Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Architect for the IBM Storage product line at the
IBM Systems Client Experience Center in Tucson Arizona, and featured contributor
to IBM's developerWorks. In 2016, Tony celebrates his 30th year anniversary with IBM Storage. He is
author of the Inside System Storage series of books. This blog is for the open exchange of ideas relating to storage and storage networking hardware, software and services.
(Short URL for this blog: ibm.co/Pearson )
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A reader from New Zealand expressed concern some corporate bloggers were [using the earthquake for marketing]. He lost someone close to him in Christchurch, and is unable to reach a friend living in Japan, so I am sorry for his loss. I plan to be in Australia and New Zealand to teach a Top Gun class May 15-27, so hopefully I will be able to meet him in person when I am down there.
"Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. ... Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.
In the specific case of Japan, there's all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of new money."
Another reader mentioned that the last surviving American WW-II vet died the same week. WTF? IBM and Japan have been allies for quite a while now, and there is no reason to bring up past wars except to compare the scope and magnitude of the cleanup effort. (Update: Frank Buckles was the last surviving WW-I vet, but also served in WW-II).
Many readers felt that charity begins at home, and there are plenty of worthy causes right here in the USA to donate to instead. Inspired by last year's movie [Waiting for Superman], my girlfriend started a project called [Centers for My Super Stars] for her first grade class on DonorsChoose.org. For those not familiar with this website, DonorsChoose.org uses the cloud to connect school teachers in need of supplies with rich people to donate funds towards these projects. If you want to contribute to her project, [donate here].
"And speaking of class, there just happens to be a baseball team in Sendai, Japan. The Golden Eagles. Their stadium was severely damaged from the earthquake. Wouldn't you think some of them lug nuts who run American baseball would bring the Golden Eagles and their opponents over to the United States when the Japanese season starts -- play some games over here and raise money to help the Japanese? Wouldn't you think they could just once stop that national pastime stuff and help the international pastime?"
As you can see, different readers have different opinions on this. We are all on this world together, and both our economy and our ecology are more interconnected than you might think. Let's build a smarter planet.
When I turned on the television last weekend, I saw large waves of water knock down rows of small houses. I thought I had caught the end of a bad Godzilla movie, but sadly it was not movie special effects. Mother Nature can be quite destructive. Over the past four days, Japan has been hit hard by a series of earthquakes and resulting tsunami.
(Note: Disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. Last month, New Zealand had an earthquake as well. It is best to always be prepared. If you haven't done so lately, check out the latest recommendations from the US Government [Ready.Gov] website.)
Several have asked me how this tragedy in Japan might affect IBM and its clients. Here is what I have gathered from various sources. All IBM Japan employees have survived, are safe and reporting no major injuries. IBM has four major facilities, near central part of the country around Tokyo, far from Sendai, the epicenter. All IBM buildings are still standing and operational. A few sections of Tokyo are affected by scheduled brown-outs in an effort to save electricity. Employees are asked to telecommute (a.k.a. work from home) to minimize traffic congestion.
Hakozaki - Headquarters and executive briefing center
Makuhari - Technical Center, where we often hold conferences and other events
Yamato - Research Facility, where R&D is done for IBM tape storage products
Toyosu - Service Delivery Center
I have been to Japan many times throughout my career. Back in the summer of 1995, IBM sent me to Osaka to help out clients in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin eartquake near Kobe. I remember it well, sending an email back to my team saying "It is 1995, and here in Japan it is 95 degrees and 95 percent humidiy." It was seven months after the earthquake, but people were still living in cardboard boxes and make-shift tents.
Many people asked if I will be going back to Japan to help out. I speak Japanese, can make sense of the Japanese Katakana characters on computer monitors, and am an expert in Disaster Recovery. However, the IBM Japan team is doing an awesome job helping our clients restore their data and recovery their business operations. Of course, if IBM needs me in Japan, I will gladly go, but so far, it doesn't seem that I am needed there.
Normally, when EMC fails, it is worth a giggle. Companies are run by humans, and nobody is perfect. However, their latest one, failing to defend their RSA SecurID two-factor website, is no laughing matter. Breaches like this undermine the trust needed for business and commerce to be done with Information Technology, so it affects the entire IT industry.
