Ahead in the Clouds

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November 5, 2015  1:37 PM

G-Cloud 7: Could the 20% contract variance cap end up harming the framework?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Cloud Computing, G-Cloud, Government IT

When the G-Cloud framework was introduced back in spring 2012, its core aim was to shake-up government IT procurement, so that high-value, multi-year hardware contracts awarded to the same old big-name enterprise suppliers became a thing of the past.    

Backed by a Central Government-wide cloud-first mandate, the public sector was actively encouraged to use the framework to source cloud-based alternatives to on-premise technologies via the Digital Marketplace (formerly known as CloudStore) and a much larger pool of suppliers.

Initially, supplier contracts were only allowed to last 12-months, to prevent the public sector from falling back into buying habits synonymous with the old way of doing things, but this was later extended to two years.

It was a move that was warmly welcomed by users at the time, as it meant buyers could avoid having to retender for services so frequently, which some suppliers had flagged as a barrier to G-Cloud adoption within certain quarters of the public sector.

Against this backdrop, it’s not difficult to see why the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) new 20% rule around G-Cloud contract extensions seems to have caused so much upset within supplier circles.

The regulation, which is set to be introduced when the seventh iteration of G-Cloud goes live on 23 November, means framework users will be forced to retender if they want to use more of a certain service if their proposed contract extension looks set to exceed 20% of their original procurement’s value.

To avoid this, buyers would have to work out in advance how their use of a particular cloud service is likely to take off within their department over the course of the two-year contract, which could lead to over-provisioning and surplus IT being procured, it is feared.

This, suppliers argue, is at direct odds with the pay-as-you-go ethos of both G-Cloud and cloud computing, more generally, and harks back to the dark days of government IT procurement.

“As part of a G-Cloud procurement, buyers should always work out the ‘cost of success’ when they are shortlisting and selecting their cloud providers,” John Glover, sales and marketing director at G-Cloud provider Kahootz told Ahead In the Cloud (AitC).

“For example, if a project team initially only need to consume 100 users, but expect to expand that to 2,000 over the contract term, that should be factored in.

“But, to ask them to now order and pay for 2,000 users upfront takes us back to the bad old days when public sector organisations committed large sums of capital on ‘shelfware’,” he added.

Why is it being introduced?

When pressed as to why the measure is being introduced, the Cabinet Office fed Computer Weekly a wooly line about how the government is “always improving the framework to make it easier for suppliers and buyers,” before confirming that it will be carefully considering any feedback it receives on the matter.

The insinuation, though, that the 20% cap could be considered an “improvement” would undoubtedly be contested by Kahootz, and many others within the G-Cloud community who have already taken steps to make the Cabinet Office aware of their disapproval.

For example, G-Cloud suppliers Skyscape Cloud Services and EduServ have both put their misgivings about the rule change in writing to the Cabinet Office, while the G-Cloud working group inside trade association EuroCloud UK issued a statement this week, expressing its concerns.

It is a shame the Cabinet Office hasn’t revealed more at this time about the motivation for the move, as every supplier AitC has spoken to seems at a loss to explain it, although they have their theories.

EuroCloud UK, for instance, floated the idea that the rule could be the result of people unfamiliar with the origins of G-Cloud, but with a stake in government procurement, getting involved.

While others have apportioned blame to the recent tightening up of the EU Procurement Regulations around how much variance is permitted within contracts once they’ve been agreed.

Where this theory falls down slightly is around the fact these regulations permit contract variations of up to 50%, which raises further questions about why CCS is intent on enforcing a cap of 20%?

 Whatever the reason, given the furore the move has caused so far, there’s every chance CCS and The Cabinet Office will backtrack, given their willingness in the past to tweak the workings of the framework in response to supplier and buyer feedback.

Whether or not they would be able to revoke the 20% rule before G-Cloud 7 goes live is doubtful, but if they choose not to now or in any future version iterations, they might have something of a revolt on their hands.

AitC has already heard from several suppliers who’ve said, while G-Cloud 6 continues to run, they’ll be pushing that to buyers as their preferred framework until it ceases to exist in February 2016. Admittedly, that hardly constitutes a long-term solution to the problem. 

What’s at stake?

A lot of those who’ve voiced their opposition to the changes have shared the same concern that the introduction of the 20% cap could end up undoing all of the good work the Cabinet Office has achieved with G-Cloud to-date, and ultimately put the public sector off using the framework at all.

