Cloud: the silver lining

Notes from a BrightTalk webcast by Roger Bearpark from Hillingdon (London Borough) Council. Captured as we go; you can access the replay (link below).

Hillingdon’s crisis challenge (“we can’t get round this one”) was inability to uprate power supplies for ongoing increases in server capacity – without digging up the High Street which for a Local Authority wouldn’t be popular.

Started with a virtualisation programme for servers. Took the time to baseline before moving (they had 3 months while moving to the early decisions) e.g. space and power consumption – these were not ICT direct responsibility so not previously measured. This meant that demonstrating benefits was on a strong footing. Hillingdon use formal project and measurement technologies such as Six Sigma (and Prince). NB: keep your measurement skills in house!

Next stage: SAN. Now “spin only the storage we need”. In-house hosted, partly because of inadequate industry understanding of local government-specific compliance needs. Spin-off benefits include better recoverability, built-in. Plus, management information is easier e.g. to communicate to teams how much storage they are using.

Now includes printing and telephony. Not virtualised desktops at the moment; kit is modern and on a refresh programme. Less air conditioning needed. Reduced number of sites – less travel. All this contributes to green agenda. Plus introduced some Cloud apps, accessible to users both working from home and out on site.

Changed ways of working e.g. in purchasing strategy, based on much better understanding. Showed BT and IBM definitions of cloud: two different tech-centred definitions. Then Salesforce & Amazon – user centred rather than tech centred, perhaps more marketing-speak. Illustrates the difficulty of understanding what’s going on without own experience. Now on (at least) equal terms with suppliers.

Support culture has changed too: there is less mundane work in the second/third line. Much more dynamic delivery: hours (or minutes) not days or weeks. Challenges include security (resolving the conflict between this and accessibility), especially as other organisations buy in to shared services; bandwidth (increasingly important). Looking at further opportunities e.g. based on (central government) G-cloud app store and commercial cloud services.

Separating Cloud computing from hot air, BrightTalk webcast, 27 Oct 2010 (replay)
London Borough of Hililngdon
Compellent “fluid storage”
• G-cloud: difficult to find a single up to date reference. Use Google.

A very ripe Apple

Business as well as technology press report Apple’s jump in profits to give the company its first $20bn quarter. People are buying Macs, iPads and iPhones – though not so many iPods. Maybe the market for MP3 players is saturating. But a fall in share price, as people took profits, means that the commentators who anticipated a rise were wrong and Apple hasn’t (yet?) become the world’s most valuable company.

There’s relatively little comment about the numbers in the tech media: more about Jobs’s savaging of 7-inch tablets and targetting of his smartphone rivals. But what a turnround from the days when it was in effect Microsoft that rescued Apple from going under completely. Now it’s Microsoft that’s under a cloud, with many reports of the departure of Ray Ozzie (“transition” is Microsoft’s word) and comments which might be summarised as “He was a good catch, but didn’t fit” (depending on what your opinion is of Lotus Notes!)

PS – the iPad is now £500 or less from my online business stationery supplier. Mainstream!

• Apple ‘thrilled’ as quarterly profits jump 70%, Guardian, 19 Oct 2010
• Announcing sales records, Jobs vows Apple ‘will triumph’ over Android, Computerworld, 18 Oct 2010
• Apple Reports Fourth Quarter Results, Apple press release, 18 Oct 2010 with link to replay of the earnings webcast
• Steve Ballmer E-mail to Employees on Ray Ozzie Transition, Microsoft PressPass, 18 Oct 2010
• Ray Ozzie to leave Microsoft,, 18 Oct 2010

Cuts and the career framework

I find myself with a highly unfamiliar political perspective right now. As a lifelong Liberal, I’ve been used to being a perpetual opposition supporter: it chimes in with my approach to technology, faith, and a whole host of other things to be the maverick who espouses a different approach to either side of the establishment. But now, my party’s in government … and we’re waiting for the definitive swings of the spending axe.

Well, one of the outcomes is certain to be a reduction in the number of government spin-off bodies carrying out roles which were deemed to be better off without day to day control. There’s a feeling that the “bonfire of the quangos” will, in many cases, result in many functions  being not abolished but subsumed back into mainstream government.

One of these, featured in todays’s Guardian, is Becta: the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency. Becta’s remit is the facilitation of effective IT in schools. And one of the components of its role is the delivery and management of occupational standards for IT technicians in this sector.

National Occupational Standards (NOS) are a best kept secret. They exist to benchmark roles in organisations: what are the skills, knowledge and experience individuals need, or need to develop, to fulfil roles at different levels in different functions. They can provide employees a structure to assess their current employment role, the skills they are employing in it, the ones they could develop, and possible future career paths. In IT, the Becta set sits alongside the better known e-Skills frameworks for IT users and for IT/Telecom professionals, and the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) which ranges more widely and which originated as the British Computer Society’s Industry Structure Model.

There is an enormous range of NOS frameworks for everything from engineering maintenance to customer relations to policing to people management and way, way beyond. To the point that it can be quite difficult, sometimes, to find your way to the most appropriate framework for your own role, profession, enterprise or aspiration. From the reports, it looks as if Becta is for the chop and I’d rather expect that quite a lot of the other NOS-originating bodies will find themselves under the cosh too. The question will be: what will happen to the NOS corpus? How widely are they valued?

And, for the IT standards, does this matter? The BCS (and yes, I’m a professional member), and the other professional IT organisations, have been endeavouring for decades to get professional standards in IT recognised as a requirement by employers, but enterprise IT still largely ignores them.

But if you’re trying to structure an IT function, or part of one; if you’re trying to make a case for professional development in your annual review; if you’re thinking about taking your career in a different direction; or if you want to know how you, or your organisation, stacks up against others or against your potential, the NOS is a great resource. Explore it while it’s still current!

