Monday, 31 May 2010

My personal cloud – Pogoplug reviewed

There are plenty of sites – like Facebook – that allow you to upload last night’s pictures and videos, but there’s always a problem with security. You hope that Facebook etc back-up their servers and archive the older stuff, so that, should they lose their main data disks, they can restore them. But that leads to another problem. That incredibly funny photo that we uploaded last year, might now be considered – even by us – to be in bad taste, and we don’t want copies of it lingering somewhere out there on almost completely-forgotten storage media. What if you could have full control over what you’re sharing and who can see it? What if you can add or delete files whenever you decide? Enter the perfect cloud storage system – the Pogoplug.

The Pogoplug simply connects to your router and allows memory sticks and external hard drives to be plugged into it. You can download an application that allows you to treat these storage devices as if they were connected to your laptop and then copy photos, videos, and music to them and make those photos, videos, and music tracks available across the Internet.

You can see a picture of a pink and white Pogoplug at Let me tell you about setting it up. You plug one cable into the mains, and the other cable is a LAN cable that goes from the Pogoplug to a suitable connection socket in your router. You then connect a memory stick or whatever into one of the available sockets at the back (or there is one at the front). The light at the front of the Pogoplug goes green and you’re good to go.

Back on your computer you need to register on the site. You can then use your browser to talk to the memory stick. I found it easier to download the free software that makes the Pogoplug appear to be an extra hard drive. It was just very easy to create directories and organize files. With so many slots on the Pogoplug you could plug in four 1TB external drives. That would be an enormous number of files you could share.

I can access my files on the Pogoplug whenever I want from wherever I want by logging into and entering my e-mail address and password. I can add files, create directories, create slideshows, and share files or directories. I can also see files that other people have shared with me!

Looking at photos, for example from here, I can enlarge them, download them, delete them, or share them – all by clicking on an icon. If I want to share with one person or a few chosen people, I can enter their e-mail address in the box and invite them to share the file. I can even send them a personalized note with the link.

There is an alternative option. On the other sharing tab, called “more sharing options”, it’s possible to publish to Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. You can also publish as an RSS feed and enable public viewing. This gives you a very long URL. I ran it through Tiny URL and sent that as a text message to a friend. But, it is simple enough to cut-and-paste the URL into an e-mail or even into a blog.

There is a feature that automatically copies photos, videos, music etc from my laptop to the Pogoplug. This software automatically synchronizes these folders whenever I’m connected, which means I’ve always got a back-up copy. This, of course, only works provided I have enough storage on the Pogoplug to handle the number of photos and amount of music and videos I have stored!

There’s apparently an iPhone app – hopefully there will be an Android one too soon.

Is it any good? Why is it cloud computing? It’s very easy to use and it’s useful to easily access photos particularly over the Internet. And that’s why it’s cloud computing – because you create a Web server and FTP files to it without needing to understand anything about these topics. It does make the area around your router look like a mini IT suite if you plug in external hard drives that require their own power supplies, but a couple of memory sticks don’t look too intrusive. But then, you’re restricted to how much you can store.

I thought it was great fun – and well worth having a look at.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it!

So how much does a z10 processor cost? If I want to install IMS in two z/OS partitions, how much is that? How much do most people pay for MIPS usage? How long is a piece of string?

Going to the supermarket is easy, everything has a price marked on it. Purchasing off the Internet is straightforward, you find the item with the lowest price and with the lowest delivery charge. But buying a mainframe is perhaps more than bit like buying a used car from some of the slickest salespeople in the world. What can you do to tip the balance? How can you, as a potential software or hardware purchaser, put yourself in a stronger bargaining position.

One solution for people in the UK and Europe is to attend Arcati’s annual seminar on mainframe pricing and contract negotiation, which takes place on 28th June 2010 at the Premier Inn Touchbase Centre, London Heathrow. As always, the principal speaker is Barry Graham, an internationally-recognized authority on mainframe pricing issues. Working with Barry, users with as few as 600MIPS and as much as 100,000MIPS have, they claim, signed contracts saving up to 30% of their expected spend.

In addition, David Wilson, an independent consultant and former IBM senior executive for System z software in North East Europe, will be looking at what users should do to maximize the benefits of their current mainframe installations.

Sessions at the seminar include:
  • Putting software costs in context
  • New pricing models and future costs
  • Negotiating an IBM ESSO or ELA contract
  • Maximising the benefit of mainframes
  • Hardware pricing update.

