A Microsoft view on the consumerisation of IT (#ukitcamp)

I never realised that my blog posts were feared. At least not until Microsoft’s Andrew Fryer (@deepfat) said he was less concerned about my event feedback on yesterday’s IT Pro Camp event than on my blog post! Well, all I can promise is to try and be objective, fair and balanced – which is what readers have come to expect around here – even if there is less Microsoft-focused content these days.

I went along to yesterday’s IT Pro Camp on Consumerisation as a result of a Twitter conversation that suggested I come and see what Microsoft is doing to embrace and support consumerisation.  To be fair, I should have known better. For the last 20 years, Microsoft has provided desktop (and back-office) systems to enterprises and the consumerisation megatrend threatens this hegemony. Sure, they also operate in the consumer space, but consumerisation is increasingly mobile and cross-platform which means that Microsoft’s dominance is weakening*.

What the UK TechNet team has done is to put together a workshop that looks at how Microsoft tools can be used to support consumerisation in the enterprise – and, at that level, it worked well (although I’m pretty sure the event synopsis changed at some point between me booking my place and it actually taking place).  Even so, I was naive to expect anything more than marketing. Indeed, I nearly went home at lunchtime as it was starting to feel like a big System Center Configuration Manager pitch and there was very little discussion of what is really meant by the consumerisation of IT.

There is little doubt in my mind that the event provided a great demo to show off a host of functionality in Microsoft’s products (and, to be fair, there is an increasing amount of cross-platform support too) but, time and time again, I was the awkward so-and-so who asked how I would implement a feature (for example Direct Access) in a cross-platform estate (e.g. for BYOD) and the answer was that it needs Windows.

So, earlier in the week I was slating Oracle for an event that basically said “buy more of our stuff” and this week… well, it’s just “stuff” from Redmond instead of (different) “stuff” from Redwood Shores, I guess.

Even so, there were some snippets within the product demos that I would like to call out – for example, Simon May (@simonster)’s assertion that:

“We need to be more permissive of what’s allowed on the network – it’s easier to give access to 80% most of time and concentrate on securing the 20%.”

In a nutshell, Simon is re-enforcing the point I made earlier this month when I suggested that network access control was outdated and de-perimiterisation is the way forward (although Microsoft’s implementation of NAC – called Network Access Protection – did feature in a demonstration).  There was also a practical demonstration of how to segregate traffic so that the crown jewels are safe in a world of open access (using IPsec) and, although the Windows implementation is simpler through the use of Group Policy, this will at least work on other devices (Macs and Linux PCs at least – I’m not so sure about mobile clients).

Of course, hosted shared desktops (Remote Desktop Services) and virtual desktop infrastructure reared their ugly heads but it’s important to realise these are just tactical solutions – sticking plaster if you like – until we finally break free from a desktop-centric approach and truly embrace the App Internet, with data-centric policies to providing access.

There was no discussion of how to make the App Internet real (aside from App-V demos and SharePoint/System Centre Configuration Manager application portals) but, then again, this was an IT Pro event and not for developers – so maybe a discussion on application architecture was asking a little too much…

Other topics included protection of mobile devices, digital rights management, and federation, featuring a great analogy from Simon as he described claims-based authentication as being a bit like attempting to buy a drink in a bar, and being asked to prove your age, with a driving licence, that’s trusted because the issuer (e.g. DVLA in mainland Britain) has gone through rigourous checks.

Hopefully this post isn’t too critical – my feedback basically said that there is undoubtedly a lot of work that’s gone into creating the TechDays IT Pro Camps and for many people they will be valuable. Indeed, even for me (I haven’t been involved in Microsoft products, except as a user, for a couple of years now) it’s been a great refresher/update on some of the new technologies. But maybe IT architects have a different view? Or maybe it’s time for me to get more intimately involved in technology again?

 

* I don’t see Microsoft being pushed out any time soon – Windows still runs on a billion PCs worldwide and analysts haven’t given up hope on Windows Phone either – at least not based on an IDC event I attended recently.

Big data according to the Oracle

After many years of working mostly with Microsoft infrastructure products, the time came for me to increase my breadth of knowledge and, with that, comes the opportunity to take a look at what some of the other big players in our industry are up to.  Last year, I was invited to attend the Oracle UK User Group Conference where I had my first experience of the world of Oracle applications; and last week I was at the Oracle Big Data and Extreme Analytics Summit in Manchester, where Fujitsu was one of the sponsors (and an extract from one of my white papers was in the conference programme).

It was a full day of presentations and I’m not sure that reproducing all of the content here makes a lot of sense, so here’s an attempt to summarise it… although even a summary could be a long post…

Big data trends, techniques and opportunities

Tim Jennings (@tjennings) from Ovum set the scene and explained some of the ways in which big data has the potential to change the way in which we work as businesses, citizens and consumers (across a variety of sectors).

