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Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor, Senior IT Architect and Event Content Manager for [IBM Systems for IBM Systems Technical University] events. With over 30 years with IBM Systems, Tony is frequent traveler, speaking to clients at events throughout the world.
Lloyd Dean is an IBM Senior Certified Executive IT Architect in Infrastructure Architecture. Lloyd has held numerous senior technical roles at IBM during his 19 plus years at IBM. Lloyd most recently has been leading efforts across the Communication/CSI Market as a senior Storage Solution Architect/CTS covering the Kansas City territory. In prior years Lloyd supported the industry accounts as a Storage Solution architect and prior to that as a Storage Software Solutions specialist during his time in the ATS organization.
Lloyd currently supports North America storage sales teams in his Storage Software Solution Architecture SME role in the Washington Systems Center team. His current focus is with IBM Cloud Private and he will be delivering and supporting sessions at Think2019, and Storage Technical University on the Value of IBM storage in this high value IBM solution a part of the IBM Cloud strategy. Lloyd maintains a Subject Matter Expert status across the IBM Spectrum Storage Software solutions. You can follow Lloyd on Twitter @ldean0558 and LinkedIn Lloyd Dean.
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"When Watson is booted up, the 15TB of total RAM are loaded up, and thereafter the DeepQA processing is all done from memory. According to IBM Research, the actual size of the data (analyzed and indexed text, knowledge bases, etc.) used for candidate answer generation and evidence evaluation is under 1 Terabyte (TB). For performance reasons, various subsets of the data are replicated in RAM on different functional groups of cluster nodes. The entire system is self-contained, Watson is NOT going to the internet searching for answers."
I had several readers ask me to explain the significance of the "Terabyte". I'll work my way up.
A bit is simply a zero (0) or one (1). This could answer a Yes/No or True/False question.
Most computers have standardized a byte as a collection of 8 bits. There are 256 unique combinations of ones and zeros possible, so a byte could be used to storage a 2-digit integer, or a single upper or lower case character in the English alphabet. In pratical terms, a byte could store your age in years, or your middle initial.
The Kilobyte is a thousand bytes, enough to hold a few paragraphs of text. A typical written page could be held in 4 KB, for example.
The IBM Challenge to play on Jeopardy! is being compared to the historic 1969 moon landing. To land on the moon, Apollo 11 had the "Apollo Guidance Computer" (AGC) which had 74KB of fixed read-only memory, and 2KB of re-writeable memory. Over [3500 IBM employees were involved] to get the astronauts to the moon and safely back to earth again.
The importance of this computer was highlighted in a [lecture by astronaut David Scott] who said: "If you have a basketball and a baseball 14 feet apart, where the baseball represents the moon and the basketball represents the Earth, and you take a piece of paper sideways, the thinness of the paper would be the corridor you have to hit when you come back."
The Megabyte is a thousand KB, or a million bytes. The 3.5-inch floppy diskette, mentioned in my post [A Boxfull of Floppies] could hold 1.44MB, or about 360 pages of text.
In the article [Wikipedia as a printed book], the printing of a select 400 articles resulted in a book 29 inches thick. Those 5,000 pages would consume about 20 MB of space.
One of my favorite resources I use to search is the Internet Movie Data Base [IMDB]. Leaving out the photos and videos, the [text-only portion of the IMDB database is just over 600 MB], representing nearly all of the actors, awards, nominations, television shows and movies. A standard CD-ROM can hold 700MB, so the text portion of the IMDB could easily fit on a single CD.
The Gigabyte is a thousand MB, or a billion bytes. My Thinkpad T410 laptop has 4GB of RAM and 320GB of hard disk space. My laptop comes with a DVD burner, and each DVD can hold up to 4.7GB of information.
The popular Wikipedia now has some 17 million articles, of which 3.5 million are in English language. It would only take [14GB of space to hold the entire English portion] of Wikipedia. That is small enough to fit on twenty CDs, three DVDs, an Apple iPad or my cellphone (a Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant).
Perhaps you are thinking, "Someone should offer Wikipedia pre-installed on a small handheld!" Too late. The [The Humane Reader] is able to offer 5,000 books and Wikipedia in a small device that connects to your television. This would be great for people who do not have access to the internet, or for parents who want their kids to do their homework, but not be online while they are doing it.
In the latest 2009 report of [How Much Information?] from the University of California, San Diego, the average American consumes 34 GB of information. This includes all the information from radio, television, newspapers, magazines, books and the internet that a person might look at or listen to throughout the day. This project is sponsored by IBM and others to help people understand the nature of our information-consuption habits.
Back in 1992, I visited a client in Germany. Their 90 GB of disk storage attached to their mainframe was the size of three refrigerators, and took five full-time storage administrators to manage.
The Terabyte is a thousand GB, or a trillion bytes. It is now possible to buy external USB drive for your laptop or personal computer that holds 1TB or more. However, at 40MB/sec speeds that USB 2.0 is capable of, it would take seven hours to do a bulk transfer in or out of the device.
