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Thursday, April 4, 2013 #

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others” – Brandon Mull – Fablehaven

Read my latest blog on looking at others mistakes and then turning them into lessons for your team. In particular what can be learnt from the recent NuGet outage?

Read more at the Solidsoft web site..


Yesterday Microsoft announced the shipping of the second update to Visual Studio 2012. For more information go to Solidsoft web site.


Friday, March 8, 2013 #

If you are in trouble or come across trouble forget dialling 999 dial 112 not only does it give you the power of 999 but it allows your mobile to find and use any net work to make the connection. That’s correct any network not just the one you are subscribed to.

Furthermore it does this for free in the majority of the countries in the world.

for more info watch this video by Lyle Brotherton:


Saturday, March 2, 2013 #

Solidsoft in conjunction with Microsoft has run a couple of of Azure workshops. Both were very well received and will be repeated in the future. Michael Royster of Microsoft commented:

Over the last two weeks we have run two very successful Azure workshops covering both PaaS and IaaS.  A huge thank you must go to Solidsoft for continuing to support the Application Platform and Azure business.

The workshops were:

Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS) Workshop 19/20 February 2013

Delivered by Charles Young (Solidsoft) and Michael Royster (Microsoft)

12 Attendees .

Overall Average Feedback: 7.1, Session Content: 7.5, Session Delivery: 7.7, Labs Content: 7.1

Customer Quotes:

· “I would definitely recommend an MTC event to colleagues unless I wanted to attend myself!”.

· “Very useful and well organised workshop.”

· “Excellent presentations talking through services and concepts

Azure Infrastructure as a Service (PaaS) Workshop 26 February 2013

Delivered by Yossi Dahan (Solidsoft) and Michael Royster (Microsoft)

11 Attendees.

Overall Average Feedback: 7.3, Session Content: 7.3, Session Delivery: 7.7, Labs Content: 7.0

Customer Quotes:

· Good event, well put together; powershell part was complicated even for a UNIX admin. Thanks for a great insight for Azure

· Presentations and labs complimented each other well, all sessions useful.

· Powershell is awkward for learning,

Solidsoft in conjunction with Microsoft will be running more workshops in the future. For details view www.solidsoft.com or contact Pam.Pickup@solidsoft.com.


Last week Solidsoft announced the date and content of their next Cloud Seminar:

Enterprise applications in the cloud with Windows Azure event

Technologists from Microsoft and Solidsoft will share their real world experiences and future vision on the following topics;

Extending your business applications from earth to the cloud: demonstrates the capability of the cloud to deliver cost effective extensions to existing business applications.

Building bridges between software islands in the sky: considers methods to ensure individual cloud applications can be integrated and connected back to the enterprise.

Real World Windows Azure: architectural patterns, “gotchas” and our experiences working with the platform to deliver significant projects.

More info and registration page can be found here.


Monday, February 25, 2013 #

Microsoft All-In-One Code Framework team has just released the new Sample Browser for Windows 8.   It’s available for download in the Windows Store now! Go and get it and get access to over 5000 pieces of sample code.

image

You can search code samples; learn code samples and share code samples from the app.

Lots more information on this can be found at the All-In-One Code Framework blog so go have a look there then install the app!!


Introduction

I recently came across a free series of eBooks published by Syncfusion covering a number of Microsoft Technical topics. These are concise technical books of between 50 and a 100 pages written by talented experts. As they say in the forward:

‘original content guaranteed to get you up and running in about the time it takes to drink a few cups of coffee.

Today’s Book

Today I’m looking at ‘ASP.NET MVC 4 – Mobile Websites Succinctly’ written by Lyle Luppes. The book aimed at developers current using Microsoft ASP.NET and MVC to create websites, and who are now interested in making the same web sites ‘play nicely’ with mobile devices.

The book is split neatly into 12 chapters covering MVC4, the why, the when and then delving into the real meat of the topic. Included are chapters on Tips and Tricks, JQuery mobile details, Enhancing performance and onto advice around moving from MVC3 to MVC4. Concluding with a rather short Conclusion.

Each chapter is introduced with a quote, my own favourite being the final chapter and the quote:

“No more training do you require. Already know you that which you need.”
Yoda in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The quality of the book is a far cry from that of many such free offerings. It is as good if not better than a number of main stream expensive offerings I have seen and used in the past. The examples are well coded and laid out well. The screen shots are excellent and well considered and the text is obviously coming from a professional writer who knows his stuff.

As we read through the book and carryout the coding samples provided a mobile web site is slowly constructed. When using this book myself I found it concise enough for me to develop my own site in parallel. This was a demo piece of work for a company seminar that needed a mobile UI! 

I can recommend this book to all developers working in the field of web site development not just those looking to produce mobile web applications. Whilst we may not be coding for mobile today it is foolish to ignore the way the world is moving.

This is the first of a number of looks at books provided by  Syncfusion I’ll be reviewing.


