Tweed is our new iPad app that gives you a great way to short-list and read articles posted to Twitter by people you follow or from Tweed’s list of Suggested Reads. It’s like an RSS Feed Reader, but with Twitter as the source of what to read. Using Twitter as the feed gives the user a richer reading experience by incorporating not just content published by people they follow, but also the links those people recommend or re-tweet. Even if the user doesn’t have a Twitter account, Tweed gives them access to curated feeds across a range of news and opinion topics.
With Tweed you can scroll through a list of links, tap or flick an article on to your short-list and the page begins loading as you continue to look for interesting things to read. When you’re ready, tap on the page in the short-list and it springs up to read in your choice of full-content or text-only viewing modes. You can read it now, or later through the built-in Saved for Later feature or using Instapaper. You’ll never forget an article again with Tweed’s history of all links that were short-listed, read or saved for later. And if you run out of things to read, there’s our list of Suggested Reads with the ability to follow new people you discover through Tweed.
Tweed is available now on the App Store and is currently on sale at just $2.99USD (normally $4.99USD).
We’re half way through March and so far:
- The new Lithium for iOS app has been launched.
- Lithium 5.0.12 has been released with bug fixes and iOS app compatibility
- Xsnmp is out of beta and has had it’s first production and bug-fix release
- We launched Instavie.ws, a location-based Instagram photo viewing site
- James has posted an essay on the Post Peripheral Control elements of the iPad Post-PC Era
TL;DR Version: IT requirements are rapidly changing, especially in the Mac IT space. I don’t think the IT Department is going away. IT professionals do need to embrace the shift from being the only people who can configure something to being the people who are the best at knowing what to use and how to integrate it. Mac IT people need to realized the next big thing in IT alone is not going to come from Apple.
I agree that the traditional role of the IT department is changing and some strongholds such as desktop support is becoming obsolete. The driving forces are cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service applications and the low cost ubiquity of notebooks and tablets. I doubt though that this amounts to the end of the “IT Department”, in house or contracted out. That doesn’t gel with the cyclical nature of technology use in business nor does it account for the growing need for organizations of all types to leverage technology as a differentiating factor.
Round and round we have gone with centralized and decentralization, outsource, insource and crowdsource. Hosted, data centres, ons-ite, shared and dedicated servers. All have seen ebs and flows in popularity and most have had resurgences and reinvention rather than terminal acquiescence. Computers are becoming easier to use, Mac or Windows, iOS or android, it is absolutely easier to use, integrate and collaborate using these off the shelf without the need for an opaque nerd quorum that you think of as the “IT department”. No doubt this will continue to a point where as DHH envisions there will be no need for a dedicated IT department to provide the same services you enjoy today: email, calendars, file servers, help desk system, collaboration tools, etc, etc.
That’s progress and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Today there is a dedicated IT department because out of the box your Windows machine aint that useful or safe, and the application you use to do your job is a product bought by your employer that is hosted locally and the setup and maintenance of it is understood by few. The prevalence of Macs and iOS devices in the work place, ready-to-go software as a service applications and incremental improvements in usability on all platforms means we can rely less on this IT Department and do it ourselves whether we are part of a small, medium or large company or starting out as a new business. What is difficult today should be easy tomorrow; otherwise we are doing it wrong.
Now imagine if we dismissed our IT Department or consultants completely on the heels of easy to use computers and ready to roll hosted apps. What becomes of technology as a competitive advantage when we are all using the same handful of readily available SaaS tools on our out of the box Mac or PC. I use a bunch of these today to give my business the edge, but that edge blunts to a liability when its what everyone else is doing. This is where the notion that there is an End to the IT Department comes unstuck.
All businesses and competitive organizations need to leverage technology to distinguish their offering and make it more appealing; better, cheaper, faster, stronger. Without an IT department, you hand this advantage over to service providers and hope for the best. That what is best for the outsource company is also best for you — and all the other customers of the same service. For some businesses this will be fine and the reduced overhead quite welcome. I wager though that enough businesses will want to differentiate their offerings using the latest technologies in creative and unorthodox ways that will keep the notion of an IT department or consultancy alive and well.
There is however some writing on the wall. Three years ago I took a full time job with a telco. I was the weird uber nerd because I brought with me my own MacBook Pro and iPhone to a Redmond-blooded Windows and Blackberry shop. I never had a company notebook or phone and subsequently only saw the IT department when my Windows domain password expired before I could change it. When I left this job a month ago, employee-owned iPhones were common and a handful had got themselves a Mac that they used at work. What was the height of geekiness was becoming more common. And the question shifted from “why do you bring your own computer?” to “what Mac should I get?” and “is now a good time to buy an iPhone/iPad?”
