Monthly Archives: November 2010

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Useful Links: November 2010

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

  • Synergy – Share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, without special hardware (via Ed Bott)
  • WordPress 3.0: Ultimate Guide to New Features – A review of the major changes introduced with WordPress 3.0
  • KeepVid – Download and save streaming videos
Waffle and randomness

Movember

I’ve written previously about my personal links to Prostate Cancer and November is an important month on the fund-raising calendar.  For those who have not heard of it November becomes Movember, with men across the world sporting unfashionable facial hair with the aim of raising awareness and, importantly, funds to fight male cancers.

Movember started out down under but has spread to the UK and elsewhere, where the Movember Foundation works with local charities (over here it’s The Prostate Cancer Charity).

Movember, day 28: the 'tache is unleashedI wanted to take part in Movember this year but had a number of professional and family commitments for which a half-grown moustache would have been inappropriate (or at least embarrassing to family members). So, my mo’ has been hiding under a beard all month, until last night when it was unleashed to the world.

Please support the fight against Prostate Cancer, by donating to Movember.

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Six months to set up a new blog! What were you doing man?

Yesterday, I wrote about how I’ve been working on setting up a blogging platform at work.  But I also said I’d been working on this for six months.  Six months! To set up a blog! What took so long?

To be fair, it didn’t take me six months.  At least not six months of solid work, just six months of elapsed time.  And, if you’re thinking about doing something similar in your organisation, this post includes some of the things you might want to consider.

Getting organised

All the usual project management, technology and service management issues need to be covered.  Starting out from a project mandate, I needed to ensure that all stakeholders were in agreement as to what we’re producing, and tie down some clear requirements against which a technology platform and service wrap-around could be designed. In my case, that was pretty straightforward, but it still required co-operation from various business functions in several geographies.

Getting organised and selecting a technology platform

With some requirements covered off, it was on to technology selection, and it’s no good just setting up a web server and putting it on the ‘net – the solution needs to be manageable and supportable, long after I’ve ceased to be involved!  Furthermore, because we’re a managed service organisation, it doesn’t look too good to be buying in web hosting services from outside, so it needed to be something that we manage ourselves.

As it happened, I found that some of my colleagues elsewhere in the company were already doing something similar – and they had space on their platform for us to set up an new instance.

Bingo! That’s the technology sorted, what else needs to be done?

Getting organised, selecting a technology platform, and sorting out the marketing

The whole purpose of this activity is demonstrating thought leadership – and thought leadership is marketing (argh! I’ve become a marketeer – much to the amusement of my marketing professional wife, as she witnesses her tame geek cross over to “the dark side”).  It’s no good going off half-cocked and so I worked with some of my colleagues who really are marketing professionals (not just playing at it like me) to create a social media marketing strategy.  Branding was another element.  It’s no good just picking a theme that I like from the ‘net and applying it to our platform.  I worked with our internal agency’s designers and developers to ensure that the appropriate brand standards were followed, so that the eventual blog platform site had the same look and feel as the corporate site, and that it functioned well in an accessible manner, across many browsers.  Ah yes. The corporate site. Time to work with the Web marketing team to ensure that the appropriate links and redirects are in place.  So, it seems that creating a corporate blog platform is not as easy as just throwing up a new WordPress instance then!

Getting organised, selecting a technology platform, sorting out the marketing, and the service management

I mentioned service management earlier.  However few users the solution has on day one, I needed to be sure that, as it grows (as these things tend to), there would be a supported route for managing capacity, ensuring that servers and software are maintained and kept up-to-date, and that if someone calls the IT helpdesk for support, the calls are routed appropriately.  There’s actually a whole load more to it than that, but you get the idea.

Getting organised, selecting a technology platform, sorting out the marketing, the service management, and the content

Content. Yes, content. Content is king and all that.  We talked about marketing, and we knew what we wanted to achieve in broad terms but someone has to actually write something to post on each blog.  Writing is a creative process; it’s not just something you can site down and do at 9am each day, but all of the content providers need to be sure that they can put aside the necessary time to write new posts – and consistency of posting is more important than frequency.  I don’t mind if there’s only one post a month, as long as there is one post every month. That meant creating a funnel of ideas for our content producers to draw inspiration from.

