Domotics and Digital Home Services

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I have been a keen fan of the concept of connected home and the connected office for quite a while. In fact, I coined the term “personal service provider” for pre-cloud  era servers that would sit in your linen closet and remotely manage your personal documents (birth certificated, marriage licenses, home owner documentation, etc.) for you.   Domotics have always intrigued me, as the infrastructure in your home has always been under leveraged in my humble opinion.

I was reading an article at lunch in Fast Company from the March issue where it talks about our homes becoming the creative home of our work lives using Slack.  (NB: I also use Slack, and like it very much.)  And some of these ideas resonated with me in terms of digital home services.  For example, if you are in need of a contractor for your home, Slack could connect you to local tradespeople who are willing and able to work in your community.

But if you extend these possibilities, then your automated home could also reach out for a solution provider when it senses you will need one, in advance of the problem escalating to a more costly impact.  Imagine if you home belonged to Slack, along with other homes as well as people (contractors, energy firms, home automation vendors) that your home could help optimize your living environment.

A bit out there?  Not for long.  🙂

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Impact of the evolving storage ecosystem business model

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ComputerWeekly.com/TechTarget IT Priorities Survey for 2016 has just released its findings, which questioned 194 IT professionals in the UK and Ireland. And they found that flash storage deployment appears to have plateaued. They stated that solid state storage (SSDs) is a key project for 16% of respondents, down slightly from just about plateauing across 2015 (19%), 2014 (20%) and 2013 (18%).

So is this a surprise?   Have flash storage priorities changed? Let’s take a look at what is driving flash in the storage ecosystem right now.  Naming conventions: The terms flash storage and solid state disk (SSD) storage are often used interchangeably to describe a type of storage that has no moving parts and can be erased and reprogrammed. SSD is a disk that does not have moving parts, and flash is the implementation that allows that to happen. Modern SSD hard drives are flash-based.

There are two main drivers for considering flash in the storage ecosystem: the increases in storage volumes required by higher definition in video and mobile computing, and the trend for higher performance for certain applications such as rapid SQL querying for customer online purchasing.  Last year we saw more flash technology embedded in servers to increase response time for consumers, specifically those in transaction rich industries such as healthcare, finance and retail, where instant transactions can define the customer experience.

And flash is impacting market consolidation and arguments in the market place, with EMC acquiring XtremIO, NetApp acquiring SolidFire, EMC and Pure Storage continuing to wrangle over infringed deduplication technology, and Violin Memory recently taking a restructuring plan and reduced headcount by approximately 25 percent.

There is no argument in the datacenter that the first tier should incorporate flash from a performance perspective.  Major storage suppliers already report that shipments of 15,000rpm disks have almost entirely been replaced by flash in the form of solid state discs (SSDs). The question is what should be chosen for the second (and perhaps third and fourth) tiers – disk, flash, hybrid flash combos, or what other option? And what is this uncertainty impacting flash adoption?

The storage ecosystem model explained

What data sits where, and why? Tiered storage is the foundation of information lifecycle management (ILM).  Data is stored appropriately based on performance, availability and recovery requirements. For example, data intended for restoration in the event of data loss or corruption could be stored locally — for fast recovery — while data for regulatory purposes could be archived to lower cost disks, either at a remote location or not in the production environment.

Like the “death of the mainframe”, the “death of disk” is also exaggerated as there will always be a need for HDD in some form or fashion in the overall storage ecosystem, whether it be for archiving, recovery, remote storage, cold storage etc. The big thing in storage ecosystem design now is consolidation.  But to build up the infrastructure could require adding hard disk drives (HDD) for performance, not capacity.

