Monday, December 27, 2004

Spyware detection tools

Is your computer behaving oddly? Slow performance, system lockups, excessive pop-up advertisements. Your computer might be infected with Spyware! Download, install and scan your computer using Spybot S&D and Ad-Aware.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Considering the first PC Server for your business

Many small businesses have invested in multiple desktop PCs for their employees, thereby increasing their productivity. The next step in their technology evolution is enabling computer users to easily share their computer resources – their information, files, printers, faxes, and even their applications – using a centralized computer server.

Servers are normally more powerful and provide reliability technology options not available on desktop computers. The server components are designed to run 24x7 and to have long life. Why are these important for a server? Business data is now being shared and stored in one central location – the server. A failure on the server affects not only the server, but many of the users.

New server solutions also have to be simple to install and easy to operate and maintain. The Windows Small Business Server 2003 delivers a simple to install and affordable server solution for small businesses. It provides features such as e-mail, secure Internet connectivity, business intranets, remote connectivity, support, file and printer sharing, backup and restore capabilities, and a collaboration platform. In short, it enables small businesses to be more productive using fewer resources.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Technology priorities of small businesses

According to AMI Research, 66% of small businesses have more than one PC. Approximately 19% use at least one PC server and only 6% use more than one server.

Small businesses typically want to send and receive e-mail, store and share data, and work with business applications. The number one concern of these small businesses is to protect their data with a reliable and easy to use data backup process and protecting it from computer viruses.

These are the top technology priorities for small businesses:
  • Data backup and recovery
  • Data security and privacy
  • Document storage and management
  • Internet, e-mail and networking
  • Technology training and skills enhancement
What are the technology priorities of your business? Talkback.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Concept Mapping – Introduction

Well, I went looking for introduction on Content Mapping and I found some interesting websites detailing concepts of “concept mapping,” software products and companies involved in this area.

After downloading some information and several demos, finally I found information on Decision Explorer software, a tool for concept mapping, from Banxia Software. As I learn by doing, I decided to go through the Decision Explorer Workbook provided by Banxia.

Even though, it is a poorly written document … typical technical document where writer forgot the “novice” user for whom the tutorial was suppose to be written. My objective wasn’t to learn Decision Explorer but to understand the process of Concept Mapping. Following is the summary of what I learnt from this document … still incomplete understanding but a good start.

  1. List Concept (emergent phrase).
  2. List Contrasting phrase (contrasting pole). Contrasting poles are important, giving more meaning to ideas, and bringing out the “shades of gray” in people’s thinking.
  3. Building causal model. Asking “how” and “why” questions. Explore where something might lead (why?) and what might have made it (how?) to draw out the most important ideas. It may also result in discovering that what you thought you were aiming for is really just part of a higher goal or real issue is focused somewhere else.To move up a line of argument and elicit the consequences of a particular concept, you ask “why” questions like “why is this important to me?” “why do I want to achieve this?.” To move down the model or explore the explanation beneath a particular concept, you ask “how” questions such as “how would this be achieved?” “how was that caused?.”
  4. Asking “why” questions takes us “up” from a concept giving us consequences, while asking “how” questions takes us “down” from a concept giving us explanations of how something might come about or what might cause a particular phenomenon.
  5. Create links of explanations (tails) and consequences (heads).
  6. This is the start of concept map model. Add more details by asking more “why” and “how” questions.
  7. Over time, you would have entered a large number of concepts, linking some “as you go along” and leaving other for consideration later (orphans). What you need to do is to find the orphan concepts and decide of and where they tie in with other concepts, and then add appropriate links. If they do not tie into the model then it is possible that they represent an area not fully explored or no longer relevant or have been represented elsewhere.

... to be continued.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Concept Mapping

Just came across "Concept Mapping" while reading Business 2.0. It is interesting to me not because of its "intelligence" potential but how it will enocurage organizations to collect and store more data for business intelligence, resulting in requirements for more data storage. The magazine mentioned how IBM's WebFountain concept mapping service lets companies find out what is being said about them online. Some of the companies mentioned are ClearForest, IBM and Mindfabric.

I am interested in learning more about "Concept Mapping" ... looking for some introductory material!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Getting back to technology hands-on

After few years of working with technology and implementations at high level i.e. hands-off, I have decided to return to get the thrills of working hands-on. Becoming hands-on and with only finite number of hours in a day, I do not expect to know wide variety of technologies, vendors and products as previously. What I expect to be is gaining the label of “specialist” instead of “generalist.

I am still investigating potentially rewarding sub-segments of data storage sector, by technologies, vendors and their products. While this process continues, I decided to focus this month on updating my Operating System (OS) knowledge.

