for the VM Bear and it’s Client/Server Cousin sitting on top of the world and as I remember, this time Paul actually got real soft toy bears. Thanks for all the great memories Wendy, the videos on youtube also remind me of many great people from the community, who came you name? Please feel free to add with comments here to avoid the Youtube comment minefield.

I’ll start with Dick Newson, and John Hartman, couldn’t be two different people, both totally innovative, great software developers and designers.

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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