Sep 16 2011

Not Dead Yet — BizTech Quick Take

BizTech Quick Take is our weekly digital tour of the web, serving up news and notes on IT and business that you need to know — and some things you’ll simply be glad to know.

The Infrastructure Engineer Isn’t Dead — Yet

Cloud computing is shifting the focus of IT from thick clients, physical servers and data centers to applications, virtualized environments and remote access. But does this shift to an app-centric, service-oriented world really mean the death of the infrastructure engineer?

Scott Lowe, a chief technology officer for EMC, isn’t quite ready to ring the death knell. In a Sept. 14 blog post, Lowe parses some of the assertions he heard at VMworld that infrastructure engineers were destined for extinction. But as he points out, even a virtualized infrastructure requires real-world maintenance and care:

Maybe I’m just being naive or ignorant, but regardless of how many layers of abstraction are inserted into the stack — and virtualization, in its simplest form, is another layer of abstraction — someone still has to manage the infrastructure.

OK, so you’ve built a “private cloud” and you have highly virtualized infrastructure, pooled resources, self-service provisioning, etc. Someone still has to manage it. Someone still has to ensure that there is sufficient capacity, and that someone needs to understand the core technologies that make the private cloud tick. If we’re all moving “up the stack,” who’s left behind to manage the infrastructure?

This is why I’m not yet convinced that the age of the infrastructure engineer is over. Even if you have virtualized your servers, virtualized your network, and virtualized your storage, management of this infrastructure is still necessary. People who understand this infrastructure — both virtual and physical — are still necessary.

Read more of Scott’s thoughts on the so-called death of the infrastructure engineer on his blog.

Is Voice Transcription the Cure to Tablet Note-Taking Woes?

Chucking paper and pencils aside in favor of the all-digital tablet is a pro-tech choice that more users are comfortable making. But there’s a downside to note-taking on tablets, even with a stylus: It’s all image-based. This means that none of the notes taken on a tablet are searchable or parsable, as they would be if they were recorded with a device that uses a physical keyboard.

In a Sept. 13 post, CIO Dashboard’s Chris Curran ponders his note-taking struggles since replacing his notebook (in both the paper and hardware sense) with an iPad:

The problem with tablet-based note-taking is that it is image-based rather than text-based (via handwriting recognition) and can’t be searched, except for meta data and document titles that you can type in using the virtual keyboard. Yes, there is a handwriting-recognition app for the iPad that converts your handwriting to text, but it’s just not the same as writing in your notebook — real or virtual — because there is a delay as the text is converted, and I find myself always watching the converted text to see if it was correctly interpreted. Everything just slows down and doesn’t feel natural.

Controlling the phone and apps in a smart device with your voice is nice, but I wonder what it would do as a more sophisticated text-entry interface? Is it possible that voice recognition gets to the point where we just turn on our phone or tablet in a meeting and watch the real-time transcription of the different voices while we annotate in parallel? Will a refined handwriting recognition capability be unnecessary?

Read more about tablets, voice transcription and note-taking on the CIO Dashboard.

Windows 8 Changes Everything at BUILD Conference

Microsoft is charging ahead with the next iteration of its Windows operating system. Adoption of Windows 7 is widespread, with the company recently announcing that it has sold more than 400 million licenses worldwide since the OS debuted in 2009. But now, Microsoft is working aggressively to develop Windows 8.

Calling it a “reimagination” of Windows, Microsoft aims to merge a touch OS with the desktop OS. This is a major departure from the status quo, in which OSs for the two form factors remain distinct (as seen by Apple’s Mac OS X for desktop computing and iOS for mobile computing).

At the company’s BUILD developer conference under way this week in Anaheim, Microsoft offered a detailed preview and released a developer version of Windows 8, allowing developers to experiment with the new OS themselves.

Brandon LeBlanc, a contributor to The Windows Blog, detailed his OS sneak peek in a Sept. 13 post. After going through the experience with screenshots, LeBlanc concludes that the most game-changing aspect of Windows 8 is its new start screen:

There is so much more in the Windows 8 Developer Preview than I can cover in this post. However, I’ve decided to keep this focused on the new user experience of Windows 8. The Start screen is like what the Start button was to Windows 95. It really is a reimagining of Windows. I have to say that Windows 8 will change how I use the PC.

For a long time, I will remember the first time I logged in to Windows 8 and saw the Start screen come up. The Start screen is what I am most excited about right now with Windows 8, but then again, I’ve only had less than a day to play with it. There is so much more to discover.

Learn more about the developer release of Windows 8 on the Windows Blog.

Maintain Network Security While Opening Up to IPv6

The Internet didn’t come to a halt when the last IPv4 addresses were allocated earlier this year, but it did kick off a countdown of sorts. With all IPv4 addresses now accounted for, IPv6 has become an unavoidable IT reality. And most vendors are already knee-deep in the transition, offering products that are both IPv4- and IPv6-compliant.

