Monthly Archives: November 2008

Quick Update

Strange week, ups and downs..

  • Monday, good fun.. bit of a blur actually, Daily Deli with Helen and Tina, a swim at Beta Beach with Andy, sundowners on Clifton 1st, swim and braai at Chris’ with Cath, Parri and Andy.. basically just another shit day in Africa.
  • I figure life is all about the good times you get to share with friends.. it’s no fun living in the most beautiful city without good friends.
  • “Drowning in a sea of love, where everyone would love to drown” — Fleetwood Mac

  • Tuesday, gym, swim, Mouille Point run, chocolate beer and pizza at the CLUG AGM.. elected to the CLUG committee again, Jazz night at Asoka.
  • Realised I suck at keeping secrets.
  • “It’s maybe a good idea to have more carrots than sticks”. — me

    found this here.

  • Careful what you wish for.
  • Wednesday, Neoforum at the Radisson with Cath, Rhodes Memorial with Helen and Tina.. seems I make a good tour guide, Erf 81 (the farm in Tamboerskloof), Table Mountain contour road lookout, sundowners on Signal Hill, Beta Beach, Codfather.. very nice food, had some Marlin and Snapper, Porn Star Martini’s at Asoka… YASDIA (see Monday).
  • Thursday, presentation about peering and The Hub Project at the GeekDinner.
  • “My drinking club has a reading problem” — Henk

  • Friday, big mission to try and get my credit card back after a Standard Bank ATM swallowed it in Camps Bay, Mia time, we had home made chicken burgers with the ex.
  • I’ve been blogging for two years this month, not long, just twice around the sun.
  • Saturday, I was sick as a dog, did as little as possible, pizza with Andy and Marsha, rainy day – tea – built puzzles with Mia – listened to Chris Chameleon, watched the Bank Job and The Dark Knight.. and did not make it to Bianca’s 30th.
  • “make your own luck”, “I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve”, “I’m a dog chasing cars, I would not know what do do with it if I finally caught it” — The Dark Knight

  • Sunday, gym, swim, Deer Park, uber-juice, nice nap, aquarium.. watched the predator tank feeding session, swim at the Icon building.. and did not make it to the bloggers cocktail party.
  • Weird how life is so relative.. the day after you’ve been sick you feel so alive.
  • Dr. Strangelove (aka. Ernst) informed me that he will be doing a Cape Town in the Summertime session soon.

Have a fun week lazy kids.

November GeekDinner and The Hub Project

I attended the November GeekDinner at Adesso in Rondebosch on Thursday night.

Nice evening, good food and a fun group of people at my table. I met Matthew and Frerieke.

We missed our regular sound engineer and MC. We had a projector, but no mic this time, which made it a bit tricky to give a talk since I had a mild cold.

I gave a talk about peering and The Hub Project.. an internet exchange project (starting off) in Cape Town. This was also the first public announcement of the project.

Jonathan asked something like.. if peering is 90% politics, how do you know the project will not fail again? My answer was: well, it’s cheap (close to zero cost).. all the initial peers have a presence in the building already and I’m hoping it will gain momentum from there. Three things I though about later:

  1. The playing field has changed. Soon we will have more ECNS operators. Soon we will have vendor neutral data centres. Soon we will have many more MetroE and dark fibre connectivity options.. and soon we should have much more traffic flowing around South Africa.
  2. I’m an optimist. I believe this project is for the common good and it has the “moral high ground”.
  3. ..not on my watch (-;

Slides are here. I received positive feedback and I hope a few more people will get involved in the project soon.

A big thanks to our hosts: George and Vanessa and our wine sponsor: Perdeberg.

Be Afraid of Standard Bank ATMs

Be very careful when you put your bank cards in a Standard Bank ATM. There is a know flaw with their ATM network.

What a painful day.

So on Wednesday night I go to get some cash from the Standard Bank ATM in Camps Bay. It gives me my cash, but it keeps my card and prints out some lame slip saying my card was retained because of a technical problem. Error code: 0231 *ARgghh!!* The ATM goes into “broken” mode, with a red screen… which is kinda warped.

