How clear was our crystal ball?

December 11, 2012

Every year, in January, there is a flood of articles with predictions for the year ahead. Last year, I thought we should join the deluge and we put together our version of what lay ahead for 2012. I found myself wondering how many of these would be accurate and how many would quietly be deleted come December, so I decided that I would revisit our article and see how we did. I’ve summarised our points below, but you can find the original article here.

Desktop – we predicted the launch of Windows 8 and increasing pressure towards migrating from Windows XP. Surprise surprise, we were spot on here with Windows 8 being released and plenty of work for our consultants on desktop planning – both using management tools such as System Center and considering centralised desktop initiatives such as VDI.

BYOD – we got this one nailed – this area must have occasioned more conversations than any other over the last year! Having said that, the default play here seems to me to be securing the device and delivering email. BYOD promises much more than that if we extend the conversation to data and applications other than email – but I’m confident that will come. We’ve built a fairly complete stack of offerings to assist in this space so if you get stuck, you know who to call…

Communications – yep, I got this one wrong. We’re not all using corporate versions of Skype to communicate ad hoc by video! While telephony clients such as LYNC and Jabber are starting to become more widespread there’s some work to be done here. This is a shame in my opinion as there are some mobility and productivity benefits potentially here – but I think we will get there. Just maybe later than the over-excited geek in me expected…

Datacentre – we were fairly close here too. Demand for virtualisation and storage continued apace, and we did indeed start to see customers moving from heavily virtualised towards private cloud. I’m expecting to see more of this next year. What caught me by surprise was the speed with which our customers are asking us to help them to move some or all of their infrastructure ‘to the cloud’ – which is rather convenient really as we had spent a lot of time, money and effort building our CloudSoftcat infrastructure platform the year before…. Speaking of which:

Cloud – so we did see a few outages for the likes of Amazon, but I’m not sure I can recall a specific security breach that was purely cloud-related. Having said that, our friendly, service-led approach to cloud did seem to prove popular with customers so I’m calling this one a win!

Security – probably another one where we were a touch ambitious. The market for security in virtual environments did improve, and we had some particular success with TippingPoint. I’m not sure my brave prediction that organisations would loosen up on Facebook, however, was as accurate and this probably slowed the development of the Data Leak Prevention market. We’re still convinced that’s coming. 

I make that four out of six – not bad! I’ll publish our predictions for 2013 in the first week of January, so keep an eye out for that…


Helping HP to deliver their new baby

December 7, 2012

I’m sure, if you are reading this post, you have heard the happy news about a new baby on the way. No, not Will and Kate’s impending prince or princess – rather HP’s announcement of two new versions of their 3PAR StoreServ array aimed at the mid market, and priced from €20k for the dual controller version and €30k for the quad controller.

We were absolutely delighted to be part of the launch, over in Frankfurt just before HP’s annual Discover tech show. I joined in a customer panel at the official unveiling for the press the day before Discover started. I talked about our experiences in using 3PAR as the storage platform four our CloudSoftcat infrastructure as a service platform, which has rapidly scaled to more than 200 customers, including all of our own IT. I also presented a breakout session entitled ‘From Zero to Cloud’ later on in the event.

It’s great news that customers with serious IT needs but less serious budgets can now get access to this technology, which is in use at four of the top five largest hosting providers. Of course if you deploy 3PAR in your primary infrastructure, but don’t want to spend CAPEX on a DR site, you could replicate to our 3PAR-powered CloudSoftcat platform.

If you are interested to hear more about Softcat and HP at Discover 2012, I have collected together the following links:

Main launch site for HP 3PAR StoreServ:

Launch presentation from Dave Donatelli and David Scott of HP, and customer panel featuring yours truly:

Me being interviewed live on with John Furrier and David Vellante of Wikibon:

My podcast recorded with the legendary @HPStorageGuy Calvin Zito on the floor at Discover:

The Softcat tech team have a demo unit of the new HP 3PAR StoreServ 7000 on order, so if you want to learn more, give us a shout!

Maybe VDI could be the answer to BYOD, after all?

