Friday, May 30, 2008

Juniper Switches Tracks

Having only come into this network equipment beat in March, it was a surprise to me to learn of Juniper’s new move into the switch market. Yesterday morning, I headed down to Juniper's executive business center where Bobby Guhasarkar, senior manager of product marketing Ethernet platforms group, gave me a run-down on the company’s new switches.

Brand new switches. It seems that Juniper has never made switches. I was unaware of this. I’d always assumed they had such equipment since they specialized in network infrastructure and control systems like routers and firewalls.

But not switches. Until this year. Juniper began shipping its first switches in March. The EX 3200 and the EX 4200 are stand-alone units that run JUNOS. They were designed from scratch and offer much of the functionality that’s available in Juniper’s routers.

Guhasarkar said that the design goal was, from the start, to build a cheaper layer 3 switch with low latency. The use of Juniper’s existing network hardware operating system in these switches means that they can be administrated through Juniper’s existing management software. That also means these switches can do things like traffic shaping, mirroring and monitoring.

“Traffic shaping is something JUNOS has had for a long long time, and the beauty of what we get in this first release of these switches is ninth-generation software. It’s the same software that’s been running on all the routers. It’s the same traffic shaping code, the same SNMP code, the same chassis management code,” said Guhasarkar.

Another interesting feature of these new switches is the 4200’s ability to band together with 10 of its cohorts to form a virtual chassis. Such a chassis can be administrated as a single entity instead of a stack of individual switches.

With all these new-fangled features, I had to ask Guhasarkar where the line is between a switch and a router.

“Well it doesn’t make it a router in the Internet sense. We can’t accept a million routes from the Internet,” said Guhasarkar. The main difference between their routers and switches are in the logical scale tables. The key difference is “How many MAC addresses does it have to keep track of? At juniper when we say router, we kind of think about them as very large serious boxes. You can’t get in a US$4,000 switch what you can get in a million-dollar router.”
-- Alex Handy

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Four Things Businesses Suck At

Design. Costs. Operations. Risk.

Most businesses suck at these things.

At least that's what Chris Crosby told me during a recent visit to the SMN offices here in beautiful Huntington, Long Island.

Crosby is senior vice president at Digital Realty Trust, a company that provides data center facilities “between the do-it-yourself guys and the full providers.”

At the design stage, Crosby noted that companies leave out business decision-makers. That's unfortunate, he said, because the designers want to create elegant solutions that might not factor in cost, and-worse-might not meet the company's needs. And, of course, there's always the question of “Will it work?” Meanwhile, business people are left to determine the risk of a project without really grasping the complexities involved, or being able to see that what they perceive as complex might actually be a relatively simple matter to implement.

“What makes IT think it can build a data center?” Crosby wondered. “Look, planes are important to FedEx, but they don't build 'em. We try to boil it down to a business decision” for prospective customers.

As for risk and cost, Crosby debunked recent studies that advocate moving data centers to remote parts of the United States, so as to not be terror targets and to take advantage of lower utility costs. He noted: “When you have to fly a guy out there to do anything, you lose that cost benefit pretty quick.”

Not to mention that before 9/11, one of the biggest terror attacks in our nation's history happened in Oklahoma City.

-- David Rubinstein

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Microsoft Lets You Look AND Touch

Microsoft executives last night demonstrated the user interface for Windows 7, which will bring touch-screen technology to PCs.

At the Wall Street Journal’s annual D6 meeting, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and chief executive Steve Ballmer said that “multi-touch” will give customers the ability to use their fingers to control their screens, as opposed to existing mice, keyboard and pen-based user controls. This capability is similar to what is seen in Mac OS X products like the Apple iPhone and iPod touch.

Microsoft’s multitouch technology was originally developed for Microsoft's tabletop Surface device, which is used by hotels and casinos. According to Gates, the technology represents the beginning of computing based on a new generation of input systems, such as "speech, gesture, vision, ink."

