You will now find all our blogs at

Change, they say, is inevitable.

The idiom somehow doesn’t reflect how positive change can be. At least that’s how we see it.

Our blogs have been running on WordPress since 2008 and have attracted hundreds of thousands of views. The time had come to have all this goodness included as part of our main online presence.

We’ll retain this trusty blog site for a while longer.

Fresh content from Monday 12 May 2014 can be found only at the new address.

Join us at the new address today and save as one of your favourites.





“Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”

If that strapline doesn’t ring any bells, it’s because you may not have encountered an Amazon Web Services (AWS) employee yet.

At London ExCel next week, there will be no shortage of AWS cloud geeks ready at your service. You can’t miss them. They are distinctive - usually sporting their black polo shirts and cream chinos (standard issue AWS battledress, apparently).

But my guess is that for as many Amazonians that gather,  it will be nowhere near to the number of delegates flocking to Docklands. More UK business and IT people than ever are hungry to learn more about how they can use the AWS Cloud.

Yup, an AWS Summit is coming to town (29-30 April) and I have heard through the grapevine that online registrations have been buzzing with demand for weeks. No surprise there.

I have watched AWS Summits in the UK grow in popularity year on year. Now, it seems only a venue the size of ICC at ExCel is big enough. I think that probably signals something important about peoples’ appetite for new approaches as well as new technology.

At least that’s why I’ll be going. And fellow Smarties from our senior execs to our account managers will be too. We think there is an important conversation to be had with more large enterprises who, just like our existing customers using the AWS cloud, are looking for the greater business agility that the cloud offers.

For that reason, we will be making lots of our clever chaps available (stand S4) to give actionable advice and war stories rather than sales patter.  We’ll be showcasing several of our customer engagements, including:

  • Disaster Recovery in the AWS Cloud for Haven Power
  • Big Data analytics in the AWS Cloud for Aviva /
  • Service Transition to the AWS Cloud for ATOC
  • Super-fast migration to the AWS Cloud for Kuoni

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, has acquired a tidy fortune by anticipating the step change in online shopping, firstly with bookselling and then with online retail of … er, well…  just about everything. Those close to the action know that’s not the whole story, Bezos also foresaw the shift in compute and storage. AWS itself has grown rapidly to become the undisputed leader in the cloud computing space.

In amassing an enormous IT capability and renting it out to others on metered tariff basis, AWS effectively offers to everyone with a valid credit card a chunk of its own IT systems. This has opened up “on-demand delivery of IT resources via the Internet with pay-as-you-go pricing.”

Bezos likens the emergence of cloud computing to the change that happened years ago in the electricity supply industry. Instead of investing in their own individual power generation facilities, and paying to run it, businesses and consumers in increasing numbers opted to buy their electricity from operators running centralised power generators.

Visionaries such as Tesla, Edison and Insull knew the gains and the pains in the electricity market. Does Bezos know what he’s up against too? I’ve no doubt he does.

AWS is getting a helluva lot right. Innovation launches and price decreases have been relentless. Outstanding choice, reliability and security. If nothing else, AWS is a chip of the old block when it comes to Amazon’s now famous obsession with listening to what the customer wants, and getting it done.

Personally, I’m quite looking forward to seeing what AWS will be wheeling out next week. I not really a betting man, but a fiver says another price drop or another new whizz-bang offering.

Or maybe both.  What do you reckon?  Go on, leave a comment to let me know.


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Going out and getting yourself “hammered” on your birthday is all too often seen as rite of passage for those who haven’t quite grown up yet. So, in celebrating its relative youth – the world wide web was 25 years old this week – why hasn’t more been made of the occasion?

Apart from a few clippings in some national newspapers (see links below for two I’ve appreciated reading) it seems this milestone age has attracted a surprising lack of interest. Surprising insofar as the proliferation of the web has touched lives and shaped lifestyles across the globe in what is a relatively short space of time.