July 18, 2012

I had an interesting thought regarding the use of VDI (hosted virtual desktops) as a way to enable a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy. Centrally hosted desktops, whether true VDI or session-based, can be a part of a mobile/ remote working strategy and can be a relatively easy way of getting existing Windows applications onto tablets without having to re-architect the application completely for native or HTML-5 mobile access. However, current Windows and applications are not really touch friendly, and the endless panning and scrolling etc required to use Windows 7 on an iPad or equivalent means that it is not really a viable solution for full-time working. I have long thought that VDI is perhaps a stepping stone (probably a ten-year stepping stone!) to having device-independent applications accessible from whatever device you choose.

What interested me though was the announcement of the next generation of Office – coupled with the imminent release of Windows 8. Both look to have the Metro interface (which I really rather like) and to be touch-enabled. The intention, obviously, from a Microsoft point of view is for all of this to work perfectly on a native-Windows 8 device, whether tablet, slate, traditional laptop or some entirely new form factor of which we can only dream.

However, if Windows and Office in the short term and most Windows 8 apps in the medium term are Metro – and touch – enabled, that just might change the game. If a centrally hosted desktop can present the touch interface, and this can be remoted to any device running an appropriate receiver or client, any touch device should be comfortably able to present and deliver a Metro/ touch experience. Therefore VDI becomes a far more usable proposition for delivering Windows apps to devices.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if it works (time to get testing in the Softcat labs) this could drive significant uptake of VDI technology. All we need to fix now is the licensing. Oh, and if someone can magic up pervasive connectivity throughout the world that might help too…

My daughter broke my iPad…

June 5, 2012

Sadly, my daughter dropped my iPad on our kitchen floor today. Smashed the screen good and proper! I use my iPad loads for work, so it got me thinking about organisations pursuing a BYOD strategy. What do you do in this situation to make sure that your employees can keep working? Here’s some ideas:

Have a policy that staff must only use devices that are insured and under warranty?

Keep some spare devices ready?

Stick a thin client on everyone’s desk or on a load of hot desks and provide a virtual desktop of some sort?

BYOD is as much about policy and preparation as technology…Image

Me? I’m a geek, so I have a PlayBook I can use for a bit – but I’ll be getting it fixed ASAP!


UPDATE: my iPad is fixed, so I am back up and running. The service at an Apple store is very slick – you get a replacement device and just down;pad everything from iCloud – assuming you have backed up. In the meantime, I saw a really interesting article on the subject here that summarises the difficulties here:


Has anyone got the Window Key?

May 25, 2012

I had to blog this… High geek comedy in the Softcat office this morning! 


Obviously it’s pretty warm today… An email went round to the Marlow Office distribution list asking if anyone had the window key (our aircon could be better…). Lovely response from one of our tech consultants:


Try that, it should work”

Gotta love geek humour… 

Vendor swag part 1: ‘Clouds’ of smoke

February 17, 2012

This is part 1 in an occasional series I have been meaning to kick off for a while, showcasing the more interesting pieces of vendor merchandise at conferences and so on. I have to say I am not sure we will better the first one!

This week, I have been away at HP’s Global Partner Summit. One evening I attended a reception for the storage business. The marketing guys had gone crazy as the drinks on offer were branded! I went for a CloudAgile Whiskey Sour, but quite a few people were tucking in to 3PARtinis… At the end of the reception, they handed out a gift bag. Inside, was a HP Storage branded cigar, a CloudAgile branded lighter and a cigar cutter. Amazing! Anyone seen anything cooler than that from a vendor?

Clouds of smoke

Not something I will make use of myself, but if any of our wonderful customers want it, drop me a line!

Some interesting background articles on Big Data

January 10, 2012

There’s been a lot of fuss around this concept of ‘Big Data’ recently. The basic idea here is that there is more data than ever to collect – from social media, from sensors in the environment, from all sorts – and that now we have the wherewithal to store this data – and importantly do something with it. This is not about big storage – this is more about big analytics – how can we derive ‘actionable insight’ from this morass of data. I guess you could say ‘it’s not the size of your data, it’s what you do with it’!

Obviously you do need a fair amount of storage and processing power – or access to cloud services to burst to – in order to render down the raw data into something you can use for business insight. This is getting the vendors fairly excited, as, if a customer can see value in pursuing this route, somebody somewhere, whether end user or cloud provider, is going to have to buy some stuff! This appears to be very much a scale-out play rather than a scale-up one, and a lot of the focus is on storage platforms like EMC’s Isilon, as a lot of this data is unstructured – i.e. not in a database.

