Archive for July, 2008

What TV Should Be

2008-07-21 1 comment

Thanks Joss Whedon and crew for showing us what TV should be. I always maintain to my friends and acquaintances that the complaints that the RIAA and the MPAA etc. make that piracy is harming their businesses are at least wrong, and at most lies concocted to protect their obsolete business models.

I maintain that some of the reasons for dropping sales of music CDs and DVD movies (besides the studios being creatively bankrupt) are due to the content producers not understanding what customers want in terms of distribution. I really think people (especially younger internet-savvy people) want instant gratification with respect to media. People want to be able to get and watch whatever they want, whenever they want it, and pay a-la-carte for that content. Not all people want to steal media, and many people who habitually download music and video from torrent sites are not motivated so much by wanting to steal things as they are by wanting to control when and where they consume their media. That’s why DVRs are so popular, and why the iTunes store is so successful. When it is easier to get pirated media that suits your media consumption desires than it is to get the legit stuff, people pirate it.

Unfortunately, the braindead idiots in charge of these big media companies try to change the pirate-versus-pay equation only by making legal attacks on people using pirated media. Decreasing piracy is not necessarily a bad goal, but their methods are so hostile that they only succeed in alienating their potential customers. Instead of just focusing on making piracy more difficult, they should be making it easier and cheaper to get legitimate media in the ways that customers want (downloadable in unrestricted formats from the Internet at any time with easy payment options).

Joss Whedon and his crew of creative geniuses have recently released something that if financially successful, makes my point for me. There are no big media companies involved in the production of the content (which often is a sure fire way to screw it up anyhow). They gave themselves permission to simply come up with a fun idea, and make it a reality. They didn’t have to pre-sell it to get it bankrolled, and didn’t have to put up with studio jiggery-pokery in the creative process.

The first line of distribution for Doctor Horrible was for free on the Internet. The producers used modern social networking tools to attract a fan base and create a buzz before the first show aired. They catered to the fan community instead of being hostile to them (an approach that Joss used previously to greenlight a big-screen movie from a failed TV show). They gave us a treat by letting us see the show for free (!!) for a limited time. They are offering it for a very low price on the iTunes music store (the de-facto internet media distribution mechanism available to the largest number of people). While the iTunes store does use DRM for video, which has been repeatedly been proven ineffectual to the point where Apple is shying away from it, the rest of my talking points are met by that distribution mechanism, and realistically, iTunes is pretty much the only game with a large scale customer-friendly digital media store.

Joss and his family/collaborator team speculated that they could make something entertaining outside of the big media establishment, and ventured their own money in a gamble that they could make it pay. The production of Doctor Horrible smashes so many of the problems of broken old-school media creation and distribution that I would be a hypocrite not to support it with my dollars. I’ve paid for it on iTunes, and I will buy the DVD and probably the soundtrack, especially if it will be downloadable on the iTunes store in non-DRM format. I would do so just to make a point, but luckily for me, it’s well worth the price, and is over-the-top entertaining.

Keep it up Joss. Media moguls: Pay attention to what these guys are doing. They are smarter than you.

Categories: Editorial, Neat Geek Stuff

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Ep. III

2008-07-18 Leave a comment

Whoa, what an ending.

Since it’s still early, and most people won’t have seen it yet, that’s all I’m saying.

Except for: J, J, M and Z: Please make more!

Categories: Neat Geek Stuff

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Ep II

2008-07-17 Leave a comment

It’s out and it’s also awesome. There are even more Hi-larious lines and songs than in Ep. I. Go and watch it right now! I don’t want to be the only one watching it over and over.

“These are not the hammer.”

Categories: Neat Geek Stuff

Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog Ep. 1

2008-07-15 Leave a comment

I am a Joss Wheadon geek, due to Firefly. When I saw that Joss was producing a streaming video musical starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog I had to check it out immediately.

They are releasing three episodes for free streaming on the Internet, starting today and ending on July 20th. Episode 1 is out today, Episode 2 on the 17th, and Episode 3 on the 19th. Unfortunately, the official site for watching the videos is down right now.

You can still read the blog about the show and if you are willing to part with a couple of bucks, you can buy the whole thing on the iTunes Music Store and watch episode one right away and over and over. I am.

I’m buying the Captain Hammer t-shirt as soon as I find one online. The gloves are kind-of cool too.

Categories: Neat Geek Stuff

My First Commvault Pain

2008-07-14 2 comments

I have been working with Commvault in our lab environment. So far it does everything we need, backing up from Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, SQL Server, GroupWise, and whatever else we have. It can write backups to Windows, Linux, Solaris and others.

