Microsoft’s Obstacles Are Our Obstacles

July 22, 2011 by

The Director of the Business Information Technology Services Department asked us: Who does what we do well? After thinking about this question, I have tried to refocus the question by thinking about what obstacles we have? Who overcomes those obstacles well? My answer is Microsoft.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, does not consider Microsoft as part of the “Gang of Four”; Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. These are the tech companies he feels are driving growth and innovation.

Considering the dominance Microsoft had in the previous decade, and in many ways still holds, they have obstacles which their competitors don’t. Microsoft, more than any other technology company, has to manage a wide range of legacy products and they need to maintain compatibility with those products while staying innovative and ahead of the bleeding edge. Microsoft needs to keep one foot solidly planted in their current customers needs, but they cannot allow other firms to dictate their future.

Many of Microsoft’s products date back to an era when being in a connected environment was optional and client-side applications ruled the day. Now virtually all devices are connected all the time. Of the “Gang of Four”, only Apple provides a platform which could be useful in a disconnected world. The “Gang of Four” has a major advantage over Microsoft in that their businesses can be more easily managed server-side. For example, Facebook recently added a program called deals which offers coupons and online offers. No client-side changes needed to be made. End users did not need to purchase or install new software.

While Microsoft had a good jump on web-based email with it’s Hotmail service, it has been criticized for being late to the game, failing to capitalize or loosing ground in the mobile OS, mobile hardware, tablets, online documents, search, browser and virtual environment spaces. Microsoft continues to be successful in desktop operating systems, office software suites, Sharepoint, Exchange, development tools, databases. The only space they have recently made substantial inroads into is with their video gaming system, XBOX. I believe their success with XBOX is because this was a new environment for Microsoft which wasn’t expected to integrate with their legacy products. This is much the same environment in which the “Gang of Four” compete.

At the Port of San Diego we have similar issues. We have a mature IT landscape where we have made significant investments in solutions from Novell, Cisco, SAP, Esri and OpenText Hummingbird. We also have mature coworkers and clients (AKA Port employees) who have a clear and often resolute understanding of how things (should) work. More than a few times I have encountered situations where clients have requested a system only to learn that they will need to be the source of the authoritative data. For example, Joomla separates web design from content. When it is explained that anyone can share information across the Port through Joomla, suddenly the solution isn’t quite as appealing; responsibility which they thought would be provided for them falls into their lap.

On June 1st, 2011 Steven Sinofsky, President of Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live Division, and Julie Larson-Green, Corporate Vice President of Windows Experience, sat down with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher from the Wall Street Journal to discuss the future of Windows, in particular the next incarnation of the OS, currently known as Windows 8. The most visible changes from Windows7 is a reorganization of the graphical user interface (GUI) to leverage the use of tiles, instead of familiar windows. Tiles allow key information from within an application to be displayed outside the application. The other major change is that Windows 8 will be the same across all form factors. Everything from 8 inch displays to wall size displays, touch screen interface to any combination of peripherals and accessories. Click here to watch the full video.

The reason why this conversation is important is not because new features are coming to Windows. The new functionality only provides a context to discuss much more consequential changes in the IT world. This conversation is important because Microsoft needs to engage people to invest in the new technology while providing a succession plan for it’s legacy products which are currently key components to their customers business.

Unexpectedly, this larger and more important concept seemed to be well over the Wall Street Journal host’s head. Throughout the interview Walt Mossberg kept voicing shortsighted comments along the lines of; just make it pretty like Apple does. He didn’t seem to understand basic concepts like the difference between Windows and Office or the role of a desktop PC vs a server in a traditional IT landscape. His amateur perspective is useful because this is how end-users\clients\employees react to our choices. His uneducated, yet bombastic, attitude also resembles personalities and perspectives we encounter. His frustration mirrors a non-technically savvy Port employee’s frustration. Microsoft’s obstacles are our obstacles.