A key feature of the technology allows for multiple touches simultaneously; for instance, dragging five fingers across a screen would draw five separate lines. The executives said this technology is perfect for editing digital photos and navigating Internet-mapping services.

Ballmer said Windows 7 will arrive in late 2009.

A video demonstration of Windows 7's multi-touch capabilities is available for viewing on the Microsoft blog.

-- Michelle Savage

Friday, May 23, 2008

Egg-cited for Ballmer in Hungary

During a speech at a Hungarian university this week, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer was pelted with eggs by a protestor, who accused Microsoft of stealing money from the Hungarian people.
It should have been a nice, friendly affair. The speech Ballmer gave was titled "You Can Change The World" and his audience was a group of business and technology students at Budapest's Corvinus University. Things were moving along smoothly until a man wearing glasses and a shirt that read “Microsoft Corruption” stood up and began hurling eggs at Ballmer.
As Ballmer ducked behind a podium, the man left peacefully, escorted by a university official. To his credit, Ballmer handled the situation well. He smiled and joked: "It was a friendly disruption." He later said that his first thought was that he had to keep his suit clean, as eggs don’t wash off easily.
This was not the first food attack on a Microsoft executive. In 1999, protesters pelted Bill Gates with custard pies.

-- Michelle Savage

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Virtual Job Bonanza

In today’s gloomy economy, IT is one of many flat job markets. But, surprisingly, there is one area that seems unaffected -- virtualization. According to IT job board Dice, virtualization is the fastest-growing area of job growth in IT.

Dice announced this month that it has seen a 40 percent increase in job listings that require VMware experience in the past six months. A Dice poll revealed that 40 percent of respondents, who are IT professionals, said that they had "virtualized a significant number of servers and services."

Currently, Dice said that few job listings call for Hyper-V knowledge but the company is watching closely to see if demand will grow once Microsoft releases the product.

Tom Silver, Dice’s senior vice president of marketing and customer support, expects an even greater jump in virtualization jobs. He cites a McKinsey study, which said that data centers are expected to surpass the airline industry as a greenhouse gas polluter by 2020. According to Silver, "the need for a greener approach will help drive virtualization."

Silver’s forecast is backed by statistics from research firm IDC, which forecast that the market for virtualization will grow to $23.5 billion in 2011, a 27.1 percent increase in compound annual growth from 2006.

-- Michelle Savage

Stand By Your Debian

The story so far: the Debian distribution of Linux has been having OpenSSL troubles recently, as it came to light that the OS has been using poor random number generation since 2006. When the news became public three weeks ago, it turned out that both Debian and Ubuntu were generating SSL certifications with a random number space of around 32,000 possibilities.

As a result, anyone handing out certs from a Debian or Ubuntu system has spent the past month regenerating and redistributing their entire library of OpenSSL encryption keys. I asked Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu Linux, if Debian had lost its credibility through this affair. He sent me the following e-mail reply, which I've reprinted in it's entirety:

"It was certainly a very serious security issue, and I understand where your concerns are coming from, but for the record I am still confident that the Debian approach of self-motivated and largely self-selected specialist maintainers results in the best overall quality of packages in something the scale of Ubuntu or Debian. We have no plans to shift to a different model for Ubuntu than collaborating closely with Debian. Of course, we think that Canonical and Ubuntu's process, as an additional layer, does add something, but we consider Debian to be a superb, diligent and effective community with which to collaborate.

If you look at the sequence of events, the Debian maintainer actually took the patch to the designated upstream mailing list, where he got a response from an upstream developers suggesting that the patch was fine. He followed what most folks would consider to be reasonable best practice, and in the final analysis we can't attribute the result to anything other than very a unfortunate combination of errors. The process was not intrinsically broken.

Ubuntu maintainers didn't fix the issue a week before Debian -- we worked with the Debian maintainers and uploaded fixed packages simultaneously in both places. Some process issues on the Debian side held up the fixes there for a little while, but in principle the work was done jointly. As always, Debian maintainers contribute a great and unique depth of expertise.