Introduction

I recently came across a free series of eBooks published by Syncfusion covering a number of Microsoft Technical topics. These are concise technical books of between 50 and a 100 pages written by talented experts. As they say in the forward:

‘original content guaranteed to get you up and running in about the time it takes to drink a few cups of coffee.

Today’s Book

Today I’m looking at ‘ASP.NET MVC 4 – Mobile Websites Succinctly’ written by Lyle Luppes. The book aimed at developers current using Microsoft ASP.NET and MVC to create websites, and who are now interested in making the same web sites ‘play nicely’ with mobile devices.

The book is split neatly into 12 chapters covering MVC4, the why, the when and then delving into the real meat of the topic. Included are chapters on Tips and Tricks, JQuery mobile details, Enhancing performance and onto advice around moving from MVC3 to MVC4. Concluding with a rather short Conclusion.

Each chapter is introduced with a quote, my own favourite being the final chapter and the quote:

“No more training do you require. Already know you that which you need.”
Yoda in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The quality of the book is a far cry from that of many such free offerings. It is as good if not better than a number of main stream expensive offerings I have seen and used in the past. The examples are well coded and laid out well. The screen shots are excellent and well considered and the text is obviously coming from a professional writer who knows his stuff.

I can recommend this book to all developers working in the field of web site development not just those looking to produce mobile web applications.


Saturday, February 16, 2013 #

Let's Design for Accessibility

When Solidsoft was engaged on the Tell Us Once project for the UK government one of the many key requirements was to meet all the accessibility requirements.

At the time this was a bureaucratic edict couched in values expressed in research from pre-2006. Yet another tick box or accreditation for us to meet. What transpired is that this was our  first steps towards thinking about embracing accessibility for design not merely meeting a government edict.

Strangely enough the new Government Digital Service responsible for Gov.UK (a group I’m normally at odds with over their misuse of the open source stick!) have come to the same conclusion as we have at Solidsoft. That is accessibility is an intrinsic part of the design process to meet the needs of todays web.

Taking this approach also has a number of benefits:

Speed

By adopting the best accessibility practises results in better performance at the UI!

Usability

It can be of no surprise that a high accessible site is a highly usable site…

Branding

It takes hundreds of impressions to get a brand established, only one bad one to scar it. Positive brand perception will come with good accessibility.

More Customers

It makes more sense to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let’s not exclude what can be a large percentage of users.

Doing it Right by Design

It seems much better to do it as part of the normal design rather than trying to fix something to meet an out of date standard.

In conclusion

Design for accessibility because it is the right thing to do not the enforced activity everyone despises. We made Tell Us Once accessible not simply because we had to but because it made no sense for us not to do it.

 

  HMG-TUO-Banner-Negative_242x580186965

 


Lets Design for Accessibility

When Solidsoft was engaged on the Tell Us Once project for the UK government one of the many key requirements was to meet all the accessibility requirements.

At the time this was a bureaucratic edict couched in values expressed in research from pre-2006. Yet another tick box or accreditation for us to meet. What transpired is the first steps towards thinking about embracing accessibility not merely meeting a government edict.

Strangely enough the new Government Digital Service responsible for Gov.UK (a group I’m normally at odds with over their misuse of the open source stick!) have come to the same conclusion as we have at Solidsoft accessibility is an intrinsic part of the design process to meet the needs of todays web.

Taking this approach also has a number of benefits: 

Speed

By adopting the best accessibility practises results in better performance at the UI!

Usability

It can be of no surprise that a high accessible site is a highly usable site…

Branding

It takes hundreds of impressions to get a brand established, only one bad one to scar it. Positive brand perception will come with good accessibility.

More Customers

It makes more sense to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let’s not exclude what can be a large percentage of users.

Doing it Right by Design

It seems much better to do it as part of the normal design rather than trying to fix something to meet an out of date standard.

In conclusion

Design for accessibility because it is the right thing to do not the enforced activity. We made Tell Us Once accessible not simple because we had to but because it made sense not to.

 

  HMG-TUO-Banner-Negative_242x580186965

 


A lot of noise around cloud and in particularly Microsoft Windows Azure is the ability to scale up or down at will. This is a very important aspect of the whole cloud story but it is also something that must be treated with respect.

Customers have been asking why Microsoft didn’t provide and automatic scaling feature and reason why not gives us an insight into the whole issue around scaling.

So when should we scale? The need to scale up and down comes in a number of forms or patterns. Simply put they can be considered to be either expected or unexpected. Unexpected patterns in load can be in bursts, ramps up or down or just completely random  fluctuations. Expected patterns are typically linked to events such as Christmas, tax submission day or times of the day such as lunch hour or straight after work. So should we scale for both?

Obviously the expected patterns are an obvious target for ‘controlled scaling’ or even some form of auto-scaling. The unexpected patterns are a different challenge all together. To decide we must understand the impact the challenge has on our application and why it could be a problem. If we consider typical cause this helps to give us a better idea. For instance a sudden burst in customer traffic to a web site might simply have been a random event such as an unexpected mention in a blog or twitter! In planning for this we have to be careful not to over-anticipate. If we are measuring a 2 or 3 fold increase in visits to our site shouldn’t necessarily mean we spin up loads more web instances.

