ServiceNow_logo_TM_SMALL_RGB_600dpi_061912Struggling for years with an internally hosted, antiquated and legacy solution, we found we just couldn’t keep pace with our evolving service management needs. As a company that is driven by the demand of the customer, we quite liked what we found in ServiceNow. But how did we arrive there?

Read on.

Approach

We evaluated a range of possibilities. We managed the company’s migration to new tooling as a formal project with a proof of concept stage, a pilot migration and then finally a phased migration of the services we support.

Lessons Learnt

  • “Software as a service” (SaaS) is definitely the way to go! With a growing service management portfolio, the availability of the tools to support that business are essential.
  • Managed as a formal project with a defined set of requirements and planned life-cycle made sure that the delivery met expectations.
  • We decided not to use the professional services offered by ServiceNow, which was a mistake. We thought we would be able to adapt the solution to meet our needs with little support and no training – big mistake. Although we have ended up with what was needed, it would have been achieved quicker, at higher quality and at less cost if we had used the services available from service-now.
  • Build a “regression” test pack as part of the project to enable testing of any future changes (either internally or new versions by service-now).
  • We only contracted for the services for a year, in case the tool wasn’t right for us – in hindsight we should have signed up for 3 years to fix the pricing over that term.
  • One of our core requirements was to be able to provide our customers with a “portal”. This requirement grew and customers also wanted to manage and assign tickets. This requirement means that these users would incur additional license costs, so we developed a portal solution that negates the need for licensed users.

Final word

Ok so SaaS solutions may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some are definitely over-rated. But we have seen the advantages of going the SaaS route for our business. We’ve never been totalitarian about any one technology or vendor. Our neutrality is well known and that goes for the tools we select for our own business. We think this is healthy and suggest you think the same way. Always know where the exit door is and have a pathway out of, as well as into, any technology you deploy. But when you find something that works, persist with it, iron out the minor gotchas and be a responsive customer so your supplier knows what you like and what you don’t like.

Put the needs of your customers first, and work backwards from there.

Please Rate and Like this blog. Share it using the social icons below or via the short URL http://bit.ly/MmwT7j

Our readers want to know what YOU think, so please leave a Comment.

Positively Noctilucent:  not all clouds were created equal

With just 3 weeks to go until its Enterprise Summit in London (17 Sept), Amazon Web Services (AWS) is on a bit of a roll. ( hashtag #AWSsummit )

Research reports by analysts at Forrester and at Gartner have shown again AWS’ leadership position in a significant way.  For those still looking for evidence that Cloud Computing is a robust alternative to on-premise compute and storage, these reports are as close as you are likely to get to an objective viewpoint.

In June, Forrester Research published its ‘Wave’ report on Enterprise Public Cloud platforms, Q2 ( get the reprint here or via short URL http://bit.ly/1dUsPC3 ). In it, the authors Rymer and Staten took all the mainstream IaaS / PaaS / SaaS vendors (except absences e.g. Savvis) and analysed from a number of viewpoints: rapid developers, coders, DevOps pros, and application development & delivery (AD&D).

Incidently, they also registered a blurring of the lines between the widely accepted stratified offerings software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS),  But I digress. You should read the report.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) came out the strongest of all vendors across three of our four developer segments.

In August, Forrester’s arch rivals Gartner published its Magic Quadrant report on Cloud IaaS  ( get the reprint here or via short URL http://gtnr.it/17Lu848 ). Analyst team Leong, Toombs, Gill, Petri and Haynes put AWS way out in front.  Other mainstream vendors (including Savvis) looked like a tightly bunched peloton on their now-famous 2 x 2 matrix.

Research clients of Forrester and Gartner place a lot of currency in these types of reports; substantial IT deals are decided on the strength of vendors’ positioning and analyst opinions.  Of course, analysts don’t always get it right, but when it comes to Cloud they have for the most part been prescient.

Regular readers of the Smart421 blog will know only too well that we have been uncharacteristically vocal of our support for the AWS Cloud technology stack.  This is only because a number of UK enterprises have already engaged Smart421 to architect, deliver and support solutions on the AWS Cloud.

