Choose a Stack and Stick with it

Many years ago, before the advent of internet, mapping, satnav and all the other assistive technologies that we rely on, taking a long journey involved a long hard look at a road atlas and a lot of staring at signs. On one particular trip from the Stranraer ferry down to Cheshire I encountered a rather assertive traffic attendant. He certainly wasn’t part of the police force, but he seemed to think that directing traffic through the then not bypassed Dumfries gave him some sort of authority.

As I approached the junction which this attendant was managing I had a choice of two lanes, and a signpost to consider. Of course I chose one lane, and then, as I read the sign, very quickly switched to the correct lane. No sooner had I done this than the attendant put out his hand to stop me. He made a hand signal for me to wind down my window, and as I complied he lowered his head to my level and uttered these words.

“Choose a lane and stick to it, sonny.”

I trust he was referring simply to my driving and not offering a metaphor for life, but in an ever changing IT landscape does it have a ring of truth?

I’ve recently been considering software/hardware stacks for a new project. In many ways the project is green field – all the options are open. But, there’s never a green field because developers, infrastructure managers, project managers and more all come with a wealth of experience. I know that if you can learn to code in one language you will be able to pick up another one, but the more aspects of a project you change, the more everyone is going to have to learn before even starting the project.

Software development has fashions and trends, just like every aspect of life, and everyone wants to jump on the shiny new stack of the moment. There are so many options out there that it’s difficult which few to use as an example, so I won’t. But I have been investigating, both reading up on what the benefits of each stack are, and how straightforward it will be to install, configure and develop against.

My conclusion? Look to the future, but don’t forget they legacy, and don’t discount the experience that your team has already gained. Do you have someone with SQL Server experience, but less understanding of the nuts and bolts of MySQL/MariaDB/PostgreSQL – then use SQL Server, providing your infrastructure allows. If you’re using the Windows environment, then IIS is more likely to be a good fit than Apache, but both do the job well – don’t get hung up on it.

Server side and client side environments can be more flexible. You can run PHP, Node.js on Windows or Linux. Javascript of course runs client side and so is independent of your infrastructure choices. Again, if you’ve got a wealth of PHP talent, feel free to use it if it can do the job. But do consider the benefits of using a more modern language, and the cost in time and training against the improvements to development time, code usability, future proofing that moving on might bring.

For most development projects the crucial factor is doing the business analysis well before writing a line of code. The more time spent understanding the systems to be built, the faster it will be built, and the more likely it is to work first time. So, leverage existing experience and don’t get caught up in platform wars. Choose your lane and stick to it until a sign tells you otherwise. But work hard at understanding the system before you touch your code, or choose your environment, and then you’ll be halfway to building that system the best way you can.

Do you consider ecosystems?

Computing 101: Whatever you are using now, you won’t be using in the future…

We all know it, both intuitively, and from experience, even if we’ve only been in the IT business for a few years. The single constant in the business of IT is that IT is inconstant. It changes progressively, sometimes slower than we wish, often faster than we can keep up with, but it changes inevitably. The burning question is: what thought are you putting into that change? As a business owner or an IT professional the question is pertinent and often overlooked. We may well read computer magazines, or the plethora of trade web sites, but in reality the industry is more interested in what’s just on the horizon rather than what’s over the horizon.

One trend I’ve noticed over the last year is an increasing narrowing of IT roles. Businesses aren’t looking for tech support staff – they’re looking for tech support with Windows Server 2012 R2, VMWare, Citrix and a host of other specifics. Businesses aren’t looking for coders – they’re looking for ASP.Net, C#, Agile and a host of other buzzwords. Nowhere do I see a business looking for thinkers. But, if we’re to plan for the long term, even for the medium term we must lose the specifics and think in bigger terms.

Let me give you an example from a different time. When I got married, my wife decided to do some temping as a secretary. She had used a word processor on a DEC PDP-11 (this was 1988), but wasn’t familiar with PC based word processing. Every job advert mentioned a specific word processor, such as WordStar or Word Perfect. She was concerned that she, especially as a non techie didn’t know these and wouldn’t be able to do the job. I suggested that apart from minor differences the principles were the same and told her to go ahead and apply regardless. Needless to say, she got plenty of work and was more than able to adapt principles of word processing to specifics.

Do you see the principle? Server 2012 will one day be gone – not just unsupported, but gone. We need to plan for a future that we can’t see, but we do know will be different in terms of infrastructure, applications, user interaction, user hardware (I daren’t even call it PC any more). If we look only for IT staff with ‘book learned’ specifics we will miss the natural thinkers with the vision to plan for the future.

On an infrastructure level, servers are becoming a commodity. As they are increasingly virtualised locally, the question is raised, why not offload them to a cloud provider who will manage everything for me? On a software level, do you really need everyone in your office to have a copy of MS Office? The potential ecosystems are beginning to multiply again and the choices will only increase. This is a good thing. There is more competition and each ecosystem will have to work harder to gain traction – just look at Android versus iOS. Android already has more apps than MS Windows, more people are choosing to use a non PC device for real work.

