Microsoft Roundtable transitions to Polycom

Microsoft & Polycom announced yesterday that the Microsoft Roundtable conferencing device (used with Live Meeting or OCS 2007 to present a 360° view of the room to participants joining from elsewhere), will be replaced.

Polycom are taking over the manufacturing and distribution of Roundtable and renaming it to the somewhat-less-natty “CX5000 Unified Conference Station”.

In many ways, this is good news since it fits within Polycom’s core strength rather than being something of an adjunct product (which is there to support something else, which is pretty much how the Roundtable fitted into the Microsoft world), and it should be available from a lot more places than before.

If you haven’t seen the Roundtable/CX5000 before, check out Forrester Research’s Erica Driver, on her own blog, comparing the experience of using Roundtable to An IMAX Movie after listening to FM radio.

SMSE – a System Center light hidden under a bushel

SMSE – pronounced (in the UK at least) as ‘Smuzzy’, short for Server Management Suite Enterprise – is a licensing package from Microsoft, which can be an amazingly effective way to buy systems management software for your Windows server estate.


If you’re planning to virtualise your Windows server world, then SMSE is something of a no-brainer, since buying a single SMSE license for the host machine allows you to use System Center to manage not just the host but any number of guest (or child) VMs running on it.

Combine that with the license for Windows Server 2008 Datacenter Edition, which allows unlimited licensing for Windows Server running as guests, and you’ve got a platform for running & managing as many Windows-based applications servers as you can squeeze onto the box, running on any virtualisation platform.

System Center is the umbrella name given to systems management technologies, broadly encompassing:

  • Configuration Manager (as-was SMS, though totally re-engineered), which can be used for software distribution and “desired configuration state” management … so in a server example, you might want to know if someone has “tweaked” the configuration of a server, and either be alerted to the fact or maybe even reverse the change.
  • Operations Manager (or MOM, as it was known before this version), performs systems monitoring and reporting, so can monitor the health and performance of a whole array of systems, combined with “management packs” (or "knowledge modules” as some would think of them) which tell Ops Mgr how a given application should behave. Ops Mgr can tell an administrator of an impending problem with their server application, before it becomes a problem.
  • Data Protection Manager – a new application, now in 2nd release, which can be used either on its own or in conjunction with some other enterprise backup solution, to perform point in time snap shots of running applications and keep the data available. DPM lets the administrator deliver a nearer RTO and more up to date RPO, at very low cost.
  • Virtual Machine Manager – a new server, also in 2nd release, which manages the nuts & bolts of a virtual infrastructure, either based on Microsoft’s Hyper-V or VMWare’s ESX with Virtual Center. If you have a mixture of Hyper-V and VMWare, using VMM lets you manage the whole thing from a single console.

It’s easy to overlook managing of guests in a virtualised environment – the effort in doing such a project typically goes into moving the physical machines into the virtual world, but it’s equally important to make sure that you’re managing the operations of what happens inside the guest VMs, as much as you’re managing the mechanics of the virtual environment.

I’ve used a line which I think sums up the proposition nicely, and I’ve seen others quote the same logic:

If you have a mess of physical servers and you virtualise them, all you’re left with is a virtual mess.

Applying the idea of SMSE to a virtual environment, for one cost (at US estimated retail price, $1500), you get management licenses for Ops Manager, Config Manager, VMM and DPM, for the host machine and all of its guests.

Think of a virtualised Exchange environment, for example – that $1500 would cover Ops Manager telling you that Exchange was working well, Config Manager keeping the servers up to date and patched properly (even offline VMs), VMM managing the operation of the virtual infrastructure, and DPM keeping backups of the data within the Exchange servers (and maybe even the running VMs).

Isn’t that a bargain?

See the FAQ for SMSE for more information.

Apple put the ‘Networks’ in their place

Having just read Andrew Orlowski’s article over on The Register, it chimes exactly with a belief I’ve had since the original iPhone came out and showed a clean pair of heels to pretty much every other single device: someone had to put the mobile operator networks in their place, and only Apple were in the right place & time to do it.


