A Desktop in the Clouds

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by James Keating III, Business Technology Architect, Evolving Solutions

As part of my job I routinely look into and evaluate technologies.  This takes two paths, new or emerging technologies, and also changes to economics and trending that make existing technology more suitable for business use today.  One of these latter case technologies is virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI.

I can vividly remember the first time I came into contact with the concept of VDI.  At the time I was a manager of a large storage team in a large enterprise setting.  We had been approached by the Windows group and Desktop group about VDI as they wanted a way to control the sales  and offshore teams who at the time were issued company owned laptops.

The idea was simple, provide a desktop that lives on some central compute and storage and allow them to access it via whatever device they had (preferable for this case a non-company provided system).  They saw this as a way to simplify administration and a way to control the data, and  to prevent the lost or stolen laptop issues that was prevalent.  So we looked at what it would take in terms of infrastructure to support this.  Many storage folks know where this story is going, the performance required of the storage to support such an endeavor quickly made the idea seem less than appealing from a storage manager standpoint.  Basically, I would have to provide some fast and expensive disk to support a laptop workload.  This didn’t sit well, and further since we didn’t want to mix the workload with other production stuff, this created an island storage array, dedicated to VDI and only VDI sitting in the middle of my other production systems.  Add in backups and disaster recovery if required and the whole thing collapsed in a poof of infrastructure cost  uncertainty.

Fast forward 6 years and a lot has changed.  The cloud is now something that one could utilize (not just on paper, but for real) to support the same use case described above.  The storage is no longer an issue due to both software and hardware advances over the 6 years (FLASH, software VDI acceleration).  The island array is also no longer a factor if one consumes the VDI in a cloud as a service model, since the storage is part of the service bundle that comes with the VDI service.   Basically, the same use case I ran into 6 years ago that became a 9 month journey into all the issues and why VDI while nice was just not for the company, could now be solved in a simple manner using VDI as a service bundles.

So as I said/typed in my first sentence of this blog, I look at technologies as part of my day to day job, and have been looking and testing various VDI as a service options and offerings.  An inexpensive option is Amazon Web Services Workspaces.  This option provides Windows 7 desktops and access to them from most Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.   I have tested it, my team has tested it.  However, coming from an operations background I want field data, to know really how these things will perform under actual “in the wild” use cases.  Basically since the price point is so attractive, I want to find all the limits, the rails, the gotchas so I can work with customers to understand the real world outside of the marketing brochure.  So to get this field data I am prepared to offer up to the first 10 folks who contact me and meet some requirements, one month of the base Amazon Workspaces virtual desktop to use.  As with all things some restrictions apply, but the goal is to find out from a group of real users how a desktop in the cloud works.

If you are interested in participating, don’t hesitate to contact Evolving Solutions to see if you qualify for this and let’s get started testing VDI.

Enterprise Software Trends – 2015 and Beyond

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Joab Jackson writes for Network World, “These days, IT’s basic firmament is giving way to a more breathtaking geography that the IT pro must traverse, based on pay-as-you-go cloud computing, building applications and performing deep data analysis. Perhaps more fundamentally, IT operations are moving from merely supporting the business to driving the business itself, which requires agility and making the most of resources.”  Mr. Jackson sites the following as the most impactful changes to the platform, software and data:

  • Platform. Cloud is not new but expect it to continue to be front and center especially as concerns about security lessen and as more enterprises face the mounting costs of maintaining and upgrading internal data bases to meet new customer demands
  • Software.  The pressure to move fast and to have software that works well and provides innovation in the marketplace has placed more light on the benefits of DevOps.  Mr. Jackson reports, “60 percent of CIOs plan to use DevOps to manage their software” according to an IDC study
  • Data.  Data not so much for reporting but for making real-time business decisions at the customer level

In another article about enterprise software trends Jennifer Lonoff Schiff gathers the following predictions for 2015:

  • Hybrid cloud goes mainstream
  • Subscription pricing for enterprise software
  • More mobile enterprise apps
  • ERP value rises and with it more integration with ERP and CRM
  • Open source software continues to take hold in the enterprise
  • Business intelligence software will become more visual and easier to use
  • Social intelligence will progress further in enterprise decision making

All these changes may at times seem a bit unsettling especially when it comes to shifting away from solely a business supporter to a business driver.  As 2015 kicks off embrace the changes to come, many of these predictions will allow your company to deliver better customer experiences and in-turn increase revenue.