So, whatever you’re using right now is probably fine, and will probably be fine for next year, but whatever you do, don’t expect it to be fine forever and don’t wait until it catches you out before thinking about what comes next. Aim for the leading edge, not the trailing edge. Choose to employ thinkers and planners, those who look over the horizon and who see the big picture. And whenever you doubt that change will come, just think about the typewriter – the de facto productivity tool of it’s day, and think about the people who said “who would ever want a ‘personal computer’?”

Google Apps for Work

Business Class Email whatever the size of your business

Whatever the size of your business, you can have business class email and collaboration. However you work you can edit documents from wherever you are with whatever device you choose. For most business users the choices have not been made clear. Google Apps offers a business class solution for email, calendaring, collaboration with docs and sheets, and much more…

If you’d like to chat through what the alternatives are for your business, with an independent adviser who understands all the options, then please do get in touch.

What is Google Apps?

Google Apps is a cloud-based productivity suite that helps teams communicate, collaborate and get things done from anywhere and on any device. It’s simple to set up, use and manage, so your business can focus on what really matters.

Millions of organizations around the world count on Google Apps for professional email, file storage, video meetings, online calendars, document editing and more.

Watch a video or find out more here.

Here are some highlights:

Business email for your domain

Looking professional matters, and that means communicating as Gmail’s simple, powerful features help you build your brand while getting more done.

Access from any location or device

Check email, share files, edit documents, hold video meetings and more whether you’re at work, at home or in transit. You can pick up where you left off from a computer, tablet or phone.

Enterprise-level management tools

Robust admin settings give you total command over users, devices, security and more. Your data always belongs to you, and it goes with you if you switch solutions.

Start free trial

Google for Work – The Apps Show

Google for Work YouTube playlist

Whether you’re exploring the possibilities or have already started using Google for Work this playlist will help you to understand what Google for Work can do. One of the benefits of working in the cloud is the simple scalability, so it’s easy to get started with one or two users for a new business, while scaling effortlessly to the enterprise. Costs are low for the SME, and productivity is high, but a few lessons in what is possible always helps.

If you’re still not sure what Google for Work is, or how it might be a better solution for your business then take a look at some testimonials.

Ubiquity – and the battle for the desktop


The beginning of the PC era is shrouded in urban legend, but some bits of the story are clear. IBM were the company who had the vision to see the need for a personal computing device and who had the confidence to make the design open and expandable. Bill Gates was the opportunist who tied the sale of his operating system to the sale of each PC, thus ensuring not only ubiquity, but also monopoly. IBM offered expansion, Microsoft enforced restriction. That restriction ended up being a ‘good thing’ in that it allowed a common platform for the development of applications and ultimately a widespread graphical environment where coders could thrive in producing business solutions.

With the advent of the internet that monopoly has disappeared and with the advent of mobile computing devices the ubiquity of the monolithic desktop operating system as become eroded. Outside of the workspace how often do you turn to a PC with a separate screen and keyboard?

So, where will the desktop be in 10 years’ time? In terms of productivity there will always be a need for a good size screen, a decent keyboard, and enough processing power to drive it all. Where our applications and data reside is a different matter. Part of the internet and device revolution has been the gradual migration of our data to the cloud, and the separation of the application from the operating system. The applications we use on smaller devices are generally just a web based front end to something that is cloud based. The graphic at the top of this post was produced using Canva – an entirely web based graphics application. I edit documents, calculate with spreadsheets, view my images all online – the device is only a window to this cloud based world. It doesn’t really matter if that window is a Windows PC or something else.

The battle for ubiquity has shifted – it can no longer be about tying end users to a monolithic operating system – that horse has bolted. The battle now is for eco-systems – the whole package, and I believe that this time ‘open and expandable’ will win. In order to survive the next decade IT providers will have to be flexible, adaptable and willing to work on the platforms that end users choose, they can no longer impose. And this is making its presence felt in the workplace. Most companies already have some cloud related applications – this will only accelerate. Once the majority of line of business applications are in the cloud then the choice of device used to access that is open. Windows, OSX, Chrome, Linux all will do the job – or what about Android or iOS on a desktop size screen? Many end users are now more familiar with iOS and Android than they are with Windows. There are already stories of a desktop port of Android coming along.

IT strategy for the business user requires a continued long hard look into the future. What will be the best information appliance for your staff next year, in five years’ time, a decade from now? It will certainly be cheaper, more power efficient, and cloud connected, but I would be surprised if it ran Windows (for clarification, I am typing this on a full size keyboard on a Windows 10 PC). I, for now, am putting my eggs in the Google Apps for Work eco-system. It works brilliantly across platforms, scales well from startup to enterprise and has a surprising amount of control for the admin. It integrates flawlessly with Android and allows me to take my business on the road, wherever that may be.

If you’re interested to know more take a look at my Google for Work page.