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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Even the datacenter is mobile driven

By David Chernicoff | May 13, 2011, 8:51am PDT

When Unisys announced new additions to its Clearpath Enterprise Server line, the Dorado and Libra 800, the lead information provided about the new servers wasn't so much focused on the mission critical role that these servers are designed to play as it was on the fact that they can be accessed via mobile devices.

Unisys makes some very interesting enterprise-class server products that reflect well on its heritage as a mainframe computer provider.  They are in the process of moving their server lines from their own CMOS processors to industry-standard Intel Xeon CPUs and continue to enhance their software components, from their Clearpath MCP software to their high-end fault tolerant XPC-L clustering technology.

But even Unisys realizes that to get attention from potential new customers they need to cater to the high-profile mobile market regardless of the small number of users likely to take full advantage of such solutions. It's not enough to point out that these new servers are the most powerful Unisys has released; that bit of data needs to share the stage with the announcement of added support for the iPad and Blackberry and Android smartphones.

Unisys tested with waters with support for the iPhone and iPod Touch announced last year. Their goal was to allow smartphone users to interact with their mainframe applications without any negative impact on the mainframe operations.   Unisys offers their Clearpath ePortal Specialty Engine to facilitate access by mobile devices to their mainframe resources. They clearly feel that their approach has worked and they have now expanded their support to a broader range of mobile devices, including tablets that make much more effective corporate data access devices than smartphones.

A discussion of mobile devices is certain to draw much broader attention than the announcement of another generation of enterprise-class server hardware, but more importantly, it further cements the potential role of mobile devices in the enterprise and speaks well to vendors understanding of how the future of corporate computing seems to be shaping up
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Cooling management appliance a perfect fit for legacy datacenters

By David Chernicoff | May 12, 2011, 6:47am PDT

With so many changes going on in the way that datacenters are built and equipped, the huge amount of new construction being done, and the wealth of new technology focused on building state-of-the-art facilities, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the majority of datacenters in use aren't in a position to take advantage of all of the advances in facilities design and management.

We forget that the standard datacenter in use today can still bring back memories of the design introduced for mainframes in the 1960's; a large room with a raised floor, filled with racks of computing equipment and kept  chilled by massive CRAC (computer room air conditioning) units that run constantly to maintain the required operating temperature in the facility. And while new datacenters are built from the ground up with energy efficiency as a stated design goal, the vast majority of datacenters in use were designed during a time of more profligate spending with a focus on simply maintaining the operational environment with little regard for the energy expenditure.

Datacenter operators go to great lengths to economize in these older facilities using any number of techniques, ranging from modification to room, row, and rack cooling architecture changes, to hot-aisles. To containment systems with in-rack cooling built within existing facilities, using little more than shower curtain-style PVC sheeting. However, regardless of the techniques that existing datacenter operators choose to use, the key to making it all work is staying on top of the overall environmental cooling and avoiding potential problems that can be caused by hotspots or unexpected airflow (not to  mention potential failures of computer room air handling devices).

This is the perfect environment for Trendpoint's new EnviroCube cooling management appliance. This relatively inexpensive ($2995) box effectively can be plugged into your datacenter at critical junctures for your existing air handling equipment and measure the real-time efficiency of each CRAC/CRAH by measuring the power being utilized and the effectiveness of your cooling and humidity control. On a one to one basis, the EnviroCube can be installed with each air handling device to enable datacenter management to continually evaluate the effectiveness of the unit, determine its operating efficiency and keep an eye out for potential points of failure.

This is a more effective way for datacenters, especially legacy facilities, to get control of their air handling issues. Instrumenting the rooms and the data processing equipment is all well and good, but management by evaluating the effects of your air handling on the devices in use can never be more than reactive. By monitoring and managing the CRAC/CRAH device directly, datacenter operators will be able to take a proactive approach to maintaining an optimal datacenter environment in the most efficient way possible.
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Maximum energy efficiency may require single source datacenter

By David Chernicoff | May 11, 2011, 9:50am PDT

One of the keys to building an energy efficient datacenter is to minimize energy wasting operations.  This might seem obvious, but the ramifications of the process might not be. Beyond looking at power delivery, cooling solutions, and IT hardware that operates as efficiently as possible, there is the issue of managing all of these disparate elements and a single entity. The goal of delivering power, cooling, and computing power only when and where needed in many ways defines the focus for datacenter management in the future.