Consider this:

A billion hours ago, modern homo sapiens emerged

A billion minutes ago, Christianity began

A billion seconds ago, the IBM PC was released

A billion Google searches ago …   was this morning

Hal R. Varian, Chief Economist at Google

The debt we owe for the web cannot be over-stated. It was the step change innovation which heralded the so-called Information Age and its beginnings is well documented. Take for example Castells, (2000, pp. 45-51) on the creation of the Internet, which records:

“The invention of the world wide web took place in Europe in 1990, at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” (CERN) in Geneva, one of the leading physics research centres in the world. It was invented by a group of researchers at CERN led by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau. They built their research not on the ARPANET tradition, but on the contribution of the hackers’ culture of the 1970’s.”

It goes on to explain:

“The CERN team created a format for hypertext documents that they names hypertext mark-up language (HTML), designed in the Internet tradition of flexibility, so that computers could adapt their specific languages within this shared format, adding this formatting on top of the TCP/IP protocol. They also set up a hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) to guide communication between web browsers and web servers, and they created a standard address format, the uniform resource locator (URL) which combines information on the application protocol and on the computer address holding the requested information.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward again 25 years, to the present day, and the digital economy is an everyday reality for pretty much all of us.

But it may yet get hammered in its 25th birthday.

Cyber security is top of the agenda in board rooms across the UK and beyond. Hacking, spying, privacy intrusion [Edward Snowden] and much darker uses threaten to divert the web away from all it was intended to be, now and in the years to come..

Nevertheless, Berners-Lee continues to fly the flag encouraging like-minded people to join him in the campaign called (Twitter hashtag #web25 ) towards assuring not only his unquestionable legacy but the use of the internet for the 25 years to come, which looks a lot less clear cut.

Where do you think the world wide web is heading over the next 25 years ?


Castells, M. (2000) The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.  Vol 1 The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd edn. Oxford, Blackwell.

Curtis, S. (2014) ‘World Wide Web at 25: the next 25 years’ The Telegraph. 12 March. [Online]. Available at <> [accessed 12 March 2014].

Owen, J. (2014) ’25 years of the World Wide Web: Tim Berners-Lee explains how it all began’ The Independent. 12 March. [Online] Available at <> [accessed 12 March 2014].

Varian, H. R (2013) Beyond Big Data. [Conference paper for NABE Annual Meeting, San Francisco,  10 September].

wind-battered union jack at the Cobb at Lyme Regis, Dorset Photo: Richard Austin / Rex Features via BBC News

A wind-battered union jack at the Cobb at Lyme Regis
Photo: Richard Austin / Rex Features via BBC News

If the wind and rain storms hitting the UK right now teach us one thing, then it’s to be ready for every eventuality. The UK is taking the brunt of everything the Atlantic can throw at us. We’ve all seen the evening news reports of terrible flooding in the Somerset Levels and the rail line swinging in mid air at Dawlish.

You cannot fail to admire the resilience of those impacted.  We salute you.

I’m not going to stray into the politics of it all.  Leave that to the professionals and the pundits. But it does seem an apt moment to remind ourselves of the vital importance of business continuity planning and having a proper disaster recovery strategy in place.

Ok so DR planning may not be the sexiest gig on the planet, but it does offer a hero factor at times when DR needs to be invoked for real, such as when water starts come up through the floor or trees crash through your buildings where you keep your servers.

Regular readers of this blog will know we’ve seen very successful strategies using on-premise IT estates, data centres, external hosting, and the Cloud. One great example I’d think is worth highlighting again today is the innovative approach to using the power of the AWS Cloud for disaster recovery.  Tech journalists as well as Amazon picked up on the outstanding work done by Paul Armstrong and others at Haven Power, part of Drax Group.

Here’s their story.

Read Haven Power’s story on the Smart421 website here

Find out more on the on the AWS website here

Discover more of our blogs about Amazon Web Services here

Blogs on Cloud

Our Cloud architects will be available to discuss this and other engagements at the Cloud Expo Europe, at London ExCel on 26-27 February.   You can find Smart421 on the AWS Village (stand 1070)

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Whilst the “happy new years” are still reverbing around the office, and well-intentioned new year’s resolutions still in force (just about!), I thought I’d open my 2014 blogging by celebrating what looks to be the end of an era.

