Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Moving to Wordpress

This is really just an informational post, and a test of sorts. We're moving our blog from to a locally installed version of Wordpress. There have been a number of articles written about Blogger vs. Wordpress, and I'm sure if you Google it you can find all sorts of views on the subject. When it comes down to it, it's really just a matter of perspective. We chose to move to Wordpress for the following main reasons:

  1. More editing functionality and possibilities.

  2. Easier template editing (in my opinion).

  3. Larger variety of plugins

  4. Completely installed and managed locally instead of publishing content to a local address through FTP.

If I wanted this to be a long post, I'm sure I could continue to find and list reasons. Suffice it to say that we're now using Wordpress and the URL for the site has changed. From now on, you can access us here:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Clonezilla HOWTO: Quick and Dirty Setup

Since I wrote the post 'Clonezilla' in January, our blog has been getting a lot of hits, apparently from people looking for advice on how to set up Clonezilla. This is understandable, since DRBL (of which Clonezilla is just a piece) is a complex piece of work, with loads of possibilities. So I decided to write up a small HOWTO, a quick and dirty method of getting Clonezilla up and running.

Before I go on, a bit of a disclaimer: Following the instructions below may not provide you with results that fit your particular needs. If you have specific and detailed requirements, see the DRBL documentation. If you would like to hire LightCube Solutions to provide assistance in setting up a Clonezilla solution for your organization, see our Contact page.

The Steps

1. Install Ubuntu Hardy

You'll need a Linux machine to run your Clonezilla services. I chose Ubuntu because it's easy to set up and is quite popular. DRBL will also run on Debian and Fedora.

2. Install DRBL

First off, open up a Terminal. In Ubuntu Hardy, this is located in 'Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal'. Then change to super-user access by typing:
sudo -i
Next, add DRBL's GPG key to your system:
apt-key add GPG-KEY-DRBL
Update your apt configuration so that you can install software from the DRBL guys:
cp /etc/apt/sources.list{,.bak}
echo "deb drbl stable" \
>> /etc/apt/sources.list
Finally, install DRBL:
apt-get update
apt-get install drbl

3. Configure a Network Alias

DRBL requires that you have two network interfaces. We can get around this by adding a virtual interface:
cat >> /etc/network/interfaces << "EOF"
auto eth0:1
iface eth0:1 inet static
ifup eth0:1
Don't worry if you see something like this (it's just an annoying but harmless bug in Ubuntu):
(SIOCSIFFLAGS: Cannot assign requested address)

To verify that you have set up the alias properly, type:
ip addr show eth0 | grep eth0:1
You should see something like this:
inet brd scope global eth0:1

4. Configure Your New DRBL Server

If you want to just accept all of the default settings, run the following (note that this will require an internet connection and may take some time):
Otherwise, if you want to specify your own settings, run the following two items:
/opt/drbl/sbin/drblsrv -i
/opt/drbl/sbin/drblpush -i

Congratulations! That's it, you have a DRBL/Clonezilla server ready to create and deploy custom images. All you need to do to start cloning is run:
Then, boot up your client machines using PXE. See, that wasn't too painful...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Should "i" 3G

The blogs are hot with chatter about upgrading to the new iphone 3G. To be honest I'm not exempt from the thought. After having used the iphone since November '07 I'm more than pleased. (Sigh I'm already speaking past tense) It has truly been the best mobile device I've EVER had. But there is something about the iphone 3G that is tugging at the hem of my pants.  Just brining up the conversation with my wife I get a coast to coast eye roll. 

I'll be the first to admit that it has only been a few months since I've purchased the iPhone. In my right mind, I would never have considered an upgrade just after an 8 month purchase. I'm not one to keep up with the Jones' either. I really don't need to upgrade my hardware every 6-10 months to feel I'm with the "in crowd". So all that said and in an effort to placate my conscience i'll do my best to analyze the situation from a purely fact based approach. Here is my best shot:
  • 3G
  • GPS
  • Upgraded Design - Speakers and such
  • The iphone can be a "hand-me down" (It's a glorified ipod touch if you want it for $100. I'll take the first bidder)
So should "i" iphone 3G?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Where Did The Time Go?

Where were you last week Tuesday? What did you do? How much time did you spend doing whatever you were doing?

I've seen enough Law and Order episodes to know that if I'm ever asked those questions I better have an accurate answer. But have you ever really stopped to think how much time was spent working on "X" or "Y" last week Tuesday? For a small business consultant the answer to those questions directly translates into dollars and cents.

There are so many different things fighting time falling into the buckets of billable and non-billable. Keeping track of everything usually becomes a memory exercise when you actually have time after the fact to sit down and write it up. I would guess that more often than not things are forgotten. Think of the phone calls, the quick emails, the text messages, and multiply that by each simultaneous project (Dare I say per client?). Besides project scope creep, not tracking time and billing accordingly can lead to a serious migraine.

So where I'm going with all of this? I've been poking around for something other than my notebook, iCal and/or memory to track time. I've tried various methods over the years but haven't been able to really get a solid solution. Personally, every minute needs to be tracked WHILE I'm doing the work.

