Wired Versus Wireless Networks: What’s Right For You? – IT Business Insider

Wired Versus Wireless Networks: What’s Right For You?

When comparing wired networks to wireless ones, it’s six of one, half dozen of another. Wired network speeds have increased to the gigabit range, providing more rapid, reliable and secure access to stored data. On the other hand, wireless networks offer flexibility, mobility and faster return on investment (ROI). What’s a network planner to do when faced with a purchasing decision?

An increasing number of businesses that already have wired networks in place are installing wireless networks to supplement their existing functionality, according to recent research by market research firm In-Stat, based in Scottsdale, Ariz. More than 75 percent of U.S. businesses currently have at least one mobile data application, and the use of wireless is spreading across multiple applications and all vertical markets. These numbers will only grow as more enterprises supply knowledge workers with notebook and laptop computers, and as wireless technologies continue to mature.

No Decision
Which network is the best option? This is one instance where the best choice may be not making a choice. That’s the advice of Michael Spencer, a partner with i2 Partners, a strategic IT consulting firm based in Seattle, Wash. “Each technology has compelling advantages, but neither of them can substitute for the other,” he says. “Think of them as complementing each other.” (article continues)

Here’s a rundown of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each:

  • Speed  When it comes to speed, there’s absolutely no contest: Wired networks are in the winner’s circle. This is especially clear when you consider the actual throughput of these networks, says Charles Stanton, president of Manhattan Networks, a boutique network consulting firm based in New York City. Although wired networks can now reach the 1-gigabit-per-second range, the actual throughput is about 1,000 megabits. Wireless networks, on the other hand, have 64 megabits-per-second limits, “with horrible throughput,” says Stanton. “We’re talking about 25 percent, which gives you only 10 megabits compared to 1,000 megabits. There’s no comparison.”
  • Reliability and robustness Enterprises simply can’t afford network downtime. Increasingly, mission-critical, real-time operations — such as online transactions or factory floor processes — depend on the network to keep the very business functional. This is in addition to the fact that executives and knowledge workers more than ever require consistent and continuous network access to be productive. Wired networks are the only ones that provide this level of robustness, says Spencer. “Wireline is infinitely more predictable,” he says. Furthermore, the further devices are from the access point, the less reliable the service. “Such networks are extremely prone to environmental interference,” adds Spencer. “You can have significant problems because of the presence of other devices, or because of walls or other structural barriers.” (article continues)

  • Security Given the kinds of sophisticated protection technologies now available for traditional wired networks, it’s a “not trivial” feat to tap into someone’s cable today, says Stanton. Wireless, however, is inherently less secure, especially since most businesses today still don’t encrypt data across internal networks. “Security represents a constant battle for network administrators when it comes to wireless networks,” says Spencer.
  • Convenience Here is where wireless technology really shines. It is primarily because of convenience that more and more enterprises are installing wireless networks inside their buildings or throughout their corporate campuses. Employees can easily move around the building, take their laptops into meetings and cafeterias, and otherwise work more flexibly than if they were anchored to desktop computers hardwired to the network.
  • Cost effectiveness  Wireless also provides a speedier ROI because the initial investment is so much less than wired installations, and the payback in improved worker productivity is so immediate. Moreover, wireless is much more economical in older buildings where ripping out and replacing of older infrastructure would otherwise be necessary.

What we’re likely to see, according to networking experts, is that even as wired networks will remain the technology of choice for what Stanton calls the “heavy lifting” of a business, wireless penetration will continue to increase. Says Stanton, “Except for very unusual circumstances, we recommend that clients use a wired network as the foundation for their networking needs and layer wireless on top of that. That way you get the best of both worlds.”


When WANs Aren’t Wide Enough – IT Business Insider

When WANs Aren’t Wide Enough

CIO Magazine‘s recent tech poll revealed something that may not be surprising to corporate network managers: Spending on networks has eclipsed computer hardware as the top IT budget category. What is surprising is that this isn’t due to an increase in the local area networks (LANs) that now run in almost every company office. Even though LANs are beginning to show their age, experts agree the existing technology can still supply plenty of bandwidth and hasn’t required much new investment. The budget buster is the corporate WAN, or wide area network.

“Organizations are much more distributed,” explains George Hamilton, the director of Yankee Group’s enabling technologies enterprise group in Boston, Mass. “They’ve got a lot of branch offices and mobile users, and there’s a big push to make enterprise applications that you would normally be able to use sitting at a desk in an office available to users wherever they are, whether they’re at an airport or a hotel or their home PC or in a branch office. So you need to empower the network to be able to support those types of applications.”

But while users are more distributed, data centers are becoming more centralized. According to Jim Metzler of Ashton, Metzler & Associates, in Sanibel, Fla., “HP is going from 85 data centers down to six. The state of Texas is going from 31 to two.” As a result, data has to travel farther to get to any particular user.

Boosting WAN Capability
If WANs provide a future solution, they also pose a present problem. LANs carry traffic over 10/100Mbps Ethernet cables, says Hamilton, while WANs trudge along at a stodgy 1.544Mbps. Many companies are speeding up those WAN (article continues)

connections by simply adding more pipes, or bandwidth. But increasingly, IT centers are looking toward more sophisticated options, because there will always be demand for additional bandwidth.

“I’m very bullish on the whole network and application optimization space,” Metzler says. “There’s a variety of products and solutions out there to make the WAN perform better. Or make the applications that run over the WAN perform better.”

