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 > http://smart421.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/ibm-worklight-making-light-work-of-app-development-in-the-enterprise/

Blog by JSpear on IBM Mobile First > http://smart421.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/with-mobilefirst-ibm-has-just-made-mobile-exciting-again/

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I have just got round to catching up with some blog posts after holiday season and this one from my KCom colleague Rob Wells caught my eye. I particularly liked the word “phablet” to cover phones and tablets but I’m not sure it will catch on.

Rob makes a compelling case against a proliferation of Apps and for building ‘mobile optimised HTML’ which relies on an initial web server detection mechanism that checks the user agent (Rob says Operating System but I don’t think that’s what he really meant) and then directs the request to the right pages. This is absolutely the right approach given that more and more users are now finding your company websites on mobile than on full-scale laptop screens so immediately directing from “www.acme.co” to “m.acme.co” that is optimised for mobile should be a no-brainer.

I like the KCom portal approach of assuming controls are ‘touch-first’ as well. I overheard a conversation the other day where someone was wondering how long it would be until putting something on a web page like “CLICK” (PC or mouse-oriented) would die out in favour of “TOUCH” here. Perhaps somebody needs to invent a new word that covers both options. I tried out an online thesaurus for touch which offered “tap” or “hit” (and a few other slightly dodgy ones) but synonyms for click were even less helpful.

Anyway, I digress. Rob has made a very good argument for HTML(5) on browser being the target of choice but I would argue it is not always the best option.

Here’s just two reasons why:

1. You’re NOT always online. The Apps I use the most are the ones where I can use them offline (and occasionally synchronise data when the Interweb is available) for example EverNote, Strava or good old faithful email clients. I actually hate Apps that rely on Internet connection to function and avoid them wherever possible.

2. There isn’t very consistent or reliable support for HTML5 in many browsers yet and it’s just as hard to ensure your application works on web browsers as it is with native or “hybrid” Apps with lots of browser-specific catches that you need to work with. For the foreseeable future I can’t see pure web applications having enough functionality to compete with Apps which run natively on the popular handsets.

The nice thing about Hybrid platforms like IBM Worklight or Appcelerator is that you can still use a lot of the common HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills but write them to use APIs into the native features such as encrypted cache through JSONStore for offline storage and benefit from a little bit the best of both worlds. Worklight, which is now a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant of Mobile Application development Platforms has the option to generate a mobile web version as well as version for iOS, Android, Windows 8 and BlackBerry so you can have your cake and eat it. It also addresses the problems highlighted in Rob’s blog of fragmentation of the different mobile platforms plus controlling versions and ensuring security.

There are advocates of both approaches and neither is really right or wrong – as always you need to take a decision based on your requirements, strategy and budget.

Today myself and four other Smarties attended Norfolk’s first Mobile Development Conference at the Hethel Engineering Centre, which is right next to where they make Lotus Cars.

Conference Room

There is an obvious tie-up between Hethel and Lotus given that the main presentations were held in the Colin Chapman room (founder of Lotus cars) where one of Ayrton Senna’s “99T” F1 cars was stuck to the wall!

Mobile Development is one of the most exciting and diverse areas in IT at the moment and this conference did very well to have a wide coverage from games developers like MonoGame to Tim Ferguson, Head of Digital at one of our customers AVIVA and their mobile app lessons learnt from their various innovations and experiments.

The keynote by Neil Garner of @Proxama resonated with me very much, both in his memories of tech from past years (Nokia 7110 first Wap phone) to his honest assessment of NFC and rebuttal of the doubters who don’t see NFC taking off now. The ARM Trustzone was highlighted by Neil as a key element in providing security for NFC applications. There are Contactless terminals everywhere now and 9 of the top 10 device manufacturers are signed up to support NFC – Apple is the odd one out but aren’t they always?

