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Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior Software Engineer for the IBM Storage product line at the
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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.
Next Monday, September 1, 2008, marks my two year "blogoversary" for this blog!
I won't be blogging on Monday, of course, because that is [Labor Day] holiday here in the United States.
(From a Canadian colleague: US is not the only country who celebrates Labor Day on the first weekend in September. Canada also celebrates Labour Day on the first weekend in September. It's the only holiday(other than Christmas/New Years) where we are in sync with US. Our Thanksgiving Days are different as is your July 4 vs our July 1. But for Labour Day we are one with the Borg...)
(From an Australian colleague: each province of Australia has its own day to celebrate Labor Day, see [Australia Public Holidays])
The rest of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1, but the USA celebrates this on the first Monday of September, which this year lands on September 1.Originally, the day is intended to be a "day off for working citizens", IBM is kind enough to let managers and marketingpersonnel have the day off also. (Not that anyone is going to notice no press releases next Monday, right?)
I started this blog on September 1, 2006 as part of IBM's big["50 Years of Disk Systems Innovation"] campaign. IBM introduced the first commercial disk system on September 13, 1956 and so the 50th anniversary was in 2006. Last year, IBM celebrated the 55th anniversary of tape systems.
Several readers have asked me why I haven't talked about recent current events, such as the Olympic Games in Beijing, or the U.S. National Conventions for the race for U.S. President. I have to remind them of one of the key precepts of IBMblogging guidelines:
8. Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in IBM’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory - such as politics and religion.
I made subtle references to my senator from Arizona, John McCain, in my post [ILM for my iPod], and to Barack Obama in my post [Searching for matching information]. I don't think anyone would mind that I send a "Happy Birthday!" wish to both of them.Senator McCain turns 72 years old today, and Senator Obama turned 47 years old earlier this month.
And lastly, Tucson itself [celebrates this entire month] its 233rd birthday. That's right,Tucson, the 32nd largest city of the USA, and headquarters for IBM System Storage, is older than the USA itself.While the Tucson area has been continuously inhabited by humans for over 3500 years, it officially became Tucsonon August 20, 1775.
Fellow blogger Justin Thorp has opined that [blogging is like jogging]. Somedays, you are just too busy to do it, and other days, you make time for it, because you know it is important.For the record, it is not my job to blog for IBM, that ended last September 2007. I continue to blog anyways because I have benefited from it, both personally and professionally.I want to thank all of you readers out there for making this blog a great success! Being named one of the top 10 blogs of the IT storage industry by Network World, two back-to-back Brand Impact awards from Liquid Agency, and recently earning a "31" Technorati ranking, has really helped keep me going.
So, I look forward to next month, and beginning my third year on this blog. I am sure there will be lots of surprises and announcements you can all look forward to in the next coming weeks and months that I will have plenty to write about.
Continuing my coverage of the 30th annual [Data Center Conference]. here is a recap of Wednesday morning sessions.
A Data Center Perspective on MegaVendors
The morning started with a keynote session. The analyst felt that the eight most strategic or disruptive companies in the past few decades were: IBM, HP, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, Apple and Google. Of these, he focused on the first three, which he termed the "Megavendors", presented in alphabetical order.
Cisco enjoys high-margins and a loyal customer base with Ethernet switch gear. Their new strategy to sell UP and ACROSS the stack moves them into lower-margin business like servers. Their strong agenda with NetApp is not in sync with their partnership with EMC. They recently had senior management turn-over.
HP enjoys a large customer base and is recognized for good design and manufacturing capabilities. Their challenges are mostly organizational, distracted by changes at the top and an untested and ever-changing vision, shifting gears and messages too often. Concerns over the Itanium have not helped them lately.
IBM defies simple description. One can easily recognize Cisco as an "Ethernet Switch" company, HP as a "Printer Company", Oracle as a "Database Company', but you can't say that IBM is an "XYZ" company, as it has re-invented itself successfully over its past 100 years, with a strong focus on client relationships. IBM enjoys high margins, sustainable cost structure, huge resources, a proficient sales team, and is recognized for its innovation with a strong IBM Research division. Their "Smarter Planet" vision has been effective in supporting their individual brands and unlock new opportuties. IBM's focus on growth markets takes advantage of their global reach.
His final advice was to look for "good enough" solutions that are "built for change" rather than "built to last".
Chris works in the Data Center Management and Optimization Services team. IBM owns and/or manages over 425 data centers, representing over 8 million square feet of floorspace. This includes managing 13 million desktops, and 325,000 x86 and UNIX server images, and 1,235 mainframes. IBM is able to pool resources and segment the complexity for flexible resource balancing.
