Monday, November 10, 2014

How to treat people who pay you

I like Google Apps; in principle and execution, it gets the basics right - well. But there are four simple questions I’d love a human being to answer, and good luck trying to get any human being at Google to read your mail.



(HINT Googlers’ : the reason you suck in selling to Enterprise isn’t because your products are technically bad, its because you can’t get hold of a human being because you make it too damn difficult to do so in spite of the fact that I’m goddamn paying you more than a bunch of douchey teenagers creating burner GMail accounts. And when I do eventually get through your convoluted PIN-based process to speak to a human, the line quality is so bad because you’ve outsourced it to some BPO with shitty VoIP that I simply give up)



Those four questions are;

  1. Why don’t you offer a managed DNS service to Apps customers, in spite of the fact that you have Google DNS product which is only available via a python API ? Holy <insert favorite religious incantation here> guys, come on - you’re not going to appeal to any SME / SMB if you don’t offer DNS hosting easily
  2. Why when I’m able to migrate my Google+ profile from my private GMail account to my Apps account, can I not also migrate my custom URL ? Because holy salty balls (to misquote South Park), you can’t have your desired custom URL because hey, guess what, your old profile has it. Also, thanks for making it REAL easy to migrate, and thanks SO much for making the instructions so easy and intuitive. Here’s the goddamn link, because its not easy to find.
  3. Why when you’re adding such cool and usable features to Google+ like Stories do you exclude paying Apps customers from sharing the content from their Drive folders ? Great way to ramp up adoption to the Apps-based environment if the free one has more features. Wait a minute, have you become brain dead and hired some Microsoft or Oracle people because you think they understand the Enterprise business ? Thats like getting the Catholic Church (Congrats to the new Pope BTW; he seems seriously awesome) to branch out into day care centers. Microsoft and Oracle people are the only people on this earth who would be able to charge you for an inferior product when the free one has more features and is, oh wait for it, free ?
  4. You launch cool products and services that, wait for it, aren’t usable by your paying customers. What a great way to garner support.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My journey to the public cloud

In spite of having architected, built and managed some of the largest public cloud infrastructures in Africa, I have until very recently run a private cloud exposed to the Internet for my personal needs.


I have two FreeBSD-based servers (one in South Africa, one in Germany), which for at least 10 years ran a very consistent configuration;

I kept my personal data in Dropbox since its inception, and about 18 months ago moved to Google Drive because of the more compelling pricing model, the pay-per-month option and the ability to search my data. I use a combination of Crashplan to keep a redundant copy in the cloud, and BitTorrent Sync to keep local files available (certain hosts are primary of certain data sets). LogMeIn Pro does a good job of allowing me to remotely manage several computer hosts. I kept my phone contacts in the corporate Exchange cluster, because in spite of all the terrible software they write, Microsoft has done a damn good job of licensing ActiveSync and making it fail-proof,  idiot proof and the de facto standard on every mobile platform out there.
This configuration served my data and personal needs, several vanity domains and similar for several friends and family members for over a decade. The only aspect that changed was upgrades for security purposes and a move from US-based hosting to Germany-based hosting (for cost and privacy reasons).

These servers acted as primary and secondary name servers, primary and backup MX and geo-distributed you to the closest web server for my family photo collection. And until about 6 months ago, I played down the progress in public cloud offerings and was confident in my own abilities as an ex-sysadmin.


Then Heartbleed hit. And then my FreeBSD version was EOL’d. And I had hardware failures, which caused me to stay awake at night, away from my family and friends and ruined an otherwise decent overseas trip. And while the lure of 18 degrees in a data centre used to thrill me, it no longer does. As does the reputation-damaging spectre of being hacked.


I decided to change all of this.


