Thursday, May 28, 2009

Data Management

I once was told that 80% of a companies data is out of their control. Laptops, USB drives and such make it near impossible to control data. I wish I had the report they referenced, it was a pretty powerful statement. However, I was reminded of this report today in a San Francisco parking garage as I watched someone hand their keys to the parking attendant. As he did, I thought about what might be on that USB key and whether one of the attendants would get curious and plug it into their computer. What would they find? Financial reports? Powerpoint slides? Pictures of the wife and kids?

As I look at my own company I think about everything I have on my laptop and USB drives. I have backups, but if my laptop were stolen there is a lot of data that the thief would now find themselves with. Now, I don't have especially exciting data. Aside from my MP3 collection, the laptop thief would be rather disappointed with what's on my laptop.

However, I think about a lot of my clients. My clients come from a wide range of industries:
  • Healthcare
  • Biotechnology
  • Finance / Banking
  • Manufacturing
What about their data? How secure is it? I know these and many industries are highly regulated, but regulations do not mean security. Email is probably the most common communication tool used in business today. It's used to share ideas, files, and confidential material. All of this can be stored on a user's laptop.

So how do we secure this? One emerging solution is Virtual Desktops.... As the month of June goes on, I'll have to find ways to make my data available to me without needing to have the data with me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Duplicate Data and Archiving

How much duplicate data do I have on my laptop? Not just files, but what about the duplicate "sub-file" data? (Powerpoint templates, logos in files, etc...)

How often do I access or modify my data? Do I really need all these files at my finger tips? Can I archive them?

I'm running a commonality assessment on my laptop data and a file system scan later. I'm going to look for how much duplicate data I have, and how often I use the files on my laptop. I'm hoping I can make things easier to manage here.

Things never work out the way we want....

So I found out that I need to be onsite with a customer at 9AM on June 1st. That customer is around a 1.5 hour drive from my house. Since June 1st is the official start of my Mobile VDI experiment, this is going to be a bit of a challenge. I'm sticking to my original rules and not powering up the Wyse X90 until June 1st, so the first day of this experiment is truly going to be trial by fire.

I'm going to need to make sure that I have a few pieces of software on a USB key ready before leave the house. Some of the software I'm going to need:

Cisco VPN Client (and configuration options)
Sprint SmartView (To use my Blackberry as a modem)
Blackberry Desktop Manager (Just for the Blackberry drivers)
Windows VM ready in the Lab
VMware View Client

Friday, May 22, 2009

Data, Data, Data....

Not sure about everyone else, but today has been extremely busy. It's Friday and we are heading into a 3 day weekend. Everyone wants things done before they try to take off early. From server configs, to RAID layouts, to UPS power requirements I've been busy all day.

In the process of doing all this I've been thinking about the number of files I've created and/or modified today and how my Mobile VDI experiment is going to effect my ability to do all this. I know it can be done, but finding the easiest way to do it will be the challenge.

As a "geek" I don't mind technology being a little more challenging than most average users. I can tolerate a few extra steps, even those that require a little more brain power. However, for this experiment to be successful I'm going to have to keep the complexity to a minimum. If Mobile VDI is difficult, nobody is going to want it. I've got to keep it simple.

Yeah, I think this is going to be a challenge.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Expected Challenges

So what do I think my first challenges will be?

  1. Getting VMware's Offline VDI feature to work. As I've said, there isn't a lot of local storage on the Thin Client Laptop and "Offline VDI" is not supported. I'll be very interested to see if this will work.
  2. Getting remote access setup. I'll be using my cell phone as a modem when I don't have access to a wireless or wired network. This might be slow in spots, especially if I have to use my VPN client.
  3. Getting ThinApp applications to work. Theoretically this should be an easy one.
  4. Getting used to a 12.1" screen. I currently have a 15.4" screen.
  5. Not having Linux as my primary OS. I'll get over this, I just with I could have gotten an X50. It's the same hardware as the X90 but it has a Linux OS.
  6. Getting all of my data off of my laptop. OK, so that's not so much a challenge. It's just gonna be a pain.

Wyse X90

I've talked a lot about the Wyse X90, and Thin Client Laptops, but what are they really? As I've previously posted, think of the Wyse X90 as a laptop without the ability to install applications of store data on them. Technically, you can install applications on the X90, but there is only around 300MB of space available so you can't really install much on it. The space is mostly provided for things that IT will need you to have to access your applications and data. An example of this might be a VPN client.