The programme covers pricing for all z10 Enterprise and Business Class systems, and also includes a discussion of Passport Advantage, Processor Value Units, and their effect on software price/performance.

If this is something that interests you, then you can get full details on the Arcati Web site at They also offer an on-going Mainframe Market Information Service, covering similar issues. You can find out more details about that from

Anything that helps bring down the cost of mainframe computing – from a user’s perspective – has got to be a good thing.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Microsoft, clouds, silver linings?

The big news of the week – even overshadowing IBM’s announcement of its latest five-year plan and market happiness at the news; even overshadowing the announcement of coalition government in the UK – was Microsoft’s launch of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010!

Now, to the untrained eye, the launch of a new version of an Office suite would seem little more than a way of boosting sales in an already saturated market sector. After all, you might say, why not use OpenOffice, it’s free. Or, why not use Google Docs, which is not only free, but doesn’t use up any hard disk space! Well, even in that slow turning supertanker that’s the Redmond HQ of Microsoft, someone thought of that and started steering the ship away from those particular metaphorical rocks.

With Ray Ozzie (once king of Notes and Domino land) somewhere on the bridge of the supertanker, Microsoft has made a big deal of sharing documents – you can’t do that with OpenOffice – and cloud computing – you can’t do that with Google Docs – hang on a minute, oh yes you can do that with Google Docs, but you can’t do it so well with Microsoft Office originated documents!!

But what’s this about cloud computing and Microsoft?!?! Yes, Microsoft now brings you Office Web Apps. And what’s more, they will be offered free to the claimed 500 million users of Hotmail and Messenger. And rather cleverly – in terms of making this legacy Office product appealing to a more youthful audience – Microsoft has integrated Web Apps into Facebook – which you’ll remember it part owns – as Facebook Docs. This allows Facebook users to create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents online. They can then share these files with their friends on Facebook, much like they would photos or videos.

On top of this, Microsoft is offering Office Live Workspace – free online document sharing (notice that word!) and storage. It says on the Web site that it stores up to 5GB online; works with Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; and you can view, edit, share documents with password-protection.

Furthering the cloud idea is Microsoft Live SkyDrive, which (although not new) allows users to upload 25GBs of any type of file and then access it from any other computer they are on. Other products are available (as they say) including Amazon S3, Google Docs, and RackSpace Cloud Files. With SkyDrive, users drag-and-drop files onto the Web page. To make SkyDrive more usable, frequent users might like to download SkyDrive Simple Viewer for WebDAV from, or SDExplorer from

To really get the best in an organization from sharing and collaboration, you also need to install the new SharePoint 2010.

One minor point, my beta copy of Office 2010 has seen the return of the File menu – well ribbon I suppose you’d call it – which disappeared in Office 2007. Other parts of the ribbon have been made more usable following customer feedback (or complaints as we’d call them!).

So, is Microsoft’s future cloudy? Will Google Docs now wither and die? Yes and no, are the answers in my opinion. Clearly, when you start looking at the nitty gritty detail, Microsoft has a way to go before it really offers cloud computing, but it’s moving in the right direction. Saying that, there are still millions of people who don’t need to share or collaborate on documents and who use only a tiny percentage of the facilities and features available in this venerable product. Certainly the Facebook Docs makes Office Web Apps seem cool and exciting for a new generation – the space that Google usually holds. I think fans of Google Docs will carry on as before. Large organizations (who haven’t got a mainframe and done proper computing!) will probably invest in SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 once the first service pack has come round and assuming the licence price is affordable. It’s certainly a good move for Microsoft.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Web futures – they are among us

Rule number 1 of the Internet is, of course, that there are no rules – but if there were, it would be that the Internet is always changing and evolving. While some people have only just started to use style sheets and XHTML, others are pushing the envelope with CSS3 and HTML5. I want to have a quick look at what this all means. 

There was a time when HTML5 seemed like something in the far future, but now Apple (purveyors of the unbelievable fascist iTunes and lots of really cool gadgets) claims that there’s no point worrying about the fact Adobe’s Flash doesn’t run on their iPhones because it will be sidelined when HTML5 is adopted. GoogleWave, the collaboration and communication software from Google, already uses HTML5.

In addition, many currently available browsers allow the clever new stuff in CSS3 and HTML5 to work already. Opera and Safari provide support. Firefox from Version 3.5 supports HTML5. And Explorer Version 8 does a bit, and the proposed Version 9 will do more.

