Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My review on IT facts of 2013

It's December 31st, 2013. It's been a good year for innovation on all fronts with a lot of interesting products, services and releases of my favorite applications, so I want to write a post to talk about the IT things that have attracted my attention during these last 12 months.

First of all I am positively impressed by the release of the last Nokia Tablet, the Lumia 2520, as well as by the release of the Microsoft Surface 2. Both these tablets have been well-engineered and nicely built. The Nokia Lumia 2520, featuring a Qualcomm SnapDragon 800 CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 10.1" display, impresses me for its refreshing design and its cool colors. On the other side, the Microsoft Surface 2, featuring a quad-core ARM Cortex-A15, 2GB of RAM and a 10.6" display, despite its industrial design, inspires me more thanks to its USB 3.0 port, to its kickstand (especially useful when watching movies), for its crisp text during web browsing, and, from a general point of view, for its versatility.

Speaking of these two tablets, I must say that I am really in love with the last Microsoft operating system, Windows 8.1, and its ARM-oriented version, Windows RT 8.1, that you will find on those two tablets. This OS is really powerful, modern, colorful and, despite all you might have heard, much better than good old Windows 7.

I have been using Windows 8.1 for a few months now and I really can't live without the Metro interface and its smart search engine which looks for file and/or applications on your local hard-drive, in your Skydrive folder and on the web (via Bing, naturally) at the same time.

Windows 8.1 omnisearch
My piece of advice here: forget the Start button and move to the Metro interface as fast as you can. Windows 8 (and 8.1) are more than just a new way of thinking about the desktop interface for Microsoft; it is a major bet that touch is the future of computing and you better get accustomed to the change. Don't worry about the Windows App Store, because it will for sure grow up in size to match those by Google and Apple, and all major Apps are already there: TripAdvisor, Facebook, NetFlix, Twitter, Skype, Shazam, Tunein Radio, or the brilliant new Microsoft RDP (kudos for this from every Windows IT guy out there).

For the moment the only negative point I have found in Windows 8.1 is that background apps temporarily stops until they are brought back to foreground. The technical cause for this? Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 have been built to be efficient and perform well. One of the ways this is accomplished is by suspending any application that's not currently on the show. When you replace an app on the screen, that app is maintained in RAM but it is no longer processed. This allows the user to maintain a large number of apps without degrading performance or reducing the oh-so-important battery life. The downside to this life-cycle is that when your app isn't on the screen, it's no longer running. I find this particularly disturbing when listening to YouTube videos that suddenly stop when I move them to the background. The only workaround I have found for the moment, is to open Internet Explorer 11 in Desktop Mode (Windows Key + R, and type iexplore). This actually works, but feel free to suggest in the comments any other workaround that worked for you.

At the end of 2013 it looks like everyone is moving to the Cloud. Me too. I have explored many ways to storing my data into a Cloud solutions and have been deceived most of the times for now. I started testing the solution of a rapidly growing German start-up, named Owncloud, and have been deceived by the number of bugs which make this application unsafe for storing data.

OwnCloud user interface
The idea behind Owncloud is pretty cool: to give users the possibility to have (and therefore own and manage) their on-premise Cloud server. Unfortunately the community behind Owncloud is quite small, and most of the expert users are oriented toward installing the engine on Linux and can't help newcomers to install it in a Windows environment. Also, each update is risky and if you have large amounts of data stored in the database, the performance decreases. Last not so good point, there is an app for Android smartphones, but it does an average job of sync with files, and does not sync the calendar at all, which is one of the basic features I would expect from their solution. Anyhow Owncloud 6 has just been released and I hope that the Owncloud founder Frank Karlitschek (@fkarlitschek) will broaden the support for Owncloud on Windows platforms.

I have of course also tested free apps, like Dropbox or Skydrive. Both are brilliant but, apart from the well-known privacy problems everybody is aware of, I find the amount of free allowed storage really small in our technology era where data get deduplicated on hosting servers (7GB for Skydrive is way too limited and not everyone is willing to buy a Windows Phone for getting 20GB more).

