Friday, March 24, 2006

I'll Be Back

In information technology, it seems that the projects pile on faster than one could ever hope to complete. That's the nature of the beast and, truthfully, one of the reasons I love my job so much. There is always something to learn, something to do, someone to help, some technology to implement.

This week, it was important to me and to my colleagues that I complete two projects. One was finding a solution to a long-term frustration with our VPN (virtual private network) tunnel with one of our major customers. After trying two different vendor products which combine a VPN device and a firewall, we finally settled on a SonicWall device. Our system integrator prepared the device (a TZ 170) before installation so that it only took 30 minutes for us to install, test, and get the tunnel working. Since then the VPN has worked flawlessly.

In addition, as we approach the end of our fiscal year, we need a project-based way of analyzing our expenditures. After consultation with our ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendor, IQMS, I was able to complete a report design which does a good job of showing project tasks, vendors and line items for "raw materials" expenditures of our projects.

One of the simplest weekly objectives was to get our online staff training modules working. As with so much else in IT, it is often the simple things that turn out to be the most recalcitrant. Nothing seemed to work the way we wanted it to work. Finally, by noon Friday, we found a way to get the self-teaching modules working sufficiently well to warrant rolling it out to other staff.

All this was a self-imposed requirement before I go on medical leave. As of today, I am off work (and will not be blogging for a while) to undergo surgery and then chemotherapy. My surgical oncologist anticipates that I will be off work for 5-10 weeks! I'm hoping he is underestimating my recuperative powers. Even after I am back, though, the chemotherapy will continue for up to 6 months.

But I will be back! Look for me.

Powered By Qumana

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview - Reviewed

It was released Monday, March 20th. The Windows Internet Explorer 7 beta 2 preview is now available.
It requires Windows XP Professional SP2. The download executable will install the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool and will then do a one-time set up (after rebooting your computer) which involves deciding whether or not to turn on the automatic Phishing Filter, choosing your region and language, and deciding whether or not to participate in the Customer Experience Improvement Program .
First Impressions
The overwhelming reaction was one of frustration. Despite cool, new features like tabs, zoom, and an uncluttered browser surface with accessible but unobtrusive toolbar and iconbar, it is impossible to spend any quality time with the beta preview at this time.
  • It is too sluggish even for testing purposes.
  • It consumes the entire screen and doesn't appear to be resizeable.
  • It freezes, cannot be minimized, and consumes too many resources.

I will definitely wait for the production version and, even then, may decide to read reviews before re-installing.

Conclusion: Not ready for release, even as a preview!

Powered By Qumana

Saturday, March 18, 2006

VPNs, VoIP, Wireless - exciting times

Honeymoon in progress
It's the end of my first week of what I affectionately call my "honeymoon", the two weeks before my surgery that my oncologists predicted would be a time when I felt good. They were right. All the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy have dissipated and I feel absolutely fantastic. It's a good thing too because these final two weeks before I go on medical leave are extremely busy and exciting for IT and Pano Cap.

Wireless Upgrades
We have a number of IT projects underway that are progressing at a good pace. As of Friday, we have installed the wireless access points and antennas required for our wireless warehouse project. Before I left for the weekend, I was able to detect the wireless access points from my notebook computer. Next week, we'll complete our data network upgrades, installation of new routers and switches.

Exchange synchronizing
We don't have a lot of wireless computing devices in place yet, but there are a few notebook computers and Windows mobile devices. Once the wireless is ready, we'll be able to add a utility service to the Exchange server so that our wireless computing devices can synchronize their Outlook data anywhere in the facility. It might not sound like a big deal, but it means management of projects and their associated task lists, email, meeting arrangements, etc - all this can be coordinated and updated from anywhere those with mobile devices happen to be in the building.

