Saturday, December 24, 2011

Driving fast into the Tech Lane

As I was driving down to a restaurant with a friend of mine, we were chatting about another common friend and his new venture on mobile applications. The conversation soon gained technical flavor and it was a nice drive into the fast changing technology lane. Here are some excerpts from our conversation during the drive.

On why enterprises are in a hurry to port existing applications to mobile platform...

The technology is evolving so fast and enterprises will soon be embracing mobile devices which range from smart phones to tablets. Every tech worker owns a mobile smart device of his or her choice. Most such workers are holding senior positions in the enterprise and are very keen to use it to perform their work and for the purpose, try to influence the IT heads to allow such devices in work environment. This in fact is a challenge for the CIOs in terms of information security and confidentiality. But as this trend is growing, the IT heads have no option than to embrace this trend and start regulating this with a formal BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, controls and governance framework around it.

On how BYOD is relevant in the context of mobile applications...

Yes, as the BYOD is gaining increased acceptance, the next big challenge is to get existing applications working on such devices, so that the employees don’t have to be provided with a desktop or even laptop. This in turn drives the need for porting the applications to mobile platform. Many tools and methodologies are emerging in this space so as to facilitate building mobile applications from ground up and also to port existing legacy applications to mobile platform. Write once deploy any where is the USP for today’s development tool vendors.

On how legacy applications can be ported...

This is where the Service Orientation is gaining importance. Business services are identified and exposed as reusable services and then build a portal application on top of it to appropriately present it for end user access on a variety of devices. The organizations would also consider embracing the cloud based SaaS applications to replace the legacy applications. And yes, migration to cloud could be a daunting task but CIOs are seeing a longer term benefit in doing so. An alternative shorter term solution could be to get a virtual desktop on the mobile device and then work on whatever legacy app that runs on the desktop.

About the concerns on cloud...

Yes, there still are certain concerns that keep organizations away from the cloud. However this trend is changing. Most organizations have already moved less critical applications to the public cloud. Like we have central / reserve banks regulating the banking industry, it is time for the industry consortium to come up with an independent regulatory body / framework, which can help establish the trust amongst the enterprises, which in turn will ease some of the security concerns. While industries like Banks and healthcare providers have reasons to be concerned to embrace cloud, other industries are showing serious signs of embracing the cloud.

On the amount of data that banks process and manage and whether that could be a deterrent for cloud adoption...

Be it cloud or not, data quality and data maintenance is going to emerge as a critical function. Dirty data and redundant data is being identified as having considerable impact on the profits of the organization. Tools have emerged in assuring data quality, data de-duplication and master data management. Computing hardware and related technologies like virtualization has made vertical and horizontal scaling very easy and thereby making the usage of these data intensive tools a possibility.

We both enjoyed this conversation and I am sure, you would also enjoy reading this. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Debugging a performance problem

As with any typical Application development, performance is mostly conveniently ignored in all the phases of the development life cycle. In spite of it being a key non functional requirement it mostly remains undocumented. It is more so, as the development, test and UAT environments may not really represent the real world production usage of the application as some of the performance problems could not be spotted earlier. Even if the application is put to load test, there are certain in the production environment, like data growth, user load, etc, which may lead to performance degradation over a period of time.

While most performance problems could easily be spotted and resolved, some could be a challenge and may require sleepless nights to resolve. A structured approach may help addressing such issues within reasonably quicker time frame. Here is a step by step approach which should work in most cases.

1.       Understand the production environment

It is important to understand the production environment thoroughly so as to identify the various hardware & networking resources and the middleware components involved in the application delivery. In a typical n-tiered application, it is possible that there could be multiple appliances and servers through which a requested passes through and get processed before responding back to the user with response. Also understand which of these components are capable of collecting logs / metrics or capable of being monitored in real time.

2.       Understand the specific feedback from the end users

Gather details like who noticed the performance degradation, at what time frame, whether it is repeating at pattern or just pulling the system down. Also understand if the entire application is slowing down or some specific application components are not performing. Also try to experience the problem first hand, sitting alongside an end user or if possible use an appropriate user credentials to experience the performance issue. The ‘who’ also matters as in certain circumstances, the application slow down may be for a user associated with some specific role as the amount of data to be processed and transmitted may differ based on the user role.