No phone number on the ATM.

The next day I attempt to figure out which branch is responsible for that ATM.. I try the branch locator on their website.. it’s broken so I attempt to phone the Standard Bank call centre.. useless as expected, but happy to put me through to the “Camps Bay branch”.. which is a dead end. Later I discover there is no such thing as the Camps Bay branch. Muppets.

Friday, I drive back to the ATM and start talking to the people in the shops next to the ATM. The travel agent and jeweller both seem pretty annoyed with this ATM. They tell me it’s been swallowing cards for a long time, at a rate of 4+ cards per day. Often these are cards of tourists.. even more painful than my experience.

Turns out the jeweller had phoned the people who administer the ATM earlier that day.. three guys show up. Two with bullet proof jackets and guns. I ask if my card is in the ATM. They tell me they can’t give me my card.. fine, but it would be nice to know if my card is there. Nope. OK, what now? Hmm.. not sure.

These guys were _no_ help.. they must be ex-Zim CIA.

Once a day they probably get to the ATM, see the red screen and happily reset it to the standard operating mode without wondering why the screen is always RED!! when they get there. Muppets.

The jeweller figures the closest branch is in Sea Point and they probably take the cards there.

I stand in the queue for a while, get to the front, explain the whole thing and get told my card has been destroyed.. *ARRGGHHH!!*

Sense of humour failure.

OK.. so how do we deal with a business which has obvious flaws but a million monkeys happy to follow the process of least resistance? Well, share the pain and discomfort.. waste the time of somebody with a bit of influence.. somebody who’s time is of equal or more value than my time. Simple economics.

I go see the bank manager and start asking a few questions about their ATM network.

She tells me it’s an “IT problem”.. IT knows about the problem, it affects all their ATMs but the IT department does not want to commit to a timeline for fixing the problem… this is getting entertaining. The card swallowing is happening often. Their “workaround” for the problem seems to be to wait a day before they destroy the cards.

I tell my story. She agrees their call centre is useless and their ATM staff are not helpful. I found that kind of honesty refreshing.. but somehow depressing.. she must hear stories like this very often.

Skipping ahead, she was very helpful.. ordered a new card, gave me her contact details, gave me a temporary debit card, kept the branch open to let me get some cash.

Now, I have to wait 5 working days to get the new card and I have to reset my online banking profile… so I can’t use online banking at the moment.

What a gigantic waste of time. Two hours of pain.. and more to come.

Let’s just zoom out here for a second and think about what the functions of an ATM, a call centre and online banking are… uuuhhmmm, automatic teller.. I guess it keeps customers away from the branch and allows them to help themselves. Same goes for online banking and kinda true for call centres.

These are the barriers, the primary lines of defence.. they keep customers from wanting to strangle bank employees. These functions are the true white collars of the modern banking world, they keep the whole thing civil.

Ok, not call centres.. all call centres are doomed.

Now you begin to see what an EPIC FAILURE this is.. some greasy IT brat is not fixing the problem, not taking responsibility and not seeing the effects.. but poisoning an entire ecosystem by crippling the things that make the experience of modern banking almost bearable.

You have been warned.

Quick Update

This weeks’ update seems to have been delayed.. I blame the awesome weather.

