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                    Archive for Jun 2002


                    Blogs for System Status Communications

                    My organization operates hundreds of servers in several data centers and a network that connects over 250 separate locations. One of the problems we have is status communication to various interested parties. Tonight I decided we should have a system status blog that uses categories with separate RSS feeds for various severity levels and systems. For the low price of $40/year we could have: One easy spot to post status announcements, which would be ordered in exactly the right way. A web-based record of status. Multiple RSS feeds of the various systems and severity levels. Easy integration into the personalization
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                    IM in the Enterprise: Part II

                    A few weeks ago, I wrote: While [free IM tools] suits my needs pretty well on base functionality, I'd hesitate before endorsing it as a corporate tool. In addition to the need protect the contents of message with encryption, a coporate tool needs: the ability to use the company's LDAP directory for accounts and passwords better methods of finding who's available logging and monitoring of messages filtering capabilites for viruses A recent article in ZD Net News, talks about the issues for corporations who want to use IM in the workplace and for IM providers like Yahoo! and AOL. I'd
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                    Wi-Fi Basics

                    PC Magazine has a pretty decent intro to setting up Wi-Fi networks, including links to some CaptivePortal sites. Rick Gee and I were just discussing captive portals (although I admit I didn't know the term) on Friday in connection with planning wireless networks for the state.
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                    Technology Growth and Commercialization

                    The other day Steve Fulling asked me "what ever happened to P2P?" My response was "its still there and interesting." His view was that it was gone because he didn't see company announcements, new products, etc. After some thought we came to the conclusion that in tough economic times, technology doesn't slow down as much as its commercialization. My view is that P2P, Web Services, etc. are growing and thriving. At some point someone is going to add some capital and, like an algae bloom, we're going to see another season of dramatic commercialization of information technologies. I think this
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                    Broadband Changes Lives

                    A report from the PEW "Internet and American Life" project reports the following: There are three major ways in which broadband users distinguish themselves from their dial-up counterparts. For high-speed home users, broadband lets them use the Internet to: become creators and managers of online content; satisfy a wide range of queries for information, and; engage in multiple Internet activities on a daily basis. Home broadband users have a new proximity to information and a convenient tool for communication that changes the way they find, generate, and manipulate content. Some uses of the high-speed connection are of the everyday sort
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                    Metadata and RSS in Utah

                    The Shifted Librarian has this to say about the Metadata project that Utah's own state library division is working on: Now this is an excellent resource! Put up by the Government Information Locator Service (GILS) folks in Utah, this one-page tutorial gives a brief overview of RSS, what it looks like, aggregators (they call them "viewers"), how to locate feeds, how to create your own feeds, how to validate your RSS, and more. I'm not sure what impresses me the most - the link to Metabrowser (their "recommended tool for creating and editing UtahGILS and Dublin Core metadata"), their Metabrowser tutorial, the
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                    Public Sector Jobs

                    Ellen Perlman's "TechTalk" column in Governing magazine quotes me a few times on what its like to make the leap from the private sector to the public sector. At some point in the interview, I'm pretty sure I said the word "gutwrenching." She didn't use that quote.
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                    Warchalking: Less is More

                    The warchalking site has a discussion going on about what form the warchalking icons should take. One side, the "more is more" crowd, wants to create lots of icons that carry lots of information. Frankly, most of it is information only a techie could love. My organization networks over 250 buildings for 22,000 employees. We're also in the planning phase of deploying Wi-Fi access points at places where cops hang out so they can connect to the net during their shift (they use CDPD for low bandwidth ops, but need a high bandwidth option sometimes). In this kind of environment,
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                    Government Unprepared on Cybersecurity?

