Tag Archives: technology

Questions to Ask Before Buying that Cloud

My latest “Cloud Buying Questions for Cloud Computing Service Providers, hosted by the good folk over at CompareTheCloud.net

Cloud Service Provider:  You’ve made your pitch and you’re in the door, sitting across from some subset of senior management who are waiting to hear about how you and your cloud can change their world. Well done (especially these days!)… but there just might be a few questions before the deal closes: buying cloud from you is a leap of faith – not only in your business – but in their own business and its ability to capitalise on what you are offering.

See the rest at http://www.comparethecloud.net/5296/cloud-buying-questions/

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My Gardener is in the Cloud: my Recent TEDxBristol Talk (video and text)

I thought that, along with the video, some might appreciate the full text of my recent talk, so here you go!

Robert shows on Tuesday mornings, backs his van into my driveway, throws open the back door and pulls out his kit: a mower some weeks, a blower others, always a rake and a trimmer…

He unlocks the gate and goes about his work and within an hour or so he is gone. All that I need to do is have handy the garden waste bin.

Oh, and an espresso: I have him hooked.

Even if you only glance at the business or technology news you can’t help but have noticed a lot of discussion about the cloud – it has become a very big word. And Robert is all you need to understand it:   An on-demand resource, in the spring and autumn Robert scales up with his son to spend extra time preparing for summer growth or just picking up the leaves. He can be scheduled for plantings and transplants, tree removal, or to pop ’round and feed the cat when we go away for a weekend

Somewhat similar, except for the cat feeding, Cloud is a commercial model for computing where you run programs and store data, on demand, over the network, into the cloud, which is someone else’s computer.

Cloud is also called a utility model since like gas and electricity it’s available on demand, pay as you go.

You don’t need to buy, manage or house big computer servers and storage (or lawn mowers and trimmers), merely work it out with the cloud provider (who, by the way, isn’t really in a cloud: they’ll be in a traditional data centre, somewhere, anywhere, down the road in Kent or in Manitoba, it doesn’t really matter – cloud computing has great value and removes barriers but it isn’t rocket science and it isn’t brand new.

Ok, we’ll be coming back to Robert but he’s done the job of showing technology, while complicated, can always be made more clear. That doesn’t make it less complicated: it’s challenging but done well technology adds value, enhances services and creates wealth and is after all the critical and fundamental bridge to the future

With more than a few years working across this sector as it has evolved, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that technology should

– Solve a problem

– Prevent a problem from happening in the first place

– Save some money, time or resources

– Generate revenue

If it isn’t doing or delivering one of the above, somebody should be questioning why it is being done at all.

I found Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock on my brother’s bookshelf and at age 15 a table of contents that promised subterranean cities, cyborgs, hippies and sensory overload sounded pretty cool. It had its moments but I can’t say it wasn’t a heavy read

When I picked the book up again 10 or 15 years the later I found different things sticking out, mainly knowledge as fuel, the technological engine and information overload

I also realised that a fair bit of what he wrote was happening by circumstance but that the important bits behind the scenes, planning and design and other human-driven elements  were already falling behind

I was also struck by what Toffler called the flow of situations since it seemed to explain it all: and cause it. a chain reaction of change where the change itself enables or causes more change.

Future shock is real, but like cloud computing it isn’t exactly new and like any shock the key is to plan for it while doing your best to avoid it

This is where that flow of situations works in our favour: we innovate which enables other innovations: we learn how to do things better, stronger, faster, cheaper

We in-build flexibility by architecting solutions the way they architect a high rise to deal with high winds and earthquakes; we plan for the future by making sure things are extendable and can grow or flex to meet demand and change

We analyse the risks, then we plan for and insure against them, not expecting the worst but with awareness and acceptance that the worst could happen

This provides the opportunity, sometimes, to roll with the punches and maybe even use the momentum to our advantage

Compare the person who dips a toe in the pool to check the temperature to the person who just dives in. The water is the same temperature for both, but not the level of physical shock if the water turns out to be ice cold

The toe dippers also gain advance knowledge of the situation and that alone reduces potential shock. They also have the choice of deciding not to go in after all

Robert does good work, basic garden maintenance, trimming and mowing. He knows what to plant in the sun and what to put in the shade (I’ve seen him read the labels) and for a fair price I get good basic service and save myself time and investment in yard equipment

You get what you pay for, hopefully, but you certainly don’t get what you don’t pay for: if we want flowers planted we select and collect them, and the compost: it just isn’t part of the service.