Our own @JamesElsey1986 later showed that NFC is more flexible and powerful than you think using Android. James later tweeted:

Source code/slides from my #NFC workshop http://ow.ly/mDz7A  Feel free to ask questions / give feedback. Thanks for attending! #MobDevCon

Matt Lacey presented two sessions, his first on tips for developing for Windows 8 included some real gems which will help us with our tailoring of our cross-platform Apps to work well on the new Windows platforms. I agree with Matt, who worked on PhoneGap’s Windows integration code that you have to be knowledgeable and experienced in developing native Apps to be able to build successful cross-platform Apps. Luckily Smart421 have a whole Microsoft practice to help us Java-oriented types out with that. Read Matt’s blog for more info and his slides from his second presentation on monetising Apps.

I was first on to present after lunch and talked about our work delivering cross-platform mobile experiences with Worklight – my slides are now up on slideshare. There was a general theme at the conference that cross-platform tools are coming of age and the compromise of user experience and performance when compared to native development is far outweighed by the much faster and cheaper overall costs of App development and maintenance. I just about managed to demo the new Worklight 6 Studio IDE and Console. I am really liking the improved jQueryMobile integration and want to find time to check out the new App Centre tools and automated testing when I get the chance.

Ruth John (@rumyra) of O2′s “The Lab” gave a kitty and puppy-tastic presentation on FireFoxOS and why Telefonica have taken it up especially in the emerging South American markets – it’s free, works well on low-end handsets with the FireFox operating system built on top of the Gecko layer as is Android. It will be really interesting to see if this will catch on in the UK and European markets in these times of austerity where people are perhaps not quite ready to splash a few hundred every year on the latest iOS gadgets.

There was also a really enlightening “sponsor presentation” by Basho on the subject of reclaiming the terms web scale, big data, dev ops and how the NHS is using Riak’s open source technology.

Massive thanks to Naked Element (Paul and Marie) and everyone involved in setting up the event, thanks to Hethel for such a great venue, the sponsors for the delicious lunch and the attendees for their support and kind comments.

P.S. Welcome to twitter @CharlesBSimms :-)

Remember this? The IBM Simon Personal Communicator, the world's first smartphone. How times have changed!

Remember this? The IBM Simon Personal Communicator, the world’s first smartphone. How times have changed!

Until now, mobile just hasn’t had the take up by UK enterprises you might expect. But all that seems set to change.

The key drivers are threefold: the first is progressive mobile enablement of the company workforce, or business-to-employee (B2E); the second is individuals like you and me wanting to deal with companies we buy products and services from via a proliferation of mobile phones/tablets/set top consoles, or business-to-consumer (B2C); the third is companies trading with one another via a variety of mobile channels, or business-to-business (B2B).

IBM has a distinct advantage of a fine reputation with large enterprises.  And it is precisely within those enterprises that we think  a very lucrative opportunity resides. Many of those UK enterprises eager to know more about what mobile means for them descended on IBM South Bank in London this week (18 June).

Whereas this 1-day event followed an unremarkable formula (registration, opening plenary, coffee, 2nd keynote, lunch, breakouts, coffee, panel session, closing keynote, beer), in my opinion the content itself was entirely remarkable, taking many I spoke with by surprise in terms of the quality and coverage it provided.

The event was organised by Bob Yelland’s ( @BobYelland ) excellent marketing team and hosted by Mike Spradbery (  @spradders  @IBMMobileUK ), IBM’s charismatic and energetic Mobile leader for UK and Ireland.

IBM’s own journey with mobile is clear and roundly understood; MobileFirst is the apogee of IBM’s go to market proposition in the mobile space. A combination of strategic innovation and business acquisitions is now delivering one of the most coherent offerings we have seen in a long time.

In short, IBM has just made mobile exciting again.

(more…)

Having recently spent time working on the IBM Worklight platform, I thought it would only be fair if I documented some of my findings. No disrespect to the IBM’ers, but its reasonably fair to say that documentation is a little sparse in places, so lets give a little back to the community by discussing some of the hurdles. Lets not dwell on what Worklight is, Andy has already covered this well in a previous post; but lets just dive right into some of the technical aspects.

General Thoughts

Development on the whole is a relatively straightforward process, even for someone like myself that often steers well clear of anything that involves web presentation technologies (it reminds me of dark nights at the university labs spending hours trying to get a button to align correctly, the night before coursework submission *shudder*).

