Ahead in the Clouds

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April 21, 2017  1:46 PM

Desktop virtualisation dilemmas: Solving the VDI blame game

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
desktop virtualisation, Liquidware Labs, VDI

In this guest post, Kevin Cooke, product director at desktop virtualisation software provider Liquidware Labs, explains how CIOs and IT departments can avoid playing the blame game when working out why their VDI projects are not going to plan.

The move to virtual desktops, whether full on-premise virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or a managed desktop as a service (DaaS) in the cloud, can be wrought with hidden challenges. They may be technical or political, and lead to disruption, unmet user expectations and hit staff productivity.

These challenges or visibility gaps are amplified in larger environments, as there are more fingers in the pie, often combined with distributed technical responsibilities.
Ultimately, the question CIOs and IT directors should be asking is who owns accountability for the user experience?

What good looks like

If delivered properly, the desktop or workspace should offer a consistent and familiar experience—regardless of whether it is delivered via physical PCs, virtualised locally or delivered as a service in the cloud. But who gets the light shined on them when things go astray? Is it the desktop team? Perhaps the infrastructure folks who own the storage, servers and network are to blame? And in the case of DaaS, this demarcation becomes a lot more imprecise.

Don’t play the VDI blame game

The frustration we hear time and time again is who’s at fault. If VDI or DaaS is the last technology employed, it often gets the blame. And don’t discount people or organisational challenges; whereby user rebellion or office politics can be at play.

The lack of visibility and understanding of user experience can occur regardless of the delivery approach or platform. For cloud and managed services, there are issues that centre around where lines of accountability should be drawn. And, without a specific user experience SLA, it can be almost impossible to ensure you can measure, enforce and remediate these issues—even if you could draw appropriate lines between IT teams and find the true root cause.

Environmental challenges

While these challenges are not unique to DaaS, they do muddy the waters when attempting to determine accountability. How do you navigate these issues when your team points the finger at the service provider and the cloud folks claim it’s not their issue? I’ll present a number of common challenges we routinely face in the field. Some are related to infrastructure and delivery. Some are simply good practice and tasks that should be applied to any desktop.

In no particular order, I present a list of common visibility challenges that can play a significant role in user experience.

  • Desktops are like cupboards: If you don’t clean them out once and a while they become wildly inefficient, so be sure to reboot your physical, persistent and non-persistent pools, people.
  • We’ve always done it that way: Stop using old-school approaches to managing desktop patches on new-school architectures like DaaS, such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). I understand it’s the way you’ve always done it, but that does not make it correct.
  • User tiering and memory allocation: When moving to DaaS, or moving a physical PC to VDI, it is critical that you understand metrics such as memory and what is consumed by users and user groups. On the one hand you could under-provision, placing power users into a smaller memory footprint than required. These users will never be happy, as their VMs will constantly page to disk. On the other hand, over-provisioning means wasted resources. Resulting in an elusive ROI that will never be realised as you are over paying for VMs.
  • Controlling video, audio, keyboard and mouse signals correctly:  Poor user experience can sometimes be traced backed to the display protocol. Understanding the network, and how your display protocol behaves when constrained is key to tuning and optimising its performance. Would you be surprised to learn it was your wide area network provider that was to blame.
  • Master desktop image is everything: Pushing the same image to everyone – regardless of what they consume – is just plain wasteful. We worked at length with a customer who had not included the proper PCoIP components in their base image. The images installed and all seemed well on the DaaS platform, but the desktops were not accessible from their thin clients. Understanding what your users need, and building the appropriate image, is very important.

In addition to understanding what users need, CIOs need to get a handle on when they need it. In the spirit of cloud, concurrency and resource utilisation, it is important to understand when users require their workspaces.

Being able to identify workers who are not using their workspace is one side of this exercise, but right-sizing your pool and workspace count is another – whether you are paying by the month, by the CPU cycle, or by the named user. Understanding your actual consumption is key to maximising your ROI.

Could you be the problem?

I often hear seasoned IT organisations moan about VDI and DaaS. How it does not work, or it’s not delivering on all promises. I bite my tongue, and simply say VDI may not be to blame.

Many of the issues and challenges noted above are key contributors to a poorly performing DaaS or on-prem VDI platform. With vast experience in helping to diagnose and remediate these complex environments, I can honestly say is not often that the core VMware, Citrix or DaaS platform that is to blame.

More often than not, it is a tangential issue that is the cause. Similarly, before you point the finger at your cloud provider, be sure to understand the contributing and supporting components and how they can affect your overall user experience.

March 30, 2017  3:40 PM

Lock-in: Using cloud-neutral technology to avoid it

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Amazon DynamoDB, cloud, Google Cloud, lock-in, MarkLogic

In this guest post, Gary Bloom, CEO of database software supplier MarkLogic, explains why adopting a cloud-neutral strategy is essential for enterprises to avoid lock-in.

Not so long ago, choosing a single cloud provider seemed a sensible approach. But as the market has matured, enterprises are realising how easy it is to become locked in to a single provider, and the downsides that can bring.

According to market watcher 451 Research, some organisations are mitigating the risk of vendor lock-in by adopting the operating principle of ‘AWS+1’.

The analyst firm believes 2017 will be the year CIOs move to adopt cloud services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and one other competing provider to ensure they are not locked into a single supplier or location.