IBM offers 1TB and 2TB disk drives in many of our disk systems. In 2008, IBM was preparing to announce the first 1TB tape drive. However, Sun Microsystems announced their own 1TB drive the day before our big announcement, so IBM had to rephrase the TS1130 announcement to [The World's Fastest 1TB tape drive!]
A typical academic research library will hold about 2TB of information. For the [US Library of Congress] print collection is considered to be about 10TB, and their web capture team has collected 160TB of digital data. If you are ever in the Washington DC, I strongly recommend a visit to the Library of Congress. It is truly stunning!
Full-length computer animated movies, like [Happy Feet], consume about 100TB of disk storage during production. IBM offers disk systems that can hold this much data. For example, the IBM XIV can hold up to 151 TB of usable disk space in the size of one refrigerator.
A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for some larger companies is the number of TB that can be managed by a full-time employee, referred to as TB/FTE. Discussions about TB/FTE are available from IT analysts including [Forrester Research] and [The Info Pro].
The website [Ancestry.com] claims to have over 540 million names in its genealogical database, with a storage of 600TB, with the inclusion of [US census data from 1790 to 1930]. The US government took nine years to process the 1880 census, so for the 1890 census, it rented equipment from Herman Hollerith's Tabulating Machine Company. This company would later merge with two others in 1911 to form what is now called IBM.
A Petabyte is thousand TB, or a quadrillion bytes. It is estimated that all printed materials on Earth would represent approximately 200 PB of information.
IBM's largest disk system, the Scale-Out Network Attach Storage (SONAS) comprised of up to 7,200 disk drives, which can hold over 11 PB of information. A smaller 10-frame model, the same size as IBM Watson, with six interface nodes and 19 storage pods, could hold over 7 PB of information.
For those of us in the IT industry, 1TB is small potatoes. I for one, was expecting it to be much bigger. But for everyone else, the equivalent of 200 million pages of text that IBM Watson has loaded inside is an incredibly large repository of information. I suspect IBM Watson probably contains the complete works of Shakespeare as well as other fiction writers, the IMDB database, all 3.5 million articles of Wikipedia, religious texts like the Bible and the Quran, famous documents like the Magna Carta and the US Constitution, and reference books like a Dictionary, a Thesaurus, and "Gray's Anatomy". And, of course, lots and lots of lists.
For those on Twitter, follow [@ibmwatson] these next three days during the challenge.
We are only days away from the big IBM Challenge of Watson computer against two human contestants on the show Jeopardy!
I watched two episodes of Jeopardy! on my Tivo, pausing it to follow the [homework assignment] I suggested in my last post. Here are my own results and observations.
Episode  involved a web programmer, a customer service representative, and a bank teller.
Of the first six categories in Round 1, I guessed four of the six themes for each category. For the category "Diamonds are Forever", I wrote down "All answers are some kind of gem or mineral", but the reality was that all the answers were some physical characteristic of diamonds specifically. For the category "...Fame is not", I wrote down "All answers are TV or Movie celebrities". I was close, but actually it was famous celebrities, rock bands and pop culture of the 1980s. (The movie "Fame" came out in 1980).
In the round, there were 27 of the 30 answers given before they ran out of time. Of these, I was able to get 24 of 27 correct by searching the Internet. That is 88 percent correct. Here were the ones that eluded me:
Answer related to a "multi-chambered mollusk". I could not find anything on the Internet definitively on this, so abstained from wager. The correct question was "What is Nautilus?".
Answer was the Irish variant of "Kathryne". I found Kathleen as a variant, but did not investigate if it had Irish origins. The correct question was "What is Caitlin?"
Answer was this Norse name for "ruler" whether you had red hair or not. I found "Roy" and "Rory" so guessed "What is Rory?" The correct question was "What is Eric?"
The second round, I guesed three of the six themese for the categories. For category "Musical Titles Letter Drop" I wrote down "All the answers are titles of musical songs" but it was actually "Musicals" as in the Broadway shows. For category "Place called Carson", I wrote down "All the answers are places" and was way off on that one, with answers that were people, places and names of corporations. And for "State University Alums", I wrote down "All the answers are college graduates", but instead they were all "State Universities" such as the University of Arizona.
In this second round, only 26 answers were posed. I got 80 percent correct with Internet searching. I missed three on the "Musical Titles", one in "Pope-pourri" and one State University (sorry SMU). The "Musical Titles Letter Drop category" was especially difficult, as for each title of a Musical, you had to remove a single letter out of it to form the correct response.
For the answer "Good luck when you ask the singers "What I Did For Love"; they never tell the truth", you would need to take "Chorus Line" the musical, where the song "What I did for Love" appears, and ask "What is Chorus Lie?" Note that "line" changed to "lie" and the letter "n" was dropped out.
For the answer "Embrace the atoms as Simba and company lose and gain electrons en masse in this production", you would need to recognize that Simba was the main character of "The Lion King" and change it to "What is The Ion King".
I think these play-on-words are the questions that would stump the IBM Watson computer.
