Cloudy With a Chance of F.U.D.

TO THE CLOUD!

Like a battle cry, ringing across the I.T. landscape, environments large and small are rushing to move their systems to the cloud. It seems like a simple proposition. A no brainer, really. All you have to do is take your various systems that live in your brick-and-mortar data centers, and throw them up to the cloud. Easy Peezy, right?

I work for a State government I.T organization. As the Infrastructure Architect for a large Enterprise environment I am often called upon to offer consulting services to various State departments and agencies looking to join the Lemming migration to the Cloud. Or better yet, I am more often called upon to consult for those agencies after they have already made their plans and committed to a particular course of action. Much too late, usually.

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Many of  them really have no idea what they are even asking for. They have just heard that the Cloud is cool, that the Cloud is cheap, and that the Cloud is better. Sounds like a win-win-win, right? I mean, what could go wrong? Usually little-to-no thought has gone into what it really means to “move to the cloud”.

Most of the problem comes from an inherent lack of understanding on the part of most management teams as to what exactly is involved in moving a system to the cloud, and why doing so can mean a whole laundry list of issues and testing that must be taken into account and thoroughly explored. Not only is their understanding of the cloud limited, but they also lack any comprehension of terms like IaaS, SaaS or PaaS (Infrastructure, Software or Platform “as a service” respectively).

Beyond the “as a service” considerations, there are the matters of connectivity to the cloud – VPN or public Internet? Databases? Middle ware? Web Services? Are these all going to reside in the cloud, or are any parts of that architecture remaining on-premises? Bandwidth requirements? Support SLA’s? Protection of confidential (PII) data? Identity Management? Directory Services? Firewalls? Proxy services?

If your system houses PII data from your customers, you should consider at least SSAE 16 Soc 2 Type II certification of the cloud data center. There also may be HIPPA, FedRAMP, Sarb-Ox, or any number of other certification requirements you would need to be familiar with.

Then there is the matter of selecting a Cloud provider. AWS (Amazon Web Services) is the leader in the market by a country mile, and hosts large and small businesses from Netflix to Air B&B to about a million others. Microsoft’s Azure is moving up fast as a legitimate competitor to AWS, and there are of course dozens of other players in the market. Chosing the right provider for your company, and ensuring that the right language appears in the SLA’s and contracts is a critical component of the entire process.

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These are all things that need to be understood and accounted for by the Business. Unfortunately far too often there is a lack of understanding about Cloud and the many issues that must be considered. It is this lack of understanding that leads us to the prevalence of F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).

It is the F.U.D. that gets in the way of good planning. It is the F.U.D. that causes decisions to be made prematurely, or in a vacuum. It is F.U.D. in short, that can cause a good idea to end up as a failed project.

So how do we avoid this scenario? How do we stamp out the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt?

The answer is planning. And not just the kind of planning that goes on in the CIO or CTO’s office – or worse, over lunch at the local steak house. Not the kind of planning that executives do after they read the latest article about that new, slick technology that they simply must have.

I am talking about REAL planning. The kind of planning that takes place on a white board, with all of the relevant Subject Matter Experts in the room. A real discussion about the real ramifications of taking a system that is running in your data center, and moving it to the cloud. The technical ramifications are vast, and not trivial to overcome.

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It may even behoove any organisation who is considering such a move to contract the services of a knowledgeable consultant who has been through a few of these migrations already. Somebody who has seen the pitfalls, and been gotten by the gotcha’s. The value such an individual can bring to an organization considering a move to the cloud could be immeasurable.

The bottom line, and the most important advice I could give you is to not underestimate the complexity of a move to the cloud. Anything you have in place now in your data centers CAN be replicated to the cloud, but requires extensive planning and thinking about it in advance. Remember, what can be done simply in your datacenter will probably by much more complicated in the Cloud.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t let F.U.D. interfere with your goals. Just make sure that you take the time, and spend the energy required up front to thoroughly consider all the ramifications and make all the plans before any changes are made. Bring in SME’s from all the various disciplines within your organization. Your Application Development folks, your DBA’s your middle ware and web tier administrators. Your Active Directory admins – anyone who is currently involved in administering or maintaining your current system needs to be involved in the planning phase of moving to the cloud.