Getting organised, selecting a technology platform, sorting out the marketing, the service management, the content, and the supporting policies

Most large organisations will have policies that govern things like use of the Internet, marketing, speaking on behalf of the company, etc. and those policies may well cover the use of social media; however there’s a world of difference between responsible use of Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/whatever as individuals and writing on the company’s own website.  Also, it’s simply not practical (or even ethical) to pre-approve blog posts in the way that we might for a press release.  That meant that some policies might need to be updated, and some additional training needs to provided to users.

All of this is just scraping the surface

It’s been a long haul – I’ve covered some of the main considerations in this post but, of course, as should be expected in any large organisation there were various challenges to overcome that I haven’t gone into the details of here. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but fun too. And it’s great to look back and look at the number of things that we had to do to get to where we are today, and how many people were involved, each adding their own unique element to the project.

That’s it for the work-related posts on this blog – for the time being at least – but this isn’t really about the company that I work for, it’s about the effort that’s involved in pretty much any new technology implementation.  And if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!

Technology

Fruits of my labour: Fujitsu’s UK and Ireland blogs

Six months ago, I changed roles at Fujitsu and moved to the Office of the CTO, as a Strategy Consultant. It’s been a good move and I’m really enjoying my work, in a team that’s focused on driving innovation, thought leadership and governance.

Aside from my technology background and propensity to share information (whether people ask for it or not!), one of the reasons I was brought into the team was my experience with social media – particularly blogging but other channels too – and I’m really pleased to say that I’ve been involved in Fujitsu’s move to embrace social media, not just here in the UK, but as part of a global community too.

Whilst some IT service organisations have been using social media for a while, it’s typically in a business to consumer (B2C) rather than business to business (B2B) context but it’s equally important to ensure that any social media activities are part of an overall integrated strategy. At the same time, it’s important to pick the appropriate channels (not necessarily every platform that’s out there) not least because, as any company starts to use new methods of communicating with customers and partners, it’s important that they’re able to respond in the manner that the audience expects: it’s no good launching a Twitter account (for example) and then not having the resources in place to respond to customer dialogue.

Today, I took the wraps off the first of Fujitsu’s corporate blogs for the UK and Ireland, kicking off with our CTO blog, written by David Smith, who is Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Security Officer (CSO) for our region.  Because of the combination of roles that he performs, David has a unique insight on a variety of technology developments, drawing on a combination of external go-to-market and internal IT capability knowledge and this enables him to be a thought leader in both business and technology, translating IT trends into potential business value. I believe that’s pretty unusual and, just as importantly, I want to stress that he writes the content himself (it’s not ghost written) – if the author is shown as David Smith, that means that it’s David’s views and opinions you read, not something formed by my team (although we do also also provide some content, for which the author is clearly shown as Office of the CTO).

Whilst the site went live today, we’ve included content that’s been written throughout the site’s development as I wanted it to add value from day one, rather than starting out with a “Hello World” post!

In addition to what I intend to be a growing number of Fujitsu blogs, we’re highlighting some Fujitsu bloggers – people like me, but also Amit Apte (Enterprise Architecture and strategic IT management), Debra Lilley (Oracle) and Jeremy Worrell (innovation). The Fujitsu bloggers all have established blogs which are not hosted by Fujitsu, but still provide some insight into the talent that we have available within the organisation.

It’s not just blogging though: Twitter is another of the channels that we’re using now – with @Fujitsu_UK providing the latest news and developments from our region, as part of a globally co-ordinated social media community which embodies our “think global, act local” approach.

This has been a really exciting few months for me – I don’t normally talk about my work on this blog but all of the activities I mentioned here are externally facing, so they’re not exactly secret and I really want to shout from the rooftops that we are doing this. Shouting from the rooftops is not really our style though, so broadcasting to a smaller community of people who’ve supported my personal activities over the years seems like a decent compromise. Please do visit the Fujitsu UK and Ireland blogs, and let me know what you think.

Technology

Technology Perspectives

Technology Perspectives bannerAt Fujitsu, we pride ourselves on being a forward-looking company that not only seeks to predict the future, but also to form it. We do this through close cooperation with our customers in order to meet their needs for today and for tomorrow.

Our vision is to develop and build networks of intelligent systems that work together in a way that touches and improves everyday life for people all around the globe. We call it the Intelligent Society. To make that reality, we invest significant resources to identify the patterns of change that are paving the way for the future.

