Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Architect for the IBM Storage product line at the
IBM Executive Briefing 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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I got some interesting queries about IBM's Scale-Out File Services [SoFS] that I mentioned in my post yesterday [Area rugs versus Wall-to-Wall carpeting]. I thought I would provide some additional details of the product.
SoFS combines three key features: a global namespace, a clustered file system, and Information LifecycleManagement (ILM). Let's tackle each one.
Global Name Space
A long time ago, IBM acquired a company called Transarc that developed Andrew File System (AFS) and DistributedFile System (DFS). These both provided global namespace capability, meaning that all of your files could beaccessible from a single URL file tree. Imagine if you have data centers in Tucson, Austin, Raleigh and Chicago.Normally, to access files from each city, you would have to mount a unique IP address for that location, and thento get to files in a different city, you'd have to mount a second, and so on. But with a global namespace, you could mount a single drive letter Z: and access files simply by using Z:/Tucson/abc or Z:/Austin/xyz. IBM uses its DFS to make this happen.
Just because you have access to a global namespace doesn't give you read/write authority to every file. IBM SoFS has full NTFS Access Control List (ACL) support, so that only those who can read or write data can access the files. A "hide unreadable" feature provideswhat I like to call "parental controls": you don't even get to see on your directly list any file or subdirectory that you don't have access to. For example, if there is a directory with 50 projects, but you only have authority tothree projects, then you only see the three subdirectories related to those projects, and nothing else.
There are other ways to get a global namespace. IBM also offers the IBM System Storage N series Virtual FileManager, Brocade offers Storage/X, and F5 acquired Acopia. These all work by putting a box in front of a set ofindependent NAS storage units, and giving you a single mount point to represent all of the file systems managedbehind the scenes. This however can sometimes be a bottleneck for performance.
Clustered File System
Often, when you have a lot of data in one place, you are also expected to deliver that data to lots of clientswith relatively good performance. Otherwise, end users revolt and get their own internal direct attach storage.To solve this, you need a clustered architecture that provides access in parallel to the data.
First, we start with a node that is optimized for CIFS and NFS access. We have clocked our node to run CIFS at577 MB/sec, and NFS at 880 MB/sec, through a 10GbE pipe between a single client and a single SoFS node. Comparethat to the 400 MB/sec you get today with 4Gbps FCP, or the 800 MB/sec you will get if you upgrade to 8 GbpsFCP, and quickly you recognize that this is comparable performance for demanding workloads.
Then, you combine multiple nodes together, and have them all be able to read/write any file in the file system, andfront-end that with a load-balancing Virtual IP address (VIPA) that spreads the requests around, and you've gotyourself a lean and mean machine for accessing data.
In 2005, IBM delivered[ASC Purple] with the world's fastest file system. 1536 nodeswere able to access billions of files in the 2 Petabyte of data. The record of 126 GB/sec access to a single filewas set, and has yet to be beaten by any other vendor since.This same file system is used in SoFS, as well as a variety of other IBM storage offerings.
The back-end storage can be SAS or FC-attached, from the DS3200 to our mighty DS8300 Turbo, as well as ourIBM System Storage DCS9550 and SAN Volume Controller (SVC), and a variety of tape libraries.
Information Lifecycle Management
Lastly, we get to ILM. With SoFS, you can have different tiers of storage, high-speed SAS or FC disk, low-speedFATA and SATA disk, and even tape. Policy-based automation allows you to place any file onto any disk tier whencreated, and other policies can migrate or delete the data trigged by certain threshold, age, or other criteria.The advantage is that this is on a file by file basis, so Z:/Tucson/Project could have a bunch of files, some ofthem on my FC disk, some of them on my SATA, and some on tape. The file path doesn't change when they move, anddifferent files in the same directory can be on different tiers.
Data movement is bi-directional. If you know you will be using a set of files for an upcoming job, say perhapsquarter-end or year-end processing, you can pre-fetch those files from tape and move them to your fastest disk pool.
There is also integrated backup support. Typically, a large NAS environment is difficult to backup. Traditionalmethods take days to scan the directory tree looking for files in need of backup. A single SoFS node can scana billion files in 95 minutes, and 8 nodes in a cluster can scan a billion files in under 15 minutes.
