Re-purpose An Old Google Search Appliance

I managed to get my hands on a pair of old Google Search Appliance (GB-7007) boxes. I wanted to see if I could re-purpose them for some other task other than a search engine.  Under that bright yellow “Google” hood, it’s a Dell motherboard, with over 40GB memory and 2 Quad-cores CPU’s.  Since it’s a standard PC, it’s a matter of finding the right BIOS.

This is where the service tag comes in handy.  Using Dell Product Support page, I was able to identify the box’s Dell server product.  In my case, it’s the PowerEdge R710.  I found the BIOS update through the PowerEdge R710 support page and downloaded it to a bootable USB drive.

Before proceeding with the BIOS update, I read Dave Hope‘s post on getting his GSA reconfigured.  He suggested to remove the jumper labelled PWRD_EN, which disabled the password to get into the BIOS.  After changing the boot order, I used the USB drive and went through the update.  As Dave also noted, the executable may complain it can not erase the Google Search Appliance BIOS, but can be forced to do an update anyway using the switch “/forcetype”.

Now it’s just a matter of running diagnostics and finally boot a CentOS or Ubuntu DVDs to re-install a new Linux OS.

Still Unknown PC’s Future

Can the PC Business Survive?The business of selling Windows based laptops and desktops are at a critical point. The industry is still suffering from profit loss, notably with the most recently high profile exit of the PC business by Sony. Previously, many experts believed the PC business could have been saved by Windows 81. Unfortunately, the result was (and still is) much less than anticipated.

Is there still a future in the PC business? Most insiders will say they’re cautiously optimistic. After several years of lost revenues due to falling prices and lack of consumer demand, the industry is beginning to cut its losses. Several promised innovations, such as integrating the computer with TV, did not pan out. The PC itself sees no significant improvement in the technology, other than the usual CPU and OS upgrades. Laptops are starting to become more like a tablet, such as a “convertible tablet“, but the cost and usability are questionable when compared to the sleek and highly marketable Apple iPad.

A glimmer of hope is in the cloud services. With the rising demand of highly portable and cheaper devices, such as tablets and Chromebooks, the direction is to provide products on the lower end of the PC units.  But, there is a big dependency on the ubiquity of wireless infrastructure, such as Wi-Fi or 4G/LTE. Then there are the security concerns over possible data leaks and hijacking. The balancing act is still being performed.

The PC industry’s downward spiral may also be contributed to the dependance of corporate and government mass purchases. In the past, they were always reliable sources of revenue, much more than consumers. However, in this tough economy, with rising cost on both private and public sectors, those revenue streams have dried up. No one expects high volume sales to increase the bottom line, any more.

So where’s the industry going? Like any good business, it has to stay on course: Continue to innovate and cut cost.  It needs to weather storm. The free market will sort itself out and consumers will pick the best from the lot. Perhaps to be in the last few to remain standing will be the winner in this highly competitive business.

  1. Even the release of Windows 8.1 failed to change people’s perceptions []

BYOD: Why It Should Be The New Normal

Smartphone UseThere’s been a lot of talk lately about Bringing Your Own Device (BYOD) to work. It’s not a new concept. People love their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. They prefer using a particular brand for personal and work. They bring it to work because it’s convenient to carry just one device, and they can be productive with their own.

Traditionally, companies provide their own “certified” devices to retrieve secured Enterprise data. However, it’s difficult to stop employees from transmitting those data somewhere else, either via E-mail, USB drives, or Cloud Storage, potentially enabling others to see them. A strong privacy policy may be enough deterrent – at least in the beginning. As time goes by, employees will get complacent and too comfortable in taking their data everywhere, not realizing the confidential data may be leaked.

As an IT leader, one can imagine the complexity of supporting multiple devices and worries about zero control over securing protected data. Case in point, the biggest early adopter of BYOD was IBM. They learned valuable (and painful) lessons from it. Employees were not aware of insecure apps, not using secure channels to transmit data, and losing their unprotected/unencrypted devices. These security breaches could potentially cost them, or anyone else for that matter, millions of dollars to repair.

So, why is there growing trend to adopt BYOD? In this tough economic condition, company expenses have to be cut aggressively. The most obvious is to stop allocating budget for productivity machines. Having the cost shifted to the employees, it eliminates the need for company’s machines to be stocked, upgraded, and re-stocked.