• Spending review 2010: living with the cuts, The Guardian, 19 Oct 2010 (page down for “The quango: Coventry, Warwickshire”, or search The Guardian for “Becta” for other discussion)
• Becta
• National Occupational Standards (“UK Standards”)
• e-skills

Keeping track of Gartner blogs

My version of Parkinson’s Law states that “Work expands to fill the time available, plus ten percent. Even after this rule has been taken into consideration”.

Which is why, a month after return from an excellent summer holiday in Canada (why can’t British trains provide free high capacity wifi and power at every seat?) I’ve only now completed the latest update to the Gartner Blog Index on InformationSpan. Why did it take so long?

Well, at the last iteration a lot of Burton Group blogs were still active. This is no longer the case. So it was time to complete the integration into the Gartner index, started with the last iteration. And Gartner have restructured their index page too.

This meant quite a lot of new analysis coding on the HTML generator. Where a Burton analyst has a Gartner blog we now link to their Burton bio as well as their Gartner one, and within the one list we indicate both their Gartner coverage areas and their Burton strategy affiliation. Creating this single unified alphabetical list was the biggest task and, I hope, will be the biggest benefit.

Then, within the index by coverage area (read this carefully, it means exactly what it says!) there is a separate list of Burton analysts with Gartner blogs, according to their Burton strategy areas. This is in addition to their entry in the index by Gartner coverage areas.

Burton’s blogs were linked to Burton’s strategy areas and were often serviced by several analysts. Gartner’s, of course, are individual. So there is, separately, a page listing the Burton (and AMR) legacy blogs: the AMR blogs all came to an abrupt halt with the acquisition, but the Burton ones are only now winding down. Some of the content on both is still useful. And we track where your favourite Burton and AMR bloggers have got to in the Gartner network (or, in some cases, outside it – several have left Gartner).

I’ve rejigged the Google Custom Search so that all the Gartner blogs are entered in it individually. This means that you will be able to see which blog the search results belong to, by looking at the URLs.

And, having removed the AMR and Burton blogs from the “Others” page there was space for some new links you might like to review, such as the expanded suite of blogs from Charlene Li’s Altimeter Group, and Gideon Gartner’s own personal blog.

Finally, about Gartner’s podcast … If you’ve been unable to persuade iTunes to download Gartner Voice, this has now been fixed. I confirmed with Apple that there was indeed a malformed URL, and flagged this to Gartner. The podcast URL now appears to correctly launch iTunes, the link in the iTunes store works properly, and the podcast will download into your iPod. Though the text on Gartner’s own web page hasn’t been amended, and there’s still confusion there between an RSS feed and a podcast. Ah well, one step at a time!

• InformationSpan’s Analyst Blogs index
• Gartner Voice

Barcamp Brighton 5

A couple of notes from Brighton’s October BarCamp. Some interesting contacts and presentations.

For my own contribution, I hosted a discussion about trends in enterprise IT. About a dozen people came, which was a perfect number. They were a mix of refugees from enterprises and individual consultants working with large companies (sometimes at one remove, on a subcontract). We talked about trends driving enterprise IT: I picked on the way Cloud is becoming tied down in long term contracts as the latest form of outsourcing, and the culture of risk avoidance – especially in regulated industries – which conflicts with the need to chance your arm in innovation. And some stuff was raised around the table about how large companies prefer to do business. A good discussion, which could have gone on longer!


Aimee Maree of OLTP Australia with her machine

Among my various encounters, Aimee Maree of OLTP Australia. I simply didn’t know where OLTP had got to since Negroponte launched the idea. But I learned that there are several autonomous OLTP initiatives including Australia’s push to develop its use among its First Nation peoples particularly, and for learning more generally in the remoter areas of that country.

I encountered some new tools to add to my Social Media armoury, not least Lanyrd which links people and events, and which interacts with Twitter. More too about the way that Twitter use has developed among the kind of community represented at Barcamp, mostly much younger than I am (!). An open source content management environment called Drupal, which I’m sure wasn’t around when I was at Barcamp 2 a couple of years ago!

What was perhaps disappointing was that this was a much lower key event than BCB2 at Sussex Uni, the last one I was able to get to. The really high profile emerging tech sponsors weren’t there: no Linden Labs (does SecondLife still have the vogue profile?), no Amazon Web Services, no mainstream media (like The Guardian tech section) and so on. And far fewer people in a smaller venue, so that the second day (which in any case I wasn’t able to get back to) had, initially at least, a much sparser programme of sessions offered.

In the nothing-new-under-the-sun category, Ian Osvald showed us how to connect up a shop-type receipt printer and use it as a stream-of-consciousness printer. For those who prefer their tweets to be print, tear off, read and bin! For me the interest was in the use of embedded control codes to provide basic rendering like bold and underline, because I remember doing this stuff way back before WYSIWYG word processing was invented so that I could do exactly that on a lineprinter (remember them?). Or, in a more sophisticated way, on a Diablo typewriter – using a Pascal program which I ported, following a change of employer, from an ICL 2980 to a Vax with literally one change to the code. One long line had to be broken at column 72. Surely the most portable program I’ve ever encountered (no, I didn’t write it).

A worthwhile day. But I missed the crowd of local undergraduate and postgrad students that packed out BCB2 on their own doorstep and shared a wide range of stuff going on at their smart leading edge.

• BarCamp Brighton 5 on
BarCamp Brighton (BCB2), ITasITis, 15 Mar 2008
BarCamp Brighton second day, 17 Mar 2008
• OLTP Australia
• Arduino (interestingly, the domain is, .cc is the Cocos Islands)