Dynamics CRM 2011 got to cloud customers first…

Users of the cloud-hosted version of customer relationship management software from Microsoft, aka Dynamics CRM, will be first in line to get the latest version. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 will be available for on-premises deployment from February 28, but cloud customers can start using it today in 40 countries and 41 languages…

Clearly gunning for Salesforce.com and Oracle CRM customers, Microsoft is trying to undercut its competitors with a promotional price of $34 per user per month, and as an added incentive is offering $200 per user transferred from a competing product to Dynamics CRM for a limited period, to help cover any migration costs. Which are not really that bad speaking from an implementers perspective.


EC2 now has FreeBSD

EC2 now has FreeBSD

Good news. EC2 now has FreeBSD. Though with some quirks…In order to work with EC2, the FreeBSD AMIs are slightly modified from what you would have immediately after installing FreeBSD from a release CD:

  • The network is configured and the sshd daemon is enabled, for obvious reasons.
  • SSH logins as root are enabled, but root’s password is starred out (i.e., password logins as root will fail until a password is set).
  • The first time an AMI is booted, a script fetches the public half of an SSH keypair from EC2 and arranges for root logins using that key.
  • Every time the the AMI boots, it prints the SSH host keys to the console in the same format as Amazon Linux AMIs do.
  • The FreeBSD kernel is located on an ext2 filesystem, in order to allow Amazon’s user provided kernel functionality to work. (Everything else is on a single UFS2 filesystem.)
  • AMIs published from 2010-12-29 onwards have /etc/motd text with some comments about FreeBSD/EC2 and a link to this page.
  • AMIs published from 2010-12-29 onwards by default report kernel panics (including backtraces) to the FreeBSD/EC2 maintainer to assist him in identifying and fixing bugs. 
At the present time, FreeBSD/EC2 should be considered an experimental platform not yet ready for production use.

The following AMIs are available (though there are additional obsolete AMIs…):

FreeBSD version us-east-1 us-west-1 eu-west-1 ap-southeast-1
FreeBSD 9.0-CURRENT @ 2011-01-04
For t1.micro instances only! ami-8cce3fe5 ami-61683824 ami-e388bd97 ami-36bdc364
FreeBSD 8.2-RC @ 2011-01-08
For t1.micro instances only! ami-4a15e423 ami-376e3e72 ami-f77e4a83 ami-3eb6c86c

Note: Apparently FreeBSD will only currently work on t1.micro instances..


PHP: Finding the binary

The other day I was stumped, albeit rather briefly, by something I should not have been. I was scripting out some CRON jobs for a CRM system when I found out I could not locate where the hosting company had put the PHP binary. Now that is something you usually do not have to think about so it can easily fall into the ‘been a while’ category.

So if you ever find yourself asking, where is the PHP binary? or just where is PHP? Here are some steps to follow.

If you have shell access via telnet, log in, and type “which php” and you should be given the location to use.

If you don’t have shell, try one of the following:

Create a php page with just the following: and then call the page, this should tell you the location of PHP.

echo system('which php');

If that does not work, though it should, try checking one of the paths listed under path in the ENVIRONMENT section of the output with this.Take note though that this will give you the environment path so you will still need to add /php to it…

echo phpinfo();

Quantum Cryptography Now Fast Enough For Video…

Researchers at the Cambridge Lab of Toshiba Research Europe have solved the problem of transferring highly sensitive data at high speed across a long distance network. The team were able to demonstrate the continuous operation of quantum key distribution (QKD) — a system that allows the communicating users to detect if a third party is trying to eavesdrop on the data communication — at a speed greater than one megabit/sec over a 50 km fibre optic network, thanks to the use of a light detector for high bit rates and a feedback system which maintains the high bit rates during data transfer. … The faster one megabit/sec data handling will allow the one-time pad to be used for the encryption of video — a vast step forward over the current ability to only encrypt voice data.