The two most common techniques for sending less information over the network are:

  • Compression: squeezing the data being transferred to compact size before being sent, then expanding the transmission back to native format at the destination.
  • Differencing: a method by which files that are being sent from one part of the network to another are compared, and only the differences in the files are transmitted. For example, a large database that is updated in India and then sent to the U.S. at the end of the Indian workday isn’t transmitted in full — only the parts of the database that have been updated are sent. The savings in bandwidth are significant.

These solutions are usually deployed via dedicated performance appliances offered by companies such as Cisco Systems, Juniper Solutions and Riverbed Technology.

Critical Data Gets Priority
Another smart investment, Hamilton and Metzler agree, is QoS software. QoS, or Quality of Service, enables network administrators to “see” into the network traffic, to identify what types of data are going where and control what gets network priority. (article continues)

NetQoS is a major provider of software and services in this category. “Our goal in life is to understand how well applications are performing for those remote users. That is really the best measure of how well the infrastructure is delivering applications and gives companies visibility into what is on the network,” explains NetQoS VP of Marketing Steve Harriman. “Is VOiP a major consumer of bandwidth? Is SAP? Is it your salesforce automation system? Is it recreational use, which we’re seeing increasing amounts of?”

Once the main bandwidth consumers have been determined, a company may decide that infrastructure upgrades are in order. Of course, upgrades are inevitable in any case, and what QoS software can do, says Harriman, is “ensure that mission-critical apps are getting first access to the pipe, ahead of recreational use, for example.” A company may have a fairly long priority sequence, and then an “as available” bucket, which may be where recreational traffic gets routed.

Smart Investments Open the Pipes
Although every enterprise has its unique networking challenges, experts agree that increasing capacity, or simply adding more pipes, may be an effective “brute force” solution, but not necessarily a wise investment. Rather, IT professionals should first invest in a QoS product to analyze their network. Only then, based on the resulting insights of how data flows, consider investing in optimization, acceleration and differencing appliances. While more bandwidth will undoubtedly be needed sooner or later, these immediate investments will pay off in both the short and long term.


Welcome to the World of Web 2.0 – IT Business Insider

Welcome to the World of Web 2.0

You know the drill: You call tech support about a computer problem, you’re immediately put on hold, and then you wait for anywhere between five minutes and forever before talking to a real person. You’re asked to describe the problem, then you’re put on hold again while the support person searches the company’s internal difficult-to-search knowledgebase for a solution. Or your problem may involve a new product and the knowledgebase might not have been updated. Maybe your problem can be solved over the phone, maybe not. But almost certainly, you’ll have lost lots of time waiting to find out.

At least one major computer software manufacturer has successfully tackled the problem using a Web 2.0 technology — a wiki — to drastically improve its customer support. “They added our wiki application to their traditional knowledgebase,” says Jeff Brainard, the director of marketing at Socialtext, which is located in Palo Alto, Calif. Soon the number of customer service representatives using Socialtext’s wiki to share problems and solutions not found in the knowledgebase skyrocketed. According to Brainard, more than 4,000 service representatives now use the wiki.

“There’s a tangible benefit,” says Brainard. “They get through calls more quickly. What used to take 15 clicks to solve now takes five. Their managers look better. The company estimates it’s saving at least a million dollars a year, and maybe as much as $10 million.”

The Promise of Web 2.0
Although “Web 2.0” is sometimes dismissed as being a term that’s both trendy and vague, the six sources we spoke to, ranging from corporate consumers of Web 2.0 products to consultants to vendors, were able to define the difference between traditional Web applications and Web 2.0 (article continues)

applications. The traditional Web was about setting common standards — TCP/IP, HTTP and FTP, for example — for the use of e-mail and for Web browsers. It was about e-mail and websites. Web 2.0 is about building communities through user-generated content and enabling use through not just the PC but a variety of devices, such as cell phones, PDAs and kiosks. It’s about personalization, multiple forms of content (audio, video, text, messaging) and customizable tools. The differences are visible, radical and useful.

According to a 2006 report by Forrester, wikis — documents that can be created, added to and edited by anyone in a defined community — have become one of the most popular Web 2.0 solutions in the enterprise. Blogs have also been embraced, as have instant messaging, forums, RSS feeds and Facebook-style profile pages for employees. Increasingly, business users who may have surreptitiously been using open-source wikis or who have been instant-messaging under the corporate radar are finding that their companies are now providing them with similar tools. The main difference is that the corporate Web 2.0 tools are usually more robust, more secure and more tightly controlled than the similar offerings available to consumers. And CIOs, according to another recent Forrester survey, aren’t interested in picking and choosing their Web 2.0 tools one by one. Sixty-one percent of the 119 CIOs surveyed said, according to Forrester, that they want their Web 2.0 tools “as a suite. . .[from] a large, incumbent vendor.”

In the Web 2.0 world, “large” and “incumbent” don’t automatically mean traditional corporate vendors, such as Microsoft, SAP and IBM. Socialtext has only been around for five years, but (article continues)

2,000 organizations already use its package, which integrates RSS feeds, blogging, discussion forums and other common Web 2.0 tools with its wiki platform. Awareness, known as iUpload until July 2007, is barely eight years old, but its Headcovers Unlimited suite leads the pack of enterprise blogging platforms, according to Forrester.