This approach offers greater flexibility to match applications, workloads and service requests to their optimal IT configurations.

But even playing two providers off each other might not allay the risk of lock-in, as Snap’s public filing revealed in February this year.

The company, which owns of the messaging app Snapchat, plans to spend an eye-watering $2 billion on Google Cloud, its existing provider, as well as a further $1 billion on AWS over the next five years.

In its regulatory filing, Snap exposes the real impact of changing cloud providers with words that should send shivers down the spine of any CIO.

“Any transition of the cloud services currently provided by Google Cloud to another cloud provider would be difficult to implement and will cause us to incur significant time and expense,” the document states.

“If our users or partners are not able to access Snapchat through Google Cloud or encounter difficulties in doing so, we may lose users, partners or advertising revenue.”

This alarming note demonstrates the risk of lock-in even with two cloud providers. Snap is also considering building its own cloud infrastructure but this presents similar risks.

The creep of cloud lock-in

IT departments may be wary of lock-in, but it can happen without them realising it. It starts as soon as someone decides to use the cloud provider’s proprietary APIs to reduce the amount of coding required to launch an application in the cloud.

For example, when developers write software for Amazon’s DynamoDB database they are being locked into AWS.

Although it is unlikely that you will want to move workloads back and forth between clouds, there is a high chance you will want to deploy it in another cloud at some point. At this point, it can prove a lengthy and expensive process to rewrite the application.

The solution is to design cloud applications with cloud neutrality at their core, underpinned by cloud-neutral database technology that works across every cloud provider and on-premise.

With a cloud-neutral approach, you are not tying your fortunes to those of your cloud provider, and you are also able to play vendors off against each other to get a better deal.

In a sign that cloud neutrality is coming of age, SAP recently announced that it is making its HANA in-memory database available across all the major public cloud platforms, as well as its own private cloud, to give its customers the opportunity to switch providers.

Other enterprise ISVs are likely to follow suit in time, but none of us can predict how the cloud market will evolve long-term and cloud neutrality keeps the door open. So, when an alternative vendor launches a new service or specialty that is more suited to your needs, you can switch with relative ease.

Being cloud neutral is an effective insurance policy in an age when it seems that nobody is immune from the threat of cyber attacks. If your cloud provider has a breach, you want to be able to move to another provider quickly.

CIOs have not forgotten the dark days when datacentre outsourcers held enterprises to ransom and nobody would willingly make the same mistake in the cloud. With cloud neutrality at the heart of your strategy, you can have the peace of mind that comes from future proofing your business.


March 6, 2017  12:54 PM

Amazon S3 outage: Acknowledging the role humans play in keeping the cloud going

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
amazon s3, AWS, Cloud outages

The Amazon cloud storage outage provides a neat reminder about the role humans continue to play in the delivery of online services, but – when things go wrong – end-user sympathy for the plight of the engineers involved is often in short supply, writes Caroline Donnelly.

The internet age has massively inflated end-user expectations around the uptime and availability of online services. So much so, when the platforms we rely on to stream music, send emails or collaborate on work projects fall over, consumer patience is often in short supply.

Evidence of this can be found on Twitter during an outage, and seeing what users have to say about the fact a service they need to use is not available when they expect it to be.

Depending on the nature of the service that has gone down, the tone and content of messages can vary considerably from resigned acceptance to all-out fury, with a few snark-filled, meme-laced barbs often thrown in for good measure.

A couple of years ago, Ahead In the Clouds (AITC) sat through a DevOps presentation at the AWS user conference in Las Vegas about The Day in a Life of a Netflix Engineer.

During the session, Dave Hahn, a senior engineer at Netflix, touched upon the histrionic online outbursts its user base are prone to indulging in whenever the streaming service runs into technical difficulties.

“If any of you have ever monitored social media when there is an occasional Netflix outage, you’ll notice some people believe they’re going to die. I want to let you know, we checked and no-one has actually died,” he said.

While Hahn’s comments were made in jest, they serve as a handy reminder that – while it is annoying when services we rely on fall over, it’s usually relatively short-lived and rarely the end of the world.

Prolonged and widespread

The exception to that, of course, is when the downtime is prolonged, as was the case with SSP Worldwide’s two-week service outage in the summer of 2016, or when the failure of one service has far-reaching implications for many others.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud storage outage on 28 February is an example of the latter, with its multi-hour downtime drawing attention to just how many people rely on its Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to underpin their online services and systems.

According to AWS, the cause of the downtime was a typo, generated by an engineer while inputting a command. This in turn contributed to a larger than expected number of servers (hosted within the firm’s US East-1 datacentre region) falling offline.

During the course of the downtime, and for several days after, Twitter was full of people making light of the situation, and the fact a humble typo could prove so disruptive to the world’s biggest cloud provider.

It seems it is all too easy to forget, or simply overlook, the critical role humans play in the creation, development and delivery of the online services, particularly in light of the column inches regularly devoted to how automation and robotics are changing the way lots of industries operate nowadays.

Whenever an errant server misbehaves, it is still the job of an engineer to respond to the system alert and get to work on the solving the problem, possibly with the assistance (but sometimes not) of their colleagues.

