Cloud Computing Won the Preakness!

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That’s right, a horse named Cloud Computing won the prestigious Preakness Stakes, the second of the coveted Triple Crown.  Why is this of interest to a technology blogger?  Because it certainly says that Cloud Computing has arrived in the popular vernacular.

My daughters rode horses for over a dozen years, competing in both the English and Western styles, not racing fortunately.  Too dangerous for a father.  It was hard enough watching them compete and occasionally fall.  My girls enjoyed great success in their riding careers, reaching national finals at the collegiate and public school levels.  Each finished in 7th place on the same day at respective national finals.  Over their careers they rode horses named Bond, Dancer, Itchy, Johnny and more, but never one named for a technology.

So, if a horse winning a race as prestigious and well known as the Preakness Stakes is named Cloud Computing, what’s your winning strategy for harnessing the Cloud in your business?  Yes, the pun was intentional.

The Cloud has received a lot of hype over the years, as I have often written about.  Hype aside, every business I work with uses the Cloud, even if they don’t know it.  What’s important is how you use the Cloud and is it optimized to help you reach your business goals.  There are three primary types of Cloud Computing, in addition to the horse type, Private Cloud, Public Cloud and Hybrid Cloud.  Here is a quick, basic summary of what each means:

  • Private Cloud is when you host your own servers in a data center and make them available to users across the Internet or a private connection like a VPN tunnel or a dark connection (one that exists only between your office sites and the data center).
  • Public Cloud is when you leverage a company like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google or one of several other companies that specialize in hosting virtual servers in their data center for you.
  • Hybrid Cloud is a mixture of both private and public and may also integrate servers on-premise in your office.  Often this involves a robust business continuity plan that leverages the geographic diversity of these options to provide high availability, regardless of issues that may be impacting any one of these options.

Cloud Computing is one of the hottest buzzwords in the IT industry and most businesses, across all industries.  Companies are still trying to determine how to best use the Cloud to help them be more competitive and profitable.  Whether this involved moving entire systems to the Cloud or just certain types of services, the goal is to provide a better internal user and customer experience, to help the business achieve its goals.

One of the ongoing risks with Cloud Computing is cost.  There remains a large misperception that Cloud often means lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).  This is not always the case.  In my experience, only the smallest of customers are able to move their entire IT infrastructure to the Cloud and also realize cost savings.  Most businesses may see increased costs when introducing robust Cloud solutions.  This is because Cloud moves expenses from the Balance Sheet to the Profit & Loss, so most businesses see an increase in monthly expense.  This is where the finance team needs to be involved, as this may not necessarily be a bad thing, even though it may first appear to be.

Like any technology, don’t jump to the latest and greatest without a well thought out evaluation of the benefits you expect to realize.  You also want to be sure to employ proper management solutions for your Cloud systems, just as you would if it were on-premise.  Of specific concern with Cloud solutions, especially those in the public Cloud, is managing cost.  Public Cloud price models are one of the most complex in the market today.  You will hear terms like compute cycle, IOPS and more.  These all add to your costs and need to be proactively managed so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise with your next monthly billing statement.

I know of one company that learned they were spending $400,000.00 more annually, than they needed to be.  Don’t let that be you!  There are tools that will help you understand, manage and optimize your configurations and utilization so you are not spending more than you need to be.

Cloud Computing is a winner and businesses are leveraging the Cloud for impressive wins.  Are you?

And just for the record, even Fortune Magazine picked up on this story idea 😉

Ski Technology at its Finest

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While I would love to be talking about the technology in my 2017 K2 Pinnacles, that’s not what this post is about.  However, it you are looking for an incredible all-mountain ski that performs above expectations on both east coast mountains and the Rockies, this is the ski for you…but I digress.

I spent a week skiing in Colorado with a good friend and my son.  The skiing was fantastic, as expected.  What I was pleasantly surprised with was the use of technology on the mountain to make the experience even more pleasant.

We mostly skied at Vail Resort mountains.  Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.  We also skied a day at one of my all-time favorites, Steamboat.  The ticketing systems at both mountains leverage RFID technology to make the experience simple and efficient.

Here is a picture of the RFID card issued at each mountain.

EpicDayCard_LIThe EpicDay card is Vail Resorts card.  You can go online and purchase single or multiple day lift tickets and just pick up this card on your first visit to any of the mountains.  Once you have the card, it just needs to be on your person, somewhere on its own, so the mountain RFID readers can scan and validate your card as you ski.

