Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Architect for the IBM Storage product line at the
IBM Systems Client Experience Center in Tucson Arizona, and featured contributor
to IBM's developerWorks. In 2016, Tony celebrates his 30th year anniversary with IBM Storage. He is
author of the Inside System Storage series of books. This blog is for the open exchange of ideas relating to storage and storage networking hardware, software and services.
(Short URL for this blog: ibm.co/Pearson )
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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.
Every January, we look back into the past as well as look into the future for trends to watch for the upcoming year. Ray Lucchesi of Silverton Consulting has a great post looking back at the [Top 10 storage technologies over the last decade]. I am glad to see that IBM has been involved with and instrumental in all ten technologies.
Looking into the future, Mark Cox of eChannel has an article [Storage Trends to Watch in 2011], based on his interviews with two fellow IBM executives: Steve Wojtowecz, VP of storage software development, and Clod Barrera, distinguished engineer and CTO for storage. Let's review the four key trends:
Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing
No question: Cloud Computing will be the battleground of the IT industry this decade. I am amused by the latest spate of Microsoft commercials where problems are solved with someone saying "...to the cloud". Riding on the coat tails of this is "Cloud Storage", the ability to store data across an Internet Protocol (IP) network, such as 10GbE Ethernet, in support of Cloud Computing applications. Cloud Storage protocols in the running include NFS, CIFS, iSCSI and FCoE.
Mark writes "..vendors who aren't investing in cloud storage solutions will fall behind the curve."
Economic Downturn forces Innovation
The old British adage applies: "Necessity is the mother of invention." The status quo won't do. In these difficult economic times, IT departments are running on constrained budgets and staff. This forces people to evaluate innovative technologies for storage efficiency like real-time compression and data deduplication to make better use of what they currently have. It also is forcing people to take a "good enough" attitude, instead of paying premium prices for best-of-breed they don't really need and can't really afford.
IT Service Management
Companies are getting away from managing individual pieces of IT kit, and are focusing instead on the delivery of information, from the magnetic surface of disk and tape media, to the eyes and ears of the end users. The deployment mix of private, hybrid and public clouds makes this even more important to measure and manage IT as a set of services that are delivered to the business. IT Service Management software can be the glue, helping companies implement ITIL v3 best practices and management disciplines.
Smarter Data Placement
A recent survey by "The Info Pro" analysts indicates that "managing storage growth" is considered more critical than "managing storage costs" or "managing storage complexity".
This tells me that companies are willing to spend a bit extra to deploy a tiered information infrastructure if it will help them manage storage growth, which typically ranges around 40 to 60 percent per year. While I have discussed the concept of "Information Lifecycle Management" (ILM), for the past four years on this blog, I am glad to see it has gone mainstream, helped in part with automated storage tiering features like IBM System Storage Easy Tier feature on the IBM DS8000, SAN Volume Controller and Storwize V7000 disk systems. Not all data is created equal, so the smart placement of data, based on the business value of the information contained, makes a lot of sense.
These trends are influencing what solutions the various different vendors will offer, and will influence what companies purchase and deploy.
The latest update to the IBM Storage channel on YouTube is fellow IBMer Bob Dalton presenting IBM Scale-Out Network Attached Storage (SONAS) at the NAB 2010 conference. Here is the quick [2-minute YouTube video].
Last year, I took a different approach. I decided to NOT publicize my resolutions to see if that allowed me to stick to them better. Here is what I had resolved for 2010:
The recession took quite a hit on my investments and retirement plans in 2009, so in 2010 I decided to increase my savings rate, and diversify my portfolio. I consider this one a success, with special thanks to the financial planners at Fidelity Investments for their assistance in this area. This was not a matter of sticking to a strict budget as much as not wasting money on so many expensive, frivolous things.
Publish "Inside System Storage: Volume II"
Yes, I finally got my latest book published last October, a follow-on to my 2007 hit "Inside System Storage: Volume I". I have already begun working on Volume III, so I consider this one a success.
Quit Exercising at the Gym
From 2003 to 2009, I had worked out consistently at my gym three times a week for an hour, under the supervision of a personal trainer, with 20 minutes of cardio work-out on a treadmill followed by 40 minutes of weight lifting with kettle-bells, free weights and resistance machines. During that time, I did not gain muscle mass nor lose body fat. Rather than admit their failure, my personal trainers indicated this is merely a "plateau". Armed with the Time article [Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin], I decided to save thousands of dollars in 2010 by discontinuing my gym membership and expire my contract with my personal trainer. End result? I was two pounds lighter after 12 months, so I consider this one a success.
Re-Decorate my Living Room
With all the money I saved, I resolved to re-decorate my living room. I hired a professional interior decorator, bought new furniture, and had the entire room re-painted to new colors. This also means keeping the room uncluttered, which I have managed to do so far. So, this one is also a success.
