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» TED Talks A friend of mine (cheers Eddie!) pointed me at the excellent TED Talk series.

Subscribe to their RSS feed now.

Theres always something you can set aside 15 minutes of your time to learn about or dump to your mp3 player to listen/watch while you commute.

Recent favourites of mine have included - 'Build a brain in a supercomputer', 'Our buggy moral code', 'What brain damage can point out about our mind', 'Why are babies cute? Why is cake sweet?'   |

TED Talks

Saturday 17 October 2009 at 09:23 am A friend of mine (cheers Eddie!) pointed me at the excellent TED Talk series.

Subscribe to their RSS feed now.

Theres always something you can set aside 15 minutes of your time to learn about or dump to your mp3 player to listen/watch while you commute.

Recent favourites of mine have included - 'Build a brain in a supercomputer', 'Our buggy moral code', 'What brain damage can point out about our mind', 'Why are babies cute? Why is cake sweet?'

No More Servers

Sunday 11 October 2009 at 2:21 pm A nice tidbit over at Data Centre Knowledge - Rackspace Says 'No More Servers'.

Which points to a new online community titled, funnily enough, NoMoreServers. The focus is on removing the need for dedicated in-house servers and moving to a 'hosted' environment (different again from 'housing').

Software as a Service, Hosted Virtual Servers and Cloud Computing have been around for several years now but all three technologies have reached a point of maturity sufficient to warrant a serious re-appraisal (pervasive broadband and mobile computing have certainly helped too).

TechEd 2009 Notes

Saturday 10 October 2009 at 07:56 am I attended TechEd 2009 in Auckland a few weeks ago - quite a good experience but the organisation could have been better (labs that didn't work, little or no space to relax and no small workshop sessions to sit down with SME's).

I've written brief notes and attached the presentations (click the ppt link) for each session I attended, plus added a few observations.


Exchange 2k10 new features - ppt

  • Running down sis -> focus on performance instead of worrying about storage

  • Looking at removing message recall

  • Public folder still supported

  • Free/busy federation and address lookup

  • Exchange UM - Dial plans enhanced

  • Exchange UM - Alternate follow-me type call plans

  • Exchange UM - Message transcription for text preview

  • Exchange UM - Private voicemail

  • Exchange UM - MWI included

OK, I know everyone hates Lotus Notes but each version gets better, does more on slower hardware and allows for an in-place upgrade. Exchange is adding more features but the complexity is really starting to get out of control (try finding accurate doco on setting up UMS on e2k7; will the VOIP capabilities of e2k10 be any easier to implement?).

Azure - ppt

  • Cloud computing platform

  • SQL/.NET

  • Architected for HA (SQL runs across three nodes with multiple DB copies with load balancing built into the platform)

  • Scale-out architecture

  • Flexible pricing model - NZ one of the release countries

  • Good for rapid prototyping - low setup cost, easy to migrate to, easy to tear down

Actually a real eye-opener - primarily a dev session - the audience was markedly different from the infrastructure sessions -> much younger with a better gender split. Azure looks fairly compelling. If I were in a .NET/ASP shop I'd start getting stuck into this stuff, at least for rapid-prototyping, to build familiarity with the platform. That way you'll be well placed to cut out the middle-man (ie infrastructure) when it comes to delivering client functionality.


Whats new in SCOM R2 - ppt

  • Unix/Linux support

  • Dashboards - up to 6 systems or services

  • Services can comprise multiple systems

  • Visio connector for live updates

My biggest SCOM gripe is that it seems to be an absolute resource pig and tuning the alerts takes an inordinate amount of time. I'd say wrestling with a from scratch Nagios and Cacti install, pre-built VM monitoring appliance or commercial offering such as WhatsUpGold or SNMPc would be time and money better spent. That being said if you are an all Microsoft shop then at least give SCOM a test run first - its certainly capable - it just needs a lot of attention.

Reinventing remote access with Direct Access - ppt

  • IPv6 only

  • Windows 7 Enterprise only

  • Server 2k8r2 required - two NIC's - one external and one internal (no NAT or firewall in front of the external connection) -> I'm guessing the interfaces themselves can have the built-in Windows firewall enabled.

  • Puts a domain joined machine directly onto your LAN from anywhere on the internet

  • You can control endpoints to govern which target systems are accessible

  • Falls back to IPv4 via a gateway service

DirectAccess looks very cool - implementing it is going to give people headaches and nightmares. We're looking to go IPv6 in the very near future - our servers are capable, we're looking at rolling out Windows 7 Enterprise early next year and our Cisco/Juniper infrastructure is capable (there'll be a fair few IOS upgrades in the works though). A couple of issues are going to keep old fashioned VPN around for quite awhile to come - no mention of cross-platform support or non-domain client access (ie home PC).

Save money with OCS conferencing - ppt

  • Focus primarily on audio conferencing / bridging

  • OCS R2 can now do peer to peer HD (not multipoint though)

  • Web conferencing (a la WebEx)

  • Federation with other agencies

NZ Post Retail BI - ppt

    Designed to solve monthly reporting headaches - inconsistent board and performance reporting

    · Data in many Access DB's, flat files and distributed systems

    · No single version of the truth

    · Traditionally it took 5 Data Analysts 3-4 days to prepare monthly reports

    Agile project - 3 weekly cycles with a functioning prototype delivered each cycle

    Delivered self service BI portal to business in 6 months

    · Access via web interface or cubes can be analysed direct from Excel

    Aggregated data from 14 source systems

    · Data from all retail PostShops across 400 individual products

    · Live drill down through data and charts

    No coding - all customisation of existing Microsoft solutions

    Stack - all Microsoft SQL 2k8, PerformancePoint, SharePoint

    3.5 FTE's with input from the Business and internal Post BA's and Analysts

    Were able to run demo using a subset of data (1 year instead of 7) on a laptop

This was one of the sessions I was most impressed with. We have two and a half data-warehouses, hundreds of access databases and a number of business critical reporting systems - so this was great session with many similarities to my own workplace. To see it successfully implemented with minimal coding and a highly satisfied client was truly impressive.