But sometimes the expertise doesn’t deliver the desired result: when I asked him to transplant a healthy, flowering palm tree from a pot into a more permanent location the results, by the following spring, were less than stellar

When I asked him what next?, he put his hands in his pockets and said to me ‘Well, we are where we are’ I paused…  “We are where we are” … Clever ploy… couldn’t really argue that one…

We are where we are

The first time I heard that in a business meeting I thought it obvious but good, we were accepting reality, adjusting and plan our way forward. Then I realised it was an excuse and an attempt to dismiss everything that had happened until then, and just plow forward

“Where we are” is clearly our starting point for anything and everything going forward: “Where we are” is factual, mostly and forward starts HERE!

But  Without knowing “where we were” and “how we got here” it is tough to gauge exactly which way is forward is from.

“Where we were” is also factual but since it is in the past it is open to misinterpretation and argument but it is where the lessons were learned, and they are the most critical input to planning our way forward

We position things to succeed: otherwise what is the point?  To do that, requirements and objectives need to be defined and communicated: without knowing “where we’re going”  we can’t know what success looks like when we achieve it or what potential failure looks like along the way…

So with a clear way forward, we define objectives and start the journey

And again change causes change, ranging from technology advances to business opportunities or due to legislation

This is where planning proves to have been the right idea: if we invested a small bag of money in kitting out our in-house computer room 2 years back based on a 5 year plan and budget, the fact that cloud today might do it cheaper doesn’t matter due to the current position for which the plan works and so adherence to it is the right call for the business

On the other hand, when new requirements come along we can try to position the business to take advantage of appropriate advances, updating the roadmap converging somewhere along the way

Now just a little more on why Where We Were matters more than you may realise

I promise I won’t bore you with numbers (or any great level of graphical accuracy as you can see) but a quick look at population shows a steady rise forecast to continue along the same path

Cars and trucks have also grown significantly but the past 20 years and the next 20 years show a much sharper arc

But then again sharpness is relative… this next one combines of information and devices connected to the internet. And once again, the rise is expected to continue on that path: and according to Eric Schmidt from Google, in a 48 hour period we create as much data as we did from the first cave man paintings through to 2003.

Every 2 days. Hard to even begin to imagine that

We see, hear or directly experience change on a vast scale, daily along with people, things and information increasing and moving so rapidly that our senses while not overloaded are softened and we take less notice – the shock is reduced – particularly if it doesn’t seem to impact us directly, at that moment… and then our attention is taken away, again

My wife tells me that I use too many analogies and that I sometimes sound condescending, but a large part of my what I do seems to end up as either translating technology or business requirements… and analogies work

So let’s go for a couple more

As recently as the 80s the number of connected devices – what we are calling the Internet of Things – was on a scale similar to the number of back gardens on your block… Today we would have to count the blades of grass on each lawn to come close.

Strangely enough I don’t think of this as important beyond being significant: we are rapidly reaching a state where everything that needs to be connected is connected, or will be .. along with plenty of things which don’t need to be. from 0 to 8.5 Billion devices in 30 years is mind blowing already, but Cisco tell us to expect 50 Billion by 2020. It is rather cool but it is all infrastructure and a shock to which I’ve become more or less accustomed

Big data, meanwhile, is in value terms something to get excited about

Think of data like water flowing in streams and rivers… there is a lot of it, moving from place to place, sometimes very quickly.. But you can find a boat on a river system fairly easy: it has banks and we know where it starts and where it ends. Big Data is the ocean. All of them. Where it is just a little bit harder to find a boat, let alone even know it is out there.

Much of technology consists of improvements to what came before: fine-tuning, extending and enhancing. Advances and growth in the mobile space are vast but really only deliver what we had, more conveniently

Big Data is different. We have plenty of work to do just to determine the questions, how to ask them and how to find the answers.

Like DNA has allowed forensic examiners to reopen criminal investigations, big data can let us look back and better understand, with more information and better context, a more precise answer of just how we arrived “where we are”.

If we can know what happened when, and how, we can see about learning from it to either prevent it from happening again, or to repeat it (depending of course on what IT was).

Cloud and other computing advances are significant but they are only the delivery vehicles that will take us to the treasures hidden in the big data.

