Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Do you really need a cloud strategy?

How many organisations have a detailed cloud strategy? Most organisations I speak with have a general and often vague idea of their pathway to cloud. When I ask what they hope to acheive I will often get an equally vague reply. Of course there are exceptions, and some great exceptions but many organisations appear to be sheep following the leader. "The future is cloud", "X business just went cloud and they are more now agile" is often what I'm told when I ask why.

Organisations should be thinking more about the why and not the how. It's a business level discussion not a technical discussion. What are the outcomes they are looking for? How to move to X cloud platform/service to get them the desired outcomes is a secondary concern. A dilligent approach needs to be taken to assure that the move is for the right reasons. Not just because Tom, Dick and Harry said it was vaguely beneficial.

There are huge benefits of cloud migration for many organisations but these benefits need to defined first and not discovered after. The implications of cloud are business wide and to take real advantage, the whole business needs to buy in.

Cloud strategy, for a lot of organisations is really just a project that is part of a business strategy or plan. Do the IT guys really need to implement this plan? Maybe not, there are businesses that specialise in cloud migration.

Move away from the tail wagging the dog. Think about your business outcomes or the why before the how. If you really want to make cloud, in whatever form, work for your organisation the drivers need to be pushed top down.

The demise of IaaS

The reasons to adopt IaaS are becoming fewer by the day. The transition from on-premises (no it’s not on-premise unless you are grammatically challenged) to IaaS has always been an interim measure. It’s not a destination but a pit stop on the road to real cloud. Seriously - IaaS is not cloud, you’re shifting your servers somewhere else and leveraging economies of scale. It’s like moving your vegetable garden into a shared plot. You’re growing the same edibles but in a different place, same same but different.

Of course there are benefits to shifting your infrastructure, but these are business specific.
  • If your business is geographically spread, then centralised infrastructure might be a bonus.
  • You don’t have to maintain a data centre, physical servers or associated paraphernalia.
  • You should have greater capability to breath in and out as required.
Given you do your homework, planning and the migrate effectively you may be able to make cost savings and increase agility. However, IaaS is still just a pitstop. I think most IT managers would agree they don’t see IaaS as a long term play, at least not in its current form. A lot of established businesses have run computer infrastructure for 20 years or more, in an on-premises capacity. There is no way that IaaS is capable of such longevity.

Most organisations I talk with are not considering IaaS or if they are it’s only a component of a larger cloud strategy. The growth of traditional IaaS is declining, providers now need to differentiate themselves through more advanced services. Backup as a service, platform as a service, disaster recovery and more. Additional services are being added at an increasing rate. Traditional IaaS is no longer an option.

We are seeing the demise of traditional IaaS. Customers expect more than a shared plot. There is no lack of cloud variety and competition for customers is fierce. The only thing constant about IaaS is change.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Unified Communication Trends 2014 (From Feb 2014)

User Centricity is more than just devices – it’s about the way people work.  Connectedness, type of work and devices are key determinants of what individuals need to consume. Globalisation and the availability of mobile technology are influencing the way people think about communication.

The proliferation of mobile devices and consumer applications is driving organisations to provide support for the ways in which their employees want to work. Bring Your Own Device has been a concept in circulation for a number of years and variations of this approach are starting to develop. One such approach is Choose Your Own Device where employees select a mobile device from a range of devices. This enables them to obtain a device that suits them on a business and personal level. Another variation on this is Earn Your Own device meaning that after a period the employee actually acquires ownership of the kit. Globalisation and the availability of mobile technology are influencing the way people think about communication.

The BYOD approach comes with challenges including security, applications and data segregation. Few employees now operate separate personal and work devices and the single device in use is often an aggregation point for business/personal applications, social media and mixed files including photos and music. The expectation is that employees can utilise their device as a one-stop-shop for Unified Communications. Containerisation is a concept that has been introduced by a number of vendors, enabling mobile devices to assume personas based on use. Corporate data and applications can be segregated from their personal counterparts and presented in differing workspaces. Vmware’s recent acquisition of AirWatch at US$1.54 billion and the Citrix acquisition of Framehawk indicate the expected growth in this area. AirWatch is one of the top players in the Mobile Device Management and Mobile security arena. Framehawk allows mobilisation and isolation or corporate applications and data.

Business applications are being driven toward the same ease of use and simplicity of their personal counterparts. Applications such as are available regardless of platform, they present feature rich and intuitive interfaces that are readily adopted by users. The groundswell for these applications is based on the rapid development that can be seen in cloud-based services. The move to cloud-based services permits quick deployment, decreased learning curves and demand based consumption. The formula that allows these applications to become increasingly popular is evident in the advancement of browser capabilities, web protocols, increasing bandwidth and the massive growth of service infrastructures such as Amazon, Google and Cloud services such as Evernote and Dropbox have grown from consumer-only offerings to a range of business and team oriented products. Dropbox alone is now valued at US$10 billon. 