Throughout the conversation Walt Mossberg kept pushing Steven Sinofsky to answer why Windows 8 will be built upon future versions of Windows. Why is Microsoft so committed to bulky and sluggish Windows? Why not start from scratch? Why not expand Windows Phone OS to tablets, as Apple has done, instead of making the desktop OS work on tablets as well? Below are a few key points which show how Microsoft makes the decision to either keep one foot in the legacy world by making their current functionality forward compatible and\or completely transition out of a legacy product and into a new tool.

On the decision to build Windows OS to include tablets
WM: It is not the strategy which has been followed by your two bigger competitors, Google and Apple. Who felt like they needed to have a … well Google didn’t have a legacy computer OS, and Apple did.

SS: Well they [Google] built one.

WM: They built one. But they built it for phones and tablets.

SS: And then they went and built their own legacy OS.

WM: Eric [Schmidt] was explaining. Now you didn’t listen. He said one’s for typing and ones for touching.

SS: And you bought that?

WM: I am just saying what he [Eric Schmidt] said. Being a reporter. Apple took a computer OS and I guess stripped it down to some extent then added more stuff back into it, but tried to customize something. They didn’t move the Mac OS to the iphone and the ipad. You are taking a different approach. Why? You just explained why you could do it. Why would you want to do it? Why is it a better thing for consumers?

SS: It’s better because of all of the things Windows can bring with it.

WM: Here’s were I need to be snarky and say mean things. Like viruses and craplets and all the things people get on their Windows computers.

SS: Or printing, or using solid state storage really well or external hard drives

WM: The other guys use solid state storage pretty well.

SS: Without wierdness and stuff like that. What we tried to do with Windows 8 was reimagine how to work with a PC. Really think from the chip all the way to the user interface what it is we could do different. Not just get touch or a slate or a tablet made but to really think about the broad range of scenarios and really reimagine what we wanted to do with Windows. You could sort of say we colored outside the lines in terms of how we built this release. So we are excited to talk about it because we think it is a different approach. Maybe it is because we are not in the Gang. We chose a different avenue. We have a real customer and engineering scenario things we thought about. We have an approach that is different but also builds on the value of 400 million PC that will be probably be sold in the year we release this product. That is a big number. What will happen is all of a sudden, all of those PCs accrue all the benefits of the work that we are doing.

WM: So both tablets and PCs, laptops, desktops, whatever. All of this work, all of this coloring outside the lines spreads across all the …

SS: Right. What we’ve done is look from the ground up how to rethink how you interact with Windows. The kind of programs you can run. How you get those programs. All of that work and really bring it. A word we used a lot in developing it is “modern.” How to think about it in a different way that really solves a bunch of the things that people see, or say they see, solved in an ipad. I think we can do that and bring with it all of these benefits you have.

WM: Every program that runs on desktop windows will run on ..

SS: It’s Windows. Windows is there. Everything that runs on Windows7, any device you can plug into a Windows machine. Everything just runs.

When pushed about reinventing Microsoft Office
WM: So why didn’t the Office … Seriously. If you’re really going to this bold new, color-outside-the-lines design, and it’s part of your whole design ethos and design family, why didn’t the Office team write or rewrite Office for that kind of approach?

LG: Well. They may do something … in the future. But we don’t think people should have to give up everything they know and love to get to a more mobile form factor.

More pushing about Microsoft Office on Tablets
KS: And if you’re looking for the whole experience, the idea (that) everything’s changed, I was sort of looking at this very beautiful screen and went, uck, the ugly old house if back, you know? Why not switch the whole thing? … I mean, this is a whole different look. Because Bing fits into this nicely. Why not do everything?

LG: There’s a lot of utility in existing Office around running macros and doing things that take keyboard intensive time, and I’m sure that the Office team will look at what we’re doing…

ARM Hardware Support Changes
Question from Audience: Do you have a strategy for existing Intel applications as they move to ARM?

SS: On our ARM machines … we are not going to introduce a virtualization model and a way to run old x86 software. That turns out to be technically really challenging and we decided the experience we could deliver with modern applications all written in HTML5 and Javascript … would probably yield a better experience over time.