OfficeTime seems to solve the problem. Upon mentioning it to my business partner 'JH' he responded - "Another tool"? But I think I've found a winner here. Here is why in a nutshell:
  • Simple "Play, Pause and Stop" buttons to activate a timer
  • Reporting of time spent based on a number of fields (Time, Project, Etc)
  • Team tracking to see how others are spending their time
  • Calendar Integration (Great for me as an iCal user!)
The only way to know if its truly it is the time tool of all tools is to demo it out for 21 days. I'll let you know how it went.

Friday, June 27, 2008

When we were kings...

In response to the follow-up on the "Flock" browser, I decided this post was necessary. You see, I too felt that the browser was too busy; almost like I needed ADHD just to process the shear amount of information being delivered! (As an aside, I think I'm going to trademark the term "informatsunami™": the farther back a browser/feed goes, the more overwhelming amounts of data get returned...with no escape!) The painful reality of my discomfort with using the browser in its intended state hit me with force of, well, a tsunami: I’m older now, I don’t need all that “stuff”!

Perhaps it really is a sign of maturity, know quite matter-of-factly what I want and how I want it delivered to me. I could care less if my cell phone has a 2.0 megapixel camera with zoom, or that it plays mp3 files, or that I can download a new ringtone. I JUST WANT TO MAKE A PHONE CALL FROM SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE MY HOUSE AND NOT WORRY ABOUT FINDING A PHONE TO USE!!!! (whew, for a minute there, I lost myself…I lost myself…) Where was I…ah yes, how I want content delivered to me, I digress. I think it’s “cool” to have everything in one tidy Mozilla-based browser. But I really don’t want everything. I don’t want to be part of a social network online; it’s hard enough maintaining my relationships in person! I don’t want to share my pictures with the world (or with the select few people whom I grant access), nor do I want to view everyone else’s pictures. I don’t want to write a blog everyday, as indicated by this being my first blog post in about 5 months! I do want to check my email, the few RSS feeds I subscribe to, and some blogs/articles that center on my current professional activities; I may even want to play a game or two online. Of course, I realize that I could simply tweak/customize Flock’s settings to behave in manner more fitting my discriminating tastes. But then I realized something else: I don’t want to. I joked with “JH” about being too old for Web 2.0, about being passed by. That used to make me sad, but really, I feel liberated.

Getting to the title of this post, my memories too me back in time about 10 years ago. I was a young(er), cocky programmer who had just cut his teeth on a Y2K project, learning Fortran, TAL, C, COBOL and statistical analysis in 18 months. I was moving on to a small consulting firm where I’d learn VB/SQL/ASP development, along with Oracle, Sybase, Linux development/administration. I was barely old enough to drink, yet I had surpassed the technical experience of every person in my family. I had a cell phone! I knew every punctuation combination used to create a smiley! I knew every IM acronym! I downloaded mp3 files before it was illegal! (Ok, ok, it was always illegal; but that was when few got in trouble for it…) I read “journals” updated daily online. The fact is, I’ve already been there, done that. I don’t care anymore, or least I don’t care as much what’s new and improved: it’s really old and declining…or maybe I am. Either way, I might still use Flock and whatever else new comes along. I might even get swept up in the informatsunami™ (remember you read it here first!) But in the end, I’ll still pine for the "old days (you guessed it)…when we were kings…

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Flock Test

This is a test. If this post is successfully published, it means I am currently using one of the most useful and complete web browsers of the Web 2.0 age.

Meet Flock. Flock brings together your online presence into one complete package. Using sidebars and widgets, flock connects you to your Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, Facebook, Picasa,, (etc., etc.) accounts and lets you access/use their features within one sleek interface. The actual core browser is powered by Mozilla, which means that if you know or use Firefox, Flock will feel very familiar.

Everyone's been talking about Web 2.0, bringing the internet to life and exploring new possibilities with dynamic content and interaction. Well, here it is.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, June 23, 2008

Visual Searching - PicLens

I was looking out of the window during a brilliant sun-setting rainfall. Maybe it was the picturesque view that jogged my brother-in-law memory. He says: "Did I ever show you PicLens?" He has trained an almost muscular response in me with that sort of question. My mouse moved for the default Google Search in Safari. In less than 2.5 minutes after install I'm looking at a full screen 3D wall of images. (The application unfortunately won't work for Safari 3.1.1. They are apparently working on a big release in the near future. I installed it with FireFox)

Okay maybe I haven't drummed this up enough. 

How would you like it if you could see a wall of TV channels instead of flipping channel by channel? For those of us with over 300 channels and nothing good on we may be able to spare ourselves the agony. THAT is what PicLens is all about, but for the web. You are able to search pictures, websites, images and much more. 

My explanation is not doing this app any justice. Just check it out--->(click)!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Beware the Viral WiFi

This may be old news since it has been documented elsewhere for a couple of years now (see the link at the end of this post), but I only discovered this recently. Over the past several years, I have worked with a number of wireless networks, but only recently have I had the very different experience of moving through the world with my own personal wireless device.

