>E-memory and Meat Memory

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As we move towards a “paperless society” and migrate our data to the computer and the Internet, we can find personal profiles, resumes, photos, videos, emails, documents, presentations, news items, scanned copies of diplomas and awards, contact lists, and even financial, tax, and property records.

People have so much information on the web (and their hard drive) these days that they fear one of two things happening:

  1. Their hard drive will crash and they will lose all their valuable information.
  2. Someone will steal their data and their identity (identity theft)

For each of these, people are taking various precautions to protect themselves such as backing up their data and regularly and carefully checking financial and credit reports.

Despite some risks of putting “too much information” out there, the ease of putting it there, and the convenience of having it there—readily available—is driving us to make the Internet our personal storage device.

One man is taking this to an extreme. According to Wired Magazine (September 2009), Gordon Bell is chronicling his life—warts and all—online. He is documenting his online memory project—MyLifeBits—in a book, called Total Recall.

“Since 2001, Bell has been compulsively scanning, capturing and logging each and every bit of personal data he generates in his daily life. The trove includes Web Sites he’s visited (22,173), photos taken (56,282), docs written and read (18,883), phone conversations had (2,000), photos snapped by SenseCam hanging around his neck (66,000), songs listened to (7,139) and videos taken by (2,164). To collect all this information, he uses a staggering assortment of hardware: desktop scanner, digicam, heart rate monitor, voice recorder, GPS logger, pedometer, Smartphone, e-reader.”

Mr. Bell’s thesis is that “by using e-memory as a surrogate for meat-based memory, we free our minds to engage in more creativity, learning, and innovation.”

Honestly, with all the time that Bell spends capturing and storing his memories, I don’t know how he has any time left over for anything creative or otherwise.

Some may say that Gordon Bell has sort of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)—you think? Others that he is some sort of genius that is teaching the world to be free and open to remembering—everything!

Personally, I don’t think that I want to remember “everything”. I can dimly remember some embarrassing moments in elementary school and high school that I most sure as heck want to forget. And then there are some nasty people that would be better off buried in the sands of time. Also, some painful times of challenge and loss—that while may be considered growth experiences—are not something that I really want on the tip of my memory or in a file folder on my hard drive or a record in a database.

It’s good to remember. It’s also sometimes good to forget. In my opinion, what we put online should be things that we want or need to remember or access down the road. I for one like to go online every now and then and do some data cleanup (and in fact there are now some programs that will do this automatically). What I thought was worthwhile, meaningful, or important 6 months or a year ago, may not evoke the same feelings today. Sometimes, like with purchases I made way back when, I think to myself, what was I thinking when I did that? And I quickly hit the delete key (wishing I could do the same with those dumb impulse purchases!). Most of the time, I am not sorry that I did delete something old and I am actually happy it is gone. Occasionally, when I delete something by accident, then I start to pull my hair out and run for the backup—hoping that it really worked and the files are still there.

In the end, managing the hard drive takes more work then managing one’s memories, which we have little conscious control over. Between the e-memory and the meat memory, perhaps we can have more of what we need and want to remember and can let go and delete the old and undesired one—and let bygones be bygones.

>Making More Out of Less

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One thing we all really like to hear about is how we can do more with less. This is especially the case when we have valuable assets that are underutilized or potentially even idle. This is “low hanging fruit” for executives to repurpose and achieve efficiencies for the organization.

In this regard, there was a nifty little article in Federal Computer Week, 15 Jun 2009, called “Double-duty COOP” about how we can take continuity of operations (COOP) failover facilities and use them for much more than just backup and business recovery purposes in the case of emergencies. 

“The time-tested approach is to support an active production facility with a back-up failover site dedicated to COOP and activated only during an emergency. Now organizations can vary that theme”—here are some examples:

Load balancing—“distribute everyday workloads between the two sites.”

Reduced downtime—“avoid scheduled outages” for maintenance, upgrades, patches and so forth.

Cost effective systems development—“one facility runs the main production environment while the other acts as the primary development and testing resource.”

Reduced risk data migration—when moving facilities, rather than physically transporting data and risk some sort of data loss, you can instead mirror the data to the COOP facility and upload the data from there once “the new site is 100 percent operational.”

It’s not that any of these ideas are so innovatively earth shattering, but rather it is their sheer simplicity and intuitiveness that I really like.

COOP is almost the perfect example of resources that can be dual purposed, since they are there “just in case.” While the COOP site must ready for the looming contingency, it can also be used prudently for assisting day-to-day operational needs.

As IT leaders, we must always look for improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency of what we do. There is no resting on our laurels. Whether we can do more with less, or more with more, either way we are going to advance the organization and keep driving it to the next level of optimization. 

