February 2008 Archives

Novell posted 1st Q financials

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Normally I don't cover this, but there is a significant thing in there.
Income from continuing operations in the first fiscal quarter 2008 was $15 million, or $0.04 per share. This compares to a loss from continuing operations of $12 million, or $0.04 loss per share, for the first fiscal quarter 2007.
What this means is that Novell just posted a quarter in the black. If I'm remembering right, this is the first one in a couple of years. My pure guess is that this represents a couple of factors:
  • The loss of NetWare customers has slowed down significantly. The large majority of who is going to jump ship already has, and the remaining ship-jumpers represent a small part of the overall Novell picture. They will still cause the NetWare unit to lose money, but the loss is balanced in other areas now.
  • The SLES business has increased significantly, making up for the loss in NetWare customers. Novell has made many press releases about how well SLES/SLED is doing in the market, and point to the Microsoft deal as a key part of that.
  • Identity Manager, the central software that is in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, continues to do rather well.
Which is good, since it means that Novell will be around for quite some time. It just won't be "that NetWare company" any more. I just hope the OES services continue to see development. We won't know how large the OES segment is until Novell files their SEC paperwork.

The future of the IT career path

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There was an article in Computerworld a week or so ago that just caught my eye.

IT career paths you never dreamed of

The short of it is that IT as we've known it, a separate stack, is being integrated into the general business functions. Things like software-as-a-service, outsourcing, and freakishly fast WAN pipes mean there is less call for people like internal application developers, systems analysts, and system administrators. Those that remain, have a decided focus on project management, and focus on the business.

I see some truth to this. I've known for years now that the kind of job I fit best in, only exists in organizations larger than a certain size. Organizations smaller than a certain size tend to be subject to, "the computer guy," being in charge of everything computery. WWU is large enough that I can specialize in one field, file-server maintenance and upkeep, without having to be 'the computer guy' to a bunch of people.

This also means that my desktop support skills have atrophied from where they once were. Since everyone thinks that, "working in computers," means in reality, "desktop support," I have a hard time convincing family that I only know a little more than they do about why their Thunderbird broke in just that way. Doctors have this problem too, I hear.

Anyway. The article mentions that newer job titles are including the word, "architect," in them. And I really agree with this, since any company needs people with an enterprise view of their IT infrastructure. I'm one of those people for Western, especially when it comes to the file servers. It is people like us who sheepdog consultants hired to implement new technologies.

Which brings up another thing about the article. The article is rather .COM centered, which I understand. Us .EDU types really do live in a different world (where ELSE are you going to get 4000 people pounding the exact same file server at the exact same time?). The idea of hiring consultants (very expensive temp workers) to do the heavy lifting during upgrades is something we laugh ourselves silly over, since we barely have the money to BUY the new upgrade (even with our hefty .EDU discounts) much less pay someone else to put it in for us. Something simpler like outsourcing 90% of our on-site helpdesk work through a SE Asian call-center and remote-control apps is something we could possibly do, but the union those helpdesk techs belong to would pitch a fit. The same thing applies for a contract service to manage printers. Similar sorts of things apply to the non-profits of the world (the .ORG world), though perhaps not the union angle.

But out there in the for-profit world, and the for-profits larger than SOHO or SMB, that's another story entirely. I don't know how much longer there is going to be a call for file-server jocks.

First OES2

This weekend I upgraded the one replica server running OES1-Linux to OES2-Linux. It already was at eDir 8.8.2 so the only real changes were to the base OS. It went rather well. The upgrade documentation provided by Novell was just fine. Really, a simple upgrade.

It being done on a Pentium III 1.2GHz machine meant it took a while. But very little in the way of complication. The one hitch was that it changed the certificate the NLDAP server loads to the default, which I didn't catch until a certain service we wrote failed. But that was a very easy fix.

BrainShare scheduler is open

For those of you who check my blog over dinner (or breakfast if you're in the EU) the BrainShare scheduler opened early. Go forth and schedule.

OES2-SP1 soon to be in closed beta

Novell just announced that OES2 SP1 is going into closed beta.

"What is in this release of Open Enterprise Server

Novell Open Enterprise Server 2 Support Pack 1 refreshes the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 distribution with SLES10 SP2, fixes defects found since the release of OES2 and also adds in the following functionality:

  • Novell engineered CIFS and AFP protocols
  • New version of iFolder (3.7)
  • Updated iPrint with an accounting API
  • 64-bit version of eDirectory
  • Enhanced migration tools and migration GUI
  • Improved performance of the XEN hypervisor
  • Domain Services for Windows
  • NetWare 6.5 Support Pack 8

Note that although Domain Services for Windows is part of OES2 SP1, a separate beta program will be run in order to collate DSfW feedback."