Concerning Skydrive, I have been tempted by the nice interface of this Public Cloud solution and decided to give a try to the Pro version. I set up a full grown SharePoint 2013 environment sitting on the new Windows 2012 R2 operating system, and activated the Skydrive Pro replica between my folders and this on-premise cloud. Everything worked well, much better than with Owncloud anyway, but I felt let down when I discovered that:
- the picture library does not sync
- you can sync up to a maximum of 20k items in your personal SkyDrive Pro document library
- you can't sync more than 5k items in other SharePoint libraries

So, even if this idea of storing files in the Cloud looks good, I will wait for a friendly, generous (in terms of gigabytes and services) and solid solution, be it on-premise or off-premise, before I change the way I store my data. I will let the big competitors in this field (read Microsoft, Amazon, Google and a few others) fight for the win and eventually choose the most valid Cloud Storage solution.

And if I am not yet completely ready for the Cloud, I am years away from having my washing machine or my fridge connected to the Internet of Things, nor I can imagine my neighbor debugging IPV6 addressing problems on his dishwasher. So, despite what has been said, there are other buzzwords in my head for the moment and Internet of Things is not on my list at the end of 2013, even do I must say I have been fairly impressed by the Italian Arduino micro-controller that allows you to create objects that can really interact with their environment through different triggers and signals. It looks like Arduino (which was invented in 2005) is rapidly becoming the building block at the heart of the Internet of Things, as its low-power processor is easy to program while its range of controller pins makes it easy to connect to the outside world. I deeply suggest you follow Massimo Banzi (@mbanzi) and David Cuartielles (@dcuartielles), co-founders of this platform for the next step in this field.

I want now to go back for a moment to Windows 8.1, and to the new Microsoft policy for upgrades: it has changed since Microsoft has moved from a three-year upgrade cycle to a yearly one, and this is bringing very fast improved releases of my favorite administration language: Windows Powershell. I don't want to rewrite a history of Powershell (I already did this), but just mention that this language is quickly becoming the de-jure standard for Windows system administration and the de-facto standard for third-party application management (VMWare, NetAPP, HP, just to mention a few).

With Powershell (like with VB before), there is in the community the annual habit of organizing some sort of Scripting Games to determine who's the best scripter around. Starting January 2014, the Winter Scripting Games will be a team event and for sure this will add to the fun of the competition. I heatedly suggest everybody reading this post to quickly join a team and find teammates to learn this wonderful language and compare with other Windows admins from all around the world. It could be also the occasion for Linux/Unix administrators to take part in the game and discover the power of this new object-oriented administration language and see how it compares with other standards such as Bash, Python or Perl. I will come back on the Games in a future post, but if you are eager to know more, follow these smart people on Twitter: Don Jones (@concentrateddon), Mike F Robbins (@mikefrobbins) and Richard Siddaway (@RSiddaway).

I previously mentioned the fight for emerging as the biggest Cloud provider out there. Well, there are many other interesting fights on the way, which is important to be aware of and that will determine the future of IT. A few examples? 
  • Skydrive, forget that name: Microsoft has lost the right to use this name since Sky users couldn't tell the difference. Which name Microsoft will adopt next?
  • Powershell, a name that Logitech has picked without realizing that Microsoft had grasped it before for its administration language. Will we see them in Court? 
  • YouTube: Microsoft wants a YouTube app on its phones, but Google (which, according to Amazon, is having a solid success with its new Chromebooks) is doing everything it can to block it. It looks like Windows Phone is starting to scare Android.
I don't even want to mention the battle between CPU manufacturers, like Intel or AMD. 2014 will be a year of tremendous change for both, since the market dynamics are shifting and new markets have started to grow at high speed. Intel has started backing Bay Trail and Haswell-based systems across multiple OS and at price points that compete against ARM-powered Android tablets. And next year Intel will push this strategy further, offering multiple Broadwell families, and in particular the Broadwell-Y, which should compete with chips from ARM both on performance and on TDP. A post-PC era has started, and I am curious to see how historical CPU manufacturers will cope with the technology challenge set up by Qualcomm, ARM (today ARM chips power Apple's iPhones, and iPads, as well as a huge number of Android phones)Samsung and Apple, even if this last one, after years or leadership with the iPhone, is actually running out of tricks to impress me. The battle will be fierce.