In April, when I'm down and out, the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) project will be underway. I should be able to return to VoIP phones on desktops and testing almost complete. I'm not thrilled about telephony now being another IT management responsibility, but it will rationalize our resources and make phones just another managed service. All features of our phone system will then be available from an browser interface, making adding, removing, moving phones, redirecting calls and other assorted telephony tasks much simpler.

We've had a virtual private network tunnel set up for quite a while now with one of our major customers. Unfortunately, the connections keep getting dropped. This next week, we'll be spending considerable energy and time ensuring those dropped connections are diagnosed and fixed...crossing my fingers.

All in all, another good week with lots of good things to look forward to in IT!

Powered By Qumana

Thursday, March 09, 2006

TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 4, Distributed Systems

Make that footer read as follows:
Session 4: Distributed Systems.

The Microsoft product associated with this session is Windows Server 2003 R2.

Before we go any further into the benefits and features for distributed systems that are built in to this release of the server operating system, we've got a major IT manager hurdle - cost. This is incredibly important, not only as a stumbling block for IT Managers, but as an problematic issue for dealing with C-level executives.

How does Microsoft justify charging for R2 for existing Windows Server 2003 customers? Actually, it is only those customers who have neither Software Assurance or Enterprise Agreements. I can see the benefits even to small businesses with Software Assurance, but nonetheless, it's not intuitive to IT Managers that they will have to pay in order to get an update release of an operating system for which they have already paid!

One of the most obvious benefits of R2 for SMBs is print management. Not a lot was demonstrated, but what was look useful. Anything to enhance print management is welcomed by me.

Another benefit with Longhorn in 2007 will be enhanced leverage of SharePoint services.

Another set of problems plagued Rick Claus's demos for this session while showing distributed file systems and enhancements to replication between sites. His troubles were fun to watch...lots of laughter from Bruce Cowper and the hundreds...yes, Rick, hundreds... of IT pros in the audience, not to mention the potentially thousands of times the video feed will be viewed online!

Technorati Tags : , , , , , , , , , ,

Powered By Qumana

TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 3, Monitoring

The session started with a sneak peak of Origami - UMPCs.

The primary tool to monitor the health of networks in Microsoft Operations Manager (with 3rd party service packs). If an IT Manager has multiple locations to manage, or even mobile workers, then MOM 2005 SP1 may be the tool of choice to do so.

At Pano Cap, we already use a 3rd-party proactive monitoring service with agents deployed on our various servers. This monitoring service typically sends me email alerts tied to triggers for various categories such as disk space, operating system patches and updates, antivirus updates, event logs on servers, firewall logs, security logs, backup status, printers offline, office worker playing Solitaire (just kidding), etc.

As Bruce Cowper said, "The biggest challenge in monitoring is determining what needs to be monitored and what is just noise."

Powered By Qumana

TechNet Build'06 Tour - Live Video Feed SUCCESS!

We've moved from beta testing of live video feeds for this Microsoft event to invitations to other IT types who can't be in Toronto, all in about 5 hours. See Damir Bersinic's blog from about 25 minutes ago for details about connecting to the live feed.
Not only does it work, it works extremely well. "Being there" has never been so easy! Thanks, Microsoft!
Powered By Qumana

TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 2, Managing Change

Assuming the IT Manager (for Microsoft Server systems) has done a good job of baselining the infrastructure using tools like System Management Server, Baseline Security Analyzer and the Security Configuration Wizard, the next step in the MOF (Microsoft Operations Framework) is change control.

Personally, this is one of the areas that a one-person IT team most fears, especially when users either do not appreciate or will not follow procedures. Deploying software for users needs to be controlled and managed, something users with 20 years of personal computing experience find frustrating and symptomatic of an anal-retentive personality on the part of the IT Manager. Well, that might be true, but not because software deployment is unnecessary.

Deployment of Internet Explorer is a perfect example of how security and ease-of-use sometimes conflict both from the user and management perspectives. Increasingly, we rely on a browser interface for internal and external applications that are critical to our daily functions, even in small/medium businesses like ours.

