Thursday, 5 November 2009

Thoughts on wikis

Over the last few years I have, like everyone else, put more and more information into wikis.

I've used three main platforms: MediaWiki (Choral Public Domain Library,, PBwiki (e.g. and TracWiki.

Those who have known me for a while will be aware of my tendency to bang on about information as an organisational asset, how difficult it is to get people to share information at all, and the consequent need to provide information repositories with capture mechanisms that involve minimal time and effort to use.

Information is more or less useless if it's inaccurate, if it's unclear, if you don't belong to the audience for which it was written, or if you can't retrieve it in an effective and timely manner.

So I was, and remain, delighted with the concept of a wiki, which allows easy capture, sharing, review and correction of information, which can give it a structure that permits effective retrieval and avoids duplication, and which encourages accuracy and clarity.

However, the devil has turned out to be in the detail.

When people put information into written form, it may be well structured, or it may be a brain dump. In my experience, any structure comes from the author's head and is internal to the document under preparation, unless the individual's day-to-day work specifically involves structured documentation. Therefore, in my view, if we are to get information out of people's heads and readily usable by others, we have to start with the content, and accept that structure may need to be added later.

If you ask someone to document something for you, they will typically create a Word document. It may have diagrams and complex tables. There may be careful formatting aimed at making the information easier to understand.

All wiki platforms I have used appear to make the following assumptions:
1) Formatting, beyond a very basic level, doesn't matter
2) People are prepared to put time and effort into learning and using the platform and/or its WYSIWYG editor
3) All content fits cleanly into a predefined structure
4) Once the information is in the wiki, people don't need to get it out again
5) Users are IT literate and have a conceptual interest in the wiki as a platform

The first alarm bells started to ring for me when I realised that not all wiki platforms used the same markup language - surely, if anything needed an open standard, this does.

I then started to wonder (and I still do) why wiki markup languages existed at all except as a structure-imposing superset of normal HTML. Do all wiki developers really want to waste their time writing the world's umpteenth not-very-good WYSIWYG editor?

I tried and failed to rename wiki pages (come on, chaps, even the most basic HTML editing tools let you change page names and automatically update all the relevant internal links for you). Structure is surely not a once-and-for-all thing.

I searched in vain for ways of adding links that did not involve two browser windows plus cut and paste (the honourable exception is PBwiki).

I pasted Word information into wiki WYSIWYG editors, even Word information that had been saved as filtered HTML and then put on the clipboard from IE, and most of the formatting disappeared (except, again, on PBwiki).

I attempted to export a set of wiki pages from one wiki and put them into another, or even to generate a PDF with all the linked information in it ... Surely I'm not the only one who wants to use the wiki for capture, maintenance, and day-to-day information retrieval, but still to have the option of publishing the results in final form? And surely I'm not the only one who gets fed up with one wiki platform and decides to try another?

To sum up, to say that I am disappointed with what has happened to a fantastically simple and brilliant idea would be a major understatement.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Saturday 28 November: Chandos Singers concert in Bath: Mendelssohn, Haydn, Berlioz and Kokkonen

The Chandos Singers
Supporting the Friends of the Royal United Hospital
Conductor: Malcolm Hill

Te Deum Laudamus
Mendelssohn Te Deum for Two Choirs and a Piano
Haydn Te Deum for the Empress Marie Therese
with works by Berlioz and Kokkonen

Saturday 28th November, 7.30, St. Bartholomew’s Church, Oldfield Park, Bath

Tickets £10, Students £5 available from 01225 824046 or 01225 463362
Full Details from

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sunday 22 November, 7.30pm: Ashton Singers concert in Winchester College Chapel

Paul Wright organ
Julian Macey conductor

Concert in the beautiful late 14th century setting of Winchester College Chapel, in aid of Winchester Churches Nightshelter.

Britten Rejoice in the Lamb
Harvey I love the Lord
Mahler Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
Mendelssohn Sechs Sprüche zum Kirchenjahr
Pärt The Beatitudes

For more information, visit

Friday, 16 October 2009

Tagul, or a tag cloud like a clickable Wordle

In effect, a clickable Wordle which acts as a tag cloud, and dead easy to create and embed. I'm still working on this one (the tags are an automatic extract from my website home page, which clearly doesn't mention the iSeries enough). I think that even the smallest words in the tag cloud need to be legible! More information at Free of charge at the moment, though it may not always be so if used commercially. Good stuff.

If you are using an RSS reader and can't see the tag cloud, you need to open this item rather than just preview it.

Monday, 12 October 2009

IT Forum Christmas Meeting 2009, Cliveden, Maidenhead : Encryption and i/OS Security

This year's IT Forum Christmas meeting at Cliveden, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, will be on the topic of Encryption and i/OS Security.

I'm delighted to say that our main speaker will be Thomas Barlen, Consulting IT Specialist, System i Security, IBM Europe.

The agenda is likely to cover:
. V6R1 i/OS BRMS based encryption with Opt 44
. V6R1 ASP Encryption of i/OS database
. Tape Encryption with IBM Tape Libraries (LTO and TS11x0)
. Encryption Key Management with EKM and TKLM
. External DS Disk Subsystem Based Encryption (Joe Mellor, IBM UK)
. i/OS Security and IBM Secure Perspective

The meeting will be on Wednesday 9 December.

If you are interested in attending, please let me know:
01225 436302

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Possibly the greatest spam item ever

'We Apologize for the delay of your payment and all the Inconveniences and hiccups that we might have caused you. However, we were having some minor problems with our payment system, which is Inexplicable, and have held us stranded and Indolent, not having the Prerequisite to devote our 100% endowment in accrediting foreign payments.'

'stranded and Indolent' sounds like something out of Tristram Shandy.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What's so terrible about charging for content?

There's again been a lot of discussion in the media recently about charging for digital content.

Many otherwise law-abiding people clearly think it's perfectly acceptable to obtain a free copy of chargeable content.

The issue gets mixed up with perennial (and often justified) moans about the ridiculous prices charged by the recording industry for CDs.

But it seems pretty simple to me. publishes some content. B wants to access it. is entitled to charge whatever it likes. If B doesn't like the charge, tough, they don't get to access the content. If overcharges, its revenues will be affected. If charges a reasonable amount for a good product, its bank manager is happy, and so is B.