Pitfalls Still Lurk
While vendors can provide SaaS (software as a service, or remotely hosted applications), Web 2.0 suites still face stumbling blocks:

  • The generation gap “People who are over 40 have a harder time adapting to this than younger people,” says Sam Aparicio, vice president of products and strategy for the Angel website, a call-center application provider in McLean, Va. Richard Lyons of Chicago-based Lyons Consulting advises using incentives, like contests, games and good old-fashioned recognition, to encourage hesitant new users to participate. Socialtext made wiki and blog content accessible to e-mail users and also enabled employees to publish to wikis and blogs via e-mail to ease adoption.
  • Security Web 2.0 is suited to SaaS delivery because new tools are being developed so quickly and are “mashed up” so easily. But large companies often hesitate to use vendors who provide SaaS solutions because they want to protect their data. When insurance giant Northwestern Mutual raised questions, Headcovers Unlimited was able to demonstrate that their data could be segregated and also protected through Northwestern’s already-existing single sign-on system. Socialtext addresses similar security concerns, in part, by offering a dedicated appliance that companies can use on-site.
  • Ease of use Many open source wikis, such as Wikipedia, require contributors to master a wiki “syntax” — a markup language — which is a significant barrier to participation, especially among workers used to productivity suites like Microsoft Office and single-user project management software. Socialtext focuses on making its software work with existing software (article continues)

and services, and has also eliminated coding from its wiki. Both Socialtext and Awareness integrate their tools into a company’s Intranet home page, so they are  always visible — and hopefully inviting — to employees.

  • Measurement Deploying enterprise-wide Web 2.0 tools can cost both time and money. Both vendors and customers should discuss how the success (or failure) of these tools can be measured. Is it a reduction in call times and clicks for phone support representatives? Something more intangible, like widespread participation? To ensure mutual satisfaction, define what success would look like before and during the process.
  • Picking the right use “Wikis aren’t a solution for every problem in the world,” warns Brainard. Nor are blogs, RSS feeds or any single Web 2.0 tool. Business users can’t expect to — and shouldn’t be encouraged to — embrace Web 2.0 tools when more traditional software packages do the job just fine. It may be tempting to hype the shiny new wiki, especially after a large investment has been made, but companies would be wise to roll Web 2.0 applications out slowly. Recruit and encourage enthusiastic early adopters to create a base that can self-seed an organic expansion, with the tools already in place and available for use.

Web 2.0 Is Here to Stay
With Web 2.0 still a toddler, rapid change in this market segment will be a constant in the years to come. But the advantages are immediately clear. Web 2.0 marks a clear turning point in the way companies manage, organize and, perhaps most important, retain information. If nothing else, user-generated shared content has a hidden advantage that’s rarely, if ever, discussed. “It’s a way to keep information in-house after an employee goes out the door,” says Lyons. “It’s no longer locked up in their e-mail.”


Web 2.0 Seduces the Enterprise – IT Business Insider

Web 2.0 Seduces the Enterprise

Talk about disruptive technologies. Despite being widely available for only a few years, Web 2.0 tools, such as WYSIWYG blogging platforms, wikis, social networks, RSS and social bookmarking sites have had a tremendous impact on the way millions of people think about and use the Internet. The term “Web 2.0” itself didn’t enter the popular lexicon until 2004; two years later, Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee coined the term “Enterprise 2.0,” introducing the concept in a Spring 2006 MIT Sloan Management Review article entitled “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration.”

In each case, the terms and their meanings inspired immediate controversy. Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee has dismissed “Web 2.0” as “a piece of jargon,” arguing that the term could just as well describe the original Web functions, which enabled easy connections between people and information. Some argued strongly against an “Enterprise 2.0” entry in Wikipedia, saying that it was too much of a buzzword; the entry survived that debate, but has since been redubbed “Enterprise social software.” This entry itself may soon merge with an entry on “social computing.”

While these disputes appear, at first glance, to center largely on semantics, they’re emblematic of the seismic shift brought about by Web 2.0. Even the most technically disinclined users have to admit that the content creation and sharing tools clustered under the Web 2.0 rubric enhance and facilitate the Internet experience.

Who Wants To Collaborate?
McAfee refers to Web 2.0 applications generally as “emergent social software platforms.” This is a crucial, unusual, and perhaps defining phrase,” says McAfee, especially in the enterprise context. “I emphasize the word ’emergent’ because the new platforms are not trying to dictate to users how (article continues)

they should contribute, or what they should be saying in what format or what structure. Instead, the smart managers and the smart technologists are presenting something that’s pretty close to a blank slate, then trying to get out of the way of users and watch what emerges.”

McAfee believes that “Enterprise 2.0” — by which he simply means the use of “social software” or Web 2.0 tools inside of companies or between companies working together — has great potential to increase worker productivity. The adoption of this collaborative software is not inevitable, however. Senior executives are excited by the possibilities, McAfee notes. “Their job is to make the organization run better. They want all information that will help them do that.” But there’s active resistance at other levels.

Some of the hostility comes from a simple, but revelatory, difference between social software and traditional business software. The latter is about imposing order and structure throughout an organization, which is, of course, a necessity in many areas. The former imposes little or no structure and by definition lends itself, says McAfee, “to the appearance of unanticipated patterns and structure and content.” Unpredictability, understandably enough, makes lots of people nervous, especially if they have turf to protect.