The amount of money spent via the framework since its creation now stands at £806m, with £53m of that attributable to the volume of transactions that took place in September alone. And it would be a shame if all the momentum it’s generated so far were to go to waste.  

Particularly when the success G-Cloud has had to date seems to be gaining wider industry recognition, and reports continue to circulate about how other European countries are looking to emulate the model for their own public sector IT procurement needs.

So, here’s hoping the Cabinet Office is taking notice of what suppliers have to say on this matter, as The Digital Marketplace won’t work without them.

 

October 22, 2015  2:49 PM

Has end user computing made an enemy of the state?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
cloudcomputing, Mobile, Scalability

In this guest post, J. Tyler Rohrer, co-founder of Liquidware Labs, explains how the use of cloud apps can help user solve end user computing scalability issues.

We are about to enter the golden age of end-user computing (EUC), with the concept now blossoming out of the legacy client-server model and into one that is mobile, cloud, and application-centric.

The explosive growth of mobile tablets, phablets, smartphones, ultra-books, laptops, semi-reliable wireless, mobile networks and cheaper, more intelligent storage (coupled with a rise in cloud services and modern apps) is incredible.

There are some niche offerings, like application virtualisation, application layering, VDI, Desktops-as-a-Service, Storage-as-a-Service, and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) – but these are incremental.

These still, for certain use cases, bump up against the limits of the laws of physics like that nasty speed of light latency constraint. And not just in network performance terms, but application response times, storage retrieval times but also the very nature of Moore’s law itself.

What’s the problem?

In the past, Moore’s law was an incredible benefit to most modern desktop administrators. We could rest assured that computing power would nearly double every 18 months, while the cost of that compute would be halved.

However, in our rush to throw progressively less expensive yet powerful hardware at most problems, we created an even larger web of intricacy. We created a topology that – while logical – lacked scale.

The tentacles of our client-server networks sprawled. Most user devices were (and still are) incredibly “stateful” – with proprietary configurations, sensitive data, and tuned applications delicately installed on commodity-class hardware.

In a thought, scale got away from us. The larger our deployments got, the more acutely painful the weight of this scale on our operations and systems management became.

Sure, we bought tools that patched the holes, rather than filled them.  While somewhat tenable in the campus environment – laptops and mobile “off network” computing was a target for both accidental and malicious data (IP) loss and risk.

Because we had varying user types with different machines, images, applications, printers, and policies, we tended to have a one-to-one relationship with each desktop – or better yet, something that automated remedial tasks.

While these tools boosted productivity somewhat, the lag to buy, image, provision, and deploy a new laptop, desktop or whatever, was still measured in days or hours at best.

And while we mention security above in the context of risks and attacks, the fact the majority of our corporate IP rests on commodity-class hard drives today, that are not backed up upon each write, could be catastrophic.

What we need to work out is how to create and deliver productive and secure workspaces for our end users, while getting scale to work for and not against us.

Stateful computing was a worst-case scenario in the past. A user might need an app, large storage, lots of memory, and – so – we gave it to them. It was cheap and promised to get cheaper. But all that “state” is what we are fighting now. 

With the rise cloud apps, very little “state” now resides on devices, particularly where smartphones and tablets are concerned.

For that reason, I think what we shall soon find is the operating system – whether it’s Windows, Android, OS X, iOS, or Linux doesn’t really matter when you reach a truly stateless workspaces.

The “cloud” however ushers in an entirely new way of thinking about client-server computing. Instead of long distance connections, we have a fabric.

The things we need are, or can be, a click away so the idea of having them installed becomes archaic. All this “state” being removed from the device now lives as a service, distributed across this cloud fabric, for use when, where, and as needed.

So it’s the availability of a potential service I might one day need that is the solution.

And with global replication via cloud services, web-scale file systems, and hybrid models – the latency that punished the client-server architectures of old is minimised and architected around.

We see projects like Citrix Workspace Cloud, VMware Project Enzo, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, metadata rich file systems like Nutanix Medusa, and workspace tools by my company Liquidware Labs all tackling this challenge of wrangling scale back into Pandora’s box on both large and individual user levels.

We are all very, very close. While the combination of these technologies will be relegated to specific use cases for the next few years – we will see convergence of x86, cloud, and mobile into single platforms.

And while we will continue to have rich and robust local processing, graphics, input, and display technologies at our fingertips our “state” will live in clouds.