                    From CIO magazine: A new survey conducted by the Business Software Alliance has found that almost half of all IT professionals believe that the government will be hit by a major cyber attack some time in the next year. Wait, it gets worse. One third of those who believe that a cyber attack is on the way also believe that such an attack is extremely likely, and almost three quarters think the government is unprepared. I'm not sure how much I trust a survey done by BSA. Seems like the results are pretty self serving. What's even more ironic is
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                    Budget by Deliverables

                    Bob Woolley talks about budgeting by deliverables from Dean Meyer: Budget-by-deliverables is simple in concept. A successful budget process requires crystal-clear definitions, across-the-board activity-based costing, and consistency across all groups in the organization. This might be an interesting way to look at IT budgeting in State government. See http://www.ndma.com/products/em/bbd.htm [Bob Woolley's Technology Weblog] I read through this a while ago as well and it made great sense to me. Dean says: Budgets should be presented in a different way. The organization should total the rows, not the columns. This is termed "budget-by-deliverables," distinct from budgeting by cost factors. Seems simple
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                    War Chalking

                    Black Belt Jones has a web site devoted to warchalking--drawing icons to indicate wireless network status in particular areas. As we deploy wireless networks in the state, maybe we should use these icons to indicate to people where the access points are and how they work. We've even been talking about establishing access points in places where police congregate on breaks (fill in the obvious joke here) so that they can get network access. These symbols would help with that.
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                    Fighting Spam

                    An article in the New York Times technology section talks about fighting spam. I recently started using SpamAssassin on my personal POP server. So far, I'm quite pleased with the results. The program uses rules to score mail as SPAM. Right now, I'm just redirecting it to a different mailbox and reading it to make sure it works and doesn't throw out too many things I'd really like to see. So far, nothing I can't live without.
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                    Living in Utopia

                    The problems of WorldComm and the collapse of Adelphia lead one to believe that the capital markets for broadband are going to be out of sorts for some time. What's a techie living outside the current broadband footprint to do? One answer may be projects like the Utopia project being undertaken by a number of Utah cities and towns. Utopia is an interlocal agency (a government agency in Utah formed by the member governments and governed by an MOU) that is undertaking the infrastructure piece of the broadband puzzle and hoping to attract companies to provide services (like ISP services, video on
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                    WSIL: Finding Web Services

                    One of the facets of web services that has always seemed like "the emporer's new clothes" to me is UDDI. I've never understood how I'd use it in real life (at least until such time that there are significant web services that function as commodities). Tarak Modi, in a recent article on the difference between UDDI and WSIL says: Let's say that your company needs to wire significant amounts of money from one place to another on a regular basis and you wanted to automate this process by utilizing a readily available Web Service. To do so, assume that you
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                    XSpaces

                    So I just found out about XSpaces reading Jon Udell's blog. XSpaces are free, public key-value pair stores that you read and write using SOAP. Pretty cool. They could be used as publically acccessible blackboards (remember blackboard architectures from your AI class?) for sharing information between programs. Kind of like Internet dead drops. The next logical question, at least to me, is: if a SOAP accessible hash table is a good idea, why not other data structures as well? Could we use a similar stack space, queue space, etc.? If not, why? The second question I have is: now that we have
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                    SAML First Blush

                    I've been reading some on SAML, the XML language for passing authentication information around the net. SAML, as one would expect from an XML based language doesn't do authentication, it is merely a standard for passing authentication information and user attributes from place to place. There's a pretty good article from Sun that gives some actual code examples (always a welcome addition) as well as the standard itself. I'm still not entirely clear on how this all relates to other initiatives such as MS Passport and the Liberty Alliance. It is clear that SAML is not at odds with those projects.
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                    Fed Authentication Gateway

                    The Federal government's CIO website has a PDF document describing the goals and high-level design of their authentication engine. One part of me is sad to see that they don't envision its use beyond federal agencies. The other part of me is relieved. The part of me that is sad is sad because I envision a future web where I can get government services without worrying about which agency or even which level of government offers the component pieces. SSO (single sign on) is critical to that happening and if the feds don't share their authentication engine with the states
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                    More on IDs