If that call comes in the middle of the night, it is the engineer whose sleep gets disrupted or whose personal life gets put on-hold so they are ready to respond to any incidents that may occur on their watch.

Human error in the Amazon S3 outage

In the case of a company the size of Amazon, the pressure to perform and rectify the problem as quickly as possible will be all the greater, given just how many organisations and people depend on its platforms.

Among all of the social media snark about the Amazon S3 outage was a sizeable number of tweets, indexed under the #HugOps hashtag, taking a whole more empathetic point of view on the situation and the plight of the people tasked with sorting it.

Rather than point fingers and make jokes, people were using the hashtag to wish the AWS engineering team well, and pass on their support for the engineer whose typo reportedly caused it all.

Someone has even created a GoFundMe page for the engineer concerned to raise money for – as the post says – all the “alcohol or therapy, or both” the individual concerned will need to get over what occurred.

“This campaign is intended in the most light-hearted and supportive way possible. It’s not easy to be the root cause of an outage, and this was a big one,” the page reads.

A lot of the people making use of the #HugOps hashtag work in IT, and are sympathetic to the plight of the person involved as they’ve probably had first-hand experience of being in a similar situation themselves.

Which is why so many of the posts sporting the hashtag have an air of “there but for the grace of god go I” about them, but – for users – all they see is the inconvenience caused by not having “always-on” access to their favourite services.

As is the case with on-premise systems, sometimes things just fail or don’t perform the way we think they should, and it is time users grew to appreciate and understand that because internet access is a privilege, not a human right.

And, by ranting and raving online about why something isn’t behaving the way it should is likely to exacerbate an already god-awful situation for someone, somewhere tasked with repairing it.

While letting off some online steam might make you feel better, it’s not going to get what’s broken back up and running any quicker.

So next time an outage occurs, spare a thought for the engineers, beavering away behind the scenes trying to get things up and running again, before you go off on an extended rant at the company on social media.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you went to work and made a mistake that tens of thousands of people on the internet shouted at you about, how would that make you feel?


February 20, 2017  1:18 PM

The seven employee types that can hasten (and hinder) enterprise cloud adoption

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly

In this guest post, Mollie Luckhurst, global head of Customer Success at cloud-based collaboration firm, Huddle, outlines the seven employee types that could make or break an organisation’s shift off-premise.

Enterprise IT departments are now well aware of the benefits that cloud-based services can bring: quickly deployed, scalable technology, at a lower cost.

As the use of them become ubiquitous both inside and outside the office, success relies heavily on one thing: user adoption. Without it, the promised benefits of cloud become either overshadowed or simply evaporate.

When implementing any new workplace technology, successful cloud adoption depends on understanding the personas of the people and users involved. Eagerness to change and adopt will vary according to individual motivations and concerns.

By failing to understand this – cloud adoption schedules could be undermined, resulting in project overspend, which is why IT departments should familiarise themselves with the seven most common personas they are likely to encounter during a company’s move to the cloud.

The Champion

The first, and most typical persona, IT teams will encounter will be The Champion. Usually an executive-level supporter, the Champion is energetic, enthused and, of course, personally invested in the success of the project. Having suggested the service, Champions will have a strong appreciation of its potential benefits to the business but may struggle with the practicalities of managing cloud adoption.

Given their vested interest in the success of the deployment, Champions need to see progress being made quickly, and will want to be kept informed at every step for feedback purposes. Accordingly, implementation leaders must take care to alert Champions to the achievement of roll-out milestones and the delivery of benefits.

The Passives

While Passives are the least vocal of all personas, they determine whether the move to cloud has been a success or not – simply through their sheer majority. They’ll comply with training and adopt the solution for the purpose it was intended, but it’ll be slow. They are not super-users, nor your internal advocate, and are motivated by wanting to see their team become more effective – which means meeting KPIs and receiving bonuses.

It’s important IT departments recognise the incentives that spur this persona into adoption, and tailor internal communications accordingly. Failing to address the typical objection to internal change – “what’s in it for me?” – can quickly undermine success.

The Enthusiasts

As their names suggests, Enthusiasts are very vocal about their eagerness to adopt new technologies and improve working practices, and can be readily harnessed to relay best practice to multiple other personas with less excitement.
Enthusiasts, however, are often walking a fine line. They will start positively; proactively investigating features, functions and accelerating themselves to super-user status faster than most. But if they discover inadequacies, they can quickly lose confidence. And because they were so vocal about their enthusiasm, this reversal can become very poisonous to the move to cloud.

This trap is best avoided by giving them advance access to the rollout roadmap, or by including them on beta tests of new functions. This acknowledges any faults they may identify, while also making them part of the solution and therefore less likely to openly critique.

The Detractors

This group are resistant to new technologies and are frustratingly vocal about it. Initially a Passive, lack of appropriate management and minor concerns can contribute to turning a Detractor against the entire project.
These concerns may include not being involved in the platform selection, or fears that new, transparent working processes will expose their own inefficiencies.

Detractors need to be tackled positively, and quickly. Their views will be reinforced by a confrontational approach, so it is often best to surround them with Enthusiasts of the same rank or function, who are adapting to the new processes, and enjoying success from doing so.