In the end, sufficient planning will pay off ten-fold in terms of return on your investment. Once your system is planted and thriving in the Cloud you will be able to enjoy all the benefits that a cloud deployment can bring to your organization.

Go forth, and migrate!


 

Visit my professional website: http://johntscott.com

Follow me on Twitter: @johntscott

 

 

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My computer knows me when it sees me

So I was on Facebook the other day. Let’s just admit it, we all are aren’t we? Anyway, as often happens with Facebook, I was suddenly informed of some new “features” that FB had introduced, and was provided a brief explanation of each new bell and every whistle.

One of these new features in particular caught my attention. Buried in my privacy settings was a new option concerning my photos. Apparently, Facebook now has the ability to “suggest” to my friends that they tag me in photos. This sounds benign, but when you read between the lines, Facebook is actually scanning all the photos of all my friends, and looking for faces that look like me, and suggesting to my friends that they should tag me in the photo.

Let me say that again in case it blew by you the first time. Facebook is recognizing photos of me, and making suggestions to my friends based on what it SEES in the photos. Yes, that’s right, honest-to-goodness Face Recognition Technology, right there inside Facebook. This struck me as another example of technology that could get very out of hand, very quickly. Now Facebook does not have to wait for us lowly humans to “get around” to tagging all our friends in photos, now once Facebook knows what you look like – in just ONE photo – it can scan all the thousands of photos taken by all your hundreds of friends, looking for pictures of you.

What if you do not like being tagged? What if you are one of those people that scurry about “un-tagging” themselves furiously? How long will it be until somebody figures out how to exploit this technology such that with the right tool, I could simply say “find all pictures of Jane Doe that exist anywhere on Facebook”? Tagged or not, here they come.

So much for privacy. So much for choice.

Now of course, as with any technology, it’s inherent Evilness or Goodness lies in the hands of those that use it. There could be some good uses. Catching criminals for instance is one good use I can think of. But at what cost? At what price do we pay for the benefits of this technology? No longer can we rest comfortably knowing that only photos we have approved are tagged. And tagged or un-tagged, we have entered an entirely new era of privacy issues on the Internet.

Face Recognition Software is already used around the world but dozens of governments fighting the war on terror. Able to scan hundreds of pictures and video feeds for wanted faces is a huge boon to law enforcement. As the technology becomes more and more common, and cheaper and cheaper to possess, the odds that it falls into nefarious hands increases exponentially.

Today it’s Facebook. Tomorrow it’s every surveillance camera or traffic monitor you happen to walk in front of. That old fear of Big Brother watching our every move has come to pass. Only now, not only is Big Brother watching, but he recognizes you when he sees you, and he is taking notes.

Is that a humming bird outside my window?

I was watching the evening news the other night, comfortable in the knowledge that Brian Williams was telling me everything important that I really needed to know. There came a story – a very short bit, just a mention really – about this new flying surveillance camera the Pentagon had developed that both looked and flew like a humming bird.

What was that?

Yup. There it was, right there over Brian’s right shoulder, flitting about on the screen just like the humming birds of my youth that used to hover outside my bedroom window in North Carolina when I was a kid, chasing after the honey-suckles that grew in such abundance there.

It appears the Pentagon has developed a tiny flying, humming bird shaped surveillance camera that looks just like the real thing.

I was intrigued, so I did a quick search for “pentagon humming bird camera” and quickly found a link to the actual video: http://bit.ly/h8TOQh . At first I thought it was frankly one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time. But then watching that little humming bird fly around that parking lot, and then into and around the building, I began to get a very disturbed feeling.