Over a 3 week period, while I’ve kept the Crashplan / Google Drive / BitTorrent Sync configuration to keep my “personal” computing requirements sane, I’ve migrated this configuration to;


Along the way, I tried a mail migration tool called (from Shuttlecloud), that did a great job on small mailboxes, but failed miserably on large ones (2-10 GB). And, they sneakily move you from a direct billing relationship with Google to a reseller model where they bill you and get commission from your business - not cool. I ended up using a mail migration tool called Yippiemove, that while expensive, certainly did end up moving users’ data.


I now have my phone contacts in Google Contacts, and am using a tool called Scrubly to clean it up, populating LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter data into the contact stream and profile photos. iOS and Android devices use Google Sync (which is licensed ActiveSync) to replicate contact data, Google Drive is my data repo and I’ll be able to shut down my servers from active use by the end of the month.


In this scenario, on-boarding a new compute platform, tablet, phone or similar is a 2 minute exercise - and I have access to all my data.


Yes, this is costing me some money - but nowhere near the hosting costs I would have incurred if I wasn’t working for an ISP. You’re looking at $5 per user month for Google Apps, $30 annually for hosting 10 DNS zones, $60 annually for Zenfolio, $30 annually for the contact cleanup utility and I’m springing an additional $10 per month for 1Tb of storage. Crashplan is about $6 per month for unlimited storage and backup of 10 computers.


Ultimately, the headache of keeping these systems in sync / up to date and secure is now not my problem. For me, that’s money well spent.


PS. The biggest headache was merging my and my users’ Google accounts (Plus, Voice, Drive, Chrome Sync, etc) from being unmanaged consumer-level Google accounts to managed Google Apps accounts. This migration is still too damn hard.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

iPhone 6+ - and iOS 8.x

Living with the iphone 6 plus

Yes. I bought one. Yes, you look like a tool using it. And yes, its big. And yes, it does’t fit nicely in your pocket.


But wow, is that screen awesome to work with. Its ungainly big. But that screen is awesome. Did I mention its so big ? What isn’t obvious (or what someone with any degree of honesty will tell you) is that the silly thing is easy to drop. Its so large, and the edges so rounded, that it can (literally) just slide out of your hand. Which I suspect is more than slightly intentional, because how else do you force people to upgrade quickly.


I have seen all the #bendgate comments; if you’re going to take an $850 phone and try and bend it, you’re an idiot who deserves a bent phone. And who puts a phone in their back pocket, sits on it and still expects it to be straight ? Grow up people.  


I did have this funny orientation bug happen to me, but I suspect thats rather due to the rubbish QA that obviously went into iOS 8.


Its big. And as someone pointed out, awesome when you’re using it. But painful when you’re not. Below is the 5, 6 and 6+. Go big or go home.

Iphone5 630


PS. The best feature of this phone is the amazing battery life! I get about 2 full days worth - very impressive.

Q4 2014 review - reality

I had mentioned previously that I was quite excited about the new technology we were going to see in Q4 2014. While we’re not through Q4, enough has happened that its worth summarising things thus far.


  • The successors to the Moto X and G were released; other than bigger screens, very little else has changed. Understandable, but slightly underwhelming. The Moto360 broke out too, and its distinguishing feature is that its round, and needs to be charged every evening. Hmmm. Again, underwhelming. Am I the only one who doesn’t really get this smart watch category ?
  • The Nexus 6, which looks like its being made by Motorola, hasn’t broken cover yet - but its tipped to be even bigger. Yikes!
  • The new iPad’s haven’t broken ground, but the iPhone 6’s have, and all the rumours were basically correct. Bravo to Apple on the Apple Watch, rumours of which have been floating but no leaks until release date, which is very impressive. Not as impressive as the watch itself, IMHO. I don’t see the point. It will be the best of a pointless category.
  • We had the iOS 8 reboot; and boy oh boy, are we still rebooting. It feels like a series of Microsoft Windows updates. Unreliable, buggy and borked several peoples devices (at least, 8.0.1 did)
  • We’re still waiting for Intel to hurry up and release those Broadwell chips. Come on guys, lets hustle a bit. The buzz around the 14nm production process had better yield some damn good results in terms of battery life.