Employees have also voiced their concern about the lack of productivity using company issued devices, such as a Blackberry, instead of their favorite iPhone or Android phones. It doesn’t make any sense to have a dedicated, company issued, device just to receive e-mails or phone calls for work, and another for personal use. It certainly becomes challenging to carry two devices, especially when an iPhone, for example, is more than enough to handle all of those tasks and be just as productive.

IT leaders are starting to embrace this BYOD trend because solutions are starting to appear, as the concept become widely accepted. Android and iPhone devices are now equipped with additional security to deter data theft or loss. Both Google and Apple are serious about Enterprise adoption and have updated their OS to be more secure. Now, it’s up to the IT leaders to trickle down the information to users on how to secure their devices, according to the companies’ need.  Instead of preventing employees to bring their own devices, educate them on how to secure the content of their own devices. As Ronald Reagan would say: “Trust, but verify.” There is a level of trust on both sides, but both must remain vigilant.

It is time to stop believing the myths of bringing-your-own-device to work. BYOD is happening, whether or not IT is ready. It is the “new normal”.

Will Windows 8 Save the PC Business?

Windows_8_screenshotPredictions are in already: Windows 8 will be irrelevant. The clues seem to support the suspicion – the masses are already happy with Windows 7. Enterprise already made a substantial investment upgrading to Windows 7. Another migration in 2012 is just too soon.

But putting all that aside, the PC manufacturers need to support Windows 8 because it’s the platform that will finally bring integration of desktop PCs with Tablets1 – especially in an Enterprise environment.  There’s also a good list of new features that will ensure some to upgrade.  Plus, there are millions of new PCs and Laptops to sell, every year.

Windows 8 is still relevant and it will save the PC business.

  1. As demonstrated in Microsoft’s Build Conference 2011 []

The PC is Evolving

Toshiba Portege Z830 Ultrathin Laptop

Toshiba Portege Z830 Ultrathin Laptop

Taking the headline from Time Business article, the PC industry is certainly in a different place now.  The PC, aka Microsoft based laptops and desktops, have always been the corporate standard for productivity machines. On the Enterprise level, corporate users demand Microsoft products (ie. Powerpoint) suites, VPN to access internal servers behind the firewall, Remote Desktop for Windows servers, and in some cases, multiple monitors for multitasking needs.

However, there’s been grumbling about the tablets taking over Enterprise issued PCs and Laptops – mainly due to juggernaut Apple’s iPad.  In response, there are now many more tablet offerings from RIM, Toshiba, ACER, or ASUS.  But such ventures do not always end up well. HP pulled the Touchpad after 6 weeks of production!1 That’s just the start – who knows who else will quit the quest to quell the iPad.

There’s a glimmer of hope to revitalize the PC business: the Ultra-thin laptops are coming.  Recently, Toshiba has just announced a good looking one called the Z830 coming this November.  Lenovo has an offering. Even ACER is in the mix.

Just in time too.  There’s a need the lightest portable laptop that will not break one’s back. It helps that it looks as cool as the Macbook Air.

One problem though: price.  It’s understandable why Apple charges way too much for the Macbooks – they’ve historically done this since the Apple II days2. But the PC should not cost as much. To be more competitive, there’s an expectation the PC Ultrathin laptops to be (much) cheaper than the Macbook Air, if they want to sell more of it. Kind of like the HP Touchpad fire sale.

So here’s hoping the evolution of the PC is towards something more useful, powerful, affordable, and highly portable.  There’s still life in the PC world.

  1. Like the old saying from Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca: “Lead, follow, or GET OUT OF THE WAY!”  It’s easier to follow the leader. In HP’s case, they sure did got out of the way. []
  2. 1980’s []

Future of Mobile Data Networks

Selection of SmartphonesAnything can be communicated via the Internet.  It readily connects everyone to emails, web, television, and voice.  It is where mobile computing’s future lies. The mobile industry seems to be shifting focus to Everything-Over-IP.