What about the other specs of the X90? It has an X86 based VIA 1.2 GHz CPU. It also has 512MB of RAM. The internal hard drive is a 512MB flash drive. It also has all the other usual options you'd expect like 3 USB slots and an external VGA port. The biggest downside is that it only has a 12.1" screen. Wyse also make a X90L that has more RAM and a larger screen. The smaller screen uses less power and makes the X90 smaller, lighter and more portable.

I'm actually getting excited to open up the box and try it out. So far the box stays unopened waiting for June 1st.

You read more about the X90 here:

http://www.wyse.com/products/hardware/mobile/X90/index.asp

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

VMware AppsSpeed

Although until June 30th this blog is mostly going to be about my Mobile VDI experiment, this blog is about virtualization technologies in general.

That being said, I can't wait for VMware AppsSpeed to become generally available. AppsSpeed is a tool that will monitor your VM's and self learn application inter dependencies. It will also monitor the performance of those inter dependencies and track response times. You can then create SLAs around those dependencies and have AppsSpeed respond in the event that you start missing those SLAs.

That's a mouthful.

Let me try to give you an example. Say you have a web server that uses a database on the backend to manage your data. AppSpeed will monitor the way those to systems communicate. It will monitor the tables and queries being used by the web server. It will also monitor and track how long it takes for the database to respond. Should the database start taking longer than usual to respond, AppsSpeed can be used either to send a notification to someone, or it can take steps on it's own to resolve the issue.

This gets us closer to the day when we can have a self-monitoring, self-healing data center.

Normally this is where I'd provide a link to learn more, but VMware's website still lacks a lot of good information. Here it is anyway:

http://www.vmware.com/products/vcenter-appspeed/

Mobile VDI Options

There are a few ways I can potentially access my virtual desktop from my Wyse X90. The first will be to remotely connect into it. To do this I'm going need a decent Internet connection. The second will be using VMware's "Offline VDI" option. This will allow me to 'download' the VM to my X90 and run it there when I know I'm not going to have an Internet connection. This option is currently not supported by Wyse so I'm not sure how successful this option will be. The third will be to to use a combination of remote connectivity, and whatever I can run directly from the X90 itself.

With the limited disk space on the X90 I'm not going to be able to install very much on it. So I'm planning on leveraging VMware's ThinApp software to allow me to package my applications so that I can use them when I need. ThinApp allow me to take many applications that I would normally install on my computer and package them into a single file that I can run anywhere. This means I can package an application, place it on a USB thumb drive and run it from any laptop or desktop computer without installing it. It also means, when I'm done using that application, I can unplug the USB drive and the computer I was using is unchanged by what I've done.

You can try ThinApp by going to:

http://www.thindownload.com/

At ThinDownload.com you'll find a lot of free programs pre-packaged to use. Once again, no need to install anything.

You can learn more about ThinApp here:

http://www.vmware.com/products/thinapp/

Why am I doing this?

So if I'm giving up my Lenovo Laptop, what will I be using? How am I going to access my applications and data?

I am going to be using a Wyse X90 Thin Client laptop. What's a Thin Client? Imagine you have a laptop with Windows XP installed on it, and only 300MB of hard drive space available. This means, you don't get to install any applications on your laptop. You also don't get to store any data on it.

So why am I doing this? Why does anyone care? Think back to the last time you dropped your laptop. Did it survive the fall or was it dead? Have you ever had a laptop stolen? Do you know someone who has? When that happened, did you have all you data backed up? All your pictures, your mp3s? Odds are, like most people you don't have good backups of everything and now you've just lost all your data.

This is a nightmare for a lot of companies who have lots of users with laptops. These laptops can contain copies of that company's intellectual property, and for the most part that company's IT department is unable to manage and protect that data. When that laptop gets stolen, confidential information gets stolen with it. If that data could also contain personal data about you. Imagine if your personal accountant had his laptop stolen with your information on it (Social Security Number, credit card info, bank info, etc...) Now your effected too.

With Mobile VDI, no data is hosted on the user's laptop. Instead, the user has a Thin Client Laptop, like the Wyse X90, that can be used to view the data and applications, but no data ever leaves the control of the IT organization. All data and applications stay in the data center.

Can this be done? June 1st we are going to find out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What will I be giving up?

To understand what mobile VDI is, and why this is going to be a challenge I thought I should first explain how my current laptop is set up and what it is I do for work.