I am, admittedly, rather biased. I work in the software industry. I come from a family of publishers and am married to a sheet music publisher. I spent many years acting as librarian for a choir, and being aware that if we were caught photocopying music it would be the librarian who got the rap.

When people purchase choral music as downloads from my husband's website, they almost invariably buy only one copy - the exceptions shine out. So are these purchasers of single copies sharing a single score? I think not. For some reason they think printing multiple copies acceptable, despite the clear indication on the website that one purchase equals one print. If they bought a printed copy of a score from Barenreiter or Oxford, would they think it acceptable to photocopy it for 30 choir members? Almost certainly not.

I don't want to sound holier than thou. In my early youth I did copy LPs to tape, because I couldn't afford to buy them, and I did photocopy music, for the same reason. But now, if I want to listen to a CD but I don't want to buy it, I can look it up on Spotify and listen legally and free of charge; I just have to put up with extraordinarily banal advertisements. If I want to listen to something right away and it's not on Spotify, I do have to pay, but I can download it on demand - I don't have to wait for the record shop to open. If I want a piece of choral sheet music but I don't want to buy it, I try the Choral Public Domain Library; I may not get such a good edition; tough.

Publishers are not, generally, in the business of diddling people. They are in the business of preparing content that people want, presenting it in a high quality way, and expecting a reasonable return. What justification can people possibly have for bypassing this? No more than they would have for walking into Waitrose and stealing a banana.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

2009 Logicalis IT Forum Trip to Rochester, Minnesota, 15-20 September

This year's Logicalis IT Forum trip to Rochester, Minnesota is scheduled for 15-20 September (travelling out on the Tuesday morning, getting back around lunchtime on the Sunday).

We will be in the Executive Briefing Center, now in the blue buildings, for all three days of sessions (Wednesday 16th, Thursday 17th, Friday 18th).

Here's the current draft agenda:

Wednesday 16 September
9:00 AM Welcome - John Rathke, Briefing Project Manager for Europe and Latin America
9:10 AM IBM Dynamic Infrastructure - Kurt Rump, Consulting IT Specialist
9:40 AM IBM i Update and Directions, including hardware and IBM i V6R1 update - Kurt Rump
10:40 AM Break
11:00 AM IBM i - Beyond 6.1 - Steve Will, Chief Architect, IBM i
12:00 PM Luncheon
1:15 PM Virtualization - AIX, Linux, XIV, VIOS, Blades - Nick Harris, Consulting IT Specialist
2:45 PM Break
3:05 PM Backup and Recovery Update - Debbie Saugen, IBM Rochester

Thursday 17 September
8:20 AM Continental Breakfast
8:40 AM Portable Utilities - Fant Steele, Advanced Technical Support
9:10 AM Application Development Directions
10:25 AM Break
10:45 AM DB2 Update (to include Omnifind) - Michael Cain, DB2 for i5/OS Lab Services Co-Chair
12:05 AM Luncheon
01:05 PM IBM Systems Director - Greg Hintermeister, User Experience Imagineer and IBM Master Inventor
2:25 PM Break
2:45 PM Security Update - Terry Ford, Project Manager, Security Services Delivery

Friday 18 September
8:40 AM Continental Breakfast
9:00 AM Marketing Update - Ian Jarman, Manager, Power Systems
9:45 AM Break
10:00 AM Smart Business Update - Mike Smith, Distinguished Engineer, STG Software Architecture/Strategy
11:00 AM Break
11:15 AM Energy Management - Brad Brech, Distinguished Engineer, STG Software Architecture/Strategy
12:15 PM Luncheon
1:15 PM Cloud Computing - Dave Gimpl, Software Architect
2:15 PM Break
2:35 PM Web Support Update - Paula Fulton, Executive IT Specialist - Technical Sales and Support

We can probably also arrange a Plant and/or Benchmark Center Tour for those who are interested.

Please let Sharon Ferguson or me know ASAP if you are interested in attending the trip. Current IT Forum members may send one delegate within the subscription (flights, hotel accommodation, and meals are covered). If others are interested, please speak to Sharon or me re costs. A current IT Forum Confidential Disclosure Agreement is required (I can arrange these).

We would anticipate flying Heathrow-Minneapolis direct (NWA), and then hiring cars (volunteers to drive are always very welcome). We normally stay at the Hawthorn Suites, very close to the labs, and move to the Minneapolis Airport Marriott (100 yards from the Mall of America) on the Friday night.

I will organise some sort of outing on the Friday night and/or Saturday, and there will be plenty of free time before we fly out on Saturday evening. The Minnesota Twins are playing at home on the Friday night. A riverboat trip is also a possibility.

My contact details:
'Phone 01225 436302

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Logicalis Power Systems Forum: Wroxall Abbey, 7/8 July: External Storage for System i, led by Dave Painter, Senior IT Specialist, IBM Europe

Given IBM's major change of strategic direction in this area, we have decided to focus on External Storage for System i at our next Logicalis Power Systems Forum meeting on Wednesday 8 July at Wroxall Abbey (near Solihull).

Dave Painter, IBM Europe's top specialist in this area, will be leading the session.

The agenda is as follows:

  • System i storage: present and future
  • External storage attach fundamentals
  • Hardware options and connectivity
  • Migration
  • High availability and disaster recovery with external storage (to include coverage of Power HA/Toolkit)
  • External storage with AIX and Linux partitions and Virtual I/O Server
  • Planning and sizing for external storage attach
  • Hints, tips and examples
We will also be taking the opportunity to discuss IBM's new XIV Information Systems product. This revolutionary architecture is specifically designed to mitigate the impact of hardware failures while supporting high levels of scalability. It maximizes storage utilization with data spread across all drives, allowing for easier management and configuration, reduced energy consumption and autonomic performance tuning, all while presenting a simple user interface. This additional session will be led by John Brooker of IBM.

If you are interested in attending, please let me know ( or 01225 436302).

If you haven't come across the Logicalis Power Systems Forum (IT Forum) before, here's some information about it:

Logicalis' Power Systems Forum is a community of large-scale System i users interested in the application of the i operating system on the Power Systems platform from both business and technical perspectives.