October 16, 2015  10:53 AM

VMworld 2015: How VMware stopped the Dell-EMC merger overshadowing the show

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
cloud, Dell, EMC, M&A, Virtualisation, VMUG, VMware, VMworld 2015

The proposed Dell-EMC merger was always going to be a major talking point at VMworld in Barcelona, given news of the deal was confirmed on the eve of this year’s show. 

What was unclear, as attendees filed into the conference centre for the opening day keynote on Tuesday morning, was whether VMware’s senior management team would be joining the discussion or not. 
As it turned out, delegates didn’t have to wait long to find out if EMC-owned VMware would make reference to (what is currently billed as) the biggest merger in enterprise IT history. 
Around six minutes in there were on-stage assurances from COO Carl Eschenbach about how the acquisition would have little impact on the way VMware operates, as it would remain a publicly-listed, independent entity, while the rest of EMC joins Dell in going private. 
Then Michael Dell appeared, albeit via a pre-recorded segment, to reinforce this message, before briefly addressing how the combination of EMC and Dell’s product portfolios should open up new opportunities for the firms in the hybrid cloud and software-defined datacentre era. 
During a post-keynote press Q&A, VMware’s EMEA CTO Joe Baguley continued the discussion, inviting questions from the press on the topic too, with the assembled execs going into as much detail as they probably could, while the deal’s T&Cs are being hammered out somewhere between Texas and Massachusetts. 
Opening up 
The firm’s willingness to reference the merger was kind of surprising, though, given how quick most vendors are to shoot down M&A talk when faced with even the smallest whiff of them becoming a takeover target. 
But things would have got hugely awkward over the course of the week if no-one acknowledged the $67bn elephant in the room, and it was refreshing to see. 
That was certainly the view of the VMware User Group (VMUG), who told Ahead in the Clouds (AitC) that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger popped into their annual VMworld Europe luncheon to personally assure them that – pre/post-merger – it is still very much business as usual for the vendor’s customers. 
“Having someone like Pat attend and have an open, unscripted dialogue like that is a huge testament to the commitment from VMware to VMUG and that they consider us to be a vital part of their organisation,” VMUG president Mariano Maluf told us at VMworld. 
“It speaks volumes about his commitment and gives us confidence that VMware will continue down the path it’s been going through,” he said. 
All in all, he added, the group’s 121,000 members are feeling confident about what the future holds for VMware once Dell gets his hands on its parent company. 
“The fact VMware will remain a publicly traded company and independent signals a confidence on the part of the investors involved that VMware adds value to the industry and the technologies and solutions will continue that,” he added. 
Maluf’s comments were echoed by nearly everyone AitC spoke to at the show, with the general consensus being the deal is unlikely to cause much upheaval for those who’ve pitched their tents in the VMware camp, while those with closer ties to EMC might want to consider attaching a few guy ropes. 
The fact is, by taking steps pre-empt what users were most likely to ask, and giving them a forum to air their views, VMware succeeded in ensuring the Dell-EMC merger didn’t detract from everything else it announced at the show
Singing from a different hymn sheet 
Before we sign off, however, it would be remiss of AitC not to reference one of the other big talking points of the show – aside from VMware’s hybrid cloud and end user computing plans, of course. 
Sanjay Poonen, VMware’s general manager of end user computing, treated the 10,000-strong crowd to not one, but two separate sing-alongs during his second day keynote. 
The first saw Poonen break into an impromptu and acapella rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen, after a handful of attendees responded to his question about who in the audience owned a BlackBerry, during his talk about VMware’s enterprise mobile device management strategy. 
He then went on to lead the crowd in a re-jig of Queen’s 1977 hit We Will Rock You, which saw the lyrics changed to “End User Computing Will Rock You” instead. 
We know those lyrics don’t really scan well, but Poonen looked pleased with the results, so far be it for us to rain (no pun intended) on his parade. 
For anyone who hadn’t managed to grab a coffee on the way to his 9am keynote, it was certainly a display that served to sharpen the senses far more than any caffeine fix could.


October 12, 2015  2:42 PM

Safe Harbour: What are the alternatives for data-sharing cloud providers?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Business strategy, Cloud Security, Data protection, legal, safe-harbour

In this guest post, Rafi Azim-Khan, head of data privacy in Europe at legal firm Pillsbury Law, explains how the cloud provider community can side-step the European Court of Justice’s Safe Harbour verdict.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), in response to a case brought by Austrian student, Maximilian Schrems against Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, has confirmed the current Safe Harbour system of data-sharing between EEA states and the US is invalid. A conclusion that looks set to have a widespread economic impact, given just how many businesses rely on Safe Harbour to transfer and handle data in the US.