As I’ve said previously on here, I’ve been a fan of Windows Mobile since day one, and I recall the frustration with the first generation Smartphones, that the mobile operators exerted so much influence not just on what the device would look like, but what software capabilities it had. The whole design of the application locking of Smartphone (which is the single biggest impediment to the easy spread of applications, a la the Apple App Store), was down to operators demanding that degree of control over the devices… or else there’d be no room on the networks for them.

In some ways, Apple’s brazen approach to the iPhone and it choosing the networks, rather than the other way round, has helped turn the industry on its head. I’m sure Google would have found a way to market with Android, but the fact that T-Mobile doesn’t offer the iPhone (in the US, at least) sure made it a lot more receptive to the boys from Mountain View, I’d wager.

It can be a dangerous game looking to the past for analogies that will prove future outcomes …

Look at the mess in the financial markets as proof – the CFO of Goldman Sachs said in the summer of 2007 that they were seeing 25-standard deviation moves, several days in a row… *

… but what Apple has done to break the shackles of the network operator, could be equivalent in effect to what happened at the dawn of the PC compatible industry. Through a combination of reverse engineering the original PC BIOS, and the fact that the software – DOS – was available from the same guys who provided it to IBM, the control that Big Blue exerted on the design, supply and pricing of that market was effectively wrested from them, initially by a rag-tag of would-be competitors (though some did make it, such as Compaq).

Just like the fixed-line phone companies have had to reinvent their business models numerous times – see Bob Cringley’s archive for lots of commentary on this hobby horse – maybe history will relegate mobile network operators to being a connection utility rather than controlling the content and the whole user experience, as they at one point wanted to do.

Still, Apple has a lot still to do, to be the saviour of the industry … it could still end up as a footnote in the history of this part of the race, with someone else coming along to take the finish line.


* … meaning their predictive statistical model that was based on historical events, was telling them that things that will statistically NEVER HAPPEN were occurring regularly. What does that tell you? The model is now WRONG.

According to Tim Hartford from the FT, who I heard give a talk on this, their models said that:

  • 3 std devs would occur once in every 3 years
  • 4 std devs, once every 126 years
  • 5 std devs, once since the last Ice Age
  • 6 std devs, once since man started walking upright
  • 7 std devs, once in 3 billion years

… so 25 Std Devs would be something that has never and, statistically, will never, occur.

Formula 1 back on the BBC – only 2 weeks to go…

I haven’t been looking forward to an F1 season as much, for ages – since the Damon Hill years, probably. A number of things are helping to build anticipation:

  • Rule Changes – this year, the FIA has torn up the rule book somewhat by resizing aero components of the cars, introduced hybrid-style energy recovery from braking, moved back to slicks etc.

    The best explanation I’ve seen of all of the changes comes from a cool video from Red Bull…


  • Honda/Brawn GP looking good – I’m a Honda fan. I like Ross Brawn. I think Jenson Button has been unlucky with the car/team selection for years, and Rubino is the most experienced (and some say, the nicest guy) of all the drivers on the grid. They deserve to do well – and reports from the latest testing indicate they’ve nearly a second faster than everyone else, with defending champ Lewis Hamilton’s Mclaren team looking very much like they’re on the back foot. You can be sure that the Woking lads & lasses won’t be willing to give up the title without a fight…
  • BBC Footage – Brundle. Good. Coulthard. Great. Jordan. Legend. Oh, and the trailer footage …

    image … forward to 00:50s into the clip and you’ll find perhaps the best thing about F1 coming back to the BBC…

    The Chain.


Sign of the times: new car registrations

I recall the 1st of August in years gone by, as the day that new car registrations would be released – in the UK, if you didn’t know, car registration numbers are centrally issued and every year, the prefix or suffix letter used to advance. For a young boy, it was really quite exciting to spot the first cars with the new registration, and people buying new cars would wait to take delivery on the 1st August, so their pride & joy would have the latest ‘plate.

A few years ago, the system changed (to try to smooth demand out a bit more, so there wasn’t a huge spike in new car registrations in August, but a dearth in June/July…), to being twice a year, on 1st March and 1st September. The prefix/suffix letter scheme also changed to be a numerical advancement, based on the year.

It’s now the 12th March and I’ve yet to see an “09” registration, even though I’ve been travelling on the motorways most days, and for the last few (since realising this), I’ve been actively looking, but found nothing…

Is this a barmoter of the economic slowdown?