With this in mind, vendors of datacenter equipment, everything from power delivery units, to chillers, to the actual computing hardware, are instrumenting everything possible.  They know that their customers want to be able to monitor and control the workload across their datacenter, and providing that hook, and support for APIs that link into major management platforms will allow potential customers to integrate these products into their existing power management schemes.

In an effort to increase the value-add that their products provide, vendors are beginning to optimize their hardware for on-demand delivery. After all, if you don't need power, cooling, or a particular IT resource at any given time interval, why waste the energy (and money) to keep it available. So in this vein, the major IT vendors are offering up APIs for their management tools designed to take advantage of this level of control of the datacenter infrastructure. And therein lies the rub; to properly implement and maximize energy savings with a completely on-demand infrastructure every controlled component needs to behave in an expected, and predictable, fashion.

This means that the management infrastructure needs to be tightly tied into the physical infrastructure. The haphazard addition of software and hardware, or even well-planned additions, can wreak havoc on the on-demand nature of this prospective datacenter. This is especially true as vendors add their own flavor of on-demand capability to their hardware. For this concept to provide maximum value, behavior across the hardware needs to be consistent. And as products are added to the infrastructure, they have to work with the on-demand nature of the infrastructure without causing problems.

This is a step beyond advertising that your product supports a given vendors management or on-demand API functions; it means that the product has to be sufficiently well integrated with the buyers management infrastructure to be able to deliver on its promise. And it's that integration that  will make or break the product.

This is where the single-vendor solution will really shine, be it the "we sell just about everything" approach that vendors like HP are offering or the pre-tested multi-vendor partnership configurations of which Cisco is the leading proponent. These vendors are going to be able to offer tested configurations with documented energy use statistics, for a complete datacenter infrastructure. As factors such as PUE become the standard metric for evaluating datacenter efficiency (and hence, the purchase of the equipment therein) the ability to deliver a proven efficient datacenter infrastructure will be a very compelling selling point.
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Thursday, May 12, 2011

10 pitfalls of rookie management teams

By Steve Tobak | May 10, 2011, 8:33 AM PDT

I've worked with and consulted for hundreds of startups, entrepreneurs, and relatively inexperienced management teams. I also was an inexperienced executive myself, once upon a time. Lots of water under the bridge, I can tell you that.

Now, I wouldn't begrudge anyone the unique growth experience of learning from his own mistakes, especially the wisdom and humility that only failure can impart on the executive ego.

That said, savvy managers listen to the voice of experience. They may choose to ignore the advice, but they still listen. Information is power, forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

When asked in a CNBC interview what keeps her up at night, Christine Day, CEO of fast-growing, high-flying athletic apparel maker Lululemon Athletica, said, "Scaling the growth. Our growth has been phenomenal, and that puts a lot of pressure on a young management team."

Day, who spent 20 years at Starbucks, most recently as president of the Asia Pacific Group, knows her stuff. Scaling the business is on my list of novice management pitfalls, along with nine other rookie mistakes.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Thinking you've got it all figured out

Or thinking that the answers are self-contained within your four walls. One of the biggest differences between mature execs and novices is the understanding that the management team and the board do not have all the answers. Source far and wide, debate, then make decisions.

2: Failing to say no to opportunities

One of the biggest pitfalls is taking on too much, starting too many projects, spreading resources too thin, and failing to focus on what's most important: execution and growing the core business.

3: Staying the course too long

Entrepreneurs often stay the course when there are clear signs that they're pointed in the wrong direction — for instance, customers want B instead of A, customer traction isn't happening as planned, or the market isn't materializing.

4: Hiring other inexperienced executives

If you're scratching your head and wondering how dumb is that?, you're not alone. I can never figure out why entrepreneurs do this, but they do, and their boards, VCs and all, let them. It happens all the time. The result: the blind leading the blind.

5: Hiring executives just for their experience

All too often, entrepreneurs know they need to complement their relative inexperience with executives who've been around, so they hire people with big corporate backgrounds and overlook key qualities, like how well they'll do in a fast-paced, collaborative, entrepreneurial environment.

6: Underscoping the challenges of scaling the business

This is huge for high-growth companies where it's critical to scale the operation — human capital, IT infrastructure, processes, facilities, equipment — in sync with growing demand. It's a real tightrope to simultaneously maintain growth, quality, and profits.

7: Failing to moderate risk-taking

In an effort to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that got them where they are, inexperienced executives will oftentimes shy away from organizational processes and systems that are needed to facilitate growth. That often results in a shoot from the hip mentality or, even worse, a constantly shifting strategy du jour.

