Stories by Robert L. Mitchell

Microsoft versus VMware: IT loses

As Microsoft readies Hyper-V, the new hypervisor software that forms the foundation for virtualization in Windows Server 2008, VMware is finally facing some real competition in the Windows server virtualization market. Unfortunately, Microsoft has followed in VMware's footsteps by creating its own, proprietary way of doing things, and VMware doesn't want to play along. The result: IT faces a choice between two virtualization options that are incompatible.

Q&A: IT is a moving target for Six Flags CIO

With 20 parks and nearly US$1 billion in sales, Six Flags is the second-largest amusement park operator in the world. Since coming to Six Flags as part of a management reorganization two years ago, CIO Michael Israel has overseen a bottom-up rebuilding of the IT architecture in the parks and in the company's data center, which moved from New York to Dallas. Israel describes the amusement park business as a shopping mall with rides. "Spend per attendee is everything," he says.

The killer in the ER

"The good news is that you look better than your X-ray," the doctor says in a joking manner. What's the bad news, I ask? "The X-ray shows that you are in the end stages of congestive heart failure."

Social networking: Driving teams apart

Facebook is no substitute for face to face - and can have a negative effect on the social development of teams. So says Matt, a network engineer for a large financial services firm. I spoke with Matt by phone, on using social networks for group team building. Matt is in his late 20s:

Boycott! Amazon insurgency spreads to UK

Self publishers of England unite! That appears to be the rallying cry at YouWriteOn.com. The "UK's Leading Writers Website," sponsored by Arts Council England, is the latest to take up the cudgel against the Amazon's new print on demand (POD) policy. Amazon recently changed its policy, requiring publishers who want Amazon to sell their titles directly to use the company's BookSurge POD book printing services.

Ch-Ch-Chatting with the South Pole's IT manager

From the start, Henry Malmgren was determined to get to the South Pole. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1998 with a degree in MIS he applied for a job in the Antarctic every year before NSF contractor Raytheon finally hired him as a network engineer in 2001. Since then he has alternated between the Denver headquarters and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, spending two summers and two winters there before finally working his way up to IT manager. Staying over is a commitment: Once the winter starts, there's no way to get in and out of the base until summer begins eight to nine months later. "I thought I would just do this for a single season, but somehow it always seemed too easy to keep coming back," he says.

Memory: The new power hog

For engineers developing the next generation of servers, the CPU is no longer the biggest design obstacle to controlling power and cooling costs, which is a major issue for many data centers. "It used to be that the processor was our main concern," says Roger Schmidt, chief thermal architect and distinguished engineer in IBM's server and workstations division.

Would you like Wi-Fi with that?

McDonald's best-kept secret may be that it offers free Wi-Fi with every meal. More than 8,000 of its restaurants provide high-speed wireless service to customers. The fast food giant has yet to fully promote the perk, but it has already attracted one group: Gamers using Nintendo DS systems currently account for 25 percent of the Wi-Fi traffic in its restaurants.

This integration project could be a lifesaver

If you think you face integration challenges in 2007, consider the situation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, U.S. Better integration between its information systems could help officials address new threats to public health that range from the increasing number of antimicrobial-resistant infections in hospitals to influenza outbreaks and terrorist attacks.

Cobol: Not dead yet

Until a few months ago, the clearing and billing system for NYSE Group's stock options exchange consisted of about 800 discrete Cobol programs running on an IBM mainframe. Today, the entire application set has migrated onto a pair of clustered, quadprocessor Windows servers. The recompiled programs remain in Cobol today, but they won't stay there for long.

GUI gets a makeover

The graphical user interface -- keyboard, mouse, windowing system -- has dominated personal computing for the past 20 years. GUIs today represent the culmination of innovative work at organizations ranging from Xerox PARC in the '70s to Apple Computer in the '80s. But it was Microsoft that popularized it for mainstream business computing in the '90s. Today, Windows and the Office productivity suite have become the GUI standard-bearers for the business desktop.

Modernizing mainframe code

By some estimates, the total value of the applications residing on mainframes today exceeds US$1 trillion. Most of that code was written over the past 40 years in Cobol, with some assembler, PL/1 and 4GL thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, those programs don't play well with today's distributed systems, and the amount of legacy code at companies such as Sabre Holdings in Texas, makes a rewrite a huge undertaking. "We're bound by our software and its lack of portability," Sabre Vice President Alan Walker says of the 40,000 programs still running on IBM Transaction Processing Facility (TPF), Agilent Modular Power System and other mainframe systems.

Electronic data produce paper cuts

Paper has been around in one form or another for 5,000 years. Paper money has been the preferred medium of exchange for business transactions for about 1,000 years. For the past 30 years, organizations have been trying -- with limited success -- to eliminate paper from business processes.