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23Apr/12Off

MS Shooting themselves in their mobile feet again?

I've started to feel sorry for Microsoft recently. Back in the 90s and early 00s I was firmly in the anti MS camp, but the past few years I have slowly moved out of that camp mainly because MS isn't the beast that it used to be. It's a company that just fumbles about at what it does now and doesn't appear to be much of a threat anymore. It has a massive amount of cash still but for some reason can't figure out how to use it. I suppose the potential is still there.

Anyways I was reading this article on slashdot just now about Skype on Windows phone 7. The most immediate complaint was the design of WP7 prevents skype from receiving calls while in the background because with few exceptions like streaming media and stuff any background app is suspended. There is no multi tasking on WP7? As some others I have seen notice - I haven't seen a WP7 phone on anyone yet, so haven't seen the platform in action. Back when what was Palm was gutted last year and the hardware divisions shut down many people were saying how WP7 was a good platform to go to from WebOS, especially the 7.5 release which was pretty new at the time.

I don't multi task too much on my phone or tablets, but it's certainly nice to have the option there. WebOS has a nice messaging interface with full skype integration so skype can run completely in the background. I don't use it in this way mainly because the company I'm at uses Skype as a sort of full on chat client, so the device would be hammered by people talking (to other people) in group chats which is really distracting. Add to that the audible notifications for messaging on WebOS applies to all protocols, so I use a very loud panic alarm for SMS messages for my on call stuff, and having that sound off every couple of seconds when a skype discussion is going is not workable! So I keep it off unless I specifically need it. 99.9% of my skype activity is work related. Otherwise I wouldn't even use the thing. Multi tasking has been one of the biggest selling points of WebOS since it was released several years ago, really seeming to be the first platform to support it (why it took even that long sort of baffles me).

So no multi tasking, and apparently no major upgrades coming either - I've come across a few articles like this one that say it is very unlikely that WP7 users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8/WP8. Though lack of mobile phone upgrades seems pretty common, Android in particular has had some investigations done to illustrate the varying degrees when or if the various handsets get upgrades. WebOS was in the same boat here, with the original phones not getting past version 1.4.5 or something, the next generation of phones not getting past 2.x, and only the Touchpad (with a mostly incompatible UI for phones apparently) having 3.x. For me, I don't see anything in WebOS 3.x that I would need on my WebOS 2.x devices, and I remember when I was on WebOS 1.x I didn't see anything in 2.x that made me really want to upgrade, the phone worked pretty well as it was. iOS seems to shine the best in this case providing longer term updates for what (has got to be) is a very mature OS at this point.

But for a company that has as much resources as Microsoft, especially given the fact that they seem to be maintaining tighter control over the hardware the phones run on, it's really unfortunate that they may not be willing/able to provide the major update to WP8.

Then there was the apparent ban Microsoft put on all players, preventing them from releasing multi core phones in order to give Nokia time to make one themselves, instead of giving even more resources to making sure they could succeed they held the other players back, which not only hurts all of their partners (minus Nokia, or not?) but of course hurt the platform as a whole.

I'm stocked up on WebOS devices to last me a while on a GSM network. So I don't have to think about what I may upgrade to in the future, I suspect my phones might outlive the network technologies they use.

To come back to the original topic - lack of multi tasking - specifically the inability for Skype to operate in the background is really sad. Perhaps the only thing worse is it took this long for Skype to show up on the platform in the first place. Even the zombie'd WebOS has had Skype for almost a year on the Touchpad, and if you happened to have a Verizon Pre2 phone at the time, Skype for that was released just over a year ago(again with full background support). I would of thought given Microsoft bought Skype about a year ago that they would of/ could of had a release for WP7 within a very short period of time(30 days?). But at least it's here for the 8 people that use the phone, even if the version is crippled by the design of the OS. Even Linux has had Skype (which I use daily) for longer. There have been some big bugs in Skype on WebOS - most of them I think related to video/audio, doesn't really impact me since most of my skype usage is for text chat.

While I'm here chatting about mobile I find it really funny, and ironic that apparently Microsoft makes more money off of Android than it does it's own platform(estimated to be five times more last year), and Google apparently makes four times more money off of iOS than it's own platform.

While there are no new plans for WebOS hardware at this point - it wouldn't surprise me at all if people inside HP were working to make the new ARM-based WP8 tablets hackable in some way to get a future version of WebOS on them, even though MS is going to do everything they can to prevent that from happening.