I like what I see of SMS, but at this point, I'm not sure it is a cost-effective deployment management solution for deploying software and platforms like Internet Explorer 7.0. But...there is so much there! Business Desktop Deployment looks very interesting. I'll need a baseline reference desktop computer for testing purposes. But this would all be possible by taking our existing test server, adding virtual server and then creating virtual servers and PCs. All I would need is more memory!

One of the things that made this session memorable was witnessing Rick Claus having demo glitches. Yes! Rick is human...given his demo perfection at most other events, it's good to know!

Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) is a free tool from Microsoft which helps SMBs deploy patches and updates throughout the network, a tool which Windows IT Pro Magazine readers ranked as the #1 patch management update product. This replacement tool for the previous Software Update Services (SUS) now includes support for Microsoft Office, SQL Server, Exchange Server and the operating systems.

Powered By Qumana

TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 1, SWMI

It's underway. I'm listening to an excellent quality audio feed and watching a fairly grainy video feed (we'll check out the resolution quality at lunch). I've got the PowerPoint slides for the 1st presentation, following along with Rick Claus and Bruce Cowper. I have MSN interaction with Damir Bersinic and Barnaby Jeans. I have my coffee, my blog, my OneNote...I'm all set.

Now, on to SWMI - secure, well-managed infrastructure

Technorati Tags : , , ,
Powered By Qumana

Ultra Mobile PCs & Origami

I know, you probably haven't had time to catch the buzz about Origami, but if you did you'd also have heard of UMPCs - Ultra Mobile Personal Computers.

Origami is the name Microsoft's Mobile Hardware and Application Development Team's Otto Berkes gave to a suite of software utilities designed for mobile professionals using devices loaded with Windows Vista and or Windows XP. The utilities depend on a touchscreen interface. TouchPack is a launcher application designed for touchscreens and DialKeys is a thumb-based text input "wheel" on either side of the screen. There are additional utilities, but you get the picture (from Engadget)

UMPCs use the touchscreen operating system. How do you use UMPCs? Check out the video on the new UMPCommunity site.

At Pano Cap, UMPCs would be perfect for sales staff. Imagine other mobile professionals like police, medical personnel, etc. too.

Powered By Qumana

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Build '06 Tour - The Video Feed Is On

I have to commend Barnaby Jeans of Microsoft. At last month's WWITPRO session, he stopped me to say that the TechNet team had responded to my and other IT Pro's requests for video feeds for TechNet events and would try to get things ready for Toronto's version of the BUILD '06 event on March 9th, 2006 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
I just received his email this afternoon with the URLs for the video feed and an IM address for MSN Messenger to provide live feedback on the quality of the feed.
This is a prime example of why Microsoft's currency keeps rising. It's an indication of why so many of us IT Pro's trust and respect the big boys.
Powered By Qumana

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

AIMing at Toronto Bloggers

Last night, I attended a meet-and-greet at Shoeless Joe's restaurant at 401 King Street West in Toronto. The first person I met was Jeremy Wright, the author of Blog Marketing whose book I purchased on the weekend and just began reading on Sunday (see Sunday's post). I'll have to review his book at Amazon, since the only person to have done so thus far gave it 1 of 5 stars.
These events are tough for me. I have a very hard time focusing on conversations in noisy bars with music, video, people bumping into one another, dozens of conversations all occurring at the same time. But it was worthwhile despite my discomfort.
In addition to meeting Jeremy, I was able to spend a few minutes with Shel Israel, a co-author of Naked Conversations, who graciously signed my copy of the book. Good to have met you, Shel. I hope there will be many more opportunities in the future!
Others with whom I spent some time chatting about blogging, tools, experiences, methodologies, etc. included:

The event was sponsored by AIMS (The Association of Internet Marketing & Sales). Shel Israel is a speaker at an event AIM is sponsoring today called Social Marketing: Tapping into The Power of Connected Customers.