Summing up his excellent overview of big data trends, techniques and opportunities, Tim’s key messages were that:

  1. Big data is characterised by volume, variety and velocity [I’d add value to that list].
  2. Big data represents a change in the mentality of analytics, away from precise analysis of well-bound sources to rough-cut exploratory analysis of all the data that’s practical to aggregate.
  3. Enterprise should identify business cases for big data and the techniques and processes required to exploit them.
  4. Enterprises should review existing business intelligence architectures and methods and plan the evolution towards a broader platform capable of handling the big data lifecycle.

And he closed by saying that “If you don’t think that big data is relevant to your organisation, then you are almost certainly missing an opportunity that others will take.”

Some other points I picked up from Tim’s presentation:

  • Big data is not so much unstructured as variably-structured.
  • The mean size of an analytical data set is 3TB (growing but not that huge) – don’t think you need petabytes of data for big data tools and techniques to be relevant.
  • Social network analytics is probably the world’s largest (free) marketing focus group!

Big Data – Are You Ready?

Following the analyst introduction, the event moved on to the vendor pitch.  This was structured around a set of videos which I’ve seen previously, in which a fictitious American organisation grapples with a big data challenge, using an over-sized actor (and an under-sized one) to prove their point. I found these videos a little tedious the first time I saw them, and this was the second viewing for me.  For those who haven’t had the privilege, the videos are on YouTube and I’ve embedded the first one below (you can find the links on an Oracle’s Data Warehouse Insider blog post).


The key points I picked up from this session were:

  • Oracle see big data as a process towards making better decisions based on four stages: decide, acquire, organise and analyse.
  • Oracle considers that there are three core technologies for big data: Oracle NoSQL, Hadoop, and R; brought together by Oracle Engineered Systems (AKA the “buy our stuff” pitch).

Cloudera

Had I been at the London event I would have been extremely privileged to see Doug Cutting, Hadoop creator and now Chief Architect at Cloudera speak about his work in this field.  Doug wasn’t available to speak at the Manchester event so Oracle showed us a pre-recorded interview.

For those who aren’t familiar with Cloudera (I wasn’t), it’s effectively a packaged open source big data solution (based on Hadoop and related technologies) providing an enterprise big data solution, with support.

The analogy given was that of a “big data operating system” with Cloudera doing for Hadoop what Red Hat does for Linux.

Perhaps most pertenent of Doug Cutting’s commenst was that we are at the beginning of a revolution in data processing where people can afford to save data and use it to learn, to get a “higher resolution picture of what’s going on and use it to make more informed decisions”.

Capturing the asset – acquire and organise

After a short pitch from Infosys (who have a packaged data platform, although personally, I’d be looking to the cloud…) and an especially cringeworthy spoof Lady Gaga video (JavaZone’s Lady Java) we moved on to enterprise NoSQL. In effect, Oracle has created a NoSQL database using the Berkeley key value database and a Java driver (containing much of the logic to avoid single points of failure) that they claim offers a simple data model, scalability, high availability, transparent load balancing and simple administration.

Above all, Oracle’s view is that, because it’s provided and maintained by Oracle, there is a “single throat to choke”.  In effect, in the same way that we used to say no-one got fired for buying IBM, they are suggesting no-one gets fired for buying Oracle.

That may be true, but it’s my understanding that big data is fuelled by low-cost commodity hardware (infrastructure as a service) and open source software – and whilst Oracle may have a claim on the open source front, the low-cost commodity hardware angle is not one that sits well in the Oracle stable…

Through partnership with Cloudera (which leaves some wondering if  that will last any longer than the Red Hat partnership did?), Oracle is positioning a Hadoop solution for their customer base:

Oracle describe Cloudera as the Redhat for Hadoop, but also say they won't develop their own release; they said that for Linux originally
@debralilley
Debra Lilley

Despite (or maybe in spite of) the overview of HDFS and MapReduce, I’m still not sure how Cloudera  sits alongside Oracle NoSQL but their “big data appliance” includes both options. Now, when I used to install servers, appliances were typically 1U “pizza box” servers. Then they got virtualised – but now it seems they have grown to become whole racks (Oracle) or even whole containers (Microsoft).

Oracle’s view on big data is that we can:

  1. Acquire data with their Big Data Appliance.
  2. Organise/Analyse aggregated results with Exadata.
  3. Decide at “the speed of thought” with Exalytics.