TechOps Guy: Nate

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  1. Maybe this explains why my airtime co, O2, offer the top WP7 Nokias at the same price as monthly rolling, sim only, on generous data plus unlimited everything else? Oh, and at half the price of my equivalent contract with my current phone, which fortunately is off contract any minute now.

    I am still struggling with getting my N8 Symbian in shape post the “Belle” update.

    However, I can see myself buying N8s in bulk, like I did for the last real Ericsson phone, the R520m. They are really very good once you have them set up properly.

    Been a while! You doing well Nate?

    I really wanted to let rip on your recent articles, because what a load of BS is this storage and virtualization game and the licensing! Really, I expect no survivors under the present models. None. The mode of business is simply to be slightly less abusive than EMC. That is a absolutely doomed approach, once word finally spreads EMC only existed because IBM ignored RAID, back in the day. Yeah, I do reckon it takes 30 years for people to get the hint in tech, all the way up to C suite buyers! :-)

    Reason why I am off the ball, not going into any detail, is in no small way to deliberately detune myself from all the artificial positioning these vendors push, and step back big time from something you highlighted – phantom functionality. All these vurt and storage [unprintable] lot think they are mainframe model, upselling inbuilt throttles to performance. Not selling a thing of useful development or support. Have you read Cringley’s takes on IBM lately? Please look, if you haven’t. I think this so called business model will be gone before I am out of contract on any of my next purchases, so I am trying to work out another way.

    all best from me!

    – john

  2. Hey John! long time no see!

    Been pretty busy around here. Nokia for a while(maybe still?) was offering their N900 for free essentially to compensate for some nasty bugs in it.

    I’m doing well yes! Yeah I agree these licensing models are pretty crazy – really the only thing crazier is the licensing models of the clouds out there. But I guess it’s what the market will bear right ?

    I was hanging out with one of my friends this past weekend who worked for a company that really pitches itself as a low cost storage company, they use entirely commodity hardware and their own software on top of it. He mentioned that if you just wanted the basic stuff they were really cheap (he doesn’t work there anymore) – but if you wanted to add in all of the features (replication etc) they often came in more expensive than the likes of Equallogic or even NetApp of all names. Which was quite surprising to me.

    It’s a double edged sword – you have to fund the development of the products somehow. From a storage perspective I like Compellent’s apprach. I was talking to them a month or so ago, and their licensing model is you pay for capacity based on the number of drives in the system (regardless of size/type) – but only up to a certain point (about 100 drives). After that the capacity licensing goes away and the software is “free” from there. You can also upgrade arrays to newer controllers and keep the existing drives and licensing moves with the drives. Though I do like the 3PAR architecture and hardware a lot more than Compellent (though the 3PAR F-class (and E-class before it) has always been light on raw ports you can get on them which I have not liked, just make the controller a bit bigger!)

    I’ve been kinda weary of “all inclusive” software bundles with storage – it often means the software isn’t nearly as good as it could/should be. (and those vendors always seem to lack a premium software upgrade that you could pay to get to so you’re stuck with the stuff the system comes with).

    I think the model will last for a while though, just have to look at HP jacking up the 3PAR prices by a large degree and they can’t seem to make them fast enough to keep up with demand. If the technology is that good(relatively at least), people will pay for it. In HP’s case I have no doubt they are upgrading and replacing a ton of EVA storage out there.

    Also there have been tons of players that have come and gone in the hardware space at least (thinking storage and load balancing in particular) who had different models that were lower cost(at least on paper) that for some reason never really made it (and those that are still around there doesn’t seem to be any indication that things are changing significantly for them). With Virtualization the main casualty so far seems to be the free incarnation of Xen, which most open source providers have abandoned now in favor of KVM.

    I have not seen that article on IBM I will look for it though!

    thanks for the post!!

  3. Hey Nate, glad to hear things well!

    Yup, I see pricing models on software only “storage VAs” (just half a year from being full on, and I’m out of touch with the acronym soup, again!) real close to buying a decent box, lately.

    Obviously, one haggles, but when it comes to cloud models, where there’s no advantage of firmware tweaking and qualification of drives and so on, I think the some of the pricing gets a bit rich.

    TwinStrata offer a download test VM, 1TB capacity for a claimed $2995 list value. Crikey! (You get to keep it, though, FWIW!)

    On top of the cloud service and all that, that’s steep, not to mention that’s a single head VM. Well, of course, you do expect price breaks on volume, but to me that’s an insane opener figure for a software head from a untried name. Having said that, TwinStrata do look like they have very neat tech. I just never ran the eval kit yet because I want to speak to them how that license fee scales before I let myself start liking anything about them!