Easier Than You Think
The fact is, says Forrester analyst Oliver Young, Web 2.0 tools make it easier for people to get things done. Interactions via e-mail and phone are relatively ad hoc and decentralized, he argues, while social software enables, “efficient interaction between people, content and data.” (article continues)

Take RSS, for example. Often mistaken for another form of social software, RSS is actually an increasingly popular marketing tool. Companies can publish very specific information about new products, bug fixes and special promotions, and make it easily accessible to customers via RSS.

“Bringing the publish-and-subscribe paradigm of RSS into the enterprise has been one of the biggest hurdles,” Young says, in large part because IT departments are concerned with the technology’s security. RSS capabilities built into Internet Explorer 7 and Outlook, for example, don’t provide the kind of security that can be built into a dedicated feed reader. “There’s the potential that you’ll be opening yourself to viruses and spyware,” says Young, but quickly adds that this security concern is, right now, more theoretical than real.

Putting Web 2.0 To Use
Much of the above explains why Enterprise 2.0 is a lot like sex: everyone talks about it, most people think that others are doing it more, but in fact it’s very difficult to know what’s really going on inside the firewalls. Only a few major corporations have wholeheartedly embraced Enterprise 2.0 tools: McDonald’s and Northwestern Mutual each have built new Intranets upon platforms centered on customizable home pages, social networking capabilities, wikis, blogs, RSS and other Web 2.0 tools, but in most organizations, the tools are often being used in small groups or divisions. Dell’s support team has adopted wikis as a key tool for sharing solutions to customer problems, but it’s unclear how often other segments of Dell use wikis. (article continues)

Blogs and wikis seem to be the most commonly used Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise, says Young, with RSS and social networking applications making some headway. This is likely to change soon, as Microsoft has added Web 2.0 pieces to SharePoint (basic blogging and wiki functionality) and other big players like IBM, SAP, Oracle and BEA are, says Young, “bringing these tools into the enterprise as part of the typical application upgrade.”

Young says that IBM, with Lotus Connections, has the most complete Web 2.0 suite and that although hard sales numbers haven’t been released, the company has “said anecdotally that they’re doing better than they’d hoped up to this point.”

These large, traditional enterprise software providers seem to be battling it out with scores of nimble Web 2.0 startups for business market share, but the most likely scenario, says Young, is that many smaller companies will provide discrete applications for, partner with and eventually be purchased by the bigger fish. The vast majority of CIOs want suites that will provide all of these tools and more, preferably in a one-stop shop scenario. Meanwhile, some examples of well-positioned small and specialized companies include SixApart for blogging; Atlassian Confluence and SocialText for wikis; Communispace for social networking; and NewsGator for RSS.

Web 2.0 tools will inevitably be ubiquitous within most enterprises, which will lead to fundamental changes in the way some business is conducted. This will be disruptive — but the familiar, major brand packaging, support and security, and the slow, piecemeal adoption of the available tools means we’re likely to look back on Enterprise 2.0 as less a revolution than a critical and natural step in IT evolution.


Transforming IT from Servant to Strategic Partner – IT Business Insider

Transforming IT from Servant to Strategic Partner

When companies start to think about streamlining operations, the IT department is often among the first to be flagged. To survive, IT leaders must demonstrate that their department serves a strategic role in the organization’s future. For many IT groups, that’s a big change.

Redesigning IT’s role starts with reorganizing its priorities. Senior IT leaders must focus on two points: how to make money for the enterprise and how to save money for the enterprise. Those two ends are the means to transform the IT department from a useful servant to a valued strategic partner.

“For the longest time, IT was where the gnarly IT heroes lived,” explains Ray Paquet, an analyst with Gartner in Billerica, Mass. “Without so much as a ‘by your leave,’ they rode in, solved thorny problems and then rode away again.”

But that image of the solitary techno-wizard single-handedly saving the day has gone the way of the modem. Today’s IT heroes are MVPs who know how to be team players and help the entire enterprise achieve victory.

Be a Profit Prophet
This new wave of IT leaders knows that the entire IT operation must be geared more towards solid overall business successes so that it can be recognized by everyone, as opposed to arcane tech advancements obvious to only a select few.

“We want to buy magic, but technology is not magic,” says Paquet. “It’s time to realize Houdini died and get on with making decisions based on delivering profit.  Instead of trying to amaze or pacify your customers, begin to think and act like a business partner. Justify everything you do against specific business goals.”

The key to success: Focus on business impact rather than technology for technology’s sake. (article continues)

Make People Skills a Priority
In the new world, people skills are increasingly important on the priority list. “IT Operations really needs to recalibrate and get back to the human element,” advises Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio in Boston, Mass. “It’s imperative to communicate with other people in your organization.”

While technological expertise is an acknowledged asset, an environment that spotlights tech talent to the exclusion of other skills can create a department of divas. “If you only hire and organize based on technology concerns, you will end up hearing a lot of ‘that’s not my problem’ and ‘that’s not my job.’ Yet the problems will still exist and IT then becomes expendable in the eyes of higher management,” warns Paquet.

There is no technology fix that will solve this very human problem. Instead, people skills should top IT’s “most wanted” list.

Claim the Prize
Top among those people skills is communication. When IT doesn’t communicate well with the rest of the enterprise, everyone suffers – but IT suffers disproportionately.

“There are tons of examples where IT people drop the ball, lose millions [of dollars] for their enterprises and also lose recognition for what was initially a job very well done,” DiDio says.