In the final round, the category was "Ancient Quotes". I thought the answer would be a famous adage or quotation, but it was instead famous people who uttered those phrases. The answer was "He said, to leave this stream uncrossed will breed manifold distress for me; to cross it, for all mankind". I was able to determine the correct response readily from searching the Internet: The river was the Rubicon, the border of the Gaul region governed by an ambitious general. The correct response "Who was Julius Caesar?"
Total time for the entire exercise: 87 minutes.
The following night, episode  brought back Paul Wampler, the returning champion web programmer, against two new contestants: an actor, and high school principal.
Of the first six categories in Round 1, I guessed five of the six themes for each category. For the category "Nonce Words", I wrote all the answers would be nonsense words. I was close, the clues had words invented for a particular occasion, but the correct responses did not.
I was able to get 29 of 30 correct by searching the Internet. That is 96 percent correct. The one I missed was in the category "Nonce Words" and the answer was "In an arithmocracy, this portion of the population rules, not trigonometry teachers.." My response was "What is Math?" but the correct answer was "What are the majority?" It did not occur for me to even look up [Arithmocracy] as a legitimate word, but it is real.
The second round, I guesed five of the six themese for the categories. For category "Hawk" eyes, the "Hawk" was in quotation marks, so I wrote "All answers would start with the word Hawk or end with the word "eyes". I was close, the correct theme was that the word "hawk" would appear in the front, middle or end of the correct response.
In this second round, I got 28 of 30 correct. I got 93 percent correct with Internet searching. Ironically, it was the category "German Foods" that caught me off guard.
For, the answer was "Pichelsteiner Fleisch, a favorite of Otto von Bismarck, is this one-pot concoction, made with beef & pork". I know that "fleisch" is a German word for meat, so I guessed "What is sausage?" but the correct response was "What is stew?" I should have paid more attention to the "one-pot concoction" part of the answer.
For the answer was "Mimi Sheraton says German stuffed hard-boiled eggs are always made with a great deal of this creamy product". I didn't realize that "stuffed eggs" was German for "deviled eggs". Instead, I found Mimi Sheraton's "The German Cookbook" on Google Books, and jumped to the page for "Stuffed Eggs" The ingredients I read included whippedc cream, cognac, and worcestershire sauce. Taking the "creamiest" ingredient of these, I wrote down "What is whipped cream?" However, it turned out I was actually reading the ingredients for "Crabmeat Cocktail" that was coninuing from the previous page. I thought it was gross to put whipped cream with eggs, and should have known better. The correct response was "What is mayonnaise?"
In the final round, the category was "Political Parties". This could either be political organizations like Republicans and Democrats, or festivities like the Whitehouse Correspondents Dinner. The answer was "Only one U.S. president represented this party, and he said, I dread...a division of the republic into two great parties." So, we can figure out the answer refers to political organizations, but both Democrat and Republican are ruled out because each has had multiple presidents. So, looking at a [List of Political Parties of each US President], I found that there were four presidents in the Whig party, four in the Democrat-Republic party, but only one president in the Federalist party (John Adams), and one in the War Union party (Andrew Johnson). Looking at [famous quotes from John Adams] first, I found the quote, it matched, and so I wrote down "What is the Federalist party?". I got it right, as did two of the three contestants. Ironically, the one contestant who got it wrong, the returning champion web programmer, wagered a small amount, so he still had more money after the round and won the game overall.
Total time for the entire exercise: 75 minutes. I was able to do this faster as I skipped searching the internet for the responses I was confident on.
To find out when Jeopardy is playing in your town, consult the [Interactive Map].
With all the excitement of the [IBM Challenge], where the [IBM Watson computer] will compete against humans on [Jeopardy!], I thought it would be good to provide the following homework exercise to help you appreciate how challenging the game is and the strategies required.
Overview of the game of Jeopardy!
If you are familiar with the show, you can safely skip this section.
Known as "America's Favorite Quiz Show", the Jeopardy pits three contestants against each other. The board is divided into six columns and five rows of answers. Each column indicates the category for that column of answers. The rows are ranked from easiest to most difficult, with more difficult answers being worth more money to wager.
The contestants take turns. The returning champion gets to select a spot on the board, by indicating the category (column) and wager (row), such as "I will take Animals for 800 dollars!" Contestants must then press a button to "buzz in", be recognized by the host, and respond correctly. If the contestant responds incorrectly, the other two contestants have the opportunity to respond. The contestant with the correct response gets to chose the next answer.
For each turn, the host, Alex Trebek, shows the answer on the board, and spends three seconds reading it aloud to give everyone a chance to come up with a corresponding question. This is perhaps what Jeopardy is most famous for. In a traditional "Quiz Show", the host asks questions, and the contestants answer that question. On Jeopardy, however, the host poses "answers", and the contestants provide their response in the form of a "questions" that best fit the category and answer clues. For example, if the categories were "Large Corporations" and the answer was "Sam Palmisano", the contestant would answer "Who is the CEO of IBM Corporation?" Both the categories, and the answers are filled with puns, slang and humor to make it more challenging. Often, the answer itself is not sufficient clue, you have to factor in the category as well to have a complete set of information.