3.       Review available logs and metrics

Gather available logs and metrics data collected by various hardware and software components and look for information that could be relevant to the specific application, or more specifically the set of requests that could demonstrate the performance issue. As Logging itself could be performance overkill, it would be ideal to switch off the logs or to set it to collect only minimal logs. If that be the case, configure or effect necessary code change to achieve appropriate level of logging and then try to collect the required details by re-deploying the application on to a production equivalent environment.

4.       Isolate the problem area

This step is very important and could be very challenging too. Take the help of developers and performance and load testing tools, to simulate the problem and in the meanwhile monitor for key measurement data as the request and response pass through various hardware and software components.

By analyzing the data gathered from the application end user or out of the first hand experience, and with the available logs and metrics try to isolate the issue to a specific hardware or software component. This is best done by doing the following step by step:

a.       Trace the request from the UI to the final destination, which typically may be the Database.

b.      If the request could reach the final destination, then measure the time taken for the request to cross various physical and logical layers and look for any information that could cause the slow down. If a hardware resource is over utilized, it could so happen that the requests would be queued up or rejected after a time out. Look for such information in the logs.

c.       Then review the response cycle and try to spot the delays in the return path.

d.      Try the elimination technique whereby, the involved component one after the other from the bottom is cleared of performance bottleneck.

Experience and expertise on the application and the infrastructure architecture could come in handy to spot the problem area quickly. It is possible that there could be multiple problems whether contributing to the problem on hand or not. This situation may lead to shift in focus on different areas resulting in longer time to resolve the problem. It is important to always stay in focus and proceeding in the right direction.

5.       Simulate the problem in Test /UAT environment

Make sure that the findings are correct by simulating the problem multiple times. This will reveal much more data and help characterize the problem better.

6.       Perform reviews

If the problem area has already been isolated in any of the steps above, then narrow the scope of the review to the components involved in the isolated problem area. If not, then the scope of review is little wider and look for problem areas in every component involved in the request response cycle. Code reviews to debug performance issues require unique skills. For instance, looping blocks, disk usage, processor intensive operations could be the candidates for a detailed review. Similarly, in case of distributed application, look for too many back and forth calls to different physical tiers could easily contribute to performance problem. Good knowledge on the various third party components and Operating System APIs consumed in the application may sometimes be helpful.

When the problem is isolated to a server and the application components seem to have no issues, then it might be possible that any other services or components running on the server might cause load on the server resources there by impacting the application being reviewed. If the problem is isolated to Database server, then look for dead locks, appropriate indexes etc. Sometimes, lack of archival / data retention policies could result in the database tables growing in a much faster pace leading to performance degradation.

7.       Identify the root cause

By now one should have identified the specific application procedure or function that could be the cause of the problem on hand. Have it validated by doing more simulations and tests in environments equivalent to production.

8.       Come up with solution

It is just not over yet, as root cause identification should be followed by a solution. Sometimes, the solution to the problem may require change in the architecture and might have a larger impact on the entire application. An ideal solution should prevent the problem from recurring and at the same time it should not introduce newer problems and should require minimal efforts. Alternatively if the ideal solution is not a possibility with various constraints, a break-fix solution should be offered so that the business continues and also plan for having the ideal solution implemented in the longer term.

Hope this one is useful read for those of you in production support. Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the form of comments.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Governing Identity Management

Traditionally, each software application is developed to maintain and manage the identity and the related permission information within it. As more and more such applications gets deployed, user provisioning and managing access control could soon be a nightmare. A well managed Identity Management function within an enterprise can alleviate the hassles around this and will also enable the enterprise to better govern the identity and resource provisioning activities.

