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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Welcome to Cal Students!

It's still summer in Berkeley, but the University of California campus is swarming with new students. Berkeley Logic welcomes back returning as well as new students!

Just in case any of you are looking for a job, we are always looking for talented young men and women who are looking for a flexible, interesting gig with our Berkeley and North Oakland customers.

For more information check out our recent fliers seen around campus, our Jobs Page as well as our recent craigslist posting.

-- Vern

Monday, June 9, 2008

Google Apps: Hella IMAP

As the kids say in North Oakland and Berkeley, the IMAP service built into Google Apps and Gmail is "hella good." Why such a strong accolade? It is because Gmail is now the leading mass-market free email system, and adding IMAP to that free offering puts it over the top. With the Google Apps packaging and support for custom domain names, the system is tailor-made to accept the content of other repository-based enterprise accounts. This is an opportunity for Google to grab market share from Microsoft in the elusive small business category. And, it is an opportunity for small business IT specialists like Berkeley Logic to provide the services and support necessary to ensure a smooth transition to what looks like email nirvana in the cloud.

IMAP promotes Gmail into an efficient, standards-based email repository system. With IMAP one may use a client like Thunderbird or Outlook and not even see the Google advertising. This new, freely available IMAP server's feature list is extensive: search (one may "google" ones own email, easily finding old correspondence), carrier-class infrastructure, 6 Gb storage capacity, very large attachments, and the cost is literally zero.

Creating an alternative to Microsoft Exchange is a holy grail in the Open Source and ABM (Anybody But Microsoft) worlds. Thousands of huge enterprises around the world have a crack-like addiction to the email, shared folders, and calendaring functions of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. There is a continuous churn in companies relicensing Exchange and some big enterprises are looking to avoid the big hardware and software investment to go with an Exchange 2007 upgrade.

There are also thousands of small businesses (5 to 100 employees) in the United States that are using in-house implementations of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. Google Apps is aimed squarely at those small enterprises who don't use the advanced features of Exchange or could adapt to Google Calendar and Google Docs as a practical groupware solution.

I think the IMAP feature for Gmail released in late 2007 might just be the pixie dust needed to accelerate the advance of Google Apps for small businesses. With the availability of the feature-rich IMAP protocol for Gmail, it and Exchange now share a critical set of features that enables a smooth migration to Google Apps. Using a scripting language like Python or PHP, several developers, including Google, have already deployed web-based tools that transfers an email repository from Exchange to Google Apps using the IMAP protocol.

At Berkeley Logic we use a Linux-based tool called imapsync to write shell scripts that transfers cpanel-based IMAP email repositories to Gmail. Our imapsync server runs in the LMi.net data center directly connected to a high-speed Internet backbone. While this hot connection makes transfers go a lot quicker, we have found that one needs to be careful not to overload any IMAP server with multiple simultaneous transfers.

For home and small business users I think the greatest feature of Gmail is the fact the data is stored in the Google global "cloud" which is backed up by one of the world's most extensive data networks. This means that all that valuable personal and business data locked in personal hard drives doesn't have to be vulnerable to the eventuality of hardware failure. And, all of that old data all of a sudden becomes useful once again.

I became sold on this technology after I used Gmail IMAP to upload my old mail archives. I have managed to keep an email archive dating back to 1997. Using Thunderbird I was able to upload 57,000 old email messages into my All Mail and Sent folders. I should have used imapsync, which was thankfully found later, but this exercise helped me get used to the nuances of IMAP Gmail, such as the fact it doesn't store duplicate messages.

The ability to quickly find any old email is a stunning productivity-enhancer. Not only is much time saved looking for a critical document, but I have begun to use the feature to look for things I wouldn't have bothered with in the past. It definitely has made keeping that 57,000 message archive intact worth the effort.

We are definitely very excited about the possibilities that Gmail, Google Apps, IMAP and Thunderbird gives Berkeley Logic and our customers. We are now actively looking for more small businesses who want to switch over to what we believe is email nirvana in the cloud. We believe the safety, speed, search power, and the flexibility of Gmail and Google Apps provides a compelling solution for thousands of small businesses in the East Bay.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Berkeley Logic sells computers

Good news! Berkeley Logic is authorized to resell Dell computers. I know what some of you are thinking: "Yuck, you like Dell?" Well, we actually are not ashamed of reselling Dell computers, and here is why.