Comparison to Mistakes by IBM in 1981
Question from Audience [Tim O’Reily]: I want to return to the question of the Gang of Four in a particular way. First off, I really like the UI that you are showing but it strikes me that one of the big differences between what you are showing and the Gang of Four is that a big part of what they have are applications in which the data is what’s driving things and in particular network effects in data seems to be what makes Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon such interesting dynamic companies. They are harnessing billions of people to build a service that actually gets literally better the more people use them. Now Microsoft has services of that nature but they don’t seem to be featured in what you are doing. I am wondering if you are making the same mistake that IBM made back in 1981 when they thought hey, this is all about hardware and you guys are thinking oh this is all about software and you are not integrating Microsoft’s data assets into the core of your OS.

I guess the question is,  to what extent are they informing the product design. It would be really fabulous, it seems to me, if you guys actually thought how to show that and make that part of your story so that people understand that that is actually what makes it a modern platform not having a touchscreen.

LG: I showed a few of the elements on how we are rethinking. I didn’t show notifications or how applications talk to each other and get information from each other to make the experience better, but the whole start screen being alive and being connected from the get go without having to go to your desktop then decide where you want to go today. Everything is just there in front of you. When we are done, and we can show the full version of Windows, those applications and things will be part of the experience. All the services behind it. We work very closely with that team.

SS: We are the Windows and Windows live team so we have Hotmail and Messenger all part of one team. We just aren’t on that today.

I want to point out Microsoft did not take the same approach to all topics. They are going to be backward compatible with Office and other applications, but they are not going to implement a virtualization model on ARM processors. At Windows 8 they decided to go distinctly different directions on these 2 topics. I am sure these concepts were explored ad nauseam in Redmond.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is in the uncomfortable position of meeting both the shallow expectations of Walt Mossberg (just give him a nicer monitor and install Rainmeter with the Omnimo 4 skin – he won’t know the difference) and the relevant and profound expectations of Tim O’Reily all while supporting a wide range of mission critical legacy systems. The “Gang of Four’s” advantage is that they simply don’t come with baggage. Is the lesson to leverage our investments or start afresh? The answer for both the Port of San Diego and Microsoft us is clear as mud.

WhatTheHeckIsWrongWithPeople Zen


Enterprise GIS as Virtual Infrastructure Proving Grounds

June 14, 2011 by

Beware dork out session below

I’d like to solicit advice from the GIS\VM community regarding our ArcGIS Server 10 upgrade on VMWare ESXi, especially regarding the table below. Are there any major factors which I left out or factors which look like they might be a problem?

We all know the “cloud” is all the rage. Even Apple is doing it. I don’t want to rehash the vague benefits, but rather some of the concrete obstacles.

At the Port of San Diego we have a Virtual Infrastructure leveraging VMWare’s ESXi 3.5 software. About a year ago our Development and Production environments (Linux\Oracle11g\SDE and Win2003\AGS9.3.1) were ported over to this environment. We gave the physical machines over to these environments. For about 6 months everything worked fine. I regularly checked the ArcGIS Server Logs- No errors. Managers, administrators and users were all satisfied with the performance.

On January 26th we had an unplanned server outage. The system has never been the same since. The server and the services were restarted successfully, but our performance dropped to unacceptable levels. I could get the system to error by simulating a few users using different browsers. It certainly didn’t feel as snappy. In some cases layers wouldn’t load and we started getting lovely errors like those below in our ArcGIS Manager log.

Tension between what I refer to as “hardware guys” and “software guys” ensued.  As a software guy my feeling was that something in the VM had changed. At one point the production GIS webserver was placed into a “throttled” state. Our Oracle DBA referred to it as “nice” mode. The hardware team took exception to that categorization. The hardware guys claimed it was an OS issue and the servers weren’t even leveraging all the virtual hardware we had access to. Our Oracle DBA pulled the Linux\Oracle11g\SDE machine out of the Virtual Infrastructure and onto a physical Solaris machine to free up some resources. Performance increased but has never reached an acceptable level for a critical business system.