If you’ve registered to attend on 17 September, you’re in for a treat with a great agenda.  If you’d like to have a more pointed conversation with our Cloud Architects or Senior Management team, please fee free to visit our special microsite to book an on-site meeting.

Share this blog using the short URL http://bit.ly/12LlyCF

Please Rate and Like this blog.  We always welcome Comment.

The subcategory called Big Data is emerging out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Matt Wood with Robin Meehan

From left: Matt Wood, Chief Data Scientist at Amazon Web Services (AWS) with Robin Meehan, CTO at Smart421
Photo by Jim Templeton-Cross

What it is.

Definitions abound (who would have thought it? – quite usual in the technology market). For Big Data, we quite like the definition that originated with Doug Laney (@doug_laney), formerly META Group, now a Gartner analyst. It goes something like this:

 ” … increasing volume (amount of data), velocity (speed of data in and out), and variety (range of data types and sources)”

Gartner continue to use this “3Vs” model for describing Big Data.

Unsurprisingly, others are claiming Gartner’s construct for Big Data (see Doug’s blog post, 14 Jan 2012).

Still confused?

Put another way, Big Data is commonly understood to be:

“… a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools. The challenges include capture, curation, storage,search, sharing, analysis,and visualization. The trend to larger data sets is due to the additional information derivable from analysis of a single large set of related data, as compared to separate smaller sets with the same total amount of data, allowing correlations to be found to “spot business trends, determine quality of research, prevent diseases, link legal citations, combat crime, and determine real-time roadway traffic conditions.” read more on Wikipedia.

Big Data could be executed on-premise if you have sufficient compute and storage in your corporate data centre. And some do, especially some large banks, and with good success. Several solutions are already out there on the market;  Oracle’s Big Data Appliance is just one example.  But it does also beg the question “why would you” ?

If you don’t want the CapEx of purchasing more tin, or don’t want to gobble up capacity in your own data centre, then there are alternatives. For example, a cost model now exists with cloud-based compute and cloud-based storage (for example, think of Amazon’s announcement of 25 percent reductions in the price of Amazon S3, it’s storage solution) that puts Big Data in the Cloud well within the reach of all UK enterprises. A cost model like that islikely to win friends in procurement and in corporate governance as well as in IT.

Hinging on technologies including Apache Hadoop clusters, Amazon Elastic Map Reduce (Amazon EMR) and others, Big Data is delivering a degree of analytics and visualisation not previously possible at affordable levels.

Don’t just take our word for it, ask around. We could point you to other experts in Big Data, such Matt Wood ( @mza ), Chief Data Scientist at AWS.

What it isn’t.

Big Data isn’t business intelligence (BI). What I mean is that Big Data isn’t BI in any traditional sense of the term. It is altogether another level on from that. Granted that some tooling enterprises may own may be recycled for use in Big Data analytics. But it isn’t another species, it’s another race.

Big Data isn’t a lame attempt at reviving a management information system (MIS); those should be left to rest in peace.

What it means for you.

By now, if you’ve read this far, something should be niggling away at you that you could be missing a trick. I trust it won’t be those voices in your head again. But it might be your instincts telling you how Big Data could answer those tough business questions – y’know, those “I can’t be asked” questions that existing systems just cannot deliver.

Now, you would not necessarily get our CTO to come right out and say that Big Data is the next big thing. But evidence we are assembling so far does seem to point to a new capability to deliver. For those with an appetite to understand their business in new ways, Big Data is delivering tangible intelligence that lets them see new dimensions, new possibilities and new revenue streams.

I did get a full radar lock on something our CTO said in the summer. It was a throw away line at the time but it stuck with me and with others. So, when the time came to consider an appropriate go-to-market message for our quarter three (Q3) focus, we decided to wheel out his one-liner as part of our messaging.

“It’s not about survival of the fittest -
it’s about survival of the best informed”
Robin Meehan, CTO, Smart421 Ltd.