Recovery is even more impressive. When you recover, SoFS brings back the entire directory structure first, withall the file names in place. This would make it appear that all the data is restored, but actually it is still on tape.When you access individual files, it will then drive the recovery of that file, so your applications and end usersbasically determine the priority of the recovery. Traditional methods would wait until every file was restoredbefore letting anyone access the system.
SoFS is part of IBM's [Blue Cloud] initiativethat was launched last November 2007. Of course, IBM isn't the only one competing in this space. HDS has partneredwith BlueArc, HP has acquired PolyServe, and Sun acquired CFS for their Lustre file system. Isilon and Exanet arestart-up companies with some offerings. EMC acquired Rainfinity,and have hinted at a Hulk/Maui project that they might deliver later this year or perhaps in 2009, but by thenmight be a dollar-short and a day-late.
But why wait? IBM SoFS is available today and is orders of magnitude more scalable!
At IBM, our standard is to have a limit of 200MB per user mailbox. A few of us get exceptions and have up to500MB limit because of the work we do. By comparison, my personal Gmail account is now up to 6500MB. Whenthis limit is exceeded, you are unable to send out any mail until it is brought down below the limit, and a request to be "re-enabled for send" is approved, a situation we call "mail jail".
The biggest culprit are attachments. Only 10 percent of emails have attachments, but those that do take up 90percent of the total space! People attach a 15MB presentation or document, and copy the world ondistribution list. Everyone saves their notes with these attachments, and soon, the limits are blown. Not surprisingly, deduplication has been cited as a "killer app" to address email storage, exactly for this reason.If all the users have their mailboxes all stored on the same deduplication storage device, it might find theseduplicate blocks, and manage to reduce the space consumed.
A better practice would be to avoid this in the first place. Here are the techniques I use instead:
Point to the document in a database
We are heavy users of Lotus Notes databases. These can be encrypted and controlled with Access Control Lists (ACL)that determine who can create or read documents in each database. Annually, all the database ACLs are validatedso that people can confirm that they continue to have a need-to-know for the documents in each database. Sendinga confidential document as a "document link" to a database entry takes only a few bytes, and all the recipientsthat are already on the ACL have access to that document.
Point to the document on a web page
If the document is available on an internal or external website, just send the URL instead of attaching the file.Again, this takes only a few bytes. We have websites accessible only to all internal employees, websites thatcan be accessed only by a subset of employees with special permissions and credentials based on their job role, and websites that are accessible to our IBM Business Partners.
In my case, if I happen to have a blog posting that answers a question or helps illustrate an idea, I will sendthe "permalink" URL of that blog post in my email.
Point to the document on shared NAS file system
Internally, IBM uses a "Global Storage Architecture" (GSA) based on IBM's Scale-Out File Services [SoFS] with everyone getting initially 10GB of disk space to store files, with the option to request more if needed. The system has policy-based support for placing and migrating older data to tape to reduce actual disk usage, and combines a clustered file system with a global name space.
My SoFS space is now up to 25GB, and I store a lot of presentationsand whitepapers that are useful to others. A URL with "ftp://" or "http://" is all you need to point to a filein this manner, and greatly reduces the need for attachments. I can map my space as "Drive X:" on my Windows system,or as a NFS mount point on my Linux system, which allows me to easily drag files back and forth.
Departments that don't need to offer "worldwide access" use NAS boxes instead, such as the IBM System Storage N series.
Pointing to files in a shared space, rather than as attachments in email, may take some getting used to. I've hada few recipients send me requests such as "can you send that as an attachment (not a URL)" because they plan toread it on the airplane or train, where they won't have online connectivity.
"Have you invested in the latest and greatest in collaboration technology but still feel people are still not collaborating? How many Microsoft Sharepoint servers and IBM Quickplaces remain relatively untouched or only used by the organization's technorati? I think it's a big problem because this narrow view of collaboration starts to get the concept a bad name: "yeah, we did collaboration but no one used it." And then there the issue of the vast amount of money wasted and opportunities lost. We can't afford to loose faith in collaboration because the external environment is moving in a direction that mandates we collaborate. The problems we face now and into the future will only increase in complexity and it will require teams of people within and across organizations to solve them."
Well, sending pointers instead of attachments works for me, and has kept me out of "mail jail" for quite some timenow.
As a consultant, I am often asked to help design the architecture for the information infrastructure. A usefulanalogy to gather requirements and preferences is the difference between area rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting. Arearugs are not secured to the floor and cover only a portion of the floor area. Carpets are generally tacked or cemented to the floor, often with an underlay of cushion padding, stretched across the entire floor surface, out to all four walls of each room.
