- There have been a lot of articles written by folks about various home office setups since COVID-19 became a thing, but this one by Jason Benedicic deserves a special mention. I bought a new desk and decluttered a fair bit of my setup, but it wasn’t on this level.
- Speaking of COVID-19, there’s a hunger for new TV content as people across the world find themselves confined to their homes. The Ringer published an interesting article on the challenges of diving in to the archives to dig up and broadcast some television gold.
- Backblaze made the news a while ago when they announced S3 compatibility, and this blog post covers how you can move from AWS S3 to Backblaze. And check out the offer to cover your data transfer costs too.
- Zerto has had a bigger cloud presence with 7.5 and 8.0, and Oracle Public Cloud is now a partner too.
- Speaking of cloud, Leaseweb Global recently announced the launch of its Leaseweb Cloud Connect product offering. You can read the press release here.
- One of my favourite bands is The Mark Of Cain. It’s the 25th anniversary of the Ill At Ease album (the ultimate gym or breakup album – you choose), and the band has started publishing articles detailing the background info on the recording process. It’s fascinating stuff, and you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
- The nice folks over at Scale Computing have been doing some stuff with various healthcare organisations lately. You can read more about that here. I’m hoping to check in with Scale Computing in the near future when I’ve got a moment. I’m looking forward to hearing about what else they’ve been up to.
- Ray recently attended Cloud Field Day 8, and the presentation from Igneous prompted this article.
Here are a few links to some random news items and other content that I recently found interesting. You might find them interesting too. Episode 16 – please enjoy these semi-irregular updates.
- Scale Computing has been doing a bit in the healthcare sector lately – you can read news about that here.
- This was a nice roundup of the news from Apple’s recent WWDC from Six Colors. Hat tip to Stephen Foskett for the link. Speaking of WWDC news, you may have been wondering what happened to all of your purchased content with the imminent demise of iTunes on macOS. It’s still a little fuzzy, but this article attempts to shed some light on things. Spoiler: you should be okay (for the moment).
- There’s a great post on the Dropbox Tech Blog from James Cowling discussing the mission versus the system.
- The more things change, the more they remain the same. For years I had a Windows PC running Media Center and recording TV. I used IceTV as the XMLTV-based program guide provider. I then started to mess about with some HDHomeRun devices and the PC died and I went back to a traditional DVR arrangement. Plex now has DVR capabilities and it has been doing a reasonable job with guide data (and recording in general), but they’ve decided it’s all a bit too hard to curate guides and want users (at least in Australia) to use XMLTV-based guides instead. So I’m back to using IceTV with Plex. They’re offering a free trial at the moment for Plex users, and setup instructions are here. No, I don’t get paid if you click on the links.
- Speaking of axe-throwing, the Cohesity team in Queensland is organising a social event for Friday 21st June from 2 – 4 pm at Maniax Axe Throwing in Newstead. You can get in contact with Casey if you’d like to register.
- VeeamON Forum Australia is coming up soon. It will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sydney on July 24th and should be a great event. You can find out more information and register for it here. The Vanguards are also planning something cool, so hopefully we’ll see you there.
- Speaking of Veeam, Anthony Spiteri recently published his longest title in the Virtualization is Life! catalogue – Orchestration Of NSX By Terraform For Cloud Connect Replication With vCloud Director. It’s a great article, and worth checking out.
- There’s a lot of talk and slideware devoted to digital transformation, and a lot of it is rubbish. But I found this article from Chin-Fah to be particularly insightful.
I’m very happy to announce that this blog is a finalist in the 2018 Cisco IT Blog Awards under the category of “Most Entertaining”. Voting is open until January 4th 2019, so if you’ve felt entertained at any point this year when reading my witty articles please go to http://cs.co/itblogawards and pop in a vote for “PenguinPunk”.
And if you are not entertained, check out some of the other entrants in any case – they’re pretty ace.
Eric Siebert has opened up voting for the Top vBlog 2018. I’m listed on the vLaunchpad and you can vote for me under storage and independent blog categories as well. There are a bunch of great blogs listed on Eric’s vLaunchpad, so if nothing else you may discover someone you haven’t heard of before, and chances are they’ll have something to say that’s worth checking out. If this stuff seems a bit needy, it is. But it’s also nice to have people actually acknowledging what you’re doing. I’m hoping that people find this blog useful, because it really is a labour of love (random vendor t-shirts notwithstanding).