Let's face it, there are only three or four major PC makers left in the world: Dell (USA), HP-Compaq (USA), Lenovo (China), and Acer (Taiwan). When judging what brand is better in terms of reliability, it is always best to look at industry statistics rather than one's personal experiences. Based on my research, all of the these vendors are putting out a good product that should last for at least three years and maybe as long as five years. The "Lemon Rate" for these vendors is way below 1%.

Besides, if you are buying basic box-type computers then most of the components are just a commodity and all of the manufacturers put out essentially identical boxes that differ slightly in performance, price and support options. All of the manufacturers have speciality products, such as small form factor designs. Laptops is certainly an area where the vendors differ significantly.

Given the fact the PC industry is highly commoditized, what made Berkeley Logic choose Dell for our recommended PC maker? First of all, Dell's online configuration tool is the best in the industry and saves a lot of headaches, especially when it comes to buying servers. Also, I have had good experience with onsite Dell service technicians where they will replace parts readily (including laptop parts that have been abused by a user). Finally, Dell is a little less anonymous for me because Berkeley Logic has our own real person sales team that sits in an office in Oklahoma City. So we have real people and phone number we can use to escalate problems or get quick answers.

Also, Dell is making an effort to get rid of the bloatware present in many pre-installed systems. They have a new line (Vostro) that is specifically designed for the small business user who doesn't want to wade through a bunch of junk to get going with their new PC.

So, for Berkeley Logic these factors push Dell past the others, but race is very close at the finish line. Since the products are largely commodities we are always looking at the competition and occasionally choosing non-Dell solutions. We like the small form factor designs from Acer, and I have had some pleasant experiences with HP's business-class laptops.

In any case, if you are looking to upgrade or buy some new systems, the Berkeley Logic will be able to meet your needs with a cost-effective, well integrated solution.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Web 2.0 Conference Notes From The Field

Went to the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. It was a small show but it had some of the fun elements I look for in a high-tech trade show. There were plenty of companies I had never heard of, and no one could explain what "Web 2.0" means.

According to what I saw on the exhibit floor, Web 2.0 is either Enterprise Social Networking, Web Applications like Google Apps or "Platform As A Service" (PaaS). These are really three completely different things; it looks like the Web 2.0 moniker will have to live with this fractured definition, probably until the term becomes old hat.

Enterprise Social Networking seems to be MySpace for companies. I see FaceBook filling this market niche already, but there are a whole bunch of little startups who are making software or services that will outfit a big enterprise with a private version of MySpace. Related to these companies are the enterprise wiki companies all doing products like Google Sites.

There were plenty of web application companies on the show floor too. Again, Google is doing this with Google Apps. Honestly, I'm not quite ready to drink the web application koolaid quite yet. I still need the richness of an application like Microsoft Word to produce printed documents. But, given the size of the market represented by Microsoft Office I am sure it will only be a matter of time utill the quality of the applications, offline capabilities, and really useful groupware functions will drive a significant part of the market to web applications.

I suppose if I had to pick my personal favorite definition for Web 2.0, it would be Platform as a Service. I think this is the most important trend identified at the conference, because it represents the largest potential stake of the future of technology.

It doesn't take much to realize that what Platform as a Service represents could be as significant as Windows OS or the TCP/IP protocol stack. And the key to it is developers. As this idea begins to catch on, more big applications like salesforce.com will be deployed using a particular PaaS provider's APIs and other programming tools. Salesforce.com realizes this and they have been courting developers right from the beginning to get them to use Force.com as a programming platform.

