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A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work

Queensland Diary – Part 2 – Hong Kong

Hu Jintao's Five Golden Flowers
Hu Jintao's Five Golden Flowers

Spent most of the flight watching the American version of The Office which is pretty good. Once you get over the fact that it is not merely a copy of the British program. About 4am BST I started watching Family guy and drifted off to sleep.

Stepping off the aircraft in Hong Kong in the brief transition between aircraft and walkway a feint but palpable waft of warm humid air hit me. With the smell of mildew in my nostrils and bright sunshine outside it felt very good to be back in the tropics. I and headed straight for the vast plate glass window and looked out onto the big glaring sky. A flat blue sea stretched away from the runway and islands lay scattered around. I was not in Heathrow anymore.

After a quick visit to the washroom to change my shirt and brush my teeth I wandered around the shops. Cleaner, more spacious and more orderly than The UK but to be fair Chek Lap Kok is a new airport. Even so it compares favourably with Heathrow Terminal 5. They let a lot of light in and don’t insist that every square inch of space be used for advertising.

Tablet computers seem to be big news here and Apple do not appear to have the prominence that they do in Europe or the America. I noticed tablet computers by the French company Archos which is interesting as, though these are pretty good products, they do not have much prominence in the UK. The book shop was stuffed with books on the new China in both Chinese and English. With China industrialising now seems to be a good time to write books about the rise of China and the decline of The West. A bit fo a bandwagon if you ask me. One book, in Chinese, had a picture of President Hu surrounded by images of 5 women. What could this be? I Emailed a Chinese friend who translated the title as: “Hu Jintao’s Five Golden Flowers Female Best Friends”. From the title alone, my friend suggested that this could be “one of those romance novels about President Hu”. Ah yes, one of those. I see (he said, but he didn’t really). Perhaps democracy is not such a bad thing if it spares us creepy romance novels about politicians.

Upstairs I looked around the food halls which were similar to those you find all over the far east. Shops selling food and shared seating areas. I had no currency. Should I change money to get a soda? – There I slipped into American again. 10 hours out of the UK, the whiff of the tropics and this Englishman has started to come alive again.

The death of the OS

Why own a PC?
Why own a PC?

I attended an Oracle seminar on Cloud Computing last week at a hotel opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. These events are a little grim as the marketing types have ensured that, once you enter the Oracle area, all sensory data received screams “Oracle are TRENDY” at you. From the colour scheme and the logos to the bloody awful music which appeared to have been selected by a teenager asked to play something he thought reminded him of computers.

Oracle’s main theme is that they are developing an overarching framework to provide cloud computing based around Exabyte and Exadata. They’re marketing can’t have been that good as I forget which is which but part of their offering is hardware tailored to virtualization and part is software tailored to provide systems which can be set up and taken down quickly.

Good, good, Excellent, excellent!

It got me thinking.

I suggest that server visualisation is the result of the failure of the Operating System (OS) to do its job. These days we tend to think of the OS as a fancy interface with windows which open and close and make nice noises. However, this is just a “shell”. It is the bit that talks to the user. The reason for an OS to exist is to abstract the hardware from the user and the applications. It is to allow developers to write in high level languages rather than machine code.

Another point of a modern OS is to provide interrupt driven slices of time to each application in a way that makes the application appear to be running continuously on a processor. Also to isolate each process so that if one fails it does not take down the rest.

All OS vendors spent a lot of time convincing us that they had achieved this. However, over the past ten years or so it has become common practice, especially with Windows systems, to place only one application on each system. The OS had failed to reliably isolate application and people did not trust Windows enough to allow two critical apps to share the same system. This led to a proliferation of underutilized servers.

Enter VMWare.

VMware, as we all know, allows many physical boxes to appear like one big box and for this big box to appear like many smaller boxes. The effect is that we can run numerous “virtual machines” on one big physical machine that is itself made up of numerous smaller physical machines. This is useful as it allows fault tolerance and the ability to add capacity easily. It also isolates each system from the other without the necessity to add hardware for each new system and allows better management of hardware resources. In short it is more efficient.

So, the band wagon had started rolling and on jumped everyone in sight creating their own systems for virtualization. Of course Oracle are up there with the best of them.  At least, they claim that they are, I should point out that many presentations at the Oracle minar included am early slide stating that some of the features shown were currently still under development. We need not worry, their tasks is really one of tidying up and bolting everything together.

So, where are we now or where will we be once Oracle’s vision materialises?

We will be in a world where resources such as storage and networking are managed, not by the OS but by the Database engine or the virtualization software. A world of centralised functionality such as single sign on and file sharing.

What then is the role of the OS?

It may be that the OS has no role on the server side at all. Oracle already have a version of their relational database which runs directly on their virutalization software. Further, with desktop virtualization and gadgets like the iPad infringing on the desktop/laptop space it may be that we’re in for a shake up there too.

If you have Microsoft shares, sell them.