Each has its pros and cons, and often is a matter of preference. Some people like area rugs because they can choosea different style for each room, match the decor and color scheme of furniture, and use these to define each livingspace. Ever since paleolithic man put animal skins on the floor of their cave, people recognize that cold, hard andugly floors could be covered up with something soft and more attractive.Others prefer wall-to-wall carpeting because they want to walk around the house barefoot, have their young children crawl on their hands and knees, and give the entire house a unified look and feel. This is often an inexpensive option when compared against the cost of individual rugs.
The same is true for an information infrastructure. For some, they prefer the "area rug" approach: this style ofstorage for their email, this other type of storage for their databases, and perhaps a third for their unstructuredfile systems. When customers ask what storage would I recommend for their SAP application, or their Microsoft Exchangeemail environment, or their Business Intelligence (BI) software, I recognize they are taking this "area rug" approach.
Like area rugs, having different storage can focus on specific attributes of the workload characteristics. It alsoinsulates against company-wide changes, the dreaded "rip-and-replace" of replacing all of your storage with somethingfrom a different vendor. With "area rug" storage, you can support a dual-vendor or multi-vendor strategy, and upgrade or replace each on its own schedule.
Thanks to open standards and industry-standard benchmarks, changing out one storage solution for another is assimple as rolling up an area rug, and putting another one in its place that is similar in size dimensions.
Others may prefer "wall-to-wall carpeting" approach: one disk system type, one tape library type,one network type, that provides unified management and minimizes the needs for unique skills. Generally, the choice of NAS, SAN or iSCSI infrastrucutre is done company-wide, and might strongly influence the set of products that will support that decision. For example, those with a mix of mainframe and distributed servers looking for SAN-attached storage may look at an [IBM System Storage DS8000] and [TS3500 tape library] that can provide support for FICON and FCP.
Those looking at NAS or iSCSI might consider the IBM System Storage N series products, "unified storage" supporting iSCSI, FCP and NAS protocols. If you want the "wall-to-wall" to stretch across all the sites in your globally integrated enterprise, IBM's scalable NAS product, Scale-Out File Services[SoFS], provides a global name spacein combination with a clustered file system that provides incredible scalability and performance based on field-proven technology used by the majority of the [Top 100 supercomputer] deployments.
IBM can help you design an information infrastructure that fits either approach.
IPv4, IPv6, Wireless Mesh networking? No problem! You know linux networking inside and out
Extensive knowledge of BIND, DHCPD, Squid, Apache, security, etc.
Experience working with [Moodle] would be most excellent (it is basically a PHP web application that maintains MySQL databases for lesson plans, homework assignments and other school related information)
Adept with Python scripting or could learn it quickly. OLPC has standardized on Python for scripting (although knowledge in Perl and PHP won't hurt either)
You look to implement a practical solution that less skilled sysadmins can easily maintain over a cooler but more complicated solution.
You play well with others. You don’t alienate collaborators with rude e-mails that assert your technical superiority (even though you are)
Your primary concern is meeting the educational needs of kids and teachers. Your rate technical awesomeness a distant second to meeting those critical needs.
I've been working with Dev, Bryan and Sulochan for the past three months (remotely here from Tucson, AZ)but we've come to a point where we need on-site expertise. I will continue to provide remote support.
Given the number of readers who have contacted me over the past year looking for an IT job (or a different job because they are not happy where they are), this could be an amazing experience.
IDC, an independent industry analyst firm, put out their 4Q07"Worldwide Disk Storage Systems Quarterly Tracker" report. Here is an excerpts from their [press release]:
"Worldwide external disk storage systems factory revenues posted 9.8 percent year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter of 2007 (4Q07) and totaling $5.3 billion (USD), according to the IDC Worldwide Disk Storage Systems Quarterly Tracker. For the quarter, the total disk storage systems market grew to $7.5 billion (USD), up 7.6 percent from the prior year's fourth quarter. Total disk storage systems capacity shipped reach 1,645 petabytes, growing 56.3 percent."
