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Saturday, December 14, 2013

My New book

Well, Its finally done and publuished.  My new book entitled "Managing Computer Systems in the 21st Century" is designed to guid business executives through the process to assessing and evaluating both their current systems and their IT staff to determine if both are meeting and supporting today's business enterprise.

I've worked over two years on this book and brought almost all of my 45 years of IT management experience to this work focusing on what has happened to systems and IT organizations today.  I've also taken a look at alternative means of supporting computer systems such as cloud, outsourcing open source.  I have taken a look at the impact of social media, modern devices like tablets and smart phones and a key emerging technology: Big Data.

I hope that people find this book valuable and use it to take an in depth introspective look at their IT organizations and the computer systems they are using today.

It is available on -- Click Here

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Will NSA Spying Affect Cloud?

I've recently read a couple of articles suggesting that customers will now avoid cloud computing because of the NSA (National Security Agency) forcing major commercial vendors like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and others to provide access to their customer's data.

I think these authors are trying to make a name for themselves with no solid facts to back them up and scare people in the process.

The bottom line of all of this NSA spying is that if you have something subversive to say against the U.S. Government, keep it out of your computer systems and web sites!  The United States government and most governments will not be going after your customer lists, trade secrets, etc. that if compromised could cause you damage!  So even if the NSA scans your web sites or private data stored in a cloud based environment what is the risk?

Governments like France, China, and others have been scanning their citizens data for years!  The NSA which generally keeps an incredibly low profile has been monitoring world wide communications for decades now.  They captured voice transfers, digital transfers, encoded transfers and decoded them, and have for years.  Other governments have done exactly the same thing.  So what is the issue?

On a personal level, I do not like the idea that the NSA or any other government agency can look at my communications, but then again, I am not terribly worried as I am not saying anything that would cause me a problem.

From a purist sense, I think it is a violation of our civil rights for NSA to look a a US Citizen's data without a court order, but the idea of scanning data sources, cloud data, etc. is not that big a deal.

I think that as companies become more and more aware of the value of cloud computing which many are pursuing in lieu of their own local data centers they will continue to rapidly move to the cloud regardless of snooping by NSA or any other agency.  I also think you will see new and stronger encryption and security measures implemented as a result of this and the threat that government decryption technology may get in the wrong hands.

Cloud and security businesses will continue to grow at astronomical rates and many companies who have had in-house data center's for decades will abandon them to the cloud!

I for one feel very strongly about the value of cloud computing.  It is interesting but Thomas Watson's 1943 Quote "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." may finally becoming true :-)

Friday, July 26, 2013

The lost art of User Interface Design?

I have recently had to visit over 100 websites of different types, fill out forms of different types with all sorts of information required.  I have been appalled at the horribly low quality of human engineering that goes into these designs in 2013!

We have more powerful technology available to us today than we have ever had, yet web form designers seem to be stuck in the dark ages.

Just today I visited nearly twenty different sites asking me for both personal information and info about my company.  I dutifully filled out the forms, but was appalled when:

I was not properly prompted for amounts in amount fields, dates in date fields, and none of these errors appeared until I hit the submit button!  Then to add injury to insult all of my entries were cleared and I had re-enter everything.  One side had a prompt "Enter amount as $100,000 annual fee" which you would presume wanted the text!  I have no idea what they wanted as I tried everything I could think of and nothing worked...  You guessed it I had to start over each time I hit submit...

In today's world with AJAX, JavaScript, PHP, Java and other sophisticated web development tools there is no excuse for web forms that do not validate entries in real time and prompt the user for the correct formats.  Heck with AJAX you can validate in real time against a remote database.

One of my pet peeves is why web sites that require name and addresses do not do things like look up the City and State (for US locations) from the Zip Code?  This is simple SOA call to the USPS web services.  It makes life easy for the user and validates your address entry process!

Do you recall when we eliminated "Systems Analysts" creating a morphed monster called a "Programmer Analyst"?  We lost all of the business expertise of the "Systems Analysts" and got programmers who needed help finding their home after work!  It appears that companies that once employed human factors engineers or at least people well trained in UI design have let those folks go and now have a trained ape developing web pages!