Power8: Improve Your Virtualization Skills

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Alex Woodie of IT Jungle recently interviewed Tim Klubertanz, Senior IBM Power Systems Architect at Evolving Solutions, about the need to improve your virtualization skills to better handle the new IBM Power8 environment.

Power8 relies on virtualization even more than Power7 systems, but Mr. Woodie writes, “On the plus side, the massive compute and I/O capacities of Power8 open up new possibilities in the analytics world. For IBM i shops, that means taking seriously the potential to run new analytics workloads right next to your transactional loads.”

In terms of virtualization skills, Tim calls out knowing how to use Virtual I/O Server (VIOS).  Power8 has more threads per core and more cores per socket and no I/O expansion enclosures so most workloads will need to virtualize to utilize. He also adds, “there’s been a reluctance to use VIOS because it’s based on AIX. That’s completely different for the iSeries administrator. I [Tim] would say that most customers overestimate some of that involvement. There is quite a lot of automation and graphical interfaces to the VIOS and the virtualization, so they can do a lot of the management from the HMC now without having to log in and run AIX commands.”

Mr. Woodie and Tim highlight, “Just as logical partitioning took some getting used to when it was introduced so long ago, VIOS is finding some resistance in the IBM i installed base. But shops are starting to warm up to VIOS, especially since IBM has started supporting the Storwize storage arrays there. The Storwize products are proving hot sellers for IBM and its channel; in particular, the midrange Storwize V5000 is finding a lot of buyers among the IBM i faithful.”

Evolving Solutions became the first IBM Business Partner to install the new Power8 server technology in our on-site technology lab. Big Data is an ever-recurring theme in the current IT landscape. The new IBM Power8 servers will be a significant help to companies who are faced with managing the continuous explosion of data generated from social and mobile computing.

The Problem with Enterprise Monitoring

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By James Keating III, Business Technology Architect, Evolving Solutions

Enterprise monitoring, can there be anything that on the surface appears so straightforward but is indeed so vastly complex?  I have spent years working in various capacities with enterprise monitoring from an active administrator of the monitoring software, to an architect of alerts, process and procedure around creating enterprise monitoring.  In all of these endeavors it has become apparent that monitoring is something everyone does, but rarely is it done with all of the following in mind:

  • Truly adding business value
  • Using a cost effect methodology
  • Providing data that is useful
  • Improving IT, not just adding complexity

Sure many IT groups do a good job with monitoring, but they are usually an island and are good at monitoring the stuff they know well, care about or are directly on the hook for.  Anything that falls outside that realm is somebody else’s problem.  I am referring to the situation that if IT were to be willing to admit it, is happening often, and that is monitoring broken apart by application, team, group etc.  The backup guys use tool X, and the UNIX guys use tool Y, the monitoring group uses tool A but really needs to see the data from what the DBA group is doing with tool B.  What is lost in this all too common equation is business value and cost effectiveness as the approach focuses on reaction, not planning.  Good monitoring should not only have a reactive alert based approach, but also have a planning component.  After all, you are gathering data from your entire infrastructure, shouldn’t this data be put to use to drive the business forward?