ZapThink’s 2013 Retrospective and Predictions for 2014 looks to be the last.

Techies everywhere have enjoyed the predictions from these acclaimed industry pundits.  I’ve placed a fair weight on Jason Bloomberg’s (@TheEBizWizard) opinions. And I’ve appreciated his self-critique, published for the world to see and evaluate the accuracy (or not) of how ZapThink sees the tech world shaping up.

If you were to stick your neck out, what changes would you predict for 2014?

Mistletoes 2013 with purple border

Once again, our Christmas message is simple.

We’d like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to all our customers, suppliers and staff for a great 2013. We look forward to working with you to make 2014 another successful year.

Children of our employees were encouraged to submit designs for the Group’s Christmas e-card and our employees voted for their favourite. This year the winning entry was created by Jacob Cawthra, age 5 and Annabelle Cawthra, age 4.

sparks logoDon’t forget to show your support for our Group’s fantastic charity, Sparks.

Registered charity number 1003825 (England and Wales) and SC039482 (Scotland)

Three ‘Smarties’ (code name: 3 Wise Men) were seen blending in with the crowd last night at the Norwich offices of Virgin Wines, for a Christmas special meetup organised by Norfolk Developers (@NorfolkDev) the specialist group for techs by techs.

On a fact-finding mission to gather intelligence and boost their knowledge around Worklight, IBM’s swish mobile development and deployment platform, they didn’t come away empty-handed – or hungry!

Here’s their account:

Covert ops report: filed by JElsey, CSimms and JSpear at 22.00hrs on 04.12.13 in deep cover at Lat 52.634 Long 1.301

From left: Paul Grenyer (NorDev), Vladimir Vladimir Kislicins (IBM) , Andrew Ferrier (IBM) and Dom Davis (Virgin Wines)

From left: Paul Grenyer (NorDev), Vladimir Kislicins (IBM), Andrew Ferrier (IBM), and Dom Davis (Virgin Wines host and NorDev)

A buffet-to-die-for (by @norwichcat) and a delicious choice wines (VirginWines, obviously) ambushed delegates on arrival. Few resisted.

Polite intros by the organisers and adverts about the many tech events in the locality didn’t throw us of the trail. We were 100% focused on the mission at hand (but never underestimate how much is happening for techs and devs in Norfolk thanks to Grenyer, Davis and others).

Vladimir Kislicins, IBM-er at Hursley, was first up. His unassuming and suave delivery looked to us like a “Worklight 101”.  Covering a bit of history and context of Worklight, Kislicins  provided the essential heads-up on things like basic setup and ideal set (you’ve really gotta have iOS and Android devices). He dared a demo or two before the interval.

Eye-witnessing ample vino refills (VirginWines, naturally) and repeated swoops on the buffet, we saw attendees mingling and comparing notes on the event so far. Nobody stood alone. Despite all the hubbub, we retained our cover and stood resolute to our mission; we were here for the facts, not the food… oh ok, maybe one more sandwich then.

Andrew Ferrier, speaking at NorDev

Andrew Ferrier, speaking at NorDev

Andrew Ferrier IBM-er also out of Hursley (@andrewferrier) was second up. Focused on best practices with hybrid and mobile, Ferrier extolled the advantages of Worklight for developers.

And he took off like a gazelle, pouncing this way and that, as he contested the differences between the dojo and jquery mobile frameworks. Armed with his up-beat style and his laser pen pointer, he took us entirely by surprise.  We felt the need to regroup but there just wasn’t time…

Ferrier blasted through debugging options, the pace of change, (iOS 6+: web inspector; Android 4.4) and was unexpectedly intercepted by an inbound challenge on Weinre from dev expert Neil Sedger (@moley666), himself in deep cover amongst the crowd.  But it was ok – Ferrier fielded the intervention with ease and pressed on to cover performance and memory management.

