by Steff Gelston

Spam from Angeline Jolie, Security Risks of Working from Home, Web 2.0 Adoption and more

Sep 14, 200811 mins

This issue of Trendlines from the 9/15/08 Issue of CIO magazine covers Data Centers, Web 2.0 adoption, India and R&D, Celebrity Spam, Security and Telework and more.

A Data Center-in-a-Box

Hewlett-Packard has become the latest vendor to announce a “mini-data center” housed in a shipping container, which can provide a way for companies to add compute capacity when power and cooling systems in their existing data centers are maxed out.

HP’s Performance-Optimized Data center, or POD, will be available in the U.S. by the end of the third quarter and worldwide a few months after that, the company said last month. Sun Microsystems, Rackable Systems and IBM also sell similar products.

It sounds like a gimmick, but proponents say the portable data centers can solve real problems. They are customized 20-foot or 40-foot shipping containers that vendors fill with servers and storage gear before shipping them out. Customers plug in a cooling supply, a power supply and a network connection, and the mini-data centers are ready to use.

The containers provide a way for resource-constrained facilities to add compute power without having to build a new data center, which is expensive and takes a year or more. They can also be used for disaster recovery, by setting one up on the grounds of a satellite office, for example.

And powerful rack-mount servers, which generate a lot of heat, can be packed more densely in a container because the temperature can be managed more closely in the closed environment.

The HP POD will accommodate 1,800 watts per square foot, compared with about 250 watts per square foot in a normal data center, said Steve Cumings, director of infrastructure with HP’s Scalable Computing and Infrastructure group. HP’s 40-foot POD will contain 22 50U server racks and be able to house up to 1,100 1U servers or 12,000 large form-factor hard drives, for a total 12 petabytes of storage, Cumings said. (Server racks vary in height; U is the designated standard unit of measure for server-rack height, equal to 1.75 inches.) Customers will be able to put other vendors’ equipment in the POD, and HP will install and configure the third-party gear alongside its own.

Sales this year will be “very low,” Cumings acknowledged, but demand is expected to increase next year. “These are a great solution for some things, but they are a complement to traditional data centers. It’s not that we expect everyone to suddenly flip over to using containers,” Cumings said.

HP hasn’t announced pricing. Container products from other vendors start from a few hundred thousand dollars and can run into the millions.

The container concept is still new, and critics see potential flaws. Some worry about security, although vendors say the boxes are hard to break into and can be housed on private lots. Others worry about the reliability of having a single power or network connection for such a dense load of equipment. There are also mundane issues, like not being able to open a container to service it in heavy rain, unless it’s covered up.

-James Niccolai

Enterprise Web 2.0 Adoption Still Growing

While many companies have embraced Web 2.0 technologies during the past year, a recent McKinsey survey finds that barriers to enterprise adoption still remain.

Adoption of tools such as blogs, wikis, social networks and mash-ups has risen since 2007, the first year the survey was conducted, with companies on average adding three Web 2.0 tools to their technology portfolio.

For instance, 34 percent of companies surveyed say they are adopting blogs, compared with 21 percent a year ago. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) implementation—which allows users to subscribe to information that’s relevant to them and have it pushed to an RSS reader or their e-mail—jumped to 33 percent from 24 percent last year. Wiki adoption rose from 24 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2008.

Companies are also putting these tools to a higher-value use than in the past, according to the survey of 1,988 executives at enterprises around the world. And companies have adopted many to tackle the problem of knowledge management, the process of storing and sharing information within organizations. A staggering 83 percent of respondents who added Web 2.0 technologies for internal use said that they did it to “manage knowledge.” Another 78 percent said they used Web 2.0 to “foster collaboration” and 74 percent to enhance company culture.

But the outlook for increased Web 2.0 adoption has begun to hit some barriers, according to McKinsey. The biggest issues cited by survey respondents? Management’s inability to grasp the potential financial returns from Web 2.0 (28 percent), unresponsive corporate cultures (22 percent), lack of incentives to experiment with such tools (20 percent) and less-than-enthusiastic leadership (15 percent).

-C.G. Lynch

India Becoming a Major R&D Outpost

Research and development work sent by multi­national companies to their own centers in India or to that nation’s service providers is expected to grow to be a $21.4 billion industry by 2012, according to a study by management consultancy Zinnov.

Offshoring R&D to India is currently a $9.35 billion industry, with R&D centers owned by multinational companies accounting for about $5.83 billion of this market, according to Zinnov. The centers work on software products, embedded systems and engineering services.

When multinational companies started setting up centers in India about 10 years ago, Indian engineers worked mostly on ancillary services like testing and porting. Over the last eight years, staff have matured, built domain expertise, had extensive interactions with customers and can now design new products, says Vamsee Tirukkala, cofounder and managing principal of Zinnov.

Multinational corporations continue to establish offshore R&D centers in India driven both by an increase in the available talent pool and cost savings, according to the study. The number of centers rose from 180 in 2000 to nearly 600 this year. Although the cost of engineers jumped fivefold in India over the last 15 years, it is still about one-third to half of the cost in the U.S. or Europe, according to Tirukkala.

The strongest competition to India as an offshore R&D location will come from China, according to Tirukkala. However, in China there are still concerns about the protection of intellectual property, the talent pool is smaller and far fewer people speak English than in India, he added.

-John Ribeiro

Learn All You Can About a Job Before Taking It

Career A little knowledge can go a long way in making a new job a successful one, say hiring specialists. So if you have the chance to talk to someone at a company where you’re applying for a job before your interview, find out as much as you can about the role.

