EMC’s VMware Plans

WSJ writes about the increasing sue of virtual machines software:

VMware’s trick is to fool each operating system on a physical machine into thinking it is talking directly to the hardware, when it really is communicating with VMware. Each virtual machine is essentially a changing file that describes what it is doing at that moment.

This can yield dividends for corporate users. Servers are generally dedicated to one task — processing e-mail, for example — and in the era of fast processor chips, their full power often isn’t used. Some studies put the average utilization rate on Intel-compatible servers, which VMware works on, at about 15%.

So four or more virtual machines could run on one server with little performance penalty. That means buying fewer servers. Administrators also can create scores of virtual desktop machines for office workers that actually run on centralized servers.

Prudential UK, a unit of London-based insurer Prudential PLC, decided last year to put some call-center and back-office operations in Bombay, in part to cut costs. But Prudential (which is unrelated to the like-named U.S. insurer) realized that computers in Bombay, more than 4,000 miles from London, couldn’t maintain a quick-enough connection to the insurer’s databases in the home office, says Andy Ruby, head of infrastructure design.

So he left the hardware in Britain. Mr. Ruby set up 800 VMware virtual machines, acting like desktop PCs, running on about 60 servers in Prudential’s data center, where they can quickly connect to databases. The Indian workers sit in front of PCs that are essentially empty shells to display the far-away virtual PCs. While the time lag created by the distance is still there, the virtual machines’ proximity to the database lessens the effect.

Knowing Your Customer

Telepocalypse has a post on customer relationship management:

The four key axes are as follows:

1. How do we locate this customer? You dont know someone unless you can ask for data that uniquely differentiates them from everyone else. This includes the obvious things like account numbers and login user names. It also includes those profile fields that you use to search for individual customers: name, address, social security number, etc.

2. How do we authenticate this customer? You dont know them if someone else can act as an impostor.

3. What are they authorized to do? You dont know someone unless you place appropriate bounds on their capabilities. (Is it safe to give someone a pair of scissors? Only if you know they arent a young child or a psychopath.) You cant protect your customers privacy either unless you constrain what other customers can see and do.

4. How else do we know this customer? Your customer may subscribe to multiple products that you offer. You dont know your customer until you get a complete picture of their portfolio of relationships with you.

None of these activities is trivial. Coordination of the policies on data collection procedures and storage formats is a lot of effort. Federated authentication is not easy to retro-fit into an operating company; too many legacy IT systems and incompatible security profiles. Getting the permission of customers to do things is a pain. Accurately matching multiple customer records is really hard.

Oil to Natural Gas

The Economist suggests that the worries over oil may be misplaced since natural gas could offer an alternative over the long-term:

Until recently, the development of a global gas market has been hindered by one inconvenient fact. Gas is, by definition, gaseous at room temperature; oil is a liquid that can easily be transported. Gas traditionally needed elaborate systems of pipelines to get it from the wellhead to the customer. That meant it was typically used fairly close to where it was produced, shipped at great expense via pipelineor, more often, simply wasted.

The rise of LNG promises to change that. Put simply, gas can be frozen into liquid form near its source, shipped to market in refrigerated tankers, warmed back into gaseous form on foreign shores and injected into the local pipeline system. Thanks to this technological advance, gas has the potential to be a fungible, global commodity like oil.