Making no apologies to Charles Darwin or evolutionists, the statement is resonating with decision makers in the enterprise space, not least those in the Insurance sector. Why?  Well, we think it is because a lot of the big insurers operate under many names in their brand portfolios.

The capability to see and understand impacts of brand activities, such as Insurance Quotes, delivered using Big Data analytics in the AWS Cloud, is illuminating new gains that would otherwise have remained out of reach.

Don’t forget – brand analysis is only one use case for Big Data in the Cloud.

If the world is going Big Data crazy then you need to know what it is, what it isn’t and what it means to your enterprise.

Agree?  Disagree?

UPDATE 05 Dec 2012 – Our economist friend Tim Harford  (@TimHarford) sent this hilarious tweet: The data do not lie. OR DO THEY? Muah huah huah! http://dlvr.it/2b2NS1

UPDATE 06 Dec 2012 – Robin and colleague Ben Baumguertel (@bbaumguertel) are attending the Big Data Analytics event in London today (organised by @WhitehallMedia ).

Please Rate this post and Like this post below. If you can, please leave a Comment.

Organised by the UK Windows Azure User Group, this free all day conference provided a great opportunity to catch up on the latest developments, particularly given the Microsoft announcement a couple of weeks back.

Core to this announcement was Microsoft’s move into Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS), and the key note by Scott Guthrie positioned IaaS (described as Virtual Machines) alongside Microsoft’s current Cloud offerings which to date has focused on Platform-As-A-Service (PaaS – now labelled Cloud Services by Microsoft) and Software-As-A-Service (SaaS – Office 365 for example).

MS Cloud Day

Despite the lack of internet connectivity for a large part of the presentation (what is it with Cloud demos and loss of connectivity?!?) Scott did a great job talking through the slides, clearly describing the alignment of each of the deployment options: On-premise vs Virtual Machines vs Cloud Services vs SaaS.

In addition to Virtual Machines, the new Web Sites service was also discussed which gives Azure customers up to 10 web-sites and 1GB of storage for free (whilst in preview period, see here for further details). The demonstration showed how easy it is if you simply want to re-host an existing web-site on Azure whether it be ASP.NET, Node.js, PHP or even classic-ASP. So the new Web Site and Virtual Machine services provide a simple route to hosting applications on the Azure platform, but there is the added benefit of the Azure management aids, real time statistics and in the case of Web Sites incremental deployments and continuous integration (through TFS or GIT) too.

So where does this fit with Paas? Well Steve Plank from Microsoft provided some answers with another demonstration. With Cloud Services you get host of services to call upon including Storage, Database, Identity, Caching and Service Bus and the demo showed that if you design your application from the ground-up utilising these services, you benefit from an end-to-end application architecture that can be deployed and running in minutes at the click of a button. It is this architecture that really gives you the elasticity and flexibility in the places you need it.

A good day and exciting times with the options and landscape constantly changing. Nicely summed up by another Smartie (Andy Carter), ‘I guess there’s a load more stuff I need to learn about’, when a couple of days after passing the Azure certification MS announced the new services…(Well done btw!)

City of London

City of London. No clouds (yet). Photo by iStock

Rumour has it that CIOs and CTOs from some of the UK’s leading organisations will be meeting together in the City of London next week for a specially convened roundtable focusing on their IT strategies.

Smart421 has reserved a major City of London venue to host this exclusive roundtable, designed to enable these leaders to learn from each other as well as to discuss their challenges with subject area experts on Cloud computing, including directors of AWS and our own CTO, Robin Meehan (who contributes regularly to this blog).

Senior executives share a common purpose – to drive their strategy forward and reinforce their leadership positions in their respective markets through embracing the new “art of the possible” where advances in technologies enable them to do so.

We will present that argument in the context of the specialised area of infrastructure as a service (IaaS).  IaaS is a layer of Cloud computing that seems far less sexy than the more visible SaaS front end. However, for those that possess the know how, it offers a set of enterprise-grade technical solutions that large business want to harness.