The Worklight eclipse plugin provides a good drag & drop GUI builder, but with support only for dojo. I opted to drop dojo and go for jQuery. jQuery is very well documented, and is easy to get help should you require it. One of the main things I like about jQuery is its showcase and examples, they are documented very well and the learning curve is generally quite small, but also the themeroller, it becomes incredibly easy to customise the default colour scheme and drop the generated CSS into your app. It always amazes me how excited the marketing guys will get if you can add in the corporate colour scheme to your app (thanks Joseph!).

Continuous Integration

We’re big fans of CI here, so I was quite keen to understand how easy it would be to have our Worklight apps built from the command line, and ultimately on a Jenkins CI box. The chaps over at IBM have done a fantastic job of exposing an array of Ant tasks that help with building and deploying apps, you’ll almost certainly want to read through module 42 on the getting started page that covers these tasks:

  • adapter-builder – Use this task to build your adapter and create the .adapter file
  • adapter-deployer – Use this to deploy a .adapter file to a Worklight server (very  useful for deploying to a remote AWS instance)
  • war-builder – Use this to build the server .war file that you will deploy to the application server (some manual tweaks are required)
  • app-builder – Use this to build the .wlapp files that you will deploy into your Worklight container
  • app-deployer – Use this to deploy your .wlapp files onto a Worklight server (useful again for remote deployments)

Lets have a closer look at each of those targets, and how we’re using them here at Smart421:

Getting the party started, with init

Firstly, grab the worklight ant jar (you’ll need to have purchased the WL Enterprise edition for this) and add it into your ant context like so :

<target name="init">
 <echo message="Loading ANT Tool"/>
 <taskdef resource="com/worklight/ant/defaults.properties">
 <classpath>
 <pathelement location="./build-config/worklight-ant.jar"/>
 </classpath>
 </taskdef>
 <property environment="env"/>
 </target>

Now you’re free to use the ant tasks anywhere in your build script.

Building & Deploying WL Adapters

You need to build each adapter individually, and then deploy each one. You can create the following ant targets to do that for you:

<target name="buildAdapters" depends="init">
 <echo message="Building all adapters"/>
 <adapter-builder
 folder="./adapters/TwitterAdapter"
 destinationfolder="./bin"/>
 <!-- Build your other adapters here, same as above-->
</target>

<target name="deployAdapters" depends="init">
 <property name="WLSERVERHOST" value="http://my_aws_ip_here:8080/SmartConf"/>
 <echo message="Deploying all adapters"/>
 <adapter-deployer
 worklightServerHost="${WLSERVERHOST}"
 deployable="./bin/TwitterAdapter.adapter"/>
 <!-- Deploy your other adapters here, same as above-->
</target>

Building the Server WAR

You can build the server war file using the war-builder task, as shown below. It is important to note however, that I needed to do some tweaking to the war file to avoid any post-installation configuration tasks. According to the Worklight forums, there doesn’t appear to be a way to include files in the WEB-INF when the war is created, which means that once you’ve expanded the war on the application server you’d need to manually replace the default web.xml and context.xml files (to set your datasources), this can be quite frustrating, so in true Blue Peter fashion, I’m updating the war file with files I created earlier.

<target name="warBuilder" depends="init">
 <echo message="Building the war file"/>
 <war-builder
 projectfolder="./"
 destinationfolder="./bin"
 warfile="./bin/SmartConf.war"
 classesFolder="./bin/classes"/>
</target>

<target name="updateWar">
 <echo message="Updating the war file"/>
 <war destfile="./bin/SmartConf.war" update="true" webxml="./build-config/web.xml">
 <metainf dir="./build-config" includes="context.xml"/>
 </war>
</target>

Building & Deploying the WL Apps

You’ll also want to automate the building and deploying of the wlapp files, you can do this with the following :

<target name="buildApps">
 <echo message="Building all WL Apps"/>
 <app-builder
 applicationFolder="./apps/Smartconf"
 nativeProjectPrefix="SmartConf"
 outputfolder="./bin"/>
</target>

<target name="deployApps">
 <property name="WLSERVERHOST" value="http://my_aws_ip_here:8080/SmartConf"/>
 <echo message="Deploying all WL Apps"/>
 <app-deployer
 worklightServerHost="${WLSERVERHOST}"
 deployable="./bin/SmartConf-all.wlapp"/>
</target>