The game is played in three rounds:
In the first round, there are six categories, and the rows are worth $200, $400, $600, $800 and $1000 dollars. If you respond correctly on all five answers in a category column, you would win $3000. If you respond to all thirty answers correctly, you would earn $18,000.
In the second round, there are six different categories, and the rows are worth twice as much.
The final round has a single category and a single question. Each player can decide to wager up to the full amount of their score in this game. This wager is done after they see the category, but before they see the answer.
After the host finishes reading the answer aloud, the buzzers are lighted so that the contestants can buzz in. If a contestant gets the question correctly, he earns the corresponding money for the row it was in. If the contestant guesses incorrectly, the money is subtracted from his score. If the first contestant fails, the buzzers are re-lit so the other two contestants can then buzz in with their answers, learning from previous failed attempts.
To provide added challenge, some of the answers are surprise "Daily Double". Instead of the dollar amount for the row, the contestant can wager any amount, up to their total score they have won so far in that game, or the largest dollar amount for that round, whichever is higher, based on his confidence in that category. There is one "Daily Double" surprise in the first round, and two in the second round.
In the final round, each contestant wagers an amount up to their total score, based on their confidence on the final category. A common strategy for the leading contestant with the highest score is to wager a low amount, so that if he fails to guess the response correctly, he will still have a large dollar amount. For example, if the leader has $2000 and the second place is $900, the leader can wager only $100 dollars, and the second place might wager his full $900. If the leader loses the round, he still has $1900, beating the second place regardless of how well he does.
Whomever has the most money at the end of all three rounds wins that amount of cash, and gets to return to the show for another game the next day to continue his winning streak. The other two contestants are given consolation prizes and a nominal appearance fee for being on the show, and are never seen from again.
The show is only 30 minutes long, so the folks at Sony Pictures who produce the show can film a full weeks' worth of television shows in just two days of real-life, Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing the host Alex Trebek and his "Clue Crew" time to research new categories and answers.
So, here is your homework assignment. Record a full episode of Jeopardy on your VCR or Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and have your thumb ready to press the pause button. For each round, listen to each category, pause, and try to guess what all the answers in that column will have in common. For each category, write down a statement like "All the responses in this category are ...".
The answers could be people, places or things. Suppose the category "Chicks Dig Me". In English, "chicks" can be slang for women, or refer to young chickens. The term "dig" can be slang for admires or adores, so this could be "Male Celebrities" that women find attractive, it could be objects of desire that women fancy (diamonds, puppies, etc.), or it could be places that women like to go to. As it turns out, the "dig" referred to archaeology, and the responses were all famous female archaeologists.
Once you have those all your statements written down, press play button again.
Next, as each answer is shown, you have three seconds to hit the pause again, so that you have the question on the screen, but before any contestants have responded. Go on your favorite search engine like Google or Bing and try to determine the correct response based on the category and answer. Consider these [tips for being an Internet Search ninja]. Once you think you have figured out your response, write it down, and the dollar amount you wager, or decide you will not respond for that answer, if you are not sure about your findings.
Even if you think you already know the correct response, you may decide to gain more confidence of your response by finding confirming or supporting evidence on the Internet.
Press play. Either one of the contestants will get it right, or the host will provide the question that was expected as the correct response.
How well did you do? Were you able to find on the the correct response online, or at least confirm that what you knew was correct. If you got it correct, add in your dollar amount to your score. If you got it wrong, subtract the amount.
At the end of each round, look back at your statements for each category. Did you guess correctly the common theme for each category column of answers? Did you misinterpret the slang, pun or humor intended?
At the end of the game, you might have done better than the contestant that won the game. However, check how much added time you took to do those Internet searches. The average winner only questions half of the answers and only gets 80 percent of them correctly.
If you are really brave, take the [Jeopardy Online Test]. If you do this homework assignment, feel free to post your insights in the comments below.
Tonight PBS plans to air Season 38, Episode 6 of NOVA, titled [Smartest Machine On Earth]. Here is an excerpt from the station listing:
"What's so special about human intelligence and will scientists ever build a computer that rivals the flexibility and power of a human brain? In "Artificial Intelligence," NOVA takes viewers inside an IBM lab where a crack team has been working for nearly three years to perfect a machine that can answer any question. The scientists hope their machine will be able to beat expert contestants in one of the USA's most challenging TV quiz shows -- Jeopardy, which has entertained viewers for over four decades. "Artificial Intelligence" presents the exclusive inside story of how the IBM team developed the world's smartest computer from scratch. Now they're racing to finish it for a special Jeopardy airdate in February 2011. They've built an exact replica of the studio at its research lab near New York and invited past champions to compete against the machine, a big black box code -- named Watson after IBM's founder, Thomas J. Watson. But will Watson be able to beat out its human competition?"
Like most supercomputers, Watson runs the Linux operating system. The system runs 2,880 cores (90 IBM Power 750 servers, four sockets each, eight cores per socket) to achieve 80 [TeraFlops]. TeraFlops is the unit of measure for supercomputers, representing a trillion floating point operations. By comparison, Hans Morvec, principal research scientist at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) estimates that the [human brain is about 100 TeraFlops]. So, in the three seconds that Watson gets to calculate its response, it would have processed 240 trillion operations.
