Random Short Take #7

Here are a few links to some random things that I think might be useful, to someone. Maybe.

OT – Digital Movie Consumption Still A Bin Fire – News At 11

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.

 

Background

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.

 

UltraViolet

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.

 

Movies Anywhere

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?

OT – Thanks For Hanging In There (PenguinPunk.net Turns 10)

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.

 

The future?

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!

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?

How Soon Is Now?

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.

 

Picture This

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”

Customer “…”

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.

OT – You Vote Now

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.

OT – Career Advice

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.

OT – Top Virtualisation Blogs – Don’t Vote For Me

Eric Siebert has opened up voting for the 2015 top VMware & virtualization [sic] blogs. I’m listed on the vLaunchpad under storage blogs. Previously, I’ve been keen to get your vote. I even once made it in the top 10 (for storage bloggers). But this time around I think it would be a bit silly to vote for me when there’s all these other great bloggers you can vote for. People like Ray, Nigel and Chin-Fah are really, really, switched on people and you should be giving them some voting love. As are all those virtualisation types. So go and do that. And don’t vote for me. Unless you’re really into CX700 FLARE recovery and QNAP mdadm shenanigans.

OT – A vote for me is a vote, er, for me.

Eric has launched the voting for the 2014 top VMware and virtualisation blogs here. There’re also categories for storage, independent, podcasts and other things. Please head on over and check it out. I’m listed under the general category, storage and independent. Last year I made the top 109, let’s see if I can move up that list a little.

OT – 2013 and so on

I meant to be all organised this year and have something posted on NYE about how rad 2013 was and all the cool things that I am planning to do in 2014. But I didn’t. And as I’m woefully incompetent when it comes to these style of posts, I’ll keep it short.

Here’s some of my personal highlights from 2013:

  • Got selected to the inaugural EMC Elect group of 75;
  • Got selected as a VMware vExpert for the first time;
  • Made some decent progress with the DIY Heatmaps script (that’s really all due to Mat though);
  • Passed some more accreditations;
  • Went to Europe for a nice long holiday and discovered that not speaking French in the last 20 years hasn’t helped me stay “courant”; and
  • Kept this blog going in spite of my occasional desire to kill it off.

In 2014, some things will change and some will stay the same:

  • I’m looking to contribute more to the various on-line communities;
  • I’m starting a new contract with a local SI so you’ll be seeing a few more posts “from the front”; and
  • I’m getting a bit more focused on rebuilding my home lab.

Site-wise, I find that, if nothing else, this blog has been a useful form of catharsis and I imagine it will remain that way in the foreseeable future. Stats-wise, I received a 10% increase in hits over 2012. This is due in no small part to the exposure afforded me by the nice people running EMC Elect and VMware vExpert programmes. My goal, however, is not to keep increasing stats but to publish articles that are useful. Based on the last few years, that may not be as simple as it seems.

Enough rambling. Enjoy 2014, and above all, stay healthy and don’t worry too much about all this nerdy crap we seem to get so hung up on from time to time.

OT – Top 109 – Thank you

I apologise that I’m a bit behind at the moment, but I’d like to thank those of you who voted for me on the vSphere-land top VMware and virtualisation Blogs thing this year. I came 109th, and it’s the first time I’ve cracked the list. Wheee! Cooler for me was that I scraped into the Top 10 of “Favorite Storage Blog”. You’ve probably noticed I’ve been more focussed on storage things lately, so this makes sense. Thanks to Eric Siebert for putting it all together. Now do yourself a favour and go and check out the other blogs on the list – there’s some really solid content that’s being put out there on a daily basis.