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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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For the longest time, people thought that humans could not run a mile in less than four minutes. Then, in 1954, [Sir Roger Bannister] beat that perception, and shortly thereafter, once he showed it was possible, many other runners were able to achieve this also. The same is being said now about the IBM Watson computer which appeared this week against two human contestants on Jeopardy!
(2014 Update: A lot has happened since I originally wrote this blog post! I intended this as a fun project for college students to work on during their summer break. However, IBM is concerned that some businesses might be led to believe they could simply stand up their own systems based entirely on open source and internally developed code for business use. IBM recommends instead the [IBM InfoSphere BigInsights] which packages much of the software described below. IBM has also launched a new "Watson Group" that has [Watson-as-a-Service] capabilities in the Cloud. To raise awareness to these developments, IBM has asked me to rename this post from IBM Watson - How to build your own "Watson Jr." in your basement to the new title IBM Watson -- How to replicate Watson hardware and systems design for your own use in your basement. I also took this opportunity to improve the formatting layout.)
Often, when a company demonstrates new techology, these are prototypes not yet ready for commercial deployment until several years later. IBM Watson, however, was made mostly from commercially available hardware, software and information resources. As several have noted, the 1TB of data used to search for answers could fit on a single USB drive that you buy at your local computer store.
Take a look at the [IBM Research Team] to determine how the project was organized. Let's decide what we need, and what we don't in our version for personal use:
Do we need it for personal use?
Yes, That's you. Assuming this is a one-person project, you will act as Team Lead.
Yes, I hope you know computer programming!
No, since this version for personal use won't be appearing on Jeopardy, we won't need strategy on wager amounts for the Daily Double, or what clues to pick next. Let's focus merely on a computer that can accept a question in text, and provide an answer back, in text.
Yes, this team focused on how to wire all the hardware together. We need to do that, although this version for personal use will have fewer components.
Optional. For now, let's have this version for personal use just return its answer in plain text. Consider this Extra Credit after you get the rest of the system working. Consider using [eSpeak], [FreeTTS], or the Modular Architecture for Research on speech sYnthesis [MARY] Text-to-Speech synthesizers.
Yes, I will explain what this is, and why you need it.
Yes, we will need to get information for personal use to process
Yes, this team developed a system for parsing the question being asked, and to attach meaning to the different words involved.
No, this team focused on making IBM Watson optimized to answer in 3 seconds or less. We can accept a slower response, so we can skip this.
(Disclaimer: As with any Do-It-Yourself (DIY) project, I am not responsible if you are not happy with your version for personal use I am basing the approach on what I read from publicly available sources, and my work in Linux, supercomputers, XIV, and SONAS. For our purposes, this version for personal use is based entirely on commodity hardware, open source software, and publicly available sources of information. Your implementation will certainly not be as fast or as clever as the IBM Watson you saw on television.)
Step 1: Buy the Hardware
Supercomputers are built as a cluster of identical compute servers lashed together by a network. You will be installing Linux on them, so if you can avoid paying extra for Microsoft Windows, that would save you some money. Here is your shopping list:
Three x86 hosts, with the following:
64-bit quad-core processor, either Intel-VT or AMD-V capable,
8GB of DRAM, or larger
300GB of hard disk, or larger
CD or DVD Read/Write drive
Computer Monitor, mouse and keyboard
Ethernet 1GbE 4-port hub, and appropriate RJ45 cables
Surge protector and Power strip
Local Console Monitor (LCM) 4-port switch (formerly known as a KVM switch) and appropriate cables. This is optional, but will make it easier during the development. Once your implementation is operational, you will only need the monitor and keyboard attached to one machine. The other two machines can remain "headless" servers.
Step 2: Establish Networking
IBM Watson used Juniper switches running at 10Gbps Ethernet (10GbE) speeds, but was not connected to the Internet while playing Jeopardy! Instead, these Ethernet links were for the POWER7 servers to talk to each other, and to access files over the Network File System (NFS) protocol to the internal customized SONAS storage I/O nodes.
