January 2014 Archives

Microsoft joins Open Compute Project

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Microsoft's forays into open source have ranged from integrations with established OSS 'entities' like SUSE (these days known as the Microsoft SUSE Alliance) and onward to Jean "Mr XML" Paoli's own Microsoft Open Technologies division as it stands today.

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News this week sees the Redmond-based behemoth join the Open Compute Project and so make open its architectural plans for cloud servers designed to run some of its best-known online services.

Bing, Windows Azure & Office 365

This means that the designs for cloud servers running Bing, Windows Azure and Office 365 are now available.

Microsoft is (at this stage) contributing two offerings. The first is known as a Compute blade, the second is the JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) blade designs.

According to Microsoft TechNet, "JBOD [is] the hardware equivalent of a spanned volume, this has all the failings of any spanning scheme. The failure of any one disk will result in catastrophic data failure."

The Open Compute Project was started by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg has claimed that his company has saved over US$ 1 billion by using equipment based on Open Compute Project designs so far.

Zuckerberg says he has used Open Compute Project designs as opposed to proprietary networking designs and templates (and physical switches), data storage technologies and other 'open computer' hardware products.

The project also focuses on chips, racks and other components.

The suggestion (in industry) circles now is that smaller players within the Open Compute Project itself could start to offer cloud services based upon Microsoft architectural plans.

Networking becomes commoditised

The wider trend to pick up on here is that networking hardware itself is (arguably) on a route towards becoming increasing commoditised -- meaning that it is indeed the software and software-based services (from infrastructure to platform to application) that become the defining factor for any network, cloud-based or otherwise (not that there is much left of the 'otherwise') today.

External opinion, Microsoft is no angel

Steve Nice, CTO of Reconnix says that, "In fact, open source isn't really part of Microsoft's DNA."

Nice also asserts that when it (Microsoft) opens up a platform, it is out of some kind of necessity rather than any ideological position on innovation or development.

"The reality is that Azure has made little impact on the IaaS market, and it has been overtaken by open source solutions like OpenStack and CloudStack in the bid to become the biggest competitor to AWS," he said.

He further suggests that this move can be seen as an "attempt for Azure to become a more attractive option" for businesses and developers alike -- and also as a provocation to Amazon to open up the AWS platform.

"Facebook and Microsoft already have a close relationship, so it makes sense that Microsoft would choose the Open Compute Project to open up Azure. It is also perhaps a strong indication that Microsoft won't win the cloud race by going it alone. Microsoft is the beast it is today because of the partnerships it has forged through the years -- particularly in the desktop space," added Nice.

Application beauty is not skin deep

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This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network by Paul Steiner -- general manager for EMEA of enterprise-class secure mobile productivity solutions company Accellion.

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#BLURREDLINES

The lines between enterprise and consumer technology have never been so blurred, as enterprise applications are increasingly designed to appeal to those from non-technical backgrounds. However, isn't the user experience of an application only part of the story? Don't these apps have to have substance to go with their style?

Consumer desire for sleek sophisticated software and apps is driving a massive shift in the design and development of all software and applications.

However, in the world of enterprise solutions, it's an imperative to strike a balance between usability and secure performance, in order to appeal to both an IT team and end users.

Angry Birds is not an enterprise solution

It's fine for games like Angry Birds to appeal purely to an end user audience, but an app that is created to drive mobile business productivity needs to have some substance behind its style. A sleek user interface is nothing if the body of the solution doesn't properly support employees in solving their day-to-day issues.

This is a serious challenge facing developers who must now aim to strike a balance in their work.

It's hard to code a simple design that can still deliver the computing power of an enterprise solution. Teams must build a robust platform that manages all of the heavy operability of the app, so that an end user just sees the interface and their core functions. Don't worry, even though the end users don't want to see anything beyond the skin-deep beauty of your product, the IT team will realise just how much work went into creating such a sophisticated solution, and sing your praises.

Stay true to your roots

I worry that some companies are losing sight of this imperative, and are prioritising their design ahead of their security functionalities. Clearly, in the world of NSA PRISM, this is a mistake, as all solutions need to find a balance between the two factors.

A clean design experience is always important for user adoption, but for those of us who sell our solutions to massive enterprises and government organisations, providing substantive ROI and top-flight security functionality is just as crucial. That is the lesson that all enterprise development teams must learn - how to balance the ROI and security requirements of the IT department with the user experience that employees will love.