Traditionally, datacenter storage is tiered on the basis of latency, IOPS and relevancy of the data to operations.  With flash in the mix, datacenter storage is becoming more tiered than now, meaning that there would be at least three tiers:

  • Ultra-low or low latency, will be flash based if not all flash (AFA)
  • Low latency/high IOPS,  hybrid flash or HDD
  • “Cool/cold,” long term storage, mainly HDD

A report that was published in 2012 by the University of California and Microsoft Research (UCMR), The bleak future of NAND flash memory, painted a pessimistic picture of the future of flash: “Building larger-capacity flash-based SSDs that are reliable enough to be useful in enterprise settings and high-performance enough to justify their cost will become challenging. We show that future gains in density will come at significant drops in performance and reliability. As a result, SSD manufacturers and users will face a tough choice in trading off between cost, performance, capacity and reliability.”

Even with flash technology coming down in price, it will still be a while before datacenters start moving to all flash. Many think that going all flash would be a mistake, because not every application is going to need it. But if enterprises are forward looking with their storage footprint in their own ecosystem, where does flash fit in the tiers?  Is it price dependent, or application specific?

Price and performance

New flash arrays are generally available and priced competitively with traditional hard drive-based arrays. Which means that prices for SSD are dropping, but are also in line with the goals of the HDD business, which sets goals for itself mapping out the industry’s planned areal densities (bits per square millimeter of HDD surface) several years in advance.  This is managed by IDEMA (International Disk Drive Equipment & Materials Association), and is called the ASTC (Advanced Storage Technology Consortium).

So price is a factor, but not alone. For something like an all-flash array (AFA), scalability, particularly scale-out, becomes a primary differentiator. Even blended, SSD-HDD combinations will favor flash. For hybrid arrays, the ratio of flash capacity continues to grow as customers seek a balance between the cost-effective capacity of hard disk drives and the business-aware performance of flash.

Trade-offs – the implementation of hybrid flash

The shift for flash at present is pragmatic and more for going hybrid. A hybrid array combines flash memory with traditional disk storage, with flash mostly used for applications that demand a high number of IOPS and traditional spinning disks used for storage. Hybrid combinations of flash drives and HDD have become a viable option for organizations of all structures. There are many ways IT can architect solid state discs (SSDs) into the storage mix. Many are simply adding SSD drives to the PCIe slots in the servers, which also have hard disks (or configuring new server purchases with flash drives) or adding them as direct-attached storage (DAS). Companies managing storage networks are also increasingly adding flash to their storage arrays. In a growing number of shops where performance is critical, some are stepping up to pure flash-based SSD storage.

AFAs will likely only needed for the most performance sensitive application workloads.  The move to hybrid came after IT departments started to realize the challenges of what an all flash environment could face. For example, you have the “boot storms” that occur in the beginning of the work day with the simultaneous installation of software, patches or workloads with multiple people performing needed tasks on a schedule.

Reliability of SSDs

One of the remaining questions is if SSDs are reliable enough to replace disk drives completely. With an SSD, you must first erase the original data and then write the new data, so no overwriting. And ultimately memory cells wear out, limiting the number of times you can erase and write data. The more data stored on the drive and the greater the number of write operations, the sooner performance will begin to degrade. An important part of the management functionality provided by the controllers built into SSDs is wear leveling, a process that controls how data is written to prevent one set of them from wearing out before others. In this way, the controllers can help to significantly extend the life of the drives. SSDs are still susceptible to a number of vulnerabilities, and they tend to fail more spectacularly than HDDs. And data recovery can be much trickier with an SSD, often requiring specialized expertise or software to retrieve the lost data.

 How to best configure the ecosystem

The key is understanding the I/O profiles of the workloads and then using I/O profiles to generate workload models that can be used to evaluate hybrid offerings versus AFA vendor offerings and to determine the optimal configuration mix of HDDs and SSDs in the ecosystem. A focus on use cases can best drive the specialization of storage systems and new tiers of storage. Best action is to look into the use of storage workload modeling tools and load generators.  Tools such as Load DynamiX provide ways to determine the performance characteristics/limits for any storage system specific to your workload profiles.   For any storage deployment, it is important to get a handle on peak workloads, specialized workloads such as backups and end of month/year patterns, and impactful events such as login/logout storms.