Overall, thoroughly underwhelming.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Q4 2014

The last quarter of 2014 (which we’re effectively heading into now) should be interesting from a technology perspective! Its weird, but you get the sense that manufacturers keep all their thunder for Q3/Q4 in order to capitalise on the Thanksgiving/December rush. I would have expected them to shift it earlier to let the market settle and allow smart buyers to plan (these things cumulatively are not cheap after all). But living in the US, I can now see that most of it is catering to the impulsive (and generally misinformed public), and no human impulse is quite so strong as the good feeling you get from perceived savings from a sale - even if its completely artificial. I am expecting to see;

  • a follow up to the Moto X and Moto G, both really solid handsets which seem to indicate to me, along with the Moto360 smart watch at least, that Motorola’s mobility division got its groove back (before Google decided to flog them off to Lenovo - lets hope this wasn’t a few hit wonder rush). I doubt I’ll order either (simply because there is nothing wrong with the ones I have), but if you’re looking for a solid Android device, these are pretty awesome; well priced, decent specs and solid build quality! Also relatively unmolested from the manufacturer
  • a Nexus 6 running the rebooted Android L. Loads of rumours, no facts. So not going to speculate
  • the iPad Air 2, the iPad Mini with Retina 2 and two versions of the iPhone. Again, too many rumours so not going to speculate. To be honest, Apple’s announcements have become pretty stale in this arena and frankly uninspiring. I’m not expecting this to change with this slew; faster, more RAM (maybe) and bigger. Not inspiring
  • an Apple Watch - for such a giant in the personal consumer electronics space to not have a wearable is insane; these rumours have been running for more than a year now, and given that all of their rivals have launched, the Cupertino behemoth would be insane to not deliver something to the market - but its going to have to be rather special for me to consider it (thats not to say it won’t sell millions; it will even if its garbage, because it’ll be the “best garbage you’ve ever seen”)
  • reboots of the OS X and iOS for computing and mobile devices respectively
  • Mass production of Broadwell-based Intel processors. Its time for a new notebook for me (run through the 3 year cycle), and its requiring all of my restraint to wait for the new processor architecture to hit Apple’s devices. Broadwell-based Retina 13” Pro, here we come. While I like the profile of an Air, it just simply does’t have the juice I would like, even though it only gets booted up when not at the office - and with the new architecture, it should comfortably whip the Air for battery life compared to what I’m using now
So overall, an exciting time!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Using Republic Wireless


I love the theory of using WiFi as a de facto bearer for voice telephony, with seamless integration and handover to a macro network. The promise of a voice telephony service that utilises WiFi locally, and cellular as a macro network service, is appealing; combined with seamless handover between the mediums and it sounds utopian. Costs should be lower, but more importantly, call quality and reliability should be higher; the carrier could offer SLA’s on calls made on a WiFi bearer, introduce features like HD voice and network core call recording relatively easily and make use of the ever increasing pool of latent capacity on networks, broadband or otherwise.


These sound like enterprise features. It sounds like this category is begging to be made. But until someone steps up to the challenge, we have to work with what is in-market right now; that is consumer-grade, and appeals to cost as the primary driver. And that is where Republic Wireless plays.


Its been hard to separate the three interwoven threads of the service; there is the Sprint-provided cellular service, the Moto G handset and the Republic Wireless MVNO service. Lets try though.


Moto G - This is an awesome device for its price point. The hardware is not the most top end, and it noticeably struggles if you push it even vaguely. The battery life is pretty decent (looks like I could get almost two days out of it), the screen is pretty good quality and overall it feels great in the hand. Other than those points, its a relatively new version of Android (4.4.2), and you can make it look, feel and behave exactly as you see fit.