The other reason that Big Data is different is that it is not a technology, rather it is a by-product of technology which requires interesting new tech to take advantage of it … but it is a fine example of creating value where there was little before

Computer power continually increases as a function of computer power itself: more power enables us to design and build even more power – maybe the only example ever of a good vicious circle

Add in the speed of communication, advances in storage and the knowledge and experience that is out there and the gates are open

My first answer when I am asked ‘Can we do it?’ is “Yes: given time, money, resources and flexibility we can pretty much deliver anything (other than maybe Beam me up, Scotty)”

And it is human resources that are the most necessary link in the chain: we need technical skills to work with the business to design and build solutions

if we are to harness big data we need analytical skills across all sectors to figure out what to do with all that information

And we need innovation: You can’t create or enforce innovation, out-of-the-box thinking needs to be encouraged rather than, to paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, stifled with bad management and bad legislation.

As far as future goes, the most important part of the word might be its last 2 letters, RE. Reformation and Renaissance, for example, driving the future by building on what came before – and incidentally, both creating great waves of future shock along the way

The same value will come from words like rewire remodel redesign recharge rethink reengineer – we replicate what we’ve done well and learn from and adjust what didn’t work

Working from what we know, like dipping a toe in the pool, lets us prepare and plan so that we have a clear map to where we are going and a good idea of what we need to do to get there. All of which is to me the opposite of shock. Future shock may be a reality but the right efforts up front can act as shock absorbers

Looking back from the view of one in his 50s – his early fifties – it is clear that that I spent the first half of my life in the past and the last half in a dynamic but challenging future

Let me re-phrase that: last half so far… and if life technology advances nearly as far as death technology appears to have done, the odds are in my favour

Alvin Toffler had the right vision but the wrong forecast: he spoke of sub-cults and splinters of society as a bad thing where I see them as natural and which thanks to tech supports easy engagement – and disengagement: we are not isolated, we are connected … unless we choose not to be because we have that choice.

The communications encouraged and the psychology of behaviours re-introduced by social networks like Facebook and Twitter have in some ways started to reboot society, connecting and re-connecting people

Modern tech has changed everything:  but that same technology has also been the culprit in massive amounts of wasted time and energy

We need to re-think what we are building and why we are building it

As I came to the end of writing these words for today I realised that I have no conclusion .. or rather, that there is no conclusion, hopefully.. it is after all the future  Much of my work is providing information, context  and perspective to enable others to consider their own possible conclusions, which sounds a little like the overall concept of society, to m

If I were asked for a solution to this problem, this future thing, I could answer very quickly that the first move is to improve how we communicate, collaborate and educate.

Beyond that, I’d say that we need to figure it out together

And, by the way, my cleaners are also in the cloud!

And many many thanks to Natalia 

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That TEDxThing…. | TEDxBristol 2012

A light set of thoughts on preparing and delivering my recent TEDxBristol talk

That TEDxThing…. | TEDxBristol 2012.

That TEDxThing…. | TEDxBristol 2012

 

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Two good re-blogs: the Internet of Things; the Era of Big Data

From earlier this year:

The “internet of things” was first coined in the late 1990’s as a way to describe a future where nearly everything in the world would become affixed with an RFID tag and would be subsequently tracked.

&

The era of big data is upon us.  I am a scientist by training and I tend to gravitate toward what can be measured and analyzed.  The pace of new data being added to the collective data output of planet earth is mind-blowing.

Data | LabStrip.

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Second Sync – Owning the conversation around event broadcasts

Owning the conversation around event broadcasts

via Second Sync.

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Speaker Announcement Q&A: Daniel Steeves, Hamilton Bradshaw | TEDxBristol 2012

Speaker Announcement Q&A: Daniel Steeves, Hamilton Bradshaw | TEDxBristol 2012.

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Beware the Cloud-ists!

Let’s start by saying that I like cloud and have done since well before it was called cloud. Clouds have featured in pretty much every solution I’ve designed in the last decade. These days, however, we have the processing power, capacity and bandwidth to enable smart, utility delivery of the commodity aspects of computing which is, in fact, very cool.

This utility delivery of computing resources – again, also known as cloud – is in many ways the stuff of which dreams are have the potential to be made… reduced risk, reduced cost and reduced barriers across what has become a much-simplified business to consumer to business loop.