When at the base lifts on the mountain, lift staff carries a Symbol/Zebra RFID reader and will wave the device in front of you to pick up and validate your ticket.  Once you are up the mountain, there is no longer a need to read the ticket, as you wouldn’t be able to get there without riding a base lift first.  However, every lift still has RFID readers and they are used for a couple of purposes.  Namely, they keep track of the lifts you ride and they are used to calculate the wait time in the lift line.  Vail Resorts has a mobile app called EpicMix which will track all of this for you.  There are even photographers on the mountain and they too will use RFID to track your photo opps.  If you hold a season ticket, these photos will automatically post to your Facebook account if you allow that.

At Steamboat, their technology is called QuickTrax and SteamboatCard.jpgworks similarly.  You register the card and it’s good for 3 years.  You don’t have to visit a ticket window again during this time.  You may simply go online, purchase your ticket or tickets and load them to your card so you can walk right to the lift and get to the slopes.

One thing to keep in mind with RFID technology is that you don’t want to have interference issues.  If you have both of these two cards in the same pocket, only one will read and you might have issues getting on the lift if the card that reads is not the mountain you are at.  Credit cards and cell phones may also interfere, so just be sure to have the card in an outside pocket on its own and you should be fine.

 

Vacation Notice

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Beginning Friday evening, February 24th through Monday morning, March 6th, I will be on vacation.  I do not anticipate posting during this time.  Thanks for your follows and readership.  Looking forward to getting back to blogging in early March.

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Top Technology Trends for 2017

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This article appeared in Seacoast Sunday and Fosters Daily Democrat on Sunday, February 5, 2017.

The Computing Technology Industry Association released its annual technology industry trends report for the current year. The industry remains bullish about opportunities this year, though concerns remain, especially in the area of workforce.2017-trends

The IT industry remains one of the tightest job markets worldwide. If you have tried to hire an IT professional in the past few years, you’ve surely experienced this yourself.

In terms of workforce trends in 2017, the skills gap continues to grow. There are more open requisitions for technical staff than ever in the history of the industry. Companies in and outside the IT industry are getting very creative in their hiring and their approaches to meeting their skills needs. CompTIA, as the industry trade association, continues to focus resources on driving the opportunities of careers in the IT industry, especially at the high school level, where it is critical to capture students’ enthusiasm for technology as a career choice. This is by no means a quick fix, so most companies continue to balance their internal staffs with either staff augmentation, bringing in contract labor or outsourcing to firms that specialize in working as outsourced technology companies.

While the market shows no sign of easing this tight labor market, there are other impacts that come to bear as well. As companies continue to bring younger generations into the workforce, pressure to allow those users to bring in their own computing and mobile technology requires new thinking, especially with regard to protecting intellectual property and cyber security. The use of personal technology in the business environment requires considerable planning to ensure that company data remains under the control of the company.

When talking about cyber security, it’s also important to note the difference between cyber security and IT security. IT security is primarily defensive and physical in nature. This is where most conversation focuses on firewalls, routing and port restrictions, anti-spam, anti-malware and similar technologies. This puts up the necessary roadblocks, but it is not cyber security in its entirety. Cyber security is more about educating your workforce to be aware of threats like phishing attacks, rogue web sites and other social engineering types of threats that seek to trick a user to exposing company data and network resources.

The most effective cyber security revolves around ongoing education and testing, to understand the level of risk and identify weak points that need attention. It’s a comprehensive approach. Workforce issues will continue to dominate the technology landscape for the foreseeable future.

In terms of specific technology trends, several seem poised to dominate 2017. Among those identified by CompTIA are the Internet of Things (IoT), the continued break down of traditional barriers between business units and IT, the emergence of a new class of tools to manage computing resources in the Cloud and of course, security, security, security.

In terms of IoT, more and more devices connect to the network and the Internet. As these non-traditional computing devices come online, the need to understand their impact to the network becomes increasingly more important. The need to manage these devices has become critical, as some recent events have clearly shown. IoT devices have become an attack target for enterprising hackers as was evidenced by the widely publicized Denial of Service attack on Manchester, New Hampshire’s Dyn.