Here are a few links to some random things that I think might be useful, to someone. Maybe.
- Here’s a really simple and clear guide by Tim Smith on installing Nutanix Community Edition on vSphere.
- VMworld US kicks off shortly. I won’t be there this year, but I’m looking forward to hearing all the VMware-related news coming from the show.
- The NBA season schedule is now locked in for 2018-19. Here’s a printable version of the Lakers schedule. I imagine this will be an amusing, if not always successful season.
- I spent more time than I should putting media into my Plex environment, and have been looking for ways to optimise the experience. This series of articles by Carolyn Van Slyck has inspired me to do some more work on my transcode workflow. I’m also looking at doing something like this or this to automatically ingest the media in the first place.
- (Site sponsor) Vembu recently announced Vembu BDR Essentials for Small Businesses. You can read more about that here.
- This is a great article by my friend Paul – Solving Problems Without Falling Into the Helpfulness Trap.
- Alastair wrote a good article exploring the idea of backup platforms as a data management platform. The data protection vendors won’t shut up about it, and it’s worthy of further consideration.
- Howard sheds some light on what’s happened with Optane in an article at SearchStorage.
- Pure Storage recently acquired StorReduce. Chris M. Evans broke it down in this article.
This article’s a little different from my normal subject matter, but I felt the strong urge to have a bit of a rant, and explore some feelings, so buckle up. Digital content distribution (particularly for feature films) as it relates to consumers has been a mess for some time. It still is in my opinion. I wanted to work through some of my issues with it in this article. I don’t have a lot of answers, so if it’s resolution you’re after, you’re in the wrong place.
It’s been a long time since video tape was the de facto mechanism for film consumption for the average punter. Unlike VCRs, DVDs (and Blu-ray) were readable on computers at around the same time they became available to the consumer to watch on standalone devices plugged into televisions. DVDs also came with a bunch of protection mechanisms that were pretty easily thwarted (if you were adept at searching the Internet). As a result you could take feature films and store them in a digital format relatively simply. So why not just distribute those files to consumers?
For some reason we’re okay to treat the storage and distribution of music in a way that’s different to movies. To wit, the iPod was massively successful in the market, but movie storage devices (even after we got past the capacity limitations of the time) have struggled to gain traction, commercially or legally. Even legitimate content delivery services like kaleidescape were, in my opinion, crippled by the licensing requirement to have the physical discs in the unit when they played files from their internal storage.
It took a long time for companies to get behind the idea of distributing movies in a digital format. Studios focused on using Digital Rights Management (DRM) to cripple consumption in a way that seemed positively hostile. In some instances it felt like they were not terribly interested in you actually consuming the film in a fashion that was simple or convenient. Movie studios to this day seem mighty afraid of putting content in the digital realm. This isn’t necessarily unwarranted, with tools like AnyDVD lasting a lot longer (and doing a lot more cool stuff) than anyone had imagined. I think some of this focus on making things difficult was the idea that consumers were merely accessing a license to consume the content, and the transport mechanism could be determined by the content owners. The problem with this is that people think of films in much the same way as they think of books. They have the idea that once they purchased the media, that should be sufficient to consume the film forever. Content owners (the studios, really) are pretty happy for you to think that, but they were also chuffed when we transitioned from VHS to Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray (and now, potentially, some new UHD variant). I have The Way of the Dragon on a variety of formats at home. I’m an edge case perhaps, but what about that copy of Throw Momma from the Train that you have on VHS? You probably don’t have a working deck anymore, but I’m sure you’d like to dip back into a cinematic masterpiece every now and then, wouldn’t you?
The other problem with digital content distribution was that, once the studios decided to go ahead with it, it was Apple versus the world in terms of distribution standards. In much the same way that Blu-ray was pitched against HD-DVD, Apple’s iTunes was promoted as a superior delivery mechanism. And it can be, as long as you’re all in with Apple, and happy with the content catalogue they have in place. Disney was also guilty of this approach. But if there’s stuff you want to watch that isn’t part of their ecosystem, you need to look at alternative methods of consumption. Like streaming, for example.
But Not Everyone is Streaming
Bandwidth is a problem in Australia. It’s a first world problem, to be sure, but it’s still a problem. And for a lot of people. A common connection type is ADSL1 or 2+, and fibre to the home was killed off in a political stoush that we should all be ashamed of. But I digress. In any case, things aren’t overly fast, and streaming content options are fairly limited (it’s a small market). Since its launch in Australia Netflix has been steadily improving its content catalogue, but it’s nowhere near as extensive as the one in the US.