Picture me walking through New York City on a beautiful summer day. Having finished a few personal errands, I'm looking to settle down in one of its several parks for a little bit and get some work done on my Macbook Pro. Since most of my work recently involves development of web applications, naturally I get a lot more done if I have an internet connection. I have heard that many of the parks in the city are outfitted with free wireless, so I drop down my Airport list and begin scanning through the several wireless networks my lappy has found. I come across one called 'Free Public WiFi'. This looks like it could be what I'm after, so I connect, get a very strong signal but no valid IP address; no internet; nothing.

Another day, similar scenario, but another part of the city. And this time, my Airport has already automatically connected to a strong signal. You guessed it, 'Free Public WiFi'. Again, no kind of internet love coming from this network. But now I'm curious, so when I do find a valid connection, I set out googling about this mysterious network.

Turns out it's a bug in Windows. It's a viral wifi epidemic that has swept at least this country, if not by now, the world. On the whole it's fairly harmless, but the potential for danger is very great, and it's taught me a lesson that I should have realized earlier.

Here's what happened:
  • Somewhere, someone created an ad-hoc network, named 'Free Public WiFi', either intentionally as a hoax, or for some indiscernible valid purpose.

  • One or more people connected to this ad-hoc network using a Windows laptop, again, either because they were duped into thinking they'd have free internet access, or for some unknown valid reason.

  • (Here's the fun part): Once a Windows machine has connected to an ad-hoc network, when it disconnects, it now begins to broadcast that same ad-hoc network as an available connection, essentially inviting anyone to join.

And so it spreads. As more and more Windows machines connect to ad-hoc networks named like 'Free Public WiFi' thinking they'll get free internet, more and more Windows machines end up broadcasting that same network. Take into account business travel, and you should see how quickly this thing is able to spread.

The danger here really should be self-evident. It is two-fold:
  1. An attacker could be broadcasting such a network, waiting for someone to connect in order to attempt exploiting their machine.

  2. If you're running Windows, you yourself may be broadcasting that network, essentially inviting anyone, including potential attackers to connect to you.

My partial solution to this is to not use Windows. :) The rest is a principle learned that I will be careful to apply and which, I think, more people should apply as a best practice: only connect to networks that you are certain about. For example, after this experience, I researched more carefully what public wifi is available in the city, who provides it and their locations. So now I'll know what I'm looking for.

Even so, it is likely if you have a mobile device that at some point you will open yourself up for attack. So there is sound reason to make sure your system is secure as a rule. Use a local firewall service. Update your system often. Don't take candy from strangers.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

JavaScript: Who knew?

It's been around for a long time, and it's had its fair share of abuse. If you're like me, perhaps you can recall when one of the most popular uses of JavaScript was for dynamic looking buttons. Do a little mouse over on the button and the button glows, or changes shape, or some other little effect which really amounted to swapping out an image. It was often being used more obnoxiously than elegantly.

Then came Flash. Everyone loved it. And again, everyone over-abused it. Finally, it became obvious (at least to me...) that people tend to prefer simpler design with occasional purposeful animation. In walks JavaScript (again).

Developers began using JavaScript in much more powerful, interesting, and ultimately elegant ways. One of the biggest ways being accessing and modifying the DOM. By listening to user initiated events (mouse clicks, keyboard entries), a developer can dynamically alter, rearrange, delete or create new document objects, all on the client side. A user can even initiate a server request (via the XMLHttpRequest object) and receive its reply without reloading the entire page.

The power, flexibility and standard implementation of JavaScript make it a powerful tool in building web-based applications. It would be a mistake to ignore it. I'm certainly getting my hands dirty with it (honestly, more by chance than anything else) and I've been loving the experience. A book that I've really found a great tool in helping me get the most out of the experience is called The Art & Science of JavaScript. I'd recommend it to anyone in the business or habit of building web-based applications.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Web-Based Charting

Just adding to my previous argument to move away from massive spreadsheets (See WebApp vs. Data Tennis) is the infoSoft Global application FusionCharts. I'm a huge proponent of being able to visualize data in a way that will make the most impact for your audience. This shouldn't be sacrificed just because the application is on the web. As a matter of fact, it should be even more impacting with the speed of which information can be transfered and displayed. 

We recently came across FusionCharts searching for a simple way to integrate web graphing with our already matured LAMP Application. The flash based graphing works well with PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails just to name a few. The best part is that all you need to do is feed it the right XML datafile and the graph is done. This makes it easy to read directly from a database (which we did) utilizing a few string manipulation techniques. 

Did I mention that they have a free version?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coding with the SDK

Yes, there has been quite a bit of lag between posts. I started to suffer from the Fallen Tree in Forest syndrome. I'm trying to make a melody with this blog but I'm not sure if it is even making a sound. That said, I'm posting again. I'm doing this not to force a noise in a plethora of internet data.  I feel the need to share my lessons learned with Objective-C and the iphone SDK. 