The Dependents

What they lack in capability, Dependents more than make up for with their eagerness, enthusiasm and positivity towards new technologies. While their dedication to it helps encourage others to adopt, they consume the most time in training, management and helpdesk queries. Yet, while they are high risk, they can also be high reward. Help a Dependent to ‘master’ the technology, and they quickly become Enthusiasts. But, the point where change becomes too hard is when they turn into a Detractor.

The time drain associated with a Dependent is minimised by offering constant reminders and support, tailored training sessions and even 1-to-1 training sessions.

The Laggards

Time-poor employees, who view training as an onerous task and aren’t completely convinced by the need to innovate, could be considered Laggards. They’re not vocal. In fact, they’d rather stay hidden from the IT department so that don’t have to commit to learning how to use the platform. To convince a Laggard otherwise, present evidence of the platform’s necessity – to themselves, the company or the market.

Just as with Detractors, IT teams should surround them with Enthusiasts of similar ranks and roles. But of course, if they are handled poorly, there is a danger they take the very small step to becoming Detractors themselves.

The Sceptics

While happy to go along with training and day-to-day use, Sceptics suffer from a lack of understanding of the tool or a frustration that it negatively impacts their role. They are often also of senior rank and are engrained in existing processes. They are not as vocal or obstructive as Detractors, but still need to be managed carefully as their concerns can quite easily be picked up on by others in their immediate team, given their rank.

To avoid Sceptics coming to the fore, IT teams must ensure the changes to workflows are appropriate and take into consideration every role’s typical processes and need for change. In many cases, this will require that certain roles are given additional permissions, functions and training.

Clearing the cloud adoption confusion

Driving user adoption is not just a simple case of identifying personas and communicating with them appropriately. It’s a delicate balance that – if dealt with poorly – can lead to Laggards and Enthusiasts becoming Detractors, unengaged Passives, or leave Champions becoming frustrated – ultimately jeopardising user adoption on the move to cloud. But get it right, and adapt your deployment plans according to the personas in your business, and you’ll not only accelerate your ROI goals, but also reduce your own time burden.


December 9, 2016  1:17 PM

Enterprise evolution: How the cloud conversation is changing

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
AWS, CIO, cloud

As 2016 draws to a close, Ahead in the Clouds looks at how enterprise attitudes to cloud have changed over the last 12 months.

At the first Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent in 2012, the cloud giant worried it might not fill the 4,000 seats it had laid on for the event. Fast forward to 2016, and 32,000 people made the pilgrimage to Las Vegas to see what AWS had to say for itself.

And there was certainly no shortage of product announcements, which include performance enhancements to its cloud infrastructure services, off-premise data transfer appliances and the fleshing out of its enterprise-focused artificial intelligence proposition.

On the back of this, its execs predict the company will have – by the end of the year – expanded its cloud portfolio to include more than 1,000 new services and feature, which is 300 or so more than in 2015.

Charting the changes

Having attended four out of five of the previous Re:Invents, it’s not just the size of the crowds the event attracts these days that have got bigger. The early years featured a developer-heavy crowd, while the customer sessions were dominated by talks from startups, scaleups and a few cloud-first enterprises.

Nowadays, the startup and developer communities are still well-represented, but the number of global enterprises speaking out about their cloud plans has ramped up considerably. Particularly those working in regulated industries and the public sector.

The way the speakers talk about cloud has shifted significantly too, since the early years, when the conversation rarely strayed beyond the cost savings and agility gains replacing on-premise tin with cloud-based infrastructure services can bring.

There was still an undercurrent of that during many of the Re:Invent customer sessions but this used to dominate the entire discussion. Now it’s essentially moved to setting the scene for a conversation about how – having laid the groundwork for cloud – they’re building on this to support their wider digital transformation plans.

In parallel with this Amazon (and others) have all rapidly expanded their product sets way beyond basic infrastructure, and are building out their value-added service propositions accordingly. Proof of that can be seen by their forays into machine learning, databases and analytics, with customers all readily tapping into these tools so they can move faster, innovate and expand into new markets.

Industry-wide cloud evolution

And it’s not just at Re:Invent either. A growing proportion of the case studies that land on AitC’s desk these days rarely focus exclusively on just the “lift and shift” part of the cloud migration story any more, with cost savings and business agility seemingly now just an accepted and assumed benefit of moving off-premise.

The way CIOs frame this part of the work has changed too, in terms of the language they employ to describe the services they use, with  many referring to the server, storage and networking portion of cloud as “the basics” or “the boring bits”, as one CIO termed it recently.

Speaking to AitC at Re:Invent, Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at AWS, said how cloud migrations are proceeding nowadays has changed considerably.

In years gone by, it was not uncommon to see enterprises wait until they had moved some workloads to the cloud before they started kicking the tyres of the other services in the firm’s product portfolio, for example.

“We see both those paths being pursued in parallel. They’ll say, let’s use IaaS, and bring things over and take advantage of some of those features, but then in parallel there’s a team saying let’s build cloud native applications and we’re going to use AI and NOSQL databases and we’re going to use a very agile methodology,” he said.

Time trials

Another notable change is the time it takes enterprises to complete their cloud migrations, added Barr, and how their expectations on this point have evolved over time.

“It used to be, when you talked to senior IT, they would talk in terms of years, and that our cloud is a 2-to-4 year kind of a plan. And that, to me, really meant maybe their successor will deal with doing that because it was far too often non-specific,” he said.