If it wasn't for the fact that I've already got a Toronto day-long event planned for Thursday (BUILD '06 Tour for Microsoft TechNet), I'd love to have been there. At the Thursday event we'll be covering Internet Explorer 7.0, Virtual Server 2005 R2, Systems Management Server, Microsoft Operations Manager, Server 2003 R2, and a Microsoft initiative called Dynamic Systems Initiative.
Technorati Tags : , , , , , , ,
Powered By Qumana

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Blogging is Disruptive & Value-Additive

I'm constantly amazed at how quickly conversations in the blogosphere add value.

One example was noted by Shel Israel's post yesterday on the "circle of touch" that linked Lance Armstrong, cancer, Foldera and an Amazon book review (by me). The simple point is that blogging conversations set off a causal chain that adds value to both the personal and the corporate dimensions.

Another example has just occurred for me. It is more conceptual, but still striking.

Mike Driehorst commented yesterday on a business blog entry I composed about blogging in the plastics industry (thanks, Mike). That led me, in turn, to Mike's blog from yesterday Die! Journalism! Die! Die!. Michael's post was part of a debate on the purpose and future of public relations (especially the press release) triggered by Tom Foremski's commentaries on SiliconValleyWatcher.

I can't pretend to add any value to a debate about press releases and the future of PR...hey, I'm just a humble IT guy. But I can perceive the value of linkages, the currency of the debate, and the establishing of relationships enabled simply by blogging, most obviously by its conversational nature.

Moving through another link in the chain, I found today's post by Tom Foremski. He alluded to Scoble's and Israel's keynote presentation at the New Communications Forum Friday (see Blogging is not disrupting mainstream media--it's disrupting...). In that keynote, Robert Scoble spoke about Foldera's 400,000 beta users enlisted in just over 14 days, the only promotional work they did being mentioned by a few A-list bloggers. The chain has circled back on itself.

That's interesting in itself, but part of the value-added was in the content itself...yes, the content. Evidently, Tom Foremski stood up at that keynote and made the following two points:
  • online marketing is disrupting mainstream media (specifically search engine marketing)
  • blogging isn't disruptive mainstream media; it's disrupting public relations
Now, being an IT guy, I don't know if he's wrong or right. What I do know is that Mike thinks he's wrong and that there is substantial controversy about the issue. Tom's example of the comparative value of Robert Scoble to Microsoft versus their PR firm (Waggoner Edstrom) is a striking one, however (Tom is convinced that Robert's blog has done far more in promoting Microsoft with its customers than anything Waggoner Edstrom can claim to have accomplished).

The value added in this content for me personally is simple. Now I know a little more about marketing than I knew yesterday. It should make reading of my next blog book (Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright) a little more compelling.

Technorati Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Powered By Qumana

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Blogging About Plastics

Have you ever read the words "slow" and "blog" in the same sentence, except perhaps to describe the mental capacities of someone with whom an opinionated blogger disagreed? I haven't either.

But yesterday afternoon, the President of our company forwarded an article to me from Plastic News about blogging in the plastics and manufacturing arenas. In that article, Frank Antosiewicz (a correspondent from South Hadley, Massachusetts) starts out stating, "Blog writers are a slow-growing breed in the plastics and manufacturing arenas."

Yes, they are. Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting information about blogging, its implications and some guidelines for potential bloggers at Pano Cap Canada. After the inevitable PowerPoint presentation (yes, I still think these are often the best way to present information concisely), our discussion confirmed the very slow adoption rate of blogging in the plastics industry. But, as I indicated, that may be to our advantage. Being among the first often pays dividends, although in blogging those dividends are yet to be determined.

Here are the blogs listed by Antosiewicz:

They are a very mixed bag of interesting opinions and blatant advertising, opinions and anonymous news items, frequent and rare postings...pretty much what you'd expect from a subject-oriented blogroll.

I hope Frank Antosiewicz maintains his interest in plastics and manufacturing blogs.

Technorati Tags : , , ,

Powered By Qumana