After having worked with Microsoft Windows OS platforms last few years and with Open VMS before that, it was obvious to me to dig deep in to a UNIX flavor. Even though, I have supported clients who use UNIX flavors like Sun Solaris, HP-UX and Tru64 in their environment, I wanted to dig really deep in to the core of a UNIX platform. The choice between different UNIX flavors wasn’t very difficult considering the rising popularity of Linux and ability to use Linux on commodity Wintel hardware.

Note:If you are interested in learning other UNIX flavors like Sun Solaris, HP-UX, IBM AIX etc., it is not very difficult to acquire used hardware and software for education/training purposes. In addition to eBay auctions, there are quite a few sources for used proprietary UNIX hardware and software in Toronto – Unix HQ and Micropeer the ones come to my mind.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Blade Server Design Opens Up

Just noticed the news headline on IBM opening up the design of Blade Servers. It is a great development which further accelerates the adoption of already "hot trend" blade servers. This is a great news that IBM and Intel will not charge royalty or patent licensing fees for Blade Center design. They might just set a new "startup" phenomena in developing new and innovatove blades for this blade chasis and make the Blade Center design as default standard in the market place.

Recently, I was thinking about writing a blog entry about blade servers as they are the fastest growing segment with great interest from organizations with dozens of servers in their data center.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Where have I been during my hiatus for the past month?

This past month has been quite busy for me. I couldn't find the time to update my Blog regularly. A lot of activity in the data storage arena this summer.

Data Storage in Public Sector

The Canadian public sector was busy this summer putting out lots of RFPs and RFIs for acquiring data storage hardware, software and consulting services. We became involved with quite a few opportunities. Of course, considering age and size of our company, we try to partner with other IT resellers and vendors for public sector proposals instead of going solo.

Wireless Storage

I have been hearing quite a lot about Wireless Storage. It appears to be a neat idea and sounds very interesting.

Small commercial segment seems to be very receptive to wireless network. Some of the networking projects, we recently got involved in, were mainly wireless on client access side. The data centers were the only areas where "wired" network existed.

IMO, soon we will see a higher demand for wireless connectivity in Network Attached Storage (NAS). Who knows, soon we may be having a dedicated wireless connection to clients for backup/replication and other administrative chores while clients continue to use another connection for their daily tasks.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Canadian Stakeholders in Data Storage hold Discussions

Last Friday, July 16th, the representatives from Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Canada Geo-forum, SNIA End-User Council and Toronto SNUG got together to brainstorm and produce a list of potential activities of interest for the next year.

The meeting was held at Sun Microsystems facility in Markham and lead by Wayne Hogan (Sun Microsystems), acting SNIA Canada Chair and Laurence Whittaker (Hudson Bay Company), Vice Chair SNIA End User Council and Acting Chair Toronto SNUG. The other participants were Rudy Lippens, acting Treasurer of SNIA Canada, myself, Eric Jenkinson (Foresters), and Rick Dart, Robert Smalley and Shawn Pritchard (all three from Bank of Montreal).

First of all, in my opinion, this was truly a very productive meeting (a rarity these days). The meeting started out with Wayne introducing SNIA Canada and Laurence introducing the SNIA End User Council and Toronto SNUG followed by an open discussion.

Following is the summary of discussions highlighting points and suggestions made by various attendees.

- Elections for SNIA Canada executives will take place probably in September 2004. Various SNUG chapters in Canada will have representation on the SNIA Canada executive board.

- SNIA Canada is planning to have a three-tier membership fee structure for Vendors, Resellers and End-users. An issue about exempting government employees and academic people from membership fees was discussed. An issue was also brought up to clarify how the membership of a Canadian in SNIA USA will impact the membership in SNIA Canada.

- It was pointed that End User Council at SNIA organization in USA (SNIA USA) sees itself as change agent. A suggestion was made to establish SNIA Canada End User Council to give Canadian end-users a united voice at SNIA Canada as well as at SNIA End User Council. Also it was suggested to encourage SNIA Canada members to participate in various committees at SNIA USA.

- The main focus of the SNIA Canada is end-user outreach and delivering education and information to data storage and IT community. And as a start, TSI Learning is offering discount to SNIA Canada members on its storage certification courses. A suggestion was brought up about requesting TSI to offer SNIA Canada membership as an incentive to their students.

- The first SNIA Canada sponsored event will be the IP Storage Roadshow, Toronto in October. SNIA Canada is planning to take this event to Calgary and Montreal also with the help of Infostream. This event is also being positioned as the showcase of the value SNIA Canada brings to the table by bringing SNIA events to different cities in Canada from all over the world.