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Enterprise solutions need to have substance, so when management teams deploy them company-wide they can calculate the ROI of the solution. No executive is going to sign off on a solution for thousands of their employees unless there is demonstrable business value, either through increased productivity, improved security, etc.

However, if the design and user experience are subpar, no employee will utilise the solution, which will mitigate any intended benefits.

Mobile-first matters

Perhaps the crux of the issue is that the UX for most applications is formulated from an age where desktops rule. To get round this, a mobile first experience is required to ensure that applications are as simple and easy to use as consumer-orientated tools such as Dropbox - but with the security and heavy lifting of a true enterprise tool.

Creating these kinds of hybrid solutions won't be easy, and it will take entire teams of developers to make the functionality on the inside just as beautiful as the skin-deep design of your application.

However, those solutions that achieve this balance will flourish in our ever-evolving mobile world, while those that don't will fall by the wayside.

Ed: Accellion provides technology that works in BYOD solutions and the firm's expansion plans and technologies have been widely reported on Computer Weeky, TechTarget and Microscope.

How SQL shows us where to program faster

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In his Nine Reasons Developers Should Learn SQL piece from a couple of years back, Jeremiah Peschka highlighted why SQL is such as great standard.

For those that need a refresher, SQL (Structured Query Language) is probably best described as an interactive programming language for getting information to and from a database.

Before we look to the point of developer insight here, let us also remind ourselves that many database products support SQL with proprietary extensions to the standard SQL language.

So how can SQL as a route to database management help applications work faster?

Peschka reminds us that, in this day and age, there are "only a few places" to implement performance gains in an application:

• the presentation layer,
• the application layer and,
• the storage layer.

So then, why is SQL database knowledge so important for developers?

... and why should developers learn SQL as a route to greater performance gains in their application?

"Let's face it, your code is already well written and well tuned; getting any performance gains there is going to be like getting blood from a stone. The database, on the other hand, is an easy place to make a few simple changes (add an index, change a query slightly) and see tremendous performance improvements," writes Peschka.

He continues, "Having spent a considerable portion of my career as an application developer staring at a profiler, I can attest to this. It's possible to pry performance improvements out of application code, but modern frameworks and toolkits are typically so well-written that the database is usually a better place (read as easier place) to find low hanging fruit for performance improvements."

You can read Peschka's whole piece at the link above to gain wider insight on SQL for developers.

How do we oil the dirty mechanics of cloud application integration?

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There's a problem with cloud computing.

Actually, there are lots of cloud industry problems including:

• Over-hype from the start.
• Confusion over security.
• Public, private, hybrid choice (is that #PubPriHy cloud?) and,
• ... many other issues such as compliance and governance etc.

But the most pertinent developer-centric problems with cloud are more logically concentrated with what we could perhaps call the "mechanics of the cloud" in operational terms.

What are the mechanics of the cloud?

The mechanics here are the process dedicated to practical cloud functions such as:

• Upload of data to cloud instances
• Integrating on-premises business applications with new Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud applications
• Operating a disparate niche cloud integration platform in line with the core software development environment and,
• So-called cloud adapters which seek to unify and integrate.

Oracle is attempting to highlight this area with the introduction of Oracle Cloud Adapter for Salesforce.com -- this is a single integration platform to unify cloud and on-premises applications.

TECHNICAL NOTE: Oracle Cloud Adapters are part of the firm's Oracle SOA Suite, which seeks (at a higher level) to function as a unified application integration platform/solution/tool/technology etc.

What the hell is (cloud) software integration anyway?

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In practical terms, cloud-centric cloud-driven cloud-located software application integration involves practical "greasy hands on" tools like session management controls.

As well as session management, you will see "credential store" functions to prevent confidential credentials from being exchanged over the cloud network -- and (as Oracle indeed has) many of these functions will be wizards-based (as opposed to manual) to make things run even smoother.

"Organisations have relied on a mix of integration tools, each focusing on either cloud or on-premise applications," said Demed L'Her, vice president of product management, Oracle.

"With Oracle Cloud Adapters, Oracle has extended our commitment to simplifying and securing key applications by unifying the integration experience between cloud and on-premises applications. Oracle will continue to release additional out-of-the-box adapters with Oracle SOA Suite to help customers better connect to cloud applications."

Image credit: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/

Is 'knee in the curve' the new paradigm shift?

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Can a Twitter interchange and ensuing blog help coin a new technology term?