There were plenty of other big players at the Web 2.0 show to court developers with their PaaS offerings, including Microsoft, Amazon.com, Entelos, and Yahoo. I suppose the real question here is whether any of them will be able to catch up with salesforce.com's tremendous lead. Experience shows that betting against the leader in high-tech marketing is usually a bad idea, so let's all start learning the force.com platform.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Berkeley Logic Knows Adwords

There is a lot to know about online advertising. From organic search results to pay per click models, content networks to "meta-tagging," online advertising seems to have a language of it's own. Every day, our emails link to claims of mastery, "27 secrets that adwords won't tell you," how to make a bazillion dollars, how to get hits, how to increase traffic, how to do just about anything with Google behind you. There are SERP's, CPC's, PPC's, URL's, CPM's, Keywords, Adwords, Adsense, Banner Ads, Radio Ads, Yahoo!, MicrosoftLive, and Google. Indeed, there seems to be an entire universe that you could get lost in if you only had the time.

Well, don't worry too much, because Berkeley Logic has been spending our time surveying the online advertising world. And, We have some good news- Online advertising works!!!

But beware, there are tricks. No, it doesn't mean that Google is trying to trick you, but there are ways to use their online advertising campaigns that simply work better than others. Berkeley Logic is dedicated to helping our customers get the best results for their advertising dollars. And yes, results in cyberspace can be linked to our willingness to spend. Indeed, we recommend refocusing those advertising budgets that traditionally went into print media, and re-allocating them to the new world of online ad campaigns.

If you have the time, read up on Adwords at the Google site. Once you've done that, try and apply your new-found knowledge to a real and active Adwords account. Make sure that it is linked to your website through the Google Analytics code. This is a "white hat" trick of the trade. "White hat" stands for an accepted practice. "Grey hat," and "black hat" marketing moves should be avoided by all but the unscrupulous. If your still not getting the hang of online advertising with Google, you may want to take a seminar on the topic. Berkeley Logic recommends the Google sponsored seminars like the one run by Sitening.com . They are fast paced and informative, but may help those who have a little bit of background in the field more than the laymen.

Remember, Online Advertising is a little bit art and a little bit science. Don't get too frustrated, be patient, it takes time to see results. If you would rather, Berkeley Logic can help you. In fact, running online advertising campaigns for our clients is the fastest growing sector of our business. We can create advertising campaigns for your website and/or business. We have reasonable fee structures that allow you to budget according to your needs and abilities. With Goolge Adwords, you set the limits. There are no surprise fee's on an account that is run correctly.

Whatever the case, Berkeley Logic recommends that you take your money out of the dying print market and move it to the blossoming online world. We know that it can bring newfound success. If for some reason you don't want to do it all yourself, We would be happy to help you!!!
Thank you for reading our blog.
Matt Angell at Berkeley Logic

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Review of Netgear Powerline HD Network Kit (HDXB101)

by Vernon Keenan, April 6, 2008

Powerline To The Rescue

Using an unreliable wireless network connection is huge waste of time, and can be quite infuriating. I'm sure many of you have had an unforgettable experience when your wireless connection failed at the most inopportune moment. Or, you might be mystified why you can't get a desktop computer to connect using WiFi to a new router in the next room.

What is the ambitious home networker to do? Is he or she doomed to spotty connections forever? Never fear,
Netgear comes to the rescue with its Powerline products. Using Powerline adapters is the smart way to network media centers, servers, and desktops in the home and small businesses.

Powerline technology works by plugging two-pronged adapters into regular home power sockets. When two or more of the adapters are plugged into the same power network they link up to create an Ethernet network.

I use these handy devices by connecting one to my router, and the other to my desktop computer upstairs. They work magically with no set up required. They also work well in very large home or dormitory. You can have up to 16 Powerline devices. I have used three Powerline devices to make a three-node Ethernet network in my home without any problems. It couldn't be simpler.

Once you have an Internet router plugged into one end of the Powerline Ethernet bridge and a computer plugged into the other end, the computer will have a direct Ethernet connection to the router. No special software is needed on the computer to use an Ethernet bridge.

Ethernet bridges are very useful because they are universally compatible with any Ethernet device. That means that Powerline Ethernet bridges are compatible with a game console, SlingBox, WiFi access point, and anything else with an Ethernet port. You can easily "split" an Ethernet connection with a $20 Ethernet switch. I think this will be pretty useful in a modern living room with a Media Center PC or MacMini hooked up to a HDTV setup.