Broadwell-Y is coming
I said before that Microsoft is delivering new Windows upgrades at an unrivaled frequency. This is also true for most of its products (it must be the Indian summer of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (@steveballmer), who, being Microsoft employed #30, was there since the beginning). And this high frequency is also true for its hypervisor: Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 has in the end attained parity with VMWare in hypervisor functionality and is today ahead in Cloud offerings. Check expert VMWare VCDX Andrea Mauro (@Andrea_Mauro) blog for an in-deep comparison of technical specs between Microsoft Hyper-V and VMWare vSphere. Personally, I am a VMWare VCP and I have been a great fan of VMWare for many years. Today, while VMWare continues to dominate the market, I start to feel like I want to move more and more to the Microsoft solution, because it is cheaper, at least for the Full edition, and this is the one that I need, and because Microsoft offers the possibility to Hyper-V users to run their VM in the Windows Azure Cloud, extending the Private Cloud concept to make it Hybrid (and interesting I daresay). In addition Microsoft has understood that most people are well used to working with VMWare ESX and is giving away free Hyper-V and System Center training in order to change the market dynamics. At the same time Microsoft is providing the opportunity for a free Virtualization Certification when you request a free voucher for exam 74-409. Well played.

On the other side of the river there is VMWare. I am happy to see that they have released vSphere 5.5, but, let me say, the upgrade from vSphere 5.0 to 5.1 was a nightmare for most of us mainly due to the issues brought by the introduction of that piece of software that is Single Sign-On (SSO). According to VMWare, SSO is the first step toward true unification of VMware's various software components, but the truth is that they bought so many third-party applications that were difficult to integrate and needed some sort of mechanism to keep them all bound together. The result was poor.

In 2014 I will keep an eye on the evolution of server virtualization market since it is one of the most interesting from my point of view. I won't make any prediction since I am not an analyst, but one thing is sure: Microsoft and VMWare will continue their battle and IT pros will benefit from the competition.

In this post I want also to suggest a buzzword to follow next year: DevOps. You don't know what DevOps mean?  Well, a DevOps is not a person, nor a tool. It's a new way of thinking (and improving) the interactions (in terms of workflow and feedback from early stage to Prod) between software developers on one side and the operation on the other side. If you feel you want to know more about this concept, follow on Twitter the person who invented the word, Patrick Debois (@patrickdebois), and read this explanation by Simon Maple (@sjmaple) on TheServerSide.com.

I want to end this post suggesting all of my readers to start 2014 with the buy (if they haven't yet) of a Solid State Drive (SSD), since there is no better time of the year to treat yourself to a new bit of kit that will speed up your configuration. They are still expensive, but the technology behind is improving fast (Samsung has been able to produce a 1TB SSD, the Samsung 840 EVO, using an astonishing 19nm process) and sooner or later prices will drop.
1TB Samsung 840EVO SSD
Let me know if you agree with all the things I have written and feel free to suggest the things that made your 2013 and the things that you expect from 2014. For those living in France, see me at the Microsoft Techdays in Paris, where, as a Powershell MVP (which I became thanks to Martine Thiphaine @mthiphaine), I will be a speaker together with Fabien Dibot (@fdibot) on Powershell Remoting and on Powershell Tips and Tricks.

Wishing all of my readers all the best for 2014, I leave you with two jokes that made me smile:


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