Expected discussion topics will include business continuity planning, disaster recovery (BCP/DR), “big data” analytics and service management in the Cloud.

You heard it first here…. (we’ll keep you posted).

Marc Benioff and Michael Dell

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce with Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer

This week (14 Sept) saw an influx of over 6,000 people to London to attend Cloudforce conference at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. It was the annual shin-dig for fans of Salesforce.com , the game-changing customer relationship management system hosted in the cloud.

Unlike at previous Cloudforce, it was clear on arrival that the Salesforce ecosystem had grown substantially. Elizabeth Decker, Director of Partner Marketing, had obviously been working overtime to assemble a noticeably bigger raft of partners, some specialising in apps development, some in implemention (among them some ex-Smarties). One observation was the very prominent role taken by Accenture (diamond sponsor of the event – which must have set them back a few quid); they featured a great case study for Schneider Electric in their 1.00pm breakout session on “The Cloud Enabled Business”.

But of course, everyone had come to see Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff take to the stage in one of his now infamous, charismatic keynotes. Although I did overhear some grumbles that the content was a clone of his keynote at the recent Dreamforce event in San Francisco (itself something of a recordbreaker with over 45,000 attendees), he didn’t seem to disappoint his London audience.

The Social Enterprise

Marc Benioff's vision of the Social Enterprise

Benioff’s new mantra was the “social enterprise“. Having launched “Chatter” just over a year ago, Benioff said he no longer speaks of Cloud 2.0. It seems he had a eureka moment somewhere after visiting people like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and others that the successfull enterprise is the connected enterprise.  From an article in Forbes magazine (Barrett, 2011)  it seems that Benioff instructed his half his development team to stop what they were doing and inject social media functionality inside Salesforce.

He asserted that a platform for social enterprise is truly transformational; Benioff was quick to remind the audience of the the role social media in changing political landscape; the “power to bring down dictators in countries and dictators in companies”, he squawked.

 “It not about soft[ware] power or hard[ware] power but social power”.  Strong stuff indeed. Maybe you disagree?

At Cloudforce, Benioff shared the limelight with Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer (morning keynote and afternoon keynote interview, 14 Sept). They seemed very at ease and spontaneous. See my video clip here.

Marc Benioff CEO of Salesforce.com at 2011 Cloudforce

Marc Benioff at 2011 Cloudforce

Another guest was Angela Ahrendts, CEO Burberrys, the British fashion house, who was very vocal in her support for how Salesforce had helped her revolutionise her business whilst not sacrificing brand values.

The growth of Salesforce has been nothing short of staggering. And they’re not done yet. Acquistions such as Heroku and Radian6 are definitely technologies to watch.

Don’t forget to post a comment and I’ll let Marc know what you think…

If you weren’t there, or were there and want to relive the experience, then go online to the recorded video on the Salesforce website.

References

Barrett, V. (2011) ‘Mister Disrupter’ Forbes. 08 August. p.84.

Cloud adoption patterns in the enterprise market (and the drivers behind it) is an interest area of mine, and an article I’ve written on this topic that has been published on the HPC In the Cloud website here.

TrendTowardsPaaS

Amazon Web Service’s announcement yesterday about their AWS Elastic Bean stalk offering was a significant step in their inexorable movement up the stack from IaaS towards PaaS (platform as a service), offering a Java PaaS based upon a Apache/Tomcat/Linux stack.

At the same time, the SaaS players are moving in the opposite direction, as demonstrated by Sales force.com’s recent acquisition of Heroku, the ruby PaaS provider.

Up until now, I’d have argued that PaaS has been the least mature of all the “aaS” siblings, with significant risk of lock-in, vendor failure risk etc, but this is rapidly changing and PaaS will become the main battleground between all the vendors as the SaaS players make their offerings more and more configurable/flexible and the IaaS vendors try and simplify their typically quite techy offerings for a wider audience.

There’s good further material of this topic on Krishnan Subramanian’s blog.

WillisBuildingHow can you tell that a new technology trend has hit the mainstream? Analyst reports? Marketing surveys? Conference attendance?