Learn Cloud Computing
This last one was work-related. Every year, IBM asks its employees to document their "Personal Business Commitments", or PBCs, which then forms the basis of your year-end appraisal. IBM is what the industry calls a "Results-Oriented Work Environment" [ROWE]. These PBCs are an opportunity to identify areas to stretch and grow, broaden your skills and strengthen your expertise. I was able to get access to IBM's cloud computing offerings to get hands-on experience, as well as research this topic on various fronts so that I could provide advice to clients and make presentations at various briefings and events. While there is still much more to learn, I consider this a success.
So, while I seem to have been more successful keeping my resolutions by not making them public up front, I think the more important pattern is that when I made many resolutions, I had only a 60 to 80 percent success rate, but when I had fewer, I was more likely to keep them all and be less stressed about it. This could also be psychological, in that feeling that you have completed 60 to 80 percent allows you to forgive yourself for not keeping some of the more difficult resolutions. Therefore, this year, I have decided to focus on a single resolution, to reduce my body fat percentage.
Rather than make you wait 12 months for my results, I plan to provide periodic updates in this blog on my progress. Over the vacation break, I bought and read Tim Ferriss' book [Four Hour Body]. Mo and I are in this together, and we have started Tim's [Slow-Carb diet] last Sunday. My doctor has advised me on which vitamins and supplements to take. Rather than go back to the gym, I will just focus on walking at least 20,000 steps per week, which works out roughly to 10 kilometers.
Regardless of what you do, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on around you. Let me recap the different jobs I have had within IBM:
I started as a Software Engineer on DFHSM, which was later renamed to DFSMShsm, and worked my way up to lead architect for the entire DFSMS product. I attended user group conferences like SHARE and GUIDE to formally present the latest releases of the product, and to collect requirements for improvements and additions desired by the CIOs, IT directors and Storage Admins that attended. Each requirement was proposed to the group, who then voted on a scale from -3 to +3, with zero considered abstention. Six months later, I would come back to present which requirements were implemented, which ones were in consideration for future releases, and which ones were rejected because they were not strategic. Not everyone was happy with these decisions, and I took a lot of abuse on this. However, the process of gathering requirements was important, and the products are better for it.
I switched over to Marketing, starting out as a Marketing Manager for various prodcts, and working my way up to lead Marketing Strategist for the IBM System Storage product line. I continued to attend conferences to understand the client requirements, but I also attended meetings with IBM sales reps and Business Partners. For those who lump "Marketing and Sales" into a single category, there is a difference. Marketing is the transfer of awareness and enthusiasm, whereas Sales is the transfer of ownership. When Marketing does their job well, prospects are lining up to buy your product. When they don't, the Sales team has to pick up the slack, and provide the awareness and enthusiasm that Marketing failed to deliver. I traveled all over the world to present our Marketing Strategy. Not everyone was happy with some of our decisions, and I took a lot of abuse on this. However, the process of "socializing" the marketing message and hearing feedback of those who faced clients every day was important, and the marketing strategy was better for it.
Three years ago, I switched again, this time to be a Storage Consultant at the Tucson Executive Briefing Center. While I still travel to clients and conferences, in most cases the clients come to me, here in Tucson, Arizona. I get to present our strategy, solutions and products. Not everyone is happy with some of our decisions, and I take a lot of abuse on this. However, the process of helping customers make tough business and IT purchase decisions is important, and both IBM and our clients are better for it.
It was in this same concept that US Representative Gabrielle ("Gabby") Giffords launched a series of "Congress on your Corner" meetings. These were open air townhall meetings that allowed her to present her priorities and plans for the future, and to get feedback from her constituents. Last Saturday, at one such event here in Tucson, she was shot in the head. The shooter then proceeded to shoot another 20 rounds at others before being tackled to the ground by two volunteers. He had another 70 bullets left, so it could have been much worse.
Congresswoman Gifford survived, but six died, including a US Federal Judge, a Pastor at a local church, and a 9-year-old girl, who ironically was born on Setpember 11, 2001, the date of another US tragedy. The girl had just been elected to her student council, and came out to learn what government was all about. Another dozen people were wounded.
The last time I saw Gabby in person was last October 2010, at a charity auction to benefit the local Boys and Girls Club of America. She was shaking hands with everyone. I wished her good luck on her re-election campaign, which she won a few weeks later by a slim margin of some 4,000 votes.
(People have asked me if I knew her in high school. Gabby and I both attended University High in Tucson, rated one of the top 25 high schools in the USA. She would have started her freshman year months after I graduated, so I don't remember ever crossing paths.)
