Ipswich from the air

Ipswich from the air. Photo by kind permission of Stu Smith. More at http://bit.ly/o4OMrc

 One of our more intrepid colleagues, Smart421 lead consultant Stu Smith, has just published some outstanding aerial photos of Ipswich.

When he’s not architecting IT systems, configuring IBM DataPower appliances behind closed doors in a customer’s data centre or speaking at industry events (e.g. WUG), Stu is often flying the skies of urban or suburban areas with his paramotor or paragliding over more inhospitable terrains somewhere in the world.

His latest views of Ipswich, taken in August, can be found here http://bit.ly/o4OMrc

Those familiar with the area will easily spot the Smart421 technical centre at Felaw Maltings, as well as Portman Road (home of Ipswich Town Football Club).

Leave a comment to tell us what other landmarks you can see.

At Smart421, we actively get involved in many communities, from the Websphere User Group to Vbug, the British Computer Society to the local chamber of commerce, but often the most rewarding community we are part of is our local community.

It is great for us to be able to get involved with our community and help others within it, such as when we donated a laptop to Private Liam King who was injured during tour in Helmand Province, Afghanistan and was being treated in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham many miles away from his family. By having the laptop Liam was able to stay in touch with his friends and family back in Ipswich (please click here for more on this story).

Another great example of our involvement in the community was last Sunday (15th May) where Smart421 sponsored the Woodbridge 10K road race and entered a team of 20 members of staff (many of which are pictured here) who helped raise funds in memory of Helen Barrett who was step sister to one of our colleagues and a friend to many of us who sadly lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis last year.

The whole team put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the hours training, but we all enjoyed the day with a few personal goals achieved and a great sense of the good we can do for our community as we have managed to raise over £800 so far (there is still time to donate).

It is this kind of involvement in the community and commitment, dedication and selflessness of the team that makes me proud to work for Smart421!

STOP PRESS

Woodbridge 10K – The Movie.  Released 25 May 2011.  Find it on YouTube click here

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.

I took a break from the wet weather in South England, in order to enjoy the wet weather in Edinburgh, and attend the WebSphere user group. For one thing; our Alan Philpott was also going up there to hold a presentation on applying best practice in terms of SDLC to Datapower devices. Also Bharat Bhushan would be presenting on trouble-shooting and performance tuning of the devices. I have the latter’s slides for any of our DP rangers who want a walk-though. I will post a pdf of them up on sharepoint.

The WUG had a bit of a wobble last year, when some of the committee (who do their work for ‘free’) found that they no longer had the spare capacity to put in. The committee are still looking for volunteers. Some people questioned whether the WUG would continue to be viable. From the attendance levels of this recent meeting, the degree of organisation, and the quality of the  presentations, you would not notice any issues.

There was an interesting set of presentations (full details here), but the stuff that caught my eye was the OSGi stream. The OSGi framework (the dynamic framework system for java) has been around for a few years, not least as the underpinning technology behind Eclipse, since version 3. There is a good definition of it on wikipedia. I have seen it before in a container used to host the enterprise service mix ESB (a.k.a. FUSE 4). Adrian Treneman gives a good run-through here.

What has been interesting has been seeing this technology hitting the mainstream (IBM), and being taken seriously there. I attended two presentations, one of which covered the tooling support in Rational Application Developer (RAD) 8, and another covering the support for OSGi in WAS 8. It was previously available as a feature pack for WAS 7.0. The interesting part here was to see that the technology was being incorporated for simple pragmatic reasons (ability to load different versions of libraries into the same JVM – to be used by different applications, lowering memory footprint by sharing libraries amongst several applications) – rather than as some new-age magic.

I have grossly over-simplified in the above, but it may be a prompter for anyone who is interested to follow it up.

The other major new thing for me was WebSphere eXtreme Scale (WXS). On first seeing the title of the presentation, I thought that it would be a re-branding of either WAS ND or WAS XD. Wrong! “It’s just a cache”, as Jonathan Marshall announced at the beginning of his presentation – hugely underselling the use of caching technologies, and the product itself – before going on to show those benefits in his talk. Having recently been involved in two use-cases for caching technologies (dynamic content management) and web-session management in hugely scaling environments: both situations where databases struggle, and application server session-sharing mechanisms struggle (the old n^2 communication overhead, as the number of app. servers increases)… I could appreciate the problems that WXS product is trying to solve.

WXS is not the only player in this space. As well as other commercial offerings (which I had previously heard issues about) there are several open source alternatives (e.g. memcached), but since the general area is very new… not all of the products implement all of the features (e.g. active standby). Indeed there is probably not a common consensus of what all the features are. I will distribute slides on the internal sharepoint site. They should become available on the WUG site in due course. The take-away news for me is that IBM have a seemingly very capable product in this area, now, which merits investigation in some of my existing scenarios, and also new scenarios such as using the cache as a system of record.

So even after a few years of going along to the WUG, it still has the ability to make me sit up and take notice! Long live the…

DataPowerStackedIf you are interested in finding out about best practices and what is involved in managing an IBM WebSphere DataPower deployment, day in, day out, then my colleague Alan Philpott will be presenting on this subject at the WebSphere User Group meeting in Edinburgh on Tuesday 28th September. For details of the venue etc, see here.

Alan has spent the last 18 months industrialising a huge business-critical DataPower estate, and will be using Subversion etc to walk through some examples & lessons learned, what kind if support processes you need in place etc.

