Monday, 30 March 2009

Sun and Clouds

In a month that saw Sun showcase the Sun OpenCloud Platform, that cloud computing giant (or just make that computing giant!) IBM was rumoured to be in talks to buy Sun. So, how would such a merger benefit Sun’s or IBM’s customers and shareholders?

Before I answer that question, let’s briefly look at the Sun Open Cloud Platform, the company's open cloud computing infrastructure. It’s powered by Sun software such as Java, MySQL, OpenSolaris, and Open Storage. Sun plans to offer public clouds and gave a preview of plans to launch the Sun Cloud, which is targeted at developers, students, and start-ups, and is Sun’s first public cloud service.

Cloud computing, as I’m sure you know, is a way of making resources available as a service over the Internet. IBM has nine cloud centres (Cloud Labs) around the world. One is on an industrial estate just outside Dublin in Ireland, one in Silicon Valley, one in South Africa, a customer centre in Qatar, plus Bangalore, Hanoi in Vietnam, and Beijing in China. Internally, IBM has its own cloud system called the Technology Adoption Program.

IBM has been selling Sun’s Solaris operating system on its BladeCenter servers. And a little while ago, Sine Nomine Associates, with help from IBM and Sun, demonstrated OpenSolaris running on a System z mainframe. This illustrated little more than the symbiosis of companies trying to sell product. But now, according to a figure published in the Wall Street Journal, IBM is offering $6.5 billion to buy Sun Microsystems.

Sun may be worth more than investors think, particularly to IBM. Remember that Sun bought StorageTek back in 2005, and more recently bought MySQL – the open source alternative to Microsoft’s SQL Server (certainly a much more viable alternative than DB2). Sun’s first quarter has been a bit of a disaster, losing $1.7 billion and announcing 6,000 employee lay-offs. The $6.5 billion is almost twice Sun’s market capitalization, but half its total revenues for the last financial year. So, it might well be worth the money to IBM.

I’m sure the shareholders in both companies are going to be fairly happy about the deal. IBM’s customers get StorageTek’s storage equipment as another option from IBM – that all seems good. Solaris customers might be converted into mainframe customers – although that scenario is probably one for a parallel universe.

Sun Microsystems’ customers might not be quite so gleeful. What’s IBM going to do with Java and perhaps more importantly the Java community? We’ll have to wait and see. What’s IBM going to do with MySQL when it already has DB2? I would guess they will push it as the Open Source Microsoft SQL Server killer, but who knows? Perhaps users in the future will be offered an upgrade path to DB2?

Perhaps the real problem is going to be with customers of Sparc processors. These clearly duplicate IBM’s own processors. Will customers have to buy BladeCenter Servers? Will they be pushed towards AIX?

As the old Chinese curse has it: we live in interesting times.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Browser choices

For reasons that are too complicated to go in to, I was taking a serious look at the different browsers that are available on a PC. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you. Before I started, I tended to think of a browser like a hammer or a screwdriver – it’s just a tool that you use to get a particular job done, like getting on to Facebook or catching people’s tweats on Twitters. However, I now see there’s far more to it.

Simply put, a browser is a piece of software that allows you to access the World-Wide Web. It’s what you’re using now to read this! Browsers have been around as long as the World-Wide Web. Early text-only browsers have in the main been replaced by graphical ones. Some of you might remember Mosaic from 1993, which later became Netscape Navigator – and was the browser of choice for most people at that time. Microsoft, when it eventually caught on to the fact that the Internet was what people wanted on their computer, hit back by giving away Internet Explorer. IE, by the way, wasn’t developed by Microsoft, they bought it from a company called Spyglass.

With Explorer free on your computer, why bother with a second product? Who needs two hammers (metaphorically speaking)? It seems that lots of people do. Nowadays, IE7 (with Version 8 currently available as a beta) is still dominant in terms of market share, but users can also run Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, SeaMonkey, Maxthon, Avant Browser, Flock, and K-Meleon (and maybe others too).

Explorer is like the vanilla browser. It’s the standard that other browsers have to beat or else why would anyone use something that was worse than they already had? In Explorer’s favour, there are a number of add-ins that enhance the basic IE7 and can help it catch up with some of the facilities and feature available with other products.

