Open Insights 06 – Practice What You Preach

This month’s newsletter discusses a little server mishap which we

encountered here at Heavyweight Internet Group. I use the example to

illustrate a few lessons.

Practicing What You Preach

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Despite great efforts, it’s sometimes difficult to not come off a bit

preachy when discussing Open Source technology. The solutions are often

so good, you miss the difficulties. To that end, here’s a bit of a

rundown on what technologies we run our business on.

For Customer Relations Management we use SugarCRM. For a webserver we use

Apache 2. For a database we use MySQL though of course for enterprise

applications Oracle obviously comes into play. Our site software is

PostNuke, and our new weblog OracleOpenSource.com uses MoveableType. The

server that hosts all this great software runs Mandrake 10.1 distribution

of Linux. For email we use Postfix, and ASK a whitelist system for

spam blocking. We use Mandrake on the client side and the Firefox

browser. Also we use OpenOffice for creating and viewing Word, Excel, and

Powerpoint documents. And on the development side PHP, Perl, and CVS for

source code versioning. Soon we’ll be implementing OTRS for trouble

tickets, and possibly some web-based solution for invoicing.

The point here, and it’s a dramatic one, is that we learn by doing, and

sometimes the hard way. And by learning these lessons, we know better

what works for our clients.

Not Just Windows Servers Get Hit

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Here’s a great example of learning by doing. We host our own servers even

though it might be simpler to outsource this process to a hosting company

who dedicates themselves to this. Not that we’d recommend this to all our

clients, we probably wouldn’t. But time and again it teaches lessons

about what technologies work, and what can happen during the minute that

your head is turned.

Last month our server was hijacked to send spam. This wasn’t done in any

of the obvious ways of finding a way onto the machine by brute-force.

They did not get a login to the machine itself. They managed to exploit a

default feature of our webserver, Apache, to proxy requests to other

sites. Though the obvious hole of having your mail server configured for

an open mail relay had been closed long ago, these spam hackers had

managed to find a way to relay through Apache. In so doing, they slowed

down our server for a period, interrupted our network, but worse sent out

tons of spam from our host. This meant we got thrown on a spam-blocking

list, and many sites were bouncing emails from us. After tracking down

the problem, we patched the problem, and eliminated the unwanted traffic.

Once again we’re able to send out email.

A hard lesson to be sure, but one we are sure to see, and identify quickly

at client sites, so they don’t suffer the same troubles.

In the long run these types of lessons are what help your professional

services stand out, beyond the obvious problem solving, to identify and

manage difficult and complex enterprise computing environments.

Open Insights 05 – Building on Success

Building on Experience

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Thinking about this month’s newsletter, I considered titling it

“Building on Success”. But despite the marketing and media

hype, good companies, build on experiences both good and bad,

learn from them, and repeat the successful formulas, and are

careful to avoid repeating the mistakes. In short, finding the

right consultants to hire for a project isn’t about finding

those with the proverbial midas touch, but rather in finding

those who understand your organization, have the patience to

work closely with you, and the perseverence to follow

through to success.

Aligning the right people & resources

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Facilitating communication can often be the greatest challenge in

any consulting engagement. Organizations, even smaller ones,

often have their own unofficial hierarchy of how things get done.

Consultants are brought in, not just when the right expertise

can’t be found in-house, but also when the expertise already there

isn’t solving the right problems. So inevitably these cases require

cutting accross the usual channels, to put the right people

together with the right resources.

This can come in the form of training, facilitating, and

coordinating these new relationships that foster the organization

to solve it’s own problems.

Turning ambitious strategies into successful ones

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So what’s next? Ambitious and lofty strategies can often remain

out of reach until the right workflow is established. If that’s

not happening right away with your technology rollout, don’t

let the problem languish. Identify it, and resolve to

straighten it out.

Heavyweight Internet Group has spent nine years in the business

working closely with technology companies, identifying the

proverbial DNA of the enterprise, and putting together

technology solutions which solve real problems. Call us for a

free evaluation today. (866) 268 9448

Open Insights 04 – Managers: Databases 101

Managers: Database 101

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Managers and CEOs of companies which rely on databases for their

infrastructure, or build on them for their applications, no doubt

already have a handle on the basic “What is…” question.

In short, databases boil down to glorified filing cabinets, albeit

electronic ones which can hold miles of encyclopias worth of

information, and retrieve it in tiny fractions of a second.