                    In Infoweek this morning: The sheer volume of enterprise user accounts and distributed applications creates an inescapable "vortex," forcing customers to seek ways to cut costs while automating security and efficiency, said Pete Lindstrom, senior security strategies analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based Hurwitz Group. Automating the extended processes surrounding ID management and account provisioning can reap immediate rewards, from freeing up critical help-desk support to increased employee productivity and ROI, Lindstrom said. This article was talking specifically about web services, but I think its true even without a web services deployment. If you're ready now, using SAML and other web services
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                    Identity, Authentication, and Authorization

                    We're about to move to a single directory structure where I work. By July we should have unique IDs for all 22,000 workers and be able to access them from a single directory tree. No small accomplishment, but one that is too long coming. (We're using Novell's NDS and DirXML, for the curious.) The real challenge will be to ensure that new applications are written to take advantage of this new structure and prioritizing which old applications need to be rewritten. Oh, and did I mention educating the workers? I have a hard time believing that there are IT professionals
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                    Rate and Cost Structure Transparency

                    In a recent article in CIO Magazine Mohanbir Sawhney writes: Transparency is a good thing for customers, but it seems to threaten suppliers. One of my favorite questions for executives is: If your customers knew everything about your products, your costs, your prices and your competitors' offerings, would you be better off? Judging from the uncomfortable silences I usually encounter in response, most executives believe that transparency is an enemy of profit. While I think this is an interesting question for companies, as a whole, I think it also has a special meaning for CIOs who run IT service organizations
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                    Collaboration Tools in the Workplace

                    There's a lot of interest in collaboration tools in the workplace. Groupware, of course, is the granddaddy collaboration tool and provides some important features (scheduling being at the top of the list) all on an email platform. Recently other, richer collaboration tools such as Groove have made a splash. We did an experiment a few months back with a tool from a company called Bluestep. Bluestep started out as a non-profit vertical ASP called MyAssociation.com and built a pretty good, centrally hosted collaboration tool---something their vertical was crying out for. The software is well done and has a good feature
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                    RSS Feeds at NewsIsFree

                    You can find category feeds of RSS information at NewsIsFree as well.
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                    RSS: An Update

                    It turns out that you can use moreover.com itself to aggregate, filter, and remove redundency from a category of news and then get an RSS feed of the results. First, go to the moreover.com categories page. Select a category or do a search. Somewhere in the URL that lists the results, you'll see an o=portal. Change it to o=rss and subscribe to that feed. (Thanks to Amphetadesk). Still, I'd like to be able to do it myself.
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                    RSS on Steroids

                    RSS is a great thing and I've quickly become adicted to the aggregated newsfeed that I get inside Radio. Still, I'm looking for something more. In fact, what I'm looking for is a commercial service one can buy from Moveover.com. Admittedly, I'm not an RSS expert, but I've looked around a bit and it seems that its missing some critical pieces, like filtering, redundency elimination, etc. The technical architecture of moreover.com shows some of those features. As an example, I'd like to put a gadget on my weblog (like the Google box) that is an aggregation of RSS feeds from
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                    Book Review

                    IT Organization: Building A Worldclass Infrastructureby Harris Kern, Stuart Galup, Guy Nemiro Supporting business needs and aligning IT with business strategy are important issues that seem to be at the top of every CIO's agenda. One of the ways to do this is to have a world class IT infrastructure. Kern, who at one time was the CIO at Sun Microsystems, defines infrastructure as everything used in IT to support the business including the people, processes, and organization. While he was CIO at Sun, Kern was ordered to "get rid of the mainframes" and replace them with Sun gear. That
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                    Understanding XML

                    In The Right SOAP, Daniel F. Savarese says: Whether you like it or not, Web services are here to stay. The fog has lifted and the structure of Web services has been revealed: XML in, XML out. Not very complicated. So why are so many programmers having a hard time getting their arms around Web services? Having taught over 130 students an enteprise computing course over the last three years, and having had quite a bit of experience using XML in large projects, I can think of a few reasons: Most of the computing literature on XML, SOAP, and web
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                    Code as Your First Impression