The Power Systems Forum is enabled by Logicalis' strong relationships within IBM's Rochester, Minnesota i development labs and has been in existence since 1995 to address a wide range of issues relevant to the UK's largest System i users and to provide the opportunity to exchange views and ideas with other people running similar large i installations.

We aim to give members the information they need for budgeting and to provide a direct and regular conduit to the Rochester labs, influencing development strategies and giving the labs important feedback on the issues facing large users.

The Forum, which is subscription based, meets four times a year, annually visiting IBM Rochester. Each member organisation signs a confidential disclosure agreement with IBM Rochester, allowing our speakers to share future plans.

A few recent topics:
April 2009: SOA and enterprise Web 2.0 Development Options for System i, Kurt Rump, Executive Briefing Center, IBM Rochester, and Jon Mell of Headshift.
July 2008: To DBA or not to DBA: that is the question, Barry Thorn, BI Spectrum.
April 2008: Regulatory compliance in a System i environment, Thomas Barlen, Consulting IT Specialist, System i Security, IBM Europe, and Lewis Honour, Security Practice Manager, Logicalis UK.
December 2007: Business Applications of Unified Communications, Mark Adams, Unified Communications Practice Manager, Logicalis UK.
April 2007: IBM's strategy for System i, Mike Smith, System i Software Chief Engineering Manager, IBM Rochester.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

A font with a mind of its own

I've just, very painfully, modified the Ashton Singers website ( to have a nice blue background and an even nicer logo (both courtesy of the choir's resident graphic designer) ... so far so very good ... and to use Garamond. Oh dear. Garamond is a lovely font for printing - I did the last concert programme in it & it looked miles more professional that any other programme I have ever done - but it really doesn't work well on the screen, especially in small sizes - I think this is partly because the letters are made of very thin strokes. The actual size doesn't seem to go up linearly with the point size. The italic is very small and very narrow (unless you apply bold to it, when it suddenly becomes enormous). All very strange.

Friday, 24 April 2009

I promise this is my last rant this month ...

Why do people post stuff like this (this particular one is off the BleedYellow blog)?

'Test Blog
This is test for to Publish on Blogging.'

If you want to start blogging, why not wait until you have something to say? Meaningful content provides just as good a test. Otherwise please don't waste our bandwidth. Would you 'phone someone you didn't know and say 'sorry, just testing'?

Worst moment so far as a Saints fan ... approx 7.15pm yesterday

Leon Crouch came on 5 Live and managed to sound
a) naive
b) inarticulate
and, worse, to expose the labyrinthine workings of the so called brains at St Mary's in a way that made the actions of the Football League seem completely reasonable.
Having said which, relegation and the loss of 10 points may yet seem minor problems.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Thoughts on Twitter

Following a great session on Enterprise 2.0 at our recent IT Forum meeting, led by Jon Mell, I've been trying to use Twitter sensibly - both as a poster and as a reader.

1) I love the idea that organisations are waiting for feedback on their products to come up on Twitter - I still await a response from Lexmark and/or Linksys to a comment I posted today about the evident incompatibility of my Lexmark printer and my Linksys print server ... I'm not holding my breath though, they did only cost £45 between them.

2) I use the 'search' capability quite a bit. I tried subscribing to a search on 'choral', but got disillusioned pretty quickly - it highlighted a problem with any subscription to Twitter content other than as a follower - people don't post the context of what they are writing. For this reason I am trying hard to make my posts meaningful when read in isolation.

3) Why do people think 'xxx rocks' is a meaningful thing to post on its own? If you like something, take the time to tell us why - otherwise what is the point of the post? (Anyway, although I accept that this is a personal view, the use of the word 'rocks' in this sense really annoys me.

4) I am puzzled by some of the people who follow me - I wonder what on earth they get out of it? It seems unusual to get a reply to a post.

5) I find an RSS reader (in my case SharpReader) an excellent vehicle for Twitter content.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Request for feedback on IBM support websites

A good friend of mine at IBM Rochester has asked me to publicise this survey:
If you use any IBM support website (for any IBM hardware or software product, not just System i) please take a few moments to complete the questionnaire - thanks a lot.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

One 2009 objective under way ...

The first version of the Ashton Singers website is now available at There will be a logo (and a proper look and feel) soon.

Incidentally I've now retrieved my copy of 'The Complete Plain Words' from the book cupboard at Logicalis - with luck some of it might rub off on this blog (I have just been re-reading the section on 'Padding').

Monday, 2 February 2009

More links I don't want to lose

'How to return a result set from a stored procedure written in RPG' - I have just discovered that this old chestnut has found its way into a set of midrange FAQs, which is rather cheering.
Customers are still using these tried and tested techniques, I am glad to see (I fished this example out for an iPerimeter customer today).

Domino Java agent to check received mail items for spam:

'Domino in Notability' presentation - I was asked to present at an IBM event which showcased business partners and whose main theme was the, then only just announced, Domino 6 release. I knew sod all about Domino 6, and racked my brain for a subject. It occurred to me simply to tell the assembled company about Notability's advanced use of Domino (the link actually omits the first few slides, about our various Notes client based applications). It went down a storm, with IBMers and others saying, firstly, that they'd never heard anyone use themselves as a case study before, and, secondly, how well it had worked. A very instructive episode (KISS, focus on business benefit).

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Thoughts about spam

I seem to have been involved in quite a few discussions about spam lately, so this is perhaps a good time to collect up some of my thoughts on the subject.

Surely spam only matters if it is delivered to you?
I think you just have to see spam as 'noise'.

In my view things have improved markedly over the last couple of years. As with anti-virus, the need for spam handling is accepted in the industry, as is the probable need to spend money on it. Assuming an organisation has something in place, its end users should be able to ignore spam because they actually hardly ever see any. The old worry, that anti-spam measures mean proper emails get lost, does remain to some extent, but there are plenty of R&D dollars in the anti-spam industry now, and I would personally say they are nearly as much on top of the problem as the anti-virus vendors. When did you last get any spam in your business email account? I get hardly any even in my hotmail account these days. The legal sanctions, especially those imposed by the EU, do help - in the U.S. spammers are harder to deal with because the anti-spam law has less teeth. In summary, there's more and more spam out there, but if you put an intelligent product or service in place you really ought to be able to ignore it for practical purposes.