Here is where I am so far (in order):
  • Downloaded the newest SDK - Duh
  • Downloaded the core documentation for the SDK via xcode workspace guide - Getting Warmed up
  • Ran through iphone Fundamental Documents - Shallow Waters
  • Started the "Your First iphone Application" document in the workspace guide - Where's the boat?!?!
I'll pause there. There were really no issues following the documentation and getting a working application.  It was way more than an echo "Hello World". As a total laymen in Objective-C and lacking a solid C++ background, I needed something a little easier to make the connection. 

Of course you could find plenty of other places to go, but I found this one as I was searching for something familiar to grab hold of. I've been doing plenty of php scripting and this was a useful transition site. 

After getting aquatinted with my first application and reading some basics on Objective-C, I downloaded all the sample programs on the Apple Developers website. I'll say that I'm making some progress.

The goal of all of this? Besides being part of a technical tsunami, I've been avoiding non-scripting languages. Now was as good as any time to start tinkering again. I'll let you know how long I last.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

iphone SDK - Sky's the Limit?

The iphone SDK has been installed!

For a neophyte with little objective-c skills, I'm still highly attracted to the possibilities open to developing for the iphone. Business users all over are constantly in demand for rich presentation in a small package. I'm convinced that the iphone will pave the way for that to happen. 

But here-in lays the uncharted territory. How far will CIO's and their organizations go to develop custom applications to bring their executives into the new wave? Most executives travel light but require the information at their fingertips. I foresee a new demand for companies to step to the plate and provide rich media in that custom package. The iphone may not be the device of choice, but it is certainly moving the mobile community and enterprises to build the right custom application. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Script?

If you have a Unix or Linux background, scripting should be second nature to you. Even 'Windows Gurus' usually do some little bit of automation with custom scripts. The power and flexibility that comes with the command line is hard to ignore, once you've tasted it. Still, those who have tasted both a Unix-type shell and the Windows command line will generally agree, Unix has the advantage here.

Although there are ways to do in Windows some of the things possible with Unix tools, it's quite a bit more cumbersome. By taking advantage of Cygwin, you can bring that power and flexibility to Windows. A simple example of how I have used Cygwin alongside Windows tools involves Active Directory user creation, deletion and modification. The tools provided in Cygwin allow you to do advanced pattern matching and generate a list of users, file paths, etc., and then using the Bash shell, it is simple to create the logic necessary to call the Windows command line tools for modification of Active Directory. With the arsenal of useful tools that become available to Windows by using Cygwin, the possibilities for better automation grow considerably.

The Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide offers a great starting place for increasing your ability to write useful and powerful scripts.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Keeping Up With Moore's Law

If you are like me, you've gone through several different computers over the course of a decade. I've had Dell, Toshiba and HP laptops all that provided (at the time) the needed processing punch. Eventually my software demanded more memory and computational power. Now I reached the age of my MacBook Pro and......."Wham"! It feels as if there is enough horsepower under the hood to last me a lifetime. Or so I think for the time being.

My feelings of laptop longevity, albeit easily susceptible to change, raises a question. Besides the fame and glory of trying to fabricate smaller and smaller chips, is it really necessary to continue the march down the nanoscale for the average home/business PC?

Don't get me wrong! I'll be the first one to ogle at the latest and greatest technology. Also if it wasn't for chip makers getting smaller, conserving power, we wouldn't have marvels like the Macbook Air. However, as chip fabricators are currently in the 45 nanometer range shooting to get even smaller, I wonder if Moore's Law will stop for general consumers sooner than we think.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maximize The Life-Cycle

For some small business, IT procurement can be a challenge. Budgets are tight and figuring out hardware requirements could be daunting. How is it possible to ensure that you get the most out of your computing so your life-cycle isn't shorter than it needs to be AND you satisfy your employees within reason? One simple key is to address the usage pattern of your employees.

What is the benefit of looking at it this way? 

My eureka story covers this best. I took my car for a routine service and was surprised when the mechanic said I needed new brake pads. They were changed not too long ago and the math wasn't working out in my head. Skeptical, I ignored his comment. If it wasn't for the insurance requirements of his company he would have pulled me under the car to see how bad it was for myself. After he told me how many millimeters I had left before I would hear screeching I grudgingly had them changed. Later that week (still doubting my decision) I noticed something while a certain family member was driving the car (Identity withheld to protect my life).  This unidentified individual habitually stopped hard at red lights. AH HA! That was the usage pattern that led to the breaks needing changing earlier than my projected life-cycle. Unfortunately for me I had to fork out the money and reacted to the usage pattern after the fact. It doesn't need to be that way for IT Procurement. 

For most users they would like a computer to function like their mind. They want to multitask on several different things and they want to do it quickly. Even with most up-to-date system, there is a threshold where it will seem unresponsive because of the multitasking being imposed by the user. So if someone has, say Adobe Photoshop CS3, open with 15 different images, is checking email, listing to a Pandora stream and browsing the web, the usage pattern can change. The goal is to help users understand how they need to think a little differently to maximize their computing productivity. When that message is properly conveyed, the life-cycle will be extended. The trick is to convey that message without inflicting pain.