It’s for that reason that I still buy movies on Blu-ray. And I get access to “Digital Copies” of movies along with these discs. In the olden days, these were often files I could import directly into iTunes off a separate DVD. Sometimes they were DRM-protected wmv files that I couldn’t really play anywhere except on a Windows PC. Nowadays they are primarily UltraViolet-based redemption codes. This makes sense, as a lot of computers don’t have optical drives any more. I don’t use UltraViolet services as my primary consumption mechanism, as I tend to watch movies on a big screen connected to an Apple TV running Plex. But from time to time (particularly when travelling on long-haul flights) I’ve found the ability to load up a reasonably sized file on an iPad or laptop to be very convenient, particularly when the in-flight entertainment system fails.
The idea behind UltraViolet is / was pretty cool. People realized a few things about content distribution. Firstly, studios weren’t always going to agree on which service to use for distribution, or which device the content could be consumed on. And sometimes you wanted to change the way you consumed your media. So the narrative changed from media or streaming to licensing, and you were granted rights to consume the content you wanted, ostensibly on any platform you liked. Sounds like a great idea, and even in Australia, a number of content providers jumped on board. I found the redemption process to be fairly straightforward, although I didn’t like how some studios insisted on me handing over my details in order to gain access to the titles (after I’d already created accounts with UltraViolet and a provider of my choosing). I found the number of standalone devices that actually supported UltraViolet titles to be pretty small, despite what the FAQs were saying. I had the most success consuming content via the website of one of the providers, rather than using an app on an Apple TV or similar.
Is it still working? Sort of. If you read through the change notice of this FAQ you’ll notice a bunch of providers slowly disappearing from Australia and around the world. Again, I’m an edge case, consuming content in a small market. But it seems like just when every Blu-ray has a standardized electronic rights copy included we’ve slowly started to take away the ways to consume those copies. Well, that’s what I thought at first, but apparently there’s something else, potentially better, happening.
A service recently launched called Movies Anywhere. It was originally launched in 2014 as Disney Movies Anywhere, and was rebranded and re-launched in the last month. The idea is that it ties together your content licenses from any number of providers and systems and allows you to consume them on a unified platform. That’s about all I can tell you, because it’s US-based and not available anywhere else. I’m not going to turn this into an ad for the service, because I can’t tell you how well it actually works, and whether it really does what I want it to do. But it does seem to tick a number of boxes in terms of linking a number of disparate services together.
So What’s the Problem?
I like the idea of being able to pay for content once and having access to it for a long time. I still have a Laserdisc player, but a lot of people don’t. So they’ve re-invested in media over and over again. This makes sense if you follow the progression of technology (and improvements in playback quality), but when we have better mechanisms to access content (such as digital storage) it makes less sense that we should continually pay for the same thing over and over.
The problem, as always, is that any time we do get close to having some cool tech available to do what we want, it gets restricted to a specific region. By the time this stuff gets to Australia, the rest of the world has moved on and we’re left with patchy support for what are considered legacy services. Or we get the service at launch but don’t get the full product. This is usually because of existing licensing agreements, differences in copyright law, and all kinds of other complicated reasons. Some of these reasons are even, well, reasonable. But it’s still annoying, and I think the Internet just serves to amplify this feeling of annoyance when it comes to things like this. I don’t really know how to solve the problem either. The studios will continue to do what they do until consumers stop consuming. And I think there are enough people out there going along with this that they won’t need to stop any time soon. I still think it’s a bin fire, and that’s a shame. Of course, my kids also think it’s weird that I still purchase content on media, so what do I know?
I did a bit of a silly post five years ago to say thanks to people for reading the blog. Now here I am coming up on ten years of blogging and I thought I’d do another note to say thanks again new and old readers. I don’t want this to be some sort of weird humblebrag post, but I nonetheless wanted to mark the occasion in some way.
In the beginning …
My first few posts were just filler, with my first real shot at doing something useful being a post dedicated to understanding esxcfg-* commands. You can stumble down memory lane with me here. In the last ten years I’ve done over 600 posts and 30+ instructional articles of varying quality and usefulness, with people apparently being super keen to read about how to recover CX700 arrays and QNAP software RAID of all things. I think I’ve had over half a million people visit the blog in that time. Probably not that many people. Maybe it was 10000 who just turned up here a lot.
