Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

I was sat quietly rocking away the other day and started to think whether it would be a good idea to do a review on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (As benefits to organisations cannot be realised without a Windows Server 2008 backend infrastructure). As is always the case, any version of Windows attracts pundit reviews galore, so I am doing a different kind of review. A review that touches on the key features of Windows 7 and provides some links to Server 2008, for in depth coverage. As ever, Microsoft has never been good at reviewing its own products, as is evident from their website, top 10 reasons to buy Windows 7! Windows 7 is also the first operating system to offer native support for Multi Touch .

Home Users:

First things first. Home users will be happy to learn that the Windows versions have been simplified.  There are three versions for home users, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. For most home users, the premium version should suffice. For home users who need multiple installations, there will be a family pack that can be installed on upto three machines. To decide which version to go for, click here

Windows Vista came with quite a few applications; Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Mail, Windows Media Center, and Windows Movie Maker. Windows 7 has scrapped bundling Mail, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker and moved them into an add-on pack called Windows Live Essentials . The two major applications that arrive with Windows 7 out of the box are Windows Media Player, now at version 12, and Windows Media Center. To download Windows Live Essentials, click here. Paint, WordPad and calculator have new versions in Windows 7 but nothing that I consider worth roaring about.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for home users (arguably for organisational users as well) are:

  1. Better wallpapers, better user access control (UAC) that avoid annoying pop ups,
  2. Libraries are a welcome addition and allow one library to show the contents of several folders. For example, store your music in the Public Music folder, and those tunes automatically appear in every user account’s Music library.
  3. Device stage is a concept whereby all connected devices, such as Bluetooth, USB etc all appear within the devices and printers control panel. This removes the confusion experienced by earlier version of Windows where different devices appeared in different places within the control panel.
  4. HomeGroup, enables easier networking within the home and automatically finds other PCs/laptops on the same network. It was much needed as users with little IT experience always found hard to network their home PC’s together and as a result couldn’t share files and printers etc.
  5. Shortcut keys in Windows 7 are quite creative and are a sign that the Windows 7 team had opportunity to look at the minor details as well as the major overhaul and is quite welcome and useful. For example, placing two windows side-by-side on a crowded desktop took a lot of mouse manoeuvring in Windows XP. In Windows 7, you click the first window, and press Win+Right arrow to scoot the window against the right edge. Follow up with a Win+Left arrow on the second window, and you’ve lined them up side-by-side, ready for quick information swapping.
  6. The new taskbar melds the old Quick Launch toolbar with the traditional taskbar, providing a single place to both launch applications and switch between them. Replacing the mix of small Quick Launch icons and large textual buttons, we have simply a row of large icons. Left clicking an icon either starts or switches to the app. If the application has a single window, clicking the icon switches directly; if it has multiple windows, clicking the icon presents a thumbnail view of each window, requiring a second click to switch to a specific window.
  7. Jump lists are special context menus shown on the taskbar and Start Menu icons that allow quick access to application-specific functionality.

Organisational Users (Mostly excerpted from Computing 21/10/09):

I have taken the following from Computing’s article as their version was quite succinct and easy to follow. For large organisations, Windows 7 Enterprise Edition adds several potentially significant new technologies, including AppLocker, DirectAccess, BranchCache, federated search and Bitlocker To Go. However, pretty much all of these features require a server infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 before they can be enabled. Windows Server 2008 also supports virtualisation.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for organisational users are:

  1. DirectAccess (One of my readers, Han Coumans, has explained DirectAccess very well – Click here) is a new way of accessing a corporate network, DirectAccess, avoids VPNs entirely DirectAccess uses globally routable IPv6 addresses and IPSec to provide direct, secure end-to-end connections between client and server. Unlike other VPNs, which require a kind of “dial-in”, DirectAccess connects automatically and transparently; in fact, even prior to logging in, DirectAccess authenticates the machine with the remote network, allowing system policies and software updates to be rolled out. It is disappointing though that Windows Mobiles cannot be controlled and continue to be managed by Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (MSCMDM 2008). Future DirectAccess technologies may incorporate MSCMDM as well. That would be welcomed by organisations as that would make a truly complete offering.
  2. AppLocker gives administrators the ability to apply a white list of applications that are allowed to run on client systems using Group Policy settings, while DirectAccess provides laptop users with the means to connect securely to the corporate network without needing a virtual private network, using an IPv6-over-IPsec encrypted connection.
  3. BranchCache is a new feature designed to offer better access to information for workers in a remote branch office. As the name suggests, it caches data transferred over the network, with cached data either held on a server or distributed among the client PCs at the site.
  4. Federated search (see sample screen above) extends the search capabilities seen in Vista to allow users to search not only their own computer, but to send out the search request to data repositories such as SharePoint and have the results merged with those from their own computer.
  5. Bitlocker To Go extends the Bitlocker encryption technology introduced in Windows Vista to support removable media such as USB Flash drives. Administrators can also set a policy that requires users to encrypt such media before they can be used.
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Nurturing future IT professionals and leaders

My blog has been nominated for an award within the CIO/IT Director category, recommend my blog for the shortlisted candidates at:

http://www.computerweekly.com/nominate.Voting for shortlisted entries will open on 27th October

(This is a sister article to – The future graduate and the IT and Computing skills shortage)

“The price of greatness is responsibility”- Sir Winston Churchill

So, there we have it. Churchill, grasped the essence of my topic, quite aptly. Today’s CIOs, local government, schools, colleges and universities owe it to future generations to support and nurture our future IT professionals and Leaders. It just isn’t good enough for us (everyone involved within the IT industry) to pass the buck anymore. We can all either sit on the fence and do nothing and continue to whinge over the future, or, hey, let’s just be positive and do whatever we can as individuals to inspire youngsters to join our beloved profession. So, what can we do? Actually, quite a lot. It’s like JFK said;

Think not what your country can do for you, think what you can do for your country,”

or if you are a Hoff fan, like me;

You were spared to lead the great fight. Don’t turn away in fear. One man can make a difference and you are going to be that man”.

Let’s be those men/women. Here is a starter for 10, to get you going.

1. Join Computing’s, tomorrow’s IT Leaders initiative and their associated LinkedIn group.

Now, don’t just join this initiative but become active participants. Your thoughts and interaction will push this initiative to a successful conclusion. What do you think should happen to encourage youngsters? How can we engage and involve local CIOs, local government, schools, colleges and universities? All these types of questions need to be asked.

2. Why can’t we have a standard degree and masters across the UK/accredit the e-skills Information Technology Management for Business (ITMB) degree nationally? (Taught at 13 universities already)

There are too many versions of IT degrees nationally. As such, employers are never certain of the skills that a new IT graduate will bring with them. Is the answer to have an IT degree/masters standard?

3. For IT leadership (CIOs), City University, London is launching a new masters course. Again, why can’t we have such a course at a national level?

4. Work placements and open days, organised by CIOs.

Almost, every UK town and city has organisations that have CIOs. Every CIO should be advertising at least two work placements every year. In addition, open days should be held by IT departments for school delegations of up to 30, twice each year. The format should include representatives from every department, showcasing how these departments utilise IT and the benefits, cost savings etc enjoyed by that department with the IT department explaining why that solution was chosen and the process, for example, invitation to tender (ITT) and project management methodologies used. This would give school children a unique overview of IT within an actual organisation while showcasing the commercial, business and IT elements by those departments.

CIOs also need to consult with local councils etc to organise open career days within schools where CIOs explain the merits of a career within IT while explaining popular career paths etc.

The e-skills council is currently organising many similar activities but I feel that the e-skills council need to include the above and e-skills also need to market all their activities with a renewed vigour as the message that they want to deliver is still not getting through.

To finish the article, the other good news is that the current GCSE ICT syllabus is being replaced for a new GCSE ICT syllabus in September 2010. There was always concern within the IT fraternity that the current GCSE ICT syllabus did not provide the foundation required to enter the profession and was ill equipped to handle recent developments within ICT. The new syllabus is much better and has taken into account the maturity of IT within organisations and as such provides a much better foundation for aspiring ICT youngsters.