“You have to remember we’re still targeting old devices” he cautioned.  This tip seemed highly significant so we wrote that down, put big quote marks around it and swallowed it. We’d analyse these tops tips later if we all made it back to the safe house (no, not the public house, what do you take us for? Oh c’mon, were meant to be incognitus tonight guys).

Appearance, CSS rules and treatment of lazy-loading images appearing as they are scrolled in were covered before Ferrier could move on to RESTful services.

GET. PUT. POST. DELETE.   - Yup, we got that.

JSON as your data format.  – Yup, got that too.

But Ferrier saved until last his secret weapon – the Worklight Adapter framework. This was very, very neat stuff. Our developers knew to see that one coming, but the crowd clearly didn’t. Ferrier did well to contain his enthusiasm for Worklight Adapters, a jewel in the crown for IBM’s mobile application platform.

Sprinting to finish, Lifecycle would have been Ferrier’s final topic and last hurrah in Norwich, but he saved it for another day and opened the floor for questions.

There was a very lively interactive Q&A, with questions being fired in from all directions. We busied ourselves capturing the intel.

But surprisingly for a tech meetup, everyone was fixated on Worklight pricing. Ferrier looked like he had been tazered, but said he knew nothing about pricing. Pressure from the crowd did force him to let slip the existence of a B2B and B2C pricing model and, crucially, availability of a developer version and a production version.  The secret was going to blown wide open now.

Ferrier cracked and the baying crowd moved in.

“Developers can download Worklight for free!”, he exclaimed,“OK – take it, have a play with it, see what it can do for you, it won’t cost you an penny. But take an app to the outside world, or put it into production in your own organisation, then we’ll obviously have to start charging you.”

We’d got what we came for. It was time to retreat to HQ.

Thinking that Norfolk Developers will be worth another visit in 2014, we disappeared into the night and went our separate ways.

Current status:  Mission accomplished.

No names have been changed. Nobody was that innocent.

Related Links

Blog by James Elsey on Worklight and Continuous Innovation >

Blog by JSpear on IBM Mobile First >

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Mike Butcher

Mike Butcher

The OPEN venue in Norwich city centre hadn’t seen anything quite like this since the SyncConf back in February. I’d estimate 300 people had flocked there, united by a common cause – their passion for tech.

Slick and professional opening intro’s from organisers John Fagan (@johnbfagan) and Fiona Lettice (@FLettice) set the scene perfectly, explaining how this meetup had come about [it started with a tweet – literally – see Twitter 6th May], the purpose of SyncNorwich and the voice of experience from a highly regarded researcher in innovation.

Limbering up for the first half of the meetup, three great start-ups each gave a 10-minute pitch (hey, you’re on: FXHOME, Liftshare and Proxama).

UEA NBS logoBut the pace noticeably picked up when a dozen or so start-ups took turns to deliver a 2-minute pitch, in some cases at near machine-gun speed, baff b-b-baff baff  (take a bow: Haberdash, Pingle, RainBird AI, Sessioncam, 99squared, Photocrowd, 3sixty, Blurtit, Zealify, Supapass, Wordwides).

This sequence of rapid-fire tech pitches left me feeling a little punch-drunk, which was entirely unexpected as I had full advanced knowledge of who would be taking to the stage this evening. Maybe I’m going soft.

Paul Russell pitching

Paul Russell pitching 3sixty

Despite a fully charged battery in the mobile and nifty qwerty keyboard skills, I too tried to keep pace with it all. I think Paul Russell at 3sixty (@get3sixty) probably got the prize for ‘land speed record’ of well-polished pitches. Meanwhile, Michael Ni’man at Wordwides (@Wordwides) would perhaps have to walk away with the accolade for surprise of the night – just 16 years old – reminded me of Nick d’Aloisio all over again, apart maybe from not having a dad who is a merchant banker and a mum who is a patent attorney.