We bring new and exciting technologies like speech recognition at unthinkable levels of quality, or Big Data analysis that can understand written posts on web sites and make perform incredible analysis of the written word to the point of determining if an author is male or female by their writing style.

Wonderful new things every day, but we can't validate a number field?  HELLO?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cloud Computing - Buyer Beware

I feel that Cloud Computing is a huge part of the Next Generation in Modern computer systems.  

Cloud computing can mean many things depending on who you talk to.  To me Cloud represents a web based system that runs on a vendor like, RackSpace, or Amazon where you can rent dedicated or shared virtual hardware and middleware for a small monthly fee.  The vendor provides and supports the servers, operating systems, communications, and in many cases much or all of the middleware needed to run your applications. A cloud hosting company generally has multiple geographically separate redundant data centers with fully replicated systems to provide uninterruptible availability.

If you eat organic food, you know that there is no official definition of "organic"!  Likewise, there is no official definition of "cloud".  Therefore anyone who provides some kind of hosting or applications run on computers that they own on your behalf can claim to be "cloud" providers.

Captive Proprietary Systems

The biggest one claiming to be a "cloud" provider is Oracle who runs their application software on their machines and rents you the use of their systems.  A similar company is offering their CRM systems which are hosted on their computers.  The downside of both companies is the fact that both your data and their applications are stored on the vendor's computers.  If you wish to move to another vendor or application package you may have issues in retrieving your data and you most certainly will not be able to utilize their software.  In other words you are locked into the vendor and their system.  I've only mentioned two large vendors, but there are hundreds exploiting this model.

Note that what I consider a viable alternative to the model described above is Software As A Service where you store data on your systems, but link out and run programs on the vendors systems creating a hybrid, but not true form  of cloud.

Disaster Recovery Systems

Some disaster recovery companies including huge companies like SunGard, VMWare, along with many others are offering varying degrees of what they call cloud computing.  There are various limitations of these solutions.  They are design to provide a disaster recovery solution for companies who have their own hardware.

One company in the Southern United States specializes in supporting IBM Power Systems including support for the IBM i operating system.  This company helps you replicate your IBM i data to one of their systems and assists you in switching to their system in the event of an emergency or disaster.  The biggest limitation of this vendor is the fact that they have only one data center located in a major Southern city where many of their clients are located.  It is entirely possible that a hurricane could destroy both the vendor's data center and their customers data centers leaving the customer completely under water with no back up system.

A major disaster recovery system needs to provide geographically secure computing facilities that most certainly will not be affected by the same event that caused the customer's outage!  Think hurricane, earthquake, tornado,  and other natural disaster.

Hosting With No Failure Proofing

Some small ISV's (Independent Software Vendors) of specialized software, especially companies who have specialized in OS/400 or IBM i applications written in RPG over the years are now claiming to be "cloud" providers and hosting customer systems on their computers in their single data center with no disaster recovery or realtime back up.  These companies lack expertise in hosting as well as cloud or disaster recovery.  You are most definitely putting yourself at risk by trusting a small ISV.

The Problem
Cloud computing as I define it is running your own custom software, third party vendor supplied software, or open source software on computer resources that you rent from a reputable cloud provider. To meet my definition of reputable, the vendor must operate not less than two and preferably more data centers that are geographically dispersed to insure that a single natural disaster will not disrupt your business operations.

Theres vendors should provide all of the hardware and software technical support necessary for you to keep your applications running so that all your users have to do is use an Internet browser or VPN client to access them.

A viable vendor will provide real time data and application replication so that a user may access any computer where your application is located regardless of physical location.  In fact the vendor's Internet routing should find the best path to the servers.  Your applications may be running on multiple servers at the same time and replicating data between the servers.  This approach will provide a 24 x 7 uninterruptible computing environment.

These vendors will enable you to eliminate the people on your payroll that support your computer systems including but not limited to network specialists, computer operators, system administrators, system programmers, etc. often offering you huge savings in labor and benefits.  Note these savings are not available at all in the alternatives described above.