Back to that writing on the wall. It’s been there for a while. You’ve walked past it countless times. In fact, it’s done a better job of staring you down than you have at heeding it’s warning. The IT game is changing in many ways and some of the biggest changes are happening in the Apple business, enterprise and education space. Mac Admins now more than ever really need to stop, take note of the messages that Apple is sending you and make sure you adjust, stay relevant and stay employed. Likewise for companies that provide products and services to IT departments, as my company does, there has never been more of a need to adapt to changes in the needs of your customers. The GFC didn’t scare me nearly as much as the cancellation of the Xserve did.
But it’s not all doom and gloom: No one will miss desktop support, right?
Complex, dedicated server infrastructure is going to become less common. Desktop support will become a distant memory. Your employer or customers will rely on you less to assemble boxes that allow them to get their job done. All this is going to come ready to go, out of the box or available in a cloud using an app downloaded in one click from a store. So, IT Professionals, you must evolve and roll with this to retain your place as the awesome go-to guy. It’s becoming easier for your customers to do things for themselves, but you’ll always be able to help them do it better. Embrace the change from being the only guy who can setup a service and become the best at integrating the right apps and services into the customers workflow on the platforms that best suit their needs.
For Mac IT people this is particularly true and the changes are upon us now. I am one of you. My livelihood is currently wholly dependent on customers who use Apple products in an IT environment. But the next big thing, in the strict IT sense, won’t come from Apple. The cancellation of the Xserve redefined where Mac OS X Server fit into the market. Today Apple has announced that not only is Mac OS X Server going to be free, it’s part of the Mac OS X 10.7 operating system itself. What used to be an ordered ecosystem of users, you and the servers is now users, the server/services and you. That change in that order is significant, know your place.
Apple’s retreat or recapitulation in the IT and server space is, in the immediate term, more about getting out of an inconvenient area than meeting the market’s requirements. Undoubtedly they are, as always, skating to where the puck is going. But a world where Mac OS X Server alone is enough for business is a long, long skate away. The need for servers and network infrastructure will be around for a while yet but it will get increasingly simpler and consist of less physical devices. However, an organization’s need for something more, the next big thing and the competitive edge is infinite. That’s what will keep us IT professionals in a job for a long time to come — as long as we don’t put our heads in the sand.
It’s been a very busy start to 2011 with the new Lithium iOS app nearly ready for submission to the app store, updates to Lithium 5.0, preparing to distribute Lithium Core as a Linux-based VM Appliance and progressing Xsnmp from beta to production.
We have posted the Lithium Roadmap for 2011 online. It details what we have planned for this year for both Lithium 5.0 and introduces our most ambitious project yet: Lithium 6.
Xsnmp is progressing well with thorough beta testing and addition of RAID card monitoring via SNMP.
And finally, there’s a few bits and pieces on Scotch and Code.
At 6AM PST, Active Storage is set to make a big announcement that they’ve billed as “When One Door Closes, Another Opens“. Active Storage is known for their excellent RAID Enclosures that, in competition with the Promise VTrak units are the successors of another of Apple’s hardware cancellations — the Xserve RAID.
With the Apple Xserve cancellation announced on November 5th 2010, effective as of January 31st, the timing of this announcement let alone the form factor of the silouette on activestorage.com points to some sort of Xserve replacement.
Here’s what I think it is:
I think we’re looking at a linux based box running Quantum’s StorNext — a box that you can drop in as a replacement for your Xsan MDC with minimal change to your Xsan clients and underlying storage arrays and fibre channel switches.
Active Storage is a storage company who have found an excellent niche in the Apple space with a high-performance Xsan compatible RAID enclosure. They were, in essence born out of the need for a drop-in replacement for the Xserve RAID. With the Xserve gone, it makes sense that they would feel the need to fill that void too. Otherwise as customers look to StorNext as an Xsan alternative they may look at other storage vendors too.
Offering an off-the-shelf, ready-to-roll Xsan MDC replacement, running on Linux and StorNext would be a very sound strategic move to not only keep their existing customers but vertically extend their presence in the customers SAN without the need for major change in the customers existing SAN environment. It also neatly ensures that Active Storage is a storage vendor that’s not just tied to Xsan — a product that may or may not have a long future ahead of it.
On Xserve Replacements…
Will the box be a complete “Xserve replacement” complete with some sort of native or virtualized Mac OS X Server? I don’t think so. As per my previous posts on Mac OS X Server, I do not think we’re going to see a change in Apple’s licensing stance. They want Mac OS X Server clearly and neatly defined as being suitable for the scale of use that would suit a Mac Mini.
Perhaps though it will offer some like-for-like server functionality. After all, the majority of the services provided by Mac OS X Server leverage freely available, open source projects that are widely used in Linux and other UNIX operating systems.