“What I’ve been hearing for at least the past two years is that we have the 18-month plan or the 11-month plan. They are very specific in levels of months and the person currently in the job is the one who is going to carry it out.”

And this is all a very good way of gauging how the cloud adoption journey (particularly for the enterprise) is progressing, he said.

“These are great indicators that they’re serious about doing it, and the short duration of these plans says they want to do it now,” said Barr.

“They see immediate actual value now they would like to realise and they are really important shifts we see happening.”

And while enterprises might not be all the way there on cloud yet, as we prepare for the start of 2017, the momentum is almost certain to continue, and – if anything – accelerate.


November 4, 2016  10:56 AM

The datacentre industry’s “identity crisis” and its impact on recruitment

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly

The datacentre industry operates under a veil of secrecy, which could be having a detrimental impact on its ability to attract new talent, fear market experts.  

When you tell people you write about datacentres for a living, the most common response you get is one of bafflement. Not many people – outside of the IT industry – know what they are, to be honest.

Depending on how much time I have (and how interested they look), I often try to explain, while making the point that datacentres are a deceptively rich and diverse source of stories that cover a whole range of subjects, sometimes beyond the realms of traditional IT reporting.

For instance, I cover everything from planning applications to M&A deals, sustainability, data protection, skills, mechanical engineering, construction, not to mention hardware, software and all the innovation that goes on there.

But, while it means there is no shortage of things to write, it makes the datacentre industry a difficult one for outsiders to work out what it’s all about.

Clearing the datacentre confusion

This was a point touched upon during a panel debate on skills at the Datacentre Dynamics Europe Zettastructure event in London this week, overseen by Peter Hannaford, chairman of recruitment company Datacenter People.

During the discussion – the core focus of which was on how to entice more people to work in datacentres – Hannaford said the industry is in the midst of an on-going “identity crisis” that may be contributing to its struggle to draw new folks in.

“Are we an industry or are we a sector? We’re an amalgam of construction, electrical, mechanical engineering, and IT,” he said. “That’s a bit of a problem. It’s an identity crisis.”

To emphasis this point another member of the panel – Jenny Hogan, operations director for EMEA at colocation provider Digital Realty – said she struggles with how to define the industry she works in on questionnaires for precisely this reason.

“If you go on LinkedIn and you tick what industry you work under, there isn’t one for datacentres. There is one for flower arranging, and gymnastics, but there isn’t one for datacentres,” added Hannaford.

Meanwhile, Mariano Cunietti, CTO of ISP Enter, questioned how best to classify an IT-related industry whose biggest source of investment is from property firms.

“The question that was rising in my head was, [are datacentres] a sector of IT or is it a sector of real estate? Because if you think about who the largest investors are in datacentres, it is facilities and real estate,” he added.

While a discussion on this point is long overdue, it also serves to show the sheer variety of roles and range of opportunities that exist within the datacentre world, while emphasising the work the industry needs to do to make people aware of them.

Opening up the discussion

This is ground Ahead In the Clouds has covered before about year ago.  Back then we made the point that – if the industry is serious about wanting more people to consider a career in datacentres – they need to start raising awareness within the general population about what they are. And, in turn, really talk up the important role these nondescript server farms play in keeping our (increasingly) digital economy ticking over.

When you consider the size of this multi-billion dollar industry, it almost verges on the bizarre that so few people seem to know it exists.

According to current industry estimates, the datacentre industry could be responsible for gobbling up anywhere between two and five per cent of the world’s energy, putting it on par with the aviation sector in terms of power consumption.

The difference is it’s not uncommon to hear kids say they want to be a pilot who flies jet planes when they get older, but I think you’d be hard pushed to find a single one who dreams about becoming a datacentre engineer.

At least, not right now, but that’s not to say they won’t in future.

Looking ahead

One of the really positive things that really came across during the aforementioned panel debate was the understanding within the room that this needs addressing, and the apparent appetite among those there to do something about it.

And, as the session drew to a close, there were already discussions going on within the room about coordinating an industry-wide effort to raise awareness of the datacentre sector within schools and universities, which would definitely be a step in the right direction.

Because, as Ajay Sharman, a regional ambassador lead at tech careers service Stem Learning, eloquently put it during the debate, this is an industry where there are plenty of jobs and the pay ain’t bad, but it is up to the people working in it to make schools, colleges and universities aware of that.

“We are not telling the people who are guiding engineering students through university about our industry enough, because when you talk to academics, they don’t know anything about datacentres,” he said.

“We need to do that much more at all the universities in the UK and Europe, to promote the datacentre as a career path for engineers coming through, because there are lots of jobs there and it pays well. So why wouldn’t you steer your students into that?” Well, quite.


October 4, 2016  2:17 PM

Byte Night 2016: IT community unites to raise money and end youth homelessness

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
CIO, Guest Post

Alan Crawford, CIO of City & Guilds, is taking some time out of leading the cloud charge at the vocation training charity to join the thousands of IT workers taking part in Action for Children’s annual charity sleep out event, Byte Night, on Friday 7 October.

In this guest post, the former Action for Children IT directors shares his past Byte Night experiences, and explains why he continues to take part year after year.