Private Cloud and other Variants

While I do not rule out the idea of private cloud, I do see that very few companies can benefit from this as a computer strategy.  Generally, private cloud means building your own cloud environment and hosting applications for people within your enterprise.  This often means hiring specialists or spend large sums on consultants with expertise in setting up a cloud based environment.  You not only continue to support all of the people you currently employ, but will very likely increase your staff.

Buyer Beware

Do not let cloud computing be an IT based decision!  It is most definitely a business decision and must be carefully evaluated with an eye towards risk and cost savings.  I am a strong advocate of publicly hosted private cloud environments hosted by a reputable vendor at a reasonable price and eliminating all of the overhead of your computer operations and technical services organization within your IT organization.

Keep in mind that you may very well be able to pay for a switch to cloud in testing and test systems alone.  With a could environment you create a test environment when a project requires it and you discard it when you are done testing.  You pay only for what you use and the cost disappears upon project completion.

If you are like many companies you may very well be buying computers, and licensing software for testing purposes and this equipment rarely ever goes away!  The cost is generally absorbed into the project in substantial amounts.

Be smart buy carefully and you will enjoy the benefits of cloud computing.

Can Your Current Computer Systems Utilize Today's Computers Effectively?

I just read a fascinating article in IBM Mainframe Extra supplement to the IBM Mainframe magazine.  It seems that IBM is concerned about the fact that they can increase computing capacity by adding processors to their systems, but can no longer deliver significant increases in processor speed.

For years customers have waited for the next set of processor chips which were significantly faster than the last set.  While multi-processor systems have been around for about 2 decades, many business applications have been unable to take advantage of these systems.

Many business applications are designed to single thread (process sequentially one instruction after the other) from start to finish and are unable to utilize multiple processors in a multi-tasking or multi-procssing environment as modern applications written in C, C++, or Java can!

COBOL and RPG, FORTRAN, or PL1 applications process one instruction at a time until an IO event occurs when the program stops and waits for the the relatively slow IO event to complete.  The program is then queued for the next available processor and continues to execute one instruction at a time until the next IO even or until the program completes processing.

Modern applications consist of a number of small routines that can process in parallel without having to wait on other parts of the program.  Various processes or tasks may complete and are then assembled into a final result, but the program can actually run its pieces on many processors.

The older programs represent a problem for a number of IBM Mainframe and Midrange customers where workloads are increasing, demands for more processor speed are increasing, and yet programs are constrained by their architecture and programming technique in many cases.

If you have not all ready made a commitment to move away from legacy languages and technology, the time is now.  Develop a migration plan and move away from RPG, COBOL, PL1, etc.

Read the Mainframe Extra article at:

Friday, May 24, 2013

What is the IBM Enterprise System?

Take a look at this presentation by a key IBM marketing executive on the IBM Enterprise System.  It appears that IBM is looking to consolidate its zSeries mainframes with its Power Systems line of machines into a new Integrated "Enterprise System".  If you look at the reference presentation you will see that the system runs zOS, Linux, and Power OS's (meaning IBM i and AIX).

Note that IBM is looking to sell its xSeries Intel based server business to Lenovo and get out of the Intel server business.

Could the new server mean consolidating Power and zSeries into one new line of high-end servers?  Note that this is one more nudge towards LINUX and the elimination of zOS, AIX, and IBM i proprietary OS's.

It doesn't take a psychic to read the tea leaves folks, IBM is consolidating its hardware and systems software operations, lowering costs and maximizing profitability.  If your stuck on zOS or IBM i or even AIX you are in deep trouble and need to move rapidly away from IBM proprietary OS's.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Do you need your own programmers?

The more opportunities I get to work with management of large corporations, the more I see how the traditional systems development organizations we have become accustomed to in IT should be a thing of the past and be replaced by outsourced, on-demand, services.

It doesn't matter whether you utilize people in the same town or around that world!  Where you obtain resources is a function of economics.  If local vendors are competitive then by all means use them.  If not then there are excellent vendors with talented people scattered around the world.

The key issue is that is that outsourcing today enables company to obtain the specific skills they need when they need them.

The key is staffing with a core of technology independent analysts who can help you find and select the right people for each project you engage in.