There are now camera’s that – from even a modest distance – appear to be the real thing – a small bird flitting about. This means that the operator of that tiny mechanical fowl could fly it into my window if he wanted to. Or your window. And the humming bird of course is just the start. Mankind is the most amazing of creatures. It is said we double our collective knowledge every ten years. How long will it be before that hummingbird becomes a moth or a hornet? How long before there is no way to tell anymore where the cameras are and just exactly who is watching?

All of those nightmare visions of Orwellian futures come crashing back to the forefront of my mind. Big Brother keeping tabs on us all with tiny flying microscopic cameras. Thousands and millions of them, flitting about all over the place like an infestation of house flies. And all the time they are beaming back their signals. Reporting to The Man all the goings on of the masses, as we poor slobs trudge on through our miserable work-a-day lives.

Ok, that was probably a bit dramatic – pardon me. But it is a little creepy to think about these things flying around. And it frankly scares the crap out of me to think about where this technology might lead is in ten or twenty years.

I don’t know what the solution is to all of that, but I do think you should do what I am doing.

Be afraid.

Be very afraid…

Why again?

I’m not very good at this. The writing part is not hard, I’ve always sort of enjoyed writing. It’s the sitting down with the sole purpose of sharing my thoughts and feelings. I mean why would anyone have any interest whatsoever in what I have to say about anything? And even if someone did have the interest in my drivel, who has the time? I sometimes feel like I am constantly bombarded with information from all around me. Facebook, email, texts from everyone, more email, LinkedIn, work email, more Facebook…. Who has the time to sit and read some losers blog? Everyone and their uncle has a blog. Do we all really believe that what we have to say is important and valuable to anybody? Really?

Reality check time. Nobody cares. Not about what I have to say, and not about what 99.99% of those idiots on the inter-web, shooting off their mouths about every tiny bit of minutia in their lonely pitiful lives have to say either. The Internet (capital “I”) allows us all to be heard. Well, sort of. What it really does is allow us all to speak. About anything that might be on our tiny little minds. And speak we do! Millions and millions of us ranting and raving about today’s injustice, (“My double-shot, half-caf, latte espresso was not as hot as it could have been!”) or tomorrow’s predicted gloom (“The [insert political party]’s are a bunch of idiots! Only the [insert other political party]’s can save us from ruin!”).

Maybe that’s why I don’t update this blog as often as I should. It’s not that I have nothing to say. To the contrary, most who know me would agree that I seldom shut up. It just seems to me that there won’t be anyone reading this anyway, so why bother? Hm. There must be a reason. There must be more than just my desire to metaphorically hear myself speak, right?

Maybe the purpose of this blog is just to be. To exist. To give me a place where, if I choose to, I can vent or rant or whatever I want to – even if nobody is listening. Yea, maybe that’s it. Maybe it doesn’t matter if nobody is listening, right? Maybe this blog exists for me, and not for you at all (assuming there is actually a “you” reading this, and if you are reading this, then please gentle reader, excuse my rudeness to assume you didn’t exist…….. but I don’t think you do. Just sayin’). But I don’t care if you are reading this or not. I do sometimes have something I want to talk about, or rant about, or whatever. And dammit, it’s 2010. I live in the greatest nation on Earth, and if I want to speak my mind to the world, than a blog is simply how it’s done these days. So there. Deal with it.

Certifiable (again!)

Damn it. I thought for a few years there that I might actually get to coast for a while on the certifications that I have already achieved. I mean, I’m no slouch – I’ve done my time. I was doing desktop support and studying for my first MCP exam back in the mid 90’s. I shoveled my way through endless Microsoft prep-guides, classes and boot-camps over the years. Finally after 15 years in the business, after climbing to the top of the pile in my environment – a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer working as an Enterprise Administrator on a large Wide Area Network. There was only one place to go from there. The MCT. The revered and respected title of Microsoft Certified Trainer. Those few elite qualified to teach others the hidden secrets of the Microsoft world.