                    Jon Udell makes and interesting statement on his weblog: Here's the best take-away from the talk. Now that we have largely replaced human touchpoints (sales clerks, travel agents, etc.) with software, it is the behavior of software, not human employees, that projects the corporate brand. So every business is now in the software business, and the quality of the software's behavior is a crucial success factor. Amen to that. However we get there, high-quality software behavior is a goal on which we can all agree. This is an intriguing idea. There's a relatively famous case study (from Harvard, I think)
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                    Digital Dashboards

                    Jon Robb talks about using RSS to build digital dashboards: The concept is simple. In addition to getting new posts from news sites and other weblogs, RSS feeds can contain data from corporate systems. Sales data, financial data, supply data, data from partner systems, etc. Using this method, employees could get up to the minute data from multiple applications on a single webpage -- a personal digital dashboard. I think this is a great concept, but I have a few thoughts: First, the idea of using RSS (or something like it--I might want more structure) for dashboards is great. I'd love to
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                    Book Review

                    Decentralization: Fantasies, Failings, and Fundamentalsby N. Dean Meyer When I first read this book, I couldn't believe that someone had captured the essence of my organizational frustrations so succinctly. The first part of the book talks about the good reasons organizations decentralize. The second part of the book talks about the huge costs of decentralization. These reasons and the associated costs lead to a pendulum effect of an organization centralizing to save money and then decentralizing to get good customer service. The last part of the book takes on this very issue and discusses how to stop the pendulum: a healthy
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                    Apache Configuration

                    About 9 months ago, while I was teaching my class on enterprise computing, I had the idea that I'd rather store my EJB configurations in an LDAP server than in property files. They'd be easier to manage and I could put all the configurations in a single (redundant) place that was network accessible. It didn't take me long to realize that the same kind of LDAP based configuration server would be a big win for places that run a lot of web servers (or any other server for that matter) as well. Server configuration used to eat up gobs of time at Excite\\@Home. Seems that Covalent
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                    Enterprise IM

                    AOL is apparently working on putting encryption in their AIM instant messaging product. This is a good thing. I've used AIM now to communicate with friends, family, and co-workers for a couple of years. There are times when IM is better than the phone or email--conveying an added sense of immediacy without requiring your undivided attention as a phone conversation does. While the current product suits my needs pretty well on base functionality, I'd hesitate before endorsing it as a corporate tool. In addition to the need protect the contents of message with encryption, a coporate tool needs: the ability
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                    Service Level Agreements

                    I just got around to looking at the Spring 2002 issue of the Journal of Computer Resource Management (unfortunately, there's no online version, but its published by the Computer Measurement Group). There's a nice article by Chris Overton called "On the Threory and Practice of Internet SLA's." Chris works for Keynote Systems and does a lot of this kind of analysis. This is probably one of the most comprehensive analyses on service level agreements that you'll find anywhere. Worth a trip to the library if that's what you have to do to read it. Baseline magazine had a related article
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                    eGovernment on the Ropes?

                    Tom Davies has an article in the June issue of Governing Magazine entitled "Throw eGovernment a Lifeline." He contends: You don't have to believe e-gov is dead to conclude that it has seen better days. One state chief information officer recently banned the use of the term "e-gov" in discussions with him. In this year's gubernatorial state-of-the-state messages, e-gov was invoked rarely -- a distinct contrast to the past few years when the term was sprinkled throughout major speeches. I'd agree that there's been times when its been the focus of more hype, but from my perspective its still as
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                    Seriously Bored

                    The latest issue of CIO Magazine has an article on Life Among the Seriously Bored. The article makes the case that fundamental changes in how IT is done has taken the excitement and challenge out of being a CIO. Among the changes are vanilla implementaions of things like CRM and ERP systems. The other problem, say the author, is that good CIOs solve the problems (or run up against the barriers put in place to keep someone from solving the problems) and then are bored. There's some truth to this.
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