Chris gave an example of a company that selected a Cloud Compute service provided on the East coast a Cloud Storage provider on the West coast, both for offering low rates, but was disappointed in the latency between the two.
Chris asked "How did 5 percent utilization on x86 servers ever become acceptable?" When IBM is brought in to manage a data center, it takes a "No Server Left Behind" approach to reduce risk and allow for a strong focus on end-user transition. Each server is evaluated for its current utilization:
Amazingly, many servers are unused. These are recycled properly.
1 to 19 percent
Workload is virtualized and moved to a new server.
20 to 39 percent
Use IBM's Active Energy Manager to monitor the server.
40 to 59 percent
Add more VMs to this virtualized server.
over 60 percent
Manage the workload balance on this server.
This approach allows IBM to achieve a 60 to 70 percent utilization average on x86 machines, with an ROI payback period of 6 to 18 months, and 2x-3x increase of servers-managed-per-FTE.
Storage is classified using Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) best practices, using automation with pre-defined data placement and movement policies. This allows only 5 percent of data to be on Tier-1, 15 percent on Tier-2, 15 percent on Tier-3, and 65 percent on Tier-4 storage.
Chris recommends adopting IT Service Management, and to shift away from one-off builds, stand-alone apps, and siloed cost management structures, and over to standardization and shared resources.
You may have heard of "Follow-the-sun" but have you heard of "Follow-the-moon"? Global companies often establish "follow-the-sun" for customer service, re-directing phone calls to be handled by people in countries during their respective daytime hours. In the same manner, server and storage virtualization allows workloads to be moved to data centers during night-time hours, following the moon, to take advantage of "free cooling" using outside air instead of computer room air conditioning (CRAC).
Since 2007, IBM has been able to double computer processing capability without increasing energy consumption or carbon gas emissions.
It's Wednesday, Day 3, and I can tell already that the attendees are suffering from "information overload'.
The comic combines the recent popularity in cookbooks to help parents get their children to eat morevegetables, such as Jessica Seinfeld's [Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food], with the popularity of the latest Batman movie, [The Dark Knight]. To be fair, I have not reviewed the recipe book,but certainly being the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and mother of his children sufficiently qualifies her to write such a book. I did have the pleasure to see this movie at an IMAX movie theater in Hartford, CT a few weeks ago. I highly recommend it. (See also my friend Pam's awesome [review of this movie]).Some have argued the movie franchise has "gone dark" from the previous Batman movies and may not be appropriatefor children. Hiding vegetables in meals may not the right thing for children either.
Unlike IBM that repeatedly delivers unique and innovative new products to the marketplace, Microsoft pulls theold ["bait and switch"] routine. In a series of hiddencamera interviews, Microsoft asks skeptical people who have never used Microsoft Vista operating system their opinions.As expected, all express concerns of problems they have heard about Microsoft's new OS, from friends, colleagues or Apple television advertisements. On a scale of 0 (won't touch it) to 10 (can't wait to have it), the averageskeptic rated Vista with a paltry 4.4 score.
The Microsoft interviewers then show them the new "Microsoft Mojave" Operating System, and askthese same skeptics for their opinions, of which many (35 out of 140 by one account) express they like it, find this new OS usefuland intuitive. The interviewers then explain that this Mojave OS was nothing more than the existing Vista OS alreadyin the marketplace. The average rating for Mojave OS was a significantly higher 8.5 score.Just like hiding spinach in a meal to get your kids to eat it. They tricked you, and you saidyou liked it!
Perhaps the key take-away is whom should prospective customers listen to when evaluating a new product. Microsoftis reasonable in feeling that customers should not base their opinions about Vista solely on lopsided Apple televisioncommercials. Apple, Inc. is one of Microsoft's primary competitors. I feel, however, that if you have friends or colleagues who have shared with you their hands-on experiences, that indeed should have much higher weighting.
Nothing, of course, beats personal experience. If you want to try out one of IBM's latest products for yourself, please contact your local IBM Business Partner or IBM sales representative.
Fellow blogger Chuck Hollis from EMC has a post titled[Whither Frankenstorage] causing quite a stir in the [Stor-o-Sphere]. He is not the firstEMC blogger to use this phrase, I credit [BarryB] for coining the term back in September 2008.Frankenstein serves as the ideal icon for EMC's FUD machine. In the novel, Dr. Frankenstein wasattempting to do something nobody else had ever attempted, to create human life from variousdead body parts, a process full of uncertainty and doubt, with frightful results.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that I discussed IBM's storage strategy in my post[Foundations and Flavorings] on January 28, shortly followed by NetApp's announcing V-series gateway [support of Texas Memory Systems' RamSan-500] on February 3. These two events mighthave been the trigger that pushed ChuckH over the edge to put pen to paper, .. finger to keyboard.