So I embarked on another certification endeavor. Spent more classroom time, read more prep-guides, and ultimately became not only an MCT, but also a CTT+. A CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer. So there. Now I was done with classes and studying. I would settle down into the twilight of my career and teach a new generation of fresh-faced and energetic young I.T. professionals the fine art of managing a complicated technical environment. This would be the time in my career when I would get to do that which I truly love – teach others what I know. This is my real passion, and something I think I have always been good at. These were going to be the good years…

But then the wake-up call came. One of the first classes I was asked to teach was for Windows 7, Microsoft’s latest generation of operating system. I gladly accepted the offer and set about preparing to teach the class. That is when I was informed that I could not in fact teach the class at all. In fact (I was told) I could not teach any of the classes associated with the Windows Server 2008 / Windows 7 generation of products from Microsoft.

“But I’m an MCT fer chissakes!” I told the lady at Microsoft.

“We understand that”, she calmly replied.

“AND I’m an MCSE too!” I added.

“We know” she sighed. “You have to upgrade your MCSE certification to the new ‘MCITP: Enterprise Administrator’ certification before you can teach any classes in that series”.

“Really?” I asked.

“Really”.

And so here I am, back where I started 15 years ago. I have made my employer purchase a 40 hour online CBT course (budget cutbacks make classroom time a rarity these days). While I work through that I have several books (ranging in size from 900 to 1700 pages thick – seriously, a guy could get a hernia just carrying these things around) all to prepare me for the first of three Microsoft exams I will have to take in order to upgrade my old MCSE certification to the new MCITP. And all this while keeping up with the full time job of my regular I.T. duties. No problem!

Now, all I need is a case of Hot Pockets, and several gallons coffee, and I’m good to go…

The future of Space

I know that time are tough lately for everyone. Families and businesses alike have to find ways to cut costs, and do more with less. That apparently is true even for the federal government, as evidenced recently by the complete elimination of NASA’s manned space programs to the Moon and Mars. Done. Fini. Caput. No space for us. At least that’s the way it seems to those of us who have been passionate about our manned space program. It seemed that with a sweep of the budgetary pen, president Obama dashed the hopes and dreams of a generation of space fanatics – squashing forever our dream of seeing humans return to the moon, and (dare I say it?) walk one day on Mars.

With the immanent retiring of the Space Shuttle fleet, and all funding for its replacement eliminated, there seemed little hope that we would continue the proud tradition in America of being first into space. First to the Moon, someday first to Mars. All of those dreams seemed to be lost.

At least it seemed that way. As we watched the president’s speech announcing his sweeping cuts to the manned space program, the lights it seemed, came down on the grand theater that is our destiny in space. No more heroes for our children to idolize. No more satisfied feeling of superiority as America shot ahead of every other nation in the race for space. At least there wouldn’t be if not for that most valuable and cherished off all beings in a capitalist society – the entrepreneur. For it seems that once again it will be those daring captains of enterprise that will swoop in and save this country from itself. And thank goodness for that.

You see it turns out that slashing the manned space program from the budget may just have been the kick-in-the-pants that the manned space program needed. Enter stage left, Richard Branson – followed closely by a host of other wealthy, visionary dreamers who see space as the destiny of the human race, not just an expenditure that should be cut from the budget.

While for decades, we Americans were perfectly satisfied to allow Big Government to manage our goal of reaching Space for real, as with so many things, it turns out they don’t do such a great job. Billion dollar cost over-runs, mis-management and even corruption have led to a bloated NASA budget, with precious little to show for results. No wonder Obama slashed their budget.

After the initial shock of these cuts sank in, I began to see this as the opportunity that it is. Now at last with NASA out of the way, and regulations relaxed a bit, the stage is set for the true movers and shakers of the world to step up and actually get things done. Driven forward by <Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company, and followed closely by a host of other players in this new arena, private enterprise is finally making an appearance on the grand stage of Space Exploration.