Final note

There is a paradigm shift from storage being stand alone to more software-defined storage (SDS), which is another blog post in itself.  In the shift for enterprises to be application and use case led in defining their infrastructure, they are starting to understand the dynamic between applications, compute, network and storage. Storage is becoming an integral part of the entire stack and tightly integrated with the use case for the business and the necessary performance/ reliability trade-offs.

A different kind of day in Brussels

Most of you who know me know I am based in Brussels.  I had a very busy day planned yesterday, and got to my office at the university in the very center of town rather early, so I could get some writing in before teaching my 11am Foreign Trade class.  About quarter past eight, I went to see a colleague who normally comes in fairly early, and she said to me — it’s awful!  And then I saw what had happened at our airport. I went back to my office, and sent a DM to my friends in social media at Brussels Airport, wishing them strength and sending support.

And then saw a Tweet from a former student, Evan Lamos,  that he was in the metro, his ears popped and the metro stopped suddenly.   And then I started hearing about what happened in our metro. Evan’s pictures and interview were on many of the major channels and news senders.

I then heard a commotion in our hallway, and one of my colleagues had just come from the central station (2 min walk from our place) and was a bit hysterical about the security and the lock down of the station.  And then I heard about the transportation shut down.

And then all of our phones rang at the same time, which never happens.  The university had pushed an urgent message to us and to the students to stay inside and to make sure we carried our uni ID with us.  And our Dean came down the hall telling us classes were cancelled, and we need to go back to our offices (and get back to work!).

But two of us were scheduled to teach, and we asked the question if we could go across the street to the classroom building and see if students were there, and if we could help them understand the situation and answer questions.   We were allowed to do so, and I came to the classrooms to find most 9am classes had stopped lecture and were watching live streaming of the major news channel.

For my 11am class, only one student (out of 98) showed up, since she was already on campus.  I talked to her about her assignment (which was due at 5pm), and since she could not go home, brought her back to my offices, gave her a place to work, better WiFi and let her borrow my office landline to call her grandma and tell her she was okay.  The mobile network was fairly challenged by this time! She told me where she was from / where she lived, and I made arrangements with colleagues on the next floor down who had a car and lived in the same area to get her home later.

Because in Belgium, it is all about networking.  Before I knew it, several colleagues had come by (it is normal I drive to the uni when I come in, not normal for my colleagues) asking if I still had a seat in my car for the ride home.    Most wanted to leave ASAP, but I had meetings most of the afternoon.  Most of those got cancelled, and I left with a full vehicle at 4pm (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride then started, I had four babbling guests and they have never driven with a Californian before 😉  ).

From about 11:30 onward, I started receiving mails, texts, tweets, etc. from folks around the world asking if I was safe and okay. Yes, I do travel a lot and yes, Brussels Airport is my home port and Twitter friend, so I do take lots of airport shots in my Twitter stream.  I have the utmost respect for the crisis communication from the airport team yesterday, and have said as much openly on Twitter yesterday as well.

A few things struck me about yesterday.

  1. The faculty and the parents of the students were a lot more unnerved about the events in Brussels than the students were.  The students were only wondering if their midterm exams on Wed would be cancelled, and did they have to study anyway?
  2. When push comes to shove, we know how to communicate.  Both formal and informal communication platforms worked well, and we arranged for transport and buses for the students and the staff.
  3. People care about people, whether it be first responders, people offering rides or places to stay, or people just inquiring if you are okay.
  4. This is not about religion, nationality, patriotism, belief structures — it is about compassion, understanding, cooperation.

Today the campus is shut, not out of fear, but because of the logistics of transport in Brussels today and for securing the facility even tighter for the coming days.  And with technology enabled faculty and staff, we still are doing business albeit slightly more 21st century version today.

