Archive for the 'physicalization' Category

Deviation: The new old

104 modules in a Doepher A-100PMD12 double case sitting on top of the A-100PMB case

Deadmau5 Analalog Modular setup

IBM 360/40 at Attwood Statistics

IBM 360/40 at Attwood Statistics

Anyone that knows me, knows that I’ve retained a high level of interest in dance music. I guess it stems from growing up in and around London in the early 70’s and the emergence of  funk, and especially Jazz Funk, especially through some of the new music put together by people like Johnny Hammond(Los Conquistadors Chocolate), Idris Muhammed(Could Heaven Ever Be Like This) which remain to this day two of my all time favorite tracks, along with many from Quincy Jones.

Later, my interest was retained by the further exploitation of electronics as disco became the plat de jour and although I, like most others became disenchanted once it became metronomic and formulaic, I’m convinced that the style, type and beat of music you like and listen to create pathways in your brain to activate feelings.

As so it was that with time, and energy on my hands over the past few years I’ve re-engaged with dance music. Mostly because I like it, it activates those pathways in my mind that release feel good endorphins, I enjoy the freedom of the dance.

I’ve been to some great live performances, Tiesto and Gareth Emery especially down in San Antonio and Houston, and anyone who thinks these guys are just DJ’s, playing other peoples music through a computer or off CD’s is just missing the point.

However, one electronic music producer more than any other has really piqued my interest, Deadmau5, aka Joel Zimmerman from Toronto. I first saw Deadmau5 during South by South West (SXSW) in 2008, when Joel played at the now defunct Sky Lounge on Congress Ave. The club was small enough that you could actually stand at the side of the stage and see what he was doing, it was a fascinating insight. [In this video on YouTube, one of many from that night, not only can you see Joel “producing” music, but if you stop the video on the right frame at 16-seconds, you can see me in the audience! Who knew…]

I saw him again in March 2009 at Bar Rio in Houston. This time I had clear line of sight to what he was doing from the VIP balcony. It was fascinating, I actually saw and heard him make mistakes, not significant mistakes but ones that proved he was actually making live music. [You can read my review from the time here including links to YouTube videos.] It turns out he was something he was using during that Houston concert was either a prototype or something similar to a monome.

Joel regularly posts and runs live video streams from his home studio, and recently posted this video of his latest analog modular system. It and some of the other videos are a great insight into how dance music producers work. Watching this, this morning, I was struck with the similarities to the IBM 360/40 mainframe which was the first computer I worked on, especially I can remember the first time I was shown by an IBM Hardware Engineer, who might have been Paul Badger or Geoff Chapman, how the system worked. How to put it into instruction step, how to display the value of registers and so on. I felt the same way watching the Deadmau5 video, I got to get me some playtime with one of these.

And yes, the guy in the picture above is me and the 360/40. It was taken in probably the spring of 1976 I’d guess, at Attwood Statistics in Berkhampstead, Herts. UK.

The power and capacity of the IBM 36/40 are easily exceeded by handheld devices such as the Dell Streak. Meanwhile, it’s clear that some music producers are headed in the opposite direction, moving from digital software to analog hardware. The new old.

It’s now Dell Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM)

From branding update and partnership, to fully acquired company. I didn’t have much to do with the Scalent acquisition apart from some technical due diligence and strategy, but I was delighted to learn that we’ve closed on, and formally acquired Scalent today.

As anyone who has been involved in acquisitions, either as an acquired company, or the acquired will know, now the hard work starts. Keeping a focus on the business needs and product evolution, while completing the integration.

I for one would like to be amongst the first to welcome CTO Chandy Nilakantan and VP of Engineering Larry Stein to the Dell family, along with all the other great Scalent employees.

Physicalization at work – software pricing at bay

This is an unashamed take from an Arstechnica.com article, and I certainly can’t take credit for the term. I’m just back from a week of touring around Silicon valley talking about our thinking for Dell 12G servers, to Dell customers and especially to those that take our products and integrate them into their own product offerings. It was a great learning experience, and if you took time to see me and the team, thank you!

One of the more interesting discussions both amongst the Dell team, and with the customers and integrators, was around the concept of physicalization. Instead of building bigger and faster servers, based around more and more cores and sockets, why not have a general purpose, low power, low complexity physical server that is boxed up, aggregated and multiplexed into a physicalization offering?

For example, as discussed in the arstechnica article, using a very simplified, atom based server, eliminate many of the older software and hardware additions that make motherboards more complex and more expensive to build, which in turn with the reduced power and heat, makes them even more reliable. Putting twelve, or more in a single 2U server makes a lot of sense.

They also, typically don’t need a lot of complex virtualization software to make full use of the servers. That might sound like heresy in these days when virtualization is assumed and the major driver behind much of the marketing spend, and much of the technology spend.

So what’s driving this? Well mostly, if you think about it, the amount of complexity needed in the x86 marketplace these days, and also in mainframe and Power/UNIX marketplace is through complex software and systems management. That complexity is driven by two needs.

  1. Server utilization – in order to utilize the increasing processor power, sockets and cores, you need to virtualize the server and split into consumable, useful chunks. This would normal require a complex discussion about multi-threaded programming and complexity, but I’ll ignore that this time. Net, net there are very few workloads and applications that can use the effective capacity offered by current top-end Intel and AMD x86 processors.
  2. Software Pricing – Since the hardware vendors, including Dell, sell these larger virtualized servers as great business opportunities to simplify IT and server deployment by consolidating disperate, and often distributed server workloads into a single, larger, more manageable server, the software vendors want in on the act. Otherwise they lose out on revenue as the customer deploys fewer and fewer servers. On eploy to combat this, to to charge by core or socket. Ultimately their software software does little and sometimes nothing to exploit these features, they just charge, well, because they can. In a virtualized server environment, the same is true. The software vendors don’t exploit the virtualization layer, heck in some cases they are even reluctant to support their software running in this environment and require customers to recreate any problems in a non-virtualized environment before looking at them.

And so it is that physicalization is starting to become attractive. I’ve discussed both the software pricing and virtualization topics many times in the past. In fact, I’ve expressed my frustration that software pricing still seems to drive our industry and, more importantly, our customers to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t. Does your company make radical changes to your IT infrastructure just to get around uncompetitive and often restrictive software pricing practices? Is physicalization interesting or just another dead-end IT trend?


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 am a Fellow of the British Computer Society (bsc.org) 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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