The Court has ruled that Facebook should not have been allowed to save Schrems’ private data in the US and this is – essentially – a formal confirmation of what has been growing criticism of the scheme over a period of time.

 The million dollar question is now: where does this leave US companies who heavily rely on Safe Harbour? And what about US cloud providers who are yet to build a European datacentre?

The facts of the matter

To re-cap, this case has arisen from proceedings before the Irish courts brought by Schrems, in which he challenged the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s decision not to investigate claims that his personal data should have been safeguarded against security surveillance by the US intelligence services when it was in the possession of Facebook.

The claim was brought in Ireland, as Facebook’s European operations are headquartered there, but was referred up to the ECJ.

So, given the serious question marks that loom over the future of Safe Harbour and the threat of significant new fines under the imminent General Data Protection Regulation, what should US businesses, including cloud providers, look to be doing now to avoid having to process their data in the EU?

Handily, there is another legal mechanism that they can turn to.

Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs) are designed to allow multinational companies to transfer personal data from the EEA to their affiliates located outside of the EEA in a compliant manner.

BCRs are increasingly becoming a preferred option for those who have a lot of data flowing internationally and wish to demonstrate compliance, keep regulators at bay and prepare for a world without Safe Harbour.

Companies who put BCRs in place commit to certain data security and privacy standards relating to their processing activities and, once approved, the “blessed” scheme allows a safe environment within which data transfers can take place.

BCRs also have material long-term benefits in the sense that some upfront work, via preparing and submitting the application, should reduce risk of fines and undoubtedly position an applicant in line for a privacy “seal” once the new EU Data Protection Regulation is introduced.

Model contract clauses, which can also be used to “adequately safeguard” data transfers from Europe, also present themselves as a safer route to ensuring compliance compared to Safe Harbour as things stand. 

However, they do have a number of drawbacks compared to BCRs, including inflexibility, large numbers of contracts being required in large organisations and the need for regular updates.

Post-Safe Harbour: Next steps

In short, any US companies, whether big brands or smaller enterprises, that have existing EU offices, customers, marketing or business partners, as well as those which are yet to build an EU datacentre, would be well advised to reassess their procedures, policies and documents regarding how they handle data.

The storm of new laws, much higher fines and enforcement, with more due shortly when the final draft of the new EU Data Protection Regulation is published, means it would be a false economy not to act now and seek advice.  


October 1, 2015  12:39 PM

Cloud 28+: What HP must do to win over the cloud provider sceptics

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Cloud 28+, G-Cloud, HP, Procurement

Boosting the take-up of cloud services across Europe has been the mission statement of both public sector and commercial organisations for several years now.

From the latter point of view, HP has been actively involved in this since the formal launch of its Cloud 28+ initiative in March 2015, which aims to provide European companies of all sizes with access to a federated catalogue that they can use to buy cloud services.

If you’re thinking this sounds spookily like the UK government’s G-Cloud public sector-focused procurement initiative, you would be right. The key principles are more or less the same, except the use of Cloud 28+ isn’t limited to government departments or local authorities. It’s open to all.

That message – during the two years that HP has been talking up its efforts in this area – doesn’t seem to have reached everyone, though, particularly the providers one would assume would be a good fit for it.

Namely, the members of the G-Cloud community, who are already well-versed in how a setup like Cloud 28+ operates, and what is required to win business through it.

However, several key participants in the government procurement framework have privately expressed misgivings to Ahead In the Clouds about whether HP would welcome their involvement because they don’t use its technologies to underpin their services.

Similarly, some said they weren’t sure how they feel about hawking their cloud wares through an HP-branded catalogue, or if it would mean sharing details of the deals they do through Cloud 28+ with the firm.

The latter has been a long-held concern of cloud resellers, because – once the maker of the service you’re reselling access to knows whose buying it – what’s to stop them from cutting you out and dealing with them direct?  

HP assurance

All these points HP seemed intent on addressing during its Cloud 28+ in Action event in Brussels earlier this week, which saw the firm take steps to almost distance itself from the initiative it is supposed to be spearheading

As such, there were protestations on stage from Xavier Poisson, EMEA vice president of HP Converged Cloud,  about how Cloud 28+ belongs to the providers that populate its catalogue, not to HP, and how its future will be influenced by participants.