Hosted and cloud services enable organisations to embrace user-centric identities. Identities associated with users will be consumed on any device the user decides to wield. Whilst capabilities may vary depending upon device specifications; voice, video, messaging will be available pervasively. The phone (at the most basic level) being perceived something tangible will be replaced with a Unified Communications identity that you access through your choice of device. We’ve already seen this shift with other traditional products such as finance packages becoming cloud services and television becoming a customised on-demand service.

Unified Communications convergence
Big data may sound like an unusual bedfellow for Unified Communication however the trend toward gathering data from business phone systems to improve productivity and collaboration is upon us. Data gathered from call records can turn into actionable intelligence that companies will use to reveal patterns that expose relationships and behaviors. For example, this type of data can tell a company if they have sufficient staff to manage the number of calls coming into the contact center and optimal calling periods to ensure efficiency. Customer contact and service contributes to defining business success and will increasingly become a differentiator in the future.

Video is starting to become an integral part of Unified Communications offerings. Integrated offerings are becoming main-stream and this is most true with the cloud delivered services. Fully featured on-premise implementations of phone systems can be costly and the introduction of video increases the price-tag significantly. Cloud providers are now starting to now offer utility-based environments that either provide monolithic UC stacks or modular UC capabilities. Cisco is one of several vendors leading the way with open architectures allowing integration with other systems and flexible range of endpoints.

One of the other apparent changes in Unified Collaboration solutions is the transition from voicemail to messaging. A messaging identity can be accessed through multiple devices and move with the user. Voicemail has been historically been tied to a single platform and inherits the restrictions of the host system. Telecommunications providers are beginning to fill the gap with independent and integrated voicemail solutions. Voice to text services are maturing and become readily available to consumers. Text messaging has long been the common denominator for Telecommunications providers and consumers around the world. The trend away from the Short Message Service to feature rich and integrated services is well underway. Open protocols such as XMPP are allowing federation between the new messaging systems.

Unified Communications as a Service
On-premise PBX systems are no longer the norm. The nature of communications and the expectations of today’s worker are shifting. The traditional desk phone, user workstation and standard environment don’t provide the flexibility required by the modern employee. The path to providing the new age services isn’t linear. The majority of businesses have an existing investment in communications infrastructure. Rapid advances in features and functionality see new versions appearing more frequently, often making the hardware platform obsolete or requiring costly upgrades. Continually upgrading or swapping out hardware and software can constitute considerable investment for many organisations and isn’t always a viable option.

Organisations will continue to embrace a gradual approach to Unified Communications through the adoption and integration of on-premise and hosted/cloud services. This hybrid approach provides an economical way for organisations to introduce capabilities and make progress toward a fully hosted model. It is predicted that the on-premise PBX will cease to exist in a few years. On-premise PBX systems providing special features will be the last to be migrated but will succumb to the pull of cloud in due course.

Organisations that are able to fully migrate to cloud will redefine how they collaborate. Video will become a larger part of integrated unified communications offerings, which will include instant messaging, mobility, presence and collaboration capabilities. This will provide workers a dynamic set of features with which to collaborate on sales calls, meetings and conferences. The key aspects of cloud; utility, on-demand and ubiquitous access will provide agility and financial predictability. 

With the depth of features available profile-based use becomes increasingly important. Not all workers are created equal, feature requirements vary with roles, business units and an individual’s technical prowess. The adoption of cloud UC services is predicted to be initially viewed as an upgrade rather than a paradigm shift. As adoption and understanding grows so will the extent to which the cloud UC services are utilised. Profiled use will allow businesses to group users by feature requirements such as mobile-only, desk bound, home-based or advanced video and video conferencing. Groups of users will be administered not by a third party but by delegated administrators throughout the business. Individual organisational units will control the service characteristics through an online portal. Workers will have deputised access to profile components allowing them to customise their UC experience. Self-help capabilities are slated to improve the efficacy of service consumption and productivity.

The acquisition of Skype by Microsoft and growing integration into their Unified Communications product Lync is evidence of the consumer adoption of cloud UC and deep penetration into the enterprise. Skype carries more international minutes than any other Telecommunications company. Cisco has started to penetrate the consumer market with free peer-to-peer video and voice services that tie in with their enterprise offerings. This integration further blurs the lines between consumer and enterprise but at the same time brings them closer and opens up huge collaboration opportunities.

The underlying themes for the Unified Communication trends are easily identifiable as mobility, cloud and flexibility. The former two are most obvious. The drive for flexibility is being driven through multiple avenues. 

Consumers have never had such a range of devices, applications or services available to them. They are becoming accustomed to the experience of consuming what they want, when they want it and how they want it. The resulting expectations are being reflected in the services that organisations are beginning to provide for their employees.