Identity Management solution as such comprises of the following key functions in addition to being technically capable of exposing necessary automation APIs:

Account Provisioning

This is a core function within Identity Management and this is where an identity gets created.  The following are the typical activities that need to be performed under this function.
  • Adding an Identity - includes receiving a request with required data, performing necessary verification and obtaining approval from appropriate authority.
  • Modifying an Identity - involves change of certain attributes of an identity.
  • Deleting an Identity - when an identity no is no longer associated with the organization, deletion may be required. Deletion may not mean actual deletion and instead may mean de-activation.
  • Suspending / Resuming an Identity - usually when employees go on long vacation, it would be appropriate to suspend the identity and resume again when the employee comes on board.

Resource Provisioning

An Identity once created need to be provisioned to access one or more services, which could be out of a computing resource or a non computing service. For instance, computing resources could mean access to payroll application and similarly a non computing resource could mean physical access to the Data Center.


De-provisioning is an equally important function which, if not done on a timely manner could put the organization into a big risk. For instance, if an employee who has been granted access to critical systems, is not de-provisioned when he leaves the organization, he could cause potential loss to the company.

Managing Permissions and Authorization

Provisioning a resource would only mean that the resource has a need to use the target resource, but it has to be further managed by defining specific privileges like, Read, Write, Delete. Similarly, the identity may have to be granted different permissions for different sub functions that the resource may expose. While a standards based IAM solution would be extensible, the consuming application may require changes to interact with the IAM solution and make use of the authorization information that is exposed.


With a central identity management solution, it is important that the related functions are better managed, monitored and audited. This requires defining, implementing and monitoring controls around people, process and tools & technology.
  • People – The person performing the one or more of the above functions should be highly trust worthy and appropriate separation of duties and responsibilities should be put in place. For instance, the person approving the identity creation should not be the same person who creates it. The identity performing these functions should be at appropriate level which ensures accountability. 
  • Process – Policies and processes need to be defined for each of the above functions. For instance, Identity creation shall specify the source of data, the required attributes for which data need to be captured, a process or methodology to have the identity information verified and on top an approval process. It is typical that the approving authority may be different for different resource, which has to be unambiguously defined. There should also be a process specifying the monitoring and audit requirements for the above functions.
  • Tools  & Technology – Carrying out the above functions will certainly need an appropriate tool and related technology. A comprehensive enterprise tool may facilitate carrying out all the required functions in addition to offering necessary APIs for the resources that consumes the authentication services. It is important to specify how access to these tools and related infrastructure is protected and governed.

The following are the key control objectives that need to be defined with respect to each activity performed under Identity Management:

  • Identification – the security control process that creates an entity and verifies the credentials of the individual, which together form a unique identity for authentication and authorization purposes
  • Authentication – a security control process that verifies credentials to support an interaction, transaction, message, or transmission
  • Authorization – a security control process that grants permissions by verifying the authenticity of an individual’s identity and permissions to access specific categories of information or functions exposed by a resource.
  • Accountability – a security control process that records the linkage between an action and the identity of the individual or role who has invoked the action, thus providing an evidence trail for audit or non-repudiation purposes
  • Audit – a security control process that examines data records, actions taken, changes made, and identities/roles invoking actions which together provide a reconstruction of events for evidence purposes

All the control objectives above serve the requirement to provide an auditable chain of evidence.
Identity management control processes should have an input, one or more control activities, an output, feedback, management monitoring, and an overall audit appraisal activity to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose. The starting point is an individual who is enrolled into an organization and subsequently acts in a function or role in the organization. The individual may be an employee, partner, or contractor, or third party. The output is the appropriate degree of policy enforcement and individual accountability for the business activity. Within the controls, the threats and vulnerabilities constituting the business risk must be addressed and assessed. These include business, legal, and technical aspects.

Like with any systems, the following are the key non-functional requirements an Identity Management infrastructure should aim to offer.
  • Being more responsive and secure
  • Interoperability with a multitude of systems requiring identity information.
  • Support for multiple authentication mechanisms, like two factor, bio-metric, etc.
  • Interfaces and APIs for automation which could result in reduction in operational costs.