The attitude seems to be, while HP may have had a hand in inviting people to the Cloud 28+ party, it’s not going to dictate who should be invited, the tunes they should dance to or what food gets served. It’s simply providing a venue and directing people how to get there, before letting everyone get on with enjoying the revelry.  

From a governance point of view, it won’t be HP calling the shots. That will be the job of a new, independent Cloud 28+ board who made their debut at the event.

On the topic of billing, the firm made a point of saying users won’t be able to pay for services through Cloud 28+, and that it will – instead – rely on third-parties to handle the payment and settlement side of using the catalogue.

For those worried that being a non-user of HP technologies could preclude them from Cloud 28+, the news wasn’t so good.

As it emerged that providers will have one year from joining Cloud 28+ to ensure the applications they want to sell through the catalogue run on the Helion-flavoured version of OpenStack. A move, HP said, is designed to guard users against the risk of vendor lock-in.

Even so, given the firm spent the majority of the event trying to play down its role in the initiative, it’s a stipulation that might leave an odd taste in the mouth of some would-be participants and users. Especially in light of the uncertainty over just how open vendor-backed versions of OpenStack truly are 

HP said this is an area that could be reviewed later down the line by the Cloud 28+ governance board, but it will be interesting to see (once the initial hype around its launch dies down) if this emerges as turn-off for some potential participants.  

Opening up Europe for business

Admittedly, it would be short-sighted of them to dismiss joining Cloud 28+ out of hand on that basis, in light of the opportunities it could potentially open up for them to do business across Europe.

While the European Commission has stopped short of endorsing the initiative, it has acknowledged what Cloud 28+ is trying to do shares some common ground with its vision to create a Digital Single Market (DSM) across Europe, and might be worth paying attention to.

If Cloud 28+ emerges as the preferred method for the enterprise to procure IT, once the preparatory work to deliver the DSM is complete, for example, the Helion OpenStack requirement would pale in significance to the amount of business participants could gain through it.

Measuring the success of Cloud 28+

While Cloud 28+ is still under construction, it’s only right the focus has been on the provider side of things, because – without them – there is no service catalogue.  

But it’s what end users make of Cloud 28+ that will define its long-term success, despite HP’s repeated boasts about how many providers have signed up (110 and counting) to-date. 

HP is preparing to go-live with Cloud 28+ in early December at its Discover event in London, and Poisson said the “client-side” of it will become a bigger focus after that, so it’s likely we’ll hear some momentum announcements around end user adoption in the New Year.

But, until there is a sizeable amount of business transacted through the catalogue, or some other form of demonstrable end user interest in it, there will remain a fair few providers who won’t get why its worth their while to join.


September 25, 2015  12:06 PM

Using big data to uncover the secrets of enterprise datacentre operations

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Big Data, Cloud Computing, Guest Post

In this guest post, Frank Denneman, chief technologist of storage management software vendor PernixData, sets out why datacentre management could soon emerge as the main use case for big data analytics.

IT departments can sometimes be slow to recognise the power they yield, and the rise of cloud computing is a great example of this.

Over the last three decades IT departments focused on assisting the wider business, through automating activities that could increase output or refine the consistency of product development processes, before turning its attention to the automation of its own operations.

The same needs to happen with big data. A lot of organisations have looked to big data analytics to discover unknown correlations, hidden patterns, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information. 

Many have deployed big data systems, forcing end users to look for hidden patterns between the new workloads and consumed resources within their own datacentre and see how this impacts current workloads and future capabilities.

The problem is virtual datacentres are comprised of a disparate stack of components. Every system is logging and presenting data the vendor seems appropriate. 

Unfortunately, variations in the granularity of information, time frames, and output formats make it extremely difficult to correlate data and understand the dynamics of the virtual datacentre.

However, hypervisors are very context-rich information systems, and are jam-packed with data ready to be crunched and analysed to provide a well-rounded picture of the various resource consumers and providers. 

Having this information at your fingertips can help optimise current workloads and identify systems better suited to host new ones. 

Operations will also change, as users are now able to establish a fingerprint of their system. Instead of micro-managing each separate host or virtual machine, they can monitor the fingerprint of the cluster. 

