Author: Iain Millar

Everything as a Service

Everything as a Service

I have been intrigued by the various trends that have swept through the IT industry over the years. Just about every single one has promised to reduce the cost of ownership, increase the speed of delivery, and allow businesses to concentrate on their core purpose. We have seen outsourcing, insourcing, and offshoring. Open source has barged onto the scene, and proprietary systems have fought back. Processing power has been pushed out to the desktop, and now virtualisation is re-inventing the mainframe. Client devices have been thick and thin, data has been personal and corporate, and databases have been centralised and distributed. No wonder businesses are confused – the IT industry doesn’t seem to have a consistent view on how to deliver IT services!

The latest model seems to be “Everything as a Service” – and that’s a term that Hewlett Packard is already using. “Software as a Service” (SaaS) is widely available, at least in some environments, and “Platforms as a Service” (PaaS) are emerging. Expect to hear about Hardware, Computing, Security and Middleware as a Service, if you have not already come across them. Could these be the magic bullets that sort out every business’s technology problems once and for all?

The answer could be both “yes” and “no”.

Why “yes”? Research consultancies are beginning to acknowledge that there are real benefits in using these models, as long as it is done in the right way, and for the right reasons. These technologies are fully capable of delivering what they promise, and they can be a very effective way of supplying a service. But they don’t run the business, and they can’t make fundamental business decisions – and that’s where the “no” applies.

It may be stating the obvious, but IT should only exist in a business to help the business to operate more effectively or more efficiently. It is also true that some businesses are so dependent on computer systems that they couldn’t function in the absence of technology, but even in such organisations, the technology in isolation is not the business. It is an enabler. Hopefully, the business will exist long after today’s (and tomorrow’s) technology has moved on.

What is important is the separation between the WHAT and the HOW. Once you know WHAT you want your systems to do, you can consider the options for HOW they will do it – and then you should expect this to trigger further thoughts about the WHAT. Deciding what to buy will almost certainly be an iterative, circular process, rather than a linear one, and throughout the process you need to remain focused on the costs, the benefits, the risks, and the impact of whatever change you are contemplating. At some point you will be ready to make a decision… and when that time comes, don’t delay. Make that decision, and then get on with implementing whatever you have chosen. Just be sure that you know what you are committing to, before you sign on the bottom line. And don’t follow fashion just because it is fashionable: make an informed decision, be flexible, and make your technology work for you.


Iain Millar, 27 January 2011

GMail – first impressions

GMail – first impressions

Every email system is the same, right? Well, no, actually. Last week I decided to switch from BT Yahoo’s on-line email system to Google’s Gmail, to see what I thought of it for personal use. I know that some people have been using it for quite a while, and as such I’m not exactly an “early adopter”. However, these are my first impressions.

The first thing that I want to say is that it actually works pretty well. No real surprises there! Composing and sending messages is perfectly straightforward, and managing your contact list is no problem. Some of its features are less than intuitive, though, but once you get to know it, the system is fine. For example, it is not obvious how to have more than one message open at the same time. The answer is simple – press the “Shift” key when selecting an item – but it is unlikely that you will stumble over the answer.

There are a few gaps in Gmail’s facilities, some of which seem to get a lot of people worked up, if the various on-line forums are to be believed. I’ve found two that came as a surprise to me. The first is that there seems to be no way to sort emails into any sequence other than by the date they were sent or received. That’s not a big deal for me just now, but it might be, once my mailbox grows significantly. A second is that while items can be tagged with labels and removed from the “Inbox”, the same doesn’t apply for sent mails. Even after you give them a label, they also remain in “Sent Mail”. I dare say that I’ll find other gripes as I do more with the system, but so far only these two have made me stop and think. On the other hand, as you would expect from Google, the ability to search your messages is excellent, and that perhaps changes the goalposts. And do remember that Google refers to “conversations” rather than “emails”, so maybe, just possibly, looking at it from that perspective would bring a different understanding.

Gmail will continue to develop, and Google are developing loads of improvements to the software to add usability features and increase its sophistication. Some of these developments are already available for end users to try, and I have adopted a few that make the software meet my needs more effectively. One is “Nested Labels”, which are designed to help to manage emails (or conversations, as Google prefers to call them) more easily. For example, I can create a “Work” label, with “Client emails”, “Agencies”, and “Reference material” as sub-labels, and expand or collapse these as required. It is still under development and isn’t perfect, but it is a good start.

Converting from BT Yahoo to Gmail was a bit of a pain. Setting up Gmail to pick up new messages that are sent to my old mailbox was a simple matter, but the automatic transfer of all my contacts and archived emails didn’t work. I ended up doing a manual export / import of contacts, which was easy enough although moving emails around was a bit of a pain. You may want to think before you jump if you have a lot of old data that you may need.

So, would I recommend Gmail? The answer is a qualified “yes”. It has its own quirks, but as I get more used to it, I find that I like the way that it operates. You’ve just got to start thinking in Google’s terms, and stop trying to compare it with what you are used to.

Iain Millar, 18 January 2011

Praefectus?

Praefectus?

Prefect or praefect, in ancient Rome, various military and civil officers. Under the empire some prefects were very important. The Praetorian prefects (first appointed 2 B.C.) usually numbered two; they commanded the powerful Praetorians. From the 2nd cent. A.D. they had juridical functions, and important legists (e.g., Papinian and Ulpian) held the post. The prefect of the city was at first a deputy for absent consuls; the office fell out of use but was revived by Julius Caesar. Under the empire this prefect had power over the summary court for the region within 100 mi (160 km) of Rome. The prefect of the watch had charge of the fire brigade set up by Augustus. Augustus also established a prefect of the grain supply. There were other officers called prefects, such as the Roman viceroy of Egypt and many other officials of Italian cities.

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