The desk-phone will be replaced by a Unified Communications identity. This identity will span and consume multiple services from cloud-based offerings. With the growing adoption of Open Authentication standards and cloud aggregation services, deep integration and a seamless experience will become the standard. The individual’s UC environment will be flexible and based upon the individual's requirements at that time.

Cloud delivered Unified Communications will become the norm with barriers to entry becoming progressively lower. Legacy PSTN access methods and technologies will decline with the uptake of cloud UC. UC services will feature video as standard; voicemail use will wane as direct collaboration methods and presence become pervasive. This functionality will continue to move up the stack over time providing further integration, functionality and flexibility to users.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Mobility and education - High Density Wireless

The ubiquity of mobile devices is set to push mobile and wireless networks to the limit. There is no better example than the mobile devices are being carried by University students and used in lectures. Now the problem isn't each student bringing a mobile device to their lecture but each student bringing multiple devices. In fact the expectation is that soon each of them will be equipped with 3-5 devices. The mobile phone is a given, predominately smartphones - iPhones and androids being the most popular. Students need to stay in touch via their Cloud Aggregation Devices (as I like to call them) but perhaps more relevant name in the case of a student may be a Social Aggregation Device. Secondly, tablets are becoming the prevalent device of choice for the techno-savvy student. Easy to carry and instant on with good battery life they offer features that the humble notebook cannot. And that brings me to the notebook, still the most common device carried by students with numbers moving from 55% to near 90% (to lectures) in the past three years. Add in the odd Kindle, iPod touch and a myriad of other devices and your average student is lofting very substantial compute power.

So, we have numerous students carrying multiple devices to the lecture theatre. Given that up to 500 students will fit in the larger lecture theatres this is somewhat of a challenge. 1500-2500 devices trying to operate on wireless or for that matter the mobile network within the small footprint of a lecture theatre sounds like a recipe for failure. So what can we do to mitigate this frightful situation before someone gets (their data) throttled? Well your home wireless access point isn't going to cut it. We're talking some serious radiation power here, maintaining thousands of connections and providing reasonable data transfer performance. So what is up to the task?

Well, I was going to spend a whole bunch of time going through the process of investigating then telling you all about it but someone has beaten me to it - Cisco! Check out the Wireless LAN Design Guide for High Density Client Environments in Higher Education. This is a great whitepaper that has detailed information on the various phases (Plan, Design, Implement, Optimise and Operate). Naturally this is very Cisco-centric.

As above, the whitepaper discusses data throughput rates as well as client density vs. Access Point density and in detail the placement of Access Points. Interesting the whitepaper discusses controlled attenuation as a desirable trait as this allows channel reuse, which when you think about it is logical. Obviously this is most apparent in the 2.4GHz range.

Cisco naturally promotes the use of its CleanAir technology as well as ClientLink which are two great technologies. Cisco CleanAir technology uses silicon-level intelligence to create a spectrum-aware, self-healing, and self-optimizing wireless network that mitigates the impact of wireless interference and offers performance protection for 802.11n networks.
Cisco ClientLink (2.0) technology specifically focuses on mixed-client networks, optimizing overall network capacity by ensuring that 802.11a/g and 802.11n clients operate at the best possible rates, especially when they are near cell boundaries.

What would I suggest we use for the 1500-2500 client devices I started talking about? Well, we'd have to do more than a bit of diligent investigation into the exact requirements. But in the end I don't think we'd necessarily need as much kit as I initially assumed. In fact the majority of the expense would be in the determination of requirements, design and optimisation.
For more information:
Cisco Enterprise Mobility 4.1 Design Guide
Optimize the Cisco Unified Wireless Network to Support Wi-Fi Enabled Phones and Tablets

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

M2M in my home

I'm excited about our new power meter that has been installed. We just had Delta, our local multi-utility service contractor around the side of our house swapping out the run-of-the-mill old skool meter for a new-fangled box.

What's so special about a new meter and why do we need one? That's the exciting part. This new meter is a "Genesis Energy Advanced Meter". We aren't one of those homes with a spining kWh wheel anymore as we have a digital readout showing our current consumption, consumption to date plus some other less interesting figures. But I'm not at the exciting part yet! It's on the mobile network. The meter itself has an RJ45 connector running to a 3G device that uses the mobile network to communicate with Genesis HQ. This is real machine to machine (M2M) technology.

David from Delta tells me it talks back to base (via the Mobile Network) a couple of times a day and uses about a quarter of a text message a time - I asume 40 characters. Sure beats estimates and having to send a guy out to read the meter. I can even log into the Genesis website and see my usage - live!

In the end I'm not surprised that they have implemented this technology. With the ubiquity of mobile technology, reliability of mobile technology and the decreases in cost over time it was inevitable. Still exciting though - huh?