Novell engineered CIFS? I soooo want to know what that is. Is is a completely new CIFS stack, or is it Samba with Novell extensions whacked on? I want to know! The other important bit of information:

The beta test program is currently scheduled to begin mid March and run through October.
Which means there won't be product for my 2008 upgrade window. Fie. Well, at least we'll have ample time to prototype and test for the 2009 upgrade window.

Update 9/2008: Novell has posted on their beta site that a public beta is 'coming soon'.

Update 10/2008: The public beta for OES2 SP1 has been posted.

OpenID and eDirectory

A friend asked me a few months ago if eDir 8.8 supported openID.

The answer to that is, "not natively." At its very base, openID is a method of granting foreign security principals access to resources. There will have to be some form of middleware that translates 'joebob.vox.com' into 'ext-1612ba2.extref.org.tree' (or even "joebob.vox_com.extref.org.tree") in eDirectory, but once that translation is in place eDirectory will support openID just fine. Now that openID is getting serious traction this becomes more interesting. But natively? Not really.

That said, eDirectory is very well suited for being the identity store for an openID-enabled database. It scales freakishly far. This is exactly the sort of 'distributed identity' idea that Novell has pointed out at the last few BrainShares. Through this sort of distributed identity system is would be possible for two Universities to grant members in other organizations, with their own eDirectories, access to a web-server based collaboration system.

Exchange vs Groupwise

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A post on CoolSolutions today quoted another blog about why GroupWise makes sense over Exchange. This is some of the same stuff I've seen over the years. A faaaaavorite theme is to point to mass mailer worms taking out Exchange, leaving everyone else fat and running.

On 1/7/07 I wrote about just this sort of thing. A quote:
The days of viruses and other crud scaring people off of Exchange are long gone. Now the fight has to be taken up on, unfortunately, features and mind-share. In the absence of a scare like Melissa provided, migrations from Exchange to something else will be driven by migration events. Microsoft may be providing just that threshold in the future, as they've said that they will be integrating Exchange in with SharePoint to create the End All Be All of groupware applications. Companies that aren't comfortable with that, or haven't deployed SharePoint for whatever reason may see that as an excuse to jump the Microsoft ship for something else. Unfortunately, it'll be executives looking for an excuse rather than executives seeing much better features in, say, GroupWise.
Which, 13 months later, is still mostly true. Mass mailer worms are no longer the scourge they used to be, and are well handled by commercial AV packages. Mass mailer worms even look different these days, preferring to infest and send mail independent of the mail client directly to the internet, thus neatly bypassing the poor meltable Exchange servers. The fear of mass mailers is FUD leftovers from years ago, not a current threat or reason to get off of the dominant platform.

The other thing I mentioned 13 months ago was 'migration events'. We're coming up on one, in the form of Exchange 2007. As the other blog mentioned, the hardware requirements for Exchange 2007 are a bit higher than for 2003. Speaking as an administrator with a sizable Exchange deployment, the requirement of 64-bit OS is something of a non issue since I'd be using one anyway. For a small office with only 200 users, though, forking out for Windows Server 2003 64 would be expensive.

Another point mentioned is that GroupWise can run on anything, and Exchange (especially Exch2007) won't. Again, as a mail admin for a largish Exchange system that doesn't matter to me since I'll be using newer servers to keep up with the load anyway. Again, for small offices who upgrade their servers whenever the old one completely bakes off, this is a bigger concern.

The other migration point is the Public Folders that Microsoft dropped in Exchange 2007. Or rather, made a lot harder to manage. Their users roasted their account managers hotly enough that Exchange 2007 SP1 reintroduces Public Folder management. We make some use of Public Folders, but I can see an office that makes extensive use of them looking at Exchange 2007 as not a simple plonk-in upgrade that Exchange 2003 was from Exch 2000. GroupWise doesn't have a similar concept to Public Folders (Resources might be, but only sort of), so this doesn't help GW much, but is the sort of event that makes an organization really think about what they're moving to.

As for productivity, we haven't had problems. Our Exchange has about 4300 accounts in it right now. This is supported by three administrators and a lot of automation. That said, during summer vacation season when I'm the only one of us three here I can go whole days without touching anything Exchange. It just works. This is a claim I frequently hear from GroupWise shops, so... Microsoft can do it too eh?

