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:

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Agile strategy?

The question that I’ve always had about agile methods is: where does the project come from? Based on my limited knowledge (and I’m like a like a pagan at a theology convention here), the agile movement assumes a defined project or problem at the outset and then figures out where people should sit: by themselves, with a friend, or with a group. This is all fine to me; you take your Mountain Dew and sit wherever you want. But where is the problem coming from? Are you working on the right problem? How do you know?

I understand user stories and all that, but at that point you’ve already dedicated a team to working on the problem and so they go and — gasp! — actually talk to users. But how did they get tasked with that problem, the redesign of the inventory reorder system say, rather than some other problem, updating the contractor billing system, say? Do agile methods go upstream?

The Furling of the Flags

12 April 1865, Appomattomax courthouse.

Joshua Chamberlain was selected to receive the Confederate surrender. He describes the scene thus:

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;–was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?

Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldiers salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”–the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and. downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,–honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

I think you’d have to be more hard-hearted than me to not be moved by that scene. Chamberlain, hero of the second day of Gettysburg at Little Round Top with the 20th Maine and later president of Bowdoin College, continues:

What visions thronged as we looked into each others eyes! Here pass the men of Antietam, the Bloody Lane, the Sunken Road, the Cornfield, the Burnside-Bridge; the men whom Stonewall Jackson on the second night at Fredericksburg begged Lee to let him take and crush the two corps of the Army of the Potomac huddled in the streets in darkness and confusion; the men who swept away the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville; who left six thousand of their companions around the bases of Culps and Cemetery Hills at Gettysburg; these survivors of the terrible Wilderness, the Bloody-Angle at Spottsylvania, the slaughter pen of Cold Harbor, the whirlpool of Bethesda Church!

The whole passage is well worth reading, especially on the anniversary of that “chill gray morning.”

The Fossa Project

penguins At Brainshare, Novell’s annual user conference in Salt Lake City, our CTO, Jeff Jaffe, announced a new technology vision, code-named “Project Fossa,” [pdf] intended to enable computing and collaborating with agility. The fossa is a cat-like mammal from Madagascar, sort of related to raccoons, weasels, and palm civits. (Fossas may be viverrids like civits or the falanouc, another Madagascar endemic; the taxonomy seems to be contested.) Fossas are supposed to be very agile, and if you have little kids you know them as the villains in the animated movie Madagascar. The project’s name is also a play on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

Here‘s some press coverage including the priceless hed “Novell focuses future strategy around endangered mongoose” from the UK edition of ZDNet.

Opening up a new front: Yahoo’s independent strategy?

Amidst the continuing Microsoft acquisition saga, Yahoo is making some interesting strategic moves, principally towards more openness and what used to be called the Semantic Web. This is smart, I think, and makes a lot of sense. Will it be valuable? Is their timing right? Not sure; that’s what makes it a business.

They’ve opened up their search engine, via their Open Search Platform initiative and are now extending that to an ‘open search ecosystem‘ that builds on the data web. Details are still emerging, but it looks like Yahoo is going to use lightweight semantics to try to connect data silos, rather than the traditional, now heavyweight, view of the Semantic Web — what the cool kids now call Web 3G.

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