Ultimately cloud enables a new layer of commerce by delivering increased service levels at overall (over time) reduced costs for computing and communications. Cloud also takes a more than half-decent step towards closing the “digital divide” by increasing availability and minimising or eliminating other barriers to entry.

All of which is of course a good thing, few would disagree. And all of which means that everybody: Businesses, Governments, Consumers, should drop everything and embrace the cloud as quickly as possible!

That last bit was sarcasm, by the way, and brings me to my point: beware the Cloud-ists for whom the answer to any question of technology is cloud. Cloud now, at all costs, to replace everything else.  It seems that, for some, cloud is so important that truth and reality and risk analysis no longer are!

Awareness is Good, Hype is Bad

Cloud Computing has struck a chord and captured the imagination of the public, business and Government in a way that other attempts at delivering utility model computing, ranging from On Demand to first generation SaaS and other such incarnations never did.

Everywhere you look are analysts blogging and tweeting about it: an unbelievable myriad of real-world experts (some of whom know about that of which they speak, others clearly who do not!) and shed loads of books with Cloud in the title have already been published with hundreds more to come.

And this is good, but it is also bad.  An interest in and an understanding of technology is good all round and enough hype and excitement will encourage a few more students to lean in this direction. New business (those that have primarily online presences) can start and scale for tiny investments. As mentioned, barriers are being reduced and eliminated.

The Cloud-ists maintain that private clouds have been a path for vendors to sell more hardware and software but the operational realities of how, physically and why, from a business requirements point of view, that the private cloud is actually delivered need consideration. Sometimes it needs to be separate hardware and sometimes logical separation is sufficient: the differences are subtle but significant. The solution will be based on insights derived from and the commercial realities that are calculated on the actual requirement: does it save money; does it make money; does it solve a problem; does it prevent a problem.

A similar and related misunderstanding that consistently confuses the business / technical relationship (creating more CIO v CTO arguments than could be imagined) is that of virtualisation. From the business view: it is a single blade running multiple instances of a machine so we should pay for a single computer.

The operational and technical reality is that yes, it is a single blade running multiple instances of a machine but each of those virtual machines requires software licenses, needs to be monitored and managed as though it were a separate machine. It may cost less physically but not from a process perspective or other resources involved, including not-inexpensive people.

Safe and Secure… or Not

The answer is again yes, both, but then again, maybe not… unlike the unequivocally positive (and in my opinion mis-informed view of  Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda) who claims, without qualification, that the cloud “is safe, is secure… like a locker that only you have the key and can put anything you want… and that it will always be there!” It can be safe, if safe is part of what you are paying for or if generally you are lucky. But equipment fails and if you are not paying specifically for a disaster recovery capability you can be pretty certain that you won’t be getting a disaster recovery capability. And who is to say that you won’t run across Dirty Disk syndrome (where you can recover data from the sessions of the previous user or, worse yet, they can recover yours?) or other possible issues: we do know that the people who try to hack into systems seem rather clever…

As covered in this CIO Journal discussion, compared with real world, industrial strength managed service hosting solutions, cloud providers don’t negotiate service levels with you: you fill out a form; they don’t provide service managers with 24 hour service desk contact… more often than not the help desk is a web-form or maybe live-chat during core business hours (if you don’t mind waiting until their one-man support department is available).

That this star of the European Union goes on to say that “We are not pleading for a European Cloud, that would be old fashioned” is amazingly misguided, at best. Truth is, from someone who seems otherwise, well, okay, this is poor form.

And why would she bother? Forgetting the fact that government involvement in cloud computing is not a State issue – or at least not beyond data protection and other State-level policies or regulations – how is it that the ‘vapour’ of a new idea is suddenly so cross-popularised that Government officials have  decided to usurp it for themselves.  (And if the Government needs to get involved every time there is a significant shift in tech, where then  is the Department for the App Store or the Bureau de iPhone?)

Thanks to AWS for Proving my Point

The best summary I can muster will be to thank Amazon for their recent outages (note the use of the plural) to show what can happen with commodity cloud offerings.

But I also say cheers regarding major issues on delivery of an ‘upgrade’ at Royal Bank of Scotland / NatWest (a major UK bank) which also clearly illustrates that problems are possible, whether with “discount services” or with what were, at least until now, considered Industrial-strength systems.

Oh… and beware the Cloud-ists!

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