The implementation will be able to run "disconnected from the Internet" as well. However, you will need Internet access to download the code and information sources. For our purposes, 1GbE should be sufficient. Connect your Ethernet hub to your DSL or Cable modem. Connect all three hosts to the Ethernet switch. Connect your keyboard, video monitor and mouse to the LCM, and connect the LCM to the three hosts.
Step 3: Install Linux and Middleware
To say I use Linux on a daily basis is an understatement. Linux runs on my Android-based cell phone, my laptop at work, my personal computers at home, most of our IBM storage devices from SAN Volume Controller to XIV to SONAS, and even on my Tivo at home which recorded my televised episodes of Jeopardy!
For this project, you can use any modern Linux distribution that supports KVM. IBM Watson used Novel SUSE Linux Enterprise Server [SLES 11]. Alternatively, I can also recommend either Red Hat Enterprise Linux [RHEL 6] or Canonical [Ubuntu v10]. Each distribution of Linux comes in different orientations. Download the the 64-bit "ISO" files for each version, and burn them to CDs.
Graphical User Interface (GUI) oriented, often referred to as "Desktop" or "HPC-Head"
Command Line Interface (CLI) oriented, often referred to as "Server" or "HPC-Compute"
Guest OS oriented, to run in a Hypervisor such as KVM, Xen, or VMware. Novell calls theirs "Just Enough Operating System" [JeOS].
For this version for personal use, I have chosen a [multitier architecture], sometimes referred to as an "n-tier" or "client/server" architecture.
Host 1 - Presentation Server
For the Human-Computer Interface [HCI], the IBM Watson received categories and clues as text files via TCP/IP, had a [beautiful avatar] representing a planet with 42 circles streaking across in orbit, and text-to-speech synthesizer to respond in a computerized voice. Your implementation will not be this sophisticated. Instead, we will have a simple text-based Query Panel web interface accessible from a browser like Mozilla Firefox.
Host 1 will be your Presentation Server, the connection to your keyboard, video monitor and mouse. Install the "Desktop" or "HPC Head Node" version of Linux. Install [Apache Web Server and Tomcat] to run the Query Panel. Host 1 will also be your "programming" host. Install the [Java SDK] and the [Eclipse IDE for Java Developers]. If you always wanted to learn Java, now is your chance. There are plenty of books on Java if that is not the language you normally write code.
While three little systems doesn't constitute an "Extreme Cloud" environment, you might like to try out the "Extreme Cloud Administration Tool", called [xCat], which was used to manage the many servers in IBM Watson.
Host 2 - Business Logic Server
Host 2 will be driving most of the "thinking". Install the "Server" or "HPC Compute Node" version of Linux. This will be running a server virtualization Hypervisor. I recommend KVM, but you can probably run Xen or VMware instead if you like.
Host 3 - File and Database Server
Host 3 will hold your information sources, indices, and databases. Install the "Server" or "HPC Compute Node" version of Linux. This will be your NFS server, which might come up as a question during the installation process.
Technically, you could run different Linux distributions on different machines. For example, you could run "Ubuntu Desktop" for host 1, "RHEL 6 Server" for host 2, and "SLES 11" for host 3. In general, Red Hat tries to be the best "Server" platform, and Novell tries to make SLES be the best "Guest OS".
My advice is to pick a single distribution and use it for everything, Desktop, Server, and Guest OS. If you are new to Linux, choose Ubuntu. There are plenty of books on Linux in general, and Ubuntu in particular, and Ubuntu has a helpful community of volunteers to answer your questions.
Step 4: Download Information Sources
You will need some documents for your implementation to process.
IBM Watson used a modified SONAS to provide a highly-available clustered NFS server. For this version, we won't need that level of sophistication. Configure Host 3 as the NFS server, and Hosts 1 and 2 as NFS clients. See the [Linux-NFS-HOWTO] for details. To optimize performance, host 3 will be the "official master copy", but we will use a Linux utility called rsync to copy the information sources over to the hosts 1 and 2. This allows the task engines on those hosts to access local disk resources during question-answer processing.