Well, sometimes the best way to get a real feel for how the economy is doing is to look at informal economic indicators such as how many skips there are in your street (as that means people are spending money on decorating or building work), or count the number of white vans going past your house in an hour.

Using this approach for cloud computing, I can now confidently state that use of the cloud is the norm, as my wife pointed out to me that there is an article about it in February 2011′s Ideal Home magazine. They list some of the main consumer-facing cloud offerings such as some SaaS email providers, streaming music (Spotify), Google Docs etc. I frequently use the flippant phrase “management by magazine” to describe how subjects enter the consciousness at the co layer of an organisation and become a priority for their direct reports, and now it is happening in a domestic setting as well!

I’ll have to order a back issue though as I must have missed Ideal Home’s 2008 article about service oriented architecture :)

Firstly, apologies for this somewhat delayed post – put it down to the usual pressures of trying to get everything closed off before year end (and a little ‘help’ from my CIO ;o) )!

KeyNote

So my first visit to Berlin for Microsoft’s TechEd Europe event left me feeling drained attempting to get around as many bars breakout sessions as possible. The Cloud undoubtedly dominated proceedings and this is backed up by the fact that I only chose one Cloud specific breakout session, and yet out of the 20 or so sessions I attended I can hardly recall a session where the Cloud wasn’t mentioned! It highlights just how integral the Cloud is to Microsoft’s product strategy, covering 3 distinct service offerings; Infrastructure-As-A-Service, Platform-As-A-Service and Software-As-A-Service.

The keynote (watch it here) provided a clear steer on how Microsoft see the end-to-end application landscape evolving; user-centric portable devices, hooking into Visual Studio (VS) applications/services hosted in the Cloud. On the portable devices side the recent release of Windows 7 Mobile and the ease at which applications can be written in VS2010, provided an insight into how Microsoft see mobile apps becoming pivotal for businesses (anyone can get started using the free tools). Not much to shout about here in hardware terms but development wise there appears to be great potential for developing rich business applications for mobile devices.

Software-As-A-Service was headed by Office 365 (Microsoft’s answer to GoogleApps) and provides slick browser based versions of your usual favourites; Word, Excel and PowerPoint. What’s impressive here is that you also get Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online (MS unified communications suite encompassing IM, Voice, Email and Web Conferencing). With pricing options for both SMEs and Enterprises, organisations have the opportunity to utilise some great tools with low up-front costs, that will help streamline communication and simplify company collaboration (both internal and external via federated Lync environments).

Infrastructure-As-A-Service facilitated by Hyper-V Cloud technology provides businesses with a self-service, elastic infrastructure platform. It gives you the opportunity to utilise vast amounts of processing power without the prohibitive expenditure you’d usually face when procuring your own tin. I was impressed with the Service Templates that simplify deployment and management of applications spanning multiple tiers. Remember however, that you’re still responsible for the patching, upgrading and management of all the servers deployed, but you get the commodity based benefits the Cloud can offer. Interestingly, Microsoft mentioned that financial assistance was available to companies wishing to be guinea pigs on this new offering.

Platform-As-A-Service is obviously where Windows Azure comes into play, providing a robust and scalable platform to host business applications. This was described as the panacea and it was clear to see alignment with all development technologies attempting to abstract the solution from where it may ultimately be deployed. This was demonstrated with VS2010 deployments, particularly when using AppFabric but also SQL Server in the form of Data Tier Application Development. The development tools are evolving to make it as easy as possible to switch between Cloud and non-Cloud based deployments, and clearly Microsoft want to remove as many obstacles as possible so that choosing Cloud services is literally one click away.

The other item I want to highlight was the effectiveness of Twitter at an event like this. Not only was it useful for me to keep up with the latest celebrity gossip, but I was really impressed with the ability for Microsoft to get immediate feedback on the event and breakout sessions. I can see it providing businesses with a great medium for assessing the impact of marketing campaigns etc. but also data-mining potential discovering patterns in comments. On this theme I recommend you take a look at this. A great week and highly recommended.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,084 other followers