Apple’s Mapocalypse continues: Google Maps on iOS

Last night, late, just before Midnight EST, Apple graciously allowed Google’s Maps application through the firewall to the general App store consuming public.

One key addition of course is the turn-by-turn voice guided directions which is very similar to Apple’s own maps, with 3D buildings, 2D/3D views (though not *the same* as Apple’s built-in maps), public transit, street view, and even more features honestly. Of course one of the nice things in this maps app, if the fact it’s here isn’t enough for you, is that you also have access to all those awesome search capabilities that Google just brings by default.

Lastly, Google Maps for iOS also provides one thing not seen before and that is synchronization between devices which is something that Apple has yet to provide regarding maps specifically. Overall, I think this is a massive thumbs up and I can’t tell you how much nicer it is down in manhattan than Apple Maps. No really, I can’t, I haven’t tried it in-person yet, but I can tell you addresses in Manhattan at least show exactly where things should be correctly. That feature, as any Australian will tell you is indeed priceless.

One final note on the Apple Maps subject, I still like Apple Maps for some very good reasons, One being it integrates directly with Siri and I happen to love using Siri for many things. I also like their 3d version much better than Google Maps, but when it comes to being accurate, sometimes, it’s really really important to get it right the first time. I think the gauntlet has been thrown and answered reluctantly, now to see if both Google and Apple are up to the challenge of cooperating.

Get your Google Maps in the iTunes Store.

Also, others have written cool stories, here’s one that I’m sure a lot of you will like from “Life Hacker.”

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FaceTime on unlimited

FaceTime over cellular has long been a sticking point for many of us on AT&T but as of the last few days there appears to be some sort of lift on the ban they had previously held. Reports have been coming in from several sources around the Internet. Here is one example, a tweet by @macrumors:

@MacRumors: AT&T Seems to Be Extending FaceTime-Over-Cellular to All Customers http://t.co/MgvAyMaT

I myself have tested this on my iPhone 5 on AT&T and it works after a reboot and you must be on ios6.0.1 or higher!

Update: while this was working yesterday, this feature is again restricted today. That’s either really stupid or just sad. Anyone else see it work and disapear?

Windows “Ocho” sales ache ahead of black friday

In a previous article I wrote right here about Windows 8’s interface and what to expect, there is much more evidence that Microsoft is indeed feeling the pinch.

An article over at Apple Insider highlights this phenomenon and comes after the recent departure of Steven Sinofsky who,until recently, headed the Windows division at Microsoft.

Many of my friends and colleagues have little understanding of the interface for Windows 8 as yet and those I have discussed the matter with all seem to have a wait and see approach, especially where Enterprise environments are concerned. Speaking of enterprise environments, most are just now rolling out Windows 7 due to the soon to be unavailable Windows XP which is still a staple of many environments today.

If businesses and enterprises can make heads or tales of Windows 8 then I predict the broad general user base of consumers and power users will too.

Until then, despite Microsoft’s wishes, we’ll all just have to wait and see.

Sandy. Nor’Easter. Bury the lines.

Living in the North East we recently had the luxury of being put through a Hurricane named Sandy. It was not much of a rain hurricane for us in the NE as much as it was the terrible wind  it bore and resulting tree and power damage that resulted. There was flooding but mainly because of the massive storm surge and not in our area only in those near the bay and beach communities. It was bad for us, and worse for them.

We lost power on monday afternoon as the storm started to kick up and then didn’t get it back until mid-day saturday. We left however late thursday I think. The fridge and freezer was starting to thaw faster than we wanted though it did hold on for several days. We ate most of what was going to spoil, ate by candle light, used wood for heat and took minimal showers to stay clean. Going anywhere wasn’t really an option either. We couldn’t even get out of our neighborhood for 2 days due to all the down power-lines and trees which caused the damage.

I personally, along with 5 or 6 other guys in the neighborhood helped clear 3 or 4 such trees, but that was just to get off our street. After that effort with a clear street and moved wires, we were in an oasis. We could cruise our street but that was it, then the gas crisis. We couldn’t really go anywhere if we wanted to, not for another day or so at least and when we did get gas, it was truly only luck and then we left the next day to stay with family until power came back on. Fortunately for us, we didn’t wait long compared to others, who today still don’t have power.