Another thing on CoolSolutions lately has been a few pieces on marketing GroupWise. In short, it makes more sense for Novell to pitch GroupWise as the #2 player than it is to pitch it as fundamentally better than Exchange. This has some good points. There are some markets that GroupWise is a better fit than Exchange, and the small, infrequently upgraded office is one of them. As are organizations looking really closely at Linux. GroupWise can very well be the #1 mail product in the Linux space, so long as Novell can convince people that paying for email services in Linux is a good idea.

I close out my previous post 13 months ago with a paragraph that still stands:
So, Exchange will be with us a long time. What'll start making the throne wobble is if non-Windows desktops start showing up in great numbers in the workplace. THEN we could see some non-MS groupware application threaten Exchange the way that Mac (and Linux) are threatening the desktop.

Today's 18 year olds...

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Over the time I've been here there has occasionally been a list posted in the break-room. This list is the, "Incoming freshman today...." list of things they know, experience, or haven't experienced. It contains things like:
  • Were born in 1990
  • ...have never known life without cable or satellite TV.
  • ...probably have never seen a rotary dial phone.
  • ...have had internet access for most of their school life.
And other such things. Ostensibly this is to help foster an understanding of where incoming freshman are coming from, but generally they just cause faculty and staff to just feel a bit old. In tech circles this sparks conversations about the first computers we used.

Which got me thinking about a few things. One of the items that is frequently put forth about Kids These Days (tm) is that they don't KNOW anything, they just know how to FIND things. There is some debate about this, but it is a common sentiment. I believe that kids these days (KTD) have figured out keyword based searching, and the search engines have gotten good enough at mind-reading that arcane search incantations aren't needed nearly as often as they were in the past.

Before Google, there was AltaVista. This was an era of the internet where boolean search incantations were needed to really narrow down to what you wanted. I didn't switch to Google for a long time because Google didn't have the NEAR search term, which I used on AltaVista as a way to narrow results to be more relevant. I didn't know at the time that Google effectively threw that term in on every search.

Those of us who lived through that era of the internet built up searching skills. I remember some searches I did back then that were pretty complex. I can't remember the exact terms used, but they looked like this:

bootes AND (antaries OR proxima) AND (fulcrum NEAR pinnacle)

I had a logic class in college, so these sorts of parenthetical statements made sense to me. Still do, I just don't end up needing to uncork the boolean logic to find what I need anymore as the search engines have gotten good enough that I don't NEED to do it. I know google allows much of the above, but I haven't had to do it so I don't know the syntax for it.

So I posit that yes, KTD don't know anything, but neither are their search skills robust.

Which brings me to Novell. I got to thinking what a NetWare administrator in 1990 had to know to do their job, and how I could fit into such a hypothetical time.

Right now if I don't know the answer to a problem I have a few methods to figure it out.
  1. Hit the online Novell Knowledge Base over at novell.com/support
  2. Hit the peer-support forums over at forums.novell.com (or nntp://forums.novell.com/ if you prefer old-school)
  3. Pay for a support incident
  4. Ask around the office
In 1990 the options were similar, but a key player was missing:
  1. Hit the peer-support forums over on CompuServe, which required a modem and a CompuServe account.
  2. See if the problem is mentioned in the book-shelf of manuals, which was a big investment to own.
  3. Pay for a support incident.
  4. Ask around the office.
When I first started this Novell Administrator gig in 1997 most of the admins I knew had CompuServe accounts, even though the support forums had officially moved to NNTP. There was still plenty of traffic on the CS servers, though those died out fairly quickly. The office I started in had a subscription to a monthly publication from Novell of their support knowledge base, which I made extensive use of. Somewhere in there Novell made the archives web-searchable and I stopped using the CD's.

As I see it, a NetWare admin of 1990 was on average more knowledgeable about their product than the NetWare admin of 2008. Such administrators avoided the cost of paying for support incidents by having the manuals in hard-copy form, and plonking down real money for CompuServe accounts. If I have a weird problem I'll hit up the Novell KB to see if there is a TID on it, then check the support forums to see if it is mentioned there, before I'll expend an incident on the thing. In time I've managed to teach myself how NetWare works in some very basic ways, simply by troubleshooting oddball problems. This is why I typically end up talking to backline support when I call in, unless the problem is a known issue in the private KB. My skills are probably on par with what was normal 'back in the day'.

I think this holds true for a lot of the tech field. Back then there was a lot of stuff you just had to KNOW. Or failing that, have spent the money to get the backup resources in place (manuals, support contracts). These days a base understanding of how things work is the key to phrasing the right search queries in the online knowledge bases, and less rote memorization (training) can be effective in solving a greater list of problems.

Prosthetic memory! Prosthetic training! The tools of geeks everywhere.