Traditionally, a mobile phone is used to communicate voice conversations.   The question now is who needs mobile voice?  Texting has becoming a popular way of doing things in Asia and Europe.  North America is catching up.  Then there’s the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, where Internet connection is required for status updates.  It’s becoming more than just a 1-to-1 communication.  It’s a broadcast of information.

To make Internet capable mobile devices, first the portable technologies have to converge.  Laptops have to be small enough for maximum portability.  Cell phones must be powerful enough to run like computers.  There are plenty of companies like Apple, Toshiba, Dell, and Nokia who are trying to close that gap.

It’s no surprise Apple announced the iPad.  They’re touting it as a reading device, but people know it can be much more.  Its main communication devices are WiFi and 3G.  No voice capability.  However, Apple has also recently allowed VoIP over the 3G network, so apps like Fring or Skype can provide voice calling.  Similarly, AT&T now allows Slingbox, TV anywhere, to go over 3G network to iPhone users (eventually the iPad).  So Apple’s strategy is definitely IP based communication.  Other companies will (or have already) follow suit.

This may sound familiar.  In 1998, there was much hype for Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) in the Telecom industry.  Huge investments were made to lay down fiber optics infrastructure for faster data transfers.  It took a while for that investment to bear fruit, and it looks like the consumers are finally starting to see the benefits.

Interestingly enough, wireless Internet connectivity it not widely available.  But that’s changing, thanks to innovation in wireless technology, such as WiMax or LTE.  It will reach the rural areas where Internet access is scarce.  Also, the price needs to go down in order to make it economically feasible.  Maybe the government should step in?

The direction is to get everyone connected.  Mobile Internet can finally become an integral part of the way people do business and go about their personal lives.  It’s the future of communication – on everyone’s hand.

Google Data Center Efficiency

Google is leading the way in “Green IT” initiative when they started, in 2005, making their massive data center infrastructure as efficient as possible.  Their approach is definitely radical and unorthodox.  First using 12V batteries for each machine.  Then, using AAA shipping containers to house the numerous servers.  Google is an engineering company so obvioiusly they’re obsessed with making tiny improvements in every little corner of the data center.  It’s awesome.

Google did patent the setup, so it won’t take long before other data centers converts to it.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Intro video:

Google summit videos:

Part 1:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho1GEyftpmQ

Part 2:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m03vdyCuWS0

Part 3:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91I_Ftsd-7s

More info on Google’s Blog.

Solid State Storage

Toshiba 512Gb Solid State DrivesStorage technology has gone a long way.  Back in the 90’s, I used to install 20 MB hard drives that cost hundreds of dollars and weigh a ton.  Now, hard drives are so cheap and capacity has now broken the terabyte barrier!   The next step in storage technology is in solid state drives, using flash memory chips.   Toshiba announced the 512 GB Solid State Drive (SSD) for Notebook computers, game consoles, or other home electronics.  It’s definitely good for lightweight Internet Notebook computers, or Netbooks.  Planned mass production is slated for April-June 2009.

Solid State Drives are good for IT support in many ways:

  1. No moving parts.  It means better reliability:  Less prone to crashes due to shock or mishandling.
  2. Replacement is safe and easy: just unplug and play.  I suspect it may require the device to be turned off first before removing it.  Otherwise, a device with SSDs will need mechanisms to handle hot swapping, either by doing graceful stand-by or friendly warning screen.
  3. Low energy consumption means low heat.  Heat causes more problems in Notebook computers circuitry, ranging from fan failures to circuit board overheating.  It means fewer problems with the overall electronic unit.
  4. Quiet operation.  Less people will complain about the noise. 🙂

Trying to beat Toshiba into the market is Intel’s version of SSDs.  It looks like they’re releasing the smaller capacity 160 GB version.  They’re also slated to release in 2009.  Competition is good because for the technology to gain mass adoption, it needs to go down in price.  First releases will not be as cheap, so business use will be the initial target market.  As a consumer, in this difficult economic condition, it’ll be hard pressed for me to buy one for home use if it’s not below $200.  I’m comparing to a regular 2.5″ hard drive for notebooks, selling around $60 for 320 GB capacity.

My hope is the use of SSDs in Smartphones.  I’m dreaming of an all-in-one “Computer Phone” with plenty of storage capacity.  The next few years will be an exciting development for portable electronics.