It’s a common practice for businesses small and large to use spreadsheets in their business processes. The dependency of these files grows to the point of painful return. 

Consider the common scenario:

Team A works on a simple spreadsheet for data tracking. This file (on a daily or weekly basis) needs to be sent to Team B as an input to their workflow. Unfortunately the update to the file was not complete. Team B needs to send the file with their changes back to Team A for updates and validation. Here are classic complaints of this common scenario:
  • You are KILLING my inbox –  We are now zipping 7Mb files to email.
  • Can I change the way this spreadsheet looks? Answer: Yes- But it will mess up the formulas and conditional formatting.
  • It takes forever to run the macros on this data.
  • Some of this data (from 10 versions ago) was fat fingered. I wonder what else is wrong.
Picture the WebApp:
Team A updates a webbased version of their spreadsheet tied to a secure database. Team B has access to the database via the same webapp and is able to read and write on their timetable. The database and webapp apply version control, user access, routine backup and enhanced functionality. Classic comments:
  • I didn’t know that this web stuff was so fast and flexible. 
  • This thing corrects me every time I enter something wrong, saves me plenty of time later on.
  • I get the solution to my data request right away. My macros used to take forever.
  • Both my teams can work almost simultaneously. They communicate much better with this WebApp in place. 
Yes its true. You can use conditional formats, data validation and scripting in spreadsheet applications. The problem is that over time managing these custom scripts files becomes a pain when going between different teams and business processes. Web based applications allows custom functionality without the overhead of large files. Yes its debatable, but why not limit the data tennis?
Telecom/Trunk ordering, resource allocation, reporting spreadsheets and the like can all be moved from 7Mb files (and growing) to a WebApp. Any questions?

If you’re a system admin, charged with deploying workstations, likely you have need of a cloning system. In the Windows world, that system is predominantly Symantec Ghost. Perhaps you’re like me and have noticed how much a pain in the backside Ghost is. Specifically, it can be difficult to set up a bootable image with the right network drivers for your hardware. Also, Ghost is notorious at hanging when one client fails to participate properly in the multicast deployment.

In walks DRBL (Diskless Remote Boot in Linux). Essentially, DRBL allows you to remotely boot an entire Linux OS across the network. The useful possibilities that offers are quite extensive. But the use I’m highlighting here is what DRBL calls “Clonezilla”. Using open source NTFS tools, DRBL in Clonezilla mode allows you to take a snapshot of a partition or entire disk and then multicast that out to many clients. The advantage of doing this in Linux is the modularity of its kernel and support for a wide range of hardware, all in one easily distributable system.

It can take a bit of skill to get DRBL set up correctly, but once you do, the advantages over such a narrow and closed piece of software as Ghost make the effort well worthwhile.


JH

My father once told me to K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Keeping it simple is never an easy task especially when in business. Its been about 15 years since he gave me that wonderful thought and the principle hasn’t left me. Moving away from a big wheel consulting firm has challenged my mind to just keep things simple for my own consulting business. While there are many functions that need to be in place (standardized procedures, contracts, and SLAs) there is a great deal of flexibly without the hierarchy of operation. For starters the company laptop of choice was a macbook pro! Taking it to another level entirely, I’ve made it a rule for myself not get bogged down in all this consulting verbiage locked in glossy powerpoint presentations. To keep it simple I’ve moved to glossy Keynote presentations. (I’ll leave that for the experts to debate – Comment As Needed).
So in an effort to maximize the launch of LightCube Solutions I’ll keep it simple.

Alright, here it goes! A first post for LightCube Solutions (if you don’t know who we are, take a look at  http://www.lightcubesolutions.com)

We formed the company in November 2007, feeling that there must be a way to work with the technology we love and still be masters of our own time. Since its inception, there have been scores of opportunities presenting themselves on the consulting horizon, one of the more interesting ones being an opportunity to pioneer an open source courseware application (more details on that later).

We’ve created this blog as a means to track the progress and experiences of the consultants here. We hope to regularly provide interesting posts: tracking unique experiences we encounter, links to articles of use to those in our profession and, of course, updates on the open source adventures we pursue.

Let the fun begin…


JH