8: Suddenly becoming overly risk averse

Clamping down on calculated risk-taking based on sound risk-reward analysis is just as bad an idea as playing it fast and loose. In today's highly competitive global market, playing it safe won't help you maintain market share. Quite the opposite is true.

9: Lacking marketing competence

All too often, especially in the technology industry, marketing competence is an afterthought. Executing on the product or service and customer traction are the keys for startup success, no doubt, but marketing intelligence will improve the odds. Finding competent marketers seems to be the rub.

10: Going public too soon

There are benefits to an IPO — primarily as a source of capital and currency for acquisitions. But the downside — SEC and public scrutiny, Sarbanes Oxley, and most important, management team distraction — can negatively affect a company's ability to execute when it needs to be firing on all cylinders.

The flip side

In light of all that, you'd almost be tempted to avoid inexperienced entrepreneurs and executives. But that, my friend, would be a mistake. Anecdotally speaking, those with experience don't necessarily do any better than their novice counterparts. I guess experience has its own pitfalls. Hmm … sounds like a subject for another blog post.

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10 reasons why you should give Slackware Linux a chance

By Jack Wallen | May 11, 2011, 11:37 AM PDT

Slackware. You've either used it, thought about using it, or you're scared of using it. Slackware Linux is one of the most powerful distributions available. But that power comes with a price — it's not nearly as user-friendly as many other distributions. In fact, Slackware is typically bested only by Gentoo for level of difficulty.

But if you avoid Slackware, you miss out on quite a lot. I can think of at least 10 reasons why you should give Slackware a try (or another chance). Before you hold up your hands in the middle of the installation and cry out, "I give up!" give these reasons a read.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Stability

If you're looking for the best of the best, you will be hard-pressed to find a Linux distribution that enjoys more stability than Slackware — and that's saying quite a lot! Slackware has been around for 20 years now, and for the longest time it has enjoyed the reputation of being the most rock solid of the Linux distributions. In my time with Slackware (and I have installed the most recent version as well as using versions throughout my time with Linux), I can with complete honesty say those claims are the truth. Slackware is about as solid as an operating system can get. Be it for a server or a desktop, if you are using Slackware, you are going to enjoy some serious reliability.

2: Security

Slackware does not fall into the many traps that some other distributions fall into with security. There are many reasons for this higher level of security. For example, Slackware does not release a new version until it is ready. Because of this, Slackware is released with far fewer bugs and holes than rolling release distributions or distributions that release frequently. In addition, Slackware doesn't use package managers like Synaptic or yum, so any application is generally installed from source.

3: Neutrality

Slackware doesn't depend on a package manager, so it enjoys much more neutrality than any other distribution does. This is mostly because most applications are installed by source, but also because Slackware has no affiliations with any companies. Slackware is very much a community-driven distribution. The only piper it pays is the user who installs and enjoys the distribution. Although some might argue this point, I would add that because Slackware allows the end user to carefully pick and choose what to install (during installation), Slackware has a much more neutral feeling. This even applies to the desktop. Slackware allows for the installation of numerous desktops (and not just KDE or GNOME).

4: Better adherence to the GPL

Of all the distributions I have used, Slackware is probably the most GPL compliant. The last time I did a Slackware installation, I found no signs of software in violation of the GPL (of course, I did not install Java). For many serious open source advocates, Slackware is going to be the most obvious choice.

5: Speed

Because Slackware installs only what you want, and because of its release policy, you are going to find this distribution runs faster than most. I installed the latest Slackware (13.37) with KDE 4.5 and compared it to an installation (on the same machine) of the latest Kubuntu (11.04) with KDE 4.6. The Kubuntu installation should have been faster (thanks to KDE 4.6), but it wasn't. In fact, the Slackware installation offered a much improved experience over the Kubuntu installation.

6: Better, cleaner configuration

One of the complaints against Slackware is the lack of graphical configuration utilities. This goes for just about every subsystem on the installation. If you want to add users, you're using the command line. If you want to configure Samba or start up services, you're using the command line. But this helps create much cleaner configuration files. Now, anyone can also argue that this is dependent upon the user's ability to create clean configuration files. But as I have experienced, most end users who are willing to use a distribution like Slackware are going to create clean code… much better than most GUI tools.

7: Better understanding of Linux

If you know Slackware, you know Linux. By its very nature, Slackware demands a better understanding of the operating system as a whole than does any other distribution (with the possible exception of Gentoo). After an installation (and administration) of a Slackware machine, you will know the directory hierarchy, how to administer users and configure networking, the init system, and much more.

