Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How the Cloud Changes Austin

If you are in the IT world, you must be as sick of these stories as we are. Cloud Computing Set to Change Everything et al. As ubiquitous as these proclamations have become, the excitement has some real justification. Let’s take a look at what the cloud means to you, us, and our city.

The cloud is by definition, nebulous. Ask 50 people what it is, and you will get 50 different answers. 49 of them will be correct. Generally, the cloud is an effort to distribute resources in order to gain efficiency. Any strategy falling under this generality may be called a cloud solution. Specifically (and in plain English), cloud solutions most often means taking computer power out of homes, offices, and pockets, and putting it all in massive data centers that benefit from multiple dimensions of scale. Faster internet connections, better IT oversight, efficient use of hardware, and above all, lower costs per unit. Of course most of us have used cloud resources for years. Hotmail, Gmail, IM, even the most of the internet itself have always been cloud services. The real trend here is that what used to be done on your home pc, taxing rarely used but expensive processors, can now be done online. Your home computer might eventually be nothing more than a web browser, all of your applications may exist online.

Who is likely to benefit from such a change? In a word, Google. Yes, obviously Amazon is likely to see the most direct benefit, as they operate the largest cloud offering to date (AWS), but Google’s business model is absolutely predicated on growth of web-based services. Small business will be a close second. Scale does get you lower cost in the cloud, but the savings are much lower than you might expect. Most cloud services have pay as you go models, dramatically reducing barrier of entry by virtually eliminating large initial investments. Who is likely to suffer from such a change? Well, anyone selling products. Microsoft is way behind the curve with its existing licensing model. PC manufacturers are likely to see stagnation too in the absence of yet unimagined innovation. After all, if you need less processing power and storage space than you did the year before, why would you need a faster computer?

What does this mean for the world of IT consultants such as our firm? It’s without saying that it will have a major impact on the direction of the field. We have placed our bet on integration services and system wide design and security. There will be many years until that day as many integral services are still without a practical cloud based solution. Domain services are utterly impractical to elevate to the cloud just yet, as are most services that benefit from speedy transactions. As bandwidth improves (and gets cheaper) more of these dominoes will fall. Many clients have reported to us that they have security concerns about moving services to some out-of-sight data center. Breaches in security on cloud services have been well publicized, but when compared to the horrifying record of small business security, they seem nearly impenetrable.

What does this mean for Austin? As a city identified with IT innovation, we have been successful in growing cloud services as part of our technology sector. UT just this month announced it would partner with SunGard Availability Services in order to create an Exabyte-scale data center on campus. The research implications of such an investment might be similar to that of SEMATECH, the semiconductor consortium instituted in 1986. Inevitably, technology changes in unforeseen ways, and cities grow and shrink on unpredictable, or unpredicted trends. With this drought expected to continue for a decade, here is to hoping that Austin might benefit from the clouds on the horizon.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Hidden Shortcuts; Windows Productivity

Anyone who has ever managed a bank can tell you that the speed at which employees can perform everyday tasks is directly correlated to their use of the keyboard for commands. This compared to the tedious search and click that accompanies the use of a mouse. If we all took a closer look at how we use our keyboard, we could all benefit from the same efficiencies. Luckily, one of the most overlooked benefits to a windows operating system is it vast array of shortcut keystrokes. Think about all the time you hunt through the “programs” menu; in Windows 7,  just press the windows logo (WL), and start typing the program you want to open. Press WL, release, and then type “out” for outlook, or “calc” for calculator.  I have compiled a short list of underused shortcuts that will certainly bring a smile to anyone as impatient as me.

Windows Logo (WL)   

WL + D (or WL+M)

WL + L

WL + R   


CTRL +/-

WL + Home

WL + Up/Down



WL + C

WL + Space

Shift + Delete

WL + Shift + Right/Left
Opens the start menu. This is great in Windows 7 and Vista, because your cursor immediately goes to a search box. Type in whatever you want to open.

Minimize all windows and show the desktop

Lock the computer (require password)

Run dialog box

Switches to the last window open. Very useful when navigating between a web page and a word document

Zoom in and out

Clear all windows except the active window

Maximize/Minimize Current window

Undo the last thing you did


Opens the control panel

Make all windows transparent (Windows 7)

Delete file permanently (don’t put in  recycle bin)

Move windows to your other monitor (dual monitors required)

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Windows XP won't die, still the leader

According to CNET research, the 10 year old leader in operating systems has held its place, much to the dismay of its designers, Microsoft. Hitting the shelves and OEM’s on Oct 25th 2001, XP was heralded as a critical victory for Microsoft, who found themselves newly vulnerable to a resurgent Apple (under recently rehired Steve Jobs). XP was a major improvement over the disappointing Windows 98, and the abject failure of Windows ME. Its stability, speed, and broad esthetic appeal launched it to the #1 ranking in just 4 years.  With Windows 7’s launch already two years in the past, and critical acclaim its credit, the new OS still has some ground to make up before overtaking XP as the dominant OS of business and home users. From its peak in ’09 at 72% share, to its current position at 48%, Microsoft has been pushing hard to move users to the fledgling, if soon to be replaced Windows 7. 

Why are so few users willing to part with the OS of the 2000s?
The economic downturn certainly has some effect. While not having the impact on overall IT spending as might have been expected, some cosmetic changes such as desktop OS upgrades may have been shelved in order to invest more in infrastructure.
 The second reason for the delay was angst over the flop that was Windows Vista. A much awaited jump to prettier navigation and intuitive design fell flat when device compatibility and security flaws emerged with the short lived OS. Microsoft was eventually cowed by OEMs to continue to install XP on new devices until the release of 7 in ’09. It might be reasonable to expect that the bad press made XP users reluctant even after its latest product launch.
The final reason of the continued use of XP today, is probably the most important. The increased stability and user-friendly additions to Windows 7 have been balanced with the higher demands for hardware and resources required to run a larger OS. This calculation, or at least intuition, has left many IT departments waiting for a downside to complacency. 
 That downside will at long last come in 2014, when Microsoft finally stops supporting XP, leaving it vulnerable to new security threats left unpatched. By that date, Windows 8 (no release date yet) will almost certainly be available in stores and on new PCs.

 Ted Hughes
 Managing Director
 OCC Service Incorporated