(FTC Disclosure: I do not work or have any financial investments in either EMC nor ENC Security Systems. Neither EMC nor ENC Security Systems paid me to mention them on this blog. Their mention in this blog is not an endorsement of either company or their products. Information about EMC was based solely on publicly available information made available by EMC and others. My friends at ENC Security Systems provided me an evaluation license for their latest software release so that I could confirm the use cases posed in this post.)
Of course, EMC did the right thing by making this breach public in an [Open Letter to RSA Customers]. While this may affect their revenues, as clients question whether they should do business with EMC, or affect their stock price, as investors question whether they should invest in EMC, they were very clear and public that the breach occurred. As far as I know, none of the executives of the RSA security division have stepped down. The disclosure of the breach was the right thing to do, and required by law from the [US Securities Exchange Commission]. This law was created to prevent companies from trying to hide breaches that expose external client information.
The breach does not affect RSA public/private key pairs used by IBM and most every other large company. Rather, this breach was targeted to RSA SecurID two-factor authentication. I explained two-factor authentication in my blog post [Day 5 Grid, SOA and Cloud Computing - System x KVM solutions], but basically it is an added level of security, requiring something you know (your password) with something you have (such as a magnetic card or key fob). Both are required to gain access to the system.
Breaches happen. Recently, [Hackers found vulnerabilities in the McAfee.com website]. Last month, fellow blogger Chuck Hollis from EMC had a blog post on [Understanding Advanced Persistent Threats (APT)] in the week leading up to their RSA Conference. It was precisely an APT that hit RSA, so the irony of this breach was not lost on the blogosphere. Perhaps Chuck's blog post gave hackers the idea to do this, like saying "I hope terrorists don't bomb this building that hold all of our chemical weapons..." or "I hope bank robbers don't rob this repository where we keep all the cash..."
(The sinister counter-theory, that EMC staged this breach as a marketing stunt to undermine trust in hybrid or public cloud offerings, such as those offered by IBM, Amazon or Salesforce.com, offers an interesting twist. While computer breaches in general are fodder for [Luddites] to argue we should not use computers at all, this particular breach could be used by EMC salesmen to encourage their customers to choose private cloud over hybrid cloud or public cloud deployments. Given all the extra work that RSA SecurID customers have to now do to harden their environments, that would be in bad taste.)
Today, March 31, is World Backup Day. This is because many viruses are triggered to operate on April 1. Just like checking the batteries in your smoke alarms every year, you should ensure that your backup methodology remains valid.
Back in 2008, I was a volunteer for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, and built an XS server to be used for Uruguay. I shipped [this baby off to school] to be the central server that all the student and teacher laptops connected to. It was the gateway to the Internet, as well as the [repository for the blogs of each student]. The blogs were accessible to the public, so that parents could read what their students were writing.
Unfortunately, this public access resulted in my little XS server being attacked by hackers, with IP addresses in Russia and China. Why anyone from either of those two countries wanted to ruin the hopes and dreams of small school children in Uruguay was beyond me. Fortunately, I had planned for remote administration. Backups were taken by me weekly to a second drive that was only mounted when I was dialed in to take the backup. The rest of the time, it was offline, so as not to be written to by hackers.
I also shipped along with the server a bootable DVD that contained a modified version of [System Rescue CD], scripts to start up SSHD daemon, and pre-populated for use with public/private RSA keys for me and eight other administrators located in various countries. To effect repairs, the local operator would reboot to the DVD, and then I could login via "ssh" and restore the operating system, programs and data. Sadly, this meant that the students might have lost some of their most recent blog posts since the last backup.
Please consider reviewing your own backup strategies. If your security were compromised, data was corrupted or lost, would you be able to recover from your backups?
Use Encryption where Appropriate
If you plan to travel this Summer, you may want to consider encryption to protect yourself. ENC Security Systems has just released their latest [Encrypt Stick] which is a USB memory stick pre-loaded with software that provides three features:
Encryption for your files
A secure web browser for accessing sensitive websites
Secure password manager
Many hotels now offer computers for use by the guests. These are typically running some flavor of Windows operating system. Encrypt Stick comes with an EXE file that you can run to browse the web securely, and have access to your encrypted files and passwords, leaving no trace on the hotel lobby computer.