- SNIA Canada plans to have sessions and events on quarterly basis. A suggestion was put forward to bring analysts from market research firms as event speakers to profile the storage market in Canada.

- Put together a speakers board - people willing to speak voluntarily at various events, their credentials, topics of interest and availability in various cities around Canada.

- Organize short training sessions on specific topics for SNIA Canada and SNUG members.

- Develop How To’s, Best Practices, RFP Guidelines and TCO/ROI models.

- Inviting vendors to communicate and present their technology and product roadmaps on specific SNIA initiatives such as SMI-S.

- Elevating public awareness of SNIA Canada and data storage technologies through SNIA Canada speakers presenting at other organizations such as Disaster Recovery Information Exchange (DRIE) and Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).

- Inviting local universities and academic researchers to get involve in SNIA Canada and communicate their interests.

- Informal exchange of information and experiences from end-user perspective; end-user case studies and in-depth technical overview presentations from vendors and other technical people.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

500 GB Internal storage per server ... think again!

Recently, I was involved in discussions with a company that has spent over $80,000 purchasing 6 servers for file and print services, database and backup with almost 4.5 TB of internal storage.

The company didn't want to go to Fibre Channel (FC) Storage Area Network (SAN) because of the cost involved and complexity, which I can understand. But what I don't get is why companies continue to purchase internal storage when direct attached external storage is becoming cheaper everyday.

My rule of thumb is if you are purchasing 1.5 TB of total internal storage or going to have more than 500 GB per server on average, think again. External Storage may be a good option for you.

I also believe that this is a very sweet spot for iSCSI storage array manufacturers. Instead of trying to outgun FC storage and FC SAN or positioning as a cheaper "SAN" using iSCSI, focus on replacing internal storage and direct-attached external storage. This may be the opportunity iSCSI companies are overlooking.

EMC SnapView - Quick Refresher 1

Overview

EMC SnapView storage system based software is to create a copy of a LUN by using clones and snapshots. It is used primarily for system backups and testing. Clone is actual complete copy and snapshot is a virtual point-in-time copy of source LUN.
  • Full access to production data with minimal performance impact.
  • Coherent, readable and writable copy of production data at a particular point in time
  • Offload the backup overhead to another host.
Components
  1. SnapView driver that resides on storage system with LUNs you want to copy.
  2. admsnap utlity (command line executable) for managing clones and snapshots resides on the hosts connected to the storage system that has SnapView driver.
  3. Setup through Navisphere Manager GUI or CLI.
SnapView requires at least two hosts:
  • Production host that contains the LUN you want to copy (source LUN) and runs customer applications.
  • Another host that lets you view the clone or snapshot, owns them, reads from or writes to them and performs independent tasks such as backup using clone or snapshot.
  • With Manager 6.x, a third host, the client host performs all storage system functions.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

EMC Clariion: Quick Refresher 1

Optional software for EMC Clariion
EMC MirrorView for remote mirroring
EMC SnapView for creating snapshots and clones
EMC SAN Copy for copying data between storage systems.
Two storage processors (SP) manage the EMC Clariion hardware RAID features. All Clariion has two SP.

The main hardware difference in base CX700 from CX500/CX300 is that CX700 comes with a Storage Processor Enclosure (SPE) and, in addition, requires at least one 2 Gbit Disk Array Enclosure (DAE2) with 15 Fibre Channel (FC) disks.


Clariion SystemMax DAE2Max Disks
CX3004*60
CX5008*120
CX70016240
*Including 2-Gbit Disk Processor Enclosure (DPE2)


Clariion SystemMax. Switch Ports per Storage Processor (SP)Max. Disk Ports per SPMax. Server Ports Connection per SPMax. Server Ports Connection per system
CX3002132128
CX5002264256
CX7004464512
EMC Clariion uses switch fabric and FC-AL topologies. The maximum optical cable length between CX300/500/700 and a server/switch ranges from 150 to 500 meters depending on cable type and speed (extended up to 60 kms with extenders). EMC recommends single-initiator switch zoning, i.e. different zones for different initiators.

The shared (direct or switched) installation require EMC Access Logix software to control LUN access. The clustered-direct installation can use cluster software controlling LUN access.

Switch zoning can prevent communication with an SP but not with specific LUNs attached to an SP. Storage Groups are required for access control with LUNs. Storage Group is a group of LUNs within storage system assigned to specific servers and inaccessible to others. Access Logix enforces the servers permission to a storage group.