The modulated signal used by Powerline encrypts the digital data, which enables separate data networks to exist on the same power network. There is a Windows application used to control these advanced features. Most users won't ever need them.

I have used several of Netgear's Powerline products. They have Ethernet bridge kits which include two matched devices. They also have WiFi versions where one end is an Ethernet bridge and the other is a WiFi access point. They also have three different speeds you can buy, and the speeds don't all interoperate! I have to say it is confusing picking just the right product to order.

I have used the Netgear Wall-Plugged Ethernet Extender Kit (
XE102G) with no problems whatsoever. I added a standalone Wall-Plugged Ethernet Bridge (XE102) to have a total of three Ethernet nodes. I have also used the WiFi access point Powerline Wireless Range Extender (WGXB102). I did have reliability problems with the WiFi access point functionality, and I don't recommend using Netgear's wireless Powerline devices. I worry about heat and other factors inherent in this design. I do definitely recommend the pure Ethernet solution.

I wasn't really impressed with the speed of the XE102 bridge, however. It wasn't any faster than a good wireless connection. So unless you need it, there really is not a speed advantage. That was why I was eager to try out the newer Powerline HD Network Kit (
HDXB101). They claim a 200 Mbps top speed.

I bought my adapters at Frys in Concord, California. They had them in stock for the same price ($169) as on their web site.

I set up my new adapters with one in the basement connected to the router and my servers, and its twin upstairs next to my desktop. Everything worked super smooth on the first try. I attained a top speed of approximately 40 Mbps. Now that is actually pretty good, hitting right in middle of the 100 Mbps capacity of most Ethernet devices. That speed should allow for streaming of an uncompressed DVD with no problems.

It is interesting that Netgear claims a top speed of 200 Mbps because the Ethernet port on the HDXB101 is 100 Mbps! Technically, it is impossible for the end user to ever see 200 Mbps. I suppose this marketing claim can be substantiated because they have overhead due to the encryption or some BS. Funny how things never change in Silicon Valley.

In conclusion I heartily recommend the Netgear Powerline Ethernet bridges. I'd recommend sticking with the kit packaging for the straight up bridges. That would be the HDXB101 for the high speed, the XE103G for the medium speed and the XE102G for the low speed. According to Netgear the XE* units will interoperate, but I have only tested the XE102G and have never used the medium speed units. I suppose a followup to this review would be to compare the speeds of all three units to make sure there is some real value in the faster, and more expensive, units.

Happy networking! I hope this ends a frustrating situation for someone. Please let us know with a comment below! -- Vern

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Software Product of the Year: VMware

In my opinion, the most impressive software product of the last three years is VMware. Starting in 2006, gaining speed in 2007 and consolidating its base in 2008, VMware has taken the software industry by storm and created a whole new set of standards and expectations for enterprise computing. Besides having a major effect on data centers, VMware is also significantly changing the computing landscape for power users and small business system integrators like Berkeley Logic.

Based in Palo Alto, California, VMware offers a line of products and services based on a computing principal now known as virtualization. Virtualization refers to the concept of running an entire computer operating system on top of a hardware platform that exists entirely in software.

Virtualization works by using a hypervisor to delve out virtual machines that run each instance of an operating system. The hypervisor is a master program that runs on top the bare metal of a computer or it may be integrated into a host operating system like Windows Server or Linux. The hypervisor uses hardware-specific drivers to create generic versions of the hard disk, network and display drivers. This works by the hypervisor emulating standard devices like an Intel CPU, an Adaptec SCSI controller, a Marvell network card, and a generic SVGA controller. With this capability one may create virtual machines running any Intel-compatible operating system.

What this means is that any Intel-based Windows, Linux or Mac server or PC can now run a copy of any other Intel-based operating system. For example, if I have a MacBook laptop and I need to run an application that depends on Internet Explorer 7, I can install Windows XP SP2 into a virtual machine on my MacBook and run it in a window in the Mac OS X Finder.

