Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Living Happily in a Virtualized World

No this blog is not about Second Life. Today I attended a seminar at Symbion a University of Copenhagen conference facility hosted by Novell Danmark on Virtulization technology provided by Novell. If you just listen to the hipe, then you are led to belive, that virtualization technology is the best thing since sliced bread for managing and optimizing your data center. Fortunately or unfortunately I have at the moment no data center to manage or optimize.

I have experimented briefly with virtualization under eComStation in the days when VirturalPC was not a Microsoft product. I had VirtualPC running WindowsXP Pro as a guest OS. It was cool technology. Todays seminar also demonstrated some really cool technology.

The first part showed how you using a product called ZENworks Orchestra could migrate a virtual machine from one computer to another using drag and drop. Without taking the VM down! Well, this is only, as Terry Pretchard would say a lie to children. The python script working behind the scene of-course does momentarily take the VM down or at least prevents it from doing any communication with the outside world.On the 1G ethernet used in the demo the downtime for the VM was less than a second. I don't know what applications was running on the demo VM - if any. So I don't know if you could do this with an Oracle or MySQL database running in the VM. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive that you can do this with a tool programmed in Python!
But what is the business case for this technology? The demo clearly showed that it was faster than a forced failover in most cluster configurations. However, is there a real business case for this in a scenario with just a few servers. I guess, the answer is properly not. On the other hand if you have hundreds or thousands of servers an attempts to optimize the ressource usage in your data center, then automation of this migration based on hardware utilization could be a real business benefit.
Since ZENworks Orchestra is programmed in Python it is properly possible to create rules to implement a functionality in ZENworks Orchestra similar to automatic failover in a cluster configuration. What advantage and/or disadvantages this has compared to a full cluster configuration was not answered at todays seminar. But live migration is definitely a cool technology.
Anything to watch our for? Well, you will not be able to migrate from a pentium II to a celeron processor. As said, the processors in the computers you are migrating between need to be similar. Todays demo showed a live migration from a quad core processor to a dual core processor. That worked!

The speaker at todays seminar was Gabor Nyers (gnyers@novell.com) from Novell in Holland. In his introduction of ZENworks Orchestra it was claimed it could intelligently make decisions. AI implemented in python? I doubt it! In my view this is sales language for saying, that if you can specify intelligent rules in ZENworks Orchestra, then ZENworks Orchestra have no problems following those rules any time, and using real time sensors to decide which rules or part of rules to follow. This is basically what mordern DCS does all the time in the chemical process industry and related industries.
The new thing is that similar technology with ZENworks Orchestra can now be applied to manage and optimize very large data centres for e.g. energy efficiency. Green technology?
A real cool usage of ZENworks Orchestra is for taken backups using the snapshot technology provided by most storage vendors today. Using this feature you can backup your data without having a backup agent in each VM and paying license money for these agents. I was led to belive, that this reduced hours of backup time to just a few seconds. That indeed would be cool technology!

Not so cool the claim of vendors of open source based products, that this prevents lock-in. I believe, that lock-in a a combination of the technology you buy from a vendor and the training and experience, which your people receive by attending vendor courses or using the vendor products. With time the cost of training and experience will far exceed the cost of the technology. Then you are in my view locked-in as much with open source based products as with proprietary tehcnogies. The cost of changing is just too big. Standard or norm based products can make the cost of moving from one vendor to another lesser.

To me the coolest thing is that much of this virtualization technology is freely available with openSUSE 10.3, which I am running on a server at our local church office. Unfortunately virtualization is not on the top three list of projects for that server at the moment - for many reasons.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Organizing Workplace Safety

Yesterday I attended a half day seminar on the safety organisation of the future in the Danish Engineering Society, IDA. The seminar, which was arranged by SAM, started with a review of the developments in Denmark over the last 40 years. This was followed by viewpoints form the unions, represented by FOA, and by the employers, represented by HTS. Finally Danske Bank præsented a new approach to taking care of working environments and all the risk associated with it.

It is in my view quite clear, that the responsibility for creating a safe and healthy work environment is squarely with the management. Nonetheless, for the last 40 years or so in Denmark a participatory model for organizing workplace safety has been used. The work environment law demands, that any company with more than 5 employees, must have a safety committee, and if you are a larger company, then you must have safety groups throughout the organization. The safety committee is made of elected employee representatives and appointed employer representatives. With the increasing difficulty of attracting good employees it has also become more difficult to attract employees interested in participating in the work for a better workplace.

The Danish way of organizing workplace safety and its relative success over the years is rooted in our desire to be members of societies or organizations of all kinds. In north America and Canada it is said, that important business decisions takes place at the golf course. In Denmark they take place when parents meet as their childing participate in local activities, such as the soccer club, the swim club, the bicycle club, and os on. With the increasing globalization and the arrival in Denmark of a significant number of emigrants the model is under treat, since the newly arrived don't participate in the club life to the same extend as ethnic Danes.

This might therefore be a good time to review of the involvement of employees in workplace safety could be arranged in a way, which is better aligned with current management and leadership principles. The case presented by Danske Bank at yesterday meeting is one example of how this could be done. By clearly focusing the responsibilit for workplace safety on the local leader the company appearantly have been able to increase employee involvement and knowledge about workplace safety. During the experimental period of the FARMOR project (Google FARMOR Danske Bank Arbejdsmiljø for more information about this project) local leaders were coached by professional workplace consultants, and these also participated in the facilitation of local meetings about workplace safety. Other companies years ago have adopted a similar approach, i.e. eliminating safety leaders in the organization and placing the responsibility squarely with the business group or section or brach leader, who ultimately must find the founding necessary to finance workplace improvement projects. This approach combined with a clear evaluation of the leader on workplace safety issues has been highly successful.

Maybe this is the time, when we in Denmark should change the focus around involvement and participation in workplace improvement activities from how these activities are organized to the business goals of these activities? It is now more than 14 years since a CEO of the Dow Chemical Company to Harward Business Review said, that he could not think of a single investment in SHE, which had not improved the profit of the company.