When I joined Action for Children as IT director in 2013 I knew Byte Night was an event every major IT company got involved with, and I considered it part of my job description to sleep out too.

On my first Byte Night, we heard from a teenager whose relationship with his mother had broken down to such an extent, he ended up spending part of his final A-Level year sofa surfing with friends. But when they were unable to give him somewhere to stay, he began sleeping in barns and public toilets.

It was at this time, thanks to the intervention of his school, an Action for Children support worker stepped in.

By the time the October 2013 sleep out rolled round, the young man had shelter, was rebuilding the relationship with his family, had passed his A-Levels and started at university. Just thinking about his story gives me goose bumps,

Unfortunately, 80,000 young people each year find themselves homeless in the UK, and it is because of this I’ve agreed to sleep out again on Friday.

Byte Night: What’s in store?

Every Byte Night follows a similar pattern. Participants are treated to a hot meal, and take part in quiz (or some other fun activities), which are often overseen and supported by a range of celebrities.

For some participants, which include CIOs, IT directors and suppliers, the evening also provides them with an opportunity to network and swap details, with a view to doing business together sometime at a later date.

In the case of the London sleep out, all this takes place at the offices of global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, and there will be more than 1,700 people taking part in the event at 10 locations across the UK this year. At the time of writing, the 2016 cohort are on course to raise more than £1m for Action for Children.

Regardless of where the sleep out is taking place, at 11pm all participants head out with our sleeping bags under our arms, ready to spend the night under the stars.

While that may sound a tad whimsical and romantic, the fact is sleep will come in fits and starts, and by daybreak we will all be cold and tired. But, as I trudge up Tooley Street on my way home, my heart will be warmed by memories of the night’s camaraderie and the feeling I’ve spent the evening doing something good and worthwhile.

While Byte Night may only be a few days away, there is still time to get involved and support the cause by agreeing to take part in a sleep out local to you, or by sponsoring someone already taking part.

Thank you for reading, on behalf of Byte Night, Action for Children and the vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness in the UK.


September 21, 2016  2:18 PM

Measuring success: Getting value for money from cloud

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly

In this guest post by Morten Brøgger, CEO of cloud-based collaboration firm Huddle, explains why enterprises need to look beyond price to get a good deal on cloud.

More than $1 trillion in IT spending will be directly or indirectly affected by the shift to cloud over the next five years, Gartner research suggests, yet getting a decent return on investment for their off-premise endeavours remains difficult for many enterprises.

And, while cloud spending rises, Gartner found the pace of end-user adoption is much slower than anticipated. But what’s causing this gulf between investment and adoption?

Confusion around cloud

A recent Huddle survey found end-users actively avoid company cloud collaboration and storage services, finding them restrictive and unintuitive.
For example, SharePoint is used by 70% of firms in the accountancy sector, and only 35% of them use it for collaboration purposes. The majority (75%) rely on email, USB drives and consumer cloud services instead.

The lack of suitable cloud services to support collaboration also hinders the promise of enterprise mobility. Mobile workers should, theoretically, be able to work on-the-go with minimal difference to their working processes.

This means access to documents, the ability to perform basic tasks, and regular communication with team members should be barely affected, regardless of device. While many workers do now use their smartphones and tablets for emails (73%) as well as access (34%), share (32%) and approve documents (25%), the Huddle survey suggests productivity has either been hampered or stopped entirely for these end-users.

With dedicated cloud services being avoided, this raises issues around security, productivity and client experience, which may have huge repercussions on the efficiency of both the business and client servicing.

As enterprises continue to look to cloud, how can companies ensure the gulf between investment and adoption is minimised and ROI is being delivered?

Value is more expensive than price

After years of SaaS vendors pricing for growth, the market is accustomed to the idea that cloud-based software will always be cheaper than on-premise, and suppliers should be assessed on price alone.

However, it’s important for companies to rid themselves of these preconceptions. For example, multi-national vendors who offer on-premise and cloud-based products can be priced in a way that only works within a certain deployment size, or takes up to five years for Total Cost of Ownership to that level.

The ability to recognise the value these services can offer your company is also critical. Are you looking to save on infrastructure costs? Are you planning to ramp up operations in the coming months, and need a solution that offers greater scalability? Is the cost of on-site support and maintenance your biggest headache? Perhaps it’s none of these.

Regardless of the reason behind the cloud investment, companies must factor in the real value that it offers the business and not just the price tag.

Adoption is now a metric for ROI

The metrics measuring ROI now extends beyond simple infrastructure savings. The cheapest vendor might deliver some up-front savings but what happens to your ROI six months down the line when user adoption is at just 10%?

Companies must learn not to just throw technology at an existing problem. For example, if a cloud service is chosen to help teams share and store information, it must do just this. The service needs to actively support the user by being easy-to-use, accessible on all devices and make work processes like approvals simpler. At the same time, the technology must be secure and transparent.

Don’t forget the SLA

Cloud providers often shy away from talking about SLAs, favouring instead to publish generic T&Cs online. These tend to be buried deep on their site, making the deliverables easy to forget during a negotiation.

However, enterprise companies must be bold and ensure the solution meets both the technical and operational requirements. Typical SLA components should include service availability, maintenance periods, and support.