  • Monday, gym, swim, ISPA mancom meeting, watched Perfume.. good movie.
  • Tuesday, gym, swim, uber-juice, Tamboerskloof steps run, beer and pizza at Carlisles in Vredehoek.
  • Wednesday, Lions Head walk with Andy, WAPA admin and PR, eStrategy workshop in Bishopscourt.. which turned out to be a royal waste of time.
  • Thursday, walk above our house up to Military Road, ISPA general meeting, Teraco CPT site visit.. DC1 is starting to look good, January GeekDinner planning at Yum, SA UX meeting at Asoka, drinks at Asoka. Met Tristan from MyVideo.
  • Brandon told me I seem to be a very proud parent, I guess that’s true.
  • We named Andy’s two new kittens: Walker and RT.. from Talladega Nights, “Ricky Bobby: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, I want to thank you for this wonderful meal, my two beautiful sons, Walker and Texas Ranger” (-;
  • Friday, updated my homepage (front page and history), cocktails on the Camps Bay strip, added my first Wikipedia article about Vendor Neutral Data Centres, braai at home, watched Crank.
  • Fri 21 Nov.. Celebrations! The VANS won. “Many pioneering independent networks are already operating and the high court ruling will allow them to attract investment and expand their networks.”
  • Saturday, Mia time, gym, swim, kids party at our place, sundowner drinks and pizza with Cath, Parri and Jess.
  • Sunday, early Clifton 2nd session with Georg and Mia, braai, afternoon nap, Camps Bay.. Primi, Baraza, Karma, Baraza.. to watch jacSharp and Pierre-Estienne play.

I’ve been invited to the U.S. Bloggers Tour dinner this week. Makes me think people actually read the rants I publish here.

Have a fun week.

Vendor Neutrality

Background

A while ago I had to keep explaining the ideas behind “Vendor Neutral Data Centres” over and over, mostly when talking about peering. I believe vendor neutral DC’s are a good environment for hosting peering points.

To me the logic and benefits were pretty obvious, but I kept bumping into those stubborn types (change resistance factor) who just don’t want to listen to the voice of reason and kept on asking for an exact definition of vendor neutrality.

Some people you just can’t reach.

They claimed that “vendor neutral” could mean any number of things to different people. I did not find much on Wikipedia and a few examples of UK/US data centre with vendor neutral business models did not seem to make an impact.

So, I figured I’d make a few notes and write it all down.. maybe I’ll add it to Wikipedia.

What is a Vendor Neutral Data Centre?

Before we start, I guess I have to say I am a founder and shareholder of South Africa’s first vendor neutral data centre business: Teraco… but I’m not involved in the day-to-day running of the business. I should also add that a big part of my motivation for starting Teraco comes from an experience involving a local peering point project failing because of the anti-competitive interconnect policies of a single-vendor data centre… but that’s old news, circa 2002. More about this later.

Let me give you my attempt at a summary…

Vendor Neutrality in the data centre market refers to a specialised and focused business model, where a provider limits its activities to a fixed set of value layers in order to avoid conflicts of interest. The provider creates an open market and a platform for others to add value. The provider remains neutral and independent and offers standard open interconnect policies. This results in greater flexibility and wider choice for clients.

There are a few similar sounding terms like.. Telco Agnostic and Network Independent. These mostly refer to network infrastructure and IP transit services. I think “vendor neutral” goes a bit further and refers to a business model which is independent of all parties which add value further up the chain… these could be: service providers, consultants, DR solution providers, storage providers etc.

This brings us to the concept of “value layer abstraction”. Vendor neutral data centres focus on the bottom value layers in the stack of services customers in data centres need: space, security, power, environment (aircon) and cabling.

If you want to think about this in a (OSI) networking stack model: They stick to Layer 1.

Vendor neutral data centre’s have proven to be a successful business model in Europe and the US. Examples would be: Telecity and Equinix.

In some ways it’s more of a property leasing business than an ICT business.

An easy way to test if a data centre is vendor neutral is to see if the sales person you deal with will sell you data centre space and IP transit services.

South African Context

It has long been the norm in SA that a business or ISP has one upstream provider.. a single point of failure. This is not really how the internet was designed to work. The internet is about democratization, decentralization and dense interconnectivity. You could say internet is built on a vision of anarchy.. order without leaders and central control.

In SA (until January 2009) you were pretty much forced to buy your IP transit (internet access) from the same guys who provide you with data centre services. This comes from an era where last mile costs were very expensive and it made sense to be close to your one ISP.