Only recently have PCs had the power to effectively run virtual machines. The trend towards multiple CPUs per chip, such as the Intel Core architecture, has truly unleashed virtualization technology. Virtualization, after all, has been around for decades. It got its start with IBM timesharing mainframes in the 1960's. But, the trend towards using multi-core CPUs to increase CPU power now makes it possible to cram the equivalent of 16 CPUs into just a couple of server slots.

It is in the server room that VMware is making its big impact. Let's say I'm the CIO for a big university and I have half a dozen big data centers scattered across a metropolitan area. There might be hundreds of server boxes in those data centers that are running a single OS on three to five year-old hardware platforms. With VMware's more advanced products I can take those old boxes, boot them with a special CD, and then suck the boot drive off of that box into a new VMware server. My new VMware server will be a super-tricked out 8-core box hooked into my new 3Tb SAS iSCSI SAN. I can probably cram up to 50 of those old servers into my new VMware hypervisor box, especially if those old servers were lightly used.

The impact of VMware in the data center is why I am saying that it is my "product of the year" for 2006, 2007 and 2008. VMware has actually been riding this wave quite effectively for the last three years. Selling all of the advanced hypervisors, management tools and consulting services propelled VMware into a partial buyout with global storage leader EMC and an IPO in 2007. Clearly VMware is here to stay and every enterprise IT guy better know all about it in order to keep competitive.

VMware plays a pretty big role here Berkeley Logic. We use the free version of VMware's hypervisor (VMware Server) running on an 8-core Dell PowerEdge 1950 Windows 2003 Server box with a nice 143 Gb 10,000 RPM SAS RAID1 array. The server is hosted at LMi.net data center and connected directly to the Internet. We are running three VMware virtual machines. One is running Fedora 7 with Best Practical's RT3 request tracking system. Another virtual machine runs Fedora 8 with Nagios to do active system monitoring. And, a third machine runs Ubuntu Gusty Gibbon as our LAMP development server. We basically have a nice set of Linux servers plus a Windows 2003 server host all running on a single box.

I have also used the VMware Converter utility to save defunct workstations. In one case I had a manager workstation that had a server program installed on it. The workstation had to be up and running in order for the server application to work properly. If the server app wasn't up, workers couldn't do their inventory work properly. Well, it was finally time to upgrade this old workstation and we didn't have the installation programs needed to re-create the server application.

VMware Converter saved the day here. We installed the converter and attached a portable USB drive to the old workstation. The converter runs while the workstation is up and running. It creates the virtual machine disk files on the external drive. This can take up to three hours depending on the size of the disk an the speed of the old system.

After the converter spools the virtual machine on the external drive it is moved to one of our multi-core servers with VMware Server already installed. The virtual machine disk files are copied from the external drive to a drive on the server. Using the VMware console we then were able to launch the virtual machine, get access to the Windows desktop and launch the server application.

Now that the old workstation is saved as a virtual machine the legacy software installation is permanently archived. We don't need to find that old consultant with his weird installation disks, and the end user doesn't have to keep his workstation on to make a server app work. And, we did it all with the free versions of VMware products.

There is a ton more to say about VMware. There are some inherent advantages for backup and reliability, for example. And, it is probably the most significant thing IT people can do to save on all that electrical power spent on running old servers. Plus, VMware isn't the only kid on the virtualization block. There's VirtualIron, Xen is now built right into Fedora 8, and a version of Windows Server 2008 will have a hypervisor built in too. There are caveats, of course. Getting your software licenses set up correctly can be a pain sometimes.

I'll try to wrap it up by saying as VMware has revolutionized how to deal with old servers and make a data center much more efficient, it has also made a big impact in the day-to-day lives of small business computer users. VMware has been building momentum for years, and 2008 looks to be another year of continued growth for the company as it continues to make significant contributions to IT capabilities and efficiency.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Microsoft's Vista Problem

Microsoft has a big problem with Windows Vista. We are into the second year of the newest version of Windows and new computer buyers are still yearning for the older, circa 2003, Windows XP.

I think I actually understand what Microsoft might have been thinking when they delivered a new OS that was horribly slow on most PCs shipping in January 2007. Vista needed to stay viable for at least four or five years, and it was overbuilt for 2007 PCs. It looks like Microsoft engineers were trying to anticipate what a new PC would be like in 2010. It will be nice in two or three years when quad cores and solid state drives are common, but right now one needs a pretty expensive system to get Vista to run smoothly.