Clariion supports five RAID levels (RAID 5, 3, 1, 0, 1/0) and two other disk configurations (individual unit, global "hot" spare). An additional type of redundant disk, remote mirror for any RAID except hot spare.

One RAID 5 (Individual Access Array) group, consists of three to sixteen disks, offers excellent read performance. Up to 128 LUNs can be created with in one RAID 5 group.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

SNCP Level 2 Exam – Confusion Abound

I further investigated the status of SNCP Level 2 Exam after June 30, 2004. There seems to be some confusion regarding the validity of SNCP Level 2 Exam toward new credentials.
  • The SNCP Transition Policy states

    “Level 2 FC SAN Practitioner … exams will be available to take until they are replaced in Fall, 2004.”

    “There will be no credential or certificate awarded for passing the Level 2 … exams after June 30, 2004.”


  • The Thomson Prometric shows the client information page with following information upon selection of SNIA Certification Program:

    “The SNIA FC-SAN Practitioner certification that tests for understanding of features, functions and underlying technology will be leveraged into the Standards domain.”

    "This exam is scheduled to be replaced this fall. If this exam is passed in 2003 and 2004 (while available) and the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam is also passed in 2004, it will result in the SNIA Certified Systems Engineer certification credential.”

At this point, I am moving forward with the assumption that upon passing FC SAN Practitioner exam and SNIA Storage Network Foundation exam between July and December 2004, SNIA Certified Systems Engineer certification will be awarded. Please do let me know if this assumption is incorrect.

Last couple of weeks, I talked to several people who passed SNCP Level 2 exam regarding the preparation resources, and dos and don’ts, which I will share with you in my next blog.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

My Quest to “Get Certified”

Prologue

Well finally, I have given into the trend of collecting Information Technologies (IT) and products certifications. Having previously established and managed training and certification programs for several companies, I have never felt compelled to feed into the IT certification industry, which produces paper tigers by the hundreds.

In my experience, IT clients usually have a good nose for recognizing who is faking the experience with a technology. It is the IT services providers (resellers, system integrators and recruiters) who insist on certifications in order to corroborate to their clients that the people they are sending are well qualified to do the job. Are they really?

In the last few years, most of my network storage work has come directly from IT clients. Recently, I am receiving a much higher interest from system integrators, resellers and recruiters, who are attracted by my technical pre-sales and storage architect background, due in part to the increasing IT spending environment. With larger budgets available to IT clients, they are once again starting to follow the strategy of “one tree to bark on” and “one neck to choke” instead of “extending the runway as much as possible.”

The Goal

So, I have decided to pursue the certifications in order to satisfy the request most often from recruiters and data storage distribution channel – get some certifications listed on your resume.

My goal is to have the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Storage Networking Certified Professional (SNCP) Level 2 certification completed by the end of July 2004. SNIA, in its great "vendor trade association" wisdom, decided to change the certification tracks effective June 30, 2004.

The Hiccup

Would you believe that SNIA decided to retire the SNCP certification tracks effective June 30, 2004? Looking at the SNCP Transition Policy posted at SNIA website, the new tracks just appear to be another money grab attempt by its training and certification partner to squeeze more money out of the existing certificate holders and new candidates.
  • There will be no credential or certificate awarded for passing the Level 2 and Level 3 exams after June 30, 2004.

  • Those who have passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam in 2003 and 2004 can receive the new credentials if they also pass the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam by December 31, 2004.
The Story

I intend to use these blogs to document and share the resources and information I collect along with my progress toward becoming SNIA SNCP certified. If you would like to share your experiences and/or have suggestions and resources, please drop me a note.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Finally, Canada has united voice in data storage!

This morning, I attended the steering committee meeting of Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Canadian Geo-forum. It is a new initiative by US based parent organization, SNIA, to bring together Canadian data storage users, service provider, vendors and IT professionals and to put forward Canadian perspective on data storage industry.

Presently, individuals from several major data storage organizations such as Sun, StorageTek, EMC and Infostream are volunteering their time to lead this initiative to a success. The steering committee has been meeting once a month since last year and has reached to a stage where administrative formalities are near completion. It is time for action!

Steering committee is starting to focus on the expectations of Canadian Data Storage Industry and type of activities it can undertake to meet these expectations in the coming years. Informally, an activity planning team was established today to lead this initiative. The team is soliciting input from various stakeholders in storage industry such as Toronto chapter of Storage Networking User Group (SNUG) and other industry professionals on their expectations and specific activities, this SNIA Canadian Geo-forum should take in the coming years.