I predict that as with so many other examples in the past, it will be the entrepreneur who will be able to build space craft cheaply enough, and reliably enough that finally Space will be made available to the common man. Oh mind you, not the average “common man” to start, but just as the first Trans-Atlantic airplane rides cost the equivalent of a year’s salary to most people, the price will come down. More and more companies will begin to offer private charters to space. Even now there are not one, but two separate “space ports” being constructed in the deserts of the southwestern United States. Science fiction had become science fact. Nothing like the raucous cantina of Star Wars fame (at least not yet) they are still a shining example that the human spirit of exploration cannot be kept down.

And so I will try to remember all that, as NASA prepared to “power down” and find work for the hundreds of people who are bound to be laid off as a result of all this. I will remember that this is not the end of manned space flight, but rather an evolution. Growing pains, if you will. In the end I believe that this will be viewed by history as the true turning point for manned space exploration. Not the end of the dream, but an energizing life-force that will carry forward so that our children, and their children will live in a world where a trip to the Moon of Mars is no more fantastic that flying to China is today. That day will come, and when it does we will have people like Richard Branson to thank for it.

Splitting Hairs

Like a lot of Americans over the past week, I have been following the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I have been watching the speed skaters and the downhill skiers and those must-be-insane Luge guys, and through all of that, a recurring theme has begun to emerge in my mind. In fact one of the commentators I say actually touched on this very thought, so I would like to share it with you here.

Is it possible that we, as human beings, have simply reached the maximum performance our frail bodies can produce? Have we taken our sports to the point that there is simply no more a mere mortal can do to shave any more significant time from our efforts. Is it possible (as this commentator suggested) that the only way we will see any more significant advances in speed in these sports, is through the implementation of technology?

There is a growing body of evidence to support this theory of course. Just take the fact that some of these events are now being timed down to the thousandths of a second. Yes, thousandths. Consider that there have been new breakthroughs for this Olympics in the timing mechanisms themselves – not just dividing the seconds into ever smaller and smaller slices, but actually improving the accuracy of the starting and stopping of the timers – using lasers and other tricks to get every more accurate times readings. We have to do this, because the margin between first and second place can sometimes be less than 1/10th of a second.

There is an entire industry dedicated to improving the actual steel used in the blades of Luge sleds and speed skaters and the like. New alloys, and revolutionary smelting and forging techniques are being employed – always striving to shave that next 1/10th of a second off. At the last summer Olympics, there was a great deal of hoopla surrounding the fact that the U.S. swim team were all using a new swim suit (called a Laser Suit) that claims to allow them to cut through the water with less resistance, perhaps shaving precious 1/100ths of a second off their times. There was no rule against using this suit, and every other country could have used it too, but they chose not to. As a result the U.S. swim team dominated most of the events, and the other countries all cried foul. Was the U.S. team cheating? No, they were utilizing technology.

Back to the current Winter Olympics, and the U.S. Luge Team. The runner blades of the sleds used by the U.S. Luge team are made of a top-secret, patent-pending alloy. They cost in excess of $20,000 each, and no other team is using them. Again, perfectly legal, and probably a wise use of technology. The point however is that it is only through the implementation of such technology that the Luge world will see any significant advances in speed or performance.

And so the moral issue becomes, is this a good thing? If technology is the ticket to winning gold medals, if the country with the deepest wallet (who can therefore afford the latest technology) is guaranteed the fastest times, where then is the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat? What happens to the ‘human drama of athletic competition’ if the winner is determined months in advance, in some secret laboratory?

I say there are some instances where technology gets out of hand. I say every Luge sled should be using the same basic, steel runners. That every speed skater should be wearing the same blades on their skates. Sometimes – just sometimes – it is better to just let the competitors compete, and not rely on who has the neatest wiz-bang gizmo to make them go faster. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of what the ancient Greeks intended with their Olympics. Sure, the geek in me likes all that technology, but the high-school athlete in me yearns for a simpler time.