To avoid any toe to toe confrontations, a simple yet proactive approach can be taken, here are a few options:
  • Every so often, provide employees with reminders and tips on good computing. These can be gathered from the same companies who provide your hardware and software. Sometimes these companies send monthly emails and webinars on useful computing topics. Recycle those in summary to employees in an official company message.
  • Provide a checklist of monthly maintenance tasks to perform (folder organization, file clean up, desktop cleanup, etc)
  • Establish a system to share tips and tricks among employees (wiki page, whiteboard sessions). 

Friday, February 22, 2008

AutoSave Anyone?

(Reader Beware - Oncoming Rant)

With a snowy afternoon and a hot cup of tea I decided to make good use of my time and start a document I've put on hold for long enough. In an attempt to open my eyes to more than the Microsoft Office Suite, I started learning/using Pages (Part of the iWork '08). 

The initial keystrokes were hard enough just to get the thoughts flowing. I was able to get out of the mental rut and put down a few good paragraphs. Unexpectedly Pages crashed. No issue there, it should just restore my document...Right? 

Lets pause there for a moment to note a few things:
1. In the time that I've started this blog the automatic autosave in has protected my work every minute, autosaving some 15 times.
2. TextEdit, a very basic word processing program has an autosave feature backing up SQL code I was messing with.
3. Time Machine on my MacBook Pro has backed up my system 12 times since the start of today.

In our world of computing backups, redundancy and autosaving, being able to recover has become common-law! So it was in disbelief that I re-opened my Pages file to find that NOTHING was recovered. There wasn't even an indication that it tried! Thats autosave in Pages!

I won't drag on with any more rhetoric on the subject. This isn't a bash on Pages. Just a rant that the simple programmable things in life should never be forgotten. Autosave is one of them!

Command - S

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

JeOS Pronounced "Juice"

What is JeOS?

Before we begin lets ask ourselves a few questions.

When you just need to listen to music on the radio, do you turn on your Blue-Ray player, TV, and your karaoke machine as well?

When you just need to boil some water on the stove, do you turn your oven on as well and perhaps the 3 other burners along with it?

Right about now you are probably thinking of course not! I agree because of obvious reasons, why would we turn on the other unnecessary devices if we just need the one or two?

JeOS is the abbreviation of “Just Enough Operating System?” or “Just Enough OS”.

Right about now there are hundred of thousands of Windows Servers and few Linux/Unix that in essence have the karaoke machine or the oven on when it just needs to play some classical music.

If I need to setup a print server, why do I need Outlook Express, Windows Media Player, Pinball and a whack load of other not needed services installed by default drinking up precious space and resources that can be needed just spooling print jobs?

JeOS is a stripped down OS that has only the applications and services needed for the function(s) that server was meant for!

What does this mean? More space, more available resources, and more reliability for the server to do what it was intended for.

Tailoring your OS allows more available connections for processes required to the specific application or service you want to run. It becomes more reliable, secure, easier to manage and performs better then an all purpose OS.

For some Linux/UNIX experts this is not new to them as they have been customizing there servers for each task it was intended to perform. For the rest of us not so crafty in that area of OS building or have limited time on packaging and compiling there own, this is a perfect solution to getting that goal accomplished.

Almost all Linux and Unix Distributions have already created there own JeOS version.

Perhaps Microsoft can follow along with this fast growing common sense way of changing the way our OS serves the tasks we want it to do in the small-enterprise level business.

IT Metrics and Small Business

"If you don't measure it, you can't manage it!"

All too often we encounter small business clients who feel their IT infrastructure is operating just fine. When asked, "how is your IT infrastructure working", they roll their eyes to the sky and think back to their personal computing issues over the past week. The answer is often, "things are okay...I guess".

Then it happens...

"My computer crashed!" 
"Are you able to get e-mail?"
"I can't print, can you print?"
"Why is the internet so slow?"
"My home computer is faster than this."

With almost inborn instinct the victims hit the power button and pray for normalcy. If the situation is not resolved with a reset and the frustration level is high enough, a call for support is made. Since these issues typically happen sporadically they are often swept under the mental rug.

But lets examine this with business basics - Time Is Money! If we chalk down the lost time of the underrated comments above into dollars, the loss would be startling. This is where a small business owner with limited IT support needs insight into their infrastructure with simple "Key Metrics".

Key Metric 1: "How many times a week, month or quarter have I experienced an outage, failure or issue?"
Key Metric 2: "How long was each outage, failure or issue?"
Key Metric 3: "How much did this on average cost me in dollars and cents?

