QA with Google’s Director of Tech

Google Director of Technology Craig Silverstein answers questions put by Slashdot readers. Google has over 10,000 servers running Linux. Some good points which may seem obvious but are always worth remembering:

  • The innovation is driven neither by hardware or software, but by products. We look around and say, “What would be the next great product to have?” and then figure out what software and hardware we need to make that product work and work great.

  • If we concentrate on users, everything else — including money — will follow.

  • We will do well to keep both points in mind for Emergic.

    IBM, NEC to resell used PCs

    It is beginning to happen. In the face of pressure on recycling, used PCs are now going to make their way back into the market (at least in Japan). Here’s the news story.

    It is a start but the companies are miss the point. The way to treat the used PCs is not to target existing buyers in which case they may face the wrath of companies like Intel and Microsoft, but open up new market segments of first-time users. These users aren’t likely to be in the US or Japan!

    B2B: Interview with GXS CEO

    News.com has an interview with Harvey Seegers, CEO of GE’s erstwhile B2B business which was recently sold to a tech buyout fund. A few points Seegers makes stand out:

  • As much as we in the IT world would like to wish it away, companies still think that IT spending is a discretionary expense. There is something else that we and other industry players have done which is cause for optimism: Technology has made it much more cost effective for third- and fourth-tier vendors to do business electronically. Hopefully, the story is that small to medium-sized enterprises come online like their larger counterparts.

  • You’ll see and read a lot about Web services. But there’ll be a lot of talking and not much walking. I think you’ll see the continued fragmentation of XML. It won’t be the lingua franca that everybody hoped it would become…I don’t see a clear path toward getting industry agreement on any XML standard.

  • I feel very strongly that private exchanges have a bright future. Even while companies tried to figure out the public-exchange game, we were investing in private exchanges. The private domain we run for GE has 40,000 suppliers, and this year GE will buy $20 billion in goods and services using the private exchange GXS.

  • Oracle buys Calendar software company

    An item which caught my attention was Oracle’s purchase of a calendar software firm:

    Oracle has purchased Steltor, a small, 15-year-old company that offers calendaring software for businesses.

    Oracle bought the Montreal-based company on June 21 as part of the database giant’s goal of improving its e-mail handling features built into its 9i application server-software and 9i database, an Oracle representative said. Steltor, which has about 600 customers, builds software that allows employees to manage their schedules, calendars and e-mail.

    This is interesting. Taken together with the ads Oracle has been running about its database making Microsoft’s Mail “unbreakable”, it perhaps signifies a stronger push into corporate messaging and collaboration systems. Oracle’s view is perhaps that emails are objects which are better stored in databases (so more sales of Oracle) than in proprietary file formats by Outlook or Outlook Express.

    Need to do some thinking on how an Application Server and Database can add value to email and calendaring.

    Thin Clients for Schools

    A low-cost PC from Emachines targeted at the school/college sales market in the US is “the T1220 desktop PC comes with an Intel 1.2 GHz Celeron processor, 128MB of memory, 20GB hard drive, 56kbps modem and 48x CD-ROM drive. After a $75 mail-in rebate, the T1220 costs $399, which makes it one of the cheaper branded PCs on the market.”

    Add USD 100+ for a monitor, and the cost goes over USD 500, which is way too expensive. There is no need for the hard disk, processing speed and most of the memory, should schools and colleges consider server-based computing and use the Thin Client-Thick Server solution. The motivations, though, are likely to be different from the point of view of developing markets and emerging markets.

    In countries like the US, high-speed LANs are there on most campuses. This can facilitate a shift to server-based computing, and bring down the desktop price by 70-80%. It would also curb some of the piracy of music and software since now everything would be on the server and thus trackable.

    In countries like India, educational institutions can now set up computer labs for as little as USD 3,000 (Rs 1.5 lakhs). A lab would have 10 Thin Clients and a Thick Server. This would be used as a shared resource by students. Growing the lab would only entail additional Thin Clients at a cost of about USD 150 (Rs 7,500) each.

    TECH TALK: Server-based Computing: Recent Developments

    The first era of server-based computing (mainframes and mini-computers) required very expensive servers. The clients were just dumb terminals. In that period, connectivity between the terminals and the server was through low-speed serial ports limiting the data transfers. The era of client-server computing required the use of expensive (from the point of view of the emerging markets) desktops. The Internet computing paradigm offered a return to server-based computing but with the need for a Windows desktop to support applications like Outlook, Lotus Notes and MS-Office. The proprietary file formats made the shift hard and infeasible.

    So, what is different that can drive server-based computing this time around? To answer this question, we need to examine some of recent developments in the world of technology.

    1. Linux and Open Source: In the past few years, Linux has had a lot of success on the server side. It has made a big impact on servers, especially in the web server segment with Apache. Today, Linux has a complete suite of applications available: File Server, Print Server, Mail, Proxy, Firewall, Anti-Virus and Anti-Spam support, Web Server and even a J2EE-compatible Application Server (JBoss).

    2. Open Office: Recent releases of Open Office can read and write MS-Office formats. This does not mean that every file can be read perfectly. What it means is that most files can be read with limited loss of formatting information and files can be written in DOC, XLS or PPT formats for exchanging with MS-Office users.

    3. Desktop Applications: Applications like Mozilla (for web browsing) and Evolution (for email, calendar, contacts and to-do lists) provide the combined power to create a Linux-based Thin Client. Applications like Wine also provide the ability to run some specialised Windows applications, should the need arise.

    4. Internet: The Internet provides a platform for distributing software updates easily to the Thick Servers on enterprise LANs. This becomes important because in the world of open source, updates keep happening on a regular basis and therefore these need to be distributed to the servers. The Internet also provides the infrastructure for moving data across multiple locations in an enterprise.

    5. Standards: First HTTP and HTML, and now XML and SOAP, are enabling the creation of software components, much like Lego blocks. While Web Services are primarily for application-to-application integration, they provide the platform for building enterprise software components that can be run off servers and distributed via the Internet.

    6. LAN Speeds: 100 Mbps LANs are the norm in enterprises today, with technology pushing towards 10 GBps Ethernet. So, sending screens for the Thin Clients across the network will no longer clop up the LAN as used to happen in the early days of using X Windows.

    7. Microsofts Software Assurance program: Microsofts July 31 deadline for companies to move to a subscription basis for its software and the consequent increase in costs for companies has encouraged IT managers to experiment with alternatives. Of course, in the developed markets, the cost of alternatives is small because there is re-training needed for the staff. This is not necessarily the case in emerging markets where many users may actually be first-time users.

    Tomorrow: Recent Developments (continued)