We are still conducting a review of this failure, so we will probably make some changes. Among other things, we expect to contract or otherwise engage external consultants for regular reviews of security-critical packages in both Debian and Ubuntu. We can help both Debian and Ubuntu achieve an even higher level of security awareness and protection, and we don't see it as something on which we would compete with Debian so much as collaborate. Ubuntu's security track record until this event has been exceptional, and while the Ubuntu team does a tremendous amount of work that is specific to Ubuntu, we also benefit greatly from our collaboration with the huge community of Debian maintainers

-- Alex Handy

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Twitterpated with Ruby? Not so fast!

Where's my Twitter? Tangled up in a messy back-end of clogged threads and bad clustering solutions. I'm still digging into the dirty undercarriage of the Twitter fiasco, but the initial clues point to Ruby on Rails. Turns out, this darling of Web design isn't exactly a speed demon. (Editor's note: SMN contributing writer Lisa Morgan, who's also SVP and principal analyst at Online Market World, has coined the term "Twitter Flitter" to describe the sometimes-on, sometimes-off phenomenon).

When Twitter burst onto the scene at SXSW in 2006, the microblogging service was hailed as the latest hot startup, something with a truly unique technology for collaboration, social connection and mobile friend-tracking. All with a simple Web app that restricted microblog entries to just a handful of words.

Nothing could have been cooler or more superfluous at the same time. The name itself hints at a fluttering of attention; a hyper-active lack of focus, not unlike the symptoms of ADD. And, as it turns out, the infrastructure behind Twitter may have been chosen in just such a moment of hedonistic bohemianism.

Ruby-on-Rails was brand new in 2006, and it was a true mash-up. Niche programming language from wacky Japanese guy meets pissed-off Web developer, sick of all that was Perl, Java and ASP. The language-and-framework was called the second coming of Java, by some, and those that wrote in it laughed as they ended lines with !'s or question marks. Ruby wasn't just easy, it was fun!

Too bad it doesn't scale. Twitter is now faced with only two options: work with RoR big-wigs to change how everything works in the framework, without breaking compatibility, or abandoning the entire apparatus and start from scratch in Java. Or C#. Maybe even Perl or PHP. Could Python handle the load? Perhaps.

When millions of users come hammering at your door to use your services, life is just easier when you're standing on top of Apache, IBM, Microsoft or Sun. So, here's hoping that the mess at Twitter gets cleaned up. It's a fun service.

And, it's evident the Twitterpated have known about this Ruby problem for some time. Perhaps some sort of JRuby hack can be created. I'd bet that some good old fashioned JDBC would help alleviate some of the database bottlenecking, and Tomcat can work wonders for a clogged pipeline. I'm sure this is all more complicated, and that the good folks at Twitter are still in their offices in South Park (yes, really, that's where they are) working to fix things. And I bet they'll solve this problem. It is from this sort of adversity that battle-worn, profitable startups are born.

-- Alex Handy

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Microsoft Can Have You Seeing Stars

If you’ve always wanted to be an astronomer but aren’t quite ready to quit your day job, Microsoft has just the solution for you.

Computer users now play astronomer, thanks to WorldWide Telescope by Microsoft. The free, virtual service combines images and databases from every major telescope and astronomical organization in the world, allowing users to take a virtual tour of the night sky.

The WorldWide Telescope stitches together terabytes of high-resolution images of celestial bodies from a variety of sources, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. It then displays them in a way that replicates their actual position in the sky.

Through a video game-like experience, users can freely browse through the solar system, galaxy and beyond, or take guided tours of the sky hosted by astronomers and educators at major universities and planetariums.

WorldWide Telescope will surely be compared with Google Sky but the ability to build a custom multimedia planetarium show sets it apart from Google’s tool. Users will actually be able to use the Microsoft program to create their own space tours, and share them with their friends. Hmmm….do I sense a space race here?

Microsoft said it is offering the resource for free in memory of Jim Gray, the Microsoft researcher who disappeared last year while sailing to the Farallon Islands, off the coast of San Francisco. The project is an extension of Gray's work, which included the development of large-scale, high-performance online databases.