Several readers of my blog have asked for details on the storage aspects of Watson. Basically, it is a modified version of IBM Scale-Out NAS [SONAS] that IBM offers commercially, but running Linux on POWER instead of Linux-x86. System p expansion drawers of SAS 15K RPM 450GB drives, 12 drives each, are dual-connected to two storage nodes, for a total of 21.6TB of raw disk capacity. The storage nodes use IBM's General Parallel File System (GPFS) to provide clustered NFS access to the rest of the system. Each Power 750 has minimal internal storage mostly to hold the Linux operating system and programs.
When Watson is booted up, the 15TB of total RAM are loaded up, and thereafter the DeepQA processing is all done from memory. According to IBM Research, "The actual size of the data (analyzed and indexed text, knowledge bases, etc.) used for candidate answer generation and evidence evaluation is under 1TB." For performance reasons, various subsets of the data are replicated in RAM on different functional groups of cluster nodes. The entire system is self-contained, Watson is NOT going to the internet searching for answers.
As time progresses, things change, sometimes for the better in the right direction, sometimes a step backwards, and sometimes just different enough to be annoying. I wrote my blog post about [A Box Full of Floppies] a week ago, and posted in Monday. Let's take a look at how time and change impacted that one post.
The weather has warmed up here in Tucson so I started my Spring Cleaning early this year...
If there is ever a good time to brag about how beautiful the weather here in Tucson, it would be when everyone else in the country is digging themselves out of piles of snow. When my friends on Twitter were complaining how cold it was in Scottland, Ireland, Canada, or the East Coast of the United States, I would remind them that I am wearing a tee-shirt and shorts. I played golf for a week last December!
Sadly, a few days after my post, Tucson had the coldest days of February, breaking records set back in the year 1899. Water pipes were frozen, outdoor plants have suffered, and over 14,000 homes and businesses were shut off from natural gas. The 1,400-plus employees at the IBM Tucson facility have been asked to telecommute until restroom facilities can be restored to working order.
While we should all pay more attention to [climate change], this latest chill is probably just a seasonal flucation thanks to [La Niña] that happens every 10-15 years.
Here is a YouTube video of an astronaut ejecting a floppy disk...
Back in 2009, YouTube decided to [stop supporting Internet Explorer 6 (IE6)] to view its videos. However, that is what most IBMers were on, and this posted a problem when I embedded a video on my blog. To get around that, my friends at Microsoft provided special "conditional HTML tags" that allows me to suppress YouTube videos when viewed from Internet Explorer. The video shows up for those using Chrome, Opera, Firefox or other browsers, but is suppressed for IE users, and that allowed IBM employees to at least read the text.
Fortunately, last July, IBM decided to switch from IE6 over to Mozilla Firefox as the standard browser, so I thought this would no longer be an issue.
Unfortunately, my friends at YouTube have done it again. They changed the generated embed code from using "object" tags to "iframe" which messes up blogs written in various blogging systems, including Lotus Connections that I have here on DeveloperWorks, as well as WordPress. The new method is intended to either promote the new HTML5 standard, or to piss off [iPhone users]. In any case, several readers found they could not read my entire post about floppies because the "iframe" prevented the rest of the post to be shown. I have since reverted back to the old "object" tags and re-posted for everyone's benefit.
I may have to stand up an OS/2 machine just to check out what is actually on those floppies...
For any data that you keep for long term retention, it is important that you be able to access the data in a meaningful way when you need it. IBM has identified five ways that this can be done:
Museum approach -- keep old servers, storage and applications around. In my case, I have computers that can handle 3.5-inch floppy diskettes, but no hardware to read my Zip cartridges or 5.25-inch floppies.
Emulation approach -- emulating old systems with new systems. I remember the first CD players had "tape cassette" attachements so they can be used in car stereos.
Migration approach -- migrating data and applications to new technology. This is what most businesses do. For example, if you keep archives through IBM Tivoli Storage Manager or DFSMShsm, the software will migrate data from old tapes to new tapes as part of its tape reclamation process.
Descriptive approach -- including sufficiently descriptive metadata, such as with HTML or XML tags, that would enable future rendering.
Ecapsulation approach -- encapsulate the data, metadata and related application logic for future processing. While the "descriptive" approach might help display the contents of proprietary formats, the encapsulation approach would include application logic, perhaps written in Java, that could be used to actually operate built-in macros, pivot tables, or other active features of a document or database.
IBM Research is working closely with industry standards groups, like the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards [OASIS], to help promote the use of open standards for long-term retention.
For my readers who follow American Football, enjoy the [SuperBowl]!
The weather has warmed up here in Tucson so I started my Spring Cleaning early this year and unearthed from my garage a [Bankers Box] full of floppy diskettes.