Building the Native Application Distributable Binaries You’ve survived this far, and I’m thankful to you for that, however we’re not quite finished yet. Worklight will generate the native projects for you, but its your own responsibility to take those project directories and build the Android APK, or the iOS IPA etc. IBM will draw the line at this point, so you need to build them yourself, you can do this for all of the environments quite easily using additional ant tasks, android is the easiest :

<target name="client-android" depends="buildAndroid">
 <!-- Run the android native build, in its own directory -->
 <ant antfile="./apps/SmartConf/android/native/build.xml" target="release" useNativeBasedir="true"/>
 <!-- Copy up the apk into the bin area, for consistency -->
 <copy file="./apps/SmartConf/android/native/bin/SmartConf-release-unsigned.apk" tofile="./bin/SmartConfSmartConfAndroid.apk" overwrite="true"/>
 </target>

Building Blackberry and iOS apps from the command line is slightly more involved, and I feel they warrant their own blog post on that, alternatively, get in touch and we’d be glad to offer some assistance. Bear in mind you will need an Apple MAC to build iOS, for which we’ve installed a shared box in our build environment.

Other Gotchas

As with taking on board any emerging technology, there will always be plenty of head-scratching moments where the documentation is thin, and Uncle Google doesn’t provide much help, fortunately for you, we’re a nice bunch of guys here at Smart421 so we’ll share some of the things that had us pondering over a coffee:

  • The trailing “/” in the Worklight server host URL is required, don’t ask why, it just is.
  • The versioning conventions for Worklight are a little strange5.0.0.270 = v5.0 GA, but the developer edition is 5.0.2.407-developer-edition = 5.0.0.3.
  • If you have an existing 5.0.0.2 WL server installation, don’t upgrade it to 5.0.0.3, it fails to upgrade all components and leaves you with some obscure error messages that are hard to trace. The best plan of action is to uninstall, install again, but make sure you check for updates at time of installing, via the wizard
  • App crashes with Unreachable host? When you build and deploy the app to your device, it has the WL server IP hardcoded into it. The next day when you arrive at the office and hop onto the Wifi, DHCP gives you a different IP address…It’s a classic schoolboy error, but catches us out from time to time. A simple solution if you don’t have a spare box lying around is to install the Worklight server on AWS and deploy to the cloud, bearing in mind that it needs to be open to your mobile devices over the Internet in a real-life installation anyway.
  • Results is undefined on adapter call. A subtle difference here, HTTP adapters use invocationResult.results, whereas SQL adapters use invocationResults.result. That last character makes all the difference.
  • Response cannot be parsed, please contact support; this is an annoying error that you often see in the developer preview, just make sure you set the body onload to WL.Client.init() as mentioned here.
  • Unable to use geolocation services on android? You’re probably seeing Caught security exception registering for location updates from the system, this should only happen in DumpRenderTree. Make sure you have the geolocations permission in your android manifest as detailed here.

Conclusion

On the whole, I was very impressed with Worklight, they are offering a lot of functionality over and above the standard Cordova project. Some of the errors I’ve encountered have been a little frustrating, as often my only source of help was the forums, but I can accept that it is a product in its early stages of adoption, and will probably go very far. I’m looking forward to working with it in the future.

If you’d like to have a look at some of the apps we’re creating, or generally just want a chat about Worklight and some of its capabilities, or Mobility in general, we’d love to hear from you.

Flooded
Photo by East Coast Main Line

I have had the luck to attend the WUG at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on George Street again this year. This is a bi-annual event hosted in Edinburgh in the Autumn and, from this year, at IBM’s facilities on the Southbank in London in the Spring.

The good luck was attending, when maybe a third of people failed to go when the weather was bad, but the bad luck was when the East Coast mainline was flooded on the way down, causing a very late return home.

There were a few interesting sessions, including the Worklight acquisition for developing mobile applications on to a variety of target devices, including iOS and Android. Possibly more on that later. There was also a good session by Alan Chambers on sample use-cases for using WebSphere eXtreme Scale, which is a distributed in-memory caching technology. This is an interesting area, which merits further attention. The slide deck for the various sessions, including ones I could not get to, are on the WUG site.