More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database

Behind the Scenes: How You Use it is Everything

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We know that databases are put to an endless list of business

uses, from storing credit card billing statements & indexing

web content on the internet, to storing mountains of information

on customer spending habits from larger retailers. Running a

business, one naturally focuses on the business uses. But in

order to understand things at least a little bit under the hood

we’ll show how your technology people look at things.

Principally, there are two types of database uses. One is called

datawarehousing, and the other online transaction processing, which

we’ll call transactional for short. What divides them is dramatic.

A datawarehouse is composed mainly of large mountains of historical

data, which can be used to predict future outcomes, or answer other

big business questions. Huge reports are run against such databases

to show trends, or plot trajectories. How many of our customers

that live in Asia, buy books about technology, and when? How do

they normally pay? How many have joint accounts with family members?

A transactional database is one that runs a website, or other

application which makes frequent small requests of the database.

Such a database is characterized by lots of small requests or

lookups.

You can think of the two types like readers of the news. The

datawarehouse is like the history researcher, that is going to comb

through old issues on microfilm, to put together a work of great length

on some past story. The transactional version is like the reader

going to work, who skims headlines, looking for important bits of

news, and leaves the newspaper on the subway where someone else picks

it up and scans it again.

Understanding which type of usage you are putting your database to

can help you focus your business and your technology choices

properly. It can also help your technology team tune your systems

for your specific usage. Mixing the two types of uses can have some

negative impacts easily avoided by dividing the work into separate

systems as appropriate.

Which are some of the popular variants?

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Some of the popular databases in use today are obviously Oracle, Sybase

and DB2. These are the big commercial solutions. You might include

Microsoft’s SQL Server in the list, though it doesn’t really compete

in terms of real server technology performance and security. On the

other hand there are some dramatic open source solutions to choose

from as well, such as MySQL and Postgres.

What are the tradeoffs pro + con?

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There are dramatic differences between the various database technologies

as you might guess. The first obvious one is price. Speed, and

supported platforms are factors too. Some less obvious factors behind

the scenes are the feature sets that each database supports. What

programming languages are supported, how big can tables and data grow

to, how are backups handled, how secure is the database, and how

difficult is maintenance? These are the types of questions which you

will need to ask to differentiate the various systems.

Is there a risk-free way to go?

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A lot of companies have already made an investment in one technology

such as Oracle. Others have invested in Open Source solutions such

as Linux and MySQL and have built up the staff to handle that and

are wondering if the jump to Oracle would be difficult. On the

consulting side of the fence, most companies have partnerships and

experience with one particular technology and will try to lead you

in that direction.

Consider these factors when talking with and outsourcing, or

consulting company about database technologies. At Heavyweight

Internet Group we believe there is a right technology for each

business use, and we’ll help you understand those tradeoffs before

biting off more than you can chew.

Remember too that you can prototype with one database backend, and

switch later on as your needs grow if your application has been

written with those eventualities in mind. Furthermore you can

prototype and develop to a limited extent with Oracle without

purchasing a license. While you are doing development you are ok

after which time doing Q/A or obviously moving to production

would require a license purchase.

How do I know if I’m under or over-gunned?

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An assesment of the current technology is the best way to figure

out where you stand on the database usage horizon. It involves

reviewing the underlying hardware, and Operating System, evaluating

the database technology, looking at the application, and how

well it is taking advantage of that database architecture, and

features, and seeing where the real bottlenecks lay.

Heavyweight Internet Group can help your business with database

technology assessments. With the right information, and options

at your fingertips, you can make more informed decisions saving

you time and money in the long run.

Conclusion

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Your database is likely your single most sensitive technology,

housing your business crown jewels. Consequently just like the type

of car you choose can mean a lot in terms of expenses you will

incur, whether you can haul lumber, ferry your kids to school, or

drive the autobahn, so too what type of database technology you

favor can affect your business tremendously.

Look before you leap, choose the right guide, and you can grow

your business right — from the start.

Open Insights 03 – The Business of Open Source

The Business of Open Source

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People around the world, in business, government, and education

have all heard about Open Source. It’s the buzzword of the hour.

You may have heard about specific projects like the Linux Operating

System, or Apache, the webserver that runs nearly 70% of internet

webservers (http://news.netcraft.com/archives/web_server_survey.html),

or various government initiatives to switch to Open Source from

proprietary alternatives. In any case it is more and more at the

forefront of IT decision making.