Computer Weekly Developer Network related tweeting activity this week saw mention of how often we hear new innovation in software application development talked about in terms including:

  • 'paradigm shifts',
  • 'sea-changes' and,
  • 'strategic inflexion points'

But Red Monk's James Governor offered a new term forward that may yet cut a swathe through the marketing materials produced in 2014.

Get ready for 'knee in the curve' in 2014.

Governor is well known for championing the cause of innovation and mould-breaking change when it comes to "developers, developers, developers" and is himself the author of a series of blogs and presentations entitled Developers Are The New Kingmakers.

If knee in the curve should be interpreted as the action taken by a MotoGP rider to get ahead faster -- and, so, also therefore -- the action of any really innovative action in software (and wider business) development, then it is surely a term that fits well...

... or at least it gives us some blessed respite from hearing about paradigm shifts no?

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Windows 9 'Threshold', but don't get too excited

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Is Microsoft about to welcome back the start button?

Windows 9 'Threshold' is said to be about to preview at the company's annual developer convention Build 2014 in April.

Don't get too excited, nothing is official and if you use Windows 8 properly you don't actually need the start button -- see Did Microsoft get it right with the Start button after all?

A special sneak peak preview for developers will put some colour onto this iteration of the operating system which is thought to be known as Windows 'Threshold' at this stage.

Due for ultimate release sometime in 2015, Windows 9 will represent the first major release of Windows under the purview of Terry Myerson who now holds the position of operating systems group vice president (he used to lead Windows Phone) today.

WindowsForum.com says: BLOG: Windows 9 due in April 2015, but coding hasn't started yet

The intriguingly named 'Threshold' is a wider initiative in that it should involve updates to all three OS platforms i.e. Xbox One, Windows and Windows Phone. As many readers will know, Windows 9 Threshold has actually derived and drawn its name from the fictional universe in the Halo video game series.

Developers will not get a pre-alpha release of Windows 9 (or any other form of release) as development is thought to not actually have officially commenced at this time.

Windows 8.1 at a turtle's pace

We say again, don't get to excited, TechTarget's Diana Hwang comments, "Microsoft is expected to show off a roadmap for its Windows 9 client operating system this spring, but it's unlikely to excite most IT shops, given their lacklustre embrace of Microsoft's currently shipping OS, Windows 8.1.

Hwang goes on to say that enterprises continue to adopt Windows 8.1 at a turtle's pace, since many IT shops have only recently migrated to Windows 7. Some even remain on Windows XP. Others have simply tested Windows 8.1 but have not committed to this release.

Like we say, don't get too excited yet ... apart from maybe one thing.

Conceptual designer and UX/UI & branding architect Jay Machalani @technofou has produced the below representation of what Windows 9 "should and could" maybe look like.

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Alien prawn spaceship controls show future of gesture-based augmented reality computing

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We are all looking for the next so-called 'paradigm shift' sea-change 'strategic inflexion point' platform upheaval, so could 3-D touch/gesture-based augmented reality (AR) development be the next big thing?

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If you have seen the movie District 9 then you'll know that the aliens (or the "prawns" as they are colloquially known) have a spaceship which is controlled by a 3-D touch and gesture based Heads Up Display (HUD).

NOTE: See video trailer and picture at end of this piece for more.

While 3-D touch/gesture-based augmented reality (AR) development makes great science fiction, we are in fact not that far off of this technology impacting us; Intel, Microsoft and others have already progressed "gesture" recognition to some considerable degree and the Computer Weekly Developer Network has covered this before.

Augmented reality in general is on the rise too if we are prepared to believe the distinguished, venerated and no doubt impeccably coiffured analysts at Gartner.

The IT analyst firm suggest that although the adoption of augmented reality (AR) in the enterprise is still in its infancy, AR technology has matured to a point where organisations can use it as an internal tool to complement and enhance business processes, workflows and employee training.

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One of the most impeccably distinguished and eminently illustrious Gartner analysts has explained that AR "facilitates business innovation" by enabling real-time decision making through virtual prototyping and visualisation of content.

"Augmented reality is the real-time use of information in the form of text, graphics, audio and other virtual enhancements integrated with real-world objects," said Tuong Huy Nguyen, principal research analyst at Gartner.

"AR leverages and optimises the use of other technologies such as mobility, location, 3D content management and imaging and recognition. It is especially useful in the mobile environment because it enhances the user's senses via digital instruments to allow faster responses or decision-making."

Peter Jackson: no comment

District 9 executive producer and Lord of the Rings supremo Peter Jackson was not available for comment.

No alien prawns were available for commentary in connection with this story at the time of writing.