This unfortunately reminded me of when I was at Cornell, and we had a hostage situation in our dormitory, which made the national and international news.   Surprising after all these years that memory came back for me.  Similar kind of panic due to fear and miscommunication, with a news media aftermath and then an impact on how we lived/worked, with processes changed and doors now locked.

Life goes on.

 

 

When the “C” in CRM stands for Citizen: My POV on the Optevia acquisition by IBM

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When government (local, regional, federal or national) provides public sector services for its citizens, they should have a responsibility to provide them in a professional, timely manner. That’s not an easily scalable activity when dealing with thousands of citizen cases, often with limited resources. However the aim is to deliver consistently positive experiences to your citizens or constituents. And using external providers who may be better resourced or with a more rationalized core competency in this area can be beneficial to all involved. In my consulting for regional government, I find that they actually work even harder than federal government to find ways to engage their constituents, given how important the revenue stream is for them to be prosperous. Therefore a cloud-based CRM system is an excellent fit for a resource constrained yet innovative regional public service authority.

Which is why I was pleased to see that IBM announced Friday that they had acquired Optevia, a privately owned Software as a service (SaaS) systems integrator specializing in Microsoft Dynamics CRM solutions for public sector organizations. Optevia will join IBM Global Business Services and help meet the increasing client demand for CRM SaaS solutions within the public sector. Optevia’s main focus on UK health, housing, and emergency services, along with their role in both local and central government service provisioning, puts their services smack in the centre of the citizen’s world. Building solutions based on a foundation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Optevia has worked with governments from the local to central level, public service agencies, and more.

The acquisition of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM integrator highlights that IBM is interested in industry sector solutions, and is not adverse to that solution being based on another SaaS platform.

Why this is valuable for both IBM and Optevia is:

  • For IBM: IBM gains Optevia’s expertise, experience, and agility in the public sector CRM SaaS space, plus the benefit of their wide-ranging existing client relationships.
  • For Optevia:   Optevia gains access to IBM’s technical skills plus its reach and range, as IBM said that the Optevia solutions will be scaled across other areas worldwide.

 

Details of the acquisition were not disclosed. Optevia was founded in 2001.

To rethink the process, rethink the content creation

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I am multitasking right now, trying to finish a report, an article and two blog posts, as well as finishing my weekly assignment for my online teaching course. No, I am not bragging, rather I am a bit bemused by how the process of all of these is similar, but yet very different, because of the content.

One of the pieces is on process realignment, so I am stopping for a moment and sharing my thoughts on content creation with you.  So much of what we do now is crafting content for delivery, rather than focusing on content creation and then worrying about what form the delivery will take. This reminds me of a conference I went to a number of years ago where the focus of the conference was content creation, but almost all of the booths at the show were on delivery and distribution.

I was at the Shopping Innovation Expo on Thursday here in Brussels, and attended the session of Steven van Bellingham who seems to be well-known in Belgium for his expertise on social media.  What drove the audience in droves to his presentation was not how he packaged his message, although it was very well done, but his message itself.

Because of my work schedule, it is taking me much longer these days to get my content out, partly because I am too concerned about the packaging of the content for delivery.   So what hit me this morning, as I am making my to-do list for the weekend for work, is just how much of my time is spent on content delivery, rather than content creation.  And for me, content creation has been the joyous part of the journey.  So I am changing my processes to align with being in the “data” business, and will just focus on bringing you that content as best and as rapidly as I can get it out……!

Back to work.

Serendipitous – being lucky in making fortunate discoveries?

NB:  I wrote this small piece below in September, but decided not to publish it as it was a bit too personal.  But after this last week, thought better of it.  After a comment made to me by a teammate last night, I decided to push the button.  The comment was: “What is your motivation to push so hard right now?”