Friends and Family
What if you are visiting friends and family, and they have a Mac instead? No problem, as Encrypt Stick has a DMG file to use on Mac OS X operating system. While you may not be worried about your siblings hacking into your bank account, you may not want them necessarily seeing what sites you visited.
I have been to several airport lounges now that use Linux for their public computers. Makes sense to me, as there are fewer viruses for Linux, and updating Linux is relatively straightforward. However, Encrypt Stick does not support Linux. For my Linux-knowledgeable readers, you can build your own with [Unetbootin] bootable USB memory stick to launch your favorite Linux browser in memory on whatever system you are using. The [Gparted Magic] utility rescue tool includes [TrueCrypt] to encrypt your files. Lastly, you can use [MyPasswordSafe] to hold all of your passwords securely.
Several clients have asked if any of the IBM data-at-rest encrypted disks or tapes are affected by this breach. IBM uses AES encryption for the actual disk and tape media, but we do use RSA keys to encrypt the generated keys used on the TS1120 and TS1130 drives. However, these were not affected by the RSA SecurID breach, and your tapes are safely protected.
Advanced Persistent Threats, viruses and other malware are no laughing matter. If you are concerned about security, contact IBM to help you assess your current environment and help you plan a robust protection strategy.
Wrapping up my week's coverage of the IBM Pulse 2011 conference, I have had several people ask me to explain IBM's latest initiative, Smarter Computing, which IBM launched this week at this conference. Having led the IT industry through the Centralized Computing era and the Distributed Computing era, IBM is now well-positioned to help companies, governments and non-profit organizations to enter the new Smarter Computing era, focused on insight and discovery.
Thousands of IT professionals
Effiicent, but only the largest companies and governments had them
Millions of office workers
Personal computers (PC)
Innovative, extending the reach to small and medium-sized businesses, but resulted in server sprawl and increased TCO
Billions of people
Smart phones and other handheld devices
Efficient and Innovative, combining the best of centralized and distributed computing
1952 to 1980
1981 to 2010
2011 and beyond
To help clients with this transition, IBM's Smarter Computing initiative has three main components. This is a corporate-wide strategy, with systems, software and services all working together to realize results.
The first component is Big Data. This combines three different sources of data:
Traditional structured data in OLTP databases and OLAP data warehouses, using data management solutions like DB2 and IBM Netezza.
Unstructured data, including text documents, images, audio, and video, processed with massive parallelism using IBM BigInsights and Apache Hadoop.
Real-Time Analytics Processing (RTAP) of incoming data, including video surveillance, social media, RFID chips, smart meters, and traffic control systems, processed with IBM InfoSphere Streams
Of course, Big Data will bring new opportunities on the storage front, which I will save for a future post!
Rather than general purpose IT equipment, we have now the scale and scope to specialize with systems optimized for particular workloads, the second component of the Smarter Computing initiative. Of course, IBM has been delivering integrated stacks of systems, software and services for decades now, but it is important to remind people of this, as IBM now has a spate of competitors all trying to follow IBM's lead in this arena.
As with Big Data, the focus on Optimized Systems has impacted IBM's strategy on storage as well. I'll save that discussion for a future post as well!
I am glad that nearly all of the storage vendors have standardized to a common definition for Cloud, the third component of Smarter Computing, which shows that this concept has matured:
Cloud computing is a pay-per-use model for enabling network access to a pool of computing resources that can be provisioned and released rapidly with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. -- U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology [nist.gov]
Of course, Cloud is just an evolution of IBM's Service Bureau business of the 1960s and 1970s, renting out time-sharing on mainframe systems, Grid Computing of the 1980s, and Application Service Providers that popped up in the 1990s. While the [butchers, bakers and candlestick makers] that IBM competes against might focus their efforts on just private cloud or just public cloud, IBM recognizes the reality is that different clients will need different solutions. Rather than rip-and-replace, IBM will help clients transition to cloud via inclusive solutions that adopt a hybrid approach:
Traditional enterprise with private cloud deployments, using solutions like IBM CloudBurst, SONAS and Information Archive
Traditional enterprise with public cloud services to handle seasonable peaks, providing offsite resiliency, and solutions for a mobile workforce
Hybrid clouds that blend private and public cloud services, to handle seasonal peak workloads, remote and branch offices
IBM's emphasis on IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Tivoli and Maximo products will play well in this space to provide integrated service management across traditional and cloud deployments. This is why IBM decided to launch Smarter Computing initiative at Pulse 2011 conference, the industry's premiere conference on intergrated service management.