As a member of this activity planning team, I would like to hear from you on:
  • Your challenges and needs in data storage,

  • Your expectations from this storage industry forum, and

  • Specific activities that will be of interest to you.

Some potential activities, in my opinion, are Educational Activity, Newsletter, Vendor Demonstration, Interoperability Showcase, User Case Study, Breakfast Lecture Series, Networking Meeting.

Let us know your thoughts and we will work on making them a reality … No promises, but we will give our best effort to deliver something of real value to you!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Voice over IP (VoIP) and Outsourcing

In April 2004, I attended dinner organized by Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) Toronto Chapter. I had an interesting discussion with a senior IT executive responsible for Canadian operations of a retail franchise. As a background to the company, they have about 150 corporate stores and about 300 franchise stores in Canada and managed by North American operations based in USA. Note: All numbers are informally quoted as discussion happened over dinner casually.

Implementing VoIP without reason

The executive was discussing how his CIO based in USA forced him to go to an expensive VoIP (Voice-over-IP) phone solution that he really didn'tÂ’t believe he needed neither it was a cost effective alternative to traditional phone system he was using for about 450 voice mailboxes.

The only tangible benefits, he could identify going to VoIP system were:
  • Saving on average 4.5 cents per minute on long-distance charges between US and Canada. The call volume is not high.
  • Elimination of nominal payment they were making to a third party service provider for managing the changes with voice mailboxes. Such changes in voice mailboxes are infrequent.
The VoIP system cost billed to Canadian operations was over $300,000 with $30,000+ in annual maintenance fees.

Does this seem like a reasonable switchover from traditional phone system to VoIP?

Was there more than just cost-benefit analysis for making the decision?

Hidden Costs of Outsourcing

It appears the relationship between vendor, outsourcer and senior management of North American operations of retail franchise may have also played a part in this decision.

For example, the outsourcer in the name of standardization forced the Canadian operation to take a very expensive high-end hardware component whose functions could have easily be delivered using a reasonably priced model from the same VoIP vendor even after projecting reasonable growth for the Canadian operations.

Obviously, the outsourcer has vested interest in keeping the same hardware component everywhere, which reduces the support cost for outsourcer and maintains its profit margins.

What about the cost of acquiring and maintaining unnecessarily a high-end hardware component for the retail franchise?

Whose bottom line does this higher cost of components show up?

Do customers include such additional expense in cost-benefit analysis of retaining an outsourcer?

Is this trend of focusing on core operations and outsourcing the rest delivering the promised benefits?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Storage Management and SMI-S

Note: Too many acronyms. A list is at the bottom of this post.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the TSNUG meeting. It was an interesting meeting listening to the developments taking place on storage management front and frank discussion among storage end-users, vendors and consultants like me. More information about me at ANDIROG SYSTEMS INC.

SMI-S Presentation and Viewpoints

John Webster of Data Mobility Group made presentation on SMI-S, the SNIA initiative in storage management. How is SMI-S going to impact the storage pain points of the end-users? His talk was a good introduction to SMI-S and present status. How big of a impact is it going to be, remains to be seen?

Some of the interesting points brought up in the meeting were:
  • In SMI-S, the storage management application is the client. The devices are the providers of management information. [Update 07/Jun/2004: Thank you Rudy for the suggestion on clarification.]
  • Several vendors have achieved the SNIA SMI-S compliance status for the product. The compliance seems to have achieved through wrapping existing vendor management functions in to SMI-S compliant module instead of developing native SMI-S compliant modules.
  • Security of SMI-S implementation was a concern. The issue of security threat to one device by poor SMI-S implementation by another device vendor or the client vendor, was raised during the meeting.
  • The issues of backward/forward compatibility of different versions of SMI-S implementations and different vendors having different level compliance in a user environment were raised. Is this going to create similar nightmare as today in SAN about the firmware version incompatibility between different Fibre Channel devices?
  • No formal conformance testing procedure for the client. Will this cause other concerns similar to security in client implementations?
  • SMI-S will allow users to administer basic functions of managing different network storage devices through a single interface such as creating LUNs, zoning, LUN masking etc.
Personal Opinion on SMI-S

Overall, my impression is that SMI-S clients are going to be "one more" administration interface for basic management of heterogeneous network storage devices similar to CA Brightstor, HP Openview, etc. Is SMI-S going to lessen the management pain of the users or add to it? Looking at the history of management clients failing to deliver on promises of "ease of management" the outlook is not as bright as SMI-S may be leading us to believe.

Acronyms
SMI-S Storage Management Initiative - Specification
SNIA Storage Networking Industry Association
TSNUG Toronto Storage Networking User Group (SNUG)