We will also need a relational database. You won't need a high-powered IBM DB2. Your implementation can do fine with something like [Apache Derby] which is the open source version of IBM CloudScape from its Informix acquisition. Set up Host 3 as the Derby Network Server, and Hosts 1 and 2 as Derby Network Clients. For more about structured content in relational databases, see my post [IBM Watson - Business Intelligence, Data Retrieval and Text Mining].
Linux includes a utility called wget which allows you to download content from the Internet to your system. What documents you decide to download is up to you, based on what types of questions you want answered. For example, if you like Literature, check out the vast resources at [FullBooks.com]. You can automate the download by writing a shell script or program to invoke wget to all the places you want to fetch data from. Rename the downloaded files to something unique, as often they are just "index.html". For more on wget utility, see [IBM Developerworks].
Step 5: The Query Panel - Parsing the Question
Next, we need to parse the question and have some sense of what is being asked for. For this we will use [OpenNLP] for Natural Language Processing, and [OpenCyc] for the conceptual logic reasoning. See Doug Lenat presenting this 75-minute video [Computers versus Common Sense]. To learn more, see the [CYC 101 Tutorial].
Unlike Jeopardy! where Alex Trebek provides the answer and contestants must respond with the correct question, we will do normal Question-and-Answer processing. To keep things simple, we will limit questions to the following formats:
Who is ...?
Where is ...?
When did ... happen?
What is ...?
Host 1 will have a simple Query Panel web interface. At the top, a place to enter your question, and a "submit" button, and a place at the bottom for the answer to be shown. When "submit" is pressed, this will pass the question to "main.jsp", the Java servlet program that will start the Question-answering analysis. Limiting the types of questions that can be posed will simplify hypothesis generation, reduce the candidate set and evidence evaluation, allowing the analytics processing to continue in reasonable time.
Step 6: Unstructured Information Management Architecture
The "heart and soul" of IBM Watson is Unstructured Information Management Architecture [UIMA]. IBM developed this, then made it available to the world as open source. It is maintained by the [Apache Software Foundation], and overseen by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards [OASIS].
Basically, UIMA lets you scan unstructured documents, gleam the important points, and put that into a database for later retrieval. In the graph above, DBs means 'databases' and KBs means 'knowledge bases'. See the 4-minute YouTube video of [IBM Content Analytics], the commercial version of UIMA.
Starting from the left, the Collection Reader selects each document to process, and creates an empty Common Analysis Structure (CAS) which serves as a standardized container for information. This CAS is passed to Analysis Engines , composed of one or more Annotators which analyze the text and fill the CAS with the information found. The CAS are passed to CAS Consumers which do something with the information found, such as enter an entry into a database, update an index, or update a vote count.
(Note: This point requires, what we in the industry call a small matter of programming, or [SMOP]. If you've always wanted to learn Java programming, XML, and JDBC, you will get to do plenty here. )
If you are not familiar with UIMA, consider this [UIMA Tutorial].
Step 7: Parallel Processing
People have asked me why IBM Watson is so big. Did we really need 2,880 cores of processing power? As a supercomputer, the 80 TeraFLOPs of IBM Watson would place it only in 94th place on the [Top 500 Supercomputers]. While IBM Watson may be the [Smartest Machine on Earth], the most powerful supercomputer at this time is the Tianhe-1A with more than 186,000 cores, capable of 2,566 TeraFLOPs.
To determine how big IBM Watson needed to be, the IBM Research team ran the DeepQA algorithm on a single core. It took 2 hours to answer a single Jeopardy question! Let's look at the performance data:
Number of cores
Time to answer one Jeopardy question
Single IBM Power750 server
< 4 minutes
Single rack (10 servers)
< 30 seconds
IBM Watson (90 servers)
< 3 seconds
The old adage applies, [many hands make for light work]. The idea is to divide-and-conquer. For example, if you wanted to find a particular street address in the Manhattan phone book, you could dispatch fifty pages to each friend and they could all scan those pages at the same time. This is known as "Parallel Processing" and is how supercomputers are able to work so well. However, not all algorithms lend well to parallel processing, and the phrase [nine women can't have a baby in one month] is often used to remind us of this.
