Virtualisation Wave

Stewart Alsop provides a perspective on the recent wave: “Today the level of interconnectedness is even greater. As computers and networks become commodities, companies are learning they can reduce costs and make the whole jumble a lot easier to manage. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what server or storage unit you buy or where you put it. It all looks like one integrated system. That’s virtualization.”

The impact? Server consolidation, Death of Appliances, Re-emergence of ASPS and Web Services Tools.

Here is what Alsop has to say on the “death of appliances”:

A great concept that emerged during the dot-com era was the idea of a “server appliance,” a machine dedicated to one application that could just be plugged into the network without any fuss. Lots of startups focused on selling appliances to large companies, leading to the same phenomenon as above: too many devices that were too hard to keep track of and manage. Now companies prefer to serve applications from those much-larger machines, which can handle multiple programs and be managed centrally. Eventually this will allow any application to run anywhere in the network without regard to which piece of hardware it is being served from.

JBoss

JBoss is an open-source J2EE-based application server that is rapidly increasing in popularity. News.com has an interview with Marc Fleury, President, JBoss Group. A few quotes by Marc:

What we need to do is for the decision makers higher up to be more comfortable with an open-source approach. I think right now open source, in general, suffers from a perception problem. The perception is that open source is not supported.

What I like about [Microsoft .Net] and really try to emulate–and that’s a departure from the J2EE vision–we want to bring the services of transaction, security, persistence, etc., in an orthogonal fashion to objects. What that really means is for a developer to leverage these operating system services, instead of having to learn J2EE, they just write simple Java objects, like in .Net. Just a straight object they already know how to write. And they give an XML file that says, “System, provide this service for my object.” It’s a much simpler way to program, and a much more intuitive way to program because it is true that J2EE has gotten bloated.

Instead of learning additional APIs and interfaces that make you reprogram applications, you want to take existing applications and just configure the server to work with existing objects. It’s a simple technical point.

Adam Bosworth’s Big Picture

Jon Udell writes about the talk given by Adam Bosworth (ex-Microsoft, XML first mover, now with BEA) at InfoWorld’s CTO Forum:

When Bosworth asks enterprises how many apps they have deployed, they say: thousands. He categorizes the integraton challenges like so:
– integrate the UI,
– integrate the data,
– integrate the business processes

Bosworth also discusses various principles of application development, which we would do good to keep in mind for our enterprise software development: Coarse-grained messaging, Public Contracts, Asynchrony, Message-driven model, Declarative query, Scripting and XML Repository.

One of the aims is to create “dynamic runtime-modifiable systems, rather than static compile-time systems that make you shut down and restart your services.”

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: TeleInfoCentre

The TeleInfoCentre makes possible the vision of a connected computer accessible to every family. What makes the TeleInfoCentre unique is its approach to solving the rural computing challenge. It brings together a number of innovations to help create an infrastructure that is both affordable and user-friendly.

The three innovations that it leverages are: server-centric computing to enable the use of low-cost computers as thin clients, Linux and open-source software to bring down the cost of software, and WiFi to solve the connectivity problem. (As we will see shortly, WiFi will currently get used as a LAN solution to extend the reach of the TeleInfoCentre beyond a single room, and later will be used as a wide area network solution to provide a high-bandwidth solution to inter-connect multiple villages.)

The TeleInfoCentre consists of a computer-cum-communications centre. It has 3-5 computers connected together in a LAN, in a single room. The multiple computers ensure that the computers themselves do not become a bottleneck villagers should be guaranteed to get access to a computer whenever they want it. Also, by locating them in the village, we ensure that they do not have walk much to use them access to computing is no more than a few minutes, rather than a few kilometres. This will make them think of computing as part of their lives a utility, available on-demand.

One of the computers in the TeleInfoCentre computers works as a thick server, and does the processing and storage. The others are low-cost, low-configuration thin clients. The idea of server-centric computing using thin terminals as desktops is not new. Mainframe computing uses a similar approach. Even in the Novell era of the late 1980 and early 1990s, PCs would boot off the server. This approach on thin client-thick server computing simplifies the management dramatically desktop hardware never needs to be upgraded, software and content updation only needs to happen in a single place on the server, and all the thin client desktops can be administered from the server.

By using a server-centric computing architecture, it becomes possible to bring down the incremental cost of each new client computer from Rs 25,000 to as little as Rs 5,000. The thin client works as a network device. It lights up in the presence of a network, just like a cellphone or cable-enabled TV. In this case, the network is the LAN, requiring the presence of a thick server at the other end. Think of the thin clients as Rs 5,000 PCs or 5KPCs. The question is: how do we get PCs at these price points?

One approach is to look at (re-)using older computers. Since the thin client requires little more than a 100 Mhz processor and 32MB RAM to provide the performance of a new 2 or 3 Ghz desktop, one can consider recycling Pentium I and II machines from the developed world as thin clients. Countries like USA and Japan are disposing a few years old computers in the millions annually as they upgrade to newer desktops. These trashed systems become e-waste in those countries and create an environmental problem in their disposal. They can now be shipped to countries like India where they get a new life as thin clients. These PCs are available for prices ranging from USD 60-70 (excluding shipping and local duties).

Tomorrow: TeleInfoCentre (continued)

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