The metrics are no more complicated than 5th grade math class, but pack the same power as E=mc

If the financial loss because of the issues approaches 40% (for arguments sake) of the cost of the hardware, software, or service being used its time to take action. Setting aside a little effort measuring IT outages (among other things) can save a bundle. A small business owner can use the information to target potential system failure, plan for hardware upgrades and more important have peace of mind.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Virtualization With Vmware

Most IT professionals have used some kind of virtualization software on there personal computers because they see the benefit of having a single point and click access to there secondary O/S. This is very convenient. The hardware available today is more powerful and flexable then before. Having 2-8 cores on a single processor with GB-TB’s or memory is the norm these days and purchasing another server to do the same tasks you did on 4 single pizza boxes, blades or towers with a single core almost can be a waste of resources on money.

Let us see how in various ways virtualization can be a benefit to the IT field.

- Development / Labs
- Consolidation
- Resources
- Single Point Management
- Disaster Recovery

Development / Labs:

Almost all medium to large sized businesses serious about there company’s infrastructure have a complete hardware mirror of there production environment for there testing and development needs. Replicating your exact production environment equipment and software does mitigate future migration for software and hardware upgrades or changes, but comes at a cost. Some companies abandon that idea for that reason, only to rely and risky live or scheduled times to make changes to there current production environment.

A Virtual lab can lessen the pain for both the IT staff responsible for the changes, and gives the same peace of mind when new projects need to be implemented as you do with a real replication of your environment. With a virtual lab you cut the needed servers in half or more depending on the hardware available and what you plan on using them for.


Almost every company has a few common services they require i.e. print server, active directory or user authentication server, licensing server or a backup server to name a few. These are services that can be shared on a few single hosts. Instead of having 4 dedicated servers for each service, you now have 2 or maybe 1 doing all these tasks at once!

Some may ask, wait a second here wouldn’t that be pushing it?

Yesterday we had single core dual socket possibly quad socket boards were the choice for your high end processing needs.

Today for the same price you paid for that high end server you get up to eight sockets with quad core processors! That is the equivalent of 6 additional servers in one. What does that mean? Less power consumption, more room for growth, maximized server resources and less required cables when running up to 6 servers or more (virtual appliances) on a single server vs. 6 dedicated servers!

Resource Savings

How much does it cost to keep the power flowing to all your servers 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year?

For every server that is removed from the data center, approximately 12.5 tones of CO2 emissions are saved industry estimate. To offset the 12.5 tones of CO2 you would need to plant 55 Native trees each year if you plan on keeping that server. If you have 1000 servers, 12,500 tones of CO2… you need to plant 55,000 trees a year to offset it. If you virtualized 1000 servers over 3 years you don’t need to plant 55,000 trees.

Single Point Management

Every IT professional has some type of tool for managing there hardware whether web based or application based. There are also hundreds of them out there that do the job quite well. Do you want to juggle between the various types of management software or just a single one?

Vmware has a standard console that manages all your virtual appliances with a single click. From here you can reboot, modify or add system requirements as necessary without interfering with the other appliances.

Disaster Recovery

All virtual appliances are fully customizable to suit your requirements. Each initial appliance you create can be a single dynamic large file or multiple spanned files that can be backed up or run on any vmware server for rapid deployment and recovery. In the event of a server failure or major disaster most likely the “Dell beefy R2-D2 series” you purchased 5 years ago is discontinued, you will be forced to re-build from scratch on a new server. This can be costly and time consuming. Instead you install your vmware server in 10 minutes or less just copy you’re backed up appliance and your back in business. No need to install Microsoft Windows Server, drivers, updates which can take up to most of the day!


There are many benefits and case studies on using vmware on your servers. Just search in I myself have and is enough for me to start finding areas to consolidate our servers for the future. This solution is a must to investigate into and see how it can benefit your environment. The savings are huge not only on the company’s pocket but the environment as well!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

(Un)Happy Anniversary, MS Vista!

On January 30, 2007, Microsoft released Vista to the general public, with the hopes that every computer on the market would run the "enhanced" OS. The one year anniversary has come and gone without much (positive) fanfare. Ironically, some of the features deemed enhancements are the very ones that seem to drum up the most criticism: Security, Graphical Display, Memory Usage.

Now, if you were to ask me, I'm lukewarm-leaning-toward-cold on Vista. About the only thing that's "cool" to me anymore is the breadcrumb navigation in Windows Explorer. Yeah, I used the Sidebar for a while, with a "gadget" that showed how my system was performing. Yeah, I was all geeked out over "Windows Flip 3D" and all the other slick Aero features. But being a software developer who actually knows what he wants to install, modify, delete, I immediately turned off UAC! Sure, Vista warns me that it's turned off every time Windows Explorer restarts (which reminds, me I'm about two warnings away from turning off warnings!!!!!!) but I've learned to live with it....sort of. I agree with what's written in this article:,2817,2254104,00.asp

For the record I have a Dell Inspiron e1505, 2.0 Dual-Core processor, mid-range graphics card, 2gb RAM with Vista Ultimate --$949 in the Dell outlet early last year. My wife has a $300 Acer with a Celeron processor, 512MB RAM and Vista Basic. (Don't judge me! We bought my wife's laptop right before the parents sent their kids of to college. She only needs it for Napster and email....seriously!) Do I even have to describe the pain of using her laptop? Do I even have to say that every forum recommended "downgrading" her laptop to Windows XP? But think about it: of the people buying $300-500 laptops, how many of them are thinking about how well it will perform vs. XP? My wife's a brilliant women in her own right, but she'd never think to search online in a forum for instructions on wiping out her laptop and resinstalling drivers, software, etc!