Fortuantely, UIMA is designed for parallel processing. You need to install UIMA-AS for Asynchronous Scale-out processing, an add-on to the base UIMA Java framework, supporting a very flexible scale-out capability based on JMS (Java Messaging Services) and ActiveMQ. We will also need Apache Hadoop, an open source implementation used by Yahoo Search engine. Hadoop has a "MapReduce" engine that allows you to divide the work, dispatch pieces to different "task engines", and the combine the results afterwards.
Host 2 will run Hadoop and drive the MapReduce process. Plan to have three KVM guests on Host 1, four on Host 2, and three on Host 3. That means you have 10 task engines to work with. These task engines can be deployed for Content Readers, Analysis Engines, and CAS Consumers. When all processing is done, the resulting votes will be tabulated and the top answer displayed on the Query Panel on Host 1.
Step 8: Testing
To simplify testing, use a batch processing approach. Rather than entering questions by hand in the Query Panel, generate a long list of questions in a file, and submit for processing. This will allow you to fine-tune the environment, optimize for performance, and validate the answers returned.
There you have it. By the time you get your implementation fully operational, you will have learned a lot of useful skills, including Linux administration, Ethernet networking, NFS file system configuration, Java programming, UIMA text mining analysis, and MapReduce parallel processing. Hopefully, you will also gain an appreciation for how difficult it was for the IBM Research team to accomplish what they had for the Grand Challenge on Jeopardy! Not surprisingly, IBM Watson is making IBM [as sexy to work for as Apple, Google or Facebook], all of which started their business in a garage or a basement with a system as small as this version for personal use.
Continuing my rant from Monday's post [Time for a New Laptop], I got my new laptop Wednesday afternoon. I was hoping the transition would be quick, but that was not the case. Here were my initial steps prior to connecting my two laptops together for the big file transfer:
Document what my old workstation has
Back in 2007, I wrote a blog post on how to [Separate Programs from Data]. I have since added a Linux partition for dual-boot on my ThinkPad T60.
Windows XP SP3 operating system and programs
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4
My Documents and other data
I also created a spreadsheet of all my tools, utilities and applications. I combined and deduplicated the list from the following sources:
Control Panel -> Add/Remove programs
Start -> Programs panels
Program taskbar at bottom of screen
The last one was critical. Over the years, I have gotten in the habit of saving those ZIP or EXE files that self-install programs into a separate directory, D:/Install-Files, so that if I had to unintsall an application, due to conflicts or compatability issues, I could re-install it without having to download them again.
So, I have a total of 134 applications, which I have put into the following rough categories:
AV - editing and manipulating audio, video or graphics
Files - backup, copy or manipulate disks, files and file systems
Browser - Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome
Communications - Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime
Connect - programs to connect to different Web and Wi-Fi services
Demo - programs I demonstrate to clients at briefings
Drivers - attach or sync to external devices, cell phones, PDAs
Games - not much here, the basic solitaire, mindsweeper and pinball
Help Desk - programs to diagnose, test and gather system information
Projects - special projects like Second Life or Lego Mindstorms
Lookup - programs to lookup information, like American Airlines TravelDesk
Meeting - I have FIVE different webinar conferencing tools
Office - presentations, spreadsheets and documents
Platform - Java, Adobe Air and other application runtime environments
Player - do I really need SIXTEEN different audio/video players?
Printer - print drivers and printer management software
Scanners - programs that scan for viruses, malware and adware
Tools - calculators, configurators, sizing tools, and estimators
Uploaders - programs to upload photos or files to various Web services
Backup my new workstation
My new ThinkPad T410 has a dual-core i5 64-bit Intel processor, so I burned a 64-bit version of [Clonezilla LiveCD] and booted the new system with that. The new system has the following configuration:
Windows XP SP3 operating system, programs and data
There were only 14.4GB of data, it took 10 minutes to backup to an external USB disk. I ran it twice: first, using the option to dump the entire disk, and the second to dump the selected partition. The results were roughly the same.
Run Workstation Setup Wizard
The Workstation Setup Wizard asks for all the pertinent location information, time zone, userid/password, needed to complete the installation.