Conversely, it is common for IT managers to successfully negotiate potent deals for their organization. But because all the extras that were included with the deal were not communicated to the rest of the enterprise, those benefits were never collected. As a result, the organization never realized the significance of the achievement and, says DiDio, “it might as well never have happened.”

“The root causes for relationship breakdowns between IT and the business are differing expectations and a lack of understanding of the pressures, impacts and realities of life on the other side of the fence,” notes Brian Erickson, managing vice president of the Strategic Technology Solutions Practice at Hitachi Consulting in Dallas, Texas. “In the end, we believe that the closer the IT professionals are to the front-lines of the business, the more effective they can be in identifying and responding to changes.” (article continues)

Redesign for Dollars
According to Erickson, there are specific steps that can help you to redesign IT operations to boost business advantage and overcome these common obstacles.  These include:

  • Adapt a competitive mindset Assume that you will have to compete with outside vendors for the opportunity to support your customers
  • Make sure the trains and buses run on time Focus on doing the core things as effectively and efficiently as possible. Get this right first, then worry about the more strategic issues
  • Utilize Customer Relationship Management concepts Your coworkers are your customers
  • Get outside assistance If there are existing issues/strains in the IT and business relationship, get some outside help to repair the relationships
  • Aim at the same targets Make sure the IT goals are tightly and directly related to the business goals
  • Utilize best practices  Wherever possible, implement industry standard methodologies (e.g., PMO, ITIL, development methodologies, etc.)

Successful IT redesign centers on developing people skills and opening communication channels, both within and outside IT. “Before you talk tools, talk to people,” says DiDio.


Three Powerful Trends in Application Development – IT Business Insider

Three Powerful Trends in Application Development

Last February, Playboy Enterprises in Chicago, Ill. made an unpublicized move that didn’t make a news ripple. It re-launched PLAYBOY store, and also opened a new store aimed at female consumers, the BUNNY shop. This was the result of a long and difficult decision-making process for Playboy. “They had to decide whether they wanted to market their products or be a technology company,” says Richard Lyons of Lyons Consulting Group in Chicago, Ill., who worked with Playboy in the launch and re-launch. “Very interesting question.”

Ultimately, Playboy partnered with Demandware of Woburn, Mass., outsourcing their e-commerce development work to Demandware’s cutting-edge technology. “Playboy gets to focus on marketing and merchandising,” says Lyons. Meanwhile, Demandware’s future e-commerce innovations should be spurred, at least in part, by the small percentage of sales revenue it gets from the store.

Three Trends That Will Thrive
To be sure, the software and hardware have been around for years. But the partnership represents one of three business application development trends, all related, that are likely to thrive in the coming years:

1. Software as a Service
Software as a Service (SaaS) can be thought of as a faster, more agile version of application service provider (ASP) technology. It’s a concept that’s been discussed for years — Microsoft, for example, has long talked about moving its Office suite online. But with the increasing availability and quick adoption of high-speed Internet access, SaaS’ time has arrived for both enterprise (Demandware, Salesforce, which provides CRM applications, and Google Apps for businesses) and consumer (Google Apps) applications. The technology seems poised for rapid growth. (article continues)

2. Self-Service Service-Oriented-Architecture
Another major trend, closely related to the SaaS model, is being built upon service-oriented architecture (SOA). By linking existing chunks of code, each providing a specific function or service, SOA enables enterprises to construct and customize new applications quickly by reusing old code. Rene Bonvanie of Serena Software in San Mateo, Calif., argues that consumer software trends naturally migrate to business and that business users who have had personal experience with Web 2.0 “mash-ups” are looking for the same kind of functionality in the workplace.

For example, a sales department might want to streamline the discount-approval process. By mashing up services from a salesforce automation system, an HR system and a financial system, a sales department can create an application that enables them to see both who’s authorized to approve discounts and how such discounts will affect the company’s bottom line. “There are a lot of things on the Web that allow me to easily share and create,” says Lyons. “Why can’t I create an application for a business process and share it with my colleagues with the same ease that I can get a photo up on Flickr and share it with my friends?”

Developers are still needed to build the mash-ups, but development is more likely to take place only within a group, rather than a corporate IT department. “IT has been dealing with very complex applications, massive, very big applications,” says Lyons. “That leaves many small, simple applications that have [previously] been untouched by IT that can highly benefit from this approach.” Serena has just rolled out an application named Composer that enables this process. Among the clients Serena is working with are Intuit, Thompson Financial and BYU.

3. Agile Development and Open Source
Ken Krugler, the CEO of Krugle, based in Menlo Park, Calif., agrees that quick development is increasingly important. “Ten years from now, the idea of having big, monolithic systems [such as SAP and Oracle] is going seem kind of silly,” he says. “It will seem very muscle-bound. There’s a trend toward faster and quicker [development] rather than more structure [in development].”  (article continues)

Krugler argues that a key to rapid development is the reuse of code and building applications using loosely-coupled components. These components may be exposed or created within an SOA environment. But components in the enterprise will increasingly be complemented by open source software, which may provide functionality that in-house code doesn’t or may be technically superior to what exists within the organization.

Open source code is unwieldy compared to SOA. It resides in a multitude of repositories and is rarely as neatly defined as SOA components. That’s where companies like Krugle come in. A leader in search-driven development, Krugle can return more relevant open source results than its few competitors because it is able to isolate meaningful function calls and definitions. “You have your bug-tracking system, your wiki, your source code and other data. How do you time them all together?” asks Krugler. The Krugle search engine can find code both inside and outside the enterprise and help developers look at the structure in a way that can also lead to a better understanding of them. Although most companies using Krugle are presently using it only to search code within the enterprise, Krugler emphasizes that search complements SOA and “complements a lot of existing databases and transactional systems, things that help you with software development already.”