For example, how have incoming workloads changed the clusters’ fingerprint over time, paving the way for a deeper trend analysis into resource usage. 

Information like this allows users to manage datacentres differently and – in turn – design them with a higher degree of accuracy. 

The beauty of having this set of data all in the same language, structure and format is that it can now start to transcend the datacentre. 

The dataset gleaned from each facility can be used to manage the IT lifecycle, improve deployment and operations, optimise existing workloads and infrastructure, leading to a better future design. But why stop there? 

Combining datasets from many virtual datacentres could generate insights that can improve the IT-lifecycle even more. 

By comparing facilities of the same size, or datacentres in the same vertical market, it might be possible to develop an understanding of the TCO of running the same VM on a particular host system, or storage system. 

Alternatively, users may also discover the TCO of running a virtual machine in a private datacentre versus a cloud offering. And that’s the type of information needed in modern datacentre management. 


September 18, 2015  4:34 PM

The enterprise benefits of making machine learning tools accessible to all

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
AWS, Business strategy, Cloud Computing, Machine learning
In this guest post, Mike Weston, CEO of data science consultancy Profusion, discusses how Amazon’s cloud-based push to democratise machine learning sets to benefit the enterprise.
Machine learning is the creation of algorithms that can interrogate and make predictions based on the contents of big data sets without needing to be rewritten for each new set of information. In a sense, it’s a form of artificial intelligence.
The recent European launch of Amazon’s machine learning platform has garnered a lot of attention and is designed so non-techies can use these tools to create predictions based on data.
Amazon’s move follows Facebook’s launch of a ‘deep learning’ lab in France to undertake research into artificial intelligence, particularly facial recognition. Both tech giants will compete with Microsoft’s Azure computer service. 
Clearly, most major tech companies are pitching their tent in the data science camp. The reason is quite simple: demand. 
Data science is quickly moving from a niche service used by a few enterprises to a must have. Many business leaders are waking up to the fact that new technology like self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, smart cities and wearable devices are all powered or complimented by data science. 
The business case for using data science techniques in areas such as retail, logistics and marketing is also increasingly easy to prove. Consequently, data scientists are in demand like never before. Unfortunately, as many data scientists will tell you, their skills are still fairly rare – part computer scientist, part statistician. We’re all aware that there is an acute skills gap in the technology sector and in many ways data scientists are the poster child. 
With demand increasing for data science and the pool of data science talent struggling to keep up with it, tech giants like Amazon are naturally seeking to provide non-techies with the skills needed to do it themselves. 
It may sound counterintuitive for the CEO of a data science consultancy to welcome this move, but I’m a firm believer that data science has immense power to improve businesses, cities and peoples’ lives in general. 
If more people understand how to interrogate and use data to make informed decisions, the faster it will become an intrinsic part of how all businesses operate. Not only that, but the more repeatable tasks that can be undertaken by technology, the more time is freed up for data scientists to explore the information at their disposal more deeply and to innovate.
Addressing the big data skills gap
With the normalisation of data science as a business process or service, it should become more obvious and attractive for people to train in these techniques. This should eventually help plug the skills gap. 
Of course, the growth of data science platforms in Europe and the US won’t, in the short-term, create an army of do-it-yourself data scientists capable of everything. Self-service software can only bring you so far. A great data scientist adds value to the data through analysis and interpretation – through asking ‘why’ and ‘so what’. 
Highly-skilled data scientists are fundamental to the more complicated data science – uncovering profound insights from seemingly disparate data that radically change and improve how organisations relate to people. 
Nevertheless, the more data literate we all become the better we will be at both using data and asking the right questions. Businesses generally don’t suffer from a lack of data. The problem tends to be that those in decision-making positions do not understand what the data could reveal and therefore what problems could be solved. This means that a business can underestimate the knowledge it holds, fail to exploit all its source of data, or fail to share information with people who could make better use of it. 
Business that understand data science and can use self-service platforms and tools to undertake basic actions will become savvier at collecting, managing and analysing it. With experience, should come an understanding of the full potential of data science and a willingness to experiment. 
Amazon’s self-service platform is not in and of itself going to create a revolution in data science. However, it represents the growth in businesses seeking to empower themselves to make better use of the information they hold. 
Like any science, data science is at its most exciting when it is testing the limits of what is possible. By experimenting, repeating and refining techniques, data science becomes much more effective. 
Whether a business employs its own data scientists or gets outside help, the more these specialists work with a company, the more they understand, the better they become at creating insights and solutions, and the more value a business can extract from its data.


