In my previous blog post on using AWS CloudFormation to provision a Centos based environment I mentioned how at first the JSON syntax used within CloudFormation templates can be a little daunting, especially for people with limited scripting experience.

At the time of writing the blog I was using a combination of   Notepad++ with the JSON Viewer Plug-In to create and maintain my CloudFormation templates. One of the problems I had with this approach was that the templates are treated as pretty basic text files by Notepad++ and the JSON Viewer Plug-In only checks the base JSON syntax, so there is no validation of the objects defined in the JSON to ensure that the correct properties are being creating to allow the template to form a valid CloudFormation stack.

As an early Christmas present to anyone working with CloudFormation AWS recently announced the introduction of a new CloudFormation editor as part of the AWS Toolkits for Visual Studio and Eclipse. I have now had a chance to download and experiment with the Visual Studio version of this and am really impressed with how much easier it makes the creation and maintenance of CloudFormation templates.

As a .Net developer I have grown used to regularly relying upon IntelliSense features to aid with code creation, particularly when it comes to accessing and updating object properties. The CloudFormation editor provides this for the objects defined within a template as well as code snippets for all the object types you might want to define within your template. This greatly reduces the number of errors caused by ‘finger problems’ that used to occur when creating a template by hand.

The other really useful feature of the editor is the ability to estimate the costs of a stack before creating it. In the past when quoting for customers we have tended to pull together a design, plug the figures into the AWS Simple Monthly Calculator and then once we have received the go ahead provision the environment. With the ability to create costs from a template we are now looking at generating a base template at the design phase and then costing and building from this, which should help with the speed of environment creation and clarity around the prices for altering the design.

Based on our experiences so far  it’s a big thank-you to AWS Santa and his helper elves for the early Christmas present of the CloudFormation Editor and we are all looking forward to further presents from AWS  throughout next year :-)

As a systems integrator and consultancy, we at Smart421 frequently have to justify to potential clients why they should use us, and explain what value we provide to their organisation.

Thinking on this point, which is primarily an issue for sales and marketing types, you will also realise that this applies at a personal level too – as an individual, during regular personnel reviews, or if you are job hunting, people need to explain the value that you bring to a company. I’m not gong to discuss the approaches that bring best results in these particular aspects (hey, we are all in competition at some level or other, but if you want to make a pitch to join Smart421 you can certainly check on our job openings and apply – a good pitch from you can get you into the team).

Back to the consultancy aspect, a prospective client has to feel comfortable that we will provide a level of service that they will be happy with, and that helps them in achieving something that they may not otherwise be able to do at that time. So what are clients buying? Two things, I would say. First is the approach that we bring in working to resolve their problems. Second is the experience and expertise that we hold as a company.

Smart421 has expertise over the whole area of the software lifecycle, right from strategy, enteprise architecture and analysis through to application design, development, delivery and support. We also handle migration and retirement of systems at the end of their useful life too. Within that whole range, we have knowledge of numerous software products and platforms, alternative project management approaches, quality controlled processes for delivery and service management as well as our own controls for staff and finances as required for any company.

If a single person held all of these skills, how valuable do you think they would be to your company?

An application from someone that could list and validate all of this knowledge on their C.V. would seem almost unbelievable. But that is what you get if you use our services – access to all of that knowledge and expertise, provided on either an individual or team basis.

Any commercial agreement will of course define the terms of each particular engagement, so you don’t get endless access to all of this just through using an individual consultant. That consultant does however have this backup to refer to, increasing their value substantially to the end client. For a team of consultants, that provides more of the same, through greater points of contact and an enhanced collective viewpoint. If you could create a small internal team with this large amount and range of knowledge, imagine the potential benefits to your business.

When project work is handled by Smart421, this same set of skills and knowledge will be used to assure reliable delivery, using best practice and with our commitment to providing the best solution to meet client needs.

Enough of the sales pitch. I just thought it worthwhile to put forward some viewpoints about the value of using at Smart421, especially from the point of view of being part of the team that has to deliver on our promises.

So next time you are considering the use of third-party resources and question the value over that of internal resources, or plain hired-in contractors, this should provide some food for thought about what you are actually buying from such a consultancy.


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