Taking it further…
Here’s one intriguing possibility… It would be possible to reverse engineer the servermgrd protocol to allow a third-party server to be configured using Server Admin.app just like a Mac OS X Server host, even if that third party server wasn’t using Mac OS X Server. We’ve done extensive work in reverse engineering servermgrd, and I can see how this would be possible.
The third-party server, running Linux for example, would simply need to present a servermgrd-like interface that Server Admin.app could connect to. The host would need to accept the configuration commands from Server Admin.app and translate that into config for the services running on the Linux box such as Bind for DNS, Postfix for SMTP, Dovecot for IMAP, Apache for HTTP/Web, etc.
As long as the third-party server presented configuration and state information in the format that Server Admin.app expects, and accepted the commands that Server Admin.app executes then the third-party server would look and feel just like a Mac OS X host through Server Admin.app.
The longevity of this solution would be predicated on two things: firstly how well Apple took to the vendor reverse engineering their servermgrd protocol and interface, and secondly the life of Mac OS X Server itself. If Mac OS X Server is retired, then there’ll be no need for Server Admin.app and the effort that’s gone into making the third-party implementation of servermgrd would be wasted. However, Mac OS X Server seems here to stay at least for the moment with the Mac Mini server form-factor.
Live Call-In 6AM PST…
Active Storage will be holding a live announcement call at 6AM PST, 31st January to unveil this new box. Call-in details can be found on the Active Storage site.
There’s an open letter to Apple written by Dave Schroeder of UW-Madison, posted here that asks Apple to consider allowing Mac OS X Server to be virtualized on non-Apple hardware. It’s a very thoughtful letter, with good intention and it’s certainly an understandable reaction to the cancellation of the Xserve this week.
I do not think Apple will change the licensing for Mac OS X Server to allow it to be virtualized on non-Apple hardware. The only slightly conceivable way I could see this happening would be if one specific virtualization platform was chosen as the permitted host.
Removing the Xserve as a platform for Mac OS X Server will dramatically reduce the resources Apple needs to support Mac OS X Server. Allowing anyone capable of creating a suitable Mac-like virutalization to run Mac OS X Server with an expectation of vendor support would put a huge strain on the Mac OS X Server support teams in Apple. There’s a quote in the open letter from Dave Schroeder which I disagree with, and it goes to the heart of why I don’t think Apple with change their licensing policy on virtualization:
It will require Apple to support the virtual hardware that is presented by the virtualization layer. No matter how good your virtualization system is, it’s still virtual and more to the point the underlying physical hardware ain’t going to be from Apple. That introduces a huge number of variables that are outside Apple’s control. Add variables that Apple can’t control to almost any hypothetical “I wonder if Apple will” question and the probability immediately shifts well into the improbable.
That is, of course, unless one virtualization platform is selected or licensed to be the only platform on which Mac OS X Server can be virtualized on outside of Apple hardware. In my view there’d be two key front-runners in that race; VMware and Parallels. VMware is ahead with it’s data-centre grade offerings but I think Parallels knows the Mac market better. Neither would be a clear choice, but more importantly the selection of one over the other would have a serious impact on the others desktop virtualization offerings. That would most certainly not be in Apple’s interest given that being able to run Windows on a Mac in a virtual machine is a huge selling point for the Mac. The desktop virtualizaton experience has come a long way thanks to the competition between Parallels, VMware and others.
Returning to the theme of the Xserve cancellation redefining Mac OS X Server as suitable for small and medium deployment only; allowing virtualization blurs this otherwise clear-cut place in the market that has been carved out with the cancellation of the Xserve. At first, the drop in cost of Mac OS X Server when 10.6 was released looked like a great cost saving for customers. Now I think it’s clear that it was a correction of the products value in line with where Apple wants to position it in the market.
I do empathize with Dave Schroeder’s view that in the immediate term his users will suffer because UW-Madison’s learning initiatives are, or were, dependent on the Xserve being a viable platform. I don’t see the solution being to virtualize Mac OS X Server on non-Apple hardware. Instead I hope that third-party software developers or Apple themselves will deliver innovative software solutions that will remove the want for the Xserve before it becomes a serious problem for the users. The Xserve’s cancellation has opened up a wonderful opportunity for developers to listen to what made the Xserve a necessity for a user and to develop a solution that provide the same functionality to the user but without the need for an Xserve.
Apple has announced that the Xserve hardware platform will be discontinued and no longer available for sale after January 31, 2011.
The message I’m taking out of this is “Mac OS X Server does not belong in high-power, high-density 1RU server installations. If your needs require that scale of computing, storage and form factor then look elsewhere.” The cancellation of the Xserve has re-defined Mac OS X Server’s place in the market.
The complimentary message to this is, “Mac OS X Server is great for the small and medium business/educational market who want a Mail, File, Calendar, etc server and here’s two options for deploying it — Small and Medium”.
