IT grab bag

SAN FRANCISCO (11/17/2003) - Every now and then, I sit down to write my weekly column and struggle with a coherent theme, trying to draw from my daily experiences as a working CTO. Sometimes I get lucky and something unusual happens to inspire me. Some weeks, though, I spend a lot of time dealing with a variety of smaller and less dramatic IT issues and just handling run-of-the-mill people and resource management. Those seemingly humdrum weeks give me time to experiment with new technologies and to take a fresh look at existing facets of the IT operation.

First, I finally got around to experimenting with Bluetooth, and the results have been excellent. Recently, I got my hands on a Palm Inc. Tungsten T3 and a Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB T616 cell phone, both of which are Bluetooth enabled. To complete the mix, I added a Bluetooth USB adapter to my Mac at home. You can read more of the down-and-dirty details on my Weblog, but in the end, I was able to use Apple Computer Inc.'s iSync to easily synchronize data across all my devices. This is one of those things that I thought would become really easy at some point in the future. Well, the future is here, thank goodness. This is the way technology should work.

This week I also realized that my IT staff is no longer managing any Windows machines, though Windows remains the dominant platform at InfoWorld, as at most companies. Because our desktop support services have been outsourced to CenterBeam for a year and a half now, they handle the desktop support calls for the Windows XP environment. Our Lotus Notes messaging environment runs on Windows 2000, but we completed the transition to an outsourcing arrangement with one of our sister companies just last month. My team runs miscellaneous internal services as well as our online operation, all of which are nearly 100 percent Linux now, with a small smattering of Solaris remaining. Within the next two months, we are migrating the Oracle Corp. database that houses InfoWorld's content from Sparc Solaris over to Linux on Intel, which will complete our transition to Linux. Sparc Solaris is still a technically excellent platform for running Oracle, but our Sun boxes are showing their age, and replacing them with Intel-based gear made financial and operational sense for our content management application. Within the IT department, we're also going to be using Macs heavily to manage the Linux environment -- OS X simply has the Unix tools that we need to manage that environment successfully.

Finally, I recently performed an analysis of our capital spending and found that open source and inexpensive software continue to shape the way IT dollars are spent. We have been building a number of Web-based database-driven applications for InfoWorld.com recently and have firmly adopted Resin and MySQL as our software stack. Of course, we could just as easily have chosen WebSphere or WebLogic along with Oracle or Sybase, but the tight economy has urged us into operating in low-cost "good enough" mode. Resin is a compelling choice as an application server because it runs the back end for highly-scaled 24/7 operations like Salesforce.com, where downtime is not an option. On the database side, Powell's Books, one of the largest independent book retailers in the U.S., runs MySQL for its business-critical e-commerce operation.

When I talk to some IT people, I still sense extreme trepidation about using software like Resin and MySQL to drive important business initiatives. That's the way some people felt about Linux just a few years ago. Don't wait so long to take the plunge this time.

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