Managing Olympic Servers

The Olympics is this week – and we’ll ignore the copyright shenanigans of the Olympics – but there has been some interesting articles about the massive requirements that the Olympics requires of its IT equipment and staff.

The company providing the IT services is Atos Origin, and Magnus Alvarsson is their leader on the spot. CNET’s Ina Fried interviewed Magnus on February 8, and followed up with details of the IT infrastructure required on February 10.

There are a number of unique problems they face. One is that certain media outlets required old equipment (such as ISDN lines) to send their data back home. Another is that voice, data, and video will all traverse over the network using IP – the first time the Olympics has done this.

I always enjoy reading about other’s IT challenges and how they met them.

IBM Introduces Power7

On Monday, IBM introduced the Power7 processor to go up against the new Itanium Tukwila officially introduced by Intel the same day. The general consensus among those reviewing (such as CNET’s Brooke Crothers) these chips is that the Power7 is much better than the Itanium chip. Indeed, the Tukwila chip was delayed for two years.

This new Power chip will provide twice the processing power of its predecessor but with four times the energy efficiency, according to IBM. The Power7 offers eight cores with four threads each, giving 32 processing cores.

However, one notable absence is Sun: no new UltraSparc processor was announced. Of course, with Sun’s recent financial difficulties plus the buyout of Sun by Oracle, there may just be too much going on at the moment. Yet, will a new UltraSparc come too late?

In the meantime, analysts are noting the fact that Unix servers (such as those running Power7, UltraSparc, and Itanium) are declining, and that the x86 servers are increasing in power and capabilities, with the Nehalem-EX (otherwise known as Beckton) due out soon.

What this means for system administrators is that Linux on x86 could be the biggest growing career, in contrast to Unix (such as HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX).

Energy Star Program for Data Centers

The EPA announced that they are expanding the Energy Star Program to include data centers; the measurements are expected to be finalized in June 2010.

The EPA is hoping that the new Energy Star rating for data centers will become a selling point for data centers. The new rating is based largely (but not completely) on the PUE (or Power Usage Effectiveness). William Kosik wrote an article in the September 2007 issue of Engineered Systems Magazine that explains PUE quite well and in detail.

Google talks about their efforts for power-efficient computing in their data centers in some depth; it’s very interesting.

IBM also announced just recently that they are building a new data center in Research Triangle Park where they will test effect of various temperature levels in the data center – and will cool it with outside air as well.

This is definitely an exciting time for data center power research; seems that there is something new every day.

OpenID: When Versions Conflict

OpenID was supposed to be a web-based single sign-on; however, the conflicts between versions can cause confusion – and prevent sign-on.

When presented with an OpenID sign-on box, you should sign in with:

userid.openidserver.com

For example, with a userid of jdoe at OpenID provider myopenid.com, enter this into the OpenID text box:

jdoe.myopenid.com

(OpenID.net has a more detailed description of the process.)

The problem with using OpenID comes when people try to use OpenID providers like Google.com and Yahoo.com with sites like Toodledo.com: the problem is that Toodledo.com only connects with providers that support OpenID 1.0; there is no message to suggest that the provider does not support that version. Google and Yahoo only support OpenID 2.0; other providers may or may not support OpenID 1.0.

Will Norris has a list of OpenID providers and the features of OpenID they support (broken down by feature). Look for providers that support things like the following:

  • openid-html
  • signon-10
  • sreg-10

Those providers that support these are, I suspect, most likely to support OpenID 1.0 (worked for me!). Also, if you are evaluating these providers in order to choose one, look for a provider that supports a lot of these features of OpenID.

OpenID.net has the specifications for all the versions of OpenID and the features of each.

I chose to go with myopenid.com for my OpenID provider; so far so good – and it works with Toodledo.com (vital!). Another thing – at least with myopenid.com – is that you get an identity page that others can see (I have one).

Another OpenID provider is WordPress.com; if you’ve a login on WordPress.com you have an OpenID. No word on whether WP supports OpenID 2.0.

Restoring Data for GNOME Evolution

Evolution is the personal information manager (PIM) for GNOME desktops, and includes Palm integration, todos, memos, contacts, email, and calendar.

Recently, I migrated from one desktop to another, and moved my data from my home directory over. Most applications were perfectly happy to find their data from their hidden directories preconfigured for them (VirtualBox was one of these).

Evolution refused to recognize the data as it was copied, and started by asking for all of the relevant information to set up a new mail account. To copy the data, it is necessary to first backup all information using Evolution’s backup process (from the File menu). This backup file can then be transfered to the new machine and restored. However, passwords are not restored as a part of this process; passwords are not included in the backup.

The passwords can just be re-entered again if necessary. If you’ve forgotten them (as I did) you can pull them from the GNOME keyring using the Seahorse application found in every GNOME installation. You can run seahorse from the command line or run it from the menu (inUbuntu Karmic Koala: Applications > Accessories > Passwords and Encryption Keys).

Patrick Ahlbrecht over at onyxbits.de has an excellent article about recovering the passwords from Evolution. Older versions of Evolution stored the passwords using base64 encoding in a plain text file (i.e., not encrypted at all).

Next time one saves passwords in an application, think about that base64 encoded password file…

Software Bugs: Good or Bad?

Recently, Karl Fogel wrote about bugs and “technical debt” – as a response to a mailing list thread about the future of Subversion in 2010. This resonates with me as I recently found myself struggling with bugs in Ubuntu to find that they would not be fixed (in my case, it was the lack of embedded ROM code for a USB-serial adapter – normally included with the Linux kernel).

Karl’s article was then reported on by Joe Brockmeier of OStatic.

Much of this reporting makes me think of TeX, the typesetting system created by Donald Knuth, one of computing’s “founding fathers” (so to speak… despite coming on the scene later on.). TeX has remained unchanged except for bug fixes for several decades, and shows no sign of slowing down or dying, in contrast to what the articles report.

I also think of Ubuntu distributions contrasted with the Ubuntu LTS (“Long Term Support”) distributions – which mirrors the difference between Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is possible to have a system without bugs – or at least, with few bugs. Fixing the bugs in a rapid and constant fashion will improve the user experience, as well as build up the “Good Will” value of your name rather than being known for bugs that aren’t fixed.

A complaint often heard from users is that the “fix” for a problem a user of a commercial product has is to “upgrade to the new version” (normally with a substantial cost). This should not be the way things are done.

Bug removal should be primary, and solid reliable program operation number one. As a user – and a enterprise user – reliability is primary. A product which proves through history that bugs are second to upgrades and new features will not last long. This is the very reason that products like Ubuntu LTS and Red Hat Enterprise Linux exist.

I agree with several premises in Joe’s article on OStatic – that bug removal should not be the only focus, or that an increase in bug reports is not all bad. More bugs means more users are using the product, and provides a way to make the software more reliable. Users would much rather apply patches and update to a more reliable version than upgrade to something entirely new and with newly introduced bugs not yet fixed.

LexisNexis Tools Come to Microsoft Office

At the LegalTech Conference taking place in New York City, Lexis announced a partnership with Microsoft. The competition has tools, but this partnership has all the markings of a competition killer.

LexisNexis research tools will be built into Microsoft Office products, in particular: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, and Microsoft Sharepoint. This means that no matter what Westlaw comes up with, and no matter what Bloomberg comes up with, Microsoft Office comes ready to use LexisNexis out of the box.

Thus, I would expect Microsoft Office upgrades to be high on every lawyer’s agenda shortly. Your corporate counsel is likely to be begging for it as soon as they hear about it.

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