There’s a reason that you often hear the terms “Small” and “Medium” combined to describe a single category of users or organization. They have similar needs, just on a different scale. When you move into the Large or Enterprise scale of user then typically the needs themselves change much more than just the scale of the solution.
The growing uncertainty about the future of the Mac and Mac OS X hasn’t concerned me much until now. For those not familiar with me, I’m James Wilson and I wrote Lithium, the Network, Server and Storage application suite for Mac OS X and iOS. Losing the only high-end server platform that the back-end of our flag-ship application runs on is a big deal to me. Like it or not though, it’s happened and there are definitely consequences for many different people and organizations.
I’ve seen many people complain that rack density needed to replace their existing Xserve deployment with like-for-like Mac Pro’s would necessitate a big increase in floor or rack space. Though that’s an interesting exercise in finding fault with the decision, I am not aware of anyone who is intending to replace all their Xserves with Mac Pros off the back of this announcement.
The form-factor argument misses the point of the cancellation. If your needs would have required you to buy an Xserve, then Apple no longer has a suitable product for you. If your requirements mean you need a 1RU, high-performance, truly server-grade device then you need to look elsewhere.
Similarly I’ve heard the opining that the Xserve is the first to go, then Xsan, then Mac OS X Server altogether (and the more paranoid amongst them believe the whole Mac platform is next). I don’t think that’s the case, at least not in the short term. The recent announcement of partnering with Unisys for enterprise support of Macs; the huge improvements made in Mac OS X Server from 10.5 to 10.6; the creation of a ‘Server’ style form-factor for the Mac Mini; etc, etc. All these things tell me that Apple does see a place in the market for a server solution built on Mac OS X.
Here’s what we know: Apple cancelled an unsuccessful product that was not selling well.
Here’s what I believe: Apple cancelled a product that was not fit for purpose in light of where they want to position Mac OS X Server.
That the Xserve was not selling well can be proven on paper. The reasons why it was not selling well are subject to conjecture. Some say because Apple didn’t market it well, didn’t push it through their sales channels, etc. The implication being that Apple could have made the Xserve a successful product if they wanted to. In fact I believe that this is true. It’s a great machine. Beautifully designed, powerful, flexible and a solid contender in it’s market with an incredible advantage over the competitors — it can run Mac OS X and they can’t! But if the discontinuation of the Xserve RAID didn’t tell you that Apple wasn’t interested in the data-centre, then surely this spells it out for you.
I put forward that the waining sales and eventually cancellation has nothing to do with malaise or a sales force that wasn’t capable of selling the product. To me, the cancellation of the Xserve is about defining where Mac OS X Server fits in the market. It’s not about cancelling an unsuccessful model just because it wasn’t selling well; rather it’s about removing a deployment option for Mac OS X Server that did not suit Apple.
I am confident that Mac OS X Server does have a future — but only in a small and medium variety. That said though, I’m not sure that Mac OS X Server has as long term or certain a future as the iPhone or iPad. I think we will continue to see the development of a Mac OS X Server operating system, but only until the point where Apple changes the way in which we use our Macs, iPhones and iPad such that we no longer have a need for a server.
Why then has Apple sought to re-define the purpose of Mac OS X Server and in essence limit the scale on which it can be used? Because creating and maintaining a Server OS and hardware platform that enters into the realm of high-density, large-scale data centre deployments is clearly not Apple’s thing.
Personally I believe that a lot of what goes into making a brilliant server platform, storage appliance or other data-centre-centric device is somewhat counter to Apple’s modus operandi. These boxes need to be rock solid, refined to the nth-degree over constant iteration not reinvention — aesthetics are of minor concern. To this end, consider taking the amount of time and money Apple invested in designing the aesthetics of the Xserve and put it into designing a machine of similar specifications without the aesthetics. I would argue that there is a high chance you will end up with a product that is more suitable for the data centre in terms of reliability, performance and price.
For the end-user of the Xserve, there’s a need to re-assess your needs. If you can achieve the same with Mac OS X Server on a Mac Pro or a Mac Mini then there’s the viable alternative. If not, then you’re going to need to ask some bigger questions that is most likely going to involve a change in operating system. Either way, I doubt you’re going to change your desktop, notebook, phone or table device of choice — right? Exactly.
Now for me as a software developer, the cancellation of the Xserve has a different implication. It has placed quite a significant cap on the high-end deployment possibilities for one of my applications in particular — Lithium. Without the Xserve, we’re left without a viable data-centre friendly option for our customers. This is not something we can or will ignore. We are now working on revising our roadmap for Lithium in light of the Xserve cancellation and my interpretation of what is means for Mac OS X Server as a host operating system for applications.