May 31, 2007

It's 11:30 PM. Do You Know What Your Servers Are Doing?

My guess is that your servers are still powered on, but probably not doing anything. I'm writing this post from my hotel room, after a nice dinner in downtown Minneapolis with my engineering team. After a relaxing, long weekend, I hopped a short flight up to the land of 10,000 lakes to spend some time with my engineering team in our Cassatt office in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

Earlier in the afternoon, Jason showed me his latest updates to the Collage Reporting application. The Collage Reporting application collects statistics on how your managed servers and services are used and builds a data warehouse with this information. The Reporting application provides metering capabilities by delivering reports that detail:
  • Which resources (e.g., servers) are allocated to different applications or departments.
  • Utilization of these resources in CPU-hours.
These reports allow your IT department to charge the different lines of business for their actual usage of data center resources. Jason and I talked about some enhancements. What if you could enter the depreciation and operating cost (i.e., power and HVAC) of each server? Now, you get an actual operating cost for your business applications!

I'll provide more details (and a screen shot) in a future post. It's almost midnight in Central Time, and I think I'm going to call it a night...

May 28, 2007

A Whale of a Weekend

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past three weeks, you've probably heard of Delta and Dawn-- the mother and daughter humpback whale who have been swimming in the Sacramento River. On Saturday, I decided to go see the whales for myself. So, the wife, kids and I piled into the car and let the trusty navigation system guide us to Rio Vista, home of the Rio Vista Bridge that you've been seeing on TV. The 90 mile drive from Palo Alto to Rio Vista was quite scenic. However, once you passed the furthest edge of the Bay Area, the scenery and towns started to look more like east Texas than California-- flat plains, small towns, old pick-up trucks and two-lane roads.

We finally ended up at Rio Vista and found a small landing at the base of the bridge, where an NBC-11 news van had been parked since morning. There was also a small crowd of 40 people, trying to catch a glimpse of the whales. As it turns out, we had missed the whales. They had swum north past the bridge in the morning. So we headed north along the west bank of the river to the ferry crossing and joined a small gathering of 50 or so families, all trying to catch a glimpse of the whales. It was a warm, sunny day and the perfect weather for a whale sighting. The local Cal Trans employee informed us that the whales were 30 miles north, close to Sacramento.

Once again, we headed north along the river, towards Sacramento. At times, the river got quite narrow, and we wondered how these whales ever got this far inland. After 20 miles or so, we gave up our on our whale-watching quest, and we decided to head back home to Bay Area.

Today's news, however, was quite encouraging. The whales have turned south, crossed under the Rio Vista bridge, and are headed towards the open Ocean. Hurray for Delta and Dawn!

May 19, 2007

SaaS Making Inroads in the Consumer Space

Software as a Service (SaaS) is the latest trend in the software development industry. Everyone wants to deliver their software as a hosted service that you rent rather than purchase and install on your own servers. The high-flying is the poster-child of SaaS. Even SAP is wrapping itself in SaaS clothing these days. (See my previous posts).

There are some interesting trends taking place in the consumer space. This year, tax season has been rather good to Intuit, despite a few hiccups in last-minute online filings. Intuit just released their quarterly earnings, and they had their first $1 billion quarter-- $1.15 billion to be exact. GAAP net income came in at $367 million, which is not too shabby. (Details)

Apart from the nice revenue, there are some interesting trends in Intuit's Turbo Tax unit sales for this tax year:
  • Intuit sold 6,942,000 copies of its shrink-wrapped Turbo Tax software that you install on your desktop. This was a 2% drop from last year's sales of shrink-wrapped Turbo Tax.
  • Unit sales of Turbo Tax for the web increased by 16% to 6,042,000.
  • Another 1,422,000 users filed for free with Turbo Tax for the web, a 3% increase over last year's numbers.
  • Altogether, more people (51.8%) filed with the hosted (web-based) version of Turbo Tax rather than the version installed on your desktop.
For years, most people have been using a hosted e-mail provider (e.g., Yahoo, Google or Hotmail) for their personal e-mail. The latest sales figures from Turbo Tax show that consumers are comfortable with using hosted applications for their financial data. It will be interesting to see how Google does with its Google documents-- a suite of hosted office applications.