The finishing quote for this article, had to be from my favourite builder, Bob the builder;

“Can we fix IT?” “Yes, we can!”

Hammering down data storage using nails

Updated 9.12.12

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Abraham Maslow

I will let you all in on a secret. I started researching data storage with the aim of providing an overview of data storage but the more I researched, the more confused I became. The forerunners to today’s data storage such as primary and secondary storage still exist and then we have new technologies, such as Solid State Disk (SSD) drives becoming increasingly popular. In the end, I returned to my own experiences in data storage and then it suddenly dawned on me. The reason, I was writing this article was that unlike the early days of IT, when all I used to do was to have servers backed up on tapes and carry them in the boot of my car (Yes, in those days that was the Disaster Recovery strategy). Data storage is now a behemoth.

Storage can even in this day and age be added cost effectively. Another article that highlighted the nine data storage companies to watch shows innovative ways that are being utilised by newer entrants to the market.

The title of this blog reflects the reality. I have yet to come across any organisation who holds an IT induction for employees (even that is quite rare) that includes, a best practice session on how users can administrate their own data well enough to contribute towards the data cost effectiveness, return on investment (ROI), Total cost of ownership (TCO), energy and carbon reduction of an organisation’s data centre and highlights the data storage policy (if one exists, it isn’t often enforced either). Well, herein lies the problem. Users don’t know how to control, avoid duplication or when to delete data that is no longer required. It is then taken for granted that their data has a right to reside on the network as long free space exists within that network drive, for example.

The irony is that this is not where it all stops. Email is often used as a filing system, even when user mailboxes are given quotas. I have even witnessed organisations where quotas are enforced but archiving of data on user system hard disks encouraged, just to adhere to minimising disk usage on network storage (Obviously, no data security issues). This is even before we start discussing technologies such as SharePoint. Now, this is where it all starts falling apart, as until now users, for example, would have been given quotas on file/email but as soon as organisation’s start implementing technologies such as SharePoint, all quotas suddenly seem to vanish, almost by magic, as if they were not really required on SharePoint. Users suddenly realise that hang on, let’s just move our file estate to SharePoint. Data storage performance bottlenecks can add to these issues as well. So, in essence, what we have is a scenario where files may be duplicated many times over. Good Data storage solutions take account of these scenarios and implement solutions that address all this duplication and if implemented correctly, will save an organisation considerable finances while contributing towards their green credentials.

In summary, a data storage solution should look at an organisation’s entire data estate including file servers and document libraries. If that is not the case, in essence, all they are doing is using a hammer to drive a nail through data storage while ignoring the reasons for driving the nail through. Gartner has recently (2010) released a Magic Quadrant for storage resource management and SAN management software, and I highly recommend that it should be read prior to embarking on a storage project.

For those of us, embarking on choosing data storage solutions, I will take the opportunity to provide a quick primer on the key technologies and methodologies involved, please click on the links below, as I feel that if these technologies, are to be implemented, these terms need to be understood (Deliberately not detailing the technologies):

DAS, NAS, Fibre Channel, ISCSI, HyperSCSI, AOE, Infiniband, VTL, de duplication

Global digital communications, VOIP and Unified Communications

Even a few years ago, connecting international offices was a nightmare in terms of complexity and associated cost. The attraction to connect many offices has many advantages. It helps cut the carbon footprint of employees through less travelling, enhances communications security, as files are not required to be kept on the laptop/removable media, it can save telephone costs by using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, allows collaboration of employees globally through Unified Communications (UC) technologies and creates an infrastructure that is scalable according to the requirements of the business.

The technology that is increasingly being utilised to setup this global infrastructure is Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). MPLS utilises both Class of Service (CoS) and Quality of Service (QoS). This means that data is prioritised according to let’s say, video/voice. For our example, if Video/Voice carries a CoS of 7 that would mean that it has a higher priority for transmission to let’s say data files and then the QoS could reflect that further by fine tuning other parameters such as latency etc.