September 9, 2015  2:32 PM

VDI: Why desktop virtualisation has finally come of age

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Business strategy, Cloud Computing, Guest Post
In this guest post, David Angwin, marketing director for Dell Cloud Client Computing, claims the benefits of desktop virtualisation now far outweigh the risks.
Desktop virtualisation (VDI) is a technology that has never been fully appreciated, despite promising benefits such as lower maintenance costs, greater flexibility and increased reliability.  
Many companies have taken advantage of server and storage virtualisation over the years, but desktops have been overlooked, and physical desktops remain the norm. 
While organisations are willing to invest heavily in virtualised back-end infrastructure, they may feel VDI will not provide much additional value, or that the drawbacks and risks outweigh the benefits. But this is not the case. 
Principles of desktop virtualisation
It is often thought VDI is about creating multiple virtual desktops on one device, but the reality is the user’s desktop profile is stored on the host server and then optimised for the local device the user is logging on from. This ensures they can experience a desktop optimised for that device, allowing for a consistent experience. 
Many companies have deployed various access devices to consume VDI and are reaping the benefits. These include:
Thin Client: This is where all processing power and storage is in the datacentre, and is a very cost effective way of delivering desktops and applications to a mass audience as the devices are relatively low cost and typically use much less energy compared with standard desktops. 
Cloud PC: This is essentially a PC without a hard drive that offers full performance and is a good fit for organisations running a small datacentre. The operating system is sent to the PC from the server when the user requests a log on. 
Zero Clients: A zero client is designed for use on networks with a virtualized back-end infrastructure, and is able to offer all of the benefits of thin clients, but with added compute power. 
With the right client and back-end infrastructure, zero clients can help to optimise working conditions and cut IT running costs, as there is less equipment on the desk. 
Desktop Virtualisation Benefits
VDI does more than provide a low-cost desktop to mass users, but can help create new business opportunities, in the following areas.
Remote working: VDI enables organisations to work with companies in different locations around the world securely. By setting up remote workers on the network, users can access the data securely without putting any data at risk. This reduces the potential for data theft, corruption or loss, as the data does not leave the datacenter. 
•Business agility: With faster access to data, organisations are able to react intelligently to changing market conditions. 
•Windows migrations: Physical desktop set-ups can create challenges for IT departments when new operating systems are released. Traditionally, IT administrators needed to visit each desktop in the organisation to make the relevant updates. However, with VDI, organisations have the opportunity to reduce this cost and time, as the network can be updated centrally, meaning software patches and OS upgrades can be simplified. 
VDI brings end users and organisations a wide range of benefits including ongoing cost saving and compliance benefits. Companies in all business sectors can realise a stable and positive return on investment, while providing a desktop environment that offers users quick and easy secure access to everything on the network to enable productivity.


July 30, 2015  12:25 PM

The invisible business: Mobile plus cloud

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Business strategy, Cloud Computing, Google, Guest Post

In this guest post Amit Singh, president of Google for Work, explains why enterprises need to start adopting a mobile- and cloud-first approach to doing business if they want to remain one step ahead of the competition.

One of the most exciting things happening today is the convergence of different technologies and trends. In isolation, a trend or a technological breakthrough is interesting, at times significant. But taken together, multiple converging trends and advances can completely upend the way we do things.

Netflix is a classic example. It capitalised on the widespread adoption of broadband internet and mobile smart devices, as well as top-notch algorithmic recommendations and an expansive content strategy, to connect a huge number of people with content they love. The company just announced that it has more than 65 million subscribers.

Other examples of new and improved approaches to existing problems abound. As Tom Goodwin, SVP of Havas Media, said recently: “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

Each of these companies has capitalised on a convergence of various trends and technological breakthroughs to achieve something spectacular.

Some of the factors I see driving change include exponential technological growth and the democratisation of opportunity, as well as the emergence of public cloud platforms that are fast, secure and easy to use. Together, these trends underpin a powerful formula for rapid business growth: mobile plus cloud.

We know the future of computing is mobile. There are 2.1 billion smartphone subscriptions worldwide, and that number grew by 23% last year.

We spend a lot of time on our mobile devices. Since 2014, more internet traffic has come from mobile devices than from desktop computers. Forward-looking companies are building mobile-first solutions to reach their users and customers, because that’s where we all are.