What are the spammers trying to achieve, and how do they do it?
There are three types of entity involved: the more or less criminal, stupid and/or misguided entity that is trying to sell its services or to defraud people; the intelligent and criminal entity that undertakes to send out spam on behalf of the first entity, and which uses completely dodgy techniques to do it; and the entity that actually transmits the spam, probably without knowing anything about it through its accidental membership of a botnet managed by the second entity. (It's almost certainly only the second of these that makes any money out of the enterprise.)

Incidentally I am frequently amazed by the appalling quality of the product - I've often thought that someone with a modicum of common sense, reasonable grammar and spelling and some commercial nous could actually achieve a lot more than these people do ... let's be grateful for small mercies.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Thoughts on home working

I'm responding to a LinkedIn question concerning remote working - I wanted to collect up some thoughts on the subject (mostly previously published in a slightly different form on the IT Sanctuary).

I was contractually 'home based' when working for Logicalis; this experience has undoubtedly made setting up my own business very much easier.

You have to accept that not all home environments are conducive to home working - you have to be able to separate yourself from the rest of the household during working hours; I have personally always found this difficult.

The effectiveness of business systems, when used from home, varies widely. I can remember an application which took 15 minutes to load over a dial-up line. It's an obvious point that morale and productivity are totally dependent on both the business process and its supporting application systems being designed or tweaked to cope with distributed working and broadband connections.

We found we could support all our home working, including IP telephony and videoconferencing in usable if not brilliant quality, over ordinary broadband connections.

Do not underestimate the amount of specialised 'phone support home users will require with their distributed setup.

While I am 100% convinced of the benefits of unified communications technologies to business, and not just for home workers, I feel that these technologies need to be integrated, automated and simplified, and people's concerns about the security of their personal information allayed, if take-up is not to remain limited to the young and the technologically savvy. Even in Logicalis, a sizeable minority communicates only via email and mobile 'phone. Both of these technologies provide ease of use, and these individuals simply don't see any benefit in presence and instant messaging. When we first implemented Sametime, many years ago, its use spread like wildfire - but only to a certain point (probably about 30% of the workforce). Some people don't like the visibility; some people just don't see the point; some people can't cope with the technology; some people see it as allowing others to chat in work time; and some people (and this should not be discounted, I have heard it several times) are really bad at typing quickly and understandably don't want others to be aware of it.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Thoughts on open source

I was thinking of re-visiting some thoughts on this subject that I collected a couple of months ago (intended for a published article that never appeared). Now a LinkedIn question on this subject has encouraged me to get it done.

(With many thanks to my ex-colleagues Brett Delle Grazie and Darren Smith for their input.)

Low or zero cost;
Typically open standards based, so interoperable;
Typically works on a wide range of hardware and chip architectures.

The standard open source support model is community-based, although more formal support can frequently be purchased. Because of its different mindset, the open source community can never provide a single 'butt to kick' - as Darren would say, 'communities are ethereal, companies are real'.

Some other things to consider:

This depends entirely on the open source product under consideration. For example, I was told several years ago that the Apache HTTP server was used by 65% of all public websites. Skills are widely available for the entire LAMP software stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).

To quote Brett: 'Open source software, with its source being available and scrutinised by many, is quite often held in the highest regard. At the recent DEFCON hacking conference, obviously one of the world's more hostile networking environments, the Internet connection router and firewall systems were running the open source operating system OpenBSD.'

Customer attitude example:
Open source software typically supports multiple chip architectures, and we're beginning to see organisations taking real advantage of this. Oracle customers have historically run it on Windows or, more frequently, on a proprietary UNIX, but more and more of them are looking to Linux for the flexibility they need to optimise their Oracle availability, performance, and licensing. As an example, moving Oracle onto System z Linux can involve very considerable cost reduction.

Vendor attitudes:
It's noticeable and interesting how big software vendors now happily include Linux components in their enterprise offerings - that shows a real mind shift in my view.
Another angle, however, based on my personal experience on the Power platform, is that smaller vendors can be unable or unwilling to support their code running on non-Intel Linux.

Open source and open standards:
Tomcat is the reference implementation for the J2EE standard, but it may or may not be a good place to actually run your J2EE code; the needs of a business ('build, run, manage') don't necessarily map onto the thought processes either of a standards body or of an open source development community.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Progress on the commercial front

I now have a business bank account. This puts me in a position (along with the public liability insurance I already had) to get listed on my customers' vendor databases, to receive purchase orders, to invoice my customers, and, eventually, to get paid ... I finally feel that iPerimeter is a real business.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff: using ILM to increase Data Centre performance and make your data work for you

Because I can't find it on the web in its original form, here is the ILM article as I pulled it together in September 2007 (with much input from, in particular, Jan Zelezinski).


With growing pressures on the Data Centre to support organisations as they fight to remain competitive, and to deliver on an ever-growing list of security, compliance and environmental requirements, information lifecycle management (ILM) has never been more important.

At Logicalis, we think of ILM as ‘the right information to the right users at the right time and at the right cost’, which implies a comprehensive approach to managing an organisation's data throughout its useful life, from creation to deletion.

There's certainly plenty to discuss about the fact that, in reality, so little data ever actually gets deleted, but nonetheless ILM represents a fundamental approach to optimising performance in the Data Centre. However, it needs to be managed carefully to ensure that the benefit is clearly delivered to the Data Centre and organisation, not just in efficiency savings, but in appropriate application performance.

A piece of information being old doesn't mean that it is not vital for business planning, or required as evidence of compliance. An ILM approach involves a series of policies, procedures, practices and tools which align the business value of information with the most appropriate and cost effective infrastructure. This makes ILM a strategy for getting the best out of both the Data Centre and the applications it supports – not just a collection of technologies.

Unlike traditional hierarchical storage management (HSM), ILM looks at data from the business’ perspective – in other words, it’s interested in information rather than in data. It allows for more complex criteria for storage management than size, age, and frequency of access. But, once the organisation’s data is properly understood and classified, like traditional HSM an ILM approach will organise data into separate tiers according to specified policies, and provide for automated data migration from one tier to another. Typical storage tiers would range from fast, expensive and more energy consuming disk-based media such as fibre channel disk systems, through cheaper, but slower serial technology architecture (SATA) disks and tape-based devices, to offline tape in a secure offsite facility. The efficient selection of devices that results from such an approach can also make a virtualisation strategy more effective.