The More Things Change …
While the fundamentals of good business software development are unlikely to change, these three trends — SaaS, self-service SOA and agile development — are making headway into enterprises and solving compelling business needs. They’re likely to be among the most important development trends in the next few years.


The Ins and Outs of SCM – IT Business Insider

The Ins and Outs of SCM

Advocates of software configuration management tools and techniques tend to resort to metaphor when describing why, once adopted, IT organizations can’t live without them.

By far the most frequent comparison is to the assembly line popularized by Henry Ford (but not invented by him, as it is widely believed). Before that, workers built complex physical products one at a time: A single person — or team — created each part of a product individually and put them together, making customized changes to individual parts so that they would fit together correctly.

Traditional software development followed this same process. And it was inefficient and prone to delays and cost overruns. Using automated SCM development tools, on the other hand, means your development process is infinitely more predictable and reliable. Costs go down. Errors are dramatically reduced. Indeed, SCM — like the industrial assembly line — is transforming the way an entire industry works.

Fran Schmidt will attest to that. She was hired by Source Medical Inc. in Birmingham, Ala. three years ago, to be its manager of configuration management systems. Fran walked into a situation where the previous software development lifecycle (SDLC) regime had been broken for more than two years.

“It was horrible,” she recalls. “They had onsite development, remote development, were operating on a twenty four-by-six schedule, and none of it was in sync. Not to mention that we had extremely tight budgetary and time constraints.”

Schmidt had been watching a small company called AccuRev, based in Lexington, Mass., for several years, and decided to try its SCM product. “We were able to almost immediately achieve low maintenance and lost cost in our very distributed development environment,” she says.

What to Look For

Over the last few years, dozens of SCM tools have been released into the market to provide options for IT development professionals who need help managing this complex process. These products support a broad range of diverse functionality. (article continues)

Here are essential capabilities that a good SCM tool will provide:


  • Enable “agile development” Using this increasingly popular incremental development methodology, IT development organizations deliver smaller amounts of code more frequently. “In effect, you deliver more, more often,” says Schmidt. “You make fewer errors, and customers are more satisfied as a result.” AccuRev’s support of agile development is one reason Schmidt chose that product.
  • Promote parallel development A good SCM product also needs to go far beyond version-control software to support parallel rather than linear development, says Keith West, senior software engineer of configuration management at ACI Worldwide, a maker of electronic payment systems based in Omaha, Neb. “We have more than 300 developers working in parallel on 102 customer-specific lines of code. If we tried to manage that complex a development environment using just traditional tools, we’d go crazy.”
  • Support your particular business processes Rather than requiring you to adapt your business processes to it, a good SCM tool will be flexible enough to adapt to the way you do things, according to West, who chose Telelogic’s Synergy SCM solution for that reason. Telelogic is based in Irvine, California. Agrees Steve Beaver, chief architect of MedAvant Heathcare Solutions, in Norcross, Ga., which provides systems support services to physicians and insurance companies: “In today’s IT environment, which increasingly depends on overseas development, you have to pay particular attention to supporting your SDLC processes, and SCM is the only effective way to do that.” The more SDLC processes your SCM tool supports, “the easier and more efficient your software development will be,” says Beaver, who uses AccuRev because of its SDLC project management capabilities.
  • Facilitate compliance with regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Many companies are being forced to implement SCM by legislation, according to Tom Tyler, chief technology officer of the Go To Group, Inc., a software automation IT consulting firm based in Bellaire, Md. For example, compliance with SOX requires auditable evidence of access control and policy enforcement for any applications impacting financial statements of public companies, and would be virtually impossible without SCM. Tyler depends on Perforce’s SCM to help him manage his IT development consulting activities for recruiting giant Monster.
  • Deliver quick return on investment Cost and ease of use are very important considerations when choosing an SCM product. “There are some very expensive products out there costing tens of thousands of dollars, and although they might do a lot, are very difficult to use and cost-justify,” says Paul Gowan, IT development manager for Columbia Analytical Services Inc., an environmental testing firm based in Kelso, Wash. He chose Team 2 from Alexsys Corporation, which costs less than $2,200 for a 20-user license, because it was easy to get his developers rapidly up to speed and productive. “We were careful to weigh the return on investment of SCM, and cost was a big part of our decision,” he says.

Indeed, you have to think of SCM in that way — as an investment rather than an expense. “The payoff in productivity gains and reduced person-hours will far outweigh the cost of implementing it,” says Tyler.


Service-Oriented Architecture Promises Increased Flexibility – IT Business Insider

Service-Oriented Architecture Promises Increased Flexibility

Wouldn’t it be a great idea if an enterprise’s IT resources could be linked and reused, enabling businesses to respond more quickly and cost-effectively to changing market conditions? That’s the theory behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) and, in theory, systems developed according to SOA principles promise new levels of flexibility. In reality, however, nothing’s ever that simple.

“You don’t get SOA-based flexibility merely by building a library of services,” says Randy Heffner, an analyst at Forrester Research based in Dallas, Texas. “AT&T learned this with its initial try at a Web services strategy, which took AT&T from having a bunch of disconnected, incoherent integration interfaces to having a bunch of disconnected, incoherent ‘standards-based’ interfaces.”