With a bit of luck, the SA telecoms landscape will change radically over the next 3 years and network operators will see the value in the vendor neutral data centre model. We’ll see businesses and ISPs connect to two or more upstream providers in a more flexible hosting environment and we’ll see good growth in peering traffic.

Benefits and Attributes of Vendor Neutral Data Centres

  • Focused on the data centre infrastructure business, specialised and efficient
  • Create a platform for others to add value, an open market
  • No conflicts of interest, focus, not competing with customers
  • Truly independent and unbiased
  • Greater flexibility and no “lock-in” effect
  • Less exposure to single provider instabilities
  • Dense interconnection with no restrictions on connections between customers
  • Consistent pricing structure for interconnect medium
  • Greater competition between providers, avoids anti-competitive behaviour
  • Lower costs, better value
  • Best-of-breed choices, buy voice from the leader in voice services, buy IP transit from the operator(s) that offers you the best solution
  • Good environment for peering points

Let me know if you can think of more benefits or attributes I should add..

Quick Update

The weekly dose of me, me me…

  • Monday, dropped Mia off at school, tea with her mom, since I always drive by the place and wonder what’s inside I stopped and visited Lady Chatterley’s Chamber on Kloofnek ..most interesting, burger with Georg and Christo at Da Vinci’s.. try the Milan burger, watched Saints and Soldiers and The OC.. end of season one, finally.
  • 300th crackbook friend, 300th blog post
  • Figured I need a detox week, this lasted 4 days.
  • Tuesday, Long Street Baths swim with Andy, CLUG talk at UCT, CLUG dinner at Adesso.. to arrange Nov GeekDinner logistics, watched some James Randi youtube about spoon bending.
  • Wednesday, Cape Town’s finest taxi service, installed new x350 Extreme switch for The Hub project (new website due soon), Teraco CPT site visit, brunch at Cocoa Wah Wah in Rondebosch, 1km swim, bumped into Lyle at the pool, Amobia Exco meeting at Da Vinci’s (again), jacSharp Electro at FTV.
  • Thursday, gym, WAPA committee meeting at my place, drinks at the Radisson for The Training Room Online launch, full moon Lion’s Head walk… on my own. I think I need to write a (nasty) blog post about people that say they are going to show up but don’t.
  • Friday, killer abs class, made an uber-healthy-juice with my new juicer, emergency party gift shopping at Tinka Tonka Toys in Gardens, they were very helpful, chaired the WAPA AGM at Eikendal and I was elected to the WAPA management committee again. Mia and I attended Belle’s 6th birthday party.. island girl theme. Had home made burger’s at Will’s house.. some Springfield Wild Yeast Chardonnay (must be my fav wine at the moment) and authentic Mexican Mezcal with a worm in the bottle, Mia passed out on the couch and we slept over.
  • Do you ever get the feeling (fear) that you could be missing out on a revolution.. a cool hobby with an interesting evolving history?.. one of those windows in time that people look back on and say.. those were the days. New oceans to navigate.
  • Some days I wonder if maybe I’m just trying to progress (regress?) to a student lifestyle.. maybe I just miss the mountain biking and the crayfish diving.
  • Saturday, Will smoothies, gym, swim.. Mia now goes under the water and doggy paddles, had to drag her away from the pool, Clifton 4th with Mia and Will, perfect night for a braai at our place, this time Will ended up sleeping over.
  • Sunday, early’ish Clifton 2nd session, watched The Big Lebouski again, jacSharp at Karma – Camps Bay.. try Tanqueray and cranberry juice.

Idea of the week: Don’t try too hard, often it will come to you.. just need to find the right channel.

Have a fun week.

The Training Room Online

The kind people at The Training Room Online invited me to the Radisson Hotel for cocktails and canepes this week to celebrate the launch of their new venture. Good thing that Cape Town storm ended on Thursday. A nice day for cocktails.

I’m always supportive of new and innovative Cape Town technology businesses. This is such a cool idea. Beauty in simplicity.

