Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Google Chrome, Ubuntu, and Cisco AnyConnect

I need to use Cisco's AnyConnect VPN client. It's worked quite well with FireFox on Ubuntu, although I had to forgo the upgrade to 9.10 because the VPN client wouldn't work with the kernels that came with 9.10. (That wasn't the only reason I didn't go to 9.10, so I wasn't really bothered by it.)

I've been using Google Chrome for the last few weeks instead of FireFox. It is noticeably faster on my Lenovo x300. Going back to FireFox seems excruciatingly slow. I decided to try Chrome with the Cisco VPN client. It's not officially supported, but both FireFox and Chrome are supposed to support standards, so what could be the problem?

It worked on my Lenovo with Ubuntu 10.04, but when I tried it on my netbook with Ubuntu Netbook Remix 10.04, it didn't work. It would get to the point where the client is supposed to actually start, and then nothing would happen.

I finally noticed that on the Lenovo, I had the IcedTea plugin installed, whereas on the netbook I was trying to do exactly what was supported by Cisco (Sun Java and some fiddling to get the plugin working). So I installed IcedTea on the netbook, and it worked just fine.

To install IcedTea, start System-> Adminstration-> Synaptic Package Manager, enter your password, then put "icedtea" in the "Search" field. Right click on "icedtea6-plugin", select "Mark for installation" and then click on the "Apply" button. Or, if you like the Terminal, type "sudo apt-get install icedtea6-plugin" in a terminal.

(Update for Ubuntu 11.04: the package to install is called "icedtea-plugin" now. No version number.)

It's always fun when you try to do something exactly by the book and it doesn't work, and then you do it the way you think should work, and it does.

Unfortunately, Exchange 2010 Outlook Web Access doesn't support Chrome, so I'm forced to use the crippled "Lite" interface. So I'll probably end up using FireFox anyway.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Web Trap Pages

I'm looking for an open source friendly accounting company to do my taxes and give me advice. The only reason I need a Windows box anymore is to do my accounting, since most accountants want their clients to use Windows-based software.

I typed something into Google to see if I could find an accounting firm that was open source friendly. I got one of those bogus pages that's just scraped together from bits of the internet by a computer program. Sleaze-balls put up sites like this to try to get you to land there from a search and then click on a link, generating ad revenue for the sleaze-ball.

The thing was, it took me a few moments to realize the page for what it was. It almost looked like a real site dedicated to open source accounting software. I thought, "wow, this sleaze-ball software is getting pretty good."

The I realized that it could also be that so many sites on the Internet are still so bad, that a computer can do as good a job as a person.

(Is this a variant of the Turing Test?)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

CFOs: Use the Cloud Now

It occurred to me that there's an easy way for CFOs and CEOs to use the cloud right now, without waiting for the IT department to touch a single piece of equipment. Here's how:

Ask your IT department how many servers and how much data you have. (Ask how much data is actually being used, not how much capacity you have.) Then, go to Amazon's site for cloud services and calculate how much it would cost to host that on Amazon. Finally, call in the CIO and ask her why your IT infrastructure budget is a lot higher than what it would cost to host on Amazon. It will be. You're asking for the whole infrastructure budget, not just the cost of the equipment.

For example, suppose you have 460 Windows servers and 200 TBs of data. Amazon has different prices for different size servers, but start by assuming all your servers are what Amazon calls "large". Your annual cost for that (October, 2010) is $2.5M. That includes 400 Mbps of network traffic into and out of the data centre 24 hours per day.

Ask your CIO out what services you're getting that justify the premium you pay for having an in-house IT infrastructure department.

In reality, you're CIO's no dummy. She'll be able to give you a pretty good story about why the IT infrastructure budget is so much. That's when you can use an independent IT consultant who's not owned by a company selling the infrastructure that drives up your costs. The real value comes when you start to use the benchmark cost of Amazon to identify and drive improvements in the value provided by your infrastructure department.

For example, when your CIO is talking about the services she provides, ask her when she's going to offer servers that can be spun up by a user, through a web site, with no intervention at all from the IT infrastructure group, like on Amazon? Or when the business will be able to downsize how much it's paying if it discovers that it doesn't need a large server, like on Amazon? Or when you'll start paying only for the data storage you're using, and not for a bunch of empty disk that you had to buy for "future growth", like on Amazon?

And that's how to use the cloud without changing one piece of technology.