My current laptop is a Lenovo T500 with:
  • Intel Core Duo CPU
  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 320 GB SATA Drive
  • ATI 3650 Video Card
I'm a long time Linux geek, so I don't have Windows installed. Instead I have Fedora 10 installed. (For the geeks out there, I was able to get Compiz working on my ATI card.) I also have CrossOver Office and VMware Workstation installed. CrossOver Office lets me run a lot of Windows Applications like Word, Excel, and Visio directly on Linux. VMware Workstation allows me to run multiple VM's on my laptop. Currently I have 2 XP VM's that I run from time to time.

On my laptop I also have lots of data. My password database, customer documents, presentations, white papers that I'm writing, my iTunes library (and mp3s). I need to figure out how to make do without them, or how to make them accessible to me during these 30 days. Just putting them on a USB drive isn't gonna cut it. I that drive is at home and I'm on the road and need something, I'm outta luck. Also, the rules state, that I can't carry all my data with me. One of the benefits of mobile VDI is that I don't have to worry about lost or destroyed data. I need to make my data available to me from anywhere.

So if this is how things are now, how is mobile VDI gonna be different? When I have some more time, I'm going to post about what I will be using and how it's very different than what I use today.

30 Days Thin (Client)

Everyone is talking about Virtual Desktops these days and everyone has questions:

  • Is there really an ROI with VDI?
  • Is it really easier to manage virtual desktops?
  • Does VDI apply to mobile users?
  • What are the challenges to a successful VDI implementation?

A lot of my customers ask these exact questions.

VDI has been traditionally marketed for "desk jobs", users who have a desktop computer and do not travel with their computer. This is because traditional VDI solutions require a network connection to access the user's virtual desktop. The purpose of this is to simplify desktop management by removing a lot of administrative control from the average user, and placing that control with an organizations IT staff. This helps reduce adminstrative costs.

Mobile VDI has been talked about for a long time. Mobile VDI is the idea of being able to take VDI and extend it's use to mobile users. Give them the ability access their applications and data from anywhere in the world without the need for a laptop. Imagine being able to have secure access your applications and data from anywhere without having to carry an actual laptop. This could be from your cell phone, a friend's computer, or some form of mobile device that weighs and costs very little. The advantage is the ability to protect your personal data. Last year, countless laptops were stolen and a long with them personal data was taken. Also, a lot of laptops were dropped, and the data on them was lost forever. With mobile VDI, my personal data would be hosted in a safe location. I would just access it remotely. If the device I access it from gets damaged or stolen, no data is lost.

The challenge for users like myself is that we travel a lot do not always have a network connection readily available to them. With my job, I am at my desk a very small percentage of my day. I am usually out the door by 7:30 AM driving to almost any where in the San Francisco Bay Area or the Sacramento Metropolitan area. In between meetings I can usually be found in either a coffee shop or a customer parking lot waiting for my next meeting. Just to put some perspective around this, I put almost 40,000 miles on my car every year. A large percentage of the email I send and receive is on my Blackberry. When I do turn on my laptop, I need to be able to access the data and applications that are on it immediately, regardless if I have a network connection or not.

So, in the spirit of Morgan Spurlock's documentary "Super Size Me" and his TV series "30 Days", I've decided to take my own "30 Day" challenge. That challenge is to run without a "traditional" laptop for 30 days.

Starting June 1st, I'm going to shutdown my Lenovo T500, and power on a Wyse X90 Thin Client laptop. Having a Thin Client laptop is going to limit the amount of data and applications that I have available to me. The X90 has only 512MB of disk space in total, and less than 300MB is available for me to use. Only essential applications can be installed on it like VPN clients or cellular modem apps. I'm going to need to look for ways to be able to do my job without going back to my traditional laptop.

So what are the rules?

  1. I cannot use a traditional laptop or desktop for my day to day personal and business use. I need to figure out how to make the Thin Client work for me.
  2. Any application that I can run on the Thin Client is fair game. I'll need this for VPN access or to use my Blackberry as a modem.
  3. I can connect to any remote computer or virtual machine I need to.
  4. My data must reside at a "fixed" location. I cannot carry all of my data with me. I can however carry some of my data if I know I am not going to have network access in certain locations (customer presentations, etc...)
  5. I cannot start using the Thin Client laptop until June 1st. I can charge the battery, but no powering it on until June 1.
  6. I must blog 5 days a week. This can either be from the Thin Client itself, or from my Blackberry. (I set up mobile blogging so that I can post comments whenever I can.)
Over the next few days until June 1, I'm going to post information about my current laptop setup, the specifications of the X90, and my thoughts about the challenges I am going to face.

In the meantime, to learn more about what VDI is, you can go to:

http://www.kovarus.com/virtualization/desktop_virtualization/