A governance framework would not be complete if it does not define the measurements that indicate the efficiency and effectiveness. The following are some of the metrics that could be considered:
  • Password Reset volume – A well managed Identity Management System is expected to considerably reduce the help desk calls on forgotten passwords. As such a measure of this activity could be a key metric to establish that there is a considerable saving in such help desk activities.
  • Number of distinct credentials per user – With Single Sign On implemented, there should be only one distinct credential per user.
  • Average time taken for each of the identity management functions could be another useful metric to establish that the investment is worth.


More related reading:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SaaS Maturity Level

Cloud is catching up amongst enterprises. Amidst the security and the other concerns that are still to be addressed, CIOs are seeing a clear benefit in shifting towards the Cloud offerings. That means, there is an increasing number of enterprises seriously engaging cloud based applications. This necessitates the need for a model to measure or assess a SaaS application. Like we have Capability Maturity Model to assess a software development shop to be at a particular level, we need a maturity model to assess the SaaS application.

Microsoft way back in 2006 suggested a 4 level maturity model using Scalability, Multi-Tenancy and Configuration to define various stages. While Level 1 is meant to define an ad-hoc hosted application which lacks all the three basic fundamental characteristics and at Level 4 a SaaS application is expected to meet all these three basic characteristics. This model has its own deficiencies as it does not consider few other important characteristics of a SaaS application, like for instance managing the releases, data isolation, etc.

Forrester has come up with the six level definition of SaaS Maturity. Let us examine each of these levels as below:

Level 0: Just Outsourcing, not SaaS. This is a typical scenario where a service provider operates a software installation for a large customer and cannot leverage this setup for another customer. This is just outsourcing and not SaaS.

Level 1: Manual ASP (Application Service Provider). In this case, the service provider has established unique skill in operating similar service to multiple customers, but each client has a dedicated instance and each instance is manually customized by the service provider to the needs of the customer.

Level 2: Industrial ASP, still not SaaS. The Application Service Provider uses techniques to package and deploy the application with different configurations for different customers. In this case, still the customer does not have the ability to customize their instance of the application.

Level 3: Single-app SaaS. This is when the provider is able to offer application  as service to multiple customers out of single packaged application. This is the initial level of SaaS, wherein the application demonstrates some of the basic characteristics of Software as a Service.  At this level, the provider deploys the packaged application on a scalable infrastructure, and shares the single instance to multiple customers with customization limited to configurations.

Level 4: Business Domain SaaS. At this level, the provider offers a well defined business application and also a host of packaged application modules or third party packages, with which the customer has the ability to extend the business logic of the application.

Level 5: Dynamic Business Apps as a Service. This level is a visionary target where in the provider offers a comprehensive application and integration platform on demand. With this ability, the provider can compose tenant specific and even user specific business applications or services.

SEI has in line with the popular CMMI for development, presented CMMI for services packing in some of the service specific process areas in addition to typical development related practice areas. This however is used to assess an organization offering services as against assessing a SaaS product.

As of now, none of the models are popular amongst the major SaaS vendors, may be because of not enough competition on the SaaS space. Once major players compete on SaaS space, then customers for sure will find a way to assess the service maturity and that could be the way forward.

Please throw in your comments.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Code Review – How to get it right?

Code quality is one of the often talked about issue in a project status meeting. The magnitude of this issue will be bigger in case of maintenance products, where end users are encountering defects. While all the members of the project team very well know that code review if done well during the build phase could reduce the code quality issues by a significant percentage. The design and build process manual clearly calls it out that code review is an exit criteria for the code to move on to QA for testing. But still this issue surfaces every now and then.  

The question that comes up is whether code review was done at all or done just for the sake of process compliance. The possible reasons for reluctance among the developers to do a peer review are: Lack of reviewing skills, using the review finding against the developer for reviewer's personal advantage, inferiority complex of the developer. The other most common reason cited attributed by developers is lack of time. 

As all of us are very clear on the benefits that the code review bring on the table, let us not try to list out and discuss about the benefits. Let us attempt to list down the required skills of a code reviewer.