I came across a couple of articles over the last week which explain the approach and some of the concepts well – I hope you find these useful:

Freeform Dynamics: How big is Big Data?

Information week: Big Data: Why all the fuss?


Bring your own fruit…

January 9, 2012

I caught up with our RIM/ Blackberry rep today, and found out some stuff that I didn’t know, which was actually really interesting. Obviously quite a few organisations run BES to provide secure email. If you are anything like us, you will have a fleet of BBs for your ‘road warriors’. You’ll probably also have a load of people with smart phones of all persuasions, wanting to connect them to your email system.

A host of providers – GOOD, Mobile Iron, Sybase and others – have sprung up recently providing different takes on ways to secure employee-owned devices for email etc. Alongside that, I suppose it could be said that maybe there is more of a buzz around Android and Apple at the minute rather than Blackberry handsets. That had led me to think that RIM had some serious work to do in this space.

Sounds like they are on it already – I understand that in March, they will release Fusion, which is an add-on to an existing BES implementation that will enable you to manage iOS and Android devices from your BES server. This is more of a Mobile Iron style approach where you can enforce settings and use encryption on the device itself, rather than a GOOD approach where you get an encrypted app that you manage. I slightly prefer this approach as it doesn’t change the experience of the device that your users choose.

This could present an interesting and useful departure for RIM, where they continue to produce hardware, but also use their existing installed base to manage other devices. I don’t think that’s a bad strategy at all – just a shame that they aren’t shouting about it yet!

Kudos to RIM for recognising that Blackberry is not the only fruit in a BYOD world…

My predictions for 2012…

January 3, 2012

I normally do this the other way round, but this time I decided to publish on the news site first – but for those of you who follow me here (thank you!), here’s my predictions for IT, plus some suggestions for how to address and take advantage of these trends. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from all at Softcat! I thought we would start the year off with a few predictions for what we expect to happen over the course of the year. Rather than this being simply some predictions in isolation, we’ve made a few suggestions as to how you might be able to respond to, or take advantage of, these trends:

Desktop – if you haven’t already, you will come under increasing pressure to migrate to Windows 7. We expect IT to need to reduce desktop management costs, while maintaining or improving service levels to the business. Windows 8 is looking likely to ship towards the end of the year – it’s looking good so far and could be interesting when your PC, phone and tablet run basically the same OS. We think Windows 8 will be the last revision of the ‘desktop’ operating system as we know it – Windows won’t go away, but will increasingly be a platform across a huge range of devices.

What to do?

Get your desktop house in order – look at management toolsets such as System Center to reduce the pain of migrating to Windows 7 and of ongoing maintenance, and reconsider server-based computing (VDI, Terminal Services etc) where this makes sense.

BYOD – more and more people within  your organisation will demand, and even expect, to be able to use their own devices – particularly phones and tablets – for work purposes. You need to set out your strategy here, as it is something that you can harness to improve productivity, employee satisfaction and business continuity.

What to do?

Evaluate the risk inherent in having data on these devices, versus the demand and potential gains. Technologies such as GOOD can encrypt data on those end-points, or you can use centralised computing to deliver Windows apps to those devices without any data getting on to the device. Over time, you may want to consider rearchitecting your line-of-business applications or at least having a transport mechanism that enables delivery to handheld devices.

Communications – we think there will be two main trends in communications. The first will be mobility-related – replacing desktop handsets by running telephony clients on mobile devices, and increasingly implementing VoIP over GSM or WiFi. The second will be an increase in the use of casual, desktop-based video conferencing and application sharing. Both of these trends will improve collaboration across geographical boundaries and bring disparate work-forces closer together.

What to do?

We think the increasing interest in Microsoft LYNC will drive both of these areas, so you could do worse than start there, especially if you have an Enterprise Agreement which gives you at least some LYNC entitlement. There’s a healthy ecosystem of products to improve and extend the capabilities of LYNC, as well.

Datacentre – virtualisation will continue to be the prevailing trend. If you haven’t, you really should – and if you have, you should probably do more! We’ll see more management technologies, both from the virtualisation vendors and from the ecosystem, which will help to push up the percentage of applications you virtualise, as well as to migrate towards the nirvana of a ‘private cloud’. No doubt your demand for storage will accelerate as well, so you will need to be clever about the way in which you use disk to keep on top of costs in that area while maintaining the performance your applications need. Oh, and you’ll need to improve your ability to recover in the event of a disaster, too.

