Last week there was quite an uproar over an Ad Agency HR executive accidentally sending out an e-mail to their entire staff divulging news of upcoming layoffs. It’s an excellent example of how an honest mistake can cause a tremendous amount of pain, but it’s also an excellent example of how technology can’t be expected to solve every problem or prevent mistakes.
It brings to mind the early days of using computers in this industry when spell checkers would miss something, and we’d be asked why the technology failed. We’d become so accustomed to relying on the technology, that we stopped actually reading our copy to proof for errors.
One of the things about this story which encourages me is the follow-up, in which IT is significantly absent from the story. That’s a good thing. The fact of the matter is this isn’t about IT, and we shouldn’t be looking for technology to prevent this sort of error. We’d like to think that such a solution exists, but the fact of the matter is that there are many cases in which we’ve simply got to be careful. This could just have easily come about as the result of leaving a document lying around on a copier, or faxing it to the wrong number, neither of which would necessarily be viewed as a technological breakdown. Mistakes are going to happen, and unfortunately technology can compound these mistakes, significantly faster than leaving a paper lying around.
Are there technological solutions to this problem? Maybe there are. I’m skeptical. Having heard a couple suggestions already, they still have holes. It always seems to come back to a people issue. An HR executive has got to be extremely careful when crafting this sort of message using e-mail. They should be double and triple checking their addressees before ever hitting the send button. The best way to combat those mistakes is by learning these lessons, and in teaching our users to be thoughtful and careful when using the technology. It’s a tough lesson to learn the hard way.
A Gartner study from earlier this year predicts that Apple will double the marketshare of the Macintosh by 2011. Despite my own reluctance to move onto the Mac for my day-to-day machine, I’m inclined to believe the prediction. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the broader IT community.
For those of us in the Advertising business, this is nothing new. If the prediction does come true, it will probably have some impact on us as well. Right now, I think we’re fairly typical of Ad Agency’s – We use Mac’s for Creative, and PC’s for everything else. If there were a change in this mix, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a split between Macs and PC’s among our Account Service staff. We’re doing a small amount of this now in situations where Creative staff has moved to Account Service rolls, and it hasn’t caused any unsurmountable issues. Part of the increased market share would also come from Agencies moving from a split to all-Mac environments. I think this is much more likely in smaller Agencies.
How will this impact other businesses? That will be interesting to watch, especially for those of who have lived in a dual-platform world for a while. Will the increased market share come primarily from smaller company’s? Will we start to see the Mac make some inroads into larger company’s? Will it happen with IT’s blessing, or will IT have no choice? Where will corporate IT find folks to support the Mac and deal with cross-platform issues? Who knows, maybe those of us who have been doing this for a while may become a hot commodity.
I’ve decided to end my attempt to convert to the Mac, but not necessarily because it didn’t work. I’ve been using a MacBook Pro as my primary machine for about a month now, but I’ve decided to return to a PC.
The reason I’m going back is that I was spending way too much of my time on the PC side of things. Once I had things setup the way I wanted, I found that I was spending 60-75% of my time running something under the Windows VM running on Fusion. It’s simply a function of what I do on a daily basis, and much of my time is spent on Remote Desktop sessions to our Windows servers. The Mac actually handled this very well, but the reality is it added a layer between me and what I needed to get done.
Performance was never the issue, although I’m not sure I’d agree with those who argue that Windows actually runs better on a Mac VM. I definitely noticed things slowing down on the Windows VM, especially when I started to push things with numerous apps running simultaneously.
By no means was the decision a slam-dunk. If my time was split 50/50 between the Mac and PC side of things, I probably would have at least stayed with the experiment for a bit longer. If I spent more time on the Mac than the PC, it would also be a no-brainer. I’d definitely side with the Mac in that scenario.
This is another great example of why IT in Advertising is unique. One of the biggest challenges facing us in Advertising is educating our users, a group of marketing and creative executives, in the new world of digital media. When you’ve got a group of individuals who desparately need to learn about Web 2.0, the last thing you want to do is to discourage their use of these tools.
In fact, we spend a great deal of time doing just the opposite. We’ve been actively encouraging our users to sign up for, and use tools such as Facebook, WikiPedia, Twitter, etc., While most of the IT world may be worrying about how to restrict the use of such sites, we’re doing exactly the opposite. We encourage our marketing and PR folks to actively monitor social media sites and blogs for news or comments about their clients. We encourage our creative users to actively monitor the latest trends in digital media.
It might be a bit out of the ordinary for IT to turn a blind eye to this stuff, or maybe to even encourage users to frequent these sites, but this business has always been a bit different. I’m just thankful that I have one less thing to police.