Today, Fujitsu is launching a new Technology Perspectives microsite, presenting an across-the-board look at trends in technology, business and society; and featuring thought leadership from our Chief Technology Officers (CTO) around the world, including here in the UK and Ireland.

The microsite is designed to be easy to use, so that busy executives can find the information they need quickly but download content when they need detail and depth.

Using a quadrant framework that balances personal freedom with technology to present four scenarios that express contrasting business and technology futures, we examine nine key trends that represent high-impact mid-term developments, as well as some others that are just over the horizon but may be even more significant.  We also offer twelve predictions for change that we think are fairly safe bets, before highlighting those technologies that will soon fade into oblivion.  You can also download the full report, if you prefer.

Technology Perspectives is intended to provide some background context for strategic planning, making it easier to obtain the insight and tools needed to prepare for a competitive future. Above all, we hope that the thought-provoking ideas on the Technology Perspectives microsite will spark a debate about planning for the future. We welcome you to join in the debate.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

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easyJet’s journey into the clouds

Last month, I spent some time at Microsoft’s Partner Business Briefing on Transitioning to the Cloud (#pbbcloud).  To be honest, the Microsoft presentations were pretty dull, the highlight being the sharp glances from Steve Ballmer as he saw me working on my iPad (which led to some interesting comments in a technical session a short while later) but there was one session that grabbed my attention – one where easyJet‘s Bert Craven, an IT architect with the airline, spoke about how cloud computing has changed easyJet’s “real world” IT strategy.

For those who are reading this from outside Europe, easyJet was one of the original UK-based budget airlines and they have grown to become a highly successful operation.  Personally, I don’t fly with them if I can help it (I often find scheduled airlines are competitive, and have higher standards of customer service), but that’s not to say I don’t admire their lean operations – especially when you learn that they run their IT on a budget that equates to 0.75% of their revenue (compared with an average of just over 4%, based on Gartner’s IT Key Metrics).

Bert Craven quipped that, with a budget airline, you might be forgiven for thinking the IT department consists of one guy with a laptop in orange shed, by an airfield, operating a shoestring budget but it’s actually 65 people in a very big orange hangar, by a big runway…

Seriously though, operating a £3billion Internet-driven business on an IT budget which is so much smaller than the norm shows that the company’s reputation for leanness is well-deserved. To deliver enterprise-scale IT with this approach requires focus – a focus on differentiation – i.e. those systems that drive competitive advantage or which define the business.  In order to achieve this, easyJet has taken commodity systems and pushed them “out of the door” – buying as-a-service products with demanding service level agreements (SLAs) from selected business partners.

easyJet has had a cloud strategy since 2005, when they started moving  commodity systems to managed services.  But, in 2009, Windows Azure caused a deviation in that approach…

Until 2007, easyJet was growing at 20% p.a. (the company is still experiencing rapid growth today, but not quite at the same level) – and that high level of growth makes it difficult to scale.  There’s also a focus on meeting the SLAs that the business demands: easyJet are immensely proud that their easyJet.com availability chart is so dull, showing a constant 100% for several years; and if their flight control systems were unavailable for more than four hours, the entire fleet would be grounded (which is why these systems are never “down”).

So easyJet classified their IT systems into three tiers:

  • Commodity: operating system; security; backup; e-mail; access methods; file and print.
  • Airline systems: engineering; crew rostering; finance; personnel; flight planning; schedule planning; baggage handling; payroll; slot management; payment systems.
  • easyJet Systems (those differentiators that drive competitive advantage): reservation system; revenue management; departure control; crew systems; aircraft systems.

easyJet High Level architecture (pre-cloud)The three tiers of classification are used to drive SLAs of silver  (99.9% availability), gold (99.99% availability) and platinum (100% availability), mapped onto the IT architecture such that platinum services operate as a high availability configuration across two sites, gold services can fail over between sites if required, and silver services are provided only from easyJet’s primary site.

Alongside this, easyJet has a 5 point IT strategy that’s designed to be simple and cost-effective:

  1. Use simple, standard, solutions by default.
  2. Promote innovate use of mainstream technology.
  3. Use Microsoft technology for the technical platform.
  4. Provide scalable systems that never restrict the growth of the business.
  5. Provide 100% up-time for business critical systems.