David Sayers of MidVision also gave a talk about DevOps, which is the set of disciplines for bringing development and operations closer to each other. Although MidVision supply a tool in this space, David was keen to stay away for instances of tools, and to say that there is no magic bullet, and that it’s about process and people too.

A phrase which struck a chord with me went something like: “many firms don’t want to make a change in a production system because ‘Steve’ is on holiday and he’s the only person who understands this”.

It’s a spooky coincidence, as we have just published a development policy stating that all environments, and deployments to those environments should be 100% automated, as part of our policy refresh.

The presentation I want to elaborate on a bit this time, is the “How Lightweight is the [WebSphere] Liberty Profile” which is part of WebSphere Application Server (WAS) 8.5.

Simon Maple  (Twitter @sjmaple) – one of IBM’s technical evangelists on WAS – explained that this profile is an OSGi-based application server kernel which only loads up the libraries and subsystems, as you need them. The end result is a *very* lightweight application server.

So much so, that the session involved showing the application server running on a Raspberry Pi (£20-odd computer, the size of the palm of your hand, delivered as a circuit board).

To follow this up Simon then started up a WAS instance on his older android phone which was then serving up a blogging application via the phone’s wireless hotspot. I connected to it with my phone, and posted: “Amazing!” (yes Oscar Wilde won’t be looking over his shoulder), which then showed up on his monitor, along with some more imaginative posts.

I have the tooling, which was provided on a memory key in our “info” shared area for any Smarties to download.

The liberty profile tooling (eclipse plugins) even runs on a Mac, along with the dev runtime. Even though this runtime is not supported in production on Mac, this is a pretty major step for IBM. I would not have imagined it five years ago.
In terms of production use though, the liberty profile WAS is still a standard WAS install from the perspective of licensing… though I’m not sure how many PVU’s a Raspberry Pi has.

IBM also have a new Head of WebSphere Software, Stuart Hemsley, who was keen to get feedback from the delegates, both by announcement at the keynote, and by walking around during the breaks.

Our feedback was that the application server just costs too much compared to the likes of Tomcat and JBoss, and includes technologies which are starting to be less relevant (e.g. session clustering), as the application architecture moves to pursue session-statelessness. Yes you would expect to pay a premium for a big-league vendor-supported product, but not 10x as much.

It would be a shame for IBM to loose out on market share because of pricing, when they provide excellent tooling and support, as shown by a session on performance tuning the JVM… but that (as they say) is another story.

I also had the opportunity to attend the    Websphere User Group (WUG) meeting on 23rd March 2011 at Bedfont Lakes. The WUG is a very popular topic amongst colleagues at Smart421 as its a great community

As someone who doesn’t have much direct WebSphere experience on a day-to-day basis, I was wondering if I would struggle to follow the content. However, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised as the tracks were designed for a variety of skills levels. There were several talks that any Java developer would find interesting. There were actually 13 streams running over the course of the day. Many focused on specific IBM products (as you’d expect) but also some focused on more general topics such as Java, and OSGi.

The first session I attended was the WebSphere Foundation Update and Technical Direction in the WAS 1 stream. This session by Ian Robinson gave an overview of forthcoming features in WAS v8. While this was a very WAS specific session it also provided useful updates on several areas in the J2EE space. To download the slides, click here.

The second session I attended was in the WAS 2 stream on JAX-WS 2.2 and JAX-RS 1.1 support in WebSphere Application Server Version 8.0 Beta . The presenter, Katherine Sanders, a software engineer at IBM Hursley,  gave a very good introduction to these two technologies without being tempted to delve into a lot of overly-heavy WAS-specific details. To download the slides, click here.