That’s a lot of Oracle hardware and software…

In an attempt not to position Oracle’s more traditional products as old hat, the next presenter suggested that big data is complementary and not really about old and new but about familiar and unfamiliar. Actually, I think he has a point: at some point “big” data just becomes “data” (and gets boring again?) but this session gave an overview of an information architecture challenge as new classes of data (videos and images, documents, social data, machine-generated data, etc.) create a divide between transactional data and big data, which is not really unstructured but better described as semi-structured and which uses sandboxes to analyse and discover new meaning from data.

Oracle has big data connectors to integrate with other (Oracle) solutions including: a HiveQL-based data integrator; a loader to move Hadoop data into Oracle 11G; a SQL-HDFS connector; and an R connector to run scripts with API access to both Hadoop and more traditional Oracle databases. There are also Oracle products such as GoldenGate to replicate data in heterogeneous data environments

[My view, for what it’s worth, is that we shouldn’t be moving big data around, duplicating (or triplicating) data – we should be linking and indexing it to bridge the divide between the various silos of “big” data and “traditional” data.]

Finding the value – analyse and decide

Speaking of a race to gain insight analytics becoming the CIO’s top priority for 2013 and business intelligence usage doubling by 2014, the next session looked at some business analytics techniques and characteristics, which can be summarised as:

  • I suspect something – a data scientist or analyst needs to find proof and turn into a predictive model to deploy into business process (classification).
  • I want to know if that matters – “I wish I knew” (visual exploration and discovery).
  • I want to make the best decision now – decisions at the speed of thought in the context of a business process.

This led on to a presentation about the rise of the data scientist and making maths cool (except it didn’t, especially with a demo of some not-very-attractive visualisations run on an outdated  Windows XP platform) and introduction of the R language for statistical analysis and visualisation.

Following this was a presentation about Oracle’s recently-acquired Endeca technology which actually sounds pretty interesting as it digests a variety of data sources and creates a data model with an information-discovery front-end that promises “the simplicity of search plus the power of BI”.

The last presentation of this segment looked at Oracle’s Exalytics in-memory database servers (a competitor to SAP Hana) bundling bsuiness intelligence software, adaptive in-memory caching (and columnar compression) with information discovery tools.

Wrap-up

I learned a lot about Oracle’s view of big data but that’s exactly what it was – one vendor’s view on this massively hyped and expanding market segment. For me, the most useful session of the day was from Ovum’s Tim Jennings and if that was all I took away, it would have been worthwhile.

In fairness, it was good to learn some more about the Oracle solutions too but I do wish vendors (including my own employer) would sometimes drop the blatant product marketing and consider the value of some vendor agnostic thought leadership. I truly believe that, by showing customers a genuine understanding of their business, the issues that they face and the directions that business and technology and heading in,  the solutions will sell themselves if they truly provide value. On the other hand, by telling me that Oracle has a complete, open and integrated solution for everything and what I really need is to buy more technology from the Oracle stack and… well, I’d better have a good story to convince the CFO that it’s worthwhile…

Slidedecks and other materials from the Oracle Big Data and Extreme Analytics Summit are available on the Oracle website.

Short takes: the rise of the personal cloud; what’s in an app; and some thoughts on Oracle

A few highlights from my week that didn’t grow into blog posts of their own…

Oracle: complete, open and integrated

I was at an Oracle event earlier this week when I heard the following comment that amused me somewhat (non-attributed to protect the not-so-innocent):

“Oracle likes to say they are complete, open and integrated – and they are:

  • Complete – as in ‘we have a long price list’.
  • Open – as in ‘we’re not arrogant enough to think you buy everything from us’.
  • Integrated – as in ‘if we own both sides of the connection we’ll sell you the integration’.”

I don’t have enough experience of working with Oracle to know how true that is, but it certainly fits the impression I have of the company… I wonder what the Microsoft equivalent would be…

The rise of the Personal Cloud

I’ve been catching up with reading the paper copy of Computing that arrives ever fortnight (and yes, I do prefer the dead tree edition – I wouldn’t generally read the online content without it). One of the main features on 22 March was about the rise of the personal cloud – a contentious topic among some, but one to ignore at your peril as I highlighted in a recent post.

One quote I particularly liked from the article was this one:

“The personal cloud isn’t so much the death of the PC as its demotion. The PC has become just another item in a growing arsenal of access devices.”

Now all we need is for a few more IT departments to wake up to this, and architect their enterprise to deliver device-agnostic services…

What’s app?

In another Computing article, I was reading about some of the technologies that Barclays is implementing and it was interesting to read COO Shaygan Kheradpir’s view on apps:

“Many […] tasks that happen on the front-line are […] app-oriented […].

And what are apps? They are deep and narrow. They’re not like PC applications, which are broad and shallow. You want apps to do one, often complex, task.”

Sounds like Unix to me! (but also pretty much nails why mobile apps work so well in small packages.)