    I can think of many case models for smaller businesses, for what they do, but the price point (combined with remote cloud storage / bandwidth expenses) just wouldn’t sail.

    I speak, or used to until fairly recently, to a lot of (really) small shops, small law practices, indy design outfits and sales agents, & so on, who would love that offering but it would be a push at $1K. I now firmly say I work in marketing or talk like a lawyer when meeting smaller businesses, just a hint of tech speak and people think they got a free consultant. It’s not the advice that bothers me, it’s the assumption I am liable!! Law definitely gets you people asking you, but at least they don’t expect work for free! My aim this year has been to be more sociable, join the local business clubs, but I feel happier with work being a recluse because it gets so much more done :-)

    I’ve not watched Robin’s video done for TwinStrata, but the feature set is attractive. More on this, later, maybe, but my general overview is marketing is horrendously poor in this field. I live off of ad sales, bottom line, and it’s a chore basically educating marketing departments their game. Because I want to be a discount shop, not a consultancy, that’s about face.

    Back to storage: At the right pricing – assuming it works – I think products like this could be awesome for resource strapped shops. But once again, I think the pricing mindset is wrong. They think of their cost as a discount to hiring someone like you, against which sure they look affordable. But that is unrealistic, ultimately any shop needs someone like you. They just have few tools (does what it says on the tin style!) to get to that scale, which is a factor effing up our economies, I believe.

    The minute one of these companies attacks the low end of the market without low end condescension, cripple ware, and potential lock – in rate hike risk, I will buy their shares and stash them in my pension fund, in size.

    That said, and you rightly point this out, about the software capability, is the reason companies like this go for the high end simply because there is no engineering resource?

    As in, if you have really smart customers as defined by budget – or at least that budget indicates they already have budget enough to test and maintain minimum backup integrity etc. then maybe you can lay on the half – finished product on them? It is a truism, that it invariably takes someone with your skills to herd all the kittens.

    That said, at least on windows, you can simply use DFS or volume shadows, and in theory kit like TwinStrata present a iSCSI target so you could have your offsite replica very easily. But there’s so much that can go wrong, so how much of that 2995/TB is paying off on demand debugging / engineering support?

    Get past that worry, and there’s gonna be a real shake up. The bother I have with cloud stuff, is that everyone is pricing as if they are giving you true datacenter experience and reliability at gift prices, but you need to chain together several suppliers and that doesn’t end up much of a bargain.

    To my mind, the real game is getting 10% or maybe 20% atop a big percentage of shipped capacity of drives, not 1000% of a markup on the few shops who have a clue how to run mission critical, or die if they don’t. Consumers want plug and play data integrity, too.

    I still, anecdotally, see small companies fold because of storage failure too often, bias towards the day they get asked for a tax audit. Despite it all, there’s too much blind faith put in tech by non tech companies.

    Tangential thought . .how long before we see 3GHz ARM cores (just citing the latest, no need for such specs maybe) sitting on drives with split platters / controllers to offer level 1 or 0 whenever we want, do things like ZFS can do local to the disk unit? Why not a DIP switch to choose the config in a 3.5” form factor, and all the rest straight to the OS? SANs introduced a whole other OS to the game, and I say flatten it.

    Okay, unlikely immediately with the power / heat curve, but my argument is far more intelligence could be put at drive level. Already is an awful lot of smarts bundled there. Do Seagate & WD enjoy others adding so many zeros to their tickets forever?

    I am wondering when the pushback will be coming in the enterprise software functionality game. Think of it like cellular phones a few years back. You attached them to a laptop and got data connectivity plus an OS. Now they are the computers. The volume could well be there to do this, and the price points you pay for a enterprise certified drive may well have enough margin. Why should there be a business in controller boards, for example?

    That last point, asking why is there even a controller board market, I think that market simply created one part of the four way drive / os / card / software support chicken and egg for T10 DIFF.

    Or is it that there was no uptake demand for drives supporting that, as T10DIFF can potentially eliminate a lot of worries which qualification of drives (the price hike control of the narrows benefit big vendors) supposedly addresses?

    I am not in a very hands on phase of work life lately, but I have to mention Windows: ReFS, despite I’ve not played with it. You need a Microsoft scale player to shift the software industry, and there looks to be lots of good things in that FS which could be “good enough” for small shops. If MSFT don’t protect that end of the game, they’re not dead but doing a good impression. When I get around to evaling “Server 8″ I shall be loading boxes with Hitachi SSDs which speak T10DIFF, which this new FS also speaks, and trying some insanely dumb, known to thrash the box, queries on known broken software to generate every nasty fault I can, to see how close to point in time the actual subsystem can restore to.