I have troubleshot this performance issue from every angle I can think of. I worked towards increasing the performance of the services: caching aerials, using optimized symbology, finer scale dependencies, republishing services as MSD based services and fixing every issue associated with the analyze button on the Map Service Publishing toolbar. I did everything I could think of at an OS level, defragmenting virtual and LUN disk, disk cleanup, checkdisk, defragmenting page files. I learned the nitty-gritty details of perfmon counters to ensure the application server was performing properly. I delved into the performance tab available in our VMWare Infrastructure Client and tweaked our VM settings to leverage memory ballooning. We created a new volume specifically for page files. Disabled Acceleration, disconnected virtual floppy and CD drives. If you are still reading you probably understand my frustration.

That brings us to today and our upgrade to ArcGIS 10. Our plan is to do an in-place database upgrade but create new Windows Server 2008 64-bit VMs, thereby overcoming the 32-bit OS memory limitation. According to a white paper from Esri and VMWare on deploying ArcGIS Server in VMWare Infrastructure: “Under average conditions, a CPU in a SOC machine can support about four concurrently active service instances. … If each machine is a dual-CPU system, this configuration can accommodate about 16 users simultaneously performing operations on services.” Under this logic our 4 core machine should be able to handle 64 concurrent users. My goal is to identify the inevitable differences between the white paper and our future environment. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Below is a spreadsheet outlining a series of factors which could effect performance.

Click on image to open larger version

As the webserver administrator should I have followed our Oracle DBA’s lead and moved back to physical machines? None of our other mission critical business systems (Email, Document Management, or ERP) are on the Virtual Infrastructure, nor is there any intention of moving them to VMs. Our Enterprise GIS intends to be considered among this group and leveraged in a similar way. If our implementation is successful we hope to prove not only that our GIS implementation ready for prime-time, but also that our Virtual Infrastructure can support other critical business systems. This will pave the way for other systems to move to the Virtual Infrastructure thereby realizing the efficiency, availability, flexibility and financial benefits of managing our own cloud.

ESRI ArcGIS Server 9.3 for VMware Infrastructure Deployment and Technical Considerations Guide White Paper (permalink)

MyNewFavoriteThing Zen

Finding Engineering Drawings and Real Estate Documents from the PortGIS Web Maps

March 29, 2011 by

At the Port of San Diego we have a mixture of enterprise systems which help us manage our data. GIS is the enterprise system which empowers port employees to tackle problems from a geographic perspective. We intend to complement, rather than replace or redo, other enterprise systems at the Port. Our goal is to handle the geography based questions and work in conjunction with the other systems. The PortGIS program is the geography based front-end for our enterprise data.

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Enterprise Architecture framework, 74 percent of government data is location based. At the state and local level the number is even higher – 80 percent – according to several organizations and publications.

Our leases with our tenants live in our document management system, Hummingbird DM 5, in PDF format. They also have an important geographic component. The leases are tied to a piece of land. The concept is also true for our official engineering drawings, which give a comprehensive picture of infrastructure on the Port Tidelands. Below are two videos which show how we can access this enterprise data from the PortGIS web maps.

How to find official engineering drawings from the PortGIS web maps

How to find leases and other important documents from the PortGIS web maps

AdultsWithCollegeDegreesintheUnitedStatesbyCounty Zen

Teaching a Class at on the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex at Mt. San Jacinto College

February 17, 2011 by

I’ll be teaching an 8 hour seminar style class titled Creating a GIS Website using ArcGIS Viewer for Flex on Friday, May 13th. The class will focus on manipulating XML files to quickly get a GIS web application deployed. We will also discuss differences between GIS for paper and web mediums as well as an introduction to server technologies.

This class is just one of the great opportunities being offered as part of the FREE! Friday GIS Workshops at Mt. San Jacinto College. The classes covers a wide range of topics from introduction and technical classes to industry specific GIS applications and integration with other systems.

Considering it is an advanced class, I have received a few questions about what knowledge is needed to take the class. The ArcGIS Viewer for Flex lowers the barrier to entry to quickly deploy a map to the web. It does not require any programming, but it does mean students should be familiar with GIS concepts so they can be applied in a server environment. Below is a link to a 16 minute video which covers many of the concepts in the class. We will go into more detail, but if you can follow along with the video you should be fine.