With more than $1 trillion in IT spending on the line, the shift to cloud must deliver an appropriate ROI for the enterprise. Businesses must now factor in usability, access and education to drive end-user adoption, choosing only to deploy cloud services that can add value to both the business and its workers.


September 2, 2016  11:09 AM

How VMware is tackling the challenges of doing business in the hybrid, multi-cloud era

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
cloud, datacentre, Private Cloud, Public Cloud, VMware, VMworld

VMworld US 2016 suggests VMware is under no illusions about the challenges it faces, as its traditional customers cede control for IT buying to line of business units and start exploring their multi-cloud options.

“There’s no such thing as challenges, only opportunities,” seems to be the mantra of VMware’s senior management team, based on Ahead in the Cloud’s (AitC) trip to VMworld US in Las Vegas this week.

Over the course of the week-long VMware partner and customer event, its execs adopted an almost Pollyanna-style approach to discussing the issues the company is facing, on the back of cloud computing changing the way enterprise IT is consumed, purchased and operated.

As a direct result of this trend, enterprises are becoming increasingly inclined to shutter the datacentres VMware has spent the past decade helping them optimise the performance of.

While some might consider this a challenge for a company that has previously sold a heck of a lot of server virtualisation software to the enterprise, VMware thinks differently.

After all, the workloads that previously whirred away in these private datacentres will need to run somewhere, which opens up sales opportunities for VMware’s network of service provider partners.

As more enterprises go down this path, presumably, this will drive demand within its pool of service provider partners for more datacentre capacity, but also for better performing and more efficient facilities too.

This, it is hoped, should serve to offset any downturn in enterprise sales of VMware’s software, as service providers snap up its wares to kit out their new facilities.

Line of business cloud

Another challenge is the shift in IT buying power that cloud has caused within the enterprise, which has seen line of business units dip into their own budgets to procure services without the involvement of the IT department.

For a company whose products have traditionally been purchased by CIOs and championed by IT departments, you might be fooled into thinking this sounds like an awful development. But you would be wrong. It’s great, according to VMware.

While the marketing, HR and finance department might not need IT’s help with procuring cloud, they will almost certainly turn to them for support in addressing their security, compliance and uptime requirements, the company’s CEO Pat Gelsinger assured attendees during the opening day of VMworld 2016.

In turn, every line of line business unit will come to realise they need the IT department (probably when something they’ve whacked on the company credit card goes kaput), paving the way for the IT and the wider business to become more closely aligned. Or so the theory goes.

Collaborative competition

Even the prospect of VMware customers opting to run workloads in the Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud is something to be cheered, rather than feared, claims VMware.

While it would love customers to run their enterprises exclusively from a VMware software-laced datacentre, private cloud or public cloud, the reality of the situation is that enterprises are increasingly taking a multi-supplier approach to IT procurement.

Part of this is being driven by line of business unit assuming responsibility for IT purchases, which can lead to a patchwork of cloud services being used within the walls of some companies, says Mark Chuang, senior director of VMware’s software-defined datacentre (SDDC) division.

“People can set up on that path, saying ‘I’m going to have a multi-vendor strategy and optimise for whatever is the best deal at the time,’ and by deal I mean performance, SLAs and coupled with the cost and all that. Other times it could be because of shadow IT, or because an acquisition has taken place,” he tells AitC.

VMware, he argues, is perfectly positioned to help enterprises manage their multi-cloud environments, because – after years of taking care of their datacentre investments – CIOs trust it to fulfil a similar role in the public cloud.

To this end, the company announced the preview release of its Cross-Cloud Services offering, which Computer Weekly has dug a little deeper into here, at VMworld US.

Crossing the cloud divide

CCS is effectively an online hub that will allow enterprises to concurrently manage their AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform deployments via a central, online control hub.

The setup relies on the public cloud giant’s open APIs and public interfaces to work, and – the impression AitC gets is – that’s as close as the collaboration between VMware and the big three gets on this. At least for now.

While the show saw VMware announce an extension of its on-going public cloud partnership with IBM, it appears we’re a little way off VMware embarking on formal agreements of a similar ilk with AWS, Microsoft and Google.

Making multi-cloud work

That’s not to say it will not happen, and – as outlined in the Computer Weekly’s deep-dive into VMware’s Cross-Cloud Services vision – there are plenty of reasons why it would make sense for Amazon and Google, specifically, too.

Both companies are looking to drive up their share of the enterprise market, so aligning with VMware (given the size of its footprint in most large firms’ datacentres) wouldn’t be a bad move.

Such collaboration, geared towards making the process of managing multiple, complex cloud deployments easier, could also give IT departments the confidence to run more of their workloads in off-premise environments, which is only ever going to be good news for all concerned.

Obviously, this would require all parties to set aside their competitive differences to work, which is the biggest stumbling block of all. But, given the multi-supplier approach companies appear to be increasingly taking in the cloud, they might need to swallow pride and just get stuck in.


August 10, 2016  2:33 PM

How GDS can support the next wave of public sector cloud adoption

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
G-Cloud, Guest Post, Kable, Public sector

In this guest post, Jessica Figueras, chief analyst at market watcher Kable, mulls over the role of the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the next wave of public sector cloud adoption.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has been the subject of numerous Computer Weekly stories of late, as Whitehall sources claim some senior civil servants want to break it up and return IT to its previous departmental model.