On the backend, the cost of computing has been dropping exponentially, and now anyone has access to massive computing and storage resources on a pay as you go basis because of cloud. Companies can get started by hosting their data and infrastructure in the cloud for almost nothing.

Hence mobile plus cloud. You can use mobile platforms to reach customers while powering your business with cloud computing. You can build lean and scale fast, and benefit automatically from the exponential growth curve of technology.

As computing power increases and costs decrease, cloud platforms grow more capable and the mobile market expands. In this state, technological change is an opportunity.

How cloud challenges the incumbents to think different

Snapchat is one of the best examples of how this can work. It was founded in 2011. The team used Google Cloud Platform for their infrastructure needs and focused relentlessly on mobile. Just four years later, Snapchat supports more than 100 million active users per day, who share more than 8,000 photos every second

The mobile plus cloud formula is exciting, but it also poses challenges for established players. According to a study by IBM, some companies spend as much as 80% of their IT budgets on maintaining legacy systems, such as onsite servers.

For these companies, technological change is a threat. Legacy systems don’t incorporate the latest performance improvements and cost savings. They aren’t benefitting from exponential growth, and they risk falling behind their competitors who are.

This can be daunting, since it’s not realistic for most companies to make big changes overnight.

If you run a business with less than agile legacy systems, here’s one practical way to respond to the fast pace of technological change: foster an internal culture of experimentation.

The cost of trying new technologies is very low, so run trials and expand them if they produce results. For example, try using cloud computing for a few data analysis projects, or give a modern browser to employees in one department of the company and see if they work better.

There are no “one size fits all” solutions, but with an open mind, smart leaders can discover what works best for their team.

It’s important to try, especially as technology becomes more capable and more of the world adopts a mobile plus cloud formula. Those who experiment will be best placed to capitalise on future convergences.


July 2, 2015  4:04 PM

Uber’s success suggests enterprises need to think like startups about cloud

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
AWS, Cloud Computing, Developers, EMC, Enterprise, Gartner, Google, start-ups

Cloud-championing CIOs love to bang on about how ditching on-premise technologies helps liberate IT departments, as it means they can spend less time propping up servers and devote more to developing apps and services that will propel the business forward. 

It’s a shift that, when successfully executed, can help make companies more competitive, as they’re nimbler and better positioned to quickly respond to market changes and evolving consumer demands. 
But it takes time, with Gartner analyst John-David Lovelock telling Computer Weekly this week that companies take at least a year to get up and running in the cloud from having first considered taking the plunge. 
“It takes companies about 12 months to say, ‘this server is more expensive or this storage array is too expensive so we should go for Compute-as-a-Service or Storage-as-a- Service instead’,” he said. 
“Making that shift within a year is not something they can traditionally do if they weren’t already on the path to the cloud.” 
Future development 
Companies preparing to make such a move can’t afford to be without a top-notch team of developers, if they’re serious about capitalising on the agility benefits of cloud, according to Jeff Lawson, CEO of cloud communications company Twilio. 
“Every company has to think of themselves as software builders or they will probably become irrelevant. Companies are building software and iterating quickly to create great experiences for customers, and they’re going to out-compete those that aren’t,” he told Computer Weekly. 
Lawson was in London this week to support his San Francisco-based company’s European expansion plans, which have already seen Twilio invest in offices in London, Dublin and Estonia. 
In fact, the company claims to have signed up 700,000 developers across the globe, and that one in five people across the world have already interacted with an app featuring its technology. 
The firm’s cloud-based SMS and voice calling API is used by taxi-hailing app Uber to send alerts out to customers when the drivers they’ve booked are nearby, for example, and similarly by holiday accommodation listing site, AirBnB. 
Both these companies are regularly lauded by the likes of Amazon Web Services, EMC and Google because they’re both popular services that are said to be run exclusively on cloud technologies. 
Neither has to suffer the burden of having weighty, legacy technology investments eating up large portions of their IT budgets. For this reason, enterprises should be looking at them for inspiration about how to make their operations leaner, meaner and more agile, it’s often said. 
Given that Uber and AirBnB have seemingly become household names overnight, it highlights – to a certain extent – why the move to cloud is something the enterprise can’t afford to put off. 
Simply because, in the time it takes them to get there, a newer, nimbler, born-in-the-cloud competitor might have made a move on their territory and it may be harder to outmanoeuvre them with on-premise technologies.

Continued »


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