I believe monitoring falls into the following categories:

  • Break/Fix or operational monitoring
  • Business planning and baseline performance concerns
  • Change control and governance requirements

All of the above areas have different needs and requirements and most tools available only address a small portion of each.  That is why the various groups choose different tools and monitoring becomes a complicated web of intermingled data with little analysis overall of the data generated.  If we take a step back and choose to  address the business performance and governance angles, and move the reactive monitoring (operational monitoring from above) into the various layers that would need to respond to alerts we can create a better monitoring plan and picture that does address business needs.  Basically operations groups usually have the skills to perform good break/fix monitoring (that is why we get the tool sprawl from above), but often planning and performance are not the focus, it is that old saying about how hard it is to remembe to drain a swamp when it is full of alligators.  The tools used for operational monitoring are reactive in nature, they are really not meant to provide a good method to analyze performance over time, let alone any forecasting ability.

The key to truly monitoring the enterprise is to realize the competing priorities of the groups involved, but still find a way to gather a baseline across all the disciplines that allows for forecasting and real insight into the infrastructure layer.

If you would like to find a way to get better performance and planning data, it may be time to look at a different way to monitor.  At Evolving Solutions we can help you build a forward looking monitoring solution for areas 2 and 3, that doesn’t complicate operational monitoring.  Further, we can help to design a solution that is not labor or cost intensive.  Contact us to find out more about monitoring for the business.

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James Keating III is a Business Technology Architect for Evolving Solutions. James is a technology leader in the IT community and brings a combination of excellent technical skills and business acumen which allows him to guide customers in developing IT solutions to meet business requirements.

BYOD Tips: Discarded Devices

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Not all bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) provide the same level of ease for lock-down or remote wipe if lost, stolen or discarded reports David Taber for Computerworld. For example, devices with Flash RAM which is soldered into the device can hold on to content long after the device is no longer in use. When these devices are discarded by the owner, sold or even donated to charity, this presents the possibility of outsiders accessing company information. Mr. Taber provides the following tips to help boost your mobile security:

  • Always encrypt and password-protect data anywhere you can on the device
  • When you can, require passwords on every sign-in
  • Use the latest tools and tech for information leakage prevention, data loss protection, auto-erase and call-home software on the device
  • Enforce updates by the user of protection tools. Registering devices to the network will allow you to monitor for lapses in use. Mr. Taber recommends, “once the device is registered on the network, the device owner should be contacted via phone if the device has been off the air for more than a month”
  • Establish your BYOD policy and allow only users to add their own devices if they are willing to comply. In your policy layout the rules or policies for selling, recycling or donating devices as well as what to do if lost or stolen
  • Develop your protocol for locking down data or changing passwords inside and outside the network. Establish a hotline or clear procedure for users to follow if a device becomes lost or stolen
  • Mr. Taber also recommends creating a BYOD FAQ that employees must read before connecting their device to company data

What BYOD procedures do you have in place to protect data on discard devices?

Ghost Servers: Unplug

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Patrick Thibodeau reported on Network World that the Uptime Institute estimates “20% of all racked IT equipment has no earthly function.” These are sometimes called ghost servers caused by expansion from new applications that over the years have either run their course or have very little use, but the servers, equipment, still remain – taking up power and data center space.   The Uptime Institute has found that unplugging or decommissioning these servers can save businesses real dollars and the institute holds a contest to draw attention to this issue.

This year’s top winner, Barclays, removed 9,124 physical servers in 2013. Those servers consumed 2.5 megawatts of power and Mr. Thibodeau reports, “could fill 588 server racks.” Barclays estimates its power bill would be $4.5 million higher if the systems were left running. The article further reports that Barclays saved $1.3 million on legacy hardware maintenance costs and  freed 20,000+ network ports and 3,000 SAN ports.

Why is decommissioning not done more regularly?  Mr. Thibodeau’s article quotes Uptime Institute vice president of energy programs, “decommissioning can be a lengthy process involving both IT and the business interests, which may be focused on developing new products — not on getting rid of old equipment. Moreover, decommissioning may involve porting an application to a virtual platform and private cloud environment.”

When was the last time you reviewed your server utilization? Perhaps there are a few “ghosts” in your data center.

Evolving Solutions Installs IBM Power8 Server

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Evolving Solutions is excited to announce that we are the first IBM Business Partner to install the newest IBM Power8 server designed with big data analysis in mind. IBM Power8 Processor technology is up to 50 times faster at analyzing data than the closest competitor.