And now …
What started as a mechanism for me to keep my notes from the field has grown into something with a life of its own. As my career has progressed from support through to infrastructure delivery and into consulting and architecture, the type of posts on this blog have changed as well. There obviously aren’t as many “this is how you do this” posts as there used to be. I hope, however, that the reporting and opinionalysis is as useful. As I “celebrate” this particular milestone I’m in Las Vegas attending VMworld on a blogger’s pass. I never thought it would get to this point when I first started, and I’m super thankful to the community for the support shown to me over the years. I don’t get paid to run this blog, although I am compensated from time to time via conference attendance and travel. So it’s nice to get something back in the form of people engaging. Every time you say hi on the twitters or via the blog it’s a very fulfilling experience for me. To celebrate, I’ll be giving away some digital prizes over the next few weeks, so if you’d like to go in the draw, just leave a comment or talk to me via twitter.
I don’t know. I didn’t think it would last as long as it did but here we are. If I keep doing interesting things then I’ll keep writing about them I guess. I don’t see that I’ll be getting into video or podcasts any time soon, as it often takes me a while to get my thoughts together, but you never know.
Thanks to everyone in the community for being a supportive and friendly bunch of folks. Finally, special thanks to Paul Cunningham for his encouragement and support over the years. Without him showing me the ropes and offering advice when I needed it this thing would have died years ago. And it wouldn’t be an OT post without a random Unfinished Business stock photo at the end, would it?
This is one of those posts that is really just a loose collection of thoughts that have been bouncing around my head recently regarding software lifecycles. I’m not a software developer, merely a consumer. It’s not supported by any research and should be treated as nothing more than opinion. It should also not be used to justify certain types of behaviour. If this kind of hippy-dippy stuff isn’t for you, I’ll not be offended if you ignore this article. I also apologise for the lack of pictures in this one.
I’ve been doing a lot of work recently with various enterprises using unsupported versions of software. In this particular case, the software is Windows 2003. The fact that Windows 2003 reached its end of extended support this time two years ago is neither here nor there. At least, for the purposes of this article it doesn’t matter. The problem for me isn’t the lack of support of this operating system as I don’t spend a lot of time directly involved in OS support nowadays. Rather, the problem is that vendors tell me that any software running on that platform is not supported either, as the OS may be the cause of issues I encounter and Microsoft won’t help them anymore. This is a perfectly valid position from a support point of view, as software companies are invariably very careful about ensuring the platform they run on is supported by the platform vendor. Commercially, it’s not a great look in the marketplace to be selling old stuff – it’s just not as sexy.
So What’s Your Point?
There’re a few things at play here that I want to explore a bit. I’ll reiterate that these are likely poorly expressed opinions at best, so please bear with me.
Stop Telling Me About Your App Store
The technology software vendors love to talk about their “app store capabilities”, particularly when it comes to cool new things like cloud. We’re all relatively happy to accept a rapid development and update cycle for our phones, and we want to pick out the services we need from a web page and deploy them quickly. Why can’t we do that with enterprise software? Well, you can up to a point. But there’s a metric shit tonne of work that needs to be done organisationally before most shops are really ready to leverage that capability. There, I’ve said it. I don’t think you can right the words Agile and DevOps in your proposals and magically be at that point. I’m not saying that there’s no value in these movements – I think they’re definitely valuable – but I still maintain there’s work to be done. As an aside, go and read The Phoenix Project. I don’t care if you’re in ops or not, just read it. It’s very cheap on Kindle. No I don’t get a cut.
What If It Breaks?
Enterprises don’t like to update their software platforms because they are inordinately afraid that something will break. To the average neckbeard, this is no big deal. We’ll reach for the backups (hehe), roll back the change and try to work out what happened so that it doesn’t happen again. But in enterprises, they aren’t the ones making the decisions. Their neck isn’t on the block if something goes wrong. It’s some middle manager you’ve never heard of in charge of a particular division within the company whose sole purpose is to support whatever business function this particular bit of software services. And the last guy who really understood anything about this critical software left the company seven years ago. And it was a bit of off the shelf software that was heavily customised and lightly documented. And so people have been clinging to this working version of the software on a particularly crusty platform for a very long time. And they are so very scared that your upgraded platform, besides causing them a lot of testing work, will break things in the environment that no one understands (and fewer still will be able to fix). I’ve worked in these environments a lot during the past 15 – 20 years. At times I’ve considered finding new employment rather than be the bunny pushing the buttons on the upgrade of Widget X to Widget X v2 for fear that something spectacularly bad happens. You think I’m exaggerating? There’s a whole consulting industry built around this crap.