What to do?

Review your strategy for virtualisation – are you trading physical server sprawl for the virtual equivalent? Would tighter management enable you to drive up utilisation? Review your storage strategy as well – can you make use of deduplication, for example – or employ a combination of SSDs for performance and cheaper, slower disk for data? The combination of clever use of storage and increased virtualisation can make it far easier – and cheaper – to implement a robust DR plan.

Cloud – this is the year that we will see ‘Cloud’ descend into Gartner’s ‘trough of disillusionment’. It wouldn’t surprise us if we saw the first serious security breach in the cloud space, and doubtless another large-scale outage.  Having said that, losing some of the hype will make Cloud a more realistic proposition for businesses when done properly. We think that localised, friendly cloud providers will be increasingly important – credit-card-cloud will be reserved for development and test.

What to do?

Don’t write cloud off – but look to providers where you have or can build a relationship and where doing your own due diligence is possible. Look to extend the capabilities of your infrastructure for capacity or DR by partnering with a provider of infrastructure as a service, and if your business needs a new application, consider cloud options against on-premise.

Security – Firstly, 2012 is the year we expect security technologies to start to catch up with virtualisation. Up until now the available technologies have been somewhat immature, and the new model of ‘introspection’ via APIs will improve this. Secondly, this will be the year the business tells you to stop blocking Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, as people are now genuinely using them as business tools. You will no longer be able to mitigate the risks by turning them off! We’ll also see more focus than ever on keeping data safe – something which is increasingly difficult in this mobile world.

What to do?

Firstly, if your legislative or threat landscape demands it, look seriously at Intrusion Prevention technologies which will work across your virtual environment. Secondly, make sure that your Web Security Policy is up-to-date, and supplement it with a powerful filtering technology that enables control down to application-level within social networking sites, rather than taking a simple allow-or-deny approach. Thirdly, gain an understanding of the way in which data moves around your organisation and make sure your access policy limits data misuse, especially through social media and email. Encryption of remote access is a sensible step, and you may, if your position requires it, like to give consideration to a data-loss-prevention tool.

Did you ever know that you’re my HERO?

October 27, 2011

Interesting concept here from Forrester – apparently HERO stands for Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives. These are your execs, your top sales guys – the people who work to drive your business forward and help you to change and to innovate. This reminds me of a conversation I had with our wonderful (if somewhat crazy!) chairman about being a ‘challenger’. Very interesting!

So, according to Forrester, these people are increasingly using Macs (and, I would presume, iPads etc) in a business context, because they are not constrained to the Windows desktop that they are provided by ‘corporate’. This is noteworthy as it is only three years since Forrester declared that Macs only had a niche place in business.

This has been a trend I have been following for a while – regular readers will know about my iPad addiction. When I attended the VMware Premier Partner Exec Council in January of this year, which encompassed the top 200 VMware partners worldwide, I was amazed at the number using iPads and MacBooks – and the small number using PCs.

I’ve been experimenting with the Bring Your Own Device/ PC concept within Softcat, and you know what? It works. The main reason for this was the fact that I was starting to embrace some of the social media concepts that were around, wanted to have access to those tools from whatever device – and also work (sadly!) from a variety of platforms in and out of hours. I guess I am not your typical employee, and hopefully I am a touch more technically literate than your average IT user, but you know what? This stuff works! I’ve had the luxury of access to both Citrix XenApp and VMware View, and of course we run Outlook Web Access and provide external access to SharePoint – the latter two being where I spend most of my time.

Not only does this stuff work, but it’s coming. There are plenty of technology solutions out there for device security, any-device access, application delivery – make sure you get ready for it!


This is not intended as anti-PC and certainly not anti-Windows – of course I am using Windows, but just via a remote connection. What I am saying is that I am ‘pro-choice’ – over the form factor, the access device, the (local) operating system. It’s anti-corporate conformity, not anti-Windows… It depends on what you want, and how you personally work more efficiently. One of our VMware techies runs Fedora as his native OS – apparently that works for him, but it’s a stage too far for me!