The days where "COBOL", "RPG", JAVA, or any specific programming language as a standard for your company is an anachronism.  Today you must be flexible and utilize what best fits the current situation and project requirements.

Managing vendor provided resources can be challenging.  The key is having people with solid skills in vendor selection and management.  Additionally it is insuring that you do not abdicate your responsibilities such as testing, reviews, and acceptance to the vendor.

Be careful to avoid mistakes that some are making when initiating an outsourcing program.  Do not replace existing people with vendor people just to outsource.  The key to outsourcing is to pay for what you need only when you need it and to not pay when you do not need the services.

Maintenance and support is often an area of vulnerability.  Companies replace employees with higher priced vendor contractors and pay more.  A large outsourcing vendor can negotiate a support agreement where they guarantee availability of people, but only charge you when a work item is assigned to one of their people.  These agreements can be negotiated where an estimate for the work is presented before any work is performed, and contingencies int he contract enable you to go elsewhere if the vendor is not competitive in their pricing and estimates.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A day in the Internet

Internet World Statistics  is one of my favorite web sites and the work done by these folks is amazing and valuable keeping us abreast of what is going on around the world in terms of the Internet.

These statistics are mind boggling.  They also put some clarity into otherwise meaningly huge numbers.  The following all occurs in a single day!

  • Enough data is transferred (downloaded) each day to fill 168 million DVD's!
  • 294 billion emails are sent each day!  It would take 2 years to process that much snail mail.
  • 2 million blog posts are written each day.  That would fill Time Magazine for 770 years.
  • 72 million unique people visit FaceBook each day.
  • 40 million people visit Twitter
  • 22 million people visit Linkedin
  • 20 million visit Google+
  • 17 million visit Pinterest
  • There are 532 million FaceBook status updates
  • 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook
  • People watch 22 million hours of old TV Shows and movies on Netflix
  • 864,000 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each day.
  • 18.7 million hours of music are streamed via Pandora
  • 1288 new apps are made available and 35 million are downloaded
  • There are more new iPhones sold each day than there are babies born in the world:
    • 378,000 iphones versus 371,000 babies born

If you could obtain one dollar from a fraction of these people you will have produced a huge revenue stream.  What are you doing to reach these people?

As many cell phones as people?

Not quite, but almost.  According to Internet World Statistics There are now over 6.8 billion cellular subscribers and a world population of 7.1 billion people.  The number of cellular subscribers has grown from 2,205 million in 2005 to the current 6,835 million in 2013.  Mobile Internet is a driving force behind this growth both in personal usage and business.

The bottom line is that people want whatever it is they want and they want it now.  Your business must have a superb web presence, be search engine friendly, and above all be smart phone friendly.  If you do not make a good presentation on an iPhone or Android you will lose customers to a competitor who will.

Your customers must be able to first and foremost find you instantly when they are sitting in their car looking for your products.  When they do find you, they will leave your web site in a heart beat if it is not easily readable and easy to navigate on their phone.  Today, the impress you make on a customer's smart phone will be a lasting one.  If they don't like what they see on their phone, they will not come back via another device.

An additional significance of the growth in smart phone population is the need for extended availability.  You never know when a customer may wish to reach out and find your web site or communicate with someone on your staff.  Do you provide web based chat facilities with customer service reps?  Is this covered 24 hours a day?

Are your products attractive to foreign customers?  Can you handle foreign business?  Just a few quick thoughts on this startling new report.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Open Source for Your Business?

Open source software has gained popularity relatively recently as a  means of creating and delivering high quality computer software for just about any purpose you can think of.  While its origins were based in technology such as computer operating systems, most notably, UNIX  and LINUX, it has crossed over into business application software and today offers everything from ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) to accounting, inventory, merchandising, or software that addresses the needs of just about any commercial enterprise, non-profit, or government entity.  

Open source software projects may be found all over the Internet and projects have some very distinguished members who fund and support them.  The success of open source software is based on the concept of “group development”.  Groups of users of the software (often competitors) evaluate modifications or extensions to the product and insure its steady evolution meeting demands from folks who push the edges of their respective industries.  Open source is a place where business expertise meets computer technology.  