It didn’t go unnoticed that there were a good the number of ex-UEA students among the speakers who had embarked on their first venture, among them Zealify (@Zealify_) who were exactly the sort of thing that Mike Butcher had come to see, and to inspire in others.

Butcher enjoying pitches from tech start-ups in Norwich

Butcher enjoying pitches from tech start-ups in Norwich

After the beauty pageant, a chance to relax over a swift half (bar vouchers courtesy of sponsors Smart421 and Naked Element) and to do some business networking which, as the regulars know, is invariably very good at these SyncNorwich meetups.

When we were all talked out, we felt about ready to take our seats and settle down to listen to the man himself, Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) Editor-at-Large at TechCrunch.

I heard that on arrival he was somewhat taken aback, probably imagining some tin-pot Norfolk turkey shed and a poxy turnout of aimless ‘hoodies’, rather than a marble-lined former banking hall heaving with savvy people.

Norwich 1. Mike 0.

Jason Gregson, Norwich's unofficial 'Mike Butcher' lookalike

Jason Gregson, Norwich’s unofficial ‘Mike Butcher’ look-alike

Characteristically edgey and moderately irreverent, the leather-jacketed Butcher commenced the second half of the meetup swirling around the stage with some deliberate provocation. Why should Silicon Valley have all the action? Why not other places, why not Norwich? Quite right too.

He declared the situation within the tech industry to be chaotic; the turbulence coming not from the R&D divisions of big vendors with big budgets but from the designers and developers in the back bedrooms with no money, hyper-connected networks of them, bashing out code for disruptive solutions capable of discontinuous innovation in social, mobile and wearables.

He talked of a revolution…

“Who knows, he said, the next Google could be right here in the room tonight!”

Moving swiftly on to cover the tension between these innovators and those who hold the purse strings, Butcher didn’t hold back on the VCs, business angels, and the rich uncles who decide on what is investable or not.  Butcher exhorted us to be mindful of the people not just the product.

“Investors will choose The A team with the B product, not the A product with the B team” he screamed.

Slides listing some of the most active VCs in Europe sent delegates into a bit of a spin, rushing for a pen and something to write on (wot? ain’t ya got Evernote on ya mobile, geeza?)

From left: Mike Butcher, Juliana Meyer, Fiona Lettice, Peter Schmidt-Hansen and John Fagan

From left: Mike Butcher, Juliana Meyer, Fiona Lettice, Peter Schmidt-Hansen and John Fagan

I thought I detected a number of similarities with what I heard Mike deliver at TechCrunch in Italy earlier this year. Having said that, even if some of the content was identical – what difference does it make - the audiences were entirely different.

He definitely brought the majority of us some very helpful new stuff to chew over.

The locals definitely seemed to like it, judging from the numerous nods of agreement and the briskness of twitter feeds on the hashtags #tcnorwich and #syncnorwich

Norwich 1. Mike 1.

Gis' a job, Mike!

Gis’ a job, Mike!

The Q&A session brought forward some great questions, always an acid test as to how well a speaker has stirred things up. Butcher had to think quick on his feet once or twice here.

But he coped, even with a cheeky pitch for a job from an aspiring journo (well, if he’s right in front of you, why the hell not?).

FXHOME got properly name-checked – and we’re not a bit surprised – but a genuine discovery for Mike and one which clearly impressed him.

Norwich 2. Mike 1.

One would hope the Editor-at-Large of TechCrunch will have returned to the bastion of his London HQ with an entirely different view of Norwich than when he arrived.  His talk did us good. He’ll always have a warm welcome back when he returns.

He said he would.

Norwich 2.  Mike 2.

Related Links
All photos by kind permission of Tim Stephenson >

TechCrunch visits Norwich. Relive it again [YouTube video]  >  short URL
Slides from this event are available via
More great write-ups on the same event:
by Naked Element >
by Fiona Lettice at UEA >
by Richard Jones at ip21 >
by Tim Stephenson >

Press articles by Shaun Lowthorpe >

Blogs on past SyncNorwich meetups >

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Joe Parry

Joe Parry

Let’s be clear, the co-organisers at SyncNorwich must be well connected people. Otherwise how on earth could they assemble such quality speakers month after month?