“The processing capacity for the new IBM Power8 servers is amazing!” says Tim Klubertanz, Sr. IBM Power Systems Architect at Evolving Solutions. “Whether you have a transaction oriented database workload or an initiative to run analytics on Linux, the Power8 servers will be able to process more data and perform more activities at a time than other comparable solutions.”

“This puts us in a position to offer our customers a state-of-the-art technology solution and the option of industry-leading AIX or Linux operating systems,” adds President, Jamie Gmach.

Recently, Data Center Knowledge interviewed Tom Rosamilia, Senior Vice President of IBM Systems and Technology Group about the new Power8 Processor. He describes the technology as “the first truly disruptive advancement in high-end server technology in decades, with radical technology changes and the full support of an open server ecosystem that will seamlessly lead our clients into this world of massive data volumes and complexity.”

Interested in learning more? Contact us today to discuss your needs and  learn more about the new processing capabilities of Power8.

Read the full press release.

Spring Cleaning for IT

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CIO collected IT “spring cleaning” tips and opportunities from CIOs and CTOs. Here is what is on their “to do” list:

  • Prioritize power management. Make sure you have the tools in place to monitor energy use and review what you are spending and where.
  • Rationalize applications. You may or may not be surprised that in many cases a lot of money is spent maintaining outdated, under-utilized apps. Not only does maintenance of these apps add to the complexity of the environment but they also add costs. Use “spring cleaning” to inventory and review all supported apps.
  • Optimize BYOD policy. Don’t have one? Start creating one.
  • Identify new areas to automate. Catalog and review all manual processes and determine which ones could be automated. Manual interventions can be slow and create bottlenecks. They can also prevent us from taking advantage of cloud computing, virtualization and big data.
  • Review security practices to ensure they are best in class for working with SaaS.
  • Embrace self-service IT and empower end users. What functions does your IT team currently perform – could any be made into self-serve options? Not only does self-service help end users but it can also free up valuable time for your own team.
  • Review off-boarding procedures. Ensure policies are updated  with the cloud and personal devices in mind to protect company assets.
  • Clean up  mail servers. Not necessarily deleting but a mix of review, prioritization and archiving or moving to an alternate storage site.
  • Review governance for cloud-based storage. Be sure your data stored in the cloud is being treated as originally outlined with the service provider or how you govern when on-premise.
  • Create data policies and an audit schedule.

Share what’s on your spring cleaning list this year.

Advantages of Virtualization

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As cloud use grows and with the rise in workforce mobility and bring-your-own-device (BYOD), the need for data center and server virtualization is in-demand to maintain high levels of performance, availability and security.

Laura Stotler of InfoTech Spotlight writes, “virtualization software separates physical infrastructure, enabling multiple applications and systems to be run simultaneously on the same hardware. Organizations can immediately reap the benefits of cost savings on hardware and operating expenses since fewer servers are essentially needed to run a variety of systems and software. Virtualization is the powerhouse behind cloud computing and offers massive potential when it comes to how data centers operate.”

Ms. Stotler calls out cost and environmental savings as advantages of virtualization. In her article she cites an IDC survey that found “in the U.S. virtualization has the potential to save companies $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel costs through 2020, as well as 9.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions.” Virtualization can also increase time to market for services – impacting ROI.

Jack Wallen of Tech Republic outlines additional advantages of virtualization:

  • Reduced hardware costs.
  • Less heat. Servers generate heat, but with virtualization you can use less servers therefore produce less heat.
  • Virtualization allows for full backups as well as snapshots of your virtual machines
  • Faster redeploy. Virtual machine snapshots can be enabled quickly sometimes with just a few clicks.
  • Testing environments can be isolated from end users so they can continue to work and you can continue to test
  • Better disaster recovery
  • Virtualization brings you one step closer to taking advantage of the cloud

Share with us your experience so far with virtualization. Haven’t virtualized yet? Let’s talk about what advantages virtualization can bring your company.