I made two small changes to connect C: to D: drive.
Changed "My Documents" to point to D:\Documents which will move the files over from C: to D: to accomodate its new target location. See [Microsoft procedure] for details.
Edited C:\notes\notes.ini to point to D:\notes\data to store all the local replicas of my email and databases.
Install Ubuntu Desktop 10.04 LTS
My plan is to run Windows and Linux guests through virtualization. I decided to try out Ubuntu Desktop 10.04 LTS, affectionately known as Lucid Lynx, which can support a variety of different virtualization tools, including KVM, VirtualBox-OSE and Xen. I have two identical 15GB partitions (sda2 and sda3) that I can use to hold two different systems, or one can be a subdirectory of the other. For now, I'll leave sda3 empty.
Take another backup of my new workstation
I took a fresh new backup of paritions (sda1, sda2, sda6) with Clonezilla.
The next step involved a cross-over Ethernet cable, which I don't have. So that will have to wait until Thursday morning.
In my presentations in Australia and New Zealand, I mentioned that people were re-discovering the benefits of removable media. While floppy diskettes were convenient way of passing information from one person to another, they unfortunately did not have enough capacity. In today's world, you may need Gigabytes or Terabytes of re-writeable storage with a file system interface that can easily be passed from one person to another. In this post, I explore three options.
(FCC Disclaimer: I work for IBM, and IBM has no business relationship with Cirago at the time of this writing. Cirago has not paid me to mention their product, but instead provided me a free loaner that I promised to return to them after my evaluation is completed. This post should not be considered an endorsement for Cirago's products. List prices for Cirago and IBM products were determined from publicly available sources for the United States, and may vary in different countries. The views expressed herein may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either IBM or Cirago.)
I took a few photos so you can see what exactly this device looks like. Basically, it is a plastic box that holds a single naked disk drive. It has four little rubber feet so that it does not slip on your desk surface.
The inside is quite simple. The power and SATA connections match those of either a standard 3.5 inch drive, or the smaller form factor (SFF) 2.5 inch drive. However, to my dismay, it does not handle EIDE drives which I have a ton of. After taking apart six different computer systems, I found only one had SATA drives for me to try this unit out with.
The unit comes with a USB cable and AC/DC power adapter. In my case, I found the USB 3.0 cable too short for my liking. My tower systems are under my desk, but I like keeping docking stations like this on the top of the desk, within easy reach, but that wasn't going to happen because the USB cable was not long enough.
Instead, I ended up putting it half-way in between, behind my desk, sitting on another spare system. Not ideal, but in theory there are USB-extension cables that probably could fix this.
Here it is with the drive inside. I had a 3.5 inch Western Digital [1600AAJS drive] 160 GB, SATA 3 Gbps, 8 MB Cache, 7200 RPM.
To compare the performance, I used a dual-core AMD [Athlon X2] system that I had built for my 2008 [One Laptop Per Child] project. To compare the performance, I ran with the drive externally in the Cirago docking station, then ran the same tests with the same drive internally on the native SATA controller. Although the Cirago documentation indicated that Windows was required, I used Ubuntu Linux 10.04 LTS just fine, using the flexible I/O [fio] benchmarking tool against an ext3 file system.
Sequential Write - a common use for external disk drive is backup.
Random read - randomly read files ranging from 5KB to 10MB in size.
Random mixed - randomly read/write files (50/50 mix) ranging from 5KB to 10MB in size.
Random Mixed (50/50)
Latency (msec) read
Latency (msec) write
Bandwidth (KB/s) read
Bandwidth (KB/s) write
For sequential write, the Cirago performed well, only about 15 percent slower than native SATA. For random workloads, however, it was 30-40 percent slower. If you are wondering why I did not get USB 3.0 speeds, there are several factors involved here. First, with overheads, 5 Gbps USB 3.0 is expected to get only about 400 MB/sec. My SATA 2.0 controller maxes out at 375 MB/sec, and my USB 2.0 ports on my system are rated for 57 MB/sec, but with overheads will only get 20-25 MB/sec. Most spinning drives only get 75 to 110 MB/sec. Even solid-state drives top out at 250 MB/sec for sustained activity. Despite all that, my internal SATA drive only got 16 MB/sec, and externally with the Cirago 14 MB/sec in sustained write activity.