But if the key to realizing the promise of SOA is not in the most obvious implementation, then where is it?

Right Key, Wrong Lock
Merely collecting services is not enough, says Heffner. To succeed with an SOA strategy, enterprises have to shape their service creation efforts within the context of business design and governance.

IT departments must approach the problem from a business-oriented perspective, rather than a technology-oriented one. “Quality management in SOA is not defined as how many defects per line of code you find, but how well the service meets the business requirements,” says Sandy Carter, vice president of SOA and WebSphere strategy at IBM, in Somers, NY.

For example, an enterprise considering SOA must first ascertain whether an existing business process — such as automated credit checking — has already been created by another department in the company or another member of the IT staff. If this service already exists, a company can save time and money by (article continues)

avoiding redundant development efforts. If, on the other hand, IT finds that the automated credit check service doesn’t exist, they can then begin to develop, create and test one.

“By identifying a coherent body of services needed for a given business domain, and by designing each service to deliver a clearly scoped, complete business unit of work, you create an inventory of business services that, in effect, provides a digital model of your business capabilities,” Heffner explains.
Break Down the Business Functions
“Understanding how the business functions is key to identifying which services will succeed in an SOA environment,” says Columbus, Ga.-based Frank Braski, manager of IT Applications Services at insurance giant Aflac. Braski breaks down what he calls “the business taxonomy” into seven data concepts, among which an enterprise “can practically model and define anything,” he says. Those concepts are:

  • Relationships
  • Parties (people)
  • Products (things)
  • Agreements
  • Locations (places)
  • Attributes
  • Financial instruments

Unearthing artifacts is essential in every case. Artifacts are the instructions that explain specific business processes and services. This information includes: who owns the service, the performance requirements for the service in production, the current usage of the service, which applications are using the service and who can see the service.

“The key to understanding what business processes exist and how to create new ones is to ensure that the instructions are available in a repository and are easily understood by different parts of the organization, both business and IT,” says Carter. (article continues)

Successful Services Reuse
Once you have identified the services to be reused and shared, consider refining a common service rather than simply duplicating it. “The best way to get to plain-and-simple ‘use’ instead of the typical so-much-copying-and-pasting ‘re-use’ scenario is to K.I.S.S. — Keep It Simple and Smart,” advises Braski.

“Think Legos,” Braski explains. “Given just a handful of basic building blocks with a couple different styles and colors — presto! You can pretty much create anything you can imagine. Good Lego designers eventually discover a common set of basic ‘tricks’ or ‘patterns’ which they can apply time and again to solve problems common to many building challenges. In systems development, services can be as basic as those plastic building bricks.”

K.I.S.S. also entails keeping the core definition of the service intact. “Designing a limited set of interactions as messages that are completely abstracted from any implementation or technology underpinning allows other technology-centric configuration and policy elements to change around them,” says Sandra Rogers, IDC Program Director, SOA, Web Services and Integration in Framingham, Mass.

As artful as the end product may be, it must still face a reality check. “When several team members revise a document, it soon looks nothing like its original form. A similar situation can occur once a service is in production,” says Carter. “This is why IT needs to conduct continuous monitoring to make sure the service meets the established business requirements.”


Secrets to Successful Software Integration – IT Business Insider

Secrets to Successful Software Integration

As a hosted electronic data exchange company, SPS Commerce in Minneapolis, Minn., is in the business of connecting the software it creates to applications its customers use every day. When the company recently outgrew some of its own systems, it was in a unique position of living its own customers’ experience.

Previously, SPS Commerce relied on transferring information manually into Lotus Notes. But managers were concerned about accuracy and timeliness, and also felt that Lotus Notes by itself wasn’t an ideal platform for analyzing data. “Our decision was driven by velocity,” explains Troy Benesh, SPS Marketing Services manager. “[That is] reducing the amount of set-up time, eliminating manual entry, setting strict data standards and efficiently handing off information to various groups.” By integrating Lotus Notes and SPS’ Oracle database with Saleforce’s customer relationship management (CRM) application, SPS hoped to track users’ activities, ensure follow-up tasks were performed in a timely manner and spotlight accountability from one end of the customer chain to the other. Now it was about to find out whether those hopes would hold water.

Like SPS, many companies face a fundamental dilemma: They are organized vertically with each function using customized software applications and databases, but the customer experience extends throughout all business functions. “That’s where software integration can play the greatest role,” says Mike Childress, vice president of Applications Portfolio Development at EDS in Plano, Texas. “It cuts across those domains because that’s how the real world works.”

Unfortunately, in the real world, integration between disparate systems doesn’t always go smoothly. With so many elements involved, some key items may get overlooked. (article continues)

A Failure to Communicate
Software integration is made up of five key components, says Childress. They include the underlying architecture or tools that will be used; governance, where IT and business discuss the scope and priority of requests; the rules put in place for workflow; the behavioral or cultural aspect and service management. IT departments tend to focus on the first three components when negotiating with integration enablers; the latter two, however, are equally important.

If you don’t have a culture that wants to and is incented to leverage the organization’s integrated business system, you’ll reintegrate the same business functions three or four times during various projects, notes Childress. This IT version of reinventing the wheel is exactly what application integration attempts to avoid.

Service management is the other piece companies often overlook. This component dictates how a company manages its business processes, applications and underlying infrastructure so systems can run 24/7 with zero downtime. Service management also addresses when an application can be taken down for maintenance and provides a solution if a piece of the infrastructure fails.

