All posts by Ben Sawyer

Complicating Cloud- Yes You Can, But No You Shouldn’t

By Ben Sawyer, Consulting Architect, LogicsOne

As a software engineer it is very easy to, well, over-engineer something.  But, just because you *can* do something doesn’t mean you *should* do something.  For example, I can get a tattoo but I shouldn’t.  That being said, I did get a tattoo a while back so don’t judge me.  Okay, back to the point.  In these days, where for almost any project it’s hard to control scope, it’s very easy for an engineer to go above and beyond what is required because often times they will build something because they think it’s cool.  These ideas are often not vetted with the internal team or, even more tragically, the client.  And, while the idea may actually be great, the engineer has unknowingly increased the duration of the project significantly because, now, not only will time be used to implement some feature but more time is needed to test how that feature may affect the many other “known” features of a product or service.

There is no better example of simplicity than Apple.  Steve Jobs was fanatical about keeping its products as simple as possible.  If you think about it, the more features and moving parts a product has can very easily lead to more confusion.  There is a lot of up front work (a lot) that needs to be considered about how a user *should* (there’s that word again) use a product…in other words how to control their experience.  My 3-year old son was able to navigate his way around my iPhone in a matter of days so that speaks volumes to its usability.  My mom still calls me once a week with an iPhone question and that speaks to her age.

For anyone who builds a product or delivers a service, it is crucial to not only consider how someone should consume their product but also how they shouldn’t.  In other words, don’t let them shoot themselves in the foot (sorry Plaxico Burress).  In terms of configuring or customizing a piece of software, many have options that are grouped under a “Basic” or “Advanced” group.  The goal is to protect the users from themselves because if my mom ends up in the “Advanced” settings, I will most likely get a phone call in a matter of minutes (unless she’s managed to disable her phone).

So what does usability have to do with the cloud?  Lots.  As companies expand their datacenters, move some resources to the public cloud, and in general add more moving parts, it’s crucial to make sure all those products work together nicely and, if possible, are able to be managed as easily and in as few “places” as possible.  Think of the famous new buzzword, Single Pane of Glass.  That very phrase implies that there is a bunch of stuff going on under the covers which therefore necessitates having an easy place to control, monitor, and use all the moving parts.  Regardless of what products companies use, they need to make certain that it’s not just the guts and plumbing of the product that’s important, it’s how you may manage them. Simplicity is even more important as people move to the public cloud where in many cases a user has little control over the UI (user interface) which must be used to manage those resources.  That’s why it’s key to find a tool which can not only integrate with a company’s existing private infrastructure but also any one of the many public service providers out there.  Any large service provider will provide a public API (a way for your code to call their code) so that you can manipulate the underlying resources without having to use their front-end application.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a product out there that allowed people to monitor & manage their entire infrastructure from a single place?  Well, it just so happens there is…GreenPages’ Cloud Management as a Service solution, a.k.a., CMaaS.  This product takes all the hard work from thousands of hours of development & presents the abundance of information in a very easy to use interface.  But don’t be fooled by its simplicity; Steve Ballmer said the iPhone would never take off.  Appreciate the amount of work that went into understanding how someone would use it in addition to how someone could use it.  Bottom line…don’t be a Steve Ballmer.


To learn more about Cloud Management as a Service and the importance of hybrid cloud management in today’s IT landscape, download this free whitepaper. To contact us for more information on GreenPages CMaaS offering, click here!

Cloud Corner Series- Is Automation & Orchestration Like Taking a Shower?

I sat down yesterday to talk about automating and orchestrating business processes and how it is critical in a cloud environment. I hope you enjoy it- even if the info stinks, at least you have 5 minutes of eye candy watching yours truly!

If you’re looking for more information on cloud management GreenPages has two, free events coming up (one in Boston & one in NYC). Click for more information and to register- space is limited and filling up quickly so check it out!