Archiving and Retention in E2K10 - ppt

  • Customer demand for compliance, auditing solution

  • Mail can now be stored in online archives (which don't sync to client but are searchable online and via OWA)

  • Unfortunately no concept of tiered storage - archives sit on the same stores as normal mail databases

  • Broader range of managed folder options and retention / deletion policies including 'hold everything' (ie deleted mail isn't really deleted its kept as part of an audit or legal requirement)

  • Compliance Officer role - enables someone to search across designated mailboxes - search results (incl deleted mail) presented in a dynamically generated mailbox

This should be awesome! No more messing around with oddball mail archiving systems. Rolling this sort of basic functionality into Exchange is going to cover 90% of peoples archiving and compliance needs.

A lap around Microsoft, Codename 'Oslo' - ppt

  • Microsoft moving into the EA Modelling world - can use 'Oslo' to model IT and business functions and rules

  • Uses psuedo-code to generate live SQL queries and visual models which can use real data as an input and be tuned to generate an appropriate output.

Next to the SCOM talk this was probably the dullest presentation - I'm sure for architects its a great tool. If you're not, then this was one of the topics to pass on.

Everything you need to know about VDI (joint session with Citrix) - ppt

  • Becoming increasingly popular

  • Thin clients (processing done on the server), fat clients (processing done locally)

  • Key is a solid, stable and managed desktop *before* VDI - no point virtualising a mess!

  • Interesting use case scenarios
    · Network boot hundreds of PC's from single disk image and track changes
    · Desktop and applications are streamed as required
    · Vpro processor technology means laptops will have a built in hypervisor
    · Means a business can tell employees to buy their own PC which will run as its own VM
    · Business VM runs independently with business apps and tighter security rules

  • Cost is not usually the driver for VDI (ie it won't save you money)
    · Does offer greater flexibility and delivery mechanisms plus a consistent user experience across a number of devices (ie work, home, laptop, browser etc)

Another impressive session - a number of people at the session had implemented VDI in one form or another (amusingly most were using VMWare VDI/View rather than Citrix or HyperV). The flexibility angle seems to be the big sell here - access your stuff from anywhere either from your own PC at home or your work PC.

SharePoint vs Drupal

Saturday 10 October 2009 at 07:29 am This is a little biased (he's obviously an open-source LAMP fan; specifically the Drupal CMS) but the points he raises as SharePoint difficulties are similar to the ones we've experienced.

Pop over and have a read of Drupal vs SharePoint

We've had ongoing issues, particularly items 1, 2, 3, 4, 6:

1.Setting up a local development environment is difficult and expensive.
We solved (if you can call it that) by just giving admin rights to the dev SharePoint boxes - the catch is that opportunities to customize the environment for a developer decreases moving through Systest, UAT and Production so its very easy for things to get out of synch.

2.Setting up an efficient development/deployment process is cumbersome.
We don't have a fix - apparently you can develop automated deployments from TFS (Team Foundation Server - the successor to Visual Source Safe) for SharePoint but most project managers wouldn't wear the additional expense of a foolproof scripted deployment for a one-off project. So we manually move between environments and every deployment brings with it new and odd problems (often the fix isn't regression tested which means going from UAT into Prod can bring new and unforeseen issue; often not helped by inconsistances from item #1).

3.Theming SharePoint is extremely difficult.
Doing anything thats not out of the box seems to cost a lot of time and money - very little of which seems to be re-usable.

4.Many SharePoint modules (aka webparts) are quirky and don't work as expected.

5.Lists and libraries are quirky and also often do not work as expected.

6.SharePoint is slow and does not give you real access to the database that powers it.
In fact - reinforcing this point - messing with the back-end SQL database will render your SharePoint environment unsupportable. Microsoft patches and hotfixes may just over-write anything you've added above and beyond the standard SharePoint working databases. Without telling you. Nice.

The comment from another developer in the discussion thread is interesting too and nails why the SharePoint push is so strong for IT management in terms of a seamless user experience for their clients:

"I would love to dump sharepoint altogether, but users simply will not accept a detaching, editing, and attaching workflow for documentation management. They simply want to click and go. It wouldn't matter if a drupal site could serve them coffee and cake-- they simply won't stand for the attachment method of document management."

What the article didn't point out is that a growing number of people (particularly the younger generation) write on the web for the web (ie don’t use Word) so the DMS paradigm is becoming less relevant. Check out The prospects of Microsoft Word in the wiki-based world.

Kiwi Science Blog

Monday 05 October 2009 at 6:40 pm A friend of mine finally got his blog-on -

Shauns writes about the recent 2Degrees mobile ad campaign which posits the theory that Kiwis have two degrees of separation. The ads got Rhys Darby in it so take a look.

Looks like 4.5 degrees-of-separation is still pretty good.

Now to add Sciblogs NZ to the sidebar and subscribe the the rss feed . . .


Yet another blog about stuff.

The image in the header is mine.

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