>Decentralization, Technology, and Anti-Terror Planning

>Given that 9/11 represented an attack on geographically concentrated seats of U.S. financial and government power, is it a good enterprise architecture decision to centralize many or all government headquarters in one single geographic area?

Read about Decentralization, Technology, and Anti-Terror Planning in The Total CIO.

>Decentralization, Technology, and Anti-Terror Planning

>Even though there hasn’t been a successful terrorist attack against the United States since 9/11, we are all aware that terrorists continue to seek ways to harm us. Of course, we have assets deployed nationally as well as internationally to protect our interests. However, there is always more that can be done. And one thing that immediately comes to my mind is decentralization.

The concept of decentralization is very simple. Rather than concentrating all your vital assets in one place, you spread them out so that if one is destroyed, the others remain functional. The terrorists already do this by operating in dispersed “cells.” Not only that, but we know that very often one “cell” doesn’t know what the other one is doing or even who they are. All this to keep the core organization intact in case one part of it is compromised.

Both the public and private sectors understand this and often strategically decentralize and have backup and recovery plans. However, we still physically concentrate the seat of our federal government in a geographically close space. Given that 9/11 represented an attack on geographically concentrated seats of U.S. financial and government power, is it a good enterprise architecture decision to centralize many or all government headquarters in one single geographic area?

On the one hand the rationale for co-locating federal agencies is clear: The physical proximity promotes information-sharing, collaboration, productivity, a concentrated talent pool, and so on. Further, it is a signal to the world that we are a free and proud nation and will not cower before those who threaten us.

Yet on the other hand, technology has advanced to a point where physical proximity, while a nice-to-have, is no longer an imperative to efficient government. With modern telecommunications and the Internet, far more is possible today than ever before in this area. Furthermore, while we have field offices dispersed throughout the country, perhaps having some headquarters outside DC would bring us closer to the citizens we serve.

On balance, I believe that both centralization and decentralization have their merits, but that we need to more fully balance these. To do this, we should explore the potential of decentralization before automatically reverting to the former.

It seems to me that decentralization carries some urgency given the recent report “World At Risk,” by The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism—it states that “terrorists are determined to attack us again—with weapons of mass destruction if they can. Osama bin Laden has said that obtaining these weapons is a ‘religious duty’ and is reported to have sought to perpetuate another ‘Hiroshima.’

Moreover, the report goes on to state that the commission “believes that unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”

Ominously the report states “we know the threat we face. We know our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing. And we know what we must do to counter the risk.”

Enterprise architecture teaches us to carefully vet and make sound investment decisions. Where should we be investing our federal assets—centrally or decentralized and how much in each category?

Obviously, changing the status quo is not cheap and would be especially difficult in the current global economic realty. But it is still something we should carefully consider.

>Backup and Recovery and Enterprise Architecture

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Anyone who has lost information on their computer knows how important backing up your computer work is, and organizations spend large sums of money to back up corporate information assets.

ComputerWorld, 4 February 2008, reports that “Corporate IT Warms Up to Online Backup Services.”

It used to be everyone backed up their own data, but now things are changing with major storage vendors entering the online backup market.

Now the benefits are beginning to outweigh the costs:

  • Cost savings on specially skilled personnel and equipment for backup and storage administration function
  • Productivity gains from outsourcing the systems administration and backup
  • Unlimited corporate storage capacity

The information security officer at the University of San Francisco states: “If you asked me three or four years ago [about backup], the economics would say, ‘build it yourself.’ However, as storage vendors enter the online storage business and work to address IT concerns [such as pricing and security], ‘I can’t imagine anyone doing it themselves.’”

Gartner says “the technology is slowly becoming more attractive to large companies, thanks to move into the hosted storage business by EMC and storage and backup rivals such as IBM, Iron Mountain Inc, Symantec Corp., and Seagate Technology LLC.”

IDC predicts that sales of hosted backup storage services will reach $715 million in 2011, up from $235 million in 2007.”

Vendors are moving quickly to address the following issues:

  • Acceptable pricing
  • Security including encryption and authentication
  • Bandwidth

So are hosted backup services worth the cost?

The vice president of operations and compliance officer of Lisle Savings Bank says “I’m not going to say it cheap; it’s not. [But] we felt what are paying for is really insurance against losing data. I used to cringe when anybody deleted a file and I had to find the tape.”

The IT director of a Fort Worth, Texas law firm noted that “the move to the hosted service quickly blunted management concerns about disaster recovery in the tornado-prone area. The online option also ensures that backup tapes will not have to be stored by a vendor that could carelessly allow them to be lost or stolen…It’s the wave of the future, if it’s not already here.”

From a User-centric Enterprise Architecture perspective, we must ensure the security of business and technical assets. This includes the confidentiality, availability, integrity, and privacy of corporate information. One way to protect vital information assets is through robust information backup and recovery services.