Just because your products and devices work on both protocols out of the box doesn’t mean that security for both is interchangeable out of the box, however.

Michael Sanchez, a contributor to Cisco’s Small Business blog, warns that as IPv6 continues its rollout, businesses need to make sure that network security isn’t compromised.

All of the security settings you configured for your IPv4 equipment should be replicated on your new IPv6 devices, including any traffic blocks or filters. Make sure, too, that the IPv6 network has antivirus, antimalware, firewalls and intrusion prevention applications in place. For instance, your firewall should be configured to filter IPv6 traffic, as well as IPv4 traffic.

Some of your older devices might not be able to process IPv6 traffic and will simply pass the traffic through your network without checking it for attacks. Because there’s no reason for IPv6 traffic to be on your IPv4-only network, you should set up a filter on these devices that stops IPv6 traffic from entering your IPv4 network. Keep in mind, though, that one way to transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is by allowing IPv4 traffic to carry IPv6 data packets within it. If you choose this method, called tunneling, you’ll have to use more sophisticated security measures to protect against hidden attacks on your dual environment.

Read more about IPv6 and network security on the Cisco Small Business blog.

What 9/11 Taught IT About Disaster Recovery

This past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It shook America’s sense of security in nearly every facet of life, including IT.

Arthur Cole, a blogger for IT Business Edge, rounds up reactions and commentaries from various technology leaders reflecting on the impact the attacks had on data centers and business IT.

He concludes with the assertion that before 9/11, most companies were complacent about disaster recovery. But afterward, nearly all businesses are paying attention to business continuity and realizing that natural disasters aren’t the only thing that can disrupt operations:

The simple fact was that before 9/11, the threat of a major loss of data and/or enterprise capability was not taken very seriously, according to IDG's Grant Gross. Firms based in New York and other northeastern U.S. cities in particular had little to fear from natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes, so they never steeled themselves for a major loss.

Nowadays, nearly every size [of] business has some sort of contingency plan for the unthinkable — even if some of these plans are more fleshed out than others.

For more on 9/11’s impact on disaster recovery, read Cole’s Sept. 9 post on IT Business Edge.

IT’s Got a Brand-New Bag

Businesses making the shift to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offerings are finding out that their branding, so to speak, has gone the way of bell bottoms: out of fashion.

Ken Oestreich, a technology marketer for EMC, recounts with amusement the internal discussions and changes going on within his company. There are even debates about changing the name of the department to business technology (BT) rather than information technology (IT), he writes.

Not that Oestreich is complaining. He sees the shift in mindset as a sign of the times and the beginning of what he calls “new” IT:

The discussion — while well from over — I believe is a harbinger for the “new” IT, where IT provides value and competitive advantage to other lines of business; acts like a strategic partner/vendor; and competes for business. It’s so much more than technology.

We agreed that another harbinger of change was when the CIO spends more time with the CMO than the CFO. And I can attest to being present to one such meeting.

So, in the process of IT elevating its value-add, IT will enhance how it caters to the business. It will actively promote its new service orientation, its new operating model, its new mindset.

And I am more than happy to help.

Read more about the makeover that’s sweeping IT in Oestreich’s Sept. 13 post to his Fountainhead blog.

iOS 5 Due for GM Release End of September

As the month of September marches on, the rumors and speculations about the impending release of the iPhone 5 and iOS 5 continue to escalate. The latest and most official-sounding word concerning the release of Apple’s next mobile OS is that it will ship at the end of September, according to OS X Daily.

A reputable analyst believes iOS 5 will release sometime during the week of Sept. 23. This appears to line up with speculations of an official October release of the new mobile hardware and software that Apple has yet to officially comment on.

While iOS 5 is believed to sport hundreds of new features, the real surprises will come in the release of the new iPhone and the highly anticipated iCloud, which Apple unveiled at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference back in June.

If these dates hold true, we can likely expect an official Apple press event previewing and announcing the product launches at the end of September or in early October.

For more on the speculated release of the next generation of the iPhone, read the report at OS X Daily.

What Does Google’s Acquisition of Motorola Mobility Mean for Android?

Google decided to carve out a sizable chunk of the mobile computing pie early on with its Android mobile OS. The company opened the doors to developers, making the code open source and distributing the OS across multiple devices.

How will Google’s recently announced acquisition of Motorola Mobility (maker of the popular Droid smartphones, which use Google’s Android OS) affect Android? By jumping into the hardware game, isn’t Google essentially adopting Apple’s “hardware + software” approach to smartphones?

James Gaskin weighs the pros and cons of it all in this recent article from BizTech.

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