The head of our WebSphere practice, David Taylor, will also be in attendance – manning the stand. Quiz him about his experiences using Amazon Web Services (AWS) – he’ll love it.

My colleagues Paul Russell and Murali Anantharaman will be attending the WebSphere User Groupconference being held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Thursday this week. As I am unable to attend this time, I’ve prep’d them with my preferred list of sessions to attend so hopefully I will attend “by proxy” :o

CloudburstBox530x155We first heard about this appliance at the UK WebSphere User Group meeting back in March although it was commercially sensitive at the time so I couldn’t blog about it, and we’ve been waiting for it to be launched. IBM are leveraging their acquisition of an appliance format with DataPower to bring other appliance products to market of which this is the first. It’s an interesting product, aimed at both those looking to create a private cloud and for the public cloud vendors.

It provides the ability to dynamically deploy and manage virtual machines including the new hypervisor version of WebSphere Application Server (which supports the OVF standard) including security and chargeback facilities.

I’m looking forward to our internal WebSphere practice finding out more and getting to grips/playing with it.

See http://www-01.ibm.com/software/webservers/cloudburst/ for more details. What’s the next functional area that is ripe for ‘appliancisation’ (if that’s a word…)?

As promised, here’s some notes from yesterday’s UK WebSphere User Group meeting (combined with the UK WebSphere Integration User Group) – held at IBM’s offices at Bedfont Lakes.

First of all – let’s start with a picture of the happy crew at our stand. Rohima did an excellent job hunting down victims to force business cards upon, with me and David Taylor in support.

AllAtStand

The keynote presentation was by Rob High, the IBM Chief SOA Architect, concerning the 2009 technical strategy and directions for the WebSphere portfolio. Unfortunately (for you – the reader), much of what he said came with a “not for the public domain” health warning. Interestingly he was still banging the SOA drum and when I asked him later in the Q&A session about it he was quite dismisive of all the recent ‘SOA is dead’ dicussions on the web – he gave the message that I wanted to hear which was essentially this – there’s nothing new under the sun, good integration practices are still good, and so the current hype cycle status of SOA should not stop us from still understanding the fundamental business services of an organisation and supporting them with technology in an agile way. I think there is some marketing difficultly with the term SOA now maybe but there was no hint of IBM moving away from it.

Rick Robinson presented on Web 2.0, going through quite a bit of background material and then mapping that on to IBM products, and their support for REST, OpenAjax and Dojo. Whenever I attend this kind of presentation I always pick up a few Web 2.0-ish sites/things that I hadn’t seen before – I guess this is the nature of the relatively viral nature of the subject itself. My favourite was http://www.twitscoop.com/ – which gives a real time view of Twitter topics that are being discussed as a tag cloud. Another one mentioned was http://brightkite.com/, a social networking site that was location-aware before Google Latitude came along.

I then attended another session from Rob High about EA (enterprise architecture) and the relationship with BPM (business process management). For me this was more of an EA revision session (an IBM view on TOGAF to some extent) and I didn’t get so much from it, except the IBM roadmap for their recently acquired TeleLogic System Architect product and how that fits into the roadmap for WebSphere Business Modeller. The vision is that they will remain separate tools but eventually with a shared repository. Interestingly none of the Rational modelling tooling was mentioned apart from saying that it was focused on software rather than business modelling, so there was no vision to merge System Architect into Rational Software Architect in anyway.

One other thing Rob mentioned was an expansion of that massively overused phrase “IT-business alignment” (doesn’t every IT initiative that comes along promise this?!?) into more several more defined levels of alignment – this rang a bell for me and it’s something I’ll look into a bit more I think…

Whilst my colleague was presenting a DataPower case study from a customer project in another room, the final presentation I went to was a full on techy session from David Currie of IBM about the new features in WebSphere Process Server (WPS) and WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (WESB) v6.2. I wanted to keep on top of where these products are going at a detailed level. The degree of change in each release is pretty amazing, but also leaves a slightly sour taste in your mouth as you realise that IBM are plugging feature gaps in the product that sometimes you knew about (e.g. code assistance to help deal with the SDO model) and sometimes you didn’t (ability to act as a service gateway – which seems a pretty fundamental thing for an ESB to offer). Apart from the fairly extensive changes to support service gateways (a number of new mediation primitives etc), the developments in the human tasks aspect of it are the most interesting to me. You can now attach documents to business processes, and users can override a business process flow (sounds dangerous! – but intended for those processes where business exceptions/interruptions can occur at any time). Sorry to finish on a negative, but one obvious gap was that SOAP 1.2 is now supported, but not for SOAP over JMS – purely due to them running out of time to get it into the release AFAICT.

So – all in all, a good user group meeting, especially as it finished with beers. Many thanks to Rick Smith and co for organising it.

A quick blatant plug – my colleague Stuart Smith is going to give a presentation at the forthcoming UK WebSphere User Group meeting on the following theme:

DataPower XI50 has a broad set of features. By using them in innovative ways, Smart421 built an electronic form submission solution for a national revenue collection service which consisted of only one component: the XI50.

Utilising existing features of MS Excel, backing spreadsheets with XML schemas, and then using DataPower to service and accept submissions of the document, a ‘one box solution’ was created for the client allowing extremely quick development and delivery of a live solution (less than 1 week).

This presentation will talk through the design of the solution, concentrating on separation of concerns, reusability and maintainability. A design pattern around 2 step validation (schema XSD level, and business level) will also be discussed.

Should be interesting – this will definitely be about capability rather than a tedious sales pitch…or else I’ll be walking out :)

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