Behind all of the hoopla, hardcore believers & opponents, figures, and

statistics lies a pool of resources, a methodology and technology that

deserves your careful consideration.

What is Open Source exactly?

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To be fair it means a lot of things to a lot of people. The term

itself means that source code is included with the distribution of

an application. To end users, and business managers, this seems

rather esoteric. I’m not going to view the source code, you might say

so why does it matter. Well for one your developers can and may

want to look at it. For reasons of privacy and security it is good

to be able to scan code and ensure none of your business information,

that you’d rather not be stored centrally, be sent by an application

unbenownst to you. For your technology staff though, it can mean

life or death at times, when an application just won’t behave, and

you’re having trouble getting support to recognize a problem you’re

having. Given the source you can track it down directly, and fix it

inhouse if need be. But Open Source also encourages communities of

developers in a very ad-hoc and unpredictable way, creating

collaboration, and ultimately resulting in better software.

How can Open Source Software help my business?

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There are three ways Open Source can help a business – cost,

flexibility, and open standards.

Ok, lets save the best for last, and look at open standards first. Well

standards mean compatability. When standards are published, and open

anyone, on any platform can implement to that spec, and build compatible

software. It means an open playing field where the best company, with

the greatest technology wins. It also means your technology lasts longer

because you don’t necessarily need to always update to the latest and

greatest. If a particular version is rock solid, and stable, you can

stay there, without worry that you’ll soon be obsolete.

What about flexibility? Well in terms of licenses, the Open Source world

includes many different types, from the thoroughly idealistic GPL

(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html) to the more business friendly

‘Free for non-commercial use’, and various other proprietary with source

licenses.

Here’s an example. Suppose you’d like to use the latest version of ASP,

ASP.NET. It is free to download and install to your heart’s content.

But if you’re running an older version of the Operating System, you’ll

have to upgrade that first. You may have a whole server farm of 10

Windows boxes, and you want to add one new one. The version differences

are going to force you to upgrade those 10 servers first. Effectively

your Operating System does not last you as long. Whereas in the Linux

world, for example, you can still run 1.x versions. They remain stable

and useful, although not as feature rich as the latest releases.

So flexibility has a lot to do with licensing.

Now for your favorite, cost. Open Source software is often free. Now

that does not mean it is free to implement because surely you have

investment costs in terms of hardware, and engineering know-how. But

the software itself is not going to bite you. Look at some real-world

business examples if you have any doubt.

RedHat

http://www.redhat.com/solutions/info/casestudies/

Novell

http://www.novell.com/success/

What should I be concerned about?

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The most important consideration for a business embarking on an Open

Source strategy is IT knowledge and expertise. Your staff will need

to be fluent in the new technologies both in terms of choices and

directions, as well as support and administration of your internal

needs.

In the area of support services it is a good idea to consider how

Open Source projects can differ from their commercial alternatives.

Some distributions of underlying Open Source technologies such as

Red Hat and SUSE provide support services directly. Although they

are not the core development community, the put together a distribution

of the Linux kernel, and related applications, and also provide

modifications and add-ons only available in their distribution.

For MySQL and PHP, you can also purchase support services.

Lastly you may have intellectual property and or litigation concerns.

The news continues to cover the SCO battle against Linux and

allegations of proprietary Unix code contributed to the kernel. To

allay any such fears keep in mind that although SCO has gone after

big boys such as DaimlerChrysler, and IBM, they have failed to win

any of those cases.

DaimlerChrysler/SCO Case Winds Down

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/12/04/2052250&tid=88&tid=123

Groklaw:

http://www.groklaw.net/

SCO Facts Website:

http://scofacts.org/

Conclusion

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Open Source is an ever expanding area of technology, and one which

smart and forward looking companies, institutions, and governments

continue to embrace for reasons that span cost, privacy, and

flexibility.

Now is the time to start planning your company’s Open Source

strategy. The reasons, and opportunities are clear and open.

Heavyweight Internet Group has specialized in Unix and Linux solutions

for Oracle since 1997. Our focus is Oracle and Open Source

infrastructures, including Oracle 8, 9i, 10g, Mysql, Linux, Apache,

Tomcat, PHP and Perl.

Open Insights 02 – Consulting Apples and Oranges

Heavyweight Internet Newsletter for Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Issue: 2

Welcome to the Heavyweight Internet Group newsletter.

From all of us here at Heavyweight Internet Group we’d like to wish you a

happy and safe holiday season.