Getting back to work was even harder. Gas was hard to come by, commuting by train wasn’t much of an option even though my wife attempted it with stir craziness starting to seep in and I stayed at home with the kids most of the time because the schools were just at a loss until power had been restored. We lost almost 2 full weeks of work time and the kids lose 4 days of spring break to make up for it.

The wife and me did what we could to do *some* work but it wasn’t much and it was difficult to accomplish anything at best until more power was restored to our places of business as well.

Fragile as a Rope on Fire

Power. Electricity. We so need it. It runs our lives. My wife and I could get along without it but then when it comes to things like getting gas, storing food, communicating, etc, we’re done for. Really really done for. All of us, until we do better at storing it, instead of transmitting it all the time. Electric transmission wires held up by wooden or concrete poles are so fragile. They rely on and provide support for one another. Any one of the poles gets knocked down and the others near it just get stressed and strained until gravity ultimately wins and the lines come down.

Why? Why would we put a critical infrastructure component in a congested area with trees everywhere and don’t cut any trees down close to the power lines possibly more simply, bury these lines. This outage and crisis which ensued will happen again and I for one vote we change the infrastructure in a very meaningful way by getting rid of lines on poles and improve the wires themselves and bury them. There will be little to no maintenance of the lines if done correctly and a broad base all around the US who bury their lines for us to use as an example.

Not only was there lost productivity, there were major medical problems, people lost lives, froze to death, got sick, starved because of the critical component we need to function all the time that no longer could and cause everything else to stop … *snap* … that fast.

It was crazy. We’re safe, and healthy. If I weren’t a Marine and didn’t know how not to give up, we’d have had a much worse time than we did and I feel sorry for those folks out there who aren’t as capable.

To give you a brief idea of what I mean, we had heat by fire, cooked on the fire, searched for firewood which someone also shared with us. I chopped wood with an axe to add to our stash, bought some from another guy, etc. Next was to wash clothes in the bathtub and my modern-day wife never would’ve had that I’m sure but it was what I was prepared to do. If we’d had to, I was thinking of how we could kill some deer that frequent the property for food if need be. Thankfully it didn’t come to that or even really close, but still, I had to be prepared because of the fragile nature of things. It was a crazy time but my instincts and training were in full swing.

It was nuts, and that was only after about 4 days for a guy with 4 kids and a wife. Whew.

Creating a Virtualization Strategy

The use of virtualization is pretty well accepted these days and you find it pretty much everywhere, from the mid-range consumer PC to the high-end enterprises Virtualization is getting lots of play.

Using virtualization 10 or 12 years ago, yes that long ago, was almost bleeding edge and forget even suggesting running it in production. Most folks saw virtualization technologies as a nice to have not a need to have. More recently though data center managers started trying to squeeze ever more utilization out of their existing environments through hardware consolidation and scale-up efforts only to find that this was no magic bullet and required something to take the pain out of these massive projects and increase success rate of consolidation and scale-up/out implementation. Virtualization was indeed an answer but many who had considered it almost a toy were still unsure if it could handle the stress and load of “production” capacity and so only virtualized items they felt were less critical. This is where the recent tidal surge of virtualization has come from inducing a subsequent wave of “Cloud” technology hype.

Virtually There

Where some see a challenge others don’t see any. The use of virtualization is a huge boon to companies trying to squeeze every last penny out of their investments and long term costs but it requires care and feeding in a somewhat different way than non-virtualized infrastructure. The main reason is mathematics. When consolidating and a solution is sized properly, servers wind up being put onto a single pool of resources as virtual machines, or VMs, which require either the same or slightly less resources than their physical counterparts because all resources are used as a pool. The math problem comes from something call “over subscription” whereby a data center manager or administration team will intentionally add “too many” hosts for the available resources but still create the VMs with the “proper” resource sizing known to be needed in the physical world. This is basically a bet that not all the resources on a given host will need to be used at the same time and thus there will always be free resources available. Another part of the math is simply the number of servers now placed on the VM Host.

In a given scenario where 100 physical servers are consolidated down to 2 or 4 VM Hosts, those servers, if not reduced in total number from 100 will all be housed on the VM Host, but then additional services may be needed and result in new servers being created or “spun up” as we say in the biz. With over subscription this activity is almost limitless without safe-guards put in place. (like using a hierarchy of resource pools and assigning rules against them to stem the tide of over-subscription) Due to the capability of being able to oversubscribe though, data centers have a very rich, organically grown sprawl of virtual machines that ultimately increases the burden on IT staff to support such infrastructures.