Automation & Orchestration Part 1: What’s In A Name? That Which We Call a “Service”…

The phrases “service,” “abstraction,” & “automation & orchestration” are used a lot these days. Over the course of the next few blogs, I am going to describe what I think each phrase means and in the final blog I will describe how they all tie in together.

Let’s look at “service.” To me, when you trim off all the fat that word means, “Something (from whom) that provides a benefit to something (to whom).” The first thing that comes to mind when I think of who provides me a service is a bartender. I like wine. They have wine behind the bar. I will pay them the price of a glass + 20% for them to fill that glass & move it from behind the bar to in front of me. It’s all about services these days. Software-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, and Platform-as-a-Service. Professional services. Service level agreement. No shirts, no shoes, no service.

Within a company, there are many people working together to deliver a service. Some to external people & some to internal people. I want to examine an internal service because those tend to be much more loosely defined & documented. If a company sells an external service to a customer, chances are that service is very well defined b/c that company needs to describe in very clear terms to the customer exactly what they are getting when the customer shells out money. If that service changes, careful consideration needs to be paid to what ways that service can add more benefit (i.e., make the company more money) and in what ways parts of that service will change or be removed. Think about how many “Terms of Service & Conditions” pamphlets you get from a credit card company and how many pages each one is.

It can take many, many hours as a consultant in order to understand a service as it exists in a company today. Typically, the “something” that provides a benefit are the many people who work together to deliver that service. In order to define the service and its scope, you need to break it down into manageable pieces…let’s call them “tasks.” And those tasks can be complex so you can break those down into “steps.” You will find that each task, with its one or more steps, which is part of a service, is usually performed by the same person over and over again. Or, if the task is performed a lot (many times per day) then that task can usually be executed by a member of a team and not just a single person. Having the capability internally for more than one person to perform a task also protects the company from when Bob in accounting takes a sick day or when Bob in accounting takes home a pink slip. I’ll throw in a teaser for when I cover automation and orchestration…it would be ideal that not only can Bob do a task, but a computer as well (automation). That also may play into Bob getting a pink slip…but, again, more on that later. For now Bob doesn’t need to update his resume.

A lot of companies have not documented many, if any, of the internal services they deliver. I’m sure there is someone who knows the service from soup to nuts, but it’s likely they don’t know how (can’t) to do every task—or—may not have the authority/permission (shouldn’t) to do the task. Determining who in a company performs what task(s) can be a big undertaking in and of itself. And then, once you find Bob (sorry to pick on you Bob), it takes a lot of time for him to describe all the steps he does to complete a task. And once you put it on paper & show Bob, he remembers that he missed a step. And once you’ve pieced it all together and Bob says, “Yup, that about covers it,” you ask Bob what happens when something goes wrong and he looks at you and says, “Oh man, where do I begin?”

That last part is key. When things go well I call it the “Happy Day Scenario.” But things don’t always go well (ask the Yankees after the 2004 season) and just as, if not more, important in understanding a service is to know what to do when the Bob hits the fan. This part is almost never documented. Documentation is boring to lots of people and it’s hard enough for people to capture what the service *should* do let alone what it *could* do if something goes awry. So it’s a challenge to get people to recall and also predict what could go wrong. Documenting and regurgitating the steps of a business service “back” to the company is a big undertaking and very valuable to that company. Without knowing what Bob does today, it’s extremely hard to tell him how he can do it better.

Exploring Microsoft Windows 8: Search Functionality

Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system is bringing some of the most radical changes to the OS since Windows 95.  Our own Chris Ward gave a great preview of what’s to come, and I’d like to focus on some of the baked-in features which have received a complete overhaul.  It’s very clear that not only is Microsoft improving the functionality & performance of the OS (what can it do & how fast does it do it), but they are also paying extremely close attention to usability (how easy is it to use).  And this feat is made all the more complicated because not only do they need to focus on the classic desktop, which we’ve come to know & love, but they now must also consider the experience of someone using a tablet which is a dramatically different way to navigate around the operating system.  This is the first part in a series of discussions around the features of Windows 8, some old, some new.