A test version of the software is available for download.
-- Michelle Savage

How Do You Know Who's Who?

Today's edition of the Long Island daily newspaper Newsday carried the details of a tragic story, in which a police officer – who had pulled a suspected drunk driver over to the side of the road – was critically injured when his car was plowed into by another suspected drunk driver – who didn't even have a valid New York State driver's license.
The man who hit the police car, 27-year-old Rahiem Griffin of Shirley, N.Y., was driving with a suspended New York State license, but had a license issued from the state of New Jersey -- which, coincidentally, was suspended in March of this year for violations relating to an unpaid parking ticket. New York authorities say Griffin "beat the system" by obtaining that license, which they say never should have been issued because New York and New Jersey have a reciprocal arrangement: If your license is suspended in one state, you won't get a license in the other.
So, how did Griffin get his New Jersey license? Police and motor vehicle officials say when Griffin applied for the New Jersey license, he simply dropped a middle initial. A search of state motor vehicle records did not find any problems with Rahiem Griffin – no middle initial -- and so the license was issued. New Jersey officials also use the National Driver Register, a federal database of drivers with suspended and/or revoked licenses, and again, no record of Rahiem Griffin was found.
In this day and age, it's baffling to me how our databases still are not fully integrated, and able to understand – or even infer, or flag – that Rahiem A. Griffin and Rahiem Griffin might be the same person.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Stef Damianakis, CEO of a company called Netrics, which has created a data-matching engine that models the human concept of similarity. Thus, when Thomas Smith is entered into a database in New York, and Tom B. Smythe in entered into a database in New Jersey, the engine will return them together, enabling further scrutiny by the person who made the query.
The issue is not simply about drunk driving. False, or inexact, identifications result in guns being sold to people with criminal histories, and in foreign criminals getting passports to perform acts of global terror, to mention but two frightening scenarios.
Research and advances in the way information is stored, recalled, sorted and logically connected should be among the highest priorities for governments around the world, if they're sincere in their efforts to protect and defend their citizens.
-- David Rubinstein

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Suppressing Complexity in Software-Oriented Architectures

Ways to suppress complexity in software-oriented architectures was the topic of the SOA Governance Summit held by Software AG in New York City on May 14.
Software AG executives discussed three main things to remember when dealing with SOA: focus on the organization’s capabilities, decouple providers from consumers, and have end-to-end visibility.
Organizations should think of SOA environments in terms of their own capabilities, and not product categories, Software AG executives said. They also pointed out four capabilities organizations should have: service enablement, which allows the creation of new services from existing applications, service orchestration, service mediation, which helps consumers and providers find each other, and service management.
“If you only take one thing from this conference, it should be decoupling providers from consumers,” Jignesh Shah, Software AG’s senior director of SOA product management, told attendees in the Marriot Marquis in Times Square.
Shah said that providers should be decoupled from consumers from the get-go. This is important to do because quality of service, implementation technologies and functional requirements will change over time, and it is important to have the ability to evolve. Decoupling the parts will provide a “shield” against potential problems when those changes occur.
Miko Matsumura, vice president and deputy CTO of Software AG, spoke about a new SOA paradigm that deals with the “management of constraint.” He said IT people are sensitive to capacity and there are new ways of sharing capacity.
These ways include the service concept, with a single service being used for multiple use cases. With a business service, an organization can have two or more different processes. The other way, he said, is virtualization, where one or more boxes can occupy a single physical body.
“From the perspective of people in the infrastructure management business, I think the thing to appreciate is that we’re moving into an era of non-linear utilization,” Matsumura said. “One of the properties of SOA that creates this is the whole reuse and dependency model, which is this notion that a single service gets reused by other services. If user A increases their use of the service, and then you have user B increasing their use of the same service, then you start adding users, the curve of utilization is no longer linear.”
--Jeff Feinman

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

HP Is Buying EDS, aka, "HP Global Services," for US$13.9 Billion

Big Blue's biggest weapon has long been its services arm. As the saying goes, when you buy enterprise "solutions" from IBM, the bulk of the sale is the van full of services folks with packed suitcases, ready to move into your office for good. It’s a simple, yet Faustian, bargain: You give them all your money, and they take care of everything. Forever.