The November meetup surpassed expectations (which were already running high) with three slots timetabled and publicised in good time to attract a 97 registrations and around 60 on the night.

Drinks, intros and business networking on arrival, and our amiable host John Fagan (@johnbfagan) opened with news of upcoming events and acknowledgements to “our sponsors”.

Always great to welcome newbies; I counted four including, Yuvraj Padmanabhan from Mindgraph, founder of a promising young social research start-up, based out of the Innovation Martlesham incubator at BT Adastral Park.  It was also great to see Mint (@mint_norwich) here at SyncNorwich. Giving young people a chance in IT gets full marks from us.

First up was Anna Powell-Smith (@darkgreener) who travelled from Oxford to deliver a genuine SyncNorwich first; a three-course lunch of history, cartography and technology in her session on ‘Modern maps: easy ways to visualise your geographic data’. Opening with how the Domesday Book inspired a full blown tech project, Anna’s clear mastery of all things GIS quickly shined through. Persuasively explaining graphing the correlation of house prices and train times, she moved effortlessly onto tools and data, the Open Street Map, D3.js, GraphODB, Google Fusion, ONS codes, Mercator map projection…

After a swift half, more business networking (which is always good at these events) and eye witnessing people swooping on copies of the luscious new Norfolk Tech Journal, the speaker slots resumed.

Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor (@benjamta) stepped forward with a call for beta testers for RainBird (@rainbirdai) a rather nifty web-based platform that enables individuals to capture their knowledge and expertise on any subject to form a knowledge base. Learn about it by watching their video ‘RainBird explained in 60 seconds…here.

Topping the bill was ‘Network visualisation for fun and profit’ by Joe Parry (@parry_joe), founder of Cambridge Intelligence, a start-up with the Cambridge hi-tech cluster focused on visualization software which lets organisations explore the networks in their data.

Joe totally riveted us with demos powered by Keylines, their network visualization toolkit, designed for law enforcement, fraud detection, counter terrorism, CRM, sales & social network data.

“Start with a question, then meaningful visual encoding, interaction, aggregation… and use Keylines, not D3”, advised Joe, by now having won over a ton of street cred amongst delegates.

Joe went on to confirm that Keylines was built from the ground up in Javascript; you have to admire someone who locks themselves away for eight months on a diet of just coffee and sleep, to build his vision.

In under one week, SyncNorwich-ers will convene again for a special meetup featuring Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) Editor-at-Large at TechCrunch. Originally planned as a Christmas special, the date had to be brought forward. Frankly we’re lucky to get Mike at all. You should see his schedule!  So don’t miss it.  The event already has 260 registered attendees, but has 40 places left so for more info and to register please click here.

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Robin Meehan

Robin Meehan, CTO at Smart421
Photo by Jim Templeton-Cross

“The acceleration of disruptive change is the key theme from this year’s study – acknowledged by a staggering 97% of the companies surveyed – and echoing what we are seeing amongst our customers.

Enterprises are rushing to meet the demands of mobile adoption (78%) as buying behaviour change with consumers “inviting” enterprises into their sitting room via the tablet device and Social Media gives open access to product reviews – making independent C2C communications the primary channel for feedback.

Cloud too is set to release its potential, with 62% looking to invest in it. Now recognised as a commercial game changer and not just a technology play, it is set to meet the needs of the information explosion and the speed of change.

However, be warned: those organisations without a coherent IT strategy are likely to suffer as competitors rapidly embrace these new disruptive technologies.

For established organisations, being able to harness and exploit these new disruptive technologies brings commercial opportunities, allows new business models to surface and creates new forms of data. Monetising your enterprise assets will depend on the degree to which you are willing and able to integrate data back into the IT estate you already work with.”

Robin Meehan
Chief Technology Officer and Director of Principal Consultancy
5th November 2013
Speaker Profile

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