As technology has become completely indispensable in the workplace and as the Cloud has brought more capability down to the individual worker, business units are driving technology decisions that have historically been the domain of the IT professionals. This is a good thing, as it helps to ensure that technology investments are meeting the needs of the business. IT’s role is evolving into more of a quarterback role, in making sure that their entire corporate team works in a planned and integrated system that allows them to meet and exceed their goals. Yes, that was a Super Bowl reference. Impossible to avoid in a column on Super Bowl Sunday.

As more and more workloads are moved to the Cloud, the one missing link has been the toolset to manage these dispersed systems in a single pain of glass. It’s not efficient, nor is it reasonable to expect that Cloud systems can be effectively managed as individual services. Tools to manage them in one centralized management system are more important now than ever.

Security will remain a serious consideration. CompTIA’s research contends things are likely to get worse before they get better. Unfortunately, I agree. While some companies take security seriously, too many do not and work off the assumption that they are too small or not an attractive enough target. This is naïve. Most experts agree it’s not about whether or not you are a target. The conventional wisdom remains that it’s a question of when, not if.

2017 will be another exciting year for technology and I’m looking forward to continue to report on it and here and on my blog. Not to go unsaid, “Go Pats!”

Techy gifts for Father’s Day

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Garmin.JPGThe Garmin VivoFit with HRM is among techy gift ideas for dad for Father’s Day as recommended by tech columnist MJ Shoer.

The following was originally published on June 12, 2016 on Seacoastonline.com.

With Father’s Day around the corner, I thought I’d provide some ideas for techy gifts any dad would be thrilled to receive.

If the dad in your life is in to fitness, there are a ton of great fitness watches to choose from. FitBit remains the leader with a wide range of devices from simple fitness bands to the newer FitBit Blaze smart watch. The Apple Watch remains an excellent option, though it is on the higher side when it comes to price. Garmin has an impressive line of fitness bands and watches, including the relatively new Vivoactive HR, which is one of the only waterproof options on the market.

Pebble also has a nice line of fitness watches to consider. If you just want an inexpensive tracker one of the bands will be best. It you are looking for something more capable, with apps for different types of activities and notifications tied to your smartphone, a smart fitness watch is the way to go.

If your dad is thinking about jumping in to the Smart Home arena, there are some great options to consider. Wink and SmartThings are the two best options in my opinion. Locally, I’ve seen the Wink Hub at Home Depot and stores like Best Buy have entire sections devoted to Smart Home technology. The hub is the first step. You also need modules that either plug into electrical outlets or replace outlets and light switches around the house. These form their own wireless network that allows you to control these devices from your smartphone. You can setup schedules to turn lights on and off, dim lights, control your garage door and even add sensors to detect water leaks, deadbolt locks, alarm systems and controls for your window treatments. Smart Home technology is really coming of age right now and it’s easier than ever to design and manage your own Smart Home. Any do it yourself dad would love this.

If you want to splurge on your dad, get him a new tablet. From iPads to the new Kindle to the Surface Pro 4, there are tons of excellent tablets to choose from. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $500 to $2,000 depending on what you choose, but rest assured, this is a gift any guy will love to receive.

If you want to take it easy on your wallet, there are plenty of options to consider as well. What dad wouldn’t be thrilled to get a new Bluetooth speaker, streaming media stick like a Chromecast, Roku or FireTV stick, an AppleTV, new headphones or a portable power bank? All of these are less than $100 and several are less than $50.

Another great idea is the Amazon Echo. The Echo is a free standing tube that links to Amazon’s Alexa Cloud. It’s a voice controlled jack of all trades. Echo can play music, get your sports scores, the weather, integrate with your Smart Home and media systems. It has impressive microphones that will pick up your commands from across the room, so while you are sitting in your comfy recliner, you can say “Alexa, turn off the family room light” and voila, the lights will turn off. You can ask Alexa to play your favorite music, get the Red Sox score or the time the game is on. While I don’t have one yet, I suspect I will and everyone I know who has one raves about it.

If your dad has an Android smartphone, you might consider one of the virtual reality devices out there. These are pretty unique gifts, but they can do some impressive things. This might be a little too out there for some dads, but it will sure make an impression.

If you have a dad who’s into photography and video, digital cameras and video cameras have never been so high quality as they are now. You almost can’t go wrong with just about any choice these days. For the real aficionado, a Digital SLR is the way to go, but this will set you back some serious money. Action cameras like the GoPro remain a hot gift item that will make your dad pretty happy.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Most important of all, just don’t forget to tell your dad you love him. That will be the best gift of all.