IBM invented the floppy disk back in 1971, and continued to make improvements and enhancements through the 1980s and 1990s. It will be one of the many inventions celebrated as part of IBM's Centennial (100-year) anniversary. Here is an example [T-shirt]
IBM needed a way to send out small updates and patches for microcode of devices out in client locations. IBM had drives that could write information, and sent out "read-only" drives to the customer locations to receive these updates. These were flexible plastic circles with a magnetic coating, and placed inside a square paper sleeve. Imagine a floppy disk the size of a piece of standard paper. The 8-inch floppy fit conveniently in a manila envelope, sendable by standard mail, and could hold nearly 80KB of data.
I've been using floppies for the past thirty years. Here's some of my fondest memories:
While still in high school, my friend Franz Kurath and I formed "Pearson Kurath Systems", a software development firm. We wrote computer programs to run on UNIX and Personal Computers for small businesses here in Tucson. Whenever we developed a clever piece of code, a subroutine or procedure, we would save it on a floppy disk and re-use it for our next project. We wrote in the BASIC language, and our databases were simple Comma-Separated-Variable (CSV) flat files.
The 5.25-inch floppies we used could hold 360KB, and were flexible like the 8-inch models. Later versions of these 5.25-inch floppies would be able to hold as much as 1.2MB of data. We would convert single-sided floppies into double-sided ones by cutting out a notch in the outer sleeve. Covering up the notches would mark them as read-only.
The 3.5-inch floppies were introduced with a hard plastic shell, with the selling point that you can slap on a mailing label and postage and send it "as is" without the need for a separate envelope. These new 3.5-inch floppies would carry "HD" for high density 720KB, and double-sided versions could hold 1.44MB of data. The term "diskette" was used to associate these new floppies with [hard-shelled tape cassettes]. Sliding a plastic tab would allow floppies to be marked "read-only". IBM has the patent on this clever invention.
Continuing our computer programming business in college, Franz and I took out a bank loan to buy our first Personal Computer, for over $5000 dollars USD. Until then, we had to use equipment belonging to each client. The banks we went to didn't understand why we needed a computer, and suggested we just track our expenses on traditional green-and-white ledger paper. Back then, peronsal computers were for balancing your checkbook, playing games and organizing your collection of cooking recipies. But for us, it was a production machine. A computer with both 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch drives could copy files from one format to another as needed. The boost in productivity paid for itself within months.
Apple launched its Macintosh computer in 1984, with a built-in 3.5-inch disk drive as standard equipment. Here is a YouTube video of an [astronaut ejecting a floppy disk] from an Apple computer in space.
In my senior year at the University of Arizona, my roommate Dave had borrowed my backpack to hold his lunch for a bike ride. He thought he had taken everything out, but forgot to remove my 3.5-inch floppy diskette containing files for my senior project. By the time he got back, the diskette was covered in banana pulp. I was able to rescue my data by cracking open the plastic outer shell, cleaning the flexible magnetic media in soapy water, placing it back into the plastic shell of a second diskette, and then copied the data off to a third diskette.
After graduating from college, Franz and I went our separate ways. I went to work for IBM, and Franz went to work for [Chiat/Day], the advertising agency famous for the 1984 Macintosh commercial. We still keep in touch through Facebook.
At IBM, I was given a 3270 terminal to do my job, and would not be assigned a personal computer until years later. Once I had a personal computer at home and at work, the floppy diskette became my "briefcase". I could download a file or document at work, take it home, work on it til the wee hours of the morning, and then come back the next morning with the updated effort.
To help prepare me for client visits and public speaking at conferences, IBM loaned me out to local schools to teach. This included teaching Computer Science 101 at Pima Community College. When asked by a student whether to use "disc" or "disk", I wrote a big letter "C" on the left side of the chalkboard, and a big letter "K" on the right side. If it is round, I told the students while pointing at the letter "C", like a CD-ROM or DVD, use "disc". If it has corners, pointing to corners of the letter "K", like a floppy diskette or hard disk drive, use "disk".
On one of my business trips to visit a client, we discovered the client had experienced a problem that we had just recently fixed. Normally, this would have meant cutting a Program Trouble Fix (PTF) to a 3480 tape cartridge at an IBM facility, and send it to the client by mail. Unwilling to wait, I offered to download the PTF onto a floppy diskette on my laptop, upload it from a PC connected to their systems, and apply it there. This involved a bit of REXX programming to deal with the differences between ASCII and EBCDIC character sets, but it worked, and a few hours later they were able to confirm the fix worked.
In 1998, Apple would signal the begining of the end of the floppy disk era, announcing their latest "iMac" would not come with an internal built-in floppy drive. David Adams has a great article on this titled [The iMac and the Floppy Drive: A Conspiracy Theory]. You can get external floppy drives that connect via USB, so not having an internal drive is no longer a big deal.
While teaching a Top Gun class to a mix of software and hardware sales reps, one of the students asked what a "U" was. He had noticed "2U" and "3U" next to various products and wondered what that was referring to. The "U" represents the [standard unit of measure for height of IT equipment in standard racks]. To help them visualize, I explained that a 5.25-inch floppy disk was "3U" in size, and a 3.5-inch floppy diskette was "2U". Thus, a "U" is 1.75 inches, the thinnest dimension on a two-by-four piece of lumber. Servers that were only 1U tall would be referred to as "pizza boxes" for having similar dimensions.