8: Great server OS

If I'm setting up a Linux server, and I want to set up one for reliability, security, and longevity, I am using Slackware without question. There are many reasons for this — just read the above list. But over the years, Slackware has been fine-tuned to stand as a sever OS (that doesn't mean it can serve as a desktop, of course). Because Slackware does a great job of following standards, you'll find that standard server documentation (such as for Samba and Apache) works exactly as expected. And because Slackware always scores high with reliability and efficiency, your server won't suffer from hiccups or downtime associated with OS software.

9: Slackbuilds

If installing from source isn't your thing, you can always take advantage of Slackbuilds, a repository of build scripts that automate the installation of various applications. On that site are thousands of scripts you can download and use to install everything from system tools to desktop tools. The Slackbuilds site also contains some great how-to documentation and allows the uploading of new scripts from the community.

10: IT cred

Although this might well be seen as superfluous, I always like to think that just like bragging rights that center around any accomplishment in any field, the bragging rights associated with using and administering Slackware can go a long way to winning you respect as an administrator. When you use and administer Slackware, it says a lot more about you than does using and administering most other operating systems. Using Slackware means you're serious about knowing your operating system, about Linux, about reliability, and about adhering to the GPL. Having this bit of bragging rights can be a big help in an industry that demands you prove yourself immediately and constantly.

Worth a try

Is Slackware a perfect OS? No. It's a challenge. But if you are up to the challenge of Slackware, you will profit from numerous benefits associated with a distribution known for stability and security. I highly recommend that you give the latest Slackware release a try. Once it's installed, you will have a Linux distribution that works like a champ, the likes you may never have seen
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Monday, May 09, 2011

Five power-saving tips for maxed-out datacenters

By Rick Vanover | May 6, 2011, 2:58 PM PDT

We all deal with some form of datacenter or office that is at the brink of power capacity. I can't tell you how many times I bump into situations where a computer room can't accommodate another server or storage device — let alone deliver enough cooling capacity — due to lack of available power in the facility,. Over the years, I have discovered a few tricks to save power.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our Network Administrator blog.

1: Virtualize

There is no single more effective power reduction strategy for the datacenter than server virtualization. While the hosts (VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V) may be larger and consume more power per server unit than traditional physical servers, high consolidation ratios can lower the average power consumption per server.

2: Consider group policy objects for PCs

In modern versions of Active Directory, Group Policy configuration can set the power plan by policy. This is located in Computer Configuration | Preferences | Control Panel Settings | Power Options. There, power plans for Windows XP and later systems can be set for computer accounts and delivered without risk of user tampering. Be sure to see Katherine Murray's tips on power-saving strategies for PCs.

3: Ditch the KVM and monitor in the datacenter

I've started to think we're beyond the KVM (consolidated keyboard, video, mouse controller) and monitor, even if shared for a large number of systems in the datacenter. I'm much more in favor of leveraging hardware controllers, such as the HP iLO or Dell DRAC. Should there be systems without those controllers, you may want to create a "crash cart" that has a small LCD screen, keyboard, mouse, tools, and other miscellaneous handy things. If you're considering a new server purchase and are on the fence about the extra cost for the iLO or DRAC, I recommend you get it and take the time to get familiar with these tools, if you are not already.

4: Idle any excess capacity

Frequently, network switches may be overprovisioned in terms of ports for the entire datacenter. Considering that virtualization ideally reduces the overall port consumption requirements, it may be worth a recabling party to consolidate remaining switch ports to active switches and turning off (but not necessarily decommissioning) any switches with no used ports.

5: Consolidate

Bottom of rack UPS units are hard to manage, especially if all the batteries in the facility are on separate battery replacement cycles. During the next procurement cycle or battery replacement initiative, it may be time to put in smaller units to reflect actual consumption rather than having a larger battery remain charged and consuming facility power for a rack that will never be more than 30% full in terms of servers.

If virtualization or new battery units are not an option, it may be high time to move from six racks that are 30 percent full to two racks that are fully populated. This can make all the components in the rack (PDU, KVM, UPS, etc.) fully utilized as well as the space of the rack.

Also, like UPS units and KVMs, PDUs will be consuming facility power even if there are no servers or computing devices connected to them. Again, consolidation of these devices may be a good power conservation strategy.

Bonus tip: Consider blade servers

If a large batch of servers is up for replacement, will blade servers do the trick? They may require a special power supply (three-phase or 30 amp interface), but power consumption per server may be lower than a typical replacement. Another option is deploying mini-blade servers, which can save space and possibly reduce power.
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