As Hurricane Fay approaches the Florida today, we’re rapidly making plans to insure our Sarasota office is prepared. This is something of a new twist for us, because Upstate NY companies typically don’t have to worry too much about hurricanes. One thing our preparations have highlighted is our data needs, and once again how insatiable our demand for storage space can be in Advertising.
To give you a better idea of what this means, here are some actual examples. We have a client folder in our Sarasota office which contains the current advertising files which are currently under production. This folder is about 85GB. While this might not seem like a huge volume if you’re a large company, I would argue that it’s a good size folder for an office of less than 20 people. We have one office which currently has no Creative staff, and the client folders in that office are less than 10 GB in size. Again, these examples are from our smaller offices. The file size dilemma becomes larger when you look at us as a whole and include our larger offices in the equation. I’ve had vendors tell me that we’re more like a 3,000 employee company when you consider our storage needs, and we currently have about 275 employees.
Copying 85GB across our WAN in order to have a live copy of our Sarasota clients folders is not an option for today. However, we are looking at tools for replication and data deduplication which might allow us do just that. For now, we’ll have to settle on backing things up the old-fashioned way, using tapes and off-site storage. It works, but it would certainly be nice if I had an up-to-date copy of my Sarasota client folders sitting here in Syracuse, ready to be brought to life if necessary. It’s one of our goals to have such a system in place in the next year or so.
When I started this blog several months ago, I did so with the premise that IT in the Advertising business was a somewhat unique niche. I suggested that the people and the nature of our business, our use of two platforms, and our insatiable need for bandwidth and disk space make our version of IT somewhat different. However, at the end of the day – we still do IT, and we face many of the same issues faced by many other IT folks.
I hope that the topics of my posts provide interesting reading, even for those of you who don’t work in this particular industry. I’d also like to ask those of you who might be regular readers to provide some feedback. Are the posts relevant to you because you work in this business, or is it the topics themselves which are of interest?
The Mac vs. PC thing will undoubtedly continue to be a topic I come back to again and again. However, there are other issues which impact those of us in this business, but which might seem very general in nature. Case in point, my recent post regarding the commoditization of IT (Am I The Director of Electricity?) is a topic which has been covered by plenty of bloggers before me. I hope my angle on it was just a little bit different, in that I make a case that the Advertising business may be one of the first to see this trend take hold.
Yesterday wasn’t a great day in my migration to the Mac platform. I was doing a couple things yesterday which seemed to present some challenges for a dual-platform machine, and it highlighted some of the difficulties this presents. While these difficulties are manageable (but no less frustrating) for the IT Director, it still concerns me with regard to turning average users loose with this sort of setup.
I spent a day where I was doing quite a bit of work using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop, connecting to several servers at once and jumping back and forth between them and my own desktop. The issues became evident when one of my admins joined me in my office, and we attempted to fire up an external screen which I attached to my laptop. I immediately started running into difficulties with screen resolution, to the point where I was completely unable to access the menu bar on some of my windows. I was stuck having to use keyboard shortcuts in order to get out of trouble. Once I disconnected the external monitor, I continued to have trouble and finally decided it was time to reboot the VM session.
I had similar network troubles in the afternoon when something tripped a circuit breaker in my part of the building. The Mac handled the network interruption without too much trouble, but I had to reset the virtual network adapter on the Windows VM. At another point I lost the sound completely on the Windows VM, and the only fix which seemed to work was a complete reboot of the Mac.
This stuff didn’t cripple my efforts to work, not by a long stretch. But it did serve to highlight some of the issues which can crop up. I’m also not blaming Apple, VMWare, or Microsoft. When you think about what’s happening with this sort of configuration, it’s pretty darn amazing that it works at all. This stuff isn’t easy, and when we start screwing around with external monitors, screen resolution, and sudden network interruptions, I’m not the least bit surprised when the trouble starts.
The bigger issue is what happens when the user is an Account Executive connecting to a projector for a presentation, or trying to make a connection to a wireless network. It’s possible to do all this stuff, but it’s also not possible to provide a set of instructions for every situation which might arise. For now, I’m convinced that this sort of setup would be difficult to manage for most average users. I’d only consider for end-users who were extremely comfortable in dealing with these kinds of issues, and those users are few and far between.
We had an interesting post on our company blog (internal) today. It was a very negative post regarding Microsoft PowerPoint 2008 for the Mac. We’re not particularly heavy users of PowerPoint on the Mac platform, so I’m not terribly concerned about the perceptions regarding this particular product, however it does raise some interesting questions regarding the use of company blogs.
As those of us in the IT community know, perception can easily become reality in our business. When a negative groundswell exists regarding a technology product, it can become exceedingly difficult to support it. I’ve seen it work in reverse as well, where people fall in love with products, and before we know it we’re rolling something out much more rapidly than we expected.