I'm sure most people are merely satisfied with whatever they are given. They probably have the "so-long-as-I-can-still-do-x" mentality. But people on the fringes -- the tech savvy on one end and the tech newbies on the other -- are going to be frustrated with the standard OS offering. So who is Micro$oft going to please: 80% of the users in the middle, or the 10% on either end? We'll wait for the answer. Until then, (un)happy anniversary, MS Vista! Thanks for the memor...uhm...thanks for...nothing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The iPhone "Unlock" Issue

Who would think that unlocked iphones would be such an issue to Apple? Don't other companies deal with unlocked phones and get over it?

When 1 million are "missing in action" according to  the article "Quarter of Apple iPhones "unlocked": Analyst" anyone would take notice. Being an iPhone user (one of the best company policies we've enforced so far) I'm pretty glad that I have a "virgin" phone.

The reason I'm so glad for having a virgin phone is that Apple is going to have to make some interesting decisions concerning the future of the iphone. Those decisions I feel will make it harder to have the iphone on any other network unless Apple says so. Here is the conversation that pSw (fellow blogger and LightCube Solution Associate) and I were having on the issue. I've decided to take it to the blog so that others can chime in.

Conversation to date:

pSw: Should Apple [if they could] block all those phones that are missing? 

Let's loosely define "block" as jailing the phone so badly that the iphone elite team, team, geohot and others would have no other recourse but to raise the white flag. (I personally think someone will always have the ability to jailbreak the phone but thats another blog entirely)

fhagard: It's amazing that they could sell so many phones yet suffer financially because of it.

pSw: The loss will only be for AT&T if that were to happen. 

fhagard: Apple would also lose on the deal because they make their money on the AT&T activation of the phone and not the phone sale alone. As stated in the article: 

"If Apple cracks down on unlocked phones it could preserve its high margins but miss its sales target, whereas allowing them could erode profitability and make it tough to sign more carriers to similar revenue-sharing deals."

pSw: Sign other carriers! Unlock the phones, or make a version for each carrier...that strategy cuts into profit margins on the phones themselves. But the returns are better in the long-term.

fhagard: Apple is all about the immediate returns for the hardware traditionally. If they focus on long-term returns they will never please their investors because they are coming out with something bigger in the next Macworld.

pSw: The problem with that is they already make a tidy profit from all their other hardware sales. If Apple were more like, say, Research-In-Motion, then that focus would make more sense. RIM makes the functionality possible; Qualcomm makes the phones. Their joint venture remains profitable only by making multiple versions of the same phone(s) for different carriers. Who's to say that Apple can't adapt to this and become bigger than Motorola, Samsung, and LG combined?

In response to pSw’s last comment I feel that Apple wont adapt to become bigger than Motorola and the rest. Why should they focus on making several different phones for different users/wireless companies when they can make THE best phone? They have always defined their game by being separate from the pack. They keep it simple and separate making the statement, 'we play well in the sandbox when we own the sand'.

So in the long run I’m very glad for my AT&T branded iphone playing in the sandbox the way Apple wants. More power to the dev teams who are able to unlock the phone, but I think the battle is on.

Thoughts Anyone?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Linux From Scratch

No blog of mine would be complete without a reference of some sort to Linux From Scratch. If you've never heard of it before, Linux From Scratch (LFS) is an online community that produces a book containing instructions on how to create your own complete, functioning and customized Linux system by hand. As you follow the instructions in the book, you compile all the software from source code and manually create nearly every configuration file within your system.

Apart from creating a lightweight, reasonably secure, custom system and the pride of knowing that you made it all happen, as you go through the book you also get a good picture of what makes a Linux system tick.

Personally, because of the LFS project, my abilities in shell scripting and the Unix command line increased dramatically. This, in turn, led to my being able to contribute back to the project. I initiated the LFS LiveCD subproject, created and introduced to the community a program called jhalfs that automates the LFS building process (it has since been revised by a few talented individuals), and even helped develop the actual LFS book (a copy with some personal changes lives here). It was a fun ride.

LFS continues to receive good reviews as there appears to be many who enjoy the experience of customizing completely their own personal Linux system. Here's a recent article that contains a fairly thorough review. The section on LFS begins on page 3.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Technology at Kennedy High School

John F. Kennedy High School is located in the Southwestern part of the Bronx, right on the border of Manhattan. Within the past two years, it has seen tremendous growth in the way it makes use of technology as an education tool. To a very large degree, the man behind that growth is Ali Shama. His vision has been driving many of the wonderful things happening at Kennedy recently.

