Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Is a phone still a phone?

We were out to dinner with my Mom, My wife and sister were there.  We also had a younger relative with us.  At the end of the meal my Mom pulled a calculator from her purse to figure out the amount for a tip.  The young relative looked at the calculator and was amazed to see such a thing.  Why carry that?  My Mom said she always carried it so she could calculate tips and amounts for her checkbook.  Earlier we had talked about how my Mom had to get some film developed from her camera.  It was a funny moment, and one which my Sister wrapped up by stating that all these devices (calculator, camera, checkbook) the rest of us all had on our phones... and more.  One of the only things I don’t do much on my phone anymore is talk on it. I check my email, look up websites, check movie times, deposit checks or transfer money in my bank accounts, and on and on.  

We now do just about everything on our phone.  Soon it could be the only computing device you ever need.  I mean that, keep reading.

Recently I saw this notice come across.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ubuntu-edge

Ubuntu is an operating system if you don’t know.  You know, like Windows or Apple’s OSX.  Ubuntu uses Linux as the core and the OS is free.  And apparently they want to do a phone.  Why not.  Microsoft, Apple and Google all have phone Operating Systems so why not Ubuntu based.  There are other phone OS as well.  The thing that Ubuntu is talking about however is that they want their device to be a phone at some points but also have a Desktop mode if you plug it into a full size monitor.

This could very well mean you will only have one computing device and it will be with you at all times.  It will be what you need it to be.  When you are at work it can even be your work computer.  Now that piece can become complicated.  Those of us who have been Network Administrators for a long time will need to have a little more control over the core corporate applications than what this may seem to allow.

No real worries though.  At my company, Ashmar Inc. we have a new initiative we call Pure Computing Plus.  Plus is about virtualizing the entire corporate network so that all the critical controls are in place, all the security concerns are dealt with and the business continuity is addressed.  Everything is solved.  And the beauty is that the Virtual network can be accessed by any device you desire.  It doesn’t even have to be a company controlled device, in fact many people who use a Virtual Network have implemented a policy called BYOD– Bring Your Own Device.  So if you were a customer of Ashmar’s Pure Computing Plus and you wanted to have a phone that includes a desktop mode then you would have no problems.  

Ubuntu has announced this but I’m sure we will see others do exactly the same thing.  Your next phone may well be all you need to accomplish anything you want to do on a computer.  And that can include your business computing as well.

Absolutely Amazing.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

What goes around

Way back a long time ago somebody created the first electronic digital computer.  It cost a lot of money to make.  So not everybody had one.  If you wanted to use a computer you had to go to it.  After a while somebody had the idea the computer had enough processing power to be used by more than one person at a time so they created a way for multiple stations called terminals to be added to the computer.  This was the beginning of the concept of networks.  Often the terminals were called “dumb terminals”.  They were called this because on their own they couldn’t really do much, they had to be connected to the computer to use its power and accomplish anything.  

That was a long time ago, and more recently somebody came up with the idea of a “personal computer” because real computers weren’t at all personal.  They were too expensive.  This is when I got involved with computers in the 1980’s.  Lots of people in business were buying a personal computer, because that was the thing to do.  It didn’t take long before they realized that even these personal computers should be networked.  In a situation like this you still had the main computer or what we called a Server.  But the terminals weren’t dumb, if you disconnected them from the network or the server they were still able to do something.  They couldn’t share the server based programs but they could still do things.  This was good because we often lost the server or the network for some reason and there were still some things we could get done on our computer.  Maybe work on a spreadsheet or write a letter.  

We called the business networks LAN’s which was short for Local Area Network.  It was good, but we still wanted more. Sometimes a company had workers that weren’t always in the office.  We needed to receive updates from these people however so we needed a way to get them into the LAN.  This was before the Internet was popular.  The solution was to go back to the old days of the Terminal.  Remote workers could “dial in” to the network via a device called a modem.  You did this over regular Telephone lines.  But at their fastest modems were still slow and trying to send everything back and forth over the line was just too much.  This was particularly true as Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) such as Microsoft Windows became more widely used.  One of the most useful solutions was to go back to the ideas of a Dumb Terminal.  The processing was done at the Server but the remote user could open a Terminal Session on his laptop or remote Personal Computer. This was called Terminal Services or later called Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).  It was a solution that borrowed back from the old days of the big computers.  