Having spent much of my childhood in Central and South America, I have witnessed my fair share of gun violence, military coups, and government take-overs. Of course, in a democratic government, there is a more peaceful way to resolve your differences. In my younger days, I was a lobbyist for local and state government here in Arizona for various causes and issues. I have met and dealt with many politicians. While many people are still in shock and awe over Saturday's tragedy, consider the following:
Tucson is part of the Wild, Wild, West. We are not far from the infamous town of Tombstone where a famous shoot-out happened at the OK Corrall. A popular activity here is to shoot rounds at a shooting range, either rent a gun or bring your own. Gun ownership is high, and hunting is a popular sport. Tucson hosts "Gun Shows" that allow people to buy guns without the mandatory 5-day waiting period. Every year, Tucson celebrates "Dillinger Days" to comemorate the capture of gunslinger John Dilinger at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson.
Tucson is close to Mexico. Authorities have reported as many as 30,000 people have been killed on the other side of the US-Mexico border in the past five years by rival drug cartels. An estimated 30 percent of the Tucson economy comes from human and drug trafficking. Those killed in Mexico include government officials, law enforcement and journalists. Last year, US President Barack Obama [ordered 1200 troops to protect the US-Mexico border], of which half were deployed here in Arizona. The district I live in that Congresswoman Giffords represents borders Mexico.
Tucson has high schools, colleges and Universities. We have had our share of shootings by frustrated students.
While everyone immediately was quick to blame this tragedy on everyone from [Sarah Palin] to Mexican drug lords, it appears the shooter was merely a frustrated college student, acting alone, and is now in custody awaiting trial. He was attending Pima Community College and had his run-ins with the college police there as well. He had applied to join the US Army, but his application was rejected.
In the early 1990s, to help me prepare to become a public speaker, IBM loaned me out to teach at the local schools. I did four semesters of high school, and then taught a year of Computer Science 101 at Pima Community College. (Yes, I have all the teaching credentials to do this.) I found this experience to be great training for me to practice my speaking skills. However, I took a lot of abuse. I had disruptive students, angry students, frustrated students, and students that would threaten me if they did not pass the class. One by one, they would drop out of my class, leaving me with only nine students finishing my class with a passing grade.
Sadly, community colleges across the country carry a stigma that they are not as good as a full four-year University. The students I met at Pima Community College were here because they could not find decent employment with just a high school diploma, weren't smart enough or rich enough to attend the University of Arizona, and just didn't know what to do with their lives. Some who graduate manage to get jobs as technicians and medical assistants, while others use this as a stepping stone to transfer over to the University of Arizona or other specialized training program.
I am sure there is much more to learn about this incident. Politicians can expect to take some abuse for the decisions made, their actions or lack of action on various issues, but nobody deserves being shot. Congresswoman Giffords was just trying to put her finger on the pulse of her district, to understand the concerns of her constituents so that she could represent us properly in her third term in office. Instead, we have doctors at the University Medical Center keeping their finger on her pulse. So far, things are hopeful, she is able to respond to commands such as "wiggle your toes" or "hold up two fingers".
The "Basic" offering includes a single IBM Storwize V7000 controller enclosure, and three year warranty package that includes software licenses for IBM Tivoli Storage FlashCopy Manager (FCM) and IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center for Disk - Midrange Edition (MRE). Planning, configuration and testing services for the software are included and can be performed by either IBM or an IBM Business Partner.
The "Standard" offering allows for multiple IBM Storwize V7000 enclosures, provides three year warranty package for the FCM and MRE software, and includes implementation services for both the hardware and the software components. These services can be performed by IBM or an IBM Business Partner.
Why bundle? Here are the key advantages for these offerings:
Increased storage utilization! First introduced in 2003, IBM SAN Volume Controller is able to improve storage utilization by 30 percent through virtualization and thin provisioning. IBM Storwize V7000 carries on this tradition. Space-efficient FlashCopy is included in this bundle at no additional charge and can reduce the amount of storage normally required for snapshots by 75 percent or more. IBM Tivoli Storage FlashCopy Manager can manage these FlashCopy targets easily.
Improved storage administrator productivity! The new IBM Storwize V7000 Graphical User Interface can help improve administrator productivity up to 2 times compared to other midrange disk solutions. The IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center for Disk - Midrange Edition provides real-time performance monitoring for faster analysis time.
Increased application performance! This bundle includes the "Easy Tier" feature at no additional charge. Easy Tier is IBM's implementation of sub-LUN automated tiering between Solid-State Drives (SSD) and spinning disk. Easy Tier can help improve application throughput up to 3 times, and improve response time up to 60 percent. Easy Tier can help meet or exceed application performance levels with its internal "hot spot" analytics.
Increased application availability! IBM Tivoli Storage FlashCopy Manager provides easy integration with existing applications like SAP, Microsoft Exchange, IBM DB2, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server. Reduce application downtime to just seconds with backups and restores using FlashCopy. The built-in online migration feature, included at no additional charge, allows you to seamlessly migrate data from your old disk to the new IBM Storwize V7000.
Significantly reduced implementation time! This bundle will help you cut implementation time in half, with little or no impact to storage administrator staff. This will help you realize your return on investment (ROI) much sooner.
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!
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.
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.