For those wondering how an industry could grow 56.3 percent in capacity, but only 7.6 percent in revenue, it isbecause the average dollar-per-GB dropped in 2007 from $6.63 down to $4.56 (USD), representing a 31 percent decline.In the past, disk prices dropped 40 to 60 percent each year, so making single digit growth was the best major vendorscould hope for. However, lately this has slowed down to 25 to 35 percent decline, but the client demand for capacity continues at the 60 percent pace, which means that vendors could achieve double digit revenue growth soon.
Once again, IBM was ranked number 1 in total disk storage. No surprise there. Here are the details:
"Total Disk Storage Systems Market
In the total worldwide disk storage systems market, IBM lead the market with 22.9 percent followed by HP with 18.1 percent revenue share. EMC maintained the third position with 16.0 percent revenue share.
For the full year, the total disk storage systems market posted 6.6 percent growth to $26.3 billion (USD). In the total worldwide disk storage systems market, IBM and HP lead the market in statistical tie with 20.1 percent and 19.4 percent revenue share, respectively. EMC maintained the third position with 15.2 revenue revenue share."
But why focus just on disk? IDC also released their"Worldwide Combined Disk and Tape Storage 3Q07 Market Share Update", and IBM was number one for that as well,taking in 21.9 percent share. Here's a quote of IBM VP Barry Rudolph in[CNN Money]:
"IBM's continued leadership in the storage hardware market reaffirms our strategy to provide the most comprehensive tiered portfolio of storage offerings, ranging from software and services to disk and tape storage solutions," said Barry Rudolph, Vice President, Storage Stack Solutions, IBM. "IBM is the clear choice for providing information infrastructure solutions that offer the most cost-efficient, streamlined approach to help our customers increase overall productivity and maximize performance."
It is looking like 2008 is going to be a good year for IBM!
It's been a while since I've talked about [Second Life].
The latest post on eightbar[Spimes, Motes and Data centers]discusses IBM's use of virtual world technology to analyze data centers in three dimensions.New World Note asks[What's The Point Of 3D Data Centers?]One would think that a simple monitoring tool based on a two-dimensional floor plan would be enough to evaluate a data center.
Enter Michael Osias, IBM (a.k.a Illuminous Beltran in Second Life). Some of the leading news sites havebegun to notice some 3D data centers that he has helped pioneer. UgoTrade writes up an article aboutMichael and the media attention in [The Wizard of IBM's 3DData Centers].
Of course, in presenting these "Real Life/Second Life" (RL/SL) interactive technologies, IBM is sometimes the target of ridicule. Why? Because IBM is 10 years ahead of everyone else. So, are there aspects of a data center where 3D interfaces makes sense? I think there is.
IBM TotalStorage Productivity Center has an awesome "topology viewer" that shows what servers are connectedto which switches, to which disk systems and tape libraries. This is all done in a 2D diagram, generated dynamicallywith data discovered through open standard interfaces, similar to what you might draw manually with toolslike Visio. Imagine, however, howmore powerful if it were a 3D viewer, with virtual equipment mapped to the physical location of each pieceof hardware on the data center floor, including the position on the rack and location on the data center floor.
Designing computer room air conditioning (CRAC) systems is actually a three dimensional problem. Cold air isfed underneath the raised floor, comes up through strategically placed "vent" tiles, taken in the front ofeach rack. Hot air comes out the back of each rack, and hopefully finds ceiling duct intake to get cooled again.The temperature six inches off the floor is different than the temperature six feet off the floor, and 3Dmonitor tools could be helpful in identifying "hot spots" that need attention. In this case "spimes" representsensors in the 3D virtual world, able to report back information to help diagnose problems or monitor events.
After many people left the mainframe in favor of running a single application per distributed server, the pendulumhas finally swung back. Companies are discovering the many benefits of changing this behavior. "Re-centralization" is the task at hand. Thanks to virtualization of servers, networks and storage, sharing common resources canonce again claim the benefits of economies of scale. In many cases, servers work together in collective unitsfor specific applications that might benefit better if consolidated together onto the same equipment.
IBM's "New Enterprise Data Center" vision recognizes that people will need to focus on the management aspectsof their IT infrastructure, and 3D virtual world technologies might be an effective way to getthe job done.
I am always amused in the manner the IT industry tries to solve problems. Take, for example, theprocess of backups. The simplest approach is to backup everything, and keep "n" versions of that.Simple enough for a small customer who has only a handful of machines, but does not scale well. Inmy post [Times a Million],I coined the phrase "laptop mentality", referring to people's inability to think through solutions in large scale.