Subject matter (Domain) expertise:  Though most developers are not expected to be domain experts, this skill will certainly be required if the code review is expected to prevent functional defects getting slipped into the next phase. The very fact that the developers need not have domain expertise could possibly mean that the developer might have not understood the requirement as it was intended to be resulting in injection of defects. A mis-interpretation of the requirements could result in a functional defect and there is a chance to spot it if the reviewer posses the domain expertise. Some of the production defects could be unique and may not be reproducible and in such case, code review is the recourse to trouble shoot. This if done well during the build phase, could have prevented such defects surfacing in production at a later stage.

Technical Skills: The reviewer should be an expert in the technology and the programming language used. In software programming, code could be written in innumerable ways for a given requirement. However, given the standards and practices the team is expected to follow, the various quality attributes identified for the project and the goals set for the specific review, the reviewer should possess appropriate level of knowledge to spot problem areas. It is important for the reviewer to know the internal subsystems and the inter dependencies on various local and external computing resources.

Positive Attitude: This is a very important skill for the reviewer and the reviewer should never use the review findings against the developer as an individual. The issues should be considered as a team issue. The Reviewer should acknowledge the capabilities of the developer and the developer may have valid reasons for having written code in a particular way. At the end of the review, it would be a good idea to discuss the summary of the findings with the entire team, as some findings could be good learning for other team members. The organizational standards and practices should also be revisited and revised if necessary based on the nature of the findings. This may also result in identification of certain training needs for the team.

Team Skills: Both developer and the reviewer should have the common objective of producing quality code out of the build phase and they must work as a team to achieve best results. If not, the code review may happen just for name sake or may lead to personality issues which in turn would affect the project deliverable.

Attention to Details: This is an important skill a reviewer should possess to carry out effective reviews. Typically it is human to miss certain blocks of code as parts of it may appear to be correct. Unit testing is not a substitute for code review. The reviewer should with respect to each line of code, ask questions like, what if this statement fails to execute, if there is any other best way to achieve the same action, whether this could lead to potential performance issue, whether this statement may require more system resources, like Memory, CPU time, etc.

Knowledge on Tools: In addition to the above, code reviews with certain specific goals will require knowledge and expertise on appropriate debugging and diagnostic tools.

One of the key metrics in the Software Engineering space is defect injection ratio. This helps to identify the phase that has injected most number of defects. Many times, the stake holders think that it is the developers who inject defects into the delivered software. The reality however may not be completely true as much number of defects get injected in the requirements and design phase also. However, code review when rightly used, helps the development team not only to keep the defect injected in the build phase under control, but also not let the requirements / design phase defects slip into the next phase. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Solution Architect - Understanding the role

I keep getting questions from some of my friends, as to what the role Solution Architecture is all about and will they be a fit for that role. For the benefit of every one out there, I thought of putting together my thoughts on the role of Solution Architect. Let us first examine what is expected out of this role and then look at the skills needed to be in this role.

As the title indicates very well, the role is expected to bring in solution to varying business problems, most which could be a product or project by itself. But, as you know, it is always a challenge to come up with a best solution due to it being intangible and that there are many quality attributes which are not completely identified and specified. There would be lots of missing links in the areas of business domain, choice of technology, hardware components, business processes, future domain and technology trends, etc  which the Solution Architect should be able to connect and come up with best solution that could last longer, so that the organization reaps the return on investing in the solution.

Some of the key characteristics of a best Software Solution are:

Longivity: While the solution must solve the current business problem, it should also be reliable, usable, secure and also future proof. This means that the solution Architect should consider the industry and technology trends that could have an impact on the problem / solution in the near and longer term.

Trade off: The challenge with the various mostly unspecified quality attributes is that they are interdependent. And meeting one such attributes may most likely mean compromising on another. Obviously, a lot of trade off has to happen between various quality attributes and such trade off should be justifiable in the context of perceived benefits for the organization. For instance, performance may have to be compromised to achieve better security. The tradeoffs have to be carefully made after considering various factors, like the risk appetite of the organization, target users of the solution, the technology platform, current IT investments of the organization, etc.

Implementation view: It is important that the solution should be devised with the intended deployment view into consideration. Without that, it could so happen that the solution as designed and built may call for massive changes to the infrastructure investments, which could be a total surprise for stakeholders. Such surprises emerging towards the close line of the project could increase the cost by manifolds or delay the project further.