But there’s no magic wand - before any of this can happen, the organisation has to understand how its stored data translates to business value.

Delivering value from data

Stored data gives value in three ways: it provides the organisation with the operational information it needs to drive the current business process and to maintain productivity; it allows legal obligations to be satisfied; and the ‘knowledge assets’ held within it support decision making and innovation.

So the importance of any data does not rest solely on its age, or how often it's accessed. This is particularly true of compliance where the issue may be how quickly any one piece of information can be located at any one time. It's also true that faced with corporate governance regulations, it is becoming increasingly important to protect even seemingly worthless data from accidental destruction or loss. ILM users must specify different policies for data that declines in value at different rates. The structure, content and value of an organisation’s data will alter over time as business, compliance, application and technology needs change, so ILM policies must be adaptable if they are to remain valid.

Some of an organisation’s information is tidily structured in relational databases. However the majority of it will be in semi-structured, unstructured or non-electronic form, in content repositories, file systems, mailboxes, filing cabinets, and people’s heads. Information is useless if it can’t be retrieved; it is almost useless if it can only be retrieved by one person. The keys to the retrievability of semi-structured and unstructured information are the quality of indexing (metadata), the effective use of metadata by applications, and appropriate delivery of the information once identified. A traditional HSM strategy can help with the last of these, but it can’t do anything about the first two. ILM is a holistic approach to the needs of the business for information and knowledge, taking into account applications as well as storage technologies.

Getting ILM right from the beginning

Logicalis’ ILM roadmap assumes, first, the involvement of representatives of both the business and IT in the creation of an inventory of the organisation’s data (data types, metadata, content). What can be covered in a sentence as an idea can in reality be a huge project - the analysis and classification of large amounts of unstructured data can be daunting, if worthwhile.

We can then define tiered storage policies, and begin to implement them, using techniques such as storage path management to maintain appropriate information retrievability and application performance.

Once the organisation really understands its data and has begun to see the benefit of ILM in terms of Data Centre performance, we can start to grow the data’s business value and further tune storage performance with such mechanisms as enterprise search, data hubs, single instance storage, email archiving, and the introduction of selective archiving to ERP and other line of business applications.

The better we understand our data and metadata and the ways in which applications and users access them, the more added value we can gain, whether it be through improved data quality strategies or through newly discovered knowledge assets.

Undoubtedly, in a Data Centre where terabytes of data have to be backed up each day, where thousands of often concurrent users have to be supported, and where vital compliance information has to be identified and retrieved at the drop of a hat, implementing an ILM strategy can deliver a huge saving in hardware and maintenance costs - not to mention in power consumption. An ILM approach can put paid to the instinctive desire to store all application data on the same high-end disk arrays, and instead spread the appropriate data on to more cost-effective second, third and fourth tier devices. It will inform your strategy across the whole of the enterprise, and allow you to resist the temptation of purchasing the latest bit of kit that ‘would do the job’. The thinking horse should come before the technology cart.

This is a very worthwhile journey to take as part of creating a leading-edge Data Centre, with more and more UK businesses starting to embrace an ILM approach. The Information and Lifecycle Management Survey 2006, conducted by market analyst group Quocirca, found that, in the last twelve months, UK businesses have moved from the planning and implementation stages to fully incorporating ILM strategies as a core part of their infrastructure, with positive effects on the businesses they serve.

Articles to which I've contributed

I wanted to collect up links to some published articles I've contributed to. Here's what I have found so far.

EI Magazine
Form and function
December 2006

Sorting the wheat from the chaff: using ILM to increase Data Centre performance
September 2007

System i Network
Cross-platform players are happy but warn of channel shake-up
May 1st, 2008

System i Network
The consolidation game

System i Network
iSeries Certifications: How Important are They?
June 1st, 2003

and finally (although you can no longer see the pictures - probably not a bad thing)
iSeries News UK
ODBC in an AS/400 client/server environment
August 1996

Thursday, 22 January 2009

New release of the iPerimeter website

It doen't look much different, but I've
  • verified it for Google Webmaster Tools
  • built and submitted a Google sitemap
  • added a little bit of metadata as an initial search engine optimisation experiment
  • given it a free tracker via (see globe symbol at bottom left hand corner of each page)
  • added the Company Registration Number, a copyright statement, and a 'last updated' date

In the process I have allowed myself to admit that I do miss one feature of WebSphere Development Studio Client - you could click in the right place on the WYSIWYG page designer and the HTML source editor's cursor was automatically positioned appropriately - Nvu doesn't do this. I must admit also that I am missing having a Notes client on my PC.

I am definitely benefiting from the website and from the fact that Google is now indexing the unusual name 'iPerimeter' - people I have reconnected with via LinkedIn keep saying they can't find my contact information except via Google. You are not supposed to post your contact information in the text on your LinkedIn profile, but I think I shall do so anyway.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Setting up a new small business in a hurry

I thought it might be interesting if this blog included periodic updates about iPerimeter as a business, from various different angles:
  • Marketing, contacts, etc.
  • Premises
  • Technology
  • Corporate/legal/commercial
  • Chargeable activity
  • Skills building

Progress so far in some of these areas:

Marketing, contacts, etc. - I've already posted about my website. I've also spent a lot of time building my LinkedIn profile ( and LinkedIn network (currently 187 connections), and I've also been answering questions on LinkedIn, hopefully to get my name into the public eye. I intend to sign up as the basic level of IBM Business Partner (waiting on my VAT registration coming through), and am already discussing a couple of other vendor relationships.

Premises - Still working on this one.

Technology - I've talked about some of this. Here's a summary.

