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Hats and Homes..

As Chad breaks his principles to pimp his product and go negative on the other guy here; he hits on something interesting, well I think it’s interesting. It’s how a product becomes a feature; in this case ‘sync n’ share’ functionality.

We’ve seen products become features before; deduplication has moved from being a product to becoming a feature of most storage arrays. And I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see it beginning to appear in consumer storage devices either.

But ‘Sync n’ Share’ is of a whole different order; the valuations of some the companies is quite scary and Chad is probably right about the general unrealism of them. The ‘Sync n’ Share’ companies are vulnerable to attack via a number of vectors; this is not a criticism of the products…Dropbox for example is a great product on many levels; it has great functionality but maybe some questions about security and privacy.

However its ease of use and access means that it has been embraced by both the consumer and the business user (Yes, I know they are consumers); this has scared the crap out of the IT department who find it very hard to compete with ‘free’…you try and build a business case which competes with free; you can talk till you are tired about security concerns.

Few want to pay for it, certainly at scale; it starts to amount to a frightening figure. [Hmmm, business cases and responsibility for presenting them; that’s a whole different blog.] So what happens; the end-users, even if banned by security policies, will continue to use the services. The services are just too damn useful.

And as mobile/BYOD/desktop/laptop/home-working proliferates; they become necessary. People’s home directories are migrating to these services. Work on a document on your desktop, present it on your tablet…without having to transfer it; this workflow simply works.

What we are going to see is vendors of operating systems and storage systems start to build this functionality into their products as a feature. If you are a NAS vendor; you are going to provide an app that allows the user to access their home directories from their mobile device or the web etc…If you are Microsoft or Apple; you are going build this into the operating system. If you are sensible, you are not going to charge a huge amount to provide this functionality; those business cases become a lot simpler, especially if you are simply layering on top of existing home directories and shares.

And what was once a now simply a feature.

Those valuations are going to plummet; I don’t think that application integration and APIs will save them. If I were Dropbox or Box…I’d be looking to sell myself off to a vendor who wants the feature. 

Comparisons with the fate of Netscape might well be made…


IT’s choking the life out of me.

I’ve been fairly used to the idea that my PC at home is substantially better than my work one; this has certainly been the case for me for more than a decade. I’m a geek and I spend more than most on my personal technology environment.

However, it is no longer just my home PC; I’ve got better software tools and back-end systems; my home workflow is so much better than my work workflow; it’s not even close. And the integration with my mobile devices, it’s a completely different league altogether. I can edit documents on my iPad, my MBA, my desktop, even my phone and they’ll all sync up and be in the same place for me. My email is a common experience across all devices. My media; it’s just there.

With the only real exception of games; it doesn’t matter which device I’m using to do stuff.

And what is more; it’s not just me; my daughter has the same for her stuff as does my wife. We’ve not had to do anything clever, there’s no clever scripting involved, we just use consumer-level stuff.

Yet our working experience is so much poorer; if my wife wants to work on her stuff for her job, she’s either got to email it to herself or use ‘GoToMyPC’ provided by her employer.

Let’s be honest, for most of us now…our work environment is quite frankly rubbish. It has fallen so far behind consumer IT, it’s sad.

It’s no longer the technology enthusiast who generally has a better environment…it’s almost everyone who has access to IT. And not only that, we pay a lot less for it than the average business.

Our suppliers hide behind a cloak of complexity; I’m beginning to wonder if IT as it is traditionally understood by business is no longer an enabler, it’s just a choke-point.

And yes there are many excuses as to why this is the case; go ahead…make them! I’ve made them myself but I don’t really believe them any more…do you?

Keep On Syncing…Safely..

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the activities of the various Western security organisations have been both neither a surprise and yet also an a wake-up call to how the landscape of our own personal data security has changed. Multiple devices and increased mobility have meant that we have looked for ways to ensure that we have access to our data where-ever and when-ever;  gone are the days when even the average household has a single computing device and it is also increasingly uncommon to find an homogeneous household in the terms of manufacturer or operating-system. It is now fairly common to find Windows, OSX, Android, iOS and even Linux devices all within a single house; throw in digital cameras and smart-TVs, it is no wonder that we have a situation that makes data-sharing in a secure fashion more and more complex for the average person. So file-syncing and sharing products such as Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive and GoogleDrive are pretty much inevitable consequences and if you are anything like me;  you have a selection of these, some free and some charged but pretty much all of them are insecure; some terribly so. Of course it would be nice if the operating system manufacturers could agree on a standard which included encryption of data in-flight and at rest with a simple and easy to use key-sharing mechanism. Yet even with this, we would probably not trust it anymore but it might at least provide us an initial level of defence. I have started to look at ways of adding encryption to the various cloud services I use; in the past, I made fairly heavy use of TrueCrypt but it is not especially seamless and can be clunky. However this is becoming more feasible as apps such as Cryptonite and DiskDecipher are appearing for mobile devices. Recently I started to play with BoxCryptor and EncFS; BoxCryptor seems nice and easy to use; certainly on the desktop. It supports multiple Cloud providers; although the free version only supports a single Cloud provider; if you want to encrypt your multiple cloud stores, you will have to pay. There are alternatives such as Cloudfogger but development for BoxCryptor seems to be ongoing. And there perhaps there is the option of building your own ‘Sync and Share’ service; Transporter recently successfully kickstarted and looks good; Plug is in the process of kickstarting. Synology Devices have Cloud Station; QNAP have myQNAPcloud. You can go totally build your own and use ownCloud. In the Enterprise, you have a multitude of options as well but there is one thing; you do not need to store your stuff in the Cloud in an insecure manner. You have lots of options now, from keeping it local to using an Cloud service provider; encryption is still not as user-friendly as it could be but it has got easier. You can protect your data; you probably should…    