Here is the mess that is inside my system. The slot for drive 2 was blocked by cables, memory chips and the heat sink for my processor. It is possible to damage a system just trying to squeeze between these obstacles.
However, the point of this post is "removable media". Having to open up the case and insert the second drive and wire it up to the correct SATA port was a pain, and certainly a more difficult challenge than the average PC user wishes to tackle.
Price-wise, the Cirago lists for $49 USD, and the 160GB drive I used lists for $69, so the combination $118 is about what you would pay for a fully integrated external USB drive. However, if you had lots of loose drives, then this could be more convenient and start to save you some money.
IBM RDX disk backup system
Another problem with the Cirago approach is that the disk drives are naked, with printed circuit board (PCB) exposed. When not in the docking station, where do you put your drive? Did you keep the [anti-static ESD bag] that it came in when you bought it? And once inside the bag, now what? Do you want to just stack it up in a pile with your other pieces of equipment?
To solve this, IBM offers the RDX backup system. These are fully compatible with other RDX sytems from Dell, HP, Imation, NEC, Quantum, and Tandberg Data. The concept is to have a docking station that takes removable, rugged plastic-coated disk-enclosed cartridges. The docking station can be part of the PC itself, similar to how CD/DVD drives are installed, or as a stand-alone USB 2.0 system, capable of processing data up to 25 MB/sec.
The idea is not new, about 10 years ago we had [Iomega "zip" drives] that offered disk-enclosed cartridges with capacities of 100, 250 and 750MB in size. Iomega had its fair share of problems with the zip drive, which were ranked in 2006 as the 15th worst technology product of all time, and were eventually were bought out by EMC two years later (as if EMC has not had enough failures on its own!)
The problem with zip drives was that they did not hold as much as CD or DVD media, and were more expensive. By comparison, IBM RDX cartridges come in 160GB to 750GB in size, at list prices starting at $127 USD.
IBM LTO tape with Long-Term File System
Removable media is not just for backup. Disk cartridges, like the IBM RDX above, had the advantage of being random access, but most tape are accessed sequentially. IBM has solved this also, with the new IBM Long Term File System [LTFS], available for LTO-5 tape cartridges.
With LFTS, the LTO-5 tape cartridge now can act as a super-large USB memory stick for passing information from one person to the next. The LTO-5 cartridge can handle up to 3TB of compressed data at up to SAS speeds of 140 MB/sec. An LTO-5 tape cartridge lists for only $87 USD.
The LTO-5 drives, such as the IBM [TS2250 drive] can read LTO-3, LTO-4 and LTO-5cartridges, and can write LTO-4 and LTO-5 cartridges, in a manner that is fully compatible with LTO drives from HP or Quantum. LTO-3, LTO-4 and LTO-5 cartridges are available in WORM or rewriteable formats. LTO-4 and LTO-5 cartridges can be encrypted with 256-bit AES built-in encryption. With three drive manufacturers, and seven cartridge manufacturers, there is no threat of vendor lock-in with this approach.
These three options offer various trade-offs in price, performance, security and convenience. Not surprisingly, tape continues to be the cheapest option.
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.
Last week, I presented "An Introduction to Cloud Computing" for two hours to the local Institute of Management Accountants [IMA] for their Continuing Professional Education [CPE]. Since I present IBM's leadership in Cloud Storage offerings, I have had to become an expert in Cloud Computing overall. The audience was a mix of bookkeepers, accountants, auditors, comptrollers, CPAs, and accounting teachers.
Here is a sample of the questions I took during and after my presentation:
If I need to shut down host machine, I lose all my virtual machines as well?
No, it is possible to seemlessly move virtual machines from one host to another. If you need to shut down a host machine, move all the VMs to other hosts, then you can shut down the empty host without impacting business.
Does the SaaS provider have to build their own app, can they not buy an app and then rent it out?