    (I looked at some new desktop kit lately, HP sell stock a workstation box that can have 16c and 512 GB RAM. Supermicro boards do 768GB RAM in the same space. Flaming wow! It’s scary what you can get done in a very small space. Seriously, will the mode employee SME space need many of those to virtual desktop an office? DAS might just come back, yet . . blast it, that has me thinking about bandwidth for backup, that much in RAM, but another time . . )

    I had a thought the other day, about warranties, and how so much kit gets shifted half baked, which you can peruse here:

    http://joesaward.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/a-lawsuit-for-group-lotus/#comment-97043

    hope that’s of some amusement, anyhow.

    You see my bottom line is that I think too much of software is modelled on recurring costs because you are real time funding the development, fixing, and tests. Under which circumstances a “all you can eat” flat price model is impossible. You are literally financing the ongoing startup costs with your license. I wonder how that fits with e.g. Steve Blanks startup modelling??

    This is good on the history of RAID:

    http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/accession/102658217

    think Robin wrote about that too.

    As for cellular phones, I am going to have one concerted effort to straighten out and reinstall my N8. It might just be wonderful on the new Belle revision, but the previous Anna edition was rock solid, and I could cope with clunky. Just they made the camera and some of the UI so much better I am disinclined to downgrade. If it works, it will be my last phone for a long while. What struck me is they en masse laid off I don’t know what proportion of 6000 devs, and suddenly the software improvements came through thick and fast. Like a live play of The Mythical Man Month in reverse!

    all best from me, until soon, I hope or at least not so long . .

    – john

  4. p.s. realized I was contradictory about the being in touch with small biz thing. One hand I cut off picking up the phone to a bunch who would call me for advice, but never created any sales for me, other hand, decided would be nice to get out and about, meet with local associations not in my field in person. Just for a change of scene. I had a bit too many who sussed I work all hours, and treated me as free 24/7 support. The one thing which I always have thought, though, is there is a perverse thing that goes on in the field of IT. Regular people think if you know anything you are some kind of priest withholding something from them. I guess that’s because explaining something complex would require a whole tuition course to inform someone properly. So there’s this thing where people think it’s their entitlement to have their kit fixed. I have been exposed to violence, more than once, for trying to do a favor. The “it’s easy, trust us, we’re a big company” marketing / ad sell that small biz types are exposed to has created I think a strange conditioning, and one of those conditioning effects is that if you touch a machine, the “customer” will assume immediately you have deliberately screwed with things to extort money. At the low end of business, this is in fact many company owner’s experience. But I think this is one of the most fascinating social consequences of marketing ever created. There is no such thing as a “regular guy” in IT, and any large scale marketing to try to sell that image has backfired because there isn’t that much talent available at WalMart wages. The levels of ignorance as to IT and reliance on IT I have encountered, right up close, friendly, with founders of multi million dollar turnover outfits, is stunning. Sorry if this sounds like a typical /. moan, but educating people as to this impedance mismatch could turn around the small business economy, if not immediately, but in a not far off time. A smart IT savant can dish out experience that if followed could save multiple businesses at once, if only they could step up to common ground. Meanwhile, the smart ones who actually care go blog, and the small business crowd need to learn how to refine a search on google to find that. Any time I think about this, at least in terms of blogging myself, under my own title I feel it’s just too much wasted effort, not being a paid writer. So always appreciate somewhere else to put my thoughts on subjects that are important to me. Finally, there is even a book, I noticed (sorry forgot) about how Google is customizing search results too much to histories, so does a worried vendor of luxury products even see search results relevant to fixing their computer woes? I can’t say, but it worried me lately. Society does react, but it could react in positive ways faster, I am pretty sure, and I am sure I have slowed down in recent years . .

  5. I haven’t heard of TwinStrata but I did talk to Nasuni a couple weeks ago who have a similar model it looks like. In the end at least their technology wasn’t aimed at what we might want to use it for. Also keep in mind “cloud” storage is far different than transactional storage. There are huge latencies in the cloud. So it’s really only useful for storing stuff that you would otherwise store on tape because of latency. I give the example of my own company that has a site in Atlanta, with a 1Gbps connection and sub 20ms latency to Amazon S3 – we get around 3MB/s of throughput from S3. The theory of local caching cloud and stuff sounds nice but I think it’s too early for the technology at this point for anything other than small chunks of data or larger chunks but treated as cold storage.