Apparently, I am not alone.Steve Duplessie (ESG) wrote in his post[Random Thoughts]:
"I may even get to stop yelling at people to stop doing full backups every week on non-changing data (which is 80 %+) just because that's how they used to do it. They won't have a choice. You can't back up 5X your current data the way you do (or don't) today."
Hu Yoshida (HDS) does a great job explaining that thereare three ways to perform deduplication for backups:
Pre-processing. Have the backup software not backup unchanged data.
Inline processing. Have an index to filter the output of the backup as it sends data to storage.
Post-processing. Have the receiving storage detect duplicates and handle them accordingly.
"A full backup of 1TB data base tablespace is taken on day one. The next day another full backup is taken and only 2GB of that backup has any changes.
Using traditional full backup approaches after 2 nights, the backup capacity required is 2 x 1TB = 2TB
One method of calculating de-duplication ratios could yield a low ratio:
Total de-duplicated backup capacity used = 1TB + 2GB = 1.002TB
If the de-duplication ratio compares the amount of total physical storage used to the total amount that would have been used by traditional backup methods, the ratio = 2TB / 1.002TB = approximately 2:1
Another method of calculating de-duplication ratios could yield a high ratio:
Total de-duplicated backup capacity used still = 1.002TB
If the de-duplication ratio compares the amount of data stored in the most recent (second) backup to the amount that would have been used by traditional backup methods, the ratio 1TB / 2GB = 1000GB / 2GB = 500:1"
While IBM also offers deduplication in the IBM System Storage N series disk systems, I find that for backup, itis often more effective to apply best practices via IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM). Let's take a look at some:
Exclude Operating System files
Why take full backups of your operating system every day? Yes, deduplication will find a lot to reduce fromthis, but best practices would exclude these. TSM has an include/exclude list, and the default version excludesall the operating system files that would be recovered from "bare machine recovery" or "new system install"procedures. Often, if the replacement machine has different gear inside, your OS backups aren't what you need,and a fresh OS install may determine this and install different drivers or different settings.
Exclude Application programs
Again, yes if there are several machines running the same application, you probably have opportunity for deduplication. However, unless you match these up with the appropriate registry or settings buried down in theoperating system, recovering just application program files may render an unusable system. Applications are bestinstalled from a common source that are either "pushed" through software distribution, or "pulled" from an application installation space.
If you have TB-sized databases, and are only doing full backups daily to protect it, have I got a solution for you.IBM and others have software that are "application-aware" and "database-aware" enough to determine what haschanged since the last backup and copy only that delta. Taking advantage of the TSM Application ProgrammingInterface (API) allows for both IBM and third party tools to take these delta backups correctly.
Which leaves us with user files, which are often unique enough on their own from the files of other users,that would not benefit from file-level deduplication. Backing up changed data only, as TSM does with its patented ["progressive incremental backup"] method, generally gets most of the benefits described by deduplication, without having to purchase storage hardware features.
Of course, if two or more users have identical files, the question might be why these are not stored on acommon file share. NAS file share repositories can greatly reduce each user keeping their own set of duplicates.It is interesting that some block-oriented deduplication,such as that found in the IBM System Storage N series, can get some benefit because some user files are oftenderivatives of other files, and there might be some 4 KB blocks of data in common.
Last November, I visited a customer in Canada. All of their problems were a direct result of taking full backupsevery weekend. It put a strain on their network; it used up too many disk and tape resources; and it took too long tocomplete. They asked about virtual tape libraries, deduplication, and anything else that could help them. The answer was simple: switch to IBM Tivoli Storage Manager and apply best practices.
My father's favorite question is "What's the worst that could happen?" He is retired now, but workedat the famous [Kitt Peak National Observatory] designing some of the largesttelescopes. Designing telescopes followed well-established mechanical engineering best practices, but each design was unique,so there was always a chance that the end result would not deliver the expected results. What's the worst that can happen? For telescopes, a few billion dollars are wasted and a few years are added to the schedule. Scrap it and start over. Nothing unrecoverable for the US government with unlimited resources and patience.
... the rest of the grimness on the front page today will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole or something else that will spell the end of the Earth — and maybe the universe.
Scientists say that is very unlikely — though they have done some checking just to make sure.
The world’s physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion (US dollars) building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.
But Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Although it sounds bizarre, the case touches on a serious issue that has bothered scholars and scientists in recent years — namely how to estimate the risk of new groundbreaking experiments and who gets to decide whether or not to go ahead.
What's the worst that can happen? Scientists now agree that it is sometimes difficult to predict, and someeffects may be unrecoverable.
Unfortunately, this is not the only example of people attempting things they may not understand well enough. Theweb comic below has someone complaining they are out of disk space, and the sales rep suggests solving this with a few commands which will result in deleting all her files. Hopefully, most people reading will recognize this is meant as humor, and not actually attempt the code fragments to "see what they do".
This is a webcomic called "Geek and Poke". If you dare to read the punchline, click here: Funny Geeks - Part 5.
Warning: Do not try the code fragments unless you know what to expect!
Sadly, I often encounter clients who have a "keep forever" approach to their production data. When they are seriously out of space, they feel forced to either buy more disk storage, or start "the big Purge": deleting rows from their database tables, emails older than 90 days, or some other drastic measures. With a focus on keeping down IT budgets, I fear that thesedrastic measures are growing more common. What's the worst that could happen? You might need that data for defending yourself against a lawsuit, or need it to continue to provide service to a loyal client, or just continue normal business operations.I have visited companies where a junior administrator chose the "big Purge" option, without a full understanding ofwhat they were doing, resulting in business disruption until the data could be recovered or re-entered.
IBM offers a better way. Data that may not be needed on disk forever could be moved to lower-cost tape, using up less energy and less floorspace in your data center. Solutions can automatically delete the data systematically based on chronological or event-based retention policies, with the option to keep some data longer in response to a "legal hold" request.
That's certainly better than to risk shrinking your business into a "dense dead lump"!
Soon, the U.S. is switching on-air television signals from analog to digital format. The switch-over happensFebruary 17, 2009. According to the [Federal Communications Commission], Americans haveuntil this Monday, March 31, to request up to two 40-dollar coupons towards the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxesso that the on-air digital signals can be used with existing analog-only television equipment.
(For my readers outside the United States, a bit of background explanation may be necessary. Americans consider access to television a self-evident and unalienable right.According to a Pew Research report[Luxury or Necessity?] 64 percent of Americansconsider a television set a necessity, and 33 percent consider paid providers, like cable or satellite, a necessity.Even prisoners in U.S. jails are allowed to watch television!)
Taking advantage of the "Y2K crisis" like nature of this 2/17/2009 deadline, paid providers have been advertisingthat this deadline only applies to on-air customers. Those who have cable or satellite can continue to use theiranalog equipment. I have been a subscriber for Cox Cable for some time, and my parents recently made the switchas well. Two weeks ago, however, my parents called me in a panic. Cox Cable chose to move one channel, TurnerClassic Movies (TCM), over from their analog line-up over to their digital line-up. They thought this wasn't goingto happen until 2/17/2009! They asked me to investigate and provide them alternative options.
I spoke to a Cox Cable representative.
Did Turner force Cox Cable to do this? Did they digitize their entire collection of movies? No, Cox Cable is choosing to send the TCM signal over the digital bandwidth, and they are converted back to analog by their set-top box.
Do customers who now get one less channel get a discount? No, same price, less service.
Why move a single channel over? Eventually, everything is going digital, and this is a small "baby step" to getpeople to switch over.
But TCM is a collection of grainy, black-and-white movies from the 1950s and 1960s, it is probably the channelthat gets the least benefit to convert to digital. Why choose TCM specifically? TCM is "commercial-free" so providesno additional revenue opportunity. Moving this to digital frees up an analog channel to run a new "on demand" servicethat could generate additional revenue for Cox Cable.
What would it take in terms of additional cost and equipment to watch the TCM in digital?A set-top digital box from Cox Cable, which costs one-time 10 dollars to install by a professional technician, plus 11 dollars per month for the extra "service" provided.
Do I need a High-Def television set or other equipment? No, the digital signal for TCM is standard format, so no HD equipment required.
I currently split my cable signal, so that I can watch one channel and record another, or record two separate channels at the same time, using a standard format VCR and Tivo, can I continue to do this with the digital set-top box? Yes, absolutely.
I decided to give it a try, and a technician was scheduled to perform the installation last Sunday, which was Easter holiday for some people. The technician was able to connect the set-top box directly to my television set, but thesignal is converted to a single "Channel 3", forcing the use of a separate Cox Cable remote control unit to set the channel on the set-top box. He set the set-top box to TCM (channel 199) and showed that the TCM channel was now available again.