PC - Thinkpad T43 running:

  • XP SP3
  • MS Office 2003 Standard Edition
  • ActiveSync and SOTI PCPro (for smartphone integration)
  • Pidgin (for instant messaging)
  • AVG 8.0 Internet Security
  • SharpReader, Windows Media Player and Audacity (for podcasts and music)
  • Sente SenLab02 (for label printing)
  • PrimoPDF and SVGMaker (for output manipulation)
  • Microsoft Photo Editor (for image manipulation)
  • Apache Tomcat, Nvu, MySQL, Sun JDK 6, GnuWin32 SED, Ant, CoreFTP, ActivePerl and AWStats (all for website processing)
  • Google Desktop

Smartphone - Samsung Omnia (T-Mobile, with unlimited internet connectivity)

ADSL - Zen (I have been a customer since 2002)

Domain with hosted web space and email - Zen

Instant messaging and social networks - MSN Messenger, AOL AIM, IBM external Sametime, LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, Blogger

Wikis - PBwiki

Website design done by me. Website content entered via Nvu and Excel. Website generated using Tomcat, MySQL, Ant and assorted scripting techniques, and uploaded using CoreFTP

Corporate/legal/commercial - I have had to do the following so far: register iPerimeter Ltd as a limited company (I used; set up business bank account; obtain public liability insurance; register for corporation tax and VAT (I have signed up with a local accountant).

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Open standards ... a cautionary tale

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Time for another rant ...

I spend a fair amount of my spare time acting as webmaster for my husband's website, which sells downloadable sheet music. Yesterday we came up with yet another cunning marketing plan, involving distributing an electronic score packaged with associated 'help' information, for offline use. I volunteered to work on the technicalities of this, hence the following cautionary tale.

I won't bore you with the details, nor would they be relevant, but each electronic score is a separate file. Challenge number one is making it readily viewable and associating it with text and images while still allowing playback and printing of the score. The standard method is to invoke score view/playback/print from an ordinary web page (HTML file), which means embedding a reference to the score within the HTML. So we have two files (score and HTML) which have to go hand in hand. You can't just email the two files to someone as attachments and expect the setup to work when the recipient clicks on one of the attachments - it won't - he/she would need to save both attachments to the same folder and then launch the HTML file. Let's be realistic, I wouldn't go through that rigmarole if it were me.

So, challenge number two is to encapsulate the stuff in one file, somehow, so it can be launched straight from an email.

Enter open standards ... I know I am naive, but my immediate thought was to go to and find out what clever stuff I could do within the HTML open standard to solve the problem.

I found a thing called a 'data URI' which would allow me to insert an encoded version of the score straight into the HTML - no second file to ship, so problem solved. Hurrah.

Except .. I then tried it out, and whatever data URI I tried, it wouldn't work at all for me. Enter Google. It transpires that (wait for it) the current HTML open standard is supported by nearly all up-to-date browsers ... but Microsoft do not support data URIs in either IE6 or IE7, and I can't find any reference to any plan to support them in the future, either. Microsoft favours another standard (MHTML) for this sort of encapsulation, but that is not agreed as an open standard and doesn't look like being so at any point soon.

So challenge number three will be to bite the bullet and write HTML that uses MHTML for Microsoft browsers and data URIs for the rest. That's life I suppose.

That's the cautionary tale, here (resisting the temptation to comment on Microsoft's attitude to open standards) is one general point which I thought interesting. When I Googled for help, I found three different types of content: a) people saying 'why would you want to do that anyway?' or 'data URIs are useless' and providing no useful input; b) people saying 'get your users to install Firefox' and providing no useful input; c) people with the same problem as me, none of whom had received any useful responses. I found all this rather depressing, since it gives me the impression that the world is full of developers with no ability either to think laterally or to see anything from the viewpoint of an ordinary user with no particular interest in IT. (Maybe the other ones are too busy having a life to respond to forum postings?)

Rant over for now ... I'd be interested in other people's real life experiences with the meaningfulness or otherwise of open standards.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
It's a question of perception. No-one expects Word to be an open standard - it's a de facto standard simply because of its near universal take-up, but it's 100% proprietary. HTML has an agreed open standard, and it seems reasonable to expect that Web browsers will follow this open standard. On this point, at least, the most popular browser clearly diverges from the open standard and, on the current evidence, intends to continue to do so. But I don't know why I expected otherwise, really.

... another comment ...

Controlling our use of printers

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Today I want to talk about something we all do regularly, at work and at home. We don't necessarily think about it much, but it is quite possibly costing us unnecessary money, wasting time and using unnecessary environmental resources.

For anyone kind enough to be reading this, here are some questions (you may have answers to them all already, in which case please do ignore me and/or add a comment with your views and experiences).

What do you print?

You've probably got three main types of printing going on in your organisation: printing that is essential to the business process (labels, invoices, formal letters, warehouse pick lists), ad-hoc printing of Word documents etc., and report printing.

Do you need to print all that stuff?

Who looks at the reports? Do they need all the pages? Could your applications generate reports more intelligently? Could you split up your spooled reports before they are printed?

People frequently print documents for distribution because they don't want the recipient to be able to edit them, and/or because they want to be sure what the document is going to look like when it reaches its destination. Do you give people the ability to print to a PDF file instead of a printer? (We use PrimoPDF - see

How and where do you print it?

Do you know how many printers you have and what they're costing you? Do people use expensive colour printers when they don't need to? Do they insist on personal printers for privacy reasons? Do people print double-sided whenever they can?

Do you use pre-printed forms? If so, what happens to your stock when a change is required?

What happens when there's a problem with the printer?

Does your printing subsystem tell you when there's been a problem? Can you reprint a job starting at a particular page? Can the absence, or duplication, of printed output cause problems in the business process?

How do you file your output?

Do you file paper copies, or archive softcopy? Why do you do this? How long does it take you to retrieve a copy on request? Is this an acceptable amount of time? Is this matter covered in your business continuity strategy?

Over the years we have been asked for solutions in all these areas, but, frankly, not very often. I honestly don't know whether this is a topic of general concern or not - I would be grateful for your comments.

This article on 'IT Going Green' is well worth reading, incidentally:

A deceptively simple idea

Added by Mandy Shaw, 6 months ago.

I'd like to encourage you to visit a website I have just discovered: - deceptively simple, imaginative, and creative.

System i - Releasing the Power to Innovate

[originally posted elsewhere, June 2008]

Some thoughts on what the recent Power Systems announcements mean to Logicalis and its System i customers
IBM's recent Power Systems announcement does two things. It completes the convergence of the System p (AIX) and System i (AS/400, iSeries) platforms. But, more interestingly, it may allow the System i's core operating system to free itself from the shackles of history and perception.