    Since Twinstrata seems to rely on 3rd party cloud storage providers (like Nasumi) you should be able to go look at their prices directly to get an idea what the minimum costs would be. I don’t think Twinstrata or Nasumi is any sort of market position to be able to demand much lower rates than what is publically available, unless perhaps they come with a customer that wants to store a PB of data or something.

    The biggest advantage to something like Nasumi in my mind at least was the automation and (more importantly) encryption of data in the cloud. Doing that manually is a giant pain in the ass.

    With regards to cloud there is also a huge difference between the cloud object stores vs the more general Infrastructure as a Service (and the storage that comes with that). The object stores are truely pay for what you use rather than what you provision, the availability seems to be better(on paper anyways), however again the object stores are not for any sort of transactional data. Different products for different markets. Add on top of that, in Amazon’s case for example their object store is not global – that is if you want to protect your data against a region losing availability (while unlikely it has happened before), and want to replicate your data between east and west coasts in the U.S. for example – you have to manage that yourself (or have something like Twinstrata or Nasuni do it assuming they can).

    As for your thought on the integrated RAID within a single HD I don’t see that happening any time soon – it’s more cost effective to do that external to the drive and just use two drives, of course tons of those solutions exist for SOHO type folks today. I’ve never used one, and would not feel comfortable relying on one vs a server with real RAID of course.

    More intelligence is coming in the consumer space – the hybrid Seagate XT (?) is great (I use two of em), and I’m sure other manufacturers are coming with competing products as well. Currently the Seagate hybrid’s SSD is a read cache only but it has the obvious potential of turning into a write cache (not sure what the limitation might be maybe worry on the reliability of the flash since flash seems to fail more often than spinning rust which is just weird). If the cache fails on the hybrid XT no data (should be) is lost since it’s a read only cache, and the drive (should be) able to operate normally without the cache, just a bit slower.

    I’m not sure if such technology will make it into the enterprise space, or if the enterprise guys will rely more on hybrid arrays built with separate flash vs spinning rust components which may give them a higher degree of control and management over the I/O.

    Your thoughts on cloud reducing the need for people like me is spot on though, I was just thinking about that recently. The last two companies I worked for built EVERYTHING from the ground up in “the cloud”, and if anything, working in the cloud requires MORE expertise rather than less because of all of the limitations you are faced with working in the cloud (well at least in Amazon’s case). Combine the limitations with a terrible support model where you don’t get help for your issues and that just makes the need for expertise even higher than a more traditional model.

    The one exception to that argument would be the Software as a service model, with salesforce.com being the poster child for that industry. In that case you don’t need people like me because there’s no infrastructure to handle at any level, you may need help desk people to maintain the computers to access the remote software, or the occasional network tech to fix the network. Other SaaS things that offer infrastructure services like Exchange and the like I *think* often still require trained folks at the customer in order to operate right in some cases. But of course even SaaS isn’t fool proof there’s a lot of trust you have to put into the provider, and hoping they know what they are doing. A fairly common service in the software development space is the services provided by Atlassian(sp?) who provide hosted services for the likes of Jira (bug reporting), and Confluence(wiki) and subversion. There was an article on The Register last week that talks about 50-some odd customers losing all of their data because the cloud storage company Atlassian relies upon had multiple storage failures. Apparently there were no backups.

    Speaking of T10DIF I had a very informative conference call with the 3PAR Chief architect a few weeks ago and I asked him why it took 3PAR 10 years to implement this sort of tech – specifically I recall reading a few years ago that the EMC Clariion used 520-byte sectors to help improve data integrity (I don’t know if that alone constitutes T10 or not or if T10 is a newer standard). I was also interested to see that while the low end Clariion had such tech I read that the higher end Symmetrix did not. He mentioned that T10 has to be implemented in the entire chain for it to be effective, so mainly they had to wait on not only the drives, but the FC HBA guys as well, and they probably had to put some stuff in their ASIC to handle it in that part of the path. But yeah I’m pretty excited about T10 and it’s ability to improve data integrity, I only wish my system was able to use it!

    Your words about customers blaming support for their systems having problems when support didn’t cause the problem after they may of touched the system is great too. It’s one of the reasons I really don’t do consulting for any fees. I don’t want to deal with the level of responsibility (in addition to my normal job) that comes with on the side consulting. I’m more than happy to give advice for free, or if the problem may be simple login to a system and fix it(done it a couple times recently for a co-worker’s email server). But don’t want money for that, my services are best effort with no warranty or guarantee.

    thanks for the incredibly, incredibly long post and sorry it took so long to get back :)


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