Sunday, September 30, 2007

Compliance, data storage, and Titans

The Titans, in Greek mythology, were originally twelve powerful gods. They were later overthrown by Zeus and the Olympian gods. I'm not talking about them. Nor am I talking about the fictional characters created by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson in their Legends of Dune novels. Today I want to talk about an interesting announcement from NEON Enterprise Software ( called TITAN Archive.

So what makes TITAN Archive more interesting than anything else announced in September? Well, basically, its simplicity and usefulness. It is described as a "database archiving solution", which means that an organization can use it to store structured data for long periods of time. And why should anyone want to do that? Well the answer is compliance.

Regulations are getting stricter in so many countries, and companies are now compelled for legal reasons to store large amounts of data for long periods of time. In fact, data retention could now be between 6 and 25 years. Many organizations are defining their own retention policies and are looking for ways to action those policies that are economic and allow data to be recalled quickly and easily (now called e-discovery if it's needed for a court case), and, at the same time, doesn't affect the performance of their current computing needs. They are looking for a solution that meets all compliance and legal requirements and can be used in the event litigation.

At the moment, TITAN Archive works with DB2, but plans are in place for a version for Oracle and one for IMS. Both data and metadata are stored in what's called an Encapsulated Archive Data Object (EADO). The EADO format is independent of the source DBMS (which may very well change at a company in the course of 25 years!) and can be accessed or queried using standard SQL queries or reports – which makes accessing it very easy. The data can be stored for as long as necessary. TITAN Archive can also have a discard policy, which makes sure that data is deleted when it is no longer required for legal or commercial purposes.

TITAN Archive connects to a storage area network and is managed from a Java interface that could be deployed across the enterprise or secured to a single location. The heart of TITAN Archive is the archive appliance. This is a Linux server that performs all the TITAN Archive processing.

Moving archive data off the mainframe and being able to access it easily, while retaining it for the longer periods of time now required, is a problem many companies face. TITAN Archive seems like a very useful and economic solution to this problem.

Monday, September 24, 2007

How Green Was My Valley – and how green are my computers?

How Green Was My Valley is a 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn and a 1941 film directed by John Ford. It was written and filmed in the days when green was just a colour and not an aspirational life style. I blogged about IBM’s green data centre plans a few months ago, but I wanted to revisit this whole issue.

There does seem to be a lot of misconceptions about what’s green and what isn’t, and it does seem to depend on how you look at an issue.

For example, I have heard it said that because flat screens use less energy than cathode ray tubes, we should all (if we haven’t done so already) get rid of those old screen and replace them with new flat ones. Apparently wrong! Because of the huge amount of energy and resources it takes to create a CRT and a flat screen, it is, in fact, more energy efficient to use that CRT right up to the moment it fails, and then change to a flat screen. This is because, although per hour of usage the flat screen is greener, the total amount of energy it took to extract all the raw materials and then construct the screen far outweigh the energy used by that screen. So we should be using that old device until it no longer works and then change over.

Interestingly, thinking about the raw resources, it has been suggested that a standard PC uses 1.8 tonnes of raw materials.

Another common comment is that recycling computers is a good thing. The idea is that computers contain lots of expensive metals (like gold) so old ones should be stripped down and the expensive metals extracted and reused. Unfortunately, the energy audit for this is quite high. So is there a better alternative? Well yes, or else I wouldn’t have mentioned it! There are a variety of companies and charities that will refurbish computers and peripherals. This refurbished PC could be re-sold or it could be shipped to the developing world – both better choices than trying to regain the metal from the old PC and then using it in a new one. It’s the difference between re-use and recycling.

Storage vendor ONStor recently found that 58% of the companies they surveyed were either still talking about creating a green IT environment, or still have no plans to do anything. But with conflicting and confusing messages that isn't completely surprising.

Things like consolidation and virtualization could help reduce power, cooling, and other operational expenses – and these would therefore help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, etc. Of course, we could all do more. Many sites (and many of my friends’ houses) have old machines sitting in cupboards and under unused desks. These could be given to charities and sent on to developing countries. They’re certainly not doing anyone any good gathering dust. And even if the computer doesn’t work, given two or three machines, enough spare components could be put together to get one that does work – and which would the be put to good use.

Even if we’re not concerned with being green, with saving the planet, or helping third-world countries, we are paying the electricity bill. So in terms of simple economics, powering off unused printers and computers and anything else we leave in stand-by mode will save us money and is a way of being green too. I know you can’t power off your mainframe, but there’s often a lot of laptops left on in offices. Think, how green can your offices be – not just your data centre?!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Office of the future?

It had to happen – I was bound to be sent a DOCX file. This is the new file type associated with Microsoft Office 2007. It’s all to do with the Office Open XML format Microsoft is keen on, and, of course, my copy of Office 2000 can’t open it. To be fair, Microsoft does have download that allows Office 2000 to open DOCX files, but it comes with health warnings and caveats, so I haven’t tried it.

I have wondered in the past about keeping the faith with Microsoft or whether I should go the Open Source route and install OpenOffice etc. Indeed I wrestled for a long time with getting Linux installed permanently on my PC (and not just booting up a distro from a CD every now and again).

