Roku Netflix box update

Netflix box by RokuThe box arrived this weekend. Setup was trivially easy; it found our wireless network and we were watching movies within ten minutes. Quality is fine, as far as I can tell, with the included RCA cables. I have an HDMI cable on order from Monoprice which I guess will make it better. No skipping or delays in playback. The fast-forward and reverse is a little funky but usable. The value is outstanding, I think; really outsized value. I watched Blade Runner and Herzog’s My Best Fiend on Saturday night, movies I wouldn’t have watched (again) if not for the little box.

I wasn’t expecting to have to manage my queue from my computer; I can’t add movies from my couch. But it’s an acceptable design tradeoff to me. At the moment there are ‘only’ 10,000 movies available and nothing recent. But the catalog is only going to improve; after all, they didn’t name it “DVD-flix,” right?

Roku Netflix box

On an impulse, and very uncharacteristically, I bought a Roku Netflix box, which should arrive next week, although they are experiencing shipping delays because of the volume of initial orders.  The little $100 set-top box connects to your television and out to Netflix via an Internet connection, either wired or wireless.  It uses the Netflix website as its interface (smart!) and lets you watch their back-catalog of, currently, 10,000 movies and TV shows.  It’s not HD but will be Real Soon Now via software upgrade.  For me, the combination of low price (no subscription fees beyond what I already pay in a Netflix subscription), no limits on the number of movies we can watch, and the idea of a small single purpose box was enough for me to want to try it out.  We currently have no cable or satellite TV; only broadcast HD, which I’ve found to be adequate, and of amazingly high quality.  I mean, TV basically sucks anyway.  This box might justify my Neflix subscription.

Plus, it’ll run Linux

So there’s a nice new IBM P-series midrange available, the p570 with the new POWER6 processor. Over at they have the lowdown; running the same operating system (SLES 10 SP1), the p570 blows away the fasted x86 machine available, a Dell R900 with a Xeon E7720 processor. Here are the specs:

int int_base fp fp_base $/int $/int_base $/fp $/fp_base
IBM p570 234 204 215 182 $1,991 $2,284 $2,167 $2,560
Dell R900 142 120 90 83 $59 $70 $93 $10

But, the P-series lists for $466,000 (that gets you 8 cores at 4.7GHz and 64GB of memory) and the Dell is only $8,400 (8 cores at 2.93GHz with 16GB memory). So you could buy 55 Dells for the price of one of those P-series boxes. Fifty five!

[updated w/table]

Head in the clouds

Michael Nygard has his head in the computing clouds, suggesting that not only is cloud computing in our future, but that there’ll be many of them. He’s right.

Everyone who runs a large data center is today faced with the same set of interconnected environmental problems; space, power, and heating/cooling. And these are environmental not just in the sense of tree-hugging but also in a straightforward practical sense: there is no more space, there is no more power, there is too much heat and not enough cooling. These problems were the domain of junior people a few years ago, worrying about where, physically, to locate all the new Windows boxes. Then it was middle managers trying to sort out power and HVAC issues: “If we deploy a new phone system in our building we won’t have enough power to do any upgrades in the data center,” that sort of thing. Now environmental issues are front-and-center for senior IT management and if you’re a “red-shift” kind of company, for senior corporate leadership too.

You can cloak it if you want to in green terms but businesses are faced with real operational issues that they need to address regardless of their perspective on global warming or riverine dolphins.

Alongside these environmental issues, data centers are also facing a crisis of manageability. A large enterprise data center is a staggeringly complex thing, too complicated. Also, if the truth be told, most of them are not that well run; would you expect, for example, that an auto parts distributor would have great technology management skills? No, of course not, and the fact is that they probably wouldn’t want to spend the money to acquire that talent and technology even in they could; their differentiation, the competitive advantage of their business, lies elsewhere. So they have a complicated, and sub-optimized, technology infrastructure.

The answer to all of these problems — Monday edition — supposedly lies in virtualization. Novell gets brought into these conversations because inevitably data center managers have a roadmap that looks something like this:

Continue reading

iPhone: The goods, the bads, & my vacation

I just got back from two weeks of vacation, which was nice. The header on this blog is a panorama of a cove in the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve on Maui, taken last year. This year, we went back again (my wife’s from Maui) for more, including more snorkelling with our five year old. One of the best parts of the trip was that my laptop broke on the second day, and despite my best efforts — and the Novell help desk — I didn’t get it repaired until I got to an office yesterday.

Fortunately, my dear wife had just bought me an iPhone.

The bads

The iPhone really is not suited for a corporate environment. It wasn’t designed for it and it shows. Calendering is broken. Contacts don’t work very well. The pull email isn’t as good as RIM’s push. Typing on the screen is terrible; I haven’t gotten past the index finger method, while I’m a thumb demon on my old Blackberry.

The calendar is a particular problem; for those of you not in a big company, you don’t realize how important that is. Novell, of course, uses our GroupWise product, which has a good calendaring function, but the situation is the same for Outlook/Exchange. So, for example, I missed a couple of important meetings that I had planned to attend during my vacation.

AT&T is really trying, but they still suck; my activation was moderately complicated but required what felt like dozens of phone calls. Each time I had to give the friendly rep my phone number and explain the situation again. And then when I wanted to call my mom in Spain for her birthday it turns out that international dialing wasn’t enabled and the office I needed was closed, etc. etc.

The battery’s not that great, especially if you make a lot of phone calls. I don’t like the non-standard audio jack, which requires a stupid adapter. The EDGE network is dial-up slow.

The goods

The iPhone is absolutely gorgeous. It’s the first innovation in mobile telephony since, I don’t know, ever? It’s the first phone I’ve given a crap about in forever. I don’t even really think of it primarily as ‘my phone’ — it’s more like my likkle computer that does WiFi and maps and the rest, plus make calls.

The gesture controls are very cool; flicking through photos or album art is elegant and intuitive. Having a usable internet browser at all times is pretty amazing. The screen is as bright as I’ve ever seen. The integration between different components could be better but as it is it’s already great. Regular email works perfectly. Gmail integration is great — in fact, Google in general is very well done on the iPhone. I don’t normally use Google Reader, for example, but it’s my default on the iPhone.

I don’t think that I would give up my laptop just yet, but the iPhone, for all of its shortcomings, really saved me on my vacation from completely stressing out about not being connected