In order to take account the disruption from the adoption of cloud computing technologies, easyJet adapted their strategy:

  1. Use simple, standard, solutions by default: place services in the cloud only when to do so simplifies the solution.
  2. Promote innovate use of mainstream technology: continually test the market to measure capabilities and penetration of cloud technology (as it becomes more mainstream, it’s better suited to easyJet’s innovation).
  3. Use Microsoft technology for the technical platform: Windows Azure will be the natural choice, but look at alternatives too.
  4. Provide scalable systems that never restrict the growth of the business: look for areas where cloud will improve the scalability of systems.
  5. Provide 100% up-time for business critical systems: wait for cloud computing to mature before committing to high availability usage (no platinum apps in cloud).

easyJet High Level architecture (planned cloud)Naturally, easyJet started their journey into cloud computing with commodity computing systems (buying in compute and storage capabilities as a service, outsourcing email to a platform as a service offering, etc.) before they started to push up through the stack to look at airline systems. They thought that silver and gold services would be offered from the cloud within the architecture but Windows Azure turned out to be more disruptive than they anticipated (in a good way…).

With many commodity and airline systems now cloud-hosted, easyJet’s IT systems are able to cope with the company’s rapid growth.  But their departure control system (a platinum service) in 4 airports now has been running on Windows Azure since January 2010 and the easyjet.com sales channel has also been extended into the cloud, so that it may be offered more broadly in innovative ways (or as Bert put it, “when you suddenly expose your sales channel to Facebook, you need to know you can handle Facebook!”).  easyJet High Level architecture (post-cloud)Now easyJet’s high-level architecture has platinum systems crossing primary and secondary sites, as well as the cloud – something that they originally said they wouldn’t do.

Bert Craven explained the crucial point that easyJet missed in their strategy was an aspect that’s often understated: integration as a service.  easyJet believe that the potential of the cloud as an integration platform is huge and they use Windows Azure AppFabric (formerly known as BizTalk Internet Services, then as Microsoft .NET Services).

With a traditional secure service in a data centre, consumers are allowed to punch through the firewall on a given port then, after successfully negotiating security, they can consume the service. AppFabric turns this model inside out, taking the security context and platform into the cloud.  With AppFabric, the service makes an outbound connection through the firewall (security departments like outbound connections) and consumers can locate services and connect in a secure manner within the cloud. AppFabric is not just for web service endpoints either: it can do anything from send a tweet to streaming live video; and endpoints are getting smarter too with rich integration functionality (message routing, store and forward, etc.)

easyJet see AppFabric as a game changer because it’s made them ask different questions:

  • Instead of “is a new service we’re building a  cloud service or an on-premise service?”, the question becomes “might this service have some cloud endpoints and components – is this in fact a hybrid service?”
  • “Could we migrate an existing service to the cloud?” becomes “could we extend an existing service into the cloud?”

Bert Craven believes that AppFabric is the ace in the pack of Windows Azure technologies because it’s a small step to take an existing service and expose some endpoints in the cloud (easy to swallow).  It’s also more  of an enabler than a disruptor, so AppFabric is quite rightly perceived as lower risk (and almost certainly lower cost). Extending a service is a completely different proposition to move entire chunks of compute and storage capabilities to cloud. Consequently there is a different value proposition, making use of existing assets (which means it’s easier to prove a return on investment – delivering more value with a greater return on existing investments by extending them quickly becomes very attractive) – and an IT architect’s job is to create maximum business value from existing investments.

AppFabric offers rich functionality – it’s not just a cheap shortcut to opening firewall and has a rich seam of baked-in integration functionality and, ultimately, it has accelerated easyJet’s acceptance of cloud computing.  18 months ago, Craven describes sharp intakes of breath when talking of running departure control in the cloud, but now that a few airports have been running that way for 10 months, it’s widely accepted that all departure control systems will transition to the cloud.

Bert Craven sees AppFabric as a unifying paradigm – with Windows Azure AppFabric in the cloud and Windows Server AppFabric on-premise (and it gets stronger when looking at some other Microsoft technologies, like the Project Sydney virtual private network and identity federation developments – providing a continuous and unified existence with zero friction as services move from on-premise to cloud and back again as required).

In summing up, Bert Craven described AppFabric as a gateway technology – enabling business models that were simply not possible previously, opening a range of possibilities. Now, when easyJet thinks about value propositions of cloud and cloud solutions, equal thought is given to the cloud as an integration platform, offering a huge amount of value, at relatively low cost and risk.