The above is not the exhaustive list. There are many other factors that will have to be given due consideration before coming up with the best solution. Above all, the solution architect should be able to see that the solution is successfully implemented and put into use. That means, a lot of work in terms of convincing the stakeholders as to why this solution and not an alternative, hand-holding the design and development team and also to some extent the end users to have it implemented the same way it was intended.

With all the above, let us now try to identify the essential skills of an aspiring Solution Architect:

Domain skills: A thorough understanding of the business domain is required to first understand the problem better and second to know the potential future needs that may emerge along the same lines of the problem space. It is also important that the person has the ability to learn things fast, as in most cases, there won’t be lead time for him to gain appropriate business skills. That means, the Solution Architect should also be a Business Analyst.

Technical skills: A thorough understanding on the technology currently in use in the organization, the technology currently in use in similar industry domain and the emerging future technology trends. This knowledge is essential to ensure that the solution does not become obsolete soon and that the organization is in a position to be ahead of completion in terms of IT enabled capabilities. At the same time, applying a new technology early in its evolution has its own issues and it is always better to wait for the technology to evolve and mature as more and more organizations adopt the same. It is important for a Solution Architect to closely follow technology trends and gather enough knowledge to understand what could be the best fit for solving various business problems on hand. He should have enough understanding of the technology chosen, so that his team (mostly himself) comes up with a prototype to establish that the solution really solves the problem. However, as the solution goes further down the implementation lane, the Solution Architect should be able to demonstrate hands on skills, so that he could command expertise and be the go to person for resolution of issues.

Team skills: Though mostly the Solution Architect will be an individual performer, some organizations may have dedicated teams to assist the Architects. Even in case of Architects acting as individual performers, the solution is implemented by a project team. So, the Solution Architect needs to be a team player and should with his domain and technical expertise, lead the team by example.

Process / Project Management Skills: Needless to say that the Solution Architects have to have the Project Management skills too, as one may have to manage the pre-solution activities as a project. For the purpose, he has to be familiar with the processes as well.
That means, the Solution Architect should be an all rounder with moderate to expert level skills in all the areas.  On top of these skills, one has to understand that solutioning is not just a science, but also an art, which is mastered with years of experience over as many projects and years involving various technologies and domains.

There could be different views on this and comments or opinions are welcome. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Electronic Service Delivery Bill

It is good to note that electronic delivery of public services is proposed to be mandated in India. The Ministry of Information Technology has proposed a draft Electronic Service Delivery Bill, as per which, every competent authority of the appropriate government shall publish a schedule for delivering public services in electronic mode. It also requires that the all public services in India should be delivered in electronic mode within 5 years from the date of commencement of this bill. The bill also provides for extension of the term by another 3 years, provided it is supported by valid reasons. That means, in eight years from now, all public services in India will be delivered online. The draft bill can be downloaded from the Ministry of Information Technology website.

The bill is likely to be placed before Cabinet soon. Check out this news brief on Business Line.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BYOD – Yet another challenge for IT heads

For those, who are not familiar with the term BYOD, it stands for “Bring Your Own Device” and use it to achieve your work goals, be it within the company or anywhere else. A simple example for this is when an employee uses his own iPad to access his corporate emails, or use any other wi-fi enabled device to connect to corporate wi-fi network and use it to perform certain work related tasks. This has been in practice with the education and training companies, where the students / participants are expected to use their own devices, subject to meeting of the required minimal hardware and software specifications. Thanks to the last recession the recent explosion of the smart personal gadgets, companies are increasingly considering allowing this. 

The factors that drive the BYOD amongst corporate are:
  1.  Increased Productivity - Employees are expected to be happy working on their favourite stuff and in turn that is likely to bring in increased productivity.
  2. Better Mobility – Organizations with mobile workforce, who typically work on the move, feel that BYOD could offer better mobility and flexibility.
  3. Cost Savings – Though this may not be a real benefit, as organizations may end up spending considerably on mitigating the risks that BYOD brings on board, this is considered as a factor driving the increased adoption.
  4. Influence from senior executives – Typically if a senior executive buys a latest gadget and then using it in the workplace to do their work.
  5. Decreasing client installs – With increased adoption of Cloud based applications, all that a user need to access the enterprise application is a compatible web browser and this favours BYOD.