But You Said This Was The Best Ever Version
When I lived in customer land, I had any number of vendors tell me about their latest versions of the their products, explaining, somewhat breathlessly, just how good this particular version was. And how much better than the old version it was. And how I should upgrade before my current support runs out. I have this conversation frequently with customers:
Me: “Version 7 of Super Software is coming to end of support life, you’ll need to upgrade to Version 7.8”
Customer: “But what’s changed that Version 7 won’t do what I need it to do anymore?”
Me: “Nothing. But we won’t support it because the platform is no longer supported”
I know there are reasons, like end of support for operating systems, that mean that it just doesn’t make sense, fiscally speaking, to keep supporting old version of products. I also understand that customers are usually given plenty of notice that their favourite version of something is coming up to end of support. I still feel that we’re a little too focused on fast development of software (and improvements, of course), without always considering just how clunky some organisations are (and how difficult it can be to get the right resources in place to upgrade line of business applications). Granted, there are plenty of places who deal just fine with rapid release cycles, but large enterprises do not. And what is it that one day suddenly stops a bit of software from working? If my version goes end of support tomorrow, what changes from a technical perspective? Nothing, right? Yes and no. Nothing has changed with the version you’re running, but chances are you’re two major revisions behind the current one. I bet there’ve been a bunch of new features (some of which might be useful to you) introduced since that version came out. You can also guarantee that you’ll be in something of a bad way when new security flaws are discovered either in your old software or the old platform, because the vendors won’t be rushing to help you. It will be “best effort” if you’re lucky.
But You Don’t Understand My Business
It may be startling for some in the tech community to discover, but 99% of companies in the world are not focused (primarily) on matters of an IT nature. It doesn’t matter that major vendors get up on stage at their conferences and talk about how every company is an IT company. The simple fact is that most companies still treat IT as an expense, not an enabler. When vendors come along and decide that the software they told you was awesome two years ago is now terrible and you should really burn it with fire, you’re generally not going to be impressed. Because it’s possible that you’re going to have to pay to upgrade that software. And it’s very likely it’s going to cost you in terms of effort to get the software upgraded. But if your business is focused on putting beer in bottles and the current version of software is doing that for you, why should you change? On the flip side of this, software companies have demonstrated over time that it’s very hard to generate consistent revenue from net new customers. You need to keep the current ones upgrading (and paying) regularly as well. It has also been explained to me (as both a customer and integrator) that software companies are not charities. So there you go.
What’s The Answer Then, Smarty?
No idea. Enterprise IT is hard. It always has been. It may not be in the future. But it is right now. And software companies are still doing what software companies have always done, for good and bad reasons. I really just wanted to put some thoughts down on paper that reflected my feeling that enterprise IT is hard. And we shouldn’t always criticise people just because they’re not running the latest iteration of whatever we’re selling them.
Okay, fine. The answer is to try and keep within support where you can. And minimise your exposure in the places where you can’t. Is that what you wanted to hear? I thought so.
Enterprise IT is hard.
Eric Siebert has opened up voting for the Top vBlog 2017. I’m listed on the vLaunchpad under the top 100, and you can vote for me under storage and independent blog categories as well. I climbed the heady heights to number 78 last year. So thanks to my mother for voting for me. You can go directly to the voting survey here. There are a bunch of great blogs listed on Eric’s vLaunchpad, so if nothing else you may discover someone you haven’t heard of before, and chances are they’ll have something to say that’s worth hearing. Or reading. Look, you know what I mean. If this stuff seems a bit needy, it is. But it’s also nice to have people actually acknowledging what you’re doing. This all means nothing without your validation.
If you’ve ever checked out my LinkedIn profile you’ll know I’m not necessarily a shining light of consistency in terms of the work I do and who I do it for. That said, while I’m not a GreyBeard yet, my sideburns have silvered somewhat and I’m nothing if not opinionated when it comes to giving advice about working in IT (for good and bad). Funnily enough someone I know on the Internet (Neil) was curious about what IT folk had to say about getting into IT and put together a brief article and quotes from myself and 110 other people who know a bit about this stuff. I hate the term “guru”, but there are certainly a bunch of smart folk giving out some great advice here. Check it out when you have a moment.