For GDS, power struggles with other parts of Whitehall are a feature of normal operation. Given its mission to wage war on the old Whitehall CIOs and their big suppliers, it’s hardly surprising its demise has been predicted every year since its foundation.

But government’s take on digital has reached a turning point, and it looks likely the balance is tilting back to Whitehall departments.

I’d like to argue the shift we’re witnessing isn’t about personalities but technology, and a maturing market where government departments must take the lead in developing new skills and capabilities.

Government cloud: The first generation

Cloud has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise static public sector IT market in recent times. Kable’s data indicates public sector spend on cloud services (Iaas, PaaS and SaaS) has been growing at 45% per year.

GDS deserves credit here. It didn’t invent cloud, but it put off-premise IT services on the public sector IT road map, thanks in part to the introduction of the UK government’s ‘Cloud First’ policy in 2013.

Cloud First was greeted with enthusiasm by new digital teams who were committed to bringing agile working practices to Whitehall for the first time, and found commodity cloud services quicker to procure and easier than their own IT departments to work with. And the first generation of digital services were well suited: greenfield, handling little sensitive data, and with light back-end integration requirements.

GDS nurtured and grew G-Cloud, which has been an excellent vehicle for early cloud projects: not just commodity IaaS, but also PaaS, and SaaS tools supporting new collaborative ways of working.

It offers buyers a simple and quick route to access a wide range of suppliers, especially SMEs who were often shut out of the public sector market. On average, the public sector is now spending over £50m per month via G-Cloud (although some 80% of that has been invested in professional services).

Reaching a plateau

This all begs the question: if public sector cloud use is growing, and digital teams are getting what they need,  why is GDS coming under fire?

A Kable analysis of G-Cloud sales data, supported by anecdotal evidence from suppliers, suggests sales growth through the procurement framework has reached a plateau, as many of the quick-win cloud projects that are typically funnelled through G-Cloud have been done.

The next wave of cloud activity – call it public sector cloud 2.0 – is not about G-Cloud or even Cloud First. It’s being driven by the digital transformation of existing services, rather than just new digital projects.

Opportunities will be open up as legacy IT outsourcing contracts come to an end, and organisations look to shift workloads to the cloud.

Make no mistake, this is where the big wins are. Cloud progress from here on in will dwarf anything achieved in the last few years. But this is complex work.

Next-generation public sector cloud

As my Kable colleague Gary Barnett has argued, people sometimes talk about cloud as if it has magical, unicorn-like properties. The nitty gritty reality of cloud migration is ignored, and buyer enthusiasm is not always backed up by expertise.

We see evidence of this in digital services not being built for cloud, crashing under completely predictable demand spikes: the digital car tax and voter registration systems are good examples of this.

Another factor of note, interesting in the wake of the Brexit vote, is that the UK government’s stated preference for public cloud is very much out of step with its European counterparts, who are largely investing in secure, government-only private clouds.

Another instance of plucky British exceptionalism, or a sign that Cloud First is fundamentally misguided? I’d like to suggest, diplomatically, that hybrid cloud is the destination to which most departments are headed.

Making a success of cloud 2.0 is not just about swapping out expensive hardware for cheap public cloud infrastructure, and it’s not about G-Cloud either. It’s not even about trucking old servers down the M4 to the Crown Hosting datacentre.

It’s about enterprise architecture; data quality projects; new development and deployment processes; and governance models, security policies and service management. In short, it’s about hybrid cloud and orchestration.

GDS: Where does the buck stop?

It is not, however, in GDS’ gift to deliver this kind of complex departmental transformation.

Perversely, too much GDS involvement in departmental digital projects can actually reduce accountability when something goes wrong.

For instance, GDS played an important part in the fateful technology choices made for Rural Payments Agency’s (RPA) digital service, resulting in senior RPA and GDS staff blaming each other for a major project failure that cost taxpayers dearly and caused misery for farmers.

Responsibility – and accountability – should be assumed by the party with the most skin in the game. This is not to say that GDS has no role to play, simply that it would benefit from handing the reins back to departments in some areas, and allowing them more say over shared infrastructure that affects their client groups, such as Government-as-a-Platform.

Much has been said about GDS stopping departments making bad decisions. But in the more complex cloud 2.0 world, there’s an increasing chance GDS will inadvertently stop them making good decisions that are appropriate to their unique circumstances.

Where next for GDS in a cloud 2.0 world?

Arguably, the need for high-profile interventions and vetoes is decreasing anyway, partly thanks to GDS’ own efforts to increase departmental capability and to establish common standards.

To my mind, GDS deserves huge credit for the creation of a new digital movement – culture, values and ways of working – which has influenced practice beyond Whitehall and even beyond the UK.

The Digital-by-default Service Standard; the Service Design Manual; the Digital, Data and Technology Profession which has replaced the moribund Civil Service IT profession.

The leaders networks, the blogs, conferences and culture of openness. Hiring new senior people and digital teams into departments. These are GDS’ real levers of power.

GDS’ proudest achievement is not the vanquishing of its political enemies, but its winning of hearts and minds. It’s by the continuing projection of that soft power that it can best support the whole of government to move forward with cloud.


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