That’s also the big plus for Firefox – that there are a huge number of add-ins that allow a user to customize the product to do exactly what they want it to. Firefox is typically more secure than Explorer. It is less likely to be targeted by hackers and script kiddies. Firefox also uses fewer resources on your computer to get the job done than Explorer. It also starts and loads pages faster than Explorer. And, of course, Firefox is better at following Web standards than Explorer. It ensures that W3C (World-Wide Web Consortium) standards for how a Web page should appear are more-closely realized in the browser.

Google’s Chrome, which came out of beta testing very quickly, is really a big JavaScript engine and could, very easily, run services and applications as if they were desktop applications. As a user, I like the fact that I can type anything in the address bar and Google searches for it. Chrome also provides a secret browse facility!

Safari was originally a Mac browser. Apple, with its iPod and iPhone, has a reputation for being “cool” and easy-to-use, their browser is the same. It displays your 12 top sites in visual curve, which look s great. And you can move the thumbnails around. Unfortunately, I found it wouldn’t install or wouldn’t run on a couple of machines. But when it did, it was really nice to use.

Opera is worth trying for two reasons, firstly it is very fast, and secondly it turns up on hand-held devices. So it might be worth using the same browser on your laptop as on your mobile phone. It also has torrent technology built in – for downloading films and TV programmes etc.

Did I come to a conclusion about which one I liked the best? Not really, but here’s my advice... Use Internet Explorer because you’re going to find it on every other PC you use. Use Firefox because it’s safe and full of features. Use Chrome because it could have Java-based applications in the future. Use Safari because it is looks so “cool”. Use Opera because it’s the same browser you have on your phone.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Social networking and friends of friends

Like so many people, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn and Plaxo, and I belong to other networking communities and groups – like the new Eddolls group at However, I’ve only just come across FOAF files and the principle behind them – which is what I want to talk about today.

FOAF stands for Friend Of A Friend. It seems like a decentralized way of building a network. Rather than all joining Facebook – for example – and sharing information that way, we all create a FOAF file, put it on our Web site, and a distributed social network is created.

According to Wikipedia, FOAF is a descriptive vocabulary expressed using RDF (Resource Description Framework) and OWL (Web Ontology Language). Wikipedia goes on to suggest that computers may use these FOAF profiles to find, for example, all the people living in Europe, or to list all the people that both you and a friend of yours know. And the FOAF file does this by defining relationships between people. Each profile has a unique identifier (which could be a person’s e-mail addresses, a Jabber ID, or a URI of the homepage or weblog of the person), which is used when defining these relationships – again, thank you Wiki.

I went to and used their FOAF-a-matic to create my first FOAF file. That was a fairly painless procedure, and I produced a file that I could copy and paste. Here’s part of it:
<foaf:Person rdf:ID="me">
<foaf:name>Trevor Eddolls</foaf:name>
<foaf:homepage rdf:resource=""/>
<foaf:phone rdf:resource="tel:07901505609"/>
<foaf:workplaceHomepage rdf:resource=""/>
<foaf:workInfoHomepage rdf:resource="Write articles, edit journals, code Web pages, write and deliver training courses"/>

There followed the code for my friends, listing their names and e-mail addresses.

On the same site, they included a suggestion to use the HTML Link tag to point to FOAF descriptions:
<link rel="meta" type="application/rdf+xml" title="FOAF" href="foaf.rdf" />

According to Edd Dumbill, Editor and publisher,, back in June 2002 FOAF has the potential to become an important tool in managing communities. In addition to providing simple directory services, you could use information from FOAF in many ways. For example:

  • Augment e-mail filtering by prioritizing mail from trusted colleagues
  • Provide assistance to new entrants in a community
  • Locate people with interests similar to yours.

If you’re one of those people who think it’s not what you know that’s important, it’s who you know, then FOAF files are definitely for you.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Windows on a mainframe!

I guess it was bound to happen at some stage. The king of the big iron combines with the ubiquitous little-end operating system. So, at IBM’s SHARE conference in Houston, a company called Mantissa showed the world its z/VOS hypervisor, which allows Windows desktops and servers to be virtualized on a mainframe.

In the past, I’ve blogged about attempts to run MVS or z/OS on PCs, but here is an announcement about doing things the other way round. And if you think about it, it isn’t such a silly idea at all. You can run Linux on a mainframe, and a number of people have Linux on their laptop, so why not run Windows, which most people have on their laptop, on a mainframe?