IBM Global Services differentiates IBM from, say, Microsoft, which sells its software through the channel, leaving the lucrative services business for partners. In a few cases, as with its Avenade joint venture with Accenture, Microsoft does capture some services revenue, but otherwise, Microsoft doesn't play in that world.

Hewlett-Packard is another Big Blue competitor that just doesn't measure up when it comes to services and service revenue. Eight years ago, HP almost bought Pricewaterhouse Coopers, but the deal fell though. (IBM snapped up PwC a couple of years later.)

Today, HP is ready to try again. When the word first slipped out on Monday that HP was negotiating to buy Electronic Data System, EDS’ shares soared 28% on the news, while HP’s fell by 5%. That tells you what Wall Street thinks of this.

I share Wall Street’s skepticism. This doesn't seem like a good deal. But then again, I'm skeptical about HP's ability to full advantage of large acquisitions. HP never achieved the value it could have from the Compaq fiasco. The jury is still out as to whether HP and Mercury Interactive are better off a single company. Certainly, Mercury's competitors remain delighted about that acquisition — and are profiting by the amount of business they picked up because of it.

With this deal, much comes down to execution. It’s clear that HP chief honcho Mark Hurd is better at execution than his predecessor, Carly Fiorina. Let’s see if he can pull this one off.

— Alan Zeichick

Friday, May 9, 2008

At Sun, It's Chips Ahoy!

Sun wasn't too chatty about its latest acquisition. When the company snapped up the remaining IP from fabless chip startup Montalvo Systems in late April, nary a press release was issued, nor a blog written. But despite Sun's large-scale acquisition of MySQL earlier this year, there's a very significant chance that the Montalvo purchase will mean more for Sun in the long run than its grasping of the database leader.

Montalvo was a complete debacle, from start to finish. The company rose out of the ashes of famous money-sink Transmeta, a company so flush with cash, for a time, that it counted Linus Torvalds among its employees. Transmeta was legendary for its low-power chips with radically different energy management ideas. But Transmeta was plagued from the start by the ridiculous capital expenditures needed to launch a new consumer processor. After releasing a few chips to market, which made their way into some unique, compact and expensive laptops, Transmeta wandered off into the sunset with an Intel lawsuit in tow.

While Transmeta isn't entirely gone, its hopes and dreams are, basically, dashed to pieces at this point. Thus, a portion of the company's management left a few years back to form Montalvo Systems. Montalvo hoped to build low-power x86 chips, and to do so in India with rented time on ultra-violet laser etchers. The idea was to remain fabless, and as such, the company only needed a relatively small amount of capital to float. Or, that was the theory.

But after three years and over US$70 million spent, Montalvo was a failure. Enter Sun, in April, with what is said to be a pocket full of change. For a song, Sun snapped up Montalvo's IP, and ostensibly, some of its brainy processor architects.

So when I met with a room full of Sun and Intel spokespeople on Thursday, there to discuss their happy, huggy relationship, my first question was naturally related to Montalvo. Was Sun going to be producing its own low-power x86 chips?

The official word was, “what?” Sun's representative was not aware of the acquisition. Intel's multiple spokespeople, however, were. The resounding reply from them was, no comment.

Of course, there should have been a third party in the room, as well: AMD. It's understandable that representatives from that company would frown upon sharing a room with Intel, but the question would have been no less relevant there.

Is Sun preparing to move into the x86 chip market? I'm going to speculate here, something I'm not really supposed to do, as a journalist. But, heck, none of the parties involved want to contemplate the possible answer, so I'm the only one in the room who can. Is Sun hoping for low-power x86 chips?