Yes, but they won't have competitive differentiation, and the software development they buy from will want a big cut of the action. SaaS developers that build their own applications can keep more of the profits for themselves.
How do backups work in cloud computing? Do I have to contact someone at the cloud computing company to find the backup tape?
Large datacenters often keep the most recent backups on disk, and older versions on tape in automated tape libraries that can fetch your backup in less than 2 minutes. Because of this, there is no need to talk to anyone, you can schedule or invoke your own backups, and often perform the recovery yourself using self-service tools.
Last month, my sister tried to rent a car during the week the Tucson Gem Show, but they were out of cars she wanted to drive. Could this happen with Cloud Computing?
Not likely. With rental cars, the cars have to be physically in Tucson to rent them. Rental companies could have brought cars down from Phoenix to satisfy demand. With Cloud Computing, it is all accessible over the global network, you are not limited to the cloud providers nearest you.
Is there a reason why Amazon Web Services (AWS) charges more for a Windows image than a Linux image?
Yes, Amazon and Microsoft have a patent cross-licensing agreement where Amazon pays Microsoft for the priveledge of offering Windows-based images on their EC2 cloud infrastructure. It just makes business sense to pass those costs onto the consumer. Linux is a free open source operating system, and is often the better choice.
So if we rent a machine from Amazon, they send it to my accounting office? What exactly am I getting for 12 cents per hour?
No. The computer remains in their datacenter. You get a virtual machine that runs 1.2Ghz Intel processor, with 1700MB of RAM, and 160GB of hard disk space, with Windows operating system running on it, comparable to a machine you can get at the local BestBuy, but instead of it running in the next room, it is running in a datacenter somewhere else in the United States with electricity and air conditioning.
You access it remotely from your desktop or laptop PC.
Why would I ever rent more than one computer?
It depends on your workload. For example, Derek Gottfrid at the New York Times needed to convert 11 million articles from TIFF format to PDF format so that he could put them up on the web. This would have taken him months using a single computer, so he rented 100 computers and got the entire stack converted in 24 hours, for a cost of about $240. See the articles [Self-Service, Prorated, Super Computing] and [TimesMachine] for details.
What about throughput? Won't I need to run cables from my accounting office to this cloud computing data center?
You will need connectivity, most likely from connections provided by your local telephone or cable company, or through the Internet. Certainly, there can be cases where direct privately-owned fiber optic cables, known as "dark fiber", can directly connect consumers to local Cloud service providers, for added security.
What about medical records? Will Cloud Computing help the Healthcare industry?
Yes, hospitals are finding that digitizing their records greatly reduces costs. IBM offers the Grid Medical Archive Solution [GMAS] as a private cloud storage solution to store X-ray images and other electronic medical records on disk and tape, and these records can be accessed from multiple hospitals and clinics, wherever the doctor or patient happens to be.
The advantage of personal computers was individualization, I could put on my own choices of software, and customize my own settings, won't we lose this with Cloud Computing?
Yes, customized software and settings cost companies millions of dollars with help desk calls. Cloud Computing attempts to provide some standardization, reducing the amount of effort to support IT operations.
Won't putting all the computers into a big datacenter make them more vulnerable to hackers?
Security is a well-known concern, but this is being addressed with encryption, access control lists, multi-tenancy isolation, and VPN connections.
My daughter has a BlackBerry or iPod or something, and when we mentioned that someone in Phoenix wore a monkey suit to avoid photo-radar speed cameras, she was able to pull up a picture on her little hand-held thing, is this the future?
Yes, mobile phones and other hand-held devices now have internet access to take advantage of Cloud Computing services. People will be able to access the information they need from wherever they happen to be. (You can see the picture here: [Man Dons Mask for Speed-Camera Photos])
IBM offers a variety of Cloud Computing services, as well as customized solutions and integrated systems that can be deployed on-premises behind your corporate firewall. To learn more, go to [ibm.com/cloud].
The second speaker was local celebrity Dan Ryan presenting the financials for the upcoming [Rosemont Copper] mining operations. Copper is needed for emerging markets, such as hybrid vehicles and wind turbines. Copper is a major industry in Arizona.