How would my VCR or Tivo record anything? You have to set the set-top box manually to the appropriate channel desired, then set the VCR or Tivo to record "Channel 3".
How would I record one channel while watching another? That does not appear possible with this set-top box. If we split before entering the set-top box, then that equipment would get the analog channels only, not TCM.
How about recording two different channels concurrently? No way.
I feel bad for the technician. He spent two hours on his Easter Sunday to install service that I was told by theirsales rep would work with my equipment, only to find out it won't and he ended up having to take it all back out andcancel the work order. He doesn't even get paid overtime for this.
So, I am back to where I was before, analog channels minus the TCM channel. However, the lesson is clear, eventuallyeverything is going to digital, and people may not realize what this means to them.
Yesterday marked the first day of Spring here in the Northern hemisphere, and often this means it is timefor some "Spring cleaning". This is a great time to re-evaluate all of your stuff and clean house.
In the bits-vs-atoms discussion, Annie Leonard has a quick [20-minute video] about the atoms side of stuff,from extraction of natural resources, production, distribution, consumption, to final disposal.
On the bits side of things, the picture is much different.
We don't really extract information,rather we capture it, and lately that process is done directly into digital formats, from digital photography, digital recording of music, and so on. A lot of medical equipmentnow take X-rays and other medical images directly into digital format. By 2011, it is estimated that as much as 30 percent of all storage will be for holding medical images.
Production refers to the process of combining raw materials and making them into something useful. The sameapplies to information, there are a variety of ways to make information more presentable. In the Web 2.0 world, these are called Mashups, combiningraw information in a manner that are more usable.Fellow IBM blogger Bob Sutor discusses IBM's latest contribution, SMash, in his post[Secure Mashups via SMash].
According to Tim Sanders, 90 percent of business information is distributed by email, but less than 10 percentof employees are formally trained to distribute information correctly. Here's a quick 3-minute trailerto his "Dirty Dozen" rules of how to do email properly.
I have not watched the DVD that this trailer is promoting, but I certainly agree with the overall concept.
This week I also had the pleasure to hear [Art Mortell], author ofthe book The Courage to Fail: Art Mortell's Secrets to Business Success. He gave an inspirational talk about how to deal with our stressful lives. One key pointwas that stress often came from our own expectations. This is certainly true on how we consume information.Often times our expectations determine how well we read, watch or listen to information being presented.Sometimes information is factually correct, but presented in such a boring manner that it is just toodifficult to consume.
John Windsor on YouBlog takes this one step further, asking [Are you predictable?]He makes a strong case on why presenting in a predictable manner can actually hurt your chances of communication.
And finally, there is disposal. We are all a bunch of digital pack-rats. With atoms, you eventuallyrun out of closet space, with bits the problem is not as obvious, and often can be resolved by spendingyour way out of it. On average, companies are expanding their storage capacity by 57 percent every year. Thatworked well when dollar-per-GB prices of disk dropped to match, but now technology advancements are slowing down. Diskwill not be dropping in price as fast as you need, and now might be a good time to re-evaluate your"Keep everything forever" strategy.
Consider "Spring cleaning" to be an excellent excuse to evaluate the data you have on your disk systems.Should it be on disk? Will it be accessed often enough to justify that cost? Does it need immediateonline access times, or can waiting a minute or two for a tape mount from an automated library be sufficient?Does it represent business value?
I have been to customers that have discovered a lot of "orphan data" on their disk systems. This isdata that does not belong to anyone currently working at the company. Maybe the owners of the data retired,were laid off, or even fired, but nobody bothered to clean up their files after they left the company.
I've also seen a lot of "stale data" on disk, data that has not be read or written in the past 90 days.Are you spending 13-18 watts of energy to spin each disk drive just to contain data nobody ever looks at?
In some cases, orphan or stale data represents business value, and need to be kept around for businessor legal reasons. Perhaps some government regulation requires you to retain this information for someyears. In that case, rather than deleting it, move it to tape, perhaps using theIBM System Storage DR550 to protect it for the time required and handle its eventual disposal.
Certainly something to think about, while you snap the ears off those chocolate bunnies, watching yourkids run around looking for eggs. Enjoy your weekend!