The third session I attended was given by Simon Cashmore, a Lead Engineer within the Global Middleware team at Barclays Bank.  This talk, Changing the way Java Application Hosting is delivered at Barclays Bank , stood out by a mile as it was the only session in the Customer stream (c’mon WUG Committee, more like this please). It was informative because it focused on Barclays’ new approach to hosting Java applications. Barclays have essentially built their own collection of virtualised WAS instances that can be made available in days rather than weeks or months. Previously, projects would buy brand new hardware that was not shared or reused, so costs and timescales were sky high. Now they have a shared resource that can be used and reused much more efficiently – and more cost effectively. I’m sure Barclays shareholders will be very pleased to hear that  ;o)

The fourth and final session I attended was a talk in the Java stream on Generational Garbage Collection: Theory and Best Practices. This was focused on how the IBM JVM works, but Chris Bailey, a technical architect in the Java Technology Center (JTC) team at IBM Hursley, gave a very detailed description of it which applies to any JVM that implements Generational Garbage Collection. To get a copy of Chris’ slides, click here.

So if you’re in doubt whether you should attend a WUG meeting because you feel don’t have enough WebSphere experience then let me reassure you that any Java developer will find something of interest. There were also suggestions of adding a more business focused stream to future meetings to widen the potential audience even more.

Details of all WUG activities and events can be found here.

WUG 10th Birthday Celebrations, IBM Bedfont 23 March 2011

Members of the WUG Board, past and present, cut the birthday cake. From left to right: Nigel Gale (founding Chairman), Simon Maple (IBM Representa tive), Alan Chambers (WUG founder and Board member), Chris Mason (Treasurer throughout the WUG's 10 years), and Jonathan Marshall (IBM Representa tive). Photo by kind permission of Alan Chambers.

On 23 March, over 200 members of the WebSphere User Group UK (WUG) and members of the WebSphere Integration User Group UK  descended on IBM Bedfont Lakes, Feltham, UK for the WUG’s spring-time gathering (2 annual meetings; March at Bedfont, September at Edinburgh). Smart421 was there with one or two of our bigs guns. More on that in a moment.

As longstanding members of the WUG, we get a lot out of these meetings - perhaps ‘cos we also put  lot in. A significant number of our customer engagements require deep Java skills and several depend on WebSphere technologies in some way or another. Most speakers are IBM-ers, many out of Hursley, or sometimes further afield. Delegates from IBM, end-users of WebSphere and IBM business partners make up the remainder of the rich ‘ecosystem’ that is today’s WUG.

Smart421 Lead Consultant, Stu Smith, had his proposal selected by the Committee, which carried the catchy little title ‘Software Development Life-cycle with Message Broker in end-to-end SOA’ [Download the slides]. Nevertheless, Stu pulled a bigger crowd than usual with his piece and people seemed to appreciate his content and the very good Q&A session he triggered; for the last session of the day, it was a lively interactive exchange among attendees, who by then probably had their minds on the drinks reception or what they had to do to catch the early train home.

Alan Mangroo, one of our elite tekkies, attended for the educational tracks and was last seen diving in and out of sessions he has pre-selected. Knowing him, he’ll have made copious notes, so try to make a point of reading his separate blog [posted 08 April, click here].

The WUG has been running for ten years in the UK (yeah…I know !) and the Committee didn’t run past the opportunity to celebrate with drinks and two rather impressive cakes to mark the occasion. I’ve included a photo, courtesy of Alan Chambers, so you can share the moment with us. Proof –  if ever you needed it – that even tekkies have soul, so long as you bring the candles ;o)    Actually, I only remember cute miniature marzipan figures: developers with laptops.

As is often the case, Smart421 ran a on-stand prize draw for a bottle of Bollinger and appropriately Nigel Gale, the WUG’s first chairman (pictured, far left), was the one who swooped the 1st prize. Good timing I’d say. Hope you enjoy that, Nigel.

One of the great benefits of being a member of the British Computer Society is being able to attend the very good conferences, forums and presentations they host and run, one of which I attended earlier this – “Software as a Service – Is it the right time to move services into or from the cloud?”.

The event was run by the CMA who are part of BCS from the BCS headquarters in London and was very well attended, with the likes of IBM, Shell, Sun, Fujitsu, Logica, Barron McCann, Experian, BT, Siemens, Ordnance Survey and many others sending delegates showing the rise in interest in Cloud Computing across all sectors. There were seven presentations in all, two of which were examples of companies that have embraced Cloud Computing, and a presentation from Rahoul Bhansali from Hudson & Yorke who has been heavily involved in the government’s G-Cloud initiative (which is something I am sure I / Smart421 will blog on later as the initiative matures). However for this blog entry I want to focus on the two presentations that caught my eye and overlay these with the two examples of companies embracing Cloud Computing.