Certainly BYOD brings on board a lot of challenges to the IT department and here are some of the key challenges:
  1. Support – The IT department have to start supporting varying make and models of smart gadgets running different operating systems and web browsers. Unless the IT department comes up with the list of gadgets that they can support, it could soon be a nightmare.
  2. Licensing – If there are certain third party components to be installed on the smart devices, then it is better to have the licensing terms of the component vendor verified, as some vendors may impose restrictions in installing such components on devices other than those owned by the organization.
  3. Network and Application Security – When employees use the organization provided devices, they are appropriately hardened in line with the security policies of the organization. But in case of BYOD, the employees for sure would not like to have their devices hardened for work use, instead they would like to be the administrators of their own device and play with it in whatever way they want. On the other hand, employees may even go ahead and install more and more mobile apps of their choice, some of which could even be malware.
  4. Data Security – Whatever data that is cached or stored on the gadgets, as the devices are used for work are subject to be easily compromised.

For sure, this is yet another challenge that the IT managers should be ready to face soon, if not now.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Characteristics of SaaS Applications

The evolution of Cloud Computing has paved way to enterprises look at subscribing for SaaS applications as against licensing an application for exclusive use. The primary benefit being the cost savings due to centralization. As more and more enterprises are looking for Cloud and SaaS model for its application needs, the product companies are exploring options to enhance their existing products so that they can be offered on SaaS model. It is important to understand the key characteristics of the SaaS applications before planning for the conversion.

While the application should be accessible over the web is an important characteristic, the following other characteristics are also important to look at:

1. Multi-tenancy

Typically all applications support multiple users. But a SaaS application should support multiple users of different organizations. Which means there should be a mechanism to identify and appropriately differentiate the users of a specific organization. That is the application should support multiple tenants. The tenants would also be interested to have their data be isolated and not to be mixed up with that of other tenants. At the least, the SaaS application should have the ability to uniquely identify each and every data record against a tenant.

2. Subscription and billing mechanism

Organizations are embracing SaaS applications on the premise that they will be paying far less based on one or more parameters, which measure the usage by the specific tenant. For instance, SaaS application may be priced based on number of users or based on subscription and use of specific modules / features. Some times, the pricing may be even complex, where it could be based on the transaction volume or a combination of one or more such measures. So, the application should be capable of tracking and logging such parameters and that the billing could be automated.

3. Scalability

A typical web application is hosted on a separate instance owned and exclusively used by a specific tenant. Whereas in case of SaaS application, the provider owns the hosted instance, which is used by all the tenants. Though the provider has the option to host a separate instance for each tenant, the economy of scale would at its best when a single instance is offered for multiple tenants. Depending on the application's features and the wide reach amongst the potential customers, the customer base could grow so fast and the application should be scalable both horizontally and vertically to support the unexpected growth in volume.

4. Manageability

The tenants should have the ability to manage their part of the application including managing the users, roles, permissions, etc. As the subscription base grows, it would be ideal to leave the application management to the tenants themselves. This requires the application to have necessary features / functions for use by the tenants.

5. Self service sign-up

While self service sign-up is not a key characteristic, it is a highly desirable to have this feature when the customer base is expected to grow too fast. Similarly, on boarding a customer may involve data migration from a different application used by the tenants before. The SaaS application should expose appropriate interfaces / APIs to facilitate the migration. It would also be a desirable to expose APIs to facilitate export / back up of data by tenants themselves.

6. Tenant specific customization

Typically, product companies undertake to customize an application to meet the specific needs of the customers by enhancing the application. But this would not work in case of SaaS application, as all the tenants would typically be using the same version of the application. That means, the application should be highly customizable, so that it satisfies the specific needs of all the tenants. In a large scale SaaS application this is achieved by providing the ability to extend the application by defining and deploying specific screens and scripts by the tenants themselves.