Without seeing this challenge, you just sprung a trap on yourself. This is a common scenario in which folks who begin to enjoy the ease of use and increased capability find themselves. Servers, everywhere. This means that once servers go from physical to virtual that the DR, backup, and ultimately recovery and management scenarios must change as dramatically as the infrastructure.

Displacement

Another challenge that arises from all this consolidation and capability is more of a people problem. The problem of job displacement. Responsibilities that were once tied to a specific group or person within the IT staff now becomes more of a shared responsibility. The environment is sprawling with virtual server fauna if you will and everyone who works in the environment has to know more about what’s going on with each person involved in IT. Once this happens though and you now have a broad set of resources with which to manage the everything, the next step is often reduction of those resources because IT staff has become commoditized to a degree, depending on the level of specialization within the infrastructure of course.

Adopting this paradigm is a huge mistake.

The resources you have before you virtualize can be readily reassigned to support individual or groups of  business units, improve service times, increase profits, prevent outages, and many other crucial IT related functions. What often occurs though is the numbers look so good after consolidating is that someone in upper management often suggests saving “just a little more capital or OpEx” cost by headcount reduction. It’s a short-term win but a long-term loss since it is inevitable that the good ones will leave, and the mediocre will stay, and without significant improvement in human capital (i.e. training) businesses will often suffer from brain drain and their new found freedom, flexibility, and competitive edge will have been reduced significantly. Math strikes again.

Cloud … Could I?

Profit center, cost center, how about competitive center? Many companies have developed a way of utilizing virtualization as more than a means to an end, but rather an on-going process to accomplish many different kinds of goals and employ more than one kind of virtualization for the right reason to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket as a company but also to remain nimble in the face of an ever changing landscape. The hype calls it Cloud, I call it ubiquity. Omnipresent computing infrastructure that never goes down, never breaks, and never needs maintenance at a general level which also *never* shows signs of aging, bottlenecks, has unlimited capability for resiliency and scalability. That is this so called “cloud.” It doesn’t exist, anywhere, but we do have parts of it and someday soon, we might actually see a system which accomplishes this Omnipresent computing. One key component of that infrastructure is Automation. Virtualization infrastructures allow for this type of automation but on  the small scale without lots of human capital to manage it. Once *simple* automatic deployment and provisioning capabilities are widely available and *very easily* integratable regardless of the virtualization infrastructure, then we may get closer to this “Cloud.”

You can use virtualization today to garner in a new era of computing and that is the virtualization strategy you need to adopt in order to provide the level of service the needs of each business unit. First work on the Physical-to-Virtual migration and decide what services will get consolidated down to which virtual machines and keep the relative number of machines low but scale up their virtual beefiness. This will allow a greater degree of flexibility without the need for massive recovery infrastructure jobs, etc. Keeping the relative number of machines low will improve responsiveness to applications which reside on them as well as provide simplicity in management and allow easy use of technologies such as snapshots.

Next prepare for scalability by adopting a lego-block type of approach when budgeting for and building out the infrastructure. This will help to maintain the current resource utilization curve the environment has as well as keep performance in check since bottlenecks are well known after the P2V migration exercise you just performed. Use 10Gbps network connections where possible and try to keep the hardware footprint to a minimum to avoid large  amounts of capital asset depreciation.

(i.e. servers are commodity usually if built small enough, storage might even be the same way depending on the contents of your “lego-block.”)

The Kitchen Sink

Don’t forget Backup, DR, and remote access capabilities and technologies and process updates. As I already outlined, these are usually crucial and if you downsize physical servers and increase your capability you will rely on Backup, Recovery, DR and Remote Access a ton more than you ever did before. No consoles to log on, just remote terminals. Might as well find a way to add this to your arsenal of company competition capabilities. (say that five times fast)

Don’t forget the user-base. With all these changes they might start feeling like you don’t care about their needs and complain that “IT doesn’t listen to us” or that “IT is so stupid. They just took X server offline and that’s where Y app was” etc. User acceptance testing , UAT, is often critical in determining how successful IT is performing for business related goals, especially when you’re talking about a large effort like consolidation. Users are fickle and finicky, but if you listen to and include them in large transitions like this they might surprise you by actually helping IT efforts when virtualizing, consolidating, and recovering.

Don’t forget where your headed. Keeping to the plan once it is in progress is important and anyone will tell you that scope-creep is a huge problem, but so is simply losing focus on the end goal:

Transforming your existing environment from a cost center to a competitive center.