I don’t remember Terminal Services being widely used because each Remote User would tie up a modem and therefore a phone line.  Most companies who did use this had to schedule their remote users and coordinate what they did to keep down the costs.  Also the Remote User had to use the Operating System of the Server and not all programs worked on that OS.  And each user connected using some of the processing power of the server to do their work so if one user was doing a lot of number crunching, that affected the speed of all the other users.  There were issues I can recall, but this solution is still used today.  In many ways what we now call Cloud Computing is based on these same ideas.  You don’t need a phone line or modem, you use a Network card and the Internet.  Your computer has a program called a browser.  Popular ones are called Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Opera.  These browsers basically make a dumb terminal connection to Servers off in a Data Center.  You do many things based on this concept.  You search databases of products on Amazon for example and buy them.  

Most of us use this computing solution daily in our personal lives.  But what about for business?  Often we still have the 20 year old style of computing in a Local Area Network while being connected to the Internet (taking many risks).  We have learned to work around many of the disadvantages of this type solution.  I believe however that we can simply eliminate many of the problems by moving back again to Dumb Terminals or Terminal Services.  But borrowing from this actually 60 year old technology and making a couple of tweaks we have improved on the process.  Instead of the limitations of a LAN or an RDP environment we now have Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).  Each user can connect to their own personal Virtual Workstation or Virtual Machine (VM).  The Workstation has dedicated resources, so that if you are crunching numbers you don’t slow down everyone else.  Your VM can be unique from others but VM’s can be deployed by simply copying a file on a Server in the Cloud.  A VM is physically in a Data Center, accessible from just about any computing device you have, and protected from the many threats that you have a hard time protecting against in your office.  Maybe at some point I will write more about the benefits of the VM.

Virtual Machines are already widely in use, particularly by large companies but I believe they will become much more popular in the Small to Medium Sized business in the next few years.  As you can imagine there is a lot behind why I say that, I’ll tell you more soon.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Virtually New Networks

Have you noticed the changes in computing in the last 10 years?  

Much has happened, is there anything we can’t do on our computing devices?  That right there– computing devices– that concept has changed.  10 years ago the desktop still ruled.  Many of us have used laptops, but the majority of the devices around were desktop computers. Today, that’s just not so.  Many people have even abandoned their notebook computer for a tablet such as iPad or Android– and a Smartphone.  They check their email on either device.  They get directions, find restaurants, buy movie tickets or anything else on one of these.  

Do you ever take time to think about how networks have changed?  A network was something you had in your office.  You probably had a server or a few servers, and your shared files and printers with everyone on your staff. You probably still do.

Today we talk about cloud computing, but sometimes people don’t know what they mean by that.  Cloud computing is really just about how the functions we do every day are now available on any device we want to use.  The device doesn’t matter, the real power is in the cloud.  That means it’s on a server but usually not like the old server.  This server is in a professionally managed Data Center somewhere– anywhere.  It is climate controlled, and protected like you can’t believe.  Most of us don’t even know where these Data Centers are.  And we don’t need to know.  It’s just there when we need it.  And we get all stressed if it isn’t around for a few hours or even a few minutes.  

Most of my work life I’ve worked with smaller networks.  These networks changed in complexity over the years but I still worked with small to mid-sized companies who were providing services for between 4 and 100 workstations.  Today I have a hard time suggesting the same setup for my customers.  Things changed.  While the cost of technology has come down, the cost of servers has gone up.  The network is really now, The Internet.  We are all connected whether we think we are or not.  Actual prices of servers are up, and the management of those servers becomes costly.  And every 3 to 5 years we need to swap it all out and do it again.  We can try to make that cycle longer, but there are all kinds of pressures to change.  It becomes very expensive and the costs are out of our control for the most part.

But the Cloud is going to help the small customer as well.  The small customer can now use the power of the Cloud for their benefit.  I hope to explore some of the ways we can benefit in follow up articles.  But basically a Network can now be purchased as a Service in The Cloud.  This is called Network as a Service (NaaS).  You don’t buy hardware to update it.  You don’t buy tape backup units, or dedicate a room to the Servers.  You order what you need as a Service.  You can scale up or scale back down as your business requires.  You don’t have to wait for replacement parts to be shipped to you, and you may not even need to worry about software licenses of standard OS or Major Applications.  You can add servers for special projects even.  Everything is taken care of for your standard monthly fee.

Sure there may be some things that are outside of the standard fee but the basics are generally handled.  This changes how you make decisions about your local (or virtual) network.  The rules are completely different. Some are already using Software as a Service (SaaS).  Maybe you use a hosted version of your accounting program or your email.  If so, you have already made one step.  Why not move the whole network?  It makes a lot of sense as the next step.

You don’t have to worry about what used to frighten you.  You now worry more about your business and not about the Network.  As I say I have some follow ups from this concept and lots to share, but for now this is a good start.  Just know that it can all be much easier.  The small business can act like a big business.  And the small business can actually afford it.