And before you start giving me the answer to my own question, let me suggest another benefit. Virtualization of servers has been hugely beneficial to large organizations. It’s allowed them to change from a room full of servers (some of which no-one was quite sure what it did) to just a few high use servers, where everything can be completely managed. Running Windows on a mainframe allows all the servers to be got rid of and everything to run from one small mainframe – which must be a model that really pleases IBM and upsets server manufacturers and Intel.

So how does it work? It seems that z/VOS is a CMS application run under zVM. At the user’s end, they need to run Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) client. And as with all virtualized systems, the users don’t need to know anything about the clever stuff that’s happening at the other end.

Another advantage, according to Mantissa, is that the end user can have an operational PC within 15 minutes of starting the set-up process. Plus, because z/VOS supports the x86 architecture, it can also run Linux images – if that’s what you want.

So what about the cost? Well there would be a huge cost saving in running 3,000 Windows seats from a mainframe. Although, I would guess, organizations would be running Exchange server and SQL Server etc on the mainframe. This kind of set up would perhaps remove the need to acquire and maintain desktop hardware and some of the other costs associated with PCs. It would represent the final triumph of client/server computing!

On the downside, of course, the price of a mainframe, even a little one, isn’t cheap.

Theoretically, it is a fascinating proposition. It will be interesting to see cost comparisons between Windows, Virtualized Windows using VMWare (and other similar products), and Windows on a mainframe.

If you’re a company that has multiple platforms including a mainframe, you could soon be able to run Linux, Solaris, and Windows on a single platform – which must introduce cost savings and improvements in management and control.

I look forward to hearing more about the development.

Monday, 2 March 2009

No point being ageist

Our story starts during a recent heated debate about how old-fashioned mainframes are. The suggestion was that mainframe operating systems have been around forever and mainframe applications were also fairly long in the tooth. And the most exciting platform to work on right now was not a PC – because of all its bloatware issues – but a Macintosh. Especially as Apple were defining what’s cool with the iPod and the iPhone.

The argument ran along the lines that z/OS, the main IBM mainframe operating system, has been around since 2000, but it was based on MVS, which had been around since 1970. And MVS was based on older operating systems that were implemented in the mid-1960s. Similarly, z/VM, which also first saw the light of day in 2000, was based on VM, which again arrived in the early 1970s, and was based on work from the 1960s – CP-67. In those days, the C in CMS stood for Cambridge, where it was developed.

IMS, the database and transaction management system, has been around since 1968. You may recall this blog talking about IMS’s 40th birthday last year. The product is in use at 90% of Fortune 1000 companies, with more than 3 trillion dollars of transactions going through it in a single day. It started life as bill of materials software for the space programme in 1966.

CICS is claimed to be in use at over 90% of Fortune 500 companies. This transaction processing software was first available in 1969.

DB2 is a relative youngster, having been first available in 1983. Again, this blog celebrated DB2’s 25th birthday last year.

So the argument that mainframes have a long history is definitely true. The fact that they are continually being updated and developing successfully to meet current needs is also true, and shouldn’t be ignored.

But what about this young upstart called a Macintosh? Well, the first Apple Mac was introduced back in January 1984 – which makes it nearly as old as DB2. What made the Mac so successful was its use of a mouse and a Graphical User Interface (GUI). True the ideas had been pioneered at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), but the Mac sold the dream – when mice and GUIs were what we dreamed about! In fact the idea was such a good one, and made the Mac so user-friendly and easy to use, that eventually all PCs would be sporting them. The Mac made desktop publishing possible at that time. It had people saying WYSIWYG. It’s where I first used Pagemaker. The Mac luggable was almost portable enough to use as a modern laptop. Sling it in the car, wrap a seatbelt round it, and take it wherever. Happy days!

We had Hypercard, which we were never quite sure what to do with. Then in the late 90s we had the iMacs – a computer to be seen with, fashion icon. Then there was the introduction of OSX and all the wild cat versions – Tiger, Leopard, etc.

But, and this is the big but, although the Mac may be sexy and useful, it has got that way after years of development. So while it may be younger than the mainframe. The fact that it is celebrating its 25th birthday means it is no spring chicken!

And watch out if you’re downloading a pirate version of iWorks 09, it apparently contains a Trojan!

Anyway, happy 25th birthday Mac.