The IBM Watson that competed on Jeopardy! is an excellent example of all three components of Smarter Computing at work.
IBM Watson was able to respond to Jeopardy! clues within three seconds, processing a combination of database searches with DB2 and text-mining analytics of unstructured data with IBM BigInsights.
IBM Watson combined servers, software and storage into an integrated supercomputer that was optimized for one particular workload: playing Jeopardy!
IBM Watson used many technologies prevalent in private and public cloud computing systems, storing its data on a modified version of SONAS for storage, using xCat administration tools, networking across 10GbE Ethernet, and massive parallel processing through lots of PowerVM guest images.
This week was the IBM Pulse 2011 converence in Las Vegas, Nevada, with over 7,000 attendees. I wasn't there, and my on-the-scene correspondent was too busy running the hands-on lab to get out and attend sessions. Fortunately, I was able to watch some of the [IBM Software live stream], and here are my thoughts and observations.
Fellow inventor [Dean Kamen] was the keynote speaker. His inventions help people, making the world a better place. Here are three examples I found interesting during his talk:
Helping third world countries
Dean started out with his favorite quote:
"A problem well defined is a problem half-solved." - John Dewey
Dean mentioned that we are fortunate, having both potable drinking water and a reliable supply of electricity, but 2 to 4 billion people on the planet do not. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, Dean and his team of innovators were able to come up with small units that can be placed in a village or town. One unit takes in wet liquid and produces potable drinking water. The other unit takes combustible materials, like cow dung, and products electricity. Each unit is roughly the size of half a standard server rack. What does Coca-Cola get out of this? New "vending machines"! By combining drinking water with flavored syrups, they can create soft drinks on demand.
Dean's opinion was that if you want something done, you need to work with large corporations, as governments are mired in beauracracy and rules. I agree. When I first joined IBM, I was introduced to [TRIZ] which was a systematic method for solving problems. IBM's best and brightest are working to solve some of the toughest computer science challenges. For more on TRIZ, see this blog post about [TRIZ in BusinessWeek].
Helping injured veterans
Dean Kamen is well known for inventing the two-wheeled [Segway Personal Transporter], but his company, [DEKA], makes all kinds of things, mostly medical equipment. To help wounded soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan without one or both arms, Dean and his team developed a robotic arm that has enough motor dexterity to pick up a raisin or grape off the table without dropping or squashing it. Dean has appeared several times on the Colbert Report, and here is a video of the robotic arm:
I have myself enjoyed riding a Segway. A local place in Tucson uses them to lead tourists through downtown Tucson and the University of Arizona campus.
Helping young students to learn science and technology
Dean wrapped up his talking by talking about his passion about "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" or [FIRST]. Modeled after sports competitions, FIRST encourages teams of kids to build robots that perform specific tasks. Every year, companies and universities sponsor teams by purchasing robot kits from FIRST. Teams compete in regional competitions, and then the best of those go on to compete in a stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, hosting 76,000 people cheering for their teams.
Unlike other school sports (Football, Basketball, Baseball, etc.) where a student is more likely to win the lottery than get a successful career as a professional athlete, every student involved in FIRST competitions can "go pro". A study of FIRST success tracked students who participated in competitions, and found a substantial improvement in percentage of those students attending college and working as science and engineering professionals.
I am a big fan of encouraging kids of all ages to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math [STEM]. Back in 2009, I blogged about my involvement with [One Laptop Per Child] and [Junior FIRST Lego League]. I've gotten a great reaction to my latest challenge, to build a Watson Jr. in your own basement, based on my [step-by-step] instructions.
If you attended IBM Pulse this week, please comment on your thoughts and observations!