Good open  source products have an organization and web based electronic community that support them.  Most products are free for the download along with the source code used to create the software.  Today’s open source licenses allow you to use and modify the sytem for your own use, but require that you share modifications with the community.  

Good product communities have extensive discussion forums where often vigourous if not violent discussions on the merits of an enhancement occur.  If you actively use the software, you are asked (but not required) to become a member of the organization and provide financial contributions.  

Frequently there are a staff of developers that work for the non-profit organization that manages the software.  Frequently you may contribute money to the organization to fund a specific project and help pay for an enhancement that you want.  Generally these projects are posted on the organizations forums and others are solicited to participate and help fund the projects. 

When changes are made open source change control software is used to strictly manage the changes and users are encouraged to download updates and test it.  You get some of the best testing done in the computer industry for open source.  Defects are found quickly and resolved almost as soon as they are found.  

Overall, the quality ratings of open source are better than commercial vendors of in-house developers.  The larger the user community, the better the quality of the product.  

“Buyer Beware”

Yes, you must look at yourself as a buyer when reviewing and selecting open source software.  Many commercial vendors are hiding behind the “illusion” of being an open source vendor and giving away a free version of their commercial software that is little more than a demo.  

Many products are the brain child of an individual and do not have a large install base or organization or funding to back them up and they do offer a high degree of risk.  These products are generally specialized and may provide you value if you are willing to accept the risk of limited community and support. 

On just the other side of the equation you will see many products dominated by IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, and other industry giants.  Look at the Eclipse Foundation and its tools for Java development.  Look at the Apache Foundation and its server projects including a focus today on “BIG DATA”.  

Look at IBM’s investment of over $2 Billion in LINUX!  IBM is a major participant contributing both human resources (developers) and money to the Apache Fondation,, ASPECT-J, Bugzilla, Java, and many other open source projects.  

Major companies often invest in open source to create a viable alternative to commercial products that have the potential to dominate a market.  IBM created Eclipse and donated over $30 million worth of its proprietary software to the open source community to stop Microsoft’s potential domination of the development market with its Visual Studio line of products.  IBM’s investment in LINUX provides both a cross platform solution that runs on all of its hardware and is a major deterent to the continued domination by Microsoft of the server market.  

So when selecting a product that holds promise for you, see who is supporting the product and projects.  Read the community forums and get a sense of what people are saying, who is saying it (business or technical), how many people have downloaded the software, who is using it, and how viable does it look.  How well does the solution fit your needs?  

Competitive Advantage

Many people will argue that use of open source software limits your competitive advantage in the industry compared to in-house developed software, or customized commercial software.  

 The reality is that much of the open source software is highly configurable with business rules defined by users to the system giving each user a competitive edge. 

Examples and Sources

You can do Google searches on “Open Source Software” and an education.  A search on “open source software education” produced over 240 million results.  Here are three major results designed to handle all aspects of administration of classrooms, assignments, attendance, grades, etc.  Note that these products include relationships to parents or guardians, teachers, administrators, etc.  In other words a comprehensive set of software to run a K-12 school.
Here are some lists of various types of open source software:

There are lists for any industry or application you can imagine.  Here is a list from Wikipedia by category that may prove helpful:

Once again, open source is not the panecea for everyone, but there are many superb software products and packages that are as good or better than commercial software costing millions of dollars!  

Buying in to open source is not about getting free software, but rather buying into a user driven software development metaphor of community based development that brings you high quality superior software to that sold by commercial vendors or developed in-house.  

Be careful, but don’t rule out this option. 

BTW, if you need help with open source systems, there are generally consultants associated with the package that are certified by the organization that controls the package to assist you at a reasonable cost.  They provide implementation, training, support, and customization services.  Note:  I do not do this type of work.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

47.8 Million iPhones in First Quarter of 2013

Apple reports selling 47.8 Million iPhones in the first quarter of their 2013 fiscal year! Are your computer systems capable of supporting the iPhone for your customers, employees, or trading partners. With close to 200 million iPhones in use that is one big market place!