TECHNICAL NOTE: AR services use various device sensors to identify the users' surroundings. Current implementations generally fall into one of two categories -- location-based or computer vision. Location-based offerings use a device's motion sensors to provide information based on a user's location. Computer-vision-based services use facial, object and motion tracking algorithms to identify images and objects. For example, being able to identify a shoe among numerous objects on a table, Google Goggles (imaged-based search), or optical character recognition (OCR).


Can Twitter debug itself?

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I have for many months tried to engage with the technical and communications teams at Twitter and Tweetdeck.

It's a bit like trying to talk to that large company from California named after a fruit i.e. they might occasionally reply, but you don't ever feel like you're going to get any insight and, specifically as a journalist, these companies don't have much interest in opening up to you and trying to discuss strategy and product development even under a trusted NDA basis etc.

So here's a question:

... given that Twitter is such a mass consumed and publicly used platform, how could and should the Twitter 'technical support' function help users try and work with technical issues and take these concerns on board to help try and debug the platform as a whole from an Agile & Continuous software application development and delivery perspective?

As a Tweetdeck user, I am personally getting a strange file dumped on my desktop every day called a debug.log - I'm using Windows 8.1 with all latest updates across the board.

I have logged this with Twitter technical support and at the moment I am getting responses such as are you using the latest version of TweetDeck? Or can you reproduce this on web.tweetdeck.com?

To which the answers are, yes of course and no not relevant.

After a week of chasing this up and interacting with what I still believe to be a robot, I am getting emails such as.

"I have documented the issue you are experiencing and provided the report to our engineers. While the issue is queued for investigation, the issue is not one which we are able to investigate and fix immediately. I realize that this problem may heavily impact your ability to use Twitter and I greatly apologize for the inconvenience. We try to resolve all problems as quickly as we can, but with the volume of requests we see we are unable to address each and every issue."

I remain a committed Tweetdeck user despite its trials and tribulations, but sometimes my faith is tested.

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Is wearable, the 'new embedded', yet?

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Accenture has surveyed 6,000 people in six countries on consumer technology spending and usage, hardly the stuff of software application developer analysis columns right?

Well yes, apart from one thing, more than half of consumers (52 percent) are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors for tracking physical activity and managing their personal health.

The Accenture Digital Consumer Tech Survey 2014 suggests that in the past year wearable technologies have emerged as the next big consumer electronics market category, particularly for health and wellness.

According to Mattias Lewren, global managing director of Accenture's electronics and high-tech industry group, "To capitalise on this growth opportunity, consumer electronics companies should consider investing in wearable product innovation and industrial design, and building ecosystems that connect wearables to the broader array of interactive digital networks."

Does this mean that 'wearable' is the 'new embedded' category for software application developers to think about focusing on?

It's a tough one to answer, embedded development (and all the fabulous Internet of Things devices that come with it) should be the sexiest thing on the planet...

... but it's not.

Embedded is still, by and large, thought of as embedded and thus restricted and (for the most part) not as sexy and desktop or mobile.

Dress embedded up as Internet of Things or dress embedded up as wearable as much as you like, the manufacturers are telling us that this is going to be the way of the future but it hasn't happened just yet.

When these upper consumer trends are more directly felt among the developer community, perhaps then we will see the full cycle of this evolutionary curve come forward.

Having said all that, I have to end here and log my FitBit in.

Beware the geopolitically dis-integrated clean cloud

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Developers should take note of the more evolved and complex nature of cloud computing environments in the wider sphere of total computing ecosystems -- so much so that they should consider cloud as sometimes, more than just "simple" software application development processing and storage capacity capabilities supplied as a service.

Sometimes, a cloud is not just a cloud.

Now we also have to consider the fact that a cloud can be a Geopolitical Cloud.

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SAP cloud computing evangelist Sven Denecken reminds us that in China you need a local Chinese cloud and that, unfortunately, security and data protection concerns have accelerated the geopolitical discussion around cloud datacentre location dramatically in recent times.

But warns Denecken, "There is a risk for all if the cloud becomes too fragmented [as a result of wider geopolitical dis-integration]."

When else is the cloud not just a cloud?

Along with negotiating the geopolitically dis-integrated cloud, virtualisation-focused programmers will also have to consider the Clean Cloud and work to new standards which advocate sustainability and environmental factors.

When is a cloud not just a cloud?

When programmers have to work with geopolitically dis-integrated clean sustainable clouds is when.

If not beware, then at least "be wary of and be aware of" these developments for 2014.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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