It’s up to us to attempt to control these perceptions, whether they arise on blogs or in the hallway. We need to stay on top of what’s being said, and we need to counter these arguments when necessary. In my own case this morning, the particular user doing the commenting was someone whom we respect and was asked to evaluate the software. We defended ourselves with an explanation about how we test and deploy new software, and hopefully a little bit of humor. In the future, I’m going to be a little clearer about asking them to at least give me a heads-up before they go public with a negative review, but I’m also not going to attempt to censor the discussion.
As I mentioned in my previous post I’m in the midst of migrating to a MacBook Pro for my day-to-day computer, and virtualization is a big part of my making the move. I’m running VMWare’s Fusion, and it’s helping make the transition easier by keeping some of my Windows apps close by. As a company, we’re firmly in the Microsoft camp with Exchange and SharePoint, and while both of those products are accessible from the Mac, it’s much easier dealing with them running Outlook and Internet Explorer. In addition, I’ve recently become hooked on Microsoft OneNote, which is not currently available on the Mac.
So far, I’ve been fairly happy with the results. Performance has not been a huge issue, and other than some sizing issues with the drive space I allocated, it’s been smooth sailing. I’m still switching back and forth a bit between Fusion’s Unity mode which allows me to run the Windows apps on the Mac desktop, and the full-screen Windows mode. At this point, about the only time I jump back into full-screen Windows mode is when I need to access something like Remote Desktop which I haven’t yet configured to launch from the OS X dock.
This isn’t my first foray into desktop virtualization. I used it previously on my Vista laptop, running VMWare’s Workstation product to give myself a virtual copy of XP to switch back to. That worked well for me also, and it provided me a way to easily maintain copies of both Office 2007 and Office 2007 on the same machine. In both cases, virtualization has proved invaluable in giving me with a simple way to keep one foot in two (or more) different camps during OS and application migrations.
All that being said, you also can’t lose sight of the costs associated with virtualization. You do have to license all this software, but it’s still not as costly as doing the same thing with two different pieces of hardware. I think this is a great tool for those of us in IT, but I have some concerns about putting it into end-user’s hands. It’s not always easy configuring and using networks and peripherals. We have a couple end-users trying to run it on MacBook Pro’s, and they are struggling with that aspect of things. Even more troubling from my perspective, we’re starting to get some requests for copies of both Office 2007 to run under their Windows VM in addition to the copy of Office 2008 they are running on the Mac. While I’m sure Microsoft would have no trouble selling me two copies of Office for one machine, it’s a trend which will make this a very expensive option. Something else we’re getting ready to take a look at is application virtualization, probably via Microsoft’s SoftGrid.
What’s even more interesting is watching how Apple deals with virtualization in general. We’re jumping into this in a big way on both the server and desktop, but something is missing – there is no way to virtualize OS X. I have plenty of capacity left on my VMWare ESX servers, and I’d love to add an OS X server into that mix, taking advantage of my investment there as well as the reliability and cost savings it provides. I can’t see Apple sitting this out entirely, but if and when they do jump into virtualization, I suspect they’ll only allow it on Apple hardware. That’s too bad. I think they could sell a lot of software. In fact, if I could virtualize Apple applications in a similar manner, I’d probably purchase 150 copies of Keynote tomorrow.
A few years ago I spoke at an IT in the Advertising Business event, and I made the case that IT Directors in this business really need to live in both worlds. I suggested that we should have both Windows and Mac platforms on our desks, and that we should use them both on a daily basis. I still think it’s a valid point, but I haven’t been living up to it myself. In a recent review of the MacBook Pro, it was suggested that one of it’s target users should be the folks administering both platforms. That sounds like me, so when a fairly new MacBook Pro became available I decided to take the plunge. I’m right in the middle of the switch now.
Over the years I’ve moved back and forth between both platforms, and at times I’ve had both platforms on my desk. The single most significant change since I last used a Mac regularly has been the introduction of virtualization on the desktop, and that’s exactly what has brought me back to the Mac now. We’re running VMWare Fusion, and since I’m a glutton for punishment I’m running a Vista VM on my new Mac. Two or three days into this experiment I’m not so sure that was a good idea. My MacBook Pro has 4GB of RAM, and I’ve allocated 2GB to the Vista VM. I’ve heard the hype about virtualization turning Macs into the best Windows machines, but I’m not buying into it – at least not with Vista. The speed on this machine is ok most of the time, but when I’m running a lot of apps I can definitely feel the hit. My Dell laptop (running Vista with 4GB of RAM) definitely outperforms it when I’m multitasking. Still, I’m going to continue using this as my every day machine for a while. It does do a pretty good job running Windows for 90% of what I do, and it really is convenient having both platforms in one package.
I’m keeping the Dell close by for a few more days, but unless my opinion changes dramatically, it looks like I’m finally going to practice what I’ve preached.