So, I read with interest that IBM has decided to join the development community and is even donating some code that it developed for Lotus Notes. (Interestingly, Ray Ozzie, who developed Notes now works for Microsoft). was founded by Sun and works to the Open Document Format (ODF) ISO standard – not Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML or Open XML) format.

Apparently, the code that was developed for Notes was derived in part from what was originally Microsoft-developed technology! It seems that IBM’s iAccessible2 specification, which makes accessibility features available to visually-impaired users interacting with ODF-compliant applications, was developed from Microsoft Active Accessibility (MAA). IBM has already donated the iAccessible2 specification to the Linux Foundation. iAccessible2 can run on Windows or Linux and is a set of APIs to make it easy for visuals in applications based on ODF and other Web technologies to be interpreted by screen readers that then reproduce the information verbally for the blind.

Luckily, I’m not visually impaired and have no use for this technology, but I have a friend who works a lot with Web site design so that they can be used by visually-impaired people, and I have listened with interest while he talks about things I previously took for granted. It is important.

Anyway, even if IBM’s motives are not pure and they secretly hope that OOXML never becomes an ISO standard, making this kind of technology freely available has got to be a good thing.

Maybe we should all take another look at OpenOffice.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Facebook – cocaine for the Internet generation?

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was blogging about social networks on the Internet and how I thought that Facebook was being colonized by older people not just students and other youngsters. And now I find that Facebook is being treated by some companies as the most evil thing since the last virus or worm infection!

What’s happened is that Facebook has caught on, and a large number of ordinary working people have uploaded photos to it and linked with other “friends”. That all sounds rather good – where’s the harm in that? Well it seems that these same working people have been seduced by the many “applications” available with Facebook – and I particularly like Pandora (but that’s because I listen to anyway), Where I’ve been, and My aquarium. But the truth is, there are lots of these applications, such as: FunWall, Horoscopes, Fortune cookie, My solar system, The sorting hat, Moods, Superpoke, Likenesses, Harry Potter magic spells, etc, etc.

The problem is two-fold for employers. Firstly, too many employees are spending too much time interacting with their friends, uploading photos and videos, and messing about with the applications. The “lost” hours of work are mounting up, and so companies are banning access to Facebook. Some are allowing access at lunch times and after the defined working day, but other companies, apparently, have gone for a blanket ban.

The second problem is that large amounts of a company’s broadband bandwidth is being used by Facebookers rather than people doing productive work.

The third problem is that these applications seem to get round corporate firewalls and anti-virus software, with the result that they create a backdoor through which anything nasty could enter. No-one wants a security risk left undealt with.

This must be good publicity for Facebook, making it seem especially attractive – nothing boosts sales of a product like a ban! However, many wiser heads have been here before. I remember the first computer game – the one that was text only, and where a small dwarf threw an axe at you and killed you. Lots of hours were lost with that until the mood passed. More recently MSN has been banned at some sites because people spent all day talking to each other on that rather than getting on with work. These things come in phases, work time is lost, then the mood changes, work is caught up with and that old hot item is ignored. I would expect to see, this time next year, that Facebook is still popular, but not so compulsive as it is now. People won’t need to be banned from Facebook because they will not feel compelled to access it. But, I would bet, there’ll be some other must-visit Website, and we’ll be off again!

These things have been compared to crack cocaine and other “recreational” drugs. In truth they can be very compulsive for a while, but, unlike narcotics, eventually you want less-and-less of them not more-and-more.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The “dinosaur” lives on

I can still remember those distant days of the 1990s when everyone you spoke to “knew” that mainframes were doomed to extinction, and dates were confidently predicted when the last one would be turned off. These sit alongside, in terms of accuracy, predictions about how many computers a country would need in the future – I think two was the best guess, just one fewer than in my office at the moment!

Not only have the “dinosaurs” lived on, they are continuing to evolve and flourish – as witnessed by this “summer of love” for all things mainframe from IBM. They started with the latest version of CICS (V3.2), then we had the latest DB2 (9.1), and now we have the operating system itself, z/OS V1.9.

In summary, the new Release has been enhanced so that typical Unix applications, such as ERP or CRM (which are usually found on mid-range machines at the moment), can be ported to z/OS more easily.

Also there have been upgrades in terms of security and scalability. With improved network security management tools, it’s now easier to set consistent network security policies across distributed systems that communicate with the mainframe, as well as multiple instances of the operating system. Other security improvements come from enhanced PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) Services and RACF to help improve the creation, authentication, renewal, and management of digital certificates for user and device authentication directly through the mainframe. This now provides centralized management for Web-based applications. z/OS’s PKI could be used to secure a wireless network infrastructure or the end nodes of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that might be hosting point of sale or ATM communications traffic. Lastly, the z/OS Integrated Cryptographic Service Facility (ICSF) will be enhanced to include the PKCS#11 standard, which specifies an Application-Programming Interface (API) for devices that hold cryptographic information and perform cryptographic functions.

One of the biggest improvements is the ability for logical partitions to span up to 54 processors – previously they were limited (if limited is the right word here) to 32 processors.

The upgrade becomes available on the 28 September 2007.

So are mainframes going extinct and this is little more than a dead-cat-bounce? Definitely not. IBM is saying that its revenue grew by 12% in the first quarter of the year over the previous quarter and up 25% over the previous year. Remember that dinosaurs ruled the earth for 186 million years!