Sam Gordon, who leads the CIO practice at Harvey Nash Executive Search, and Phil Rosenberg, founder and president of career coaching firm reCareered, suggest several questions to help you learn more about the position you’re interested in.

If a job ad emphasizes a particular software implementation, Gordon recommends asking: What stage is the project in? Who is the project sponsor? How have previous projects gone? The answers will give you a sense of whether the company’s had trouble with projects in the past and whether the current one is going smoothly.

He also suggests asking what a new hire must achieve in the first six months and the first year on the job. “You can get a very good sense of the initial priorities for the role,” he says. If you sense the role may be more tactical than strategic, ask how much time the new hire should spend on IT strategy versus operational technology initiatives.

And don’t forget to cover the basics. Rosenberg suggests asking to whom the position reports, department and budget size, the structure of the department, the amount of travel, and, of course, why the company is hiring. (For more career advice, read “How to Ace an Executive-Level Job Interview”.)

-Meridith Levinson

E-Mail from Angelina? Just Hit Delete

No one will deny the global celebrity of Angelina Jolie. She’s on the cover of magazines, stars in blockbuster movies and is a ratings bonanza each time she appears on TV.

The spammer community loves her, too: On average, about 2.28 percent of the total global daily e-mail volume contains subjects like “Angelina Jolie nude movie” and “Angelina Jolie naked video,” according to Secure Computing’s TrustedSource .org spam report.

“Angelina Jolie, for example, is unknowingly luring many to eagerly install Trojans onto their PCs,” notes the report. The actress is an example of how spammers are using pop culture and current events such as the U.S. presidential election to lure normally cautious end users into opening up messages or links that download malware.

While Jolie is the number-one celebrity spammer, who’s next on the list?

Barack Obama. The Democratic nominee’s name is “making the rounds globally,” notes the report, even taking the lead against the “enticing lure” of…

Paris Hilton. The hotel heiress, wannabe actress and fledgling singer is no stranger to the power and problems of celebrity life in the Internet age. Just to spice things up, she and John “What’s a Computer?” McCain engaged in a recent war of words.

Britney Spears. “Is it that crazy to think Britney actually did send me this e-mail?” Well, not as crazy as when she shaved her head, but close.

Hillary Clinton. It probably doesn’t make the New York senator too happy that she finished behind Obama. Again. Must be a right-wing conspiracy.

The report also noted that the volume of spam jumped 280 percent in the second quarter of 2008 versus the period a year ago. And the U.S. continues to send twice as much spam (16.6 percent) as number-two-ranked Russia (6.7 percent).

-Thomas Wailgum

Addressing Telework Security

Companies that allow employees to telecommute need to pay better attention to the cybersecurity challenges associated with it, according to a study by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), an advocacy group focused on privacy and security, and Ernst & Young.

CDT and Ernst & Young declined to call telecommuting more risky than working in an office but said it presents different risks. In many cases, telecommuters use their own computers, subjecting company information to data breaches, and many companies don’t have comprehensive telecommuting polices or restrict telecommuters from accessing data they don’t need for their jobs, the study said.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into making up the potential risk,” says Ari Schwartz, vice president at CDT. “In some instances—if you’re talking about very sensitive information, if you’re talking about someone who’s always working from home with very little monitoring—there’s going to be a greater risk than someone who brings home information every once in a while and is monitored a lot.”

Companies need to weigh the risks and take steps to minimize the possibility of lost data, he said. With telecommuting likely to grow in coming years, Schwartz says, “We have an opportunity, before it grows to be very large, to define best practices.”

The study surveyed 73 U.S., Canadian and European companies and found that less than half provided teleworkers with e-mail encryption software. Only half of respondents offered hard-token authentication for work devices, and there was little use of biometric authentication. About 20 percent of respondents said their organizations periodically inspect offsite work locations, and fewer than 50 percent use security cables to lock down computers at home offices.

-Grant Gross

Leadership Lessons Help CIO Beat Illness

After battling back from four brain hemorrhages and two surgeries, former corporate VP and CIO of Atmos Energy Les Duncan decided it was time to put his positive thoughts about healing on paper. “I’m a walking miracle,” says Duncan, who was diagnosed with cavernous angioma, a cluster of abnormal blood vessels found in the brain and other parts of the body.

Writing his first book, Brain Storms: Surviving Catastrophic Illness (Tate Publishing & Enterprises), not only helped Duncan through his own illness and recovery, it has helped others since its publication in April. “I get e-mails from people thanking me for helping them through their battle,” he says.

During his 2006 recovery, Duncan sat at his computer typing out what he had learned about the healing process. The most important lesson: Have a good attitude. “I never allowed myself to believe I wasn’t going to recover,” he says. Duncan’s leadership experience helped him keep cool during crises, maintain communications with those helping him heal and prepare for a slow and steady recovery. These skills, he says, were relevant in the C suite—and in his recuperation.

Duncan is now retired and on disability from Atmos Energy, which under his IT leadership was a three-time CIO 100 winner in 2003, 2005 and 2006. He misses his CIO role but is using his leadership abilities to help others cope with this disease. Duncan provides peer support and writes newsletter articles for the Angioma Alliance, a nonprofit organization. “I’ve been doing different things all my life, and this is no exception,” he says of his current activities. “It’s just another stage.”

-Jarina D’Auria