I have had a serendipitous weekend, and I wanted to share it with you.  I had an interaction at the university with one of the managers that left me rather low on Friday.   But that state of discomfort was eased by some unexpected pieces of interaction over the weekend.   I found these in many places: in a very timely article contribution by an old friend in my LinkedIn stream, in an unexpected email with a photo for me of old friends at a reunion who missed me, chatting with two US family members via Internet, and in the line of weightlifters I was weighing in for a competition on Saturday lunchtime who were happy I was there.

There are people who appreciate what I have to offer.  And these are things I grasp onto to move me forward, instead of holding me back to be just like the others around me.  When I am not, nor should I strive to be so.

I have always been more than a “glass is half full’ kind of person.  For me, the glass needs refilling and I push and drive and nag to get it there.    And so now I go to refill my glass again, and will continue to look with curiosity and interest for more in life than just what is in front of me.

A matter of non-fraud

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I just had a very frustrating experience involving fraud and e-commerce.  But it is not what you think — quite the opposite.  I went to buy an electronic good via a well-known Benelux online store, using a major credit card I have not used for a bit.  Should be simple, right? As I can verify who I am and I have the card in hand.

Opened an account with the online store, placed the order, went to pay.  Would not accept the credit card. Then I received a fraud account activity mail promptly from the card provider.  Great, I said.  Thanks for checking  – yes, it is me.  Ah, go ahead and try again, said the card provider.

Placed the order. Order was accepted.  And then about midnight, as they are getting ready to load my order, the online store cancelled my order.   Because it is my first purchase with them, I must use a debit method, not a credit card method, to establish a secured relationship to avoid fraud. Even though the order was placed and accepted.

So I see this message, and get both parties online (separately).   The card company apologies and says please, try it again, do not worry, you were not yet billed and we are sure they will accept the card.   The vendor says yes, try again, but without the credit card.  And I lack the cash buffer in the account right now to do a debit payment.

So I am now without the object in question, but hey, no fraud!  And no shopping or customer satisfaction either.

 

Can a smarter connected office help us achieve a better and more creative work environment?

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Why do people head to a Starbucks or other environmentally stimulating environments to work? Is it because their workplace makes them unhappy? Given increased digital connectivity through access to mail, mobile, social media, and other web repositories of information and other common distractions in the office environment – other people’s conversations, phones ringing, machines clanging and the sound of passing traffic – we are increasingly finding it impossible to focus in the workplace. So is focus the main concern, or are we losing our creative edge when confronted with non-optimal environments?

Where we work impacts our satisfaction with what we do and how we do it. The work environment is already an established part of the expectations set between employer and employee and has even become a differentiator for employer recruiting. Consider some of the better known names in the technology sector – Facebook, Apple, Google – these are all at the cusp of providing cutting edge working environments, designed and laid out with organizational community building in mind.

Let me give you a bad example. I am currently working in a shared office space where most of the “walls” are glass and privacy is at a minimum. If someone has intensive work to do, they do not come into the office and work elsewhere or from home. You cannot make a personal call as there is no place to do so, as many offices lack VoIP phones, but have headsets for Skype calls or music listening. You see very few people talking or interacting. Frankly, I do not like coming in here as I feel both isolated and watched over. And I have doubts on Sunday night about coming in for a Monday morning if I have a lot of work to get through. So while many might say the workspace design does not influence their decisions, their subconscious might decide otherwise….

So how do folks like myself and others find their “happy” in a workspace environment, and how does a smarter office enable that?

Consider how much of the majority of a business’ operating costs are related to staff (salaries and benefits) as opposed to the physical office environment. It is then worth considering how the office environment can be designed to help workers focus on the task at hand and reduce the risk of enhanced stress levels.

This is where smarter workspaces can act as a filter from outside distraction.   Just as a smarter, or connected, office can provide the necessary tools and applications to maximize efficiency for the occupants, it can also filer out unwanted distractions with a temporary ‘out of office’ mail block, call rerouter or ‘phone on silent’ call activation, as well as specific instructions on how best to handle potential interruptions of cleaning staff, catering or other accidental intrusions.