Unequivocally: yes. But I'll add a caveat here; Sun's interest in the desktop is non-existent. For the server market, there's also no use for this chip. Where this low-power x86 chip could be most useful, however, is in cell phones and mobile devices. Sun just can't help crowing about its mobile aspirations of late, a fact which is obvious when you see all the JavaFX stuff they've been showing off at JavaOne this year.

Mix this with the company's last IP firesale acquisition, Savaje, which created a Java operating system for mobile phones, and you've got a recipe for a full-scale mobile phone platform, designed, produced and programmed entirely by Sun's big-brained engineering teams.

Perhaps the real question I should have asked is, “Can Sun actually deliver such a product to the consumer marketplace?” My initial reaction to this question is... No. Probably not.

--Alex Handy

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Peter Gabriel's Been Shut Down

Pop singer Peter Gabriel's Web site has been shut down since Monday after an undisclosed number of servers were stolen from his hosting provider’s data center.

Gabriel’s site doesn’t give a whole lot of information about what exactly happened. It simply reads: "We'll Be Back Soon - apologies for the lack of service. Real World, Peter Gabriel and WOMAD web services are currently off-line. Our servers were stolen from our ISP's data centre on Sunday night - Monday morning. We are working on restoring normal service as soon as possible." (There's no evidence of a sledgehammer being used during the break-in).

However, a little sleuthing reveals that the victimized data center appears to belong to Rednet Ltd, a bankrupt subsidiary of Opal Telecom, a Web hosting service provider.

Without the server housing his data, who knows how long Gabriel will remain without a Web site? But the real question is “how did these thieves get away with robbing a data center?”

I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few data centers. Each had such high security, I’d take my chances robbing Fort Knox before attempting to steal something from one of these data centers. Data centers are typically housed at confidential, undisclosed locations that are protected with armed personnel around the clock. In case that’s not enough, entry protection tools, such as biometric devices and secure token cards, are used to control and audit access. Did Opal Telecom forget to invest in these things?

Unless these thieves were invisible, it looks like Gabriel needs a better data center.

-- Michelle Savage

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Debianized OpenSolaris Arrives: Don't listen to Ian Murdock, Debianization is a good thing

Many years ago, I was looking at the various types of Linux and wondering which version to install. A friend of mine threw a Debian install CD at me and said something to the effect of “There is no other Linux.” After installing and setting up my desktop, I, too, was convinced. And while, today, Debian's many benefits are available in their own forms from other operating systems, there's still a lot that sets it apart from the crowd.

Unfortunately, one of the largest things that sets Debian apart is its contingent of developers, some of whom could be graciously categorized as the “Fat and Sassy” variety. Certainly, there are numerous “Fat and Sassy” types in the Linux world, and not all of them are Debian lovers. But it always seems to be Debian at the end of whatever the latest elitist argument is around the operating system.

Take, for example, the issues patched in OpenSSH 5.0. Just days after the 4.9 release picked up a large number of bugs and added some new features, the developers behind the project had to rush out and build version 5.0. The reason, they claimed, was that someone had found a way to hijack X11 tunneled sessions, but only submitted the bug to the Debian team. And the Debian team didn't pass this bug over until after OpenSSH hit 4.9.

Now, in the world of exploit reporting, there is always a large amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt. And I find it highly unlikely that someone found a potential attack vector on OpenSSH, and then only reported it to Debian. As we all know, finding an exploitable bug in OpenSSH is basically a ticket to a six-figure salary at any of a hundred security consulting firms.

And yet, I can't help but think that the poor OpenSSH team was right in blaming Debian. It's a very insular community, and I've even heard the occasional gripe from within the Debian lists about Ubuntu, which has arguably become Debian's saving grace in recent years.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of getting to news that Sun's Project Indiana is now complete. Ian Murdock started the project when he joined Sun early last year, and from day one, I knew it was an effort to Debianize Solaris. Murdock would disagree, and likely argue that the efforts in Project Indiana are focused on making OpenSolaris more accessible to Linux users, and more performant when it comes time to upgrade. But when you get right down to it, Debianization is just what Solaris has needed. Debian is, at the same time, the most geek-friendly and the simplest to use Linux. Others, like Gentoo and Ubuntu, have come along and improved upon the Debian model, but when you get right down to it, almost all of the modern packaging systems in Linux are an attempt to copy apt-get.