My first lab setup was to backup from some Windows filesystems and Active Directory to a Solaris 10 box with lots of ZFS SATA disks. That worked great, and installing it, other than some naming funkiness in the different components, was easy enough.

The next setup was to have a secondary disk server to have another location for backups to end up. In our real-world environment, that other disk server is an x4500 with Solaris Nevada build 89 on it, which appears as Solaris 11. Unfortunately, this is not supported by Commvault. I managed to get the media agent installed by modifying the installation scripts to fake the scripts out into believing the server is Solars 10, but when the media agent tries to register itself to the CommServe server, it uses some binary executable to tell the server what OS it is running on, which causes the CommServe server to reject the media agent and not grant it a license.

I can get it to work, I’m sure, by doing a live upgrade to the latest official Solaris 10 05/08, and run that instead of Solaris Nevada, but it involves a chunk of work to change out the OS on that x4500, which is not the most fun thing in the world. I guess I’ll start preparing a live upgrade partition.

Commvault Demo So Far So Good

2008-07-10 1 comment

We’re evaluating Commvault to replace our homebrew backup solution. Today I did some work with it in our Engineering lab. It is a straightforward architecture, with one server to manage everything, called various names in the documentation, but which I willl call the CommServe, and then media agents on each device you back up to and data agents on each device you backup from.

We use Solaris for mass storage, and there is a media agent for that, so that’s great. I’ve tested it and it works fine. There are also media agents for Windows, Linux, various Unices, and even NetWare, so you can store your backups on any of those.

We have Windows servers, Active Directory, eDirectory, NetWare, Linux, GroupWise, Solaris, FreeBSD, SQL Server and Oracle to backup. There are data agents for all of that, except they don’t have a data agent for GroupWise running on Linux, and they don’t have a data agent for our old version of Oracle that we use for internal web applications. That’s not too big of a deal, since we can do application snapshots to disk and then use the filesystem agents to backup the data.

Access to backups and servers integrates right into Active Directory, so that’s great, and there is very granular access control for backups and restores, so we’ll be able to assign the ability to do data restores server by server, without exposing sensitive data to admins from different operations, which was one of our requirements.

The only complaint I have so far is that various components of the product seem to refer to themselves and other components with a varying and inconsistent set of names. The box says Simpana, the documentation and the Windows pieces say CommVault and CommServe, and CommCell and various other things, and the UNIX pieces seem to call themselves CommVault Qinetix. I think there must have been some merging and product rationalization going on there that hasn’t been completed yet. It all works together though, despite the naming ambiguity.

Tomorrow I’ll list out all our stuff and get some prices. I expect it will be somewhat painful, but we’ll see.

Categories: Storage and Backup

New Backup Software

2008-07-09 4 comments

We’re working on some upgrades to various things around our network, and the time has come to start using some real enterprise backup software rather than our home-grown over-the-wire synchronization tools. We’ve looked at the market leaders for backup software, and so far at least on paper, Commvault looks to have the largest subset of features that we need.

We’ve been in touch with them and requested a demo set of software with a time-bombed license. Commvault were surprisingly taken aback by our request for demo software. They offered to demo their software to us on their lab over a WebEx. I expressed confidence that their demo would work great in their lab on their equipment, but I was more interested in how it would work in our lab on our equipment. They told me they don’t do many client pilots. Who the hell buys gazillion dollar software licenses based only on marketing glossies?

Commvault graciously agreed to send us demo software. I received a kit of software with eval licenses today, and already have the back-end server, called a CommServe with a CommCell console setup and running. That part was pretty easy.

The other things I like so far are that there are media agents for x86 Solaris, which is what we use for disk targets for backup already, so I can continue to use my existing large disk servers, and they have their complete documentation online with public access. That last one is a huge win for Commvault in my eyes.

Nothing turns me off more with enterprise software than when the website is strictly a marketing tool with no access to documentation, support information or anything actually important until after you’re a paying customer. This problem is endemic in the enterprise software world. See Tower Software for a great example of that, with nothing but white papers, brochures, and case studies out in the open. Hopefully the HP buyout will fix that.

If you really want to show off how good your product is, first, actually make it good, and then expose your documentation and support knowledgebase to the world. It’s easy to tell what kind of problems and issues to expect when you can see what kind of questions other customers ask of your support people.

I don’t even know why enterprise software companies hide their documentation from the public. What are they afraid of? That their competitors are going to steal their ideas? Any serious competitors already have the same ideas and they can easily get at yours anyways, so how about giving up the secrecy and making your products more convenient for your customers to use?

Sorry, I slipped into rant mode for a second there. Anyways, Commvault seems to at least do that part right, as do Novell and VMware, both of whom have excellent online documentation and support information.

Categories: Rant, Storage and Backup

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