Another big problem with Vista is that it had bugs and performance issues that are only now being resolved with the SP1 update. While I think I understand why Vista is so mismatched with today's common hardware configurations, I am sadly dismayed that Microsoft is still using the computing public as extended beta testers for their code. Back when Windows 2000 came out and worked pretty good with the first version, I had begun to assume that Microsoft was getting better with their quality in new OS shipments. But, Windows XP needed two service packs to solve some major security problems, and now the Vista SP1 debacle exhibits a pattern where Microsoft is getting worse with their new OS quality assurance.

Finally, perhaps because of the bloated overhead and the buggy first release, many vertical industry software vendors have yet to support Vista and are advising their clients to only use Windows XP as the only supported client operating system.

Dell, HP and others still ship new PCs with Windows XP. Microsoft will supposedly terminate the OEM's ability to pre-install XP in June 2008. What will Microsoft do? What should a technology partner like Berkeley Logic tell its customers?

Well, there certainly isn't a clear answer here. The pressure on Microsoft to extend the XP deadline is intense, and it is my guess that they will extend it to December 2008. However, I would still encourage any client who needs to do a multi-unit computer upgrade to consider getting their orders in before May 15 just in case Microsoft pulls the plug.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Apple Customer Service, Part 2

At nearly the same time my iPhone flew out of my pocket and was shattered, I noticed that my sleek black MacBook had a new physical defect! The top of the computer that covers the keyboard and includes the touchpad was splintering right on the edge. It was where my right wrist rests while typing and is where the little bump on the screen hits the cover.

I was getting ready to glue it, but I peered into the new hole in the my MacBook's case and saw there wasn't anything to there to be a base for a glue job.

After my glorious iPhone customer service experience, I thought why not try the Genius Bar again? Even though my MacBook was about four months out of warranty I had high hopes.

Got there at 11:00 am on a Sunday morning just as they opened. I was first in line and my assigned Genius looked at my damage for about two seconds and then started looking for the right part in the inventory. They had it, and my computer was wisked into the back room for immediate surgery.

I asked how much, and my newest best friend looked up and said, "Oh that is free! It's a known defect. It will be ready in about 20 minutes. We'll call you on your cell phone when it's ready."

Wow. Kind of stunned, I strolled around the mall and bought a new pair of pants. While checking out my phone rang. The Apple store says my computer is ready. Perfect timing.

Another fantastic customer service experience.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Apple Customer Service, part 1

In just one week I had two Apple customer service "orgasms!" It was such a great experience I had to start this Berkeley Logic blog to share my wonderful experience.

It all started with my ringing iPhone being flung out of my pocket while riding my bike on rough asphalt! It hit the ground hard, but I picked it up and answered the call. The phone worked and I thought I had lucked out.

But, the next morning I saw there was a crack in the face of my iPhone! It went straight across the middle. After looking carefully I saw that the glass in one corner was shattered. Must have been where it hit...

I googled around and saw several posts from 2007 where people when into an Apple Store and a generous Genius Bar worker would replace the phone for free. Others said they had to pay $250 to get an in-warranty replacement. I decided to take my chances with the Emeryville Apple Store.

The next day I went in at 7:00 pm for my online-generated appointment. I saw my name on the monitor. At like 7:02 my name was called and my appointed Genius was a 20 something perky young man. With his soprano-pitched voice he asked what was up, and I just showed him the phone without speaking a word. I know, it was kind of sneaky!

The Apple Genius grabbed my iPhone and studied it. He looked up and said, "So when did you notice this?" What a perfect opening. Without hesitation, I said "This morning." He kept looking for about five seconds, and then said "OK, you're getting a new phone."

Wow! That was super cool. My new best friend kept looking at the phone and said "I see you've got an impact shattering here. I'll let you slide this time!" And, I didn't even have to feel guilty because he busted me and let me off!

I've been watching Apple for a long time, and it is amazing how they have evolved into the #1 model for creating a global brand and making the customer happy.