They basically create online training videos and offer a web based testing platform, mostly for the corporate market it seems. You end up with a simple, intuitive (familiar) training system which you can access from pretty much anywhere at any time. It’s a standardised (uniform) environment for all the learners and keeps a nice history of courses completed and scores achieved.

I recently completed two online training courses on Extreme Networks switching. Their system worked really well… the challenge is in the content and the freshness of the material. Makes me think training course material is something you should think about outsourcing.. if only to motivate somebody to keep it all up to date.

Get in touch with Training Room Online if you have training needs.

Quick Update

Hooah. A smoothy and Mojito week..

  • Monday, breakfast with Mia, a smoothy at Will’s, ISPA PR WG meeting, afternoon jazz, running up Tamboerskloof steps.. a real killer, try it. Lauren’s bday drinks at Rafiki’s, watched Platoon.
  • “The party was so good he can’t even remember going” — Ruan
  • Tuesday, clothes shopping with Mia and her mom, a nice drive to Cape Town at dusk, Camps Bay Beach Club Flaming Lamborgini’s with Georg.
  • Wednesday, Clifton 3rd, sundowner Mojito’s at our place with Jonathan, Mojito’s and jacSharp electro at FTV, Mojito’s with Andy.
  • Somedays the little things can really be annoying. It helps when you realise you are lucky enough to have very special people around. Keep making the effort.
  • Thursday, bit of a mint and lime hangover, breakfast smoothy, rainy day.. good day to write a business plan, brainstorming tea drinking session with Cath at Lazari. Watched Intacto.. love trumps luck.
  • Friday, gym, swim, interesting meeting in De Waterkant, Mia time.
  • Saturday, gym, swim, braai and Mojito’s at home with Georg, Andy, Parri, Dave, Chris and Mia.
  • Sunday, cranberry-celery-apple smoothy, gym, swim, big family braai, a bit of spoon bending, beautiful summers day, the three men and a little lady cruised down to Clifton 4th with the top down, watched The Departed and Beowulf., fell asleep before ten.
  • You have to love family life, even if it’s little bit broken family life.

Have a fun week.

Autotrace Scanner Darkly Effect

Something fun to do on a Friday afternoon..

A quick hack to make a photo look like something out of the movie Scanner Darkly.. also known as a Rotoscoping effect.

All you need is Autotrace and Inkscape.

apt-get install autotrace
autotrace -despeckle-level 15 -input-format JPG -output-file lh.svg -output-format svg mymugshot.jpg

This gives you an svg file which you can play with in Inkscape before exporting to PNG.

 

Holding our breath for an Open Telecoms Market

Remember, remember the 21st of November..

Good news for SA telecoms: on Friday 31 Oct the High Court denied the Minister of Communications leave to appeal a recent judgement that gave all VANS license holders (ISPs) the right to build network infrastructure.

Now, if the Department of Communications could just get out of the way and do the right thing, South Africa will have a very different telecommunications services market after 21 November 2008.

There has been a lot of good press about this. I’ll just add a few ideas..

Why is it important that VANS get (I)ECNS licenses? Well it would be pretty cool if smaller and more dynamic businesses could build their own networks to serve the telecommunications needs of their communities. The business case for building infrastructure differs with scale. Maybe it makes sense for us to interconnect 10 farms or support a community driven surveillance system.. now we can.

IECNS licenses allow wireless network operators to apply for frequency spectrum. A new licensing model will give a lot more structure and clarity to the outdoor fixed wireless market. We can start thinking about lightly regulated or shared frequency licensing models. We can share and we can make it work.

IECNS licenses allow us to lay fibre. How? Well we simply inform the municipality that we are going to start digging in 30 days. How cool is that! Start thinking about things like community operated Metro Ethernet networks. We can dig up roads now.

Most importantly.. we’ll have to start thinking about telecoms infrastructure in a new way: Yes, we can.

I’m holding my breath. Well, kinda.. Amobia has been thinking this way for a while now.