The first presentation I want to focus on was from Nick Coleman of IBM (author of the Coleman report) who delivered a presentation on “The future directions of the Cloud Computing”. The presentation focussed on the message that “Cloud Computing is evolutionally and not revolutionary”, something which I wholeheartedly agree with; managed services have been around for years, virtualisation is not new and many companies have run / hosted applications on hardware hosted by a third party – Cloud Computing is about pulling these together and enabling different combinations of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS to be put together to meet the specific and individual needs of a company. Cloud Computing is transformative; it offers businesses, especially SMEs, a lot of benefits such as a reduction in costs, agility in deliveries, quicker time to market, easy to scale solutions etc, but there are still a number of considerations that need to be taken into account – security is still the main concern with the Cloud – in 2009 just under 50% of vulnerabilities found in web apps were not patchable, with Cloud based solutions you are not aware of what else is being hosted with your application, and where is your app being hosted? – these are all answerable but you will most likely have to dig down to get these answers and may even end up having to pay extra to resolve them. As Nick alluded to during his presentation, Cloud Computing is transformative, businesses and people need to adapt and be willing to relinquish control over some key aspects that have traditionally been kept in house. It was these considerations that featured heavily in the presentations from the companies that had embraced Cloud Computing – Ordnance Survey and EasyNet Connect.

Richard Britton who was up until recently IT Director for EasyNet Connect, presented on how they migrated their complex 50+ applications into a SalesForce Cloud based solution. They also surveyed their customers and:

  • 73% of their customers said they would be using Cloud based solutions within 5 years
  • 37% of their customers said they would be using Cloud based solutions within 1 years
  • 66% of their large SME (50+ staff) customers are already using Cloud based solutions or plan to do so within a year

EasyNet have definitely embraced Cloud based solutions and plan to press forward with this as they grow.

Tim Martin and Ian Hoult from Ordnance Survey presented on how the OS OpenSpace product had been migrated to the Cloud; The OpenSpace application is used by many companies, including many local councils that seek the level of detail in the maps they provide. The application has between 5,00 and 10,000 updates on a daily basis that were shipped to all of the app consumers on a 6 weekly cycle, this equated to about 60GB worth of information so had to be loaded onto multiple DVD’s so was a very expensive process and a prime candidate to be converted to SaaS. In addition to the expense of shipping all of the updates, the demand for information on the local council web sites can flux quite a bit, the example they used was the recent increase in volume (around 80% above and beyond normal use) during the cold weather of people looking for salt bins. With this is in mind, it would have being very expensive for them to build the extra capacity that would be required to deal with a huge serge in requests. They decided to push OpenSpace into the Cloud to deal with these issues and can now serve 7 million tiles as opposed to 500,000 and for a third of the cost for delivering and now have a scalable and economical solution with reduced support costs – they can now add an additional server into an environment within 5 minutes if the need arises. With that said it wasn’t all plain sailing, they had to switch their database as the licensing with their existing DB was not “Cloud Friendly”, also the data has been split, so all personal data is held locally within Ordnance Survey and only the public data is hosted within the Cloud within the EU. All in all they have seen this as a huge success and will be delivering 2 more of their products into the Cloud, but will spend more time in looking into the contracts and licensing aspects which leads me nicely into the 2nd presentation I wanted to focus on that was delivered by Richard Kemp from Kemp Little who specialise in IT litigation on the differences between cloud services and outsourcing.

