Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First IMS user group meeting

Today, Cooper Power Systems held their first IMS Users Group teleconference. Building a user community was in their plans, and I am glad to see it slowly coming to a reality. I'll spare all the technical announcements because I'm not sure what can be made public. However, one of the things that stood out was a need to build up an online presence so that users can exchange ideas and solutions. Someone suggested using Google Groups but they already have a forum which they control, so my guess is that it will probably end up there.

Normally, a user group should be set up by users and remain independent. Linkedin is a good place to start one. However, as far as niche products go, IMS is as specific a product as it can get. That being said, Cooper EAS obviously doesn't have a pool of thousands of customers on which a user community can be easily built and communities need leaders. So it is better under the circumstances to keep the community leadership in their hands.

I believe that building a user group based on an unusual technology isn't necessarily a challenge... it's a feature that can be harnessed. Many specialized products have thriving user communities. For example, when I used to spend 100% of my time on HP business systems, the NonStop guys consisted of a fair crowd, tightly knit together with dedicated conferences and strong leadership, while HP-UX didn't benefit from such a community momentum (I was trying to change that slowly, but my career path steered me elsewhere). That hit me. Some people take pride in working with one-of-a-kind, high quality systems. Cooper encourages papers, so I expect some of their customers to participate in the best way they can in that manner.

Speaking of papers and conferences, Cooper EAS is planning a special IMS and SMP track at their next EAS conference. We'll see if more people can come than last year. And let's hope I'll be able to be one of them.


P.S. Someone asked me if I had plans to continue my entries on IED integration in IT. I have a rough draft for part 2 ready, but didn't find the energy to finish it yet. I'll probably end up doing it eventually. I have to work from home on this on my own time, so bear with me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Playing with PI Web Parts

I've spent some free time at work setting up a basic SharePoint 2010 Server in order to test the functionality of OSISoft's PI Web Parts .

This is my first experience with SharePoint and PI Web Parts, and I'm not very impressed up to now.

Here are my thoughts:

SharePoint is terribly slow

Sharepoint is unbelievably slow. Granted, I have a small VM, but I'm using the default configuration, no bells and whistles. Usability suffers from extreme sluggishness, and I wouldn't want to design pages in SharePoint full-time as my objective in life is to keep a shred of sanity. When I use Web 2.0 apps, I expect Web 2.0 speed. Not cgi-bin-like responsiveness.

Web Parts rely on SVG (and, soon, MS Silverlight)

The "interesting" graphical Web Parts rely on SVG to generate graphics, like the PI Trend Web Part pictured above. Using SVG is not a problem per se, as it is a lightweight format which gives very usable results -- the trend graphics are live, and you can hover over parts of the graphic to get more info dynamically.

However, Internet Explorer is notorious for not supporting SVG natively. Furthermore, there is no alternative to configure these web parts to make static image files... so if you have a locked-down desktop with IE8 (or, even worse, IE6) and have no SVG viewer, you're fucked. The only solution consists of installing an old viewer from Adobe that has not been updated since 2005, and has been unsupported since 2009. Unacceptable in an enterprise environment. Calling the Man to install such a viewer on my laptop would result in the Man saying "no" and laughing his way back to the bank.

What further exacerbates me is OSISoft's commitment to migrate to Silverlight in the future. Deploying Silverlight will be another complex task in a locked-down enterprise environment. Of course, Microsoft already knows how to deal with this: I think they can't bundle Sliverlight with Windows 7 due to antitrust issues, but they will find a way to attach it into the next version of MS Office. So when the Man will decide it's time to upgrade the desktops from Office 1981 to Office 2030, we might get Silverlight as a bonus and be able to see some PI Web Parts. Woo!

In a world where many intranet sites are hardwired to IE6, and nobody wants to risk updating anyone to IE8 (let alone IE9), SVG and Silverlight are critical points that need to be taken care of.