Keeping your focus and communicating through the transition as well as your long-term goals and strategy as a business unit like all the rest will help you get there, save the day once in awhile, and allow you to increase budget. This is of course so long as  you can show how the strategy allows the business to make more profit. Doing this will make everyone happy, and keep everyone else off your tail.

Don’t forget the desktops either! Virtualizing desktops is a great win for a company that wants to virtualize infrastructure but has to be done as a discreet process either before or after the major infrastructure changes for two reasons. VDI as it is know, can either cause the changes or be a product of the changes I’m writing about. How you proceed into that area is up to you but DR will get a whole lot easier if you do go down the VDI path.

Finally

We’re not talking keeping up with the Jones’s, we’re talking about going someplace the Jones’s aren’t even going. IT that helps the company make money because it is truly integrated into every facet of what the company is doing, where it makes sense of course, and introducing a level of resiliency, flexibility, and nimbleness that leaves a company moving ever forward and not stagnant and aging. It does mean a lot of changes, but it can be done, it takes time, effort, a lot of effort, even more effort, money, some more effort, a huge amount of communication, consulting time, buy-in, dedication and commitment, and good people to manage all those changes and provide the business with a good comfort level.

Did I mention effort? It can take months to roll out a highly virtualized environment in a large enterprise, so it should be looked at as a process, but just because it takes less time in a smaller environment doesn’t mean the same methodology shouldn’t apply. It does.

Plan, prepare, deploy, manage, upgrade, scale and repeat.

After all this one day you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t virtualize sooner.

 

 

Where have I been for over a year?

A lot has happened over the last year and I’m finally getting back into the swing of it. I have a lot of transition still going on but I’ll start to add more articles again at least once a month at a minimum, but I hope to have at least one a week.

I have been super busy though and can’t wait to get back into it.

Look Here: Windows 8 has arrived … sort of.

Depending on your affinity for different technology in today’s cultural environment you will have a different take on Windows 8.

If you like using windows day to day I think you will either laud it as a more usable and accessible set of features or be left wondering what happened to your beloved Windows desktop.

There is actually a lot to like about Windows 8 and the “metro” start panel, but it is *quite* disorienting for those not up to speed with the “latest advancement” in Windows.

Gartner/CNet/ZDnet have all published articles to echo this sentiment, like This Story.

Split Brain Syndrome

The massive change for Windows stems from the fact that Microsoft has finally figured out it’s strategy for the “post PC era” of computing with release of the recent Surface Tablet.

You see Windows 8’s start panel is much easier for those of us who use tablets, or desire to, as the primary computing device in every day work as the moniker “post PC era” is meant to convey. Then Windows 8 also has the ability to deliver to those users who need it a windows desktop, use the explorer, etc. On top of those two integrated interfaces there is sort of a third interface which is the window/task management methodology which also has two possible methods of access. This can leave some users wondering what those at Microsoft were thinking but if you consider the touchy/feely interface of a tablet, this makes a lot of sense (no pun intended, but probably should’ve been).

All this tablet-ready integration is great but one thing Microsoft is also trying to accomplish is to push their methods of access in one direction, to the tablet.

They’re surrounded by challenges, enemies if you will, all eating at their precious PC base. It’s a beat ’em or join ’em kind scenario but microsoft has employed the one thing they are really good at when “joining them”, their “embrace and extend” mantra. It remains to be seen if this will be sustainable in the long term, but for now, Microsoft is trying to at least get to the playing field to see how level it already is without their participation. They’re still climbing in my opinion.

Ease Your Transition

One thing I have experience that really helps transitioning into Windows 8 is using a multitouch trackpad such as Apple’s Magic Trackpad. This one thing alone can greatly increase the usability because it helps consolidate the functionality of the touchy/feely interface to help reduce the Split Brain interface problems I outlined. I have found that using a multitouch interface makes everything much better. One problem though is certain kinds of power users and games which also require a mouse. So in order for a standard PC to truly take advantage of things you now need 3 interface devices, a Keyboard, a mouse, and a multitouch surface.

So, what to do?

1. Go with the “Surface” or add hardware?

2. Jump ship (get a Mac and thereby upgrade hardware, UI, etc.)

3. Wait and see

4. Hack windows 8 into looking like Windows  7

Good luck everyone.

Let me know how you like Windows 8 and your experiences with it in the comments!