The value of distributed computing: The return of Markov chain Monte Carlo methods

A while back I wrote something on doing Monte Carlo simulations with Web Services and SharePoint. Halfway through I mentioned that Google Pagerank was defined by a Markov chain which in turn was an output of a process called Markov chain Monte Carlo methods. Not that it concerned me but only one person mentioned this, and at that it was a vague mentioning. Huh…

This actually is a big deal. In fact a very big deal. A multi billion dollar deal in fact, as in the case of Google PageRank. Distributed computing has the power to help us solve many things if applied correctly. The “cloud” does not. (A topic for later.) Probably the greatest hurdle in getting people back on track is that this technology has use beyond the scope of most peoples daily lives. For example…

A paper was published in PLoS last week, September 4th 2009, called “Can an Eigenvector Measure Species’ Importance for Coextinctions?” In it the authors state that “PageRank” can be applied to the study of food webs. Food webs are the complex networks of who eats whom in an ecosystem.Typically we’re at the top, unless Hollywood or very bad planning is involved. Essentially, the scientists are saying that their particular version of PageRank could be a simple way of working out which extinctions would lead to ecosystem collapse. A relatively handy thing to have these days… As every species is embedded in a complex network of relationships with others, even a single extinction can rapidly cascade into the loss of seemingly unrelated species. Investigating when this might happen using more conventional methods is complicated as even in simple ecosystems, the number of combinations exceeds the number of atoms in the universe… E.g. a typical lottery which has 8 numbers that can range between 1 and 50 has 39,062,500,000,000 different combinations…

The researchers had to tweak PageRank to it to adapt it for their ecology focused purposes.

“First of all we had to reverse the definition of the algorithm.” “In PageRank, a web page is important if important pages point to it. In our approach a species is important if it points to important species.”

They also tested against algorithms that were already in use in computational biology to find a solution to the same problem. PageRank, in its adjusted form, gave them exactly the same solution as these much more complicated algorithms.

With the right design SharePoint can be an extremely useful, and totally appropriate, interface for accessing and disseminating the inputs and outputs of such an effort. It can store and present this data with all of the requisite benefits one would expect from a collaborative platform. Certainly there’s a world of work involved in doing something like this but the key point is that the right tool for the right job mantra works here. “All” you need is:

  • IIS
  • .NET
  • SharePoint
  • PowerShell
  • Visual Studio
  • SQL
  • Skill

Microsoft Windows Azure July 2009 CTP new features

This download extends Visual Studio to enable the creation, building, debugging, running and packaging of scalable Web applications and services on Windows Azure. A hot topic to say the least.

In case you are not sure what it is: “Windows Azure is the cloud operating system that serves as the development, run-time, and control environment for the Azure Services Platform.”

And you can get the whole marketing blurb here: http://www.microsoft.com/azure/default.mspx

If you are just getting started with the CTP go here Working with Multiple Web and Worker Roles and here Associating an ASP.NET Web Application (including MVC) as a Web Role.

Download it from here: Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio July 2009 CTP

Copy of text from the link page below


Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio extend Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Studio 2010 Beta 1 to enable the creation, building, debugging, running and packaging of scalable web applications and services on Windows Azure.

Please note that this is a CTP release and should not be used on production systems. Please see the EULA for more details.

New for the July 2009 CTP:

  • Support for developing and deploying services containing multiple web and worker roles. A service may contain zero or more web roles and zero or more worker roles with a minimum of one role of either type.
  • New project creation dialog that supports creating Cloud Services with multiple web and worker roles.
  • Ability to associate any ASP.NET Web Application project in a Cloud Service solution as a Web Role
  • Support for building Cloud Services from TFS Build
  • Enhanced robustness and stability

Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio includes:

  • C# and VB Project Templates for creating a Cloud Service solution
  • Tools to change the Service Role configuration
  • Integrated local development via the Development Fabric and Development Storage services
  • Debugging Cloud Service Roles running in the Development Fabric
  • Building and packaging of Cloud Service Packages
  • Browsing to the Azure Services Developer Portal
  • SSL Certificate selection

System Requirements

  • Supported Operating Systems: Windows 7; Windows Server 2008; Windows Vista