Every year, right around November or so, my friends and family bring me their old computers for me to wipe clean. Either I would re-load them with the latest Ubuntu Linux so that their kids could use it for homework, or I would donate it to charity. Last November, I got a computer that could not boot from a CD-ROM, forcing me to build a bootable floppy. This gave me a chance to check out the various 1-disk and 2-disk versions of Linux and other rescue disks. I also have a 3-disk set of floppies for booting OS/2 in command line mode.
So while this unexpected box of nostalgia derailed my efforts to clean out my garage this weekend, it did inspire me to try to get some of the old files off them and onto my PC hard drive. I have already retrieved some low-res photographs, some emails I sent out, and trip reports I wrote. While floppy diskettes were notorious for being unreliable, and this box of floppies has been in the heat and cold for many Arizonan summers and winters, I am amazed that I was able to read the data off most of them so far, all the way back to data written in 1989. While the data is readable, in most cases I can't render it into useful information. This brings up a few valuable lessons:
Backups are not Archives
Some of the files are in proprietary formats, such as my backups for TurboTax software. I would need a PC running a correct level of Windows operating system, and that particular software, just to restore the data. TurboTax shipped new software every year, and I don't know how forward or backward-compatible each new release was.
Another set of floppies are labeled as being in "FDBACK" format. I have no idea what these are. Each floppy has just two files, "backup.001" and "control.001", for example.
Backups are intended solely to protect against unexpected loss from broken hardware or corrupted data. If you plan to keep data as archives for long-term retention, use archive formats that will last a long time, so that you can make sense of them later.
Operating System Compatibility
Windows 7 and all of my favorite flavors of Linux are able to recognize the standard "FAT" file system that nearly all of my floppies are written in. Sadly, I have some files that were compressed under OS/2 operating system using software called "Stacker". I may have to stand up an OS/2 machine just to check out what is actually on those floppies.
You can't judge a book by its cover
Floppies were a convenient form of data interchange. Sometimes, I reused commercially-labeled floppies to hold personal files. So, just because a floppy says "America On-Line (AOL) version 2.5 Installation", I can't just toss it away. It might actually contain something else entirely. This means I need to mount each floppy to check on its actual contents.
So what will I do with the floppies I can't read, can't write, and can't format? I think I will convert them into a [retro set of coasters], to protect my new living room furniture from hot and cold beverages.
In keeping with the spirit to be a more kinder, gentler 2011, I decided last week to refrain from being the rain on someone else's parade that occurs immediately before, during or after a competitor's announcement or annual conference, and let EMC have their few moments in the spotlight last week. This of course allows me more time to learn about the announcements and reflect on marketplace reactions. Here's a quick look at the [EMC Press Release]:
A new VNXe disk system
Of the 41 new storage technologies and products EMC announced last week, the VNXe is EMC's "me-too" product to compete against other low-end disk systems like the IBM System Storage DS3524 and N3000 series. It looks truly new, developed organically from the ground up, with a new architecture, new OS. It comes in either the 2U-high VNXe3100 or the 3U-high VNXe3300. These employ 3.5-inch SAS drives to provide Ethernet-based NFS, CIFS and iSCSI host attachment. The $10K USD price tag appears to be for the hardware only. As is typical for EMC, they charge software features in bundles or "suites", so the actual TCO will be much higher. I have not seen any announcements whether Dell plans to resell either the VNXe nor the VNX models, now that they have acquired Compellent.
A new VNX disk system
Despite having a similar name as the VNXe, the VNX appears to be a re-hash of the Celerra/CLARiiON mess that EMC has been selling already, based on the old FLARE and DART operating systems of these older disk systems. This scales from 75 to 1000 SAS drives. While EMC calls the VNX "unified", it currently is only available in block-only and file-only models, with a future promise from EMC that they will offer a combined block-and-file version sometime in the future. EMC claims that the VNX will be faster than the predecessors, so hopefully that means EMC has joined the rest of the planet and will publish SPC-1 and SPC-2 benchmarks to back up that claim. They can compare against the SPC-1 benchmarks that our friends at NetApp ran against EMC CLARiiON.
New software for the VMAX
A long time ago, EMC announced they would provide non-disruptive automated tiering. Their first delivery "FAST V1" handled entire LUNs at a time. EMC now has finally "FAST VP" which we expected was going to be called "FAST V2", which provides sub-LUN automated tiering between Solid-state and spinning disk drives.. Meanwhile, IBM has been delivering "Easy Tier" on the IBM System Storage DS8000 series, SAN Volume Controller, and Storwize V7000 disk systems.
Data Domain Archiver
Competing against IBM, HP and Oracle in the tape arena, EMC's latest addition to the Data Domain family is designed for the long-term retention of backups? Archives of backups? Backups are short-lived, protecting against the unexpected loss from hardware failure or data corruption. Keeping backups as "archives" is generally a bad mistake, as it makes it hard to e-Discover the data you need when you need it, and may not have the appropriate hardware tor restore these old backups when you do find them.