May 18, 2007

City Hall Is Going Green

Sixteen cities around the world will receive financing from major banks to make their government buildings more energy efficient. Citi, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, UBS and ABN Amro have each committed $1 billion to finance upgrades in lighting, cooling, heating, rooting and other environmental improvements. This initiative was announced Wednesday at the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit in New York. Houston, New York, Chicago and London are among the cities participating.

What's interesting is how these cities will pay for the improvements. The banks are providing loans to finance the improvements. The city governments believe that the energy savings will exceed the financing costs. In other words, the energy improvements will pay for themselves, which is pretty cool. (Pun sort-of intended)

Check out all the details in the article in Wired magazine.

May 15, 2007

Hasso Plattner Speaks about SAP's A1S Software

To continue a theme from my recent posting, I found some more details about SAP's A1S product from a recent article in Sand Hill. You've probably seen the SAP TV commercial commercials-- the yellow ones with customers who are pleasantly surprised to learn about SAP's offerings in the small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) customers. SAP's A1S product, which has been under development for the past 3 years, aims to deliver solutions for the SMB space.

Some additional insight into their product:
  • 3,000 SAP employees are working on A1S.
  • A1S is a split from their previous source base and delivers a new user interface. (I've worked with the current SAP client, which is a locally installed, fat client.) The new user interface (UI) is web-based and makes extensive use of Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA).
  • In a departure from their rigid past, the new UI can be customized to the different industry verticals.
  • A1S will emphasize a hosted deployment model. In fact, Hasso references successes from Google and with a hosted deployment model. Customers wary of a hosted model will still be able to install the software on their on-site servers.

May 9, 2007

SAP Talks about Its New A1S Software

Today's Mercury News has a very timely article about SAP's A1S Software. Hasso Plattner, their chairman, talked about A1S at the Software 2007 conference that's taking place this week in Santa Clara, just a few miles from our Cassatt headquarters.

Some highlights on A1S:
  • A1S will be a hosted, web-based offering of SAP's famous (or infamous depending on your point-of-view) ERP software
  • A1S has been under development for the past 3 years and is expected to release in 2008.
  • Hasso touts the "Software as a Service" (SaaS) model and how A1S will be SAP's foray into this space.
  • A1S was announced and discussed last month at SAP's Sapphire conference for its key customer and partners.
Very interesting article. Take a read for yourself.

May 4, 2007

Dispelling Myths in the Data Center

To manage a data center, you need security policies, operating procedures, best practices and run books. Unfortunately, there's also a collection of myths and superstitions that tend to accumulate over time. One of these concerns the impact of powering a server up/down on that server's failure rate. It's time to dispell that myth.

The reality: servers and their internal components are designed to be resilient to power operations. Powering servers on and off does not increase their failure rate. Most server hardware released in the past 4 years has been designed for power operations. Servers from HP, Dell, IBM and Sun all ship with power controllers that allow you to power them on/off remotely. All the internal components are designed wtih power management in mind: solid-state power supplies, small-diameter hard drives that can spin up/down very quickly, efficient use of VLSI and custom ASIC's, redundant on-board network interface cards.

Think about your own laptop. Do you power it off or suspend it at night when you're not using it? Do you have power-management enabled on your laptop so the hard drive spins down after a period of inactivity?

Guess what, servers are also designed to be powered off when they're not needed and powered on only when you need them. It's just that most data center applications are not designed with power management in mind. Data centers are provisioned for peak load, whereas the average load is significantly lower.

What if you could power on servers only as they are needed to respond to increasing load? Cassatt has power management solutions for your data center where we can provide that missing power-management capability. These same power management solutions also allow to you to reduce power consumption based on time of day or demand-reduction events from your power company.

We Believe!

I realize this is a bit off topic from my normal postings, but last night's Warriors game was just amazing! The Golden State Warriors trounced the Dallas Mavericks 111-86! The Warriors took over in the third quarter, and the game was never close after that. It was a great game to watch, that is if you're from the Bay Area. So, the eighth-seeded Warriors close out the series 4-2 and advance to the second round. For more details on the game, check out the Mercury News.