In 2006, Ali brought me in to help implement and maintain the network services he needed in order to achieve his vision. Together, we installed four Apple labs consisting of around 34 iMacs each and an Xserve to handle default settings for those workstations. We then tied them into our existing Windows domain, allowing students access to the same network files and folders they would have when logging into a Windows workstation. We also set up at least 4 PC labs with 34 stations each and configured several network based applications, such as Rosetta Stone, Plato and Microsoft Student for use in those labs.

The impact this work has had on the school has been tremendous.  Students are learning to create, with very professional tools and in a very professional setting, digital video, audio and print. There more details about this in a great write-up Ali received in the New York Daily News.

What has been done at Kennedy, especially in connection with Apple hardware and services, is an example of what LightCube Solutions is offering.  In fact, I believe the work at Kennedy will serve as a springboard for future LightCube work. Thank you, Ali, for the great privilege I have had in working with you. 

Monday, January 7, 2008

Open Source Courseware

In my first post (Light it up!), I mentioned that LightCube Solutions has an opportunity to pioneer an open source courseware application. Here are a few more details:

In a nutshell, the idea is to create a web application (at the moment it is powered by PHP and MySQL) that allows High School students to study content on their school's intranet. Teachers will have access to add/create content and publish tests. When the students take the test, their scores are recorded in their profile. Teachers and other administrators can monitor their progress, scores, course history and so on. We want to keep it open source to allow a wider scope of input and collaboration.

Currently, the project is being organized here:
And a demo of the current code is here:

The name of the project is likely to change, so stay tuned for more info.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Be Agile, not Fragile!

All you want to do is write some code, and somehow remain profitable. Well, maybe that's not all you want to do. If you have one, you might be interested in fulfilling your client's needs, while not going on any "death marches" in the process. You probably want to work on features that excite you with technology you want to use. You might want some flexibility on deadlines in response to unexpected problems. Ok. Great! Now, choose your flavor of methodolgy: Agile, XP, RAD, TDD, Waterfall, RUP, SCRUM...should I go on? Which do you choose? How do you know what will work best for you and your needs? When in doubt, do what everyone else is doing!

Agile with SCRUM is certainly en vogue. The values of Agile development are captured by the Agile Manifesto: (also see: SCRUM is a way of managing the work and communicating status. The two combined certainly make for an effective set of tools and guidelines to make everyone happy. But the first thing you learn about SCRUM (or the first thing I learned anyway) is: SCRUM is common sense! Meaning, if you have bad developers, or good developers with bad practices, SCRUM/Agile won't help you; firing the developers will! See, common sense at it's finest.

But seriously. One of the advantages of Agile with SCRUM is that work is clearly exposed as knowledge changes. For example, say you agree to deliver the user administration widget in 4 weeks. But as the days pass, you complete work, but new features are discussed. You can choose with the stakeholders what to do with those features: do we try to squeeze all of them in, or can we release the most essential ones first and then the others as enhancements later? Developers get to talk to stakeholders without all that messy project management stuff getting in the way. Of course, there's a Product Owner (Team) and a ScrumMaster. But their roles are mainly about helping the developers work on the most important features without any impediments.

I've worked with Waterfall, Spiral, a little RUP, and now Agile with SCRUM. I love it! It's lightweight, it's simple, it allows for quick response to unexpected issues. I'll be posting more on this topic as my experience as a ScrumMaster increases.

WebApps Vs. Data Tennis

It's a common practice for businesses small and large to use spreadsheets in their business processes. The dependency of these files grows to the point of painful return. 

Consider the common scenario:

Team A works on a simple spreadsheet for data tracking. This file (on a daily or weekly basis) needs to be sent to Team B as an input to their workflow. Unfortunately the update to the file was not complete. Team B needs to send the file with their changes back to Team A for updates and validation. Here are classic complaints of this common scenario:
  • You are KILLING my inbox -  We are now zipping 7Mb files to email.
  • Can I change the way this spreadsheet looks? Answer: Yes- But it will mess up the formulas and conditional formatting.
  • It takes forever to run the macros on this data.
  • Some of this data (from 10 versions ago) was fat fingered. I wonder what else is wrong.
Picture the WebApp:

Team A updates a webbased version of their spreadsheet tied to a secure database. Team B has access to the database via the same webapp and is able to read and write on their timetable. The database and webapp apply version control, user access, routine backup and enhanced functionality. Classic comments:
  • I didn't know that this web stuff was so fast and flexible. 
  • This thing corrects me every time I enter something wrong, saves me plenty of time later on.
  • I get the solution to my data request right away. My macros used to take forever.
  • Both my teams can work almost simultaneously. They communicate much better with this WebApp in place. 
Yes its true. You can use conditional formats, data validation and scripting in spreadsheet applications. The problem is that over time managing these custom scripts files becomes a pain when going between different teams and business processes. Web based applications allows custom functionality without the overhead of large files. Yes its debatable, but why not limit the data tennis?

Telecom/Trunk ordering, resource allocation, reporting spreadsheets and the like can all be moved from 7Mb files (and growing) to a WebApp. Any questions?