Friday, January 07, 2011

The Year of the Pad

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that 2011 will be the year of the tablet computer. Some people still think this means Windows-based tablet edition PC's or laptop hybrids/convertibles, but it really means the NEW tablet - Pads.

My worst fears have become a reality - the iPad has been ridonkulously successful and has spawned an entire industry of me-too Johnny-come-lately impersonators. So reality being what it is (inescapable), we'll have to adjust.

CES this week showcased Google's latest Android OS, which is being called Honeycomb in a manner consistent with their irritatingly quirky penchant for naming their releases. Froyo is as stupid to say as it is to write, and whoever had that idea should be punched someplace tender for a few hours (or at least once for every time an IT executive has been forced to use the term).

Its goofy name aside, it did look impressive in the live demo. It was running on Motorola hardware, and one would fairly imagine that any and every Apple competitor will be cheaper than Big White. If the ActiveSync support is good, well, it's hard to say no.

In quite an about-face, we've actually been talking about supporting these things. Even down to the iPhone. There have emerged some very compelling business apps that bring a sort of Star Trek futurism into the present day. It's amazing how powerful information can be when it is easy to access and truly portable. If only wireless networks were worth a damn. There are a couple of SharePoint apps that do a fantastic job of present collaboration spaces in Apple's intuitive (and almost ubiquitous now) touch interface. With iOS at least, handling PDF's and Office document types requires no configuration at all. Modifying lists is simple and fast. And if all else fails, you just fire up Safari and do things the old fashioned way.

I would still not personally pay for an iPad, but if the company provides one, I'm confident I would be able to replace my laptop with it for daily use. Or perhaps go to a modest desktop configuration and travel only with the iPad. I've done enough testing with it to have become used to them, and my shoulder / back would definitely appreciate it. The apps are 95% there, and improve far more rapidly than their shrink-wrapped counterparts. For all the concerns bandied about, I really do see these as far easier to manage than traditional computers. In the right environment, they would be a brilliant way to augment virtual desktop initiatives.

Some polls show people flocking towards standardization as if that is what IT needs to be able to effectively manage these devices. I can't personally see why that would be the case unless you plan on doing A LOT of development - certainly far more people advocate standardization than I imagine really need it. ActiveSync with Exchange 2007 or later is really adequate for most small-to-medium organizations right out of the box, and it puts the onus on the device - not the admin - to work properly. The most IT would NEED to do is plainly state which OS platforms and versions it wants to support based on their risk profiles.

The only constant is change. Customers first. Antidepressants are fun!

You're Being Throttled

One of the things you become aware of when you buy more internet bandwidth than you need, is that no matter how fast your connection is, the other side is probably throttling you down. Big sites do this all the time - we have 50Mbps here, and a single download will rarely exceed 6-7Mbps from Microsoft, VMWare, Novell, IBM, etc. as we get patches or ISO's for products. There is a point at which, no matter what, your downloads will not get any faster. It's not a CPU, memory, or LAN bottleneck on your firewalls, not a latency issue, not 70% or more of network overhead - nothing but simple traffic control implemented at the far end.

Never turn down more bandwidth for less money if you can get it, but definitely be cognizant of the fact that if you're not using all the bandwidth you have today - even during spikes - things won't get faster just because you buy more. If you have a big pipe and internet sites still aren't fast enough, it's probably out of your hands.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

If you think about it...

...GUI's like Windows and the original Mac OS pretty much destroyed any real ability a company had to secure its data from walking away. Going back in time, the last instance I can think of where information was not portable was in custom-apps or databases on character based terminals or PC's. Of course you could argue that the dot matrix printer would have probably been the real death knell of distributed computing information security. It's not like you could lock that stuff down back in the day.

In modern times though, the ability to cut & paste in browsers, command prompt windows, etc. means you have to jump through enormous hurdles to institute a truly read-only security level for your data, meaning it only exists within an application and can only be read on-screen. If it's possible at all (it may be and I just don't know what products one would use to perform Windows surgery to disable any cut/paste ability anywhere).

All of the effort an administrator could go through would still be vulnerable to something that renders the measures moot - either that or you have so greatly impacted user productivity that the question becomes why let them come to work at all?

Just once in a while it seems like it would make sense if it were at least a little easier for companies to say "you can see this, but you can't do anything else with it" - especially in browser based apps. Yes it may be possible with a lot of custom coding or third-party products, but they're all essentially working around a fundamental oversight in information security inherent to GUI's. Can't we patch that? Like a GPO setting that disables the ability to select text in a DOS window on a per-user basis, or that disables text selection per-user or per-URL wildcard entry in a list. I bet people would use it if they had it.

Computers - especially networked systems - are inherently insecure. Data breaches and loss should really be expected, frankly. If your data is really that valuable, don't put it on a computer. At least not until OS manufacturers start to take it seriously.