Linked data: connecting and exploiting big data

Earlier this year, I gave a lightning talk on Structuring Big Data at the CloudCamp London Big Data Special – the idea being that, if we’re not careful, big data will provide yet another silo of information to manage and that linked data could be useful to connect the various data sources (transactional databases, data warehouses, and now big data too).

At the time I mentioned that this was part of a white paper that I was writing with my manager, Ian Mitchell (@IanMitchell2) and our paper on using linked data to connect and exploit big data has now been published on the Fujitsu website.

This week Oracle kicks off its Big Data and Extreme Analytics Summit and Fujitsu are one of the sponsors. An except from the paper is included in the conference brochure and I’ll be at the Manchester event next Tuesday – do come along and say hello if you’re at the event and, even if you’re not, please do check out the paper – I’d love to hear your feedback.

Moving to Linux from Solaris?

Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems has probably caused a few concerns for Sun customers and, today, Oracle message to Sun customersOracle reaffirmed their commitment to Sun’s Solaris operating system and SPARC-based hardware with a statement from Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison, that tells customers they plan to invest in the Solaris and SPARC platforms, including tighter integration with Oracle software.

Nevertheless, as one of my colleagues pointed out to me today, it costs billions to create new microprocessors and more and more customers are starting to consider running Unix workloads on industry standard x64 servers. With significant differences between the x64 and SPARC versions of Solaris, it’s not surprising that, faced with an uncertain future for Sun, organisations may consider Linux as an alternative and, a few weeks back, I attended a webcast given by Red Hat and HP that looked at some of the issues.

I’m no Linux or Unix expert but I made a few notes during that webcast, and thought they might be useful to others so I’m sharing them here:

  • Reasons to migrate to Linux (from Unix):
    • Tactical business drivers: reduce support costs (on end of life server hardware); increase capability with upgraded enterprise applications; improve performance and reduce cost by porting custom applications.
    • Strategic business drivers: simplify and consolidate; accelerate service development; reduce infrastructure costs.
  • HP has some tools to assist with the transition, including:
    • Solaris to Linux software transition kit (STK)– which , although aimed at migrating to HP-UX, this joint presentation between HP and Red Hat suggested using it to plan and estimate the effort in migrating to Linux with C and C++ source code, shell scripts and makefiles for tools that can scan applications for transition impacts.
    • Solaris to Linux porting kit (SLPK)which includes compiler tools, libraries, header files and source scanners to recompile Solaris applications for either Red Hat or SUSE Linux running on HP ProLiant servers.
  • The top 5 issues likely to affect a transition are:
    1. Complier issues – differing development environments.
    2. ANSI C/C++ compliance – depending on the conformance to standards of the source code and compiler, there may be interface changes, namespace changes, library differences, and warnings may become errors.
    3. Endianness – SPARC uses a big-endian system, Linux is little-endian.  This is most likely to affect data exchange/communications between platforms with access to shared memory and to binary data structures in files.
    4. Differences in commands, system calls and tools – whether they are user level commands (e.g. a Solaris ping will return a message that a host is alive whereas a Linux ping will continue until interrupted), systems management commands, system API calls, software management (for package management) or operating system layered products (e.g. performance management, high availability or systems management).
    5. ISV product migration with issues around the availability of Linux versions of software; upgrades; and data migration.
  • When planning a migration, the strategic activities are:
    • Solaris vs. Linux ecosystem analysis.
    • Functional application analysis.
    • Organisational readiness and risk analysis.
    • Strategic migration roadmap creation.
    • Migration implementation.
  • Because of the differences between operating systems, it may be that some built-in functions need to be replaced by infrastructure applications (or vice versa). Indeed, there are four main scenarios to consider:
    • Solaris built-in function to Linux built-in function (and although many functions may map directly others, e.g. virtualisation approaches, may differ).
    • Solaris infrastructure application to Linux built-in function.
    • Solaris infrastructure application to Linux infrastructure application.
    • Solaris built-in function to Linux infrastructure application.
  • Finally, when it comes to deployment there are also a number of scenarios to consider:
    • Consolidation: Many Sun servers (e.g. Enterprise 420R) to fewer industry standard servers (e.g. HP ProLiant).
    • Aggregation: Sun Fire V890/V490 servers to Itanium-based servers (e.g. HP Integrity).
    • Dispersion: Sun Fire E25K server(s) to several industry standard servers (e.g. HP ProLiant).
    • Cloud migration: Sun servers to Linux-based cloud offerings, such as those offered by Amazon, RackSpace, etc.

Many of these notes would be equally applicable when migrating between Unix variants – and at least there are tools available to assist. But, now I come to think of it, I guess the same approach can be applied to migrating from Unix/Linux to Windows Server… oh, look out, is that flaming torches and pitchforks I see being brandished in my direction?