When creating an international communications strategy, it is advisable to identify the requirements very carefully and to choose a global service provision partner that has experience of enabling international communications such as BT, Cable and Wireless and others.

The improvement that most businesses require immediately is to connect their employees remotely to their internal business network for reaching their business documents, presentations and business applications. The way this is achieved is through ensuring that the headquarter (HQ) or business data centre site has a larger capacity link compared to other sites, as this will be the link that will be the most used by all other sites and remote workers. A few years ago, many businesses used to host all their data and business applications at their headquarter sites. Now, increasingly, as businesses are growing and capacity (bandwidth) is becoming cheaper, they either have their own data centres or use Cloud Computing services.

Next, each remote site’s data requirements are mapped out and the required capacity agreed and enabled. In parallel, most remote workers are granted access to the business systems by using secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections and associated solutions such as iPass and RSA SecureID .

Once, the global infrastructure is setup, businesses can start to think about moving away from their Private branch exchange (PBX/PABX)’s telephone network and to start utilising VOIP for Internet Protocol Telephony (IPT). It is also worth noting that VOIP is not allowed in many countries as these countries would like their own country’s Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) carrier to carry the VOIP voice traffic and thus make money themselves. Many VOIP solutions, get around these by breaking out voice transmissions locally, in country, and if, for example, they have their own international VOIP system, to utilise their own network for the international traffic only.

An immediate transfer to a complete VOIP system is not required by most vendors and is facilitated by the introduction of VOIP gateways that link the legacy PBX to the new VOIP system. That ensures that investment in the current PBX is realised until a transition to the eventual VOIP benefits and system is completed. The largest disadvantage of VOIP systems is their inability to cope with electricity blackouts (Design consideration can overcome this) and tracing emergency VOIP calls (potential solutions currently being offered by vendors). Most VOIP vendors also sell UC solutions as well. This is where the power of the digital communications strategy starts to pay dividends. VOIP, for example, allows the user to have one extension globally. The power of unified communications is that it starts to utilise presence awareness (Where someone actually is/logged in to a computer/device) and starts to present that information to anyone who wants to connect or collaborate with that individual. This allows geographically diverse teams to connect anytime, anywhere globally. This could be via email, instant messaging, web conferencing, voice, SMS, Fax and even through collaborative technologies such as SharePoint. Now, follows an example:

Peter Smith was reluctant to go to the US but sales were down and a major potential client beckoned. Peter logged off his computer and phone system and made his way to Heathrow airport. Once checked in, he decided to make some calls to colleagues. A quick conference on the laptop ensued that meant he was discussing the project with a global team that he could view and discuss the final phases of a project with, across three offices globally. He was now walking to board the plane and quickly transferred his call to his mobile and continued walking. The call had ended and he had an urgent message to leave another colleague. He knew his colleague was in a meeting and would be checking his emails on his laptop frequently, so he left a voicemail (Voicemail would be emailed as text to his colleague). Once at the US office, he logged in to the system and had instant access to all his files and his personal phone extension.

I am intentionally not discussing VOIP or IP technologies in general as I feel that Unified Communications is where businesses should be making an investment. According to Gartner’s 2009 magic quadrant for Unified Communications, 2011 Microsoft’s UC solution is considered to be the leader, with Cisco, IBM and Siemen’s communications following closely. It was interesting to see that Avaya is only a strong contender and it is noteworthy to inform everyone that Avaya completed its acquisition of Nortel recently (the quadrant does not reflect the acquisition). There are quite a few VOIP/UC vendors currently and I would suggest that the one’s to watch are Microsoft, Cisco, Mitel and Avaya.

The ugly side of social media

Infographic on how Social Media are being used...

Image via Wikipedia

Something happened last week that just soaked up all my energy and to be honest, I had expected something similar to this to happen within the UK for a while now. The ugly scenario I found myself in was that a friend’s adult daughter had been subjected to a vicious and malicious social abuse attack of the worst sort. Now, while you are holding that thought, there are quite a few reasons, I was expecting this to happen.