CSS3 is simply the next generation of style sheets and it offers loads of clever stuff. The most exciting one – certainly for those of us who have developed Web sites using multiple images to achieve the same effect – is rounded corners. You can now have boxes with varying ‘roundnesses’ of corners (except in Explorer where they’re still square). You can specify a radius value and that affects how round the corners are. It also now becomes very easy to use borders. 

The downside, at the moment, is that each piece of code needs to be repeated. Look at:
-moz-box-shadow: 3px 3px 3px #6c3;
-webkit-box-shadow: 3px 3px 3px #6c3;
-box-shadow: 3px 3px 3px #6c3;

The top line adds the shadow for Mozilla browsers (like Firefox). The second line issues the same commands for WebKit browsers (such as Safari and Chrome). The third line is for those browsers that already support the CSS3 standards (and that’s Firefox 3.1 and above and Safari 3 and above).

In addition to these tags, other, much longer, tags are available containing the word ‘Microsoft’ at the beginning. But this isn’t an anti-Microsoft rant (this week!), the excellent word-wrap tag is a Microsoft one.

There are lots of other clever CSS3 tricks in development too. You can create drop shadows, do impressively clever things with gradients, and make text become more transparent as you mouseover it. Have a look at and for some excellent examples.

HTML5, as well as potentially making Flash (and Silverlight come to that) redundant, provides a way to make Web applications more easily available. It is much more than a simple mark-up syntax for documents. HTML5 now contains tags for things like navigation (nav), headers, footers, articles, and sections. Explorer is the only fly-in-the-ointment (as it were), which will come as a surprise to no-one. Explorer needs a bit of JavaScript in order for CSS to style the page. Something like document.createElement("nav"); is required for each of the new tags.

And the doctype to use at the top of your document is <!DOCTYPE html>. And handily – for those people who never quite got the hang of closing tags – you can just close with a ‘>’, you don’t need ‘ />’ as with XHTML.

HTML5 can offer developments in Web forms. There are video and audio APIs. There’s a drag-and-drop API with a draggable attribute. ‘History.pushState’ can be used with AJAX apps to give better back–button support. There’s also a 2D drawing API for scripting graphics using the new canvas element. In fact there’s loads of new good stuff with more being added all the time. And did I mention the Geolocation API? I should have – it definitely adds the “wow” factor.

Lots of people will be wanting to use the new APIs, and Web pages for people using appropriate browsers will be appearing more and more. Look out for it!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Mainframe performance

Suppose you wanted your transaction processing environments to work faster – and come to think about it, who wouldn’t? – what are your choices? Well, one solution is available from Ottawa-based DataKinetics ( – who, you may recall, sponsored this year’s Arcati Mainframe Yearbook (

DataKinetics produce tableBASE, which they describe as a “real-time in-memory table management solution that reduces mainframe resource usage”. They go on to say that its usage can lower costs and mainframe TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), and it also optimizes MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per Second) usage, and all this results in performance benefits and “more powerful and efficient applications”.

The product, they claim, provides huge performance increases over existing I/O intensive DB2 systems and buffered DB2 or cached DB2 systems. At sites using tableBASE, the DB2 database populates in-memory tables once. Application I/O calls are substituted with calls to memory-based tables, resulting in these improvements in application performance. Instead of fetching data at I/O speeds, or buffered I/O speeds, applications are able to fetch data at memory speeds – without buffering or using extra hardware. By optimizing existing IT resources, expensive and large-scale upgrade projects or even complete IT infrastructure swap-out projects can be avoided.

DataKinetics has recently decided to enter into partnerships with resellers around the world to make its products more easily available to mainframe customers. So, in South America it’s through Sun Software ( In Australia and Asia it’s through Serus Software (SSZ) ( And in the United Kingdom it’s through our old friends at RSM Partners (

DataKinetics CEO Allan Zander said: “This is a very important opportunity for us to tap into the mainframe market in the UK. RSM Partners is a significant player in mainframe and IT support for financial services organizations and insurers within the UK, and this agreement will provide us [with] the opportunity to penetrate a key market in which we currently have a very limited presence. We’re very excited about this agreement, as it gives us immediate access to a market that has seen very little of the type of mainframe cost control capabilities that DataKinetics’ products can offer.” 

Mark Wilson, Technical Director at RSM Partners commented: “We enter partnerships with only those companies with a demonstrated track record of providing value to their customers. With DataKinetics’ 30-plus years of delivering optimization and performance solutions, and their unparalleled client list, we’re confident that their technology will make a difference to our mainframe customers.”

So, some good news for UK-based mainframe users.