That is not all. There are other characteristics too and some of them could be key depending on the nature and demands of the industry and the providers. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Here are some useful reference links that deal with the SaaS application challenges and characteristics.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Future of Personal Computer

With the evolution of smart phones and tablets, the survival of Personal Computer could be under threat. Let us examine, if there is a possible thing that PC alone can do.

Thick Client Applications: We have started seeing the increasing number of applications moving to the cloud and one just need a browser and may be an appropriate pug-in to run a cloud application. Even heavy weight applications like ERP suites and Business Intelligence Suites are now being offered over the cloud. In few years from now, I don't think there will be any compelling need to use a thick client application.

User Convenience:  Yes, a bigger monitor and a regular keyboard with a mouse will really be convenient to work on a PC. But do we need a PC just to have a bigger display and the key board? Not really, some of today's smart phones are dockable on to a device, which facilitates connecting to a bigger display and keyboard.

Higher Computing Power: When the applications are served out of Cloud, much of the processing happens elsewhere on some server(s) located over the cloud, and not much power is required on the client device. That is not the end, in few years from now, the smart phones / tablets will equally sport a high end processor with even multiple cores.

Extreme Gaming: Most of the popular games today are online games. Gamers also prefer online games which connects buddies from all over the globe to join and play together. More so, because the gaming service providers gain more in the form of Ad revenues in case of online games than Thick client games. Above all, there are special purpose gaming consoles in the market for extreme gaming.

Enterprise Computing: While it could be ideal to go with enterprise owned secured and locked down personal computers to access and process enterprise information, but that does not mean that they have to be PCs. Even now most enterprises are encouraging their employees to work from home on a Laptop, there by saving so much of energy costs at the physical location and at the same time commuting time for the employee. The evolving tablets could easily replace the Laptops.

Research firm Gartner slashed its growth forecast for the global PC market this year to 3.8 percent from 9.3 percent citing boom in media tablets.

You name one thing, we can think of how tomorrow's personal gadgets could address that. Would like to here from you on this trend.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tap to Click feature of Touch pad on Laptops

Long time ago, when I was seriously preparing a process document on my Laptop and I kept typing in the text as it was flowing from my mind, not looking at the screen. When I looked up to see how it is coming up, surprised that the sentences were scrambled here and there. Then I started observing as to what is happening while typing in and found that the typing position suddenly changes to a an unexpected location, and your key strokes produce characters at an unwanted location! For a while I thought this could be a virus or malware problem or may be a problem with Microsoft Word.

But it did not took much time for me to figure out that this is the 'tap to click' feature of the touch pad. As you keep typing in, your thumb or such other finger taps on the touch pad surface and as a result, the typing position shifts to the position where the mouse cursor was at that time. From then on I have it included in my Laptop build document to have the tap feature disabled. May be this feature is useful for some, but for me it is a hindrance. Similar issues with the pointing stick, which is positioned amidst the keys and if you have it enabled, the chances of you taping on it is even more. Share your experiences with this feature.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Microsoft and Toyota partner on smart-grid tech | Microsoft - CNET News

Microsoft and Toyota partner on smart-grid tech | Microsoft - CNET News

Interesting to note that cars of next decade will be one's smart terminals and would allow the drivers and / or passengers to interface with various devices at home or office and transact. This means, travelling is not a waste of time, one can be at work while driving!

Even cars and the humans can be embedded with devices and technology that will authenticate the driver / passengers based on one or more of various personal traits, before allowing to drive the car. We have seen some such capabilities in science fiction movies, which can be a reality in the coming decades. The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

High Performance Workforce

For a sustained success of an IT services organization, it is important to have a high performance workforce backing the leaders. A quick peek into various resources on what is high performance workforce, found that the following are the three fundamental building blocks to setup a High Performance Workforce:

1. Accountability for Right Results, which requires the employees to have the ability to focus on the right priorities and in turn achieve the right results at right time.

2. Earn Trust, which requires continuous mentoring and recognition of people whom the organization depend on, so that they feel valued, confident and ready to give their best.

3. Talent Development, a continuous skill assessment and development program, with which, the workforce is always on the edge of the needed skills and is ready to tap the opportunities that comes through its way.