Can your office play guardian for you to maximize your efficiency? Can you get an automated connected office that is also on your side as your efficiency administrator?  Time will tell if our workspace designs will take focus and creativity into account as much as they measure energy efficiency and environmental footprint. Tactile is nice, but productive is even better!

For 2016, it is about analytics for design

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One trend that has me really excited this year is the use of analytics in redesign. No, not process design, which is what I normally discuss, but actual physical design.  Given my father was an architect, I thought I had left that part of my childhood behind, but seeing what can be reworked with what we know about usage is getting me re-engaged with the physical world and its ability to influence our behaviour.

I am not the only one excited about how thought in design is going to produce a better outcome for all of us.  Here are a couple of the articles I am reading:

UPS: How Technology and Big Data will Create a New Golden Age of Retail

New York Times: Dear Architects: Sound Matters

I think part of my re-engagement with physical design has to do with the shift of people from being present in their physical location to instead really being present in their digital space.  I see many people oblivious to where they currently are, engaged with their phone or tablet, and not taking in their surroundings.  Or, even worse from my perspective, just filming the concert, event, etc. to show others what they are ‘doing’ instead of engaging with it.  This is partially due to the inability of the environment to offer digital engagement activities.

One area we are looking at is the engagement of fans with the sporting experience.  If the data of what the fan is doing in the space can be fed back to the owners to analyze and create an even better experience, we will keep coming back not only to see the event, but to be ‘in the experience’ instead of streaming live online.

The death of shopping malls as ‘an experience place’ does break my former teenage heart, as this was a safe place for young people to get together and even to get part-time work while in school. Seeing ToysRUs and FAO Schwartz closing down their flagship locations in Manhattan due to high rent is another heart-breaker, but a fact of digital commerce is that many locations become not financially viable.  But if these locations were experiences as well as retail outlets, it can change the business model and the stickiness of the location to be re-visited.

I think 2016 is going to be the start of the regeneration of physical spaces to be more in line with the digital world.  No, I am not talking about WiFi, although that is as obvious as electricity in this regard. I am talking about locations as experiences that are linked with digital guides and tokens.  For example, the mobile app that went along this year with the Rose Parade in Pasadena, and that you could locally text for more information on a float’s background.  It will be more than checking in to show you are there, but gamification and other mechanisms to keep you engaged and coming back again. Restaurants and hotels with in-location apps with special features are going to be made to engage with the client in real-time and modify the experience “on the fly”.

Yes, I still hold my privacy beliefs, and from a privacy point of view, the client should be able to opt in or opt out.

Even amusement parks are getting into the act, with VR rejuvenating old rides for new experiences. Europa Park in Germany is currently testing a virtual reality (VR) system that allows roller coaster riders to experience VR while on the ride.

Get set for a whole new hospitality, banking and retail era, where our choice of engagement level impacts the experience for us.  And we can opt in for a deeper experience, or opt out for an ad hoc shop if we so choose.

 

One trend for 2016 will be Security as a Service (SECaaS)

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This morning’s disruption to the digital services from the BBC highlighted the significant increase recently in network attacks. I foresee 2016 to have an increased need for security service providers for outsourcing of security for those who need extra assistance in case of DDoS or other serious encounters.  Call it Return of the Outsourcing Responsibility, for those in a Star Wars frame of mind…

This InfoSecurity article makes a relevant point in that companies need to understand that while they can outsource responsibility for security they cannot outsource accountability.  This is why I have also recently written several pieces on cyber insurance and the growing interest to find ways to mitigate the financial impact of cyber risk.

You can listen to my podcast on cyber insurance with IBM and SwissRe   here, or read the guest blog post on The State of Security blog here.

The evolution of Security as a Service (SECaaS) will be determined by how fast consulting companies can get staffed with quality security specialists.  In my opinion, that will be difficult and will be on par with the gold rush era of getting SAP R/3 specialists on board in the 1990s.