Richard, who has worked with Google and SalesForce on this subject, was a very captivating speaker with an interesting subject, one of which I think is the most important for those looking at Cloud Computing. As I mention earlier, Cloud Computing is evolutionary and not revolutionary, we have all been involved in outsourcing in some way, shape or form in our careers and we all know that one of the hardest aspects is the contracts that need to be drawn up to support these. The traditional approach is a transfer out of assets and in return you receive a service contract. Richard said that with the ever increasing shift to Cloud based solutions, things are not changing as much as people think; you still need to set the KPIs, SLAs and service description but now certain items are becoming critical to these agreements such as:

  • Performance – key service metrics need to be specified
  • Availability – with the services being accessed over the internet who bears the risk of an outage?
  • Data – Data Security is always a key item to any business, but when hosting that data in the Cloud you need to be sure that the data standards applied by the Cloud provider is that that you require; you should be able to access that data at any given point and most importantly, you need to be able to get your data back at any given point and in a usable format
  • Exit – an exit strategy is key – being able to regain control of the service in a quick and timely manner

As well as these key points, there are some differences in the approaches taken to draw up the agreements for either outsourcing or Cloud:

  • Outsourcing tends to be a custom / bespoke deal where as with a Cloud based deal being a one to many / generic deal
  • With outsourcing the supplier is responsible for delivery; with Cloud based solutions the customer takes on the risk of their services being served over the internet and accept the risks with that
  • Outsourcing generally work to a set up front free where as Cloud is generally pay as you use

I think the key thing is to do all of the hard thinking up front when thinking about moving to a Cloud based solution, look at the key points above, remember the criticality of your data and the fact that the customer is responsible for the data (make sure you specify where it needs to be hosted, what standards need to be adhered and make sure that the data can not be used with express consent), make sure an exit plan is agreed up front as this helps things nearer the end of any agreement and helps avoid litigation as it is always the lawyers who win!

All in all I thought the event was very good and gave some excellent insight as to what to bear in mind – in my honest opinion I think now is the time to be moving items into the Cloud, SOA is fast becoming adopted as much of a standard as OO and Cloud based solutions can be a truly cost effective, flexible and scalable solution for any business!!

This week I attended a Cloudburst ‘Proof of Technology’ day at IBM’s Hursley Labs and I wanted to share my initial thoughts following this chance to play with the appliance. It was a scripted do this, then that set of labs along with some presentations so not necessarily a real tyre kicking but enough for things to click into place and some ideas around its value to form.

Colleagues have already blogged about this new appliance so I’ll keep it simple and liken it to a vending machine for virtualised WAS environments. You pick the one you want, press the button, wait and ta-da out it drops into your private cloud all ready to consume.

Its on-demand nature makes this compelling. Having spent significant periods of time creating virtual environments to play with various products this appeals to my fast food, consumer tendencies and although today it’s only WAS HV edition, DB2 HV is days away with Process and Portal Server HV editions following later.

Let’s imagine you are running WAS, have a number of servers that you are trying to maximise your investment in with a little virtualised sharing of hardware and you want clean, controlled dev and test environments to be simply and repeatably rolled out on demand and torn down when not required, with little fuss. You deploy the environment when you need to use it and when done tear it down. It doesn’t have to sit there consuming resources for any longer than the time you actually need it because when you do need it again you can faithfully recreate it. You can timebox the period that your environment is available and if this period is not extended, your environment is removed.

Thats what you get with this, and it’s so simple you can empower anyone who genuinely requires this level of access and automation to potentially remove a period of let’s be honest, faffing around to aquire the environment which could save huge amounts of time and money. There’s no elasticity, you pick your pattern and if you have 2 nodes that’s your lot. Cloudburst does do some monitoring but it’s not going to give you any more nodes when things are maxing out. It really is simple though.

It’s going to cost you, but nowhere near what you would spend scripting this level of automation and control and IBM are funding the ongoing development and maintenance costs with version 1.1 of the firmware coming so soon you can smell it and 2.0 well on the way.

Does it need to be a hardware appliance, I’m not sure but it is and its available today, in purple. Which must have upset the DataPower guys who already have a purple box in the form of the XB60 B2B appliance. So if you have both don’t rack them up too close together or you just know one day, someone is going to unplug the wrong one.

Is it possible to be brainwashed in a day? Possibly but I believe that if you have an investment in WAS you should have a look this appliance and what it brings to the table. Give us a call and we can put you in touch with a man who has one in a flight case with a pair of servers attached (he brings his own cloud!). He’ll come and see you, let you have a go and you can decide for yourself.

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