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How to take stunning pictures: Animals

Continuing the series of posts based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, this one looks at photographing animals (previous posts have covered portraiture, celebrations, landscapes and sport).  The expert photographer in this episode was Tim Flach and, whilst Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme,  they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the fifth episode:

  • Know your animal – be interested in your subject and try and find out a little more through a journey of enquiry, researching the subject, including people closest to the animal (e.g. a farmer).
  • Develop your idea – what’s the purpose of the image – i.e. what are you setting out to do and what do you want to explore? Think about what is special about the animal and use that to consider how to communicate its character through pictures.
  • Use details and textures – get in tight and explore details and texture in animals – you can even create new meanings by leaving details out… (e.g. a part of one animal may look like something else entirely, when viewed out of context). The closer you get in, the more dramatic an image will look.
  • Be sensitive to the animal’s needs and be prepared to adapt your ideas. Have a plan/strategy but be able to see other things that develop as it may be chaotic and nothing is ultimately controlled.  It’s important to observe and let go if what you thought was gong to happen if it didn’t and be ready to capture something else if it reveals itself ! You never know how large (or small) a window of possibility will be.
Site notices

Does this make me an award winning blogger?

Absolutely amazed.

Actually, there’s another word that fits in the middle of that sentence, but I don’t swear on the blog.

Absolutely [redacted] amazed.

I was very pleased to be shortlisted in the IT Professional (Male) category for the Computer Weekly Blog Awards but, I was really treating the Awards ceremony this evening as an opportunity to network (and, in some cases to meet people in person that I previously only knew online). When I saw that Microsoft’s Steve Clayton was runner up, I thought it must have been a really big blog that won.  Me, accepting the award for the IT Professional (Male) category in the Computer Weekly Blog Awards 2010Nope, turns out it was little ol’ me (OK, so I’m not so small, but my blog is!). Computer Weekly’s awards may not have the glitz and glamour of some awards ceremonies, but they are at least recognised, and it’s pretty cool to have won an award this year.

So, a massive “thank you” to everyone who voted for me – your support was absolutely vital.  But, more importantly, thanks for continuing to read this blog.  I’m doing less and less technical work and It’s getting harder and harder to find the time to write original content (most of my online contributions come in 140-character busts these days – @markwilsonit); but knowing that people out there find it useful and are willing to support me in things like this is a great comfort.

[Updated 19 November 2010: added photo - copyright Computer Weekly (linked at source)]
[Updated 25 November 2010: added video]

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WordPress theme update prevents access to administrative pages

For days now, I’ve been banging my head against the wall on a problem with a WordPress website (not this one). I used an agency to develop a theme for me, but every time I applied it to the site, I lost access to the /wp-admin pages (in most browsers I saw a blank page, except in Firefox, where I could see the following characters: ). I only have access to the WordPress application (no database administration, or access to the web server itself), so the only way out was to ask the server administrators to restore the WordPress folders from backup, which takes time and gets embarrassing after a second attempt.

I’d seen John MacMenamin’s WordPress WP-Admin blank page fix post and thought I’d removed all whitespace from the top/bottom of functions.php but, after Alex Coles suggested that I look at the differences between Unix-style linefeeds and Windows carriage-return/linefeeds, Could this be the culprit in the case of the blank /wp-admin pages?I spotted the same strange characters at the head of the file (they showed up in windiff.exe as I was performing a file comparison). I don’t know how it got there but, each time I get a theme update, I have to manually remove what appeared to be a single byte from the head of the file using the nano editor on my Mac, which presented it as white space (I’m sure vi would do the job too), because not all text editors can see the offending character (certainly not Notepad on Windows, or TextEdit on a Mac).

This cost me a lot of time (and probably delayed the launch of the website too), so I thought it might be useful to flag up for others to benefit from my experience.

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Reminder: Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2010

My blog needs you!

The deadline for voting in the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards is fast approaching and, even though I don’t seriously expect to win, it’s great to have been shortlisted, and I don’t want to come last either!

It’s sometimes a struggle to balance work and blogging (especially after almost seven years of it) but, please can I ask you to vote for me in the IT Professional (Male) category?

If you’re sick of reading posts that are begging for your support, I’m sorry: this is the last time I’ll ask you and I do have some more tech advice and commentary posts in the pipeline!

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