Firstly, parents tend to turn a blind eye to kids safety and either allow them to create social media accounts or just do not have any kind of web/content filtering at home and as a result their kids roam the Internet freely and blatantly disregard the minimum age limit impositions. I use MS Windows and MS have a free package called family safety that allows my kids to experience the Internet but blocks or allows websites, and decides who my kids can communicate with in Windows Live Spaces, Messenger, or Hotmail.

Secondly, as social media’s popularity went from 0-60 in approx 5 seconds (equivalent of), most governments got caught off guard. That means that most of today’s young adults found themselves in a situation where their parents and schools had not taught them how to defend against social media attacks and the information that they needed to protect against, for example, ID theft. Social media training is only just trickling through within the UK for students in the 11-13 year grouping.

Thirdly, Social Media abuse is a relatively new area for most global police forces and as proved by my friend’s case, can easily transgress borders. So, while it may be relatively easy to prosecute someone within the UK for social media abuse, it becomes a nightmare scenario for anyone who wants any justice or apprehension on foreign soil.

We found it quite alarming that inspite of facing a constant tirade of harassment, blackmail, bullying and ID theft across the Internet by this individual, the UK police force was reluctant to engage the foreign country’s police to request assistance from them. While I acknowledge that the police cannot do anything about this type of crime overseas, surely it should be easy to send a message akin to email requesting assistance to locate and arrest this individual under the relevant local laws of that country. The irony was that the country in question’s authorities took this very seriously but we could not go directly to them as we had no idea of who and how to engage, whereas if the request was made by the UK authorities, i.e. the UK Police force, the perpetrator could have been arrested (letters have been written to the original investigating officer, police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson and the home secretary, Alan Johnson requesting support to arrest this individual).

The sequence of events that have unfolded since had a profound and devastating effect on my friend’s kid and even though an exceptionally talented student, the stressful experience, resulted in failed exams as a result of these malicious activities. The family were very concerned regarding her mental state of mind as these social media attacks via Facebook and other methods had now progressed to digitally creating lewd and obscene material on the wider Internet itself.

This type of social media abuse will not go away and will continue to repeat itself, as currently, there is no legislative or global agreement, such as the Virtual Global Taskforce – Fighting global online child abuse, to tackle social media abuse and the only global policing agreement is Interpol. This will become a global problem and needs to be addressed globally by creating a global agreement to tackle cross border cases of social media abuse, before someone dies.

We have already had high profile cases, such as the woman who killed her daughter, before the police force realised the seriousness of the case – and the recent case of the teen victim who faced abuse across Facebook for four years –

A fellow group member on another social media site, Janet, posted a comment (See full comment, dated 8.10.09) that I wanted to share with everyone. In Australia they have an organisation called beyondblue (similar to the UK’s Samaritans), who have a very useful checklist to see if someone is suffering from depression, reproduced here to assess anyone who may need urgent help and assistance (Listed below courtesy of Janet).

For more than 2 weeks have you ……

1/ Felt sad, down or miserable most of the time
2/ Lost interest or pleasure in most of your usual activities

If you answered Yes to either of these questions continue with the checklist.

3/ Lost or gained a lot of weight OR had a decrease or increase in appetite?
4/ Sleep disturbance
5/ Felt slowed down, restless or excessively busy
6/ Felt tired or had no energy
7/ Felt worthless OR
Felt excessively guilty OR
Felt guilt about things you should not have been feeling guilty about
8/ Had poor concentration OR
Had difficulties thinking OR
Were very indecisive
9/ Had recurrent thoughts of death.

Add up the number of YES responses 1 – 9.

A total of 4 or less Unlikely to have depression illness
A total of 5 or less Likely to have a depressive illness

If anybody can advise me on how to stop this individual further damaging the reputation of this future aspiring professional, please drop me a direct email at: ahmed@itfindit.com

Useful Links:

Facebook safety

Cyber Bullying on Facebook

Child exploitation and online protection centre – (CEOP) Report Abuse