Until these announcements, IBM's Power based hardware platform came in two flavours: a System p, which ran AIX and/or Linux, and a System i, which ran any combination of i5/OS, AIX, Linux and Windows. You'd think this was a no-brainer from a virtualisation perspective ... but it wasn't, because, like for like, the hardware cost more on the System i platform. Also, vendors weren't comfortable with their AIX-based products running on the System i hardware platform - even though AIX was installed, configured, and managed exactly as on System p.

The defining characteristic of a System i was always the i5/OS operating system (or OS/400 - now renamed just ‘i'). The value i5/OS gives to a business is in its provision of a complete, upwards compatible, hardware independent, scalable environment in which practically any business application can be accommodated with very low TCO. The value is not in the hardware.

The System i architecture was far ahead of its time when it emerged in the 1970s. Single level storage, subsystems, and the hierarchy of microprocessors (to name just a few) were new ideas. The ‘iSeries Nation', as it was later christened, cottoned on very quickly and watched, amused and/or bemused, as the rest of the world caught up. But there's a lot of other stuff in the average IT estate. This other stuff works best with external storage. It runs on a blade. The System i didn't even go in a rack for many years. It's not perceived as easy to deploy in a data centre. Its hardware just doesn't inhabit the mainstream.

The new announcements recognise all this by dividing a common hardware platform (Power Systems) with common management software (PowerVM for virtualisation, PowerHA for clustering) from the operating systems (‘i', AIX, Linux) that run natively on it. IBM has further satisfied the need to move into the mainstream through major investment in external SAN connectivity for i5/OS and, most tellingly of all, by delivering a range of Power Systems blades that are capable of running i5/OS.

So that's the hardware dealt with ... what about that complete, upwards compatible, hardware independent, scalable environment for business applications?

Logicalis has been working with IBM midrange business systems since 1985. Then, we had a proprietary, integrated, resilient, secure and easily managed operating system running green screen applications. i5/OS in 2008 is an open, integrated, resilient, secure and easily managed operating system that can and does run any combination of workloads - from portal and Web 2.0 solutions through enterprise content management and data warehousing to complex ERP environments, large scale SOA deployments and high performance, high volume, high security financial systems.

That's the reality.

The perception is that i5/OS is an expensive, proprietary, dying platform of interest only to its diehard fans.

In general, people buy an application, then buy a platform for it. In the 1980s and 1990s, many vendors wrote applications for System/38 and AS/400 as the platform of choice. The crumbling of i5/OS' strong position with ISVs can be blamed on many things: the ridiculously well-kept secret that is the built-in i5/OS database; Oracle's and Microsoft's stronger, and much better marketed, messages; the cost of the hardware; the growing assumption that the platform was proprietary and dying.

The built-in DB2 on i5/OS provides comparable function to DB2 on other platforms and to Oracle. i5/OS' built-in security can provide an exclusionary access model, suitable to today's compliance climate. i5/OS' built-in work management can handle whatever mixture of workloads you throw at it, all within one logical partition. If ISVs could be encouraged to see the Power Systems hardware platform (rather than an AIX software platform) as their target, maybe some of them might look at i5/OS with new eyes and understand the range of functionality that is available out of the box. They might twig, for example, that an ‘i' partition, with its highly functional built-in database requiring minimal DBA support, might just be easier to implement, cheaper to run, and more easily maintainable than an AIX partition running Oracle.

If the newly rebranded ‘i' operating system is to be recognised for what it can achieve, we have to get the message out to ISVs that, however innovative their business application, i5/OS is potentially appropriate, cost-effective, and most importantly here to stay. IBM's very clear continuing willingness to invest massively in i5/OS and its hardware provides a strong message to ISVs and to potential new i5/OS customers. Let's just hope they listen!

Mandy Shaw, 7 months ago
It's a long story. Technology problems in the early 1990s forced many client/server application developers (including ourselves) away from the platform, in many cases never to return. To be precise, the problem was the lack of an effective ODBC driver - it's still depressing to contemplate how easily this could have been got right... Then Microsoft began its march to world domination. A key moment was J D Edwards, having been loyal to the AS/400 platform for many years, choosing Windows as the main platform when they re-architected their ERP system. The System i went from strength to strength technically. Every line of operating system code and microcode was rewritten for RISC, an enormous development project that was delivered on time, to budget, and with absolutely minimal impact on customers and full upwards compatibility. The layered architecture and the hierarchy of microprocessors were leveraged to support dynamic logical partitioning, Capacity Upgrade on Demand, Windows, AIX, Linux, and Java (my usual line is 'designed in the 1970s to support web applications in 2008'). The database became more and more industrial strength (while the average System i shop used less and less of its functionality). But it was too late. It has obviously not helped that the System i platform has been the consistent loser in internal IBM competition and politicking between the server platforms. But I do think the opportunity is genuinely different and stronger following the Power Systems announcements. I await developments.

... another comment ...

Who really owns a community website?

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Today, I'd be interested in people's opinions on an awkward question about the culture of the Web. One or two details have been suppressed to protect the innocent.

For several years I have been an occasional user of a well-respected website with an active and public-spirited community of contributors who publish public domain material onto it for free download. More recently I have published some content on it myself and have begun to be involved in the community.

While the site has a few administrators, there are many tasks that can only be undertaken by the originator of the site, who is solely responsible for infrastructure and hosting and who spends a lot of money annually to keep the site going. He does ask for donations but these do not cover his costs. He has many other calls on his time. It is clear that the administrators have the skills, and the understanding of the culture of the site, to take a far greater part than they do. I also suspect that the site could be hosted both more effectively and more cheaply elsewhere, although the site has masses of useful content so traffic is high.

About a month ago, the site went down (major hard disk crash). It remained down for three weeks. We then discovered that the last backup had been taken in March 2007. While the originator thinks he will be able to retrieve some or all of the missing data, we have no timescale for this. We have been advised not to re-add the missing content ourselves.

The community's expressed view on all this seems to be gratitude to the originator for getting the site back up at all. My personal opinion is that the lack of regular backups is one example of a major difference in approach between the originator, who clearly sees it as entirely his site, and the community and administrators, who have invested a lot of effort in providing and policing content but who have no real control over the site.

So, who really owns a community website?