ArcGIS Viewer for Flex: A Quick Introduction (16 minute video)

Creating a GIS Website using ArcGIS Viewer for Flex flyer

How to sign up

WorldwideDrinkingHabits Zen

The Importance and Future of GISP Certification

January 5, 2011 by

Recently, my application to become a GISP (Geographic Information Systems Professional) was accepted. It took about 8 hours to complete application process including filling out the form and compiling all the documentation. After I submitted my application, there was a fair amount of back and forth with the organization about my qualifications. In some cases, items I submitted to support my qualifications were not counted, while other items were deemed more valuable than I had expected. I am very happy the process is complete and am excited to continue my relationship with the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI).

Professional Engineers (PE) and Professional Surveyors (PS) must be certified and\or licensed to accomplish the vast majority of their work. Certifications are voluntary and managed by NCEES while licenses are mandated by law and granted by state boards. The vast majority of practitioners are certified, but the determination as to whether a license is necessary is dependent upon the severity of consequences for a poor work product. Serious injury, death or a large settlement could be the result of a Civil Engineer not adhering to best practices, while IT Network Engineers are deemed less of a risk. Generally, IT Network Engineers are certified while Civil Engineers are certified and licensed.

The GISCI has done a wonderful job of supporting and anticipating the trajectory of the GIS profession. GIS has become integral in the workflow of virtually every large organization worldwide. GIS Professionals often aren’t required to be as spatially accurate as surveying or engineering software. If a first responder is within three feet of a fire extinguisher he\she will find it, but thee feet is way outside the margin of error for most measurements required by engineers or surveyors. GIS is also designed to leverage relational databases, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and close integration with other complementary enterprise information technologies. GIS is interdisciplinary in a way that surveying and engineering isn’t and from a technological data integration standpoint, Engineers and Surveyors have more autonomy.

Should GIS professionals be licensed by the state? It may become appropriate as GIS continues to be used by homeland security, law enforcement, fire prevention, dispatch, federal defense and intelligence efforts and other mission critical services. The unfortunate situation below is from a recent news article titled, “Shelby County 911 district board to hire mapping expert,” and would support the argument that GIS professionals should be licensed.

“We need one base map that covers the entire county that is seamless,” said director Raymond Chiozza at a recent Shelby County Emergency Communications District 911 board meeting. “Our backs are against the wall. We have to do it now.”

In 2003, the Memphis Fire Department sent ambulances to the wrong address despite receiving the correct address three separate times from callers. Jim Wagner died later at a local hospital after it took 26 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to The Billiard Club.

Dispatchers sent an ambulance 10 miles south of the correct location to 2686 Kirby Road at Langsdale Cove — rather than to 2686 Kirby-Whitten. Memphis annexed that section of town about six months earlier. The location is a block south of Bartlett’s city limits but Bartlett did not respond.

Getting certified as a GISP was an onerous task. No one likes to be judged or to be placed in a situation where they have to prove their skills– let alone tediously filling out forms when they probably have “real” GIS work to focus on. We, as GIS professionals, should understand that these certifications will bolster our personal work prospects and raise the status of our industry. Many of our coworkers view GIS Professionals (whether certified or not) as support staff for key decision makers. We create maps while others interpret them and make decisions based upon them. Obviously this didn’t work in Shelby County. There was a disconnect between the real world, how this change affected the data, and the real-time data accuracy needs. Our industry has matured to the point where we can move beyond being solely support staff, to become spatial experts and technical system integrators. We need to understand all the variables, consequences, workflow and industry best practices which go into ensuring the type of incidents outlined above don’t happen.

I appreciate the work of the GISCI and I urge them to keep the standards for excellence in our industry high.

JustAWonderfulStory Zen

Using the PortGIS Program to Explore the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP)

November 9, 2010 by

At The Port of San Diego, like all public agencies, have hot button issues. The North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (NEVP) is currently our most contentious issue. On August 2, 2010, the These Days program on KPBS radio broadcasted a lively discussion between Irene McCormack of the Port District of San Diego and Don Wood of the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition on the future of “San Diego’s Front Porch.”

