Security

Vol. 8 No. 11 – November 2010

Security

Interviews

A Conversation with Ed Catmull

The head of Pixar Animation Studios talks tech with Stanford professor Pat Hanrahan.

A Conversation with Ed Catmull

The head of Pixar Animation Studios talks tech with Stanford professor Pat Hanrahan.

With the release of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios President Ed Catmull achieved a lifelong goal: to make the world's first feature-length, fully computer-generated movie. It was the culmination of two decades of work, beginning at the legendary University of Utah computer graphics program in the early 1970s, with important stops along the way at the New York Institute of Technology, Lucasfilm, and finally Pixar, which he cofounded with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Since then, Pixar has become a household name, and Catmull's original dream has extended into a string of successful computer-animated movies. Each stage in his storied career presented new challenges, and on the other side of them, new lessons. In our interview this month, Catmull shares some of the insights he has gained over the past 40 years, from the best way to model curved surfaces to how art and science interact at Pixar.

Interviewing Catmull is Stanford computer graphics professor Pat Hanrahan, a former Pixar employee who worked with Catmull on Pixar's acclaimed RenderMan rendering software, for which they share a Scientific and Engineering Oscar. Hanrahan's current research at Stanford focuses on visualization, image synthesis, virtual worlds, and graphics systems and architectures. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a member of ACM Queue's Editorial Advisory Board.

Case Study: UX Design

UX Design and Agile: A Natural Fit?

A user experience designer and a software engineer from SAP discuss the challenges of collaborating on a business-intelligence query tool.

Case Study: UX Design and Agile: A Natural Fit?

A user experience designer and a software engineer from SAP discuss the challenges of collaborating on a business-intelligence query tool.

Found at the intersection of many fields—including usability, HCI (human-computer interaction), and interaction design—UX (user experience) design addresses a software user's entire experience: from logging on to navigating, accessing, modifying, and saving data. Unfortunately, UX design is often overlooked or treated as a "bolt-on," available only to those projects blessed with the extra time and budget to accommodate it. Careful design of the user experience, however, can be crucial to the success of a product. And it's not just window dressing: choices made about the user experience can have a significant impact on a software product's underlying architecture, data structures, and processing algorithms.

To improve our understanding of UX design and how it fits into the software development process, we focus here on a project where UX designers worked closely with software engineers to build BusinessObjects Polestar (currently marketed as SAP BusinessObjects Explorer), a BI (business intelligence) query tool designed for casual business users. In the past, such users didn't have their own BI query tools. Instead, they would pass their business queries on to analysts and IT people, who would then use sophisticated BI tools to extract the relevant information from a data warehouse. The Polestar team wanted to leverage a lot of the same back-end processing as the company's more sophisticated BI query tools, but the new software required a simpler, more user-friendly interface with less arcane terminology. Therefore, good UX design was essential.

by Terry Coatta, Julian Gosper

Articles

Virtualization: Blessing or Curse?

Managing virtualization at a large scale is fraught with hidden challenges.

Virtualization: Blessing or Curse?

Managing virtualization at a large scale is fraught with hidden challenges.

Evangelos Kotsovinos, Morgan Stanley


Virtualization is often touted as the solution to many challenging problems, from resource underutilization to data-center optimization and carbon emission reduction. The hidden costs of virtualization, largely stemming from the complex and difficult system administration challenges it poses, are often overlooked, however. Reaping the fruits of virtualization requires the enterprise to navigate scalability limitations, revamp traditional operational practices, manage performance, and achieve unprecedented cross-silo collaboration. Virtualization is not a curse: it can bring material benefits, but only to the prepared.

The theory

Al Goodman once said, "The perfect computer has been invented. You just feed in your problems and they never come out again." This is how virtualization has come to be perceived in recent years: as a panacea for a host of IT problems. Bringing virtualization into the enterprise is often about reducing costs without compromising quality of service. Running the same workloads as VMs (virtual machines) on fewer servers can improve server utilization and, perhaps more importantly, allow the deferral of data-center build-outs—the same data-center space can now last longer.

by Evangelos Kotsovinos