I will have to dig deeper into all of these different technologies in separate posts in the future.
If we have learned anything from last decade's Y2K crisis, is that we should not wait for the last minute to take action. Now is the time to start thinking about weaning ourselves off Windows XP. IBM has 400,000 employees, so this is not a trivial matter.
Already, IBM has taken some bold steps:
Last July, IBM announced that it was switching from Internet Explorer (IE6) to [Mozilla Firefox as its standard browser]. IBM has been contributing to this open source project for years, including support for open standards, and to make it [more accessible to handicapped employees with visual and motor impairments]. I use Firefox already on Windows, Mac and Linux, so there was no learning curve for me. Before this announcement, if some web-based application did not work on Firefox, our Helpdesk told us to switch back to Internet Explorer. Those days are over. Now, if a web-based application doesn't work on Firefox, we either stop using it, or it gets fixed.
IBM also announced the latest [IBM Lotus Symphony 3] software, which replaces Microsoft Office for Powerpoint, Excel and Word applications. Symphony also works across Mac, Windows and Linux. It is based on the OpenOffice open source project, and handles open-standard document formats (ODF). Support for Microsoft Office 2003 will also run out in the year 2014, so moving off proprietary formats to open standards makes sense.
I am not going to wait for IBM to decide how to proceed next, so I am starting my own migrations. In my case, I need to do it twice, on my IBM-provided laptop as well as my personal PC at home.
Last summer, IBM sent me a new laptop, we get a new one every 3-4 years. It was pre-installed with Windows XP, but powerful enough to run a 64-bit operating system in the future. Here are my series of blog posts on that:
I decided to try out Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1 with its KVM-based Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization to run Windows XP as a guest OS. I will try to run as much as I can on native Linux, but will have Windows XP guest as a next option, and if that still doesn't work, reboot the system in native Windows XP mode.
So far, I am pleased that I can do nearly everything my job requires natively in Red Hat Linux, including accessing my Lotus Notes for email and databases, edit and present documents with Lotus Symphony, and so on. I have made RHEL 6.1 my default when I boot up. Setting up Windows XP under KVM was relatively simple, involving an 8-line shell script and 54-line XML file. Here is what I have encountered:
We use a wonderful tool called "iSpring Pro" which merges Powerpoint slides with voice recordings for each page into a Shockwave Flash video. I have not yet found a Linux equivalent for this yet.
To avoid having to duplicate files between systems, I use instead symbolic links. For example, my Lotus Notes local email repository sits on D: drive, but I can access it directly with a link from /home/tpearson/notes/data.
While my native Ubuntu and RHEL Linux can access my C:, D: and E: drives in native NTFS file system format, the irony is that my Windows XP guest OS under KVM cannot. This means moving something from NTFS over to Ext4, just so that I can access it from the Windows XP guest application.
For whatever reason, "Password Safe" did not run on the Windows XP guest. I launch it, but it takes forever to load and never brings up the GUI. Fortunately, there is a Linux version [MyPasswordSafe] that seems to work just fine to keep track of all my passwords.
Personal home PC
My Windows XP system at home gave up the ghost last month, so I bought a new system with Windows 7 Professional, quad-core Intel processor and 6GB of memory. There are [various editions of Windows 7], but I chose Windows 7 Professional to support running Windows XP as a guest image.
Here's is how I have configured my personal computer:
I actually found it more time-consuming to implement the "Virtual PC" feature of Windows 7 to get Windows XP mode working than KVM on Red Hat Linux. I am amazed how many of my Windows XP programs DO NOT RUN AT ALL natively on Windows 7. I now have native 64-bit versions of Lotus Notes and Symphony 3, which will do well enough for me for now.
I went ahead and put Red Hat Linux on my home system as well, but since I have Windows XP running as a guest under Windows 7, no need to duplicate KVM setup there. At least if I have problems with Windows 7, I can reboot in RHEL6 Linux at home and use that for Linux-native applications.
Hopefully, this will position me well in case IBM decides to either go with Windows 7 or Linux as the replacement OS for Windows XP.
Actually, if the title confuses you, it is because it has a double meaning.
Meaning 1: IBM earned almost 100 Billion dollars (USD)
IBM's 2010 [earnings report is now available], for the full year 2010 and the fourth quarter. IBM had $99.9 Billion dollars (USD) in revenue, almost $100 Billion dollars that it had set out as a vision in the 1980s. IBM Storage contributed with 8 percent growth, not bad for a year Dave Barry considers [one of the worst years ever.].
IBM President and CEO Sam Palmisano granted me a chunk of IBM stock in appreciation of my efforts towards the 2010 success! Actually, he gave stock to a whole bunch of IBMers, not just me, and they all deserve it also. Woo hoo!
Meaning 2: IBM is almost 100 years old
That's right, this upcoming June 16, 2011, IBM turns 100 years old. This Centennial date also happens to be my 25th year anniversary working in IBM Storage, which IBM calls joining the Quarter Century Club, or QCC for short. So, I am looking forward to plenty of cake and fireworks on that day!
I am looking forward to a year-long celebration on both counts!