Republic Wireless MVNO - The service experience of using Republic has been pretty awesome. I haven’t once resorted to phoning (good thing, because there is no number to phone), and the entire order and fulfilment process was carried out seamlessly, efficiently and electronically, including porting in a phone number from another carrier. I was kept constantly informed as per the order progress and status, as well as delivery. The user portal is mostly functional (giving you a list of in/out calls, and a bearer breakdown), but could do with some more functionality (like setting your forwards, being able to playback your voicemail, etc). It works though. I changed service plans from WiFi-only to WiFi and cellular in a matter of minutes through their pre-loaded application, a process that normally would require a phone call and three forms. Handover between WiFi and cellular is actually pretty good, and kudos to Republic for not loading the phone with tons of bloat. Its almost completely untouched.


Sprint - This is the least tested part of my experience thus far with Republic; but its also most evidently the annoying part. When on cellular, call setup times are long, call quality is not great, and successful call setup is average to poor. When using the phone this weekend, 2 out of 3 call setups in a mall failed. When the same recipient was called from another cellular service (AT&T) the call setup time was near instant (and they’re not on the same network) and all were successfully terminated / answered. I cannot comment on coverage, as I haven’t left San Francisco with it yet. Its not fair to comment on the data side of the service, as I chose the 3G service and not the fancy 4G service (rant : why do US carriers neglect or not bother with their 3G services and instead go full tilt with LTE deployment). Its also entirely possible that Republic chose a choked cellular data service to keep the price low. I therefore cannot comment on the data side.


From a costing perspective, this is available for easily half of T-Mobile’s rates, which themselves are, at minimum, 30% cheaper than “mainstream” options (AT&T and Verizon). If I was a consumer, and wanted cellular service, this would be a pretty easy de facto choice; save easily $50 per month, and support an exciting challenger (although it looks like the area is starting to hop up; check out FreedomPop). As a relatively heavy business user however, this doesn’t work as my primary option. Its let down by Sprint’s network. Pity.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Republic Wireless

IMG 2240

I had all but forgotten about Republic Wireless, until upcoming travel plans made me realise that I needed to be able to reliably make WiFi calls. So I hopped onto their web site and ordered their entry level phone, a Motorola G. Guess what arrived today :-)


More comments about the experience, service and device next week. Now its the fun of setting up a new Android device.

IMG 2241

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Transporter Sync, Crashplan and BitTorrent Sync


My father told be about Transporter, a product made by an ex-Drobo staffer that created your own private cloud for file storage. I was excited about a new addition to their portfolio, the Transporter Sync. In essence, data stored on one device would be replicated, without intervention, to the other device.


The Sync allowed you to provide your own storage; I thought I’d be clever and install my own storage into it, and have it replicated across the Internet. This is a problem I face to keep my home video editing, photo and music library safe and secure. 


Problem 1; the Sync forces you to format the storage to its own format. Not a huge problem, but still a pain.

Problem 2; the Sync used to force you to have local copies on both sides. You had to replicate the content, you couldn’t use it as a remote access device. This feature has been added in a new software release  


I however returned my units. Why ? On the same LAN, plugged into literally the same switch, the devices couldn’t see each other. Major, major problem. The company was kind enough to refund my money, but couldn’t figure out why the devices wouldn’t see each other. Also, because of the badly designed software, I managed (accidentally) to delete all my content without warning. Major fail :-(


I thankfully have a Crashplan account, and once I saw how long it would take to restore 1TB of data over the Internet, used their Restore to door service. In short, they courier you a drive, you restore, you send the drive back. Takes a while, but better than downloading it all online.


I was annoyed until I, by accident, discovered BitTorrent Sync. It did not require a dedicated device, but was software installed on your computer (multi-platform) which would replicate ala Veritas File System that system admin’s would be familiar with. There is a nifty on-boarding of mobile devices (using QR codes), and the solution was up and running within minutes. Highly recommended, especially because of the price - free!