And now, OpenSolaris has its own apt-get. The image packaging system is certainly more advanced than apt-get, and it's not as mature, but it's apt-get none the less. Now, OpenSolaris users can type a simple command to install all of the components, binaries and libraries they need to run a given piece of software. The endless chase for dependencies is no more. And with that easy-to-use, yet highly complex change, OpenSolaris has turned the corner from niche Unix to viable Linux alternative.

Congratulations, Ian. I know you'll be upset to see me compare the two operating systems, but you just need to remember: The people behind a project can sometimes become harder to deal with than the code. But that doesn't mean the ideas behind the code, or even the people, are bad. In fact, it's the best reason there is to run off and start from scratch.
--Alex Handy

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Photosynth Takes a Star Turn

Microsoft's Photosynth software was a star in last night's episode of "CSI: NY," a popular TV crime series. The technology creates a collection of two-dimensional images in a three-dimensional environment, allowing people to quickly zoom around to view different details.

In the episode, the CSI detectives investigated the murder of a high school guidance counselor, who is found during a school dance with his face melted off. Through the science of Photosynth, the team finds that the killer is a student, who turns out to be a thirty-something rather than a teenager.

So how did Photosynth save the day? The software allowed the detectives to stitch together images (taken on cell phones by students at the dance) and create a three-dimensional map of the high school gym, to re-create the scene of the crime.

As the product is not yet publicly available, last night was the first opportunity for most people to see how the software works. And apparently Microsoft didn’t have to pay a dime for this coverage.

Microsoft reps said that the company did not pay to have Photosynth featured on CSI. But few can argue that Microsoft will largely benefit from this product placement on one of the most popular shows existing today.

During the show, one detective marvels at the clarity of the images on Photosynth. Several other characters refer to the product by name in different scenes. And, last but not least, one of the detectives, near the end of the show, provides one of the greatest Microsoft plugs of all time when he announces: "It's Microsoft's world, kid. I'm just living in it." We could be looking at a whole new world of product placement here.

-- Michelle Savage

Let the Sun Shine In

Sunshine on my face. Fresh air in my lungs. Finally, I’ve finished with my meetings at Interop here in Las Vegas, and I get a chance – albeit a short one – to sit outside for a few minutes and enjoy the weather.

Las Vegas, as you know, is designed to keep you inside – in the hotel restaurants, bars and shows, but mostly, in the casino. Since I arrived here on Monday, I’ve been inside, inhaling more second-hand smoke than I'd expect to breathe at a Catskills Mah Jongg tournament. (Three bam. Hack. Wheeze. Soap.) With the exception of the cab ride I took to get from the Interop show to Microsoft’s Management Summit in the Venetian Hotel, I was strictly behind closed doors.

The Venetian understands this longing to be outside. On the man-made piazza inside the hotel, restaurants offer dining inside or “outside.” If you choose outside, you’re in the middle of this piazza, with very high ceilings painted like the sky at sunset, and the lighting provides the feeling of day coming to a close. But even that gives an uneasy feeling after a while. You’re waiting for the sun to go all the way down, but it doesn’t. It’s perpetual pre-dusk.

Interop was a huge event. Some 350 exhibitors on the show floor, many interesting sessions – and one or two that I attended that were less engaging. A session on data center standardization that I expected to get specific about SNMP, 802.11N and other protocols instead was a vague talk about one company’s effort to get its multiple data centers on the same page in terms of tools, job responsibilities and management.

People were talking about virtualization, security, networking, storage, appliances and devices, telecommunications. After three full days of meetings and sessions, my head is spinning. But good news is at hand. The pool waitress has arrived, with frozen cocktails to help with the wind-down. Cheers!

-- David Rubinstein