Consulting Apples and Oranges

====================

Consulting is a big word. It carries a lot of meaning in different

business circles, mostly formed by large consulting firms. This

article will dispell some of the generalizations, and help you

find services right for your business needs.

Consultants in general terms, bring specialized help to a firm for

a duration of time, to solve specific business problems. In terms of

technology projects, a team of specialists, or in some cases a single

consultant are hired to build your technology infrastructure, or tune an

existing system.

Large or Boutique?

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When scouting out consulting expertise, the initial reflex is often to

to with a large consulting firm that presumably has a long history, and

excellent experience in your technical area. When hiring a large firm,

however, you’re effectively hiring on the reputation of the firm, not

the individuals who will be sent to work with your company. Experience

and expertise can vary dramatically though, which is one way a smaller

firm can differentiate. For smaller firms, their reputation is built

on the knowledge, experience, and expertise of a small number of

individuals who you will likely be working directly with. Their

business success, and resilience in the marketplace is a direct

testament to what they can achieve for your business.

Additionally the relative size of your account to the firm you hire is

an important factor. If you are a fairly small firm, you will likely

fall

to the bottom of the pile with a larger consulting firm. However with a

small boutique firm, you are one of only a handful of their clients, so

you retain a commanding importance to them.

How about those fees?

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The discussion of fees and costs is always an important one. In real

terms, smaller boutique firms can bring your total costs down

dramatically, but how best to measure that?

Often, because of history and the example of others in the industry, fees

are based around hourly rates. A company for obvious reasons, would like

to calculate the cost of a technology project, and the presumtion is that

an hourly fee is the first step in doing so. But hourly fees take

attention away from the real question of return on investment, and often

lead to apples and oranges comparisons. One consultant may come at

a very inexpensive hourly rate, but take weeks to solve problems.

Another may bill more, but have years of experience and so be able

to spot a familiar problem quickly, and get the same problem solved

in hours or days. Hourly billing also allows for weak project scoping up

front because a consultant won’t be hurt if the project drags out. In

general terms, hourly billing encourages slower fulfillment of

objectives, scope creep, and maximizes the number of discrete physical

activities.

However, focusing on the project itself, defining the scope and outlining

the project requirements up front, and then assigning a total cost to

completion, allows you to really compare two competing solutions. Some

consultants may be reluctant to assign a fixed fee to a project due to

fears of scope creep, and so on. But a fixed fee project will also

force you to iron out details up front, avoiding surprises down the

road. And more importantly it will take everyone’s attention off of hour

by hour details, and focus them instead on the milestones and project as

a whole.

Conclusion

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There are a lot of factors to consider when hiring a consulting firm to

work with you. You’ve heard horror stories of projects gone awry, or

perhaps been on the losing end of such a project. All the more reason to

do your due diligence with various consulting shops, to find the one

which

will fit your needs. Temper the reflex to go with one of the larger

firms, and you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Open Insights 01 – Newsletter Introduction

Heavyweight Internet Newsletter for Friday, November 05, 2004

Issue: 1

Welcome to the Heavyweight Internet newsletter.

This is our first installment in what we hope will become a popular and

indespensible resource for technology professionals and management alike.

Q. What types of information can I expect to see?

A. We will be filling the newsletter with content not necessarily found on

the website. This will not just be plugs for products and services, but

useful articles on such topics as: outsourcing vs doing a project

in-house, consulting best practices, finding quality technology people,

measuring return on investment for technology projects, and reducing

infrastructure costs with Open Source technologies.

Q. Will this only be a technical newsletter?

A. No. There will be links to technical howto articles on the website,

but the newsletter will tend to be more for a more general audience.

Q. Do I need to subscribe?

A. Only if you want the newsletter in email. You can also view the

newsletter on our site http://iheavy.com.

Q. Will there be marketing and sales pitches?

A. We will of course be mentioning services offered by Heavyweight

Internet Group, and linking to such content on the site, but the majority

of the newsletter will be useful tips for consultants and managers alike.

Q. Will the newsletter be specific to databases or Open Source

technologies?

A. These are certainly our main focus, and areas of expertise. However we

will also talk about other new technologies we come accross which we think

will be relevant to the enterprise in coming years. For instance Voice

over IP technology has been a recent topic.

We hope this has been a helpful introduction. Help us spread the word,

and recommend us to friends and business associates!

-Heavyweight Internet Group

* For more info, please visit our web site at http://www.iheavy.com.