Flinging FUD in all directions was ChuckH's not-so-subtle way to remind the world that EMC is the only major storage vendor to not offer a successful storage virtualization product. Withoutfirst-hand experience with well-designed storage virtualization, ChuckH conjectures that a configuration matching intelligent front-ends to reliable back-ends might be more expensive, might be more difficult to manage, or might be harder to support.
(Note: Rest assured, IBM can demonstrate that a modular approach, combining intelligent front-ends to reliableback-ends can help reduce costs, be easier to manage, and be fully supported. Contact yourlocal IBM Business Partner or storage sales rep for details.)
My favorite was from Nigel Poulton's post on[Ruptured Monkey]. Here's an excerpt:
In fact, I'm fairly certain that EMC don't back away from customers who run HP or IBM servers and say "sorry we cant help you here, an end to end HP or IBM solution would be much better for you when it comes to troubleshooting……. putting our storage in would only add extra layers of complexity and make things messy….."
On most other days, ChuckH has well-written, insightful blog posts that show that EMC brings some value to the industry. I could have made a snarky reference to[Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde], or indicate this post proves that nobody at EMC is editing or reviewingChuck's thoughts before they get posted. But it's too late, Chuck already got the message, and added the following to bring the discussion back to civility:
When considering the broad range of storage media service levels available today (flash, FC, SATA, spin-down, etc.) what's the best way to offer these media choices in an array? Is the answer (a) combine smaller arrays from different vendors together behind a virtualization head, or (b) invest the time and effort to build arrays that can directly support all of these media types?
Would anyone like to try a cogent response to the question posed, please?
To address ChuckH's question, Nigel's post gave me the idea to use today's 200th year celebration of [Charles Darwin].
Over millions of years, Charles Darwin argued, evolution results in change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms from one generation to the next.A key component of this is a biological process called [mitosis] that allows a single cell to split and become two cells. In some cases, these individual daughter cells can then specialize to specific functions, such as nerve cells, muscle cells or bone cells. Over time, adaptations that work well carry forward, and thosethat don't get left behind.
I find it interesting that before [On the Origin of Species] was published in 1859, works of fiction like Mary Shelley's[Frankenstein] had monsters being"created", and afterward, monsters were the result of mutation or selective adaptation.
Nigel compares EMC's monolithic approach to placing an intelligent front-end with a reliable back-end as "One man band, where one guy is trying playing all the instruments himself" versus the "Philharmonic Orchestra". I would take it one step further, comparing single-cell organisms to multi-cell life forms.
Innovative companies like Google and Amazon can't wait for a completely integrated solution from a major IT vendor to meet their needs. Why should they? There are open standards, and ways to interconnect the best intelligence into a [dynamic infrastructure®.].You don't need to wait another million years to see which way the IT marketplace considers the better approach. Just look at the last 60 years. Back then, computer systems were all integrated, server, storage, and the wires that connected them were all inside a huge container. Then, mitosis happened, and IBM created external tape storage in 1952, and external disk storage in 1956. Open standards for interfaces allowed third party manufacturers like HDS, StorageTek and EMC to offer plug-compatible storage devices.
On the server side, it didn't take long for functionality in mainframes to split off. Mitosis happened again, with front-end UNIX systems processing incoming data, and mainframes handling the back-end data bases and printing. The client-server era replaced dumb terminals with more intelligent desktops and workstations, and these could handle the front-end processing to display information, with the back-end storage and number-crunching being handled by the UNIX and mainframe systems they connected to.Connections between desktops and servers, and from servers to storage, have also evolved. From thousands of direct-attach cables to networks of switches and directors.
Charles Darwin was particularly interested in cases where evolution happened faster or slower than in other cases. While IBM and Microsoft encouraged third-party innovations on the PC side, Apple resisted mitosis, trying to keep its machines pure single-cell, integrated solutions.For the same reasons that you can't fight the laws of nature, Apple ended up having to support I/O ports to external devices. Thanks to open standards like USB and Firewire, you can connect third-party storage to Apple computers. My little Mac Mini at home has more devices hanging off it than any of my Windows or Linux boxes! And Apple's iPod is successful because its iTunes software runs on both Windows and Mac OS operating systems.
Every time mitosis happens in the IT industry, it opens up opportunities to specialize, to innovate, to adapt to a dynamically changing world. When mitosis is suppressed, you get limiting products and frustratedengineers leaving to form their own start-up companies.But when mitosis is encouraged, you get successful products, solutions and partnerships positioned for a smarter planet.