I'd be really interested in any comments on this matter.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
Just thought I ought to mention that things have improved markedly at the website originally under discussion - following gentle (but insistent and growing) pressure from the community, as of the last couple of weeks we now have weekly backups, and we're even about to have a mirror site. What will be more interesting to watch is whether any control gets delegated. Various community members have been volunteering to help with the IT side, but so far there has been no response.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
In a different (IT related) community with which I have been involved, I have seen members use the forum inappropriately (to articulate political views). In such situations tough leadership, with the ability to say "this is my forum and I won't accept this stuff on it", is mandated. But ... even a community that works well makes massive assumptions about the motives and preconceptions of its members. So, what does it do when something or someone appears to question this unwritten constitution? Defensiveness is a standard reaction, in my experience. Because Web communities typically only communicate using the written word, misunderstandings are frequent, and once people have walked off in a huff, there's usually no channel for apology. I think what's unusual about the community I referred to in my original blog entry is the fact that members have invested extensive time and effort in preparing and publishing large amounts of the content whose availability free of charge is the sole purpose of the community website. So there's masses of 'give' and actually not a vast amount of 'take'. I do accept that no-one should be expected to deliver a perfectly hosted website in their spare time and for nothing. But I'm really just interested in understanding the dynamics of such a community and the effects on its growth and effectiveness of enforced (and probably unnecessary) dependence on one individual.

... another comment ...

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
Amazon are being really slow in delivering 'Wikinomics' to me - can't wait. I'm very interested in the Flickr example - that's a bit less awkward, since we are talking about a commercial organisation that people feel able to attack, but it still requires the community to, in your excellent word, mobilise - that's the hard bit, the vast majority of community members have very low expectations.

... another comment ... (I guess I should not copy other people's comments)

Software that only just works

Added by Mandy Shaw, 8 months ago.

To put it bluntly, this blog entry is all about software that doesn't work properly.

Here are a few examples ...

1. As mentioned in a comment elsewhere in this site, my last but one mobile 'phone/push email device had a lovely habit. I would sit in the train typing an email, we'd travel out of a built-up area, and the signal would drop. The 'phone would then sit there saying 'Connecting' until it was switched off and on again - the return of the signal made no difference. Completely repeatable problem. So, let's get this right, this is a mobile device being asked to do a core thing in a normal situation, and it doesn't work. Did anyone, er, test what would happen in this situation?

2. A while ago I had big problems with spyware on our home PC. This is now a thing of the past (thanks to AVG Anti-Spyware, which is much recommended) but the PC was left in a strange state where anything with a name ending in com.dll did not work properly. I spent hours and hours googling, asking questions on forums, etc. (and even contacted Microsoft Support) - no-one (however loaded with posh Microsoft certifications) was able to tell me what was going on - all they said was 're-install the operating system'. Other people had posted the same question - no-one had had any joy. Am I the only person who thinks 're-install the OS' a pretty feeble answer?

3. Just one example of the thing I hate the most - software that doesn't do what it is supposed to (acceptable, if there's a good reason for it), while not giving you any clue as to why (completely unacceptable). I have a little box which allows the inhabitants of my house to share a USB hard disk and a printer without having to waste space, power, and dusting opportunities on a server. The box works beautifully most of the time, but its control software, loaded on my PC, has an occasional and unpredictable habit of suddenly refusing to talk to the unit. No diagnostic messages or logging are available, and I have had no reply to my request for support.

I'm not the only one, either - while I was typing this, my RSS reader flagged up, complete with rant about the usability of the iPod touch. (Darren's blog is much recommended, and not just because he once mentioned that excellent long lost sitcom 'Chelmsford 123'.)

I do know packaged software development is extraordinarily difficult, and that there's always another combination of circumstances you haven't tested - I have been involved in this sort of thing myself.

But the common factor in all of these situations is a lot of time being wasted. By me.

So, am I expecting too much? Or is there a culture of general acceptance of software that only just works? Perhaps we just aren't prepared to pay what software would cost if it were written properly.

Anyway I'd be really interested in other people's comments on this matter.

Mandy Shaw, 7 months ago ... Says it all, really.

Mandy Shaw, 8 months ago
Update - the print server box is finally working, at least for the time being, though the suppliers provided no help at all - I think my various vpn clients were getting in the way. But if they had spent 1 minute just explaining to me how the box worked/what it wanted to see in practice, I could have saved 2 days' worth of effort. However, all the above now pales into insignificance - suffice it to say that ActiveSync over Bluetooth is a bigger can of worms ... after about 3 days' worth of effort, off and on, it's working /some/ of the time now. The PC client doesn't give you a clue what it wants or what it's doing, and the smartphone's idea of diagnostics is to tell you that the PC has suddenly and mysteriously stopped supporting ActiveSync 4.5. There's clearly some sort of conflict going on somewhere, but do you get even the smallest amount of help in diagnosing it? Of course not.

Old blog entries resurrected ...

My old blog no longer seems to be accessible, so I have retrieved various items from the Google cache & will now post them (plus various follow-up comments) here - I don't expect anyone except me is interested, but I don't want to lose them for good.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Thursday, 1 January 2009

PC-Pro screen dump

As referred to in previous post (it's a lot clearer in practice - Blogspot has reduced the size of the image a bit messily).

Two excellent pieces of software

After some very negative remarks on this blog in the past concerning the quality of assorted software products (, it's only fair to compliment two products I have just started to use:
  • Nvu (see - an excellent HTML editor (easy switch between WYSIWYG, source edit and preview modes) with a tiny footprint and instantaneous launch time, and a similar enough interface to the various Rational/WebSphere IDEs I have used to allow almost immediate productivity. This one is freeware. My only complaint is that it tends to assume it knows better than me (frequently rightly) and to correct my HTML without asking.
  • Pocket Controller-Pro (see This allows you to show your Windows Mobile smartphone display on your PC, real time, and to drive the smartphone from your PC mouse and keyboard. It uses ActiveSync as the transport, so works over Bluetooth. I find it an essential time saver to be able to type text messages on my PC keyboard (this also helps present a professional image). In the past I have used Vodafone's Text Centre (Outlook plugin) and Nokia PC Suite for this, but I really think PC-Pro is the best. It does cost £25ish though. (The Microsoft-provided ActiveSync Remote Display, which does the same thing, doesn't support my Samsung Omnia smartphone.)

I thought I would have problems in these two areas now that I am deprived of Logicalis-provided software, but absolutely not.