Most of the topics discussed were location/geography-based including view corridors down Broadway, overlapping plans for development, and ideas for land use changes on other Port properties. I recorded a video using our internal PortGIS Program, available to all Port employees on Port computers, with the objective of giving a geographic perspective to complement the dialog. The primary goal of this blog is to educate Port employees on the use of our internal PortGIS Program so they can make informed decisions. By utilizing tools, such as GIS, Port employees strive to be as effective, efficient and accurate as possible. This conversation gives us the opportunity to showcase these tools as they relate to NEVP and similar concepts should be used by Port decision makers across the Tidelands.

Click on the image below to watch the video. The video has audio.


If the video isn’t playing click the link below to watch it at

We really have a beautiful resource in the North Embarcadero. I think Don Wood said it best- “It has the potential to be one of the most iconic waterfronts in the United States and in the world if we do it right.” We hope the PortGIS Program will play a role in helping us “do it right.”

KPBS’s coverage

SocialNetworksRTakingOverOurLives Zen

“Cartographic Clout: GOP, Democrats Vie for Redistricting Dominance” on PBS Newshour

October 21, 2010 by

Last night, the PBS Newshour had a great story on redistricting based on the release of Census data. The story might have been called “Top Political Operatives use GIS software and Census Data to Harness Advantage Over the Next Decade.”

It looks like ArcGIS 10, but I am not sure. Please comment if you are familiar with the software is being used.

Leveraging GIS and Blackberry Investments Using Freeance View

August 16, 2010 by

Here at the Port of San Diego we have made substantial investments in our Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), Blackberry devices and ArcGIS Server. Freeance View, the free version of Freeance’s Mobile suite, allows us to leverage these investments. This software enables our Port employees access to our internal GIS resources on their Blackberrys. There are certainly pro and cons to this integration effort.


  • Freeance Software is dead easy to implement. No extra classes or programming needed. The server side work took about an hour. There was no special configuration needed on our BES
  • Security and network configuration is already fully configured. There was no talk about punching holes or implementing security for our services.


  • Blackberrys deployed at the Port 1) have small screens 2) no touch screen and 3) no integrated GPS. This might be fine for email, but it is a sub-par environment to work with GIS data.

Currently this product is in development; meaning we don’t guarantee it’s full functionality 24×7. Depending upon feedback from our users we might deploy it as a production tool. In the video below we show how to 1) download Freeance View 2) configure the software to use our development GIS resources and 3) navigate the map to show how an easement cuts across a parcel.

See the links below, if you are interested in trying out this product on the Blackberry simulator used in the video.

The Blackberry emulator/simulator used in the video can be downloaded from the link below

You will also need BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator

MostInterestingArticleIHaveReadInAWhile Zen

Brown Bag Time

August 4, 2010 by

Today is our brown bag presentation in the Board Room here at the Port Administration Building. This is our big coming-out party and the beginning of our formal efforts to educate Port employees on how they can use the PortGIS resources to get to the answers they are looking for. The GIS group, Barry Ghotra, Malcolm Meikle, Mike Kerr and myself have worked very hard to make this presentation engaging. Below are the videos we used during the presentation.

1) What is GIS

2) Accessing Google Streetview

3) How to Find an Engineering Drawing Based On Location

4) How to Find an Engineering Drawing Based on Data

5) Using the Measure Tool

We decided to focus the presentation on the functionality available through only one of the 4 web maps. There is much more functionality available to Port employees through the Past and Future web maps.  The video below includes a whirlwind tour a tour of the program as whole.

Thank you and PortGIS Whirlwind Tour

July 27, 2010 by

We wanted to thank our Communications Department for writing an article about our GIS implementation. We are really excited about the new GIS tools available to our Port employees and this is a great way to get the word out. The video below includes a quick tour of the PortGIS web maps and the various data available.

GIS Team Puts Port of San Diego on the Map article

GPSMapArt Zen