Death of the Home Directory

Well, when I say that the Home Directory is dying; I mean that it is probably moving and with it some problems are going to be caused.

As I wander round our offices, I often see a familiar logo in people’s system trays; that of a little blue open box. More and more people are moving their documents into the Cloud; they really don’t care about security, the just want the convenience of their data where ever they are. As the corporate teams enforce a regime of encryption on USB flash-disks; everyone has moved onto Cloud-based storage. So yes, we are looking at ways that we can build internal offerings which bring the convenience but feel more secure. Are they any more secure? And will people use them?

I suspect that unless there are very proscriptive rules which block access to sites such as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and the likes; this initiative will completely fail. The convenience of having all your data in one place and being able to work on any device will over-ride security concerns. If your internal offering does not support every device that people want to use; you may well be doomed.

And then this brings me onto BYOD; if you go down this route and evidence suggests that many will do have yet more problems. Your security perimeter is changing and you are allowing potential hostile systems onto your network; in fact, you always probably did and hadn’t really thought about it.

I have heard of companies who are trying to police this by endorsing a BYOD policy but insisting that all devices should be ‘certified’ prior to being attached to the corporate network. Good luck with that! Even if you manage to certify the multitude of devices that your staff could turn up with as secure and good to go; that certification is only valid at that point or as long as nothing changes, no new applications installed, no updates installed and probably no use made of the device at all.

Security will need to move to the application and this could mean all of the applications; even those familiar applications such as Word and Excel. Potentially, this could mean locking down data and never allowing it be stored in a non-encrypted format on a local device.

The responsibility for ensuring your systems are secure is moving; the IT security teams will need to deal with a shifting perimeter and an increasingly complicated threat model. Forget about updating anti-virus and patching operating systems; forget about maintaining your firewall; well don’t but if you think that is what security is all about, you are in for a horrible shock.


Take a tablet…to fix Windows 8

So I’ve been having a quick play with the Consumer Previews of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8; the latter appears to be especially impressive and there are lots of new features which the Server folks are going to love. I’m very happy with how accessible it is for a relative Server neophyte like me and I look forward to having more of a play.

But despite a couple of tweets from me declaring hatred of Linux, I suspect I’m not going to be replacing my ‘core’ home infrastructure with Server 8 anytime soon; I’ve got too much time invested in them at the moment. I will be watching Server 8’s progress with interest tho’.

This brings us on to Windows 8 desktop; the operating system feels snappy and like Server there are some good new features; I’ve not installed it on bare-metal yet but I must say that I find it pretty usable even on a fairly small VM but Redmond we have problem!

The Metro UI sucks on a desktop; you can’t just put a touch-UI on a desktop and hope that it works. When you first log onto Windows 8 and are faced with the Metro Start Screen; first reaction is probably, that looks quite nice which is rapidly replaced with this so doesn’t work with a keyboard and mouse, to that is a pile of crap on multiple hi-res displays. So dropping into Desktop mode is a must but removing the Start button from the Desktop was a mistake; fortunately Stardock have come to the rescue with Start8 which brings back a start button.

But if the Metro experience is going to be core to the Windows 8 product; perhaps there needs to be a better way and then I looked at my iPad and thought; Windows 8 is made for a second screen experience.

What we need is a way of displaying the Metro Start Screen on a tablet which we can have close to us and we can interact with by touch and not have to reach up to touch monitors which will be an ergonomic nightmare but a main screen display which is our working area and where we do our work.

If we are to move to a more touch-based UI across the board, we are going to need some rethinking about how we interact with systems when sitting at a desk; the desktop PC might go away with time but the desk-top is not going anywhere soon I suspect. Voice, gesture and gaze will all have a place to play but I think for the short term, some way of utilising a tablet as a second screen/input device could be a quick fix.

Or Microsoft could just realise that a tablet UI does not make a great desktop UI. Windows 9 perhaps?