Also, when integrating the two systems, IT managers must make sure they understand the language of both the data and the event architecture. Otherwise, Childress warns, there may be a misunderstanding of basic terms like “employee.” (article continues)

Increased Connections, Enhanced Performance
Integrating software can improve business performance in several ways. Probably the clearest benefit of software integration is the reduction of manual processes — from the time savings in reducing the amount of data entry to the minimization of human errors.

Equally important, says Pat Backen, a software engineer at SPS Commerce, is the ability to leverage separate application strengths. “Every application has its plusses and minuses, but with integration methods, companies can fully capitalize on the strengths of each application while minimizing the downside.”
Business intelligence also increases when integrating data from separate data sources and applications. An overall view of the business can be developed to allow for better data mining and reporting; the resulting synthesis can be used to improve performance by delivering actionable information that was not available from either independent system before integration.

However, some of the most striking results SPS witnessed as a result of its own systems integration have been in increased levels of customer satisfaction. “Manual data entry had the potential to be a clog in the pipeline,” Backen says. “By automating this process, we have greatly reduced the time it takes for our customers to be up and running. This is a win-win-win: happy customers, happy salespeople, happy management.”

The bottom line: Before undertaking a systems integration project, address the crucial components: the enabling technology; the underlying architecture, the tools and the governance. Make sure there is a policy covering the scope and priority of requests about the data to be shared among the different business units. Last but not least, train employees to make the most of the integrated data. That’s the ultimate key to improved results.


Reinforcing WiFi Redundancy – IT Business Insider

Reinforcing WiFi Redundancy

Redundancy is routine in the constant scramble to keep a conventional enterprise network functioning. But the wireless infrastructure is often ignored, leaving enterprises vulnerable to malicious attacks and network failure.

No longer a hot-spot sideshow, wireless is on track to become the primary enterprise network sooner than you might think. “Although the all-wireless enterprise, such as Intel’s, is not yet the norm, it is expected to be by mid- to late-2008 and into early 2009,” says Chris Silva, an analyst with the Forrester research group based in Cambridge, Mass. Redundancy neglect now will only cause greater problems in the future.

Wired + Wireless = One Network
The impending move from wired to wireless is prodding IT professionals to shift gears and build a bulwark of safeguards. Successful transition, however, requires more than simply duplicating key parts of wireless hardware. “A redundant infrastructure means anticipating points of failure for the network and creating ways of preventing the network from failing, no matter what nightmare scenario takes place,” advises Stan Schatt, VP of ABI Research in New York, N.Y.

Among the points of potential failures are the hidden recesses of the physical plant. “Redundancy efforts must ensure 100 percent coverage of the building as much as it must ensure constant reliability of the network. You have to account for new obstacles such as building materials, walls, stairwells and corner dead zones,” advises Silva.

Paradoxically, despite intensified scrutiny of the wireless infrastructure, IT departments cannot afford to ignore the wired network. (article continues)

“Even though these networks are separate, wireless users often connect to a wire-line network. A network manager has to be aware of issues associated with the WiFi device and network that could bring down the wire-line network,” observes Schatt.

In short, the entire network system — both wired and wireless — is mission critical.  Yet too many enterprises are missing the message, warns San Jose, Calif. -based Rachna Ahlawat, research director of Gartner’s Wireless Networking. “There’s not much difference in redundancy for wired and wireless. Both must be covered.”

Eight Secrets to Achieving Redundancy
How can IT departments super-size their redundancy plans? Consider these eight ways to reinforce your entire network:

  • Intelligent switches (controller) As the wireless LAN (WLAN) industry moves toward a model with the real intelligence centered in the switch or controller, a resilient WiFi network should have additional unused switches to permit active failover. 
  • Battery backup for the switch In the event of a power failure, backup power is needed for the switch and for access points that rely on power over Ethernet (POE).
  • Hot-swappable spares for the switch Most switches now permit hot-swapping of failed circuit boards, allowing quick replacement of components without the need to shut down the entire network segment.
  • Dense access point configuration Today’s access points can direct their traffic to replacements if one fails, but if the access points are out of radio range for users, they are useless. Make sure there are sufficient access points for the system. (article continues)

  • Load balancing Increasing use of voice-over-wireless LAN (VOWLAN) is pushing demand for an industry standard for load balancing. Until voice-over WiFi calls can be recognized and equally distributed among access points, a user could get a busy signal when trying to make a call. To avoid this unacceptable condition, IT departments may need to design their own load balancing solutions.
  • Roaming Users need to be able to roam between subnets without having their connections dropped. The IEEE 802.11r standard that supports this function has not yet been ratified, but most equipment vendors are offering their own proprietary solutions in the interim and promise to upgrade to the final standard when it is approved.
  • Battery-saving features To avoid dropped network connections if a handheld WiFi device, such as a scanner or a WiFi phone runs out of battery power, most equipment manufacturers offer some version of WMM battery saving.
  • Intrusion detection and prevention Network managers must design their WiFi networks to have adequate sensors to identify hackers and knock them off before they bring down the WiFi network.

Make sure your enterprise is prepared for the future surge to an all-wireless network. The steps toward achieving wireless redundancy may differ from normal redundancy efforts, but the end goal remains the same. “Most network managers are looking for network resiliency; that means creating a network that is resilient enough not to fail should a component fail or should a hacker attack the network,” says Schatt.