For unexpected ‘bursts’ or increases the most sensible approach is to asses this over a period of time say 2 or 3 hours. Then we can consider the best way of acting. It could be spin up more web or simply invoke an asynchronous approach to ensure we process data in the down time rather than keeping the user waiting. 

Finally, having been working with Azure for a couple of years here are some key thoughts around scaling:

  • Don’t instantly react to ‘spikes’! It may be just that! Consider it takes 10 minutes to start a new work role – the spike could be gone even before the worker role has spun up! Consider other options in your code such as threading before scaling up that extra role.
  • The process of scaling up or down takes a finite time – typically this is 10 to 15 minutes. Azure bills by the hour so to maximise the use I suggest you scale up no more than 10 minutes before the start of the next hour ensuring that you are not ‘burning’ your hour before the instance is up and running. Similarly plan the shut time before the end of the hour to ensure you don’t incur the charge for another hour!
  • If you are going ‘automated’ the set sample times to be long enough to be meaningful and sensible upper and lower boundaries.
  • Consider the events occurring that may cause increased access to your site. Prepare in advance rather than simply reacting are letting the automatic system do it.
  • Lastly, treat Azure as any other resource: it must be managed , it must be measured and it must be monitored.

Thursday, February 14, 2013 #

A CTO experience of the Windows Azure cloud platform from Solidsoft

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 #

One of the great joys of my job is seeing how innovative our development team can be, how innovative Microsoft are being and how innovative the world of technology is being. Now I must ‘nail my colours to the flag pole’ when I define what innovation is to me:

Innovation is the development of solutions that meet new needs, inarticulate needs, or customer and market needs by adding new ways and achieving more value.

Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.

Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different (Lat. innovare: "to change") rather than doing the same thing better.

That said I recently came across a product described to me as innovative that I felt compelled to blog about as I feel confused as to the validity of the statement….

The product, and it will remain nameless, provides the impression of being able to simplify and shorten the development process for supporting multiple mobile platforms for a single app. Now this isn’t another web based product but one that ‘produces’ an app for each platform from the same source code.

Intrigued I investigated further. Now it is described as innovative and this challenges my definition because the innovation is rather than produce an app for each mobile platform it simply provides an app container for each platform into which you ‘host’ your app developed in the products own language. This is not a subtle under the covers framework sitting between the app and the platform but a blatant full blown app environment sitting on top of the mobile platform.

To me this is not innovation or even invention  and it certainly isn’t improvement!  I sort of feel cheated….

Then low and behold I catch sight of another one! Lenovo are offering a Windows 8 emulator app to run Android Apps!! Why! If you are so wedded to Android Apps buy and Android tablet….

If you need an app to run on Windows 8 the write it on Windows 8 to utilise all that Windows 8 offers, similarly if you need an Everything Apple app write it using IOS and use what that offers….

I do not want to think of a development team being limited to the features some third party container deems to offer – this is not innovation!

“Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. “


Friday, February 8, 2013 #

For more years than I can remember we have talked about ensuring re-use of code from projects. We’ve achieved some but not with an overhead and a lot of re-work.Typically developers have pulled in code they’ve used before to ‘speed up’ development. And usually they have made changes to the code to ‘make it work’ for4 a particular project or fix bugs they’ve found. Unfortunately they don’t usually change the original source.

Recently I have been looking into this as an ‘off CTO duty’ piece of work. In particular I have been investigating the use of Nuget for use at Solidsoft. And guess what I’ve found the re-use master plan. I have taken some of my over used code and compiled it as a Nuget download.

What I found intriguing is that when I find a bug in my Nuget component code I have to fix it, build a new Nugget package creating a new version and the redeploy. This makes the developer very aware of his code and getting it right first time.

For my part my first components seem to be at version 1.07! My latest component, though, is at  version 1.2 so the discipline required is starting to take hold…

The bottom line  is that use of Nuget brings discipline to development.


Monday, February 4, 2013 #

9th of February will be the start of the ‘Brave New World’ for Microsoft punctuated by the launch of Surface Pro and the re-launch of Windows 8. After the launch of the disappointing Surface RT we now have the ‘real deal’ or rather the first in the line of the real deals.

My own disappointment with Surface RT was the inability to use or the lack of Project, Visio and Microsoft's premier development suite - Visual Studio.

Now I can have it all – OK I’ll need to add a chunky SD card to store stuff – but we now have the game changer. Someone noted that the closest Everything Apple can get is an iPad and Mac Air in the same bag! Whilst this is a romantic view when considering the wealth of App’s for the iPad the sentiment is true.

So having launched Office as a Service last week, an excellent Windows phone 8 late last year, Microsoft follow up the future of Windows. This is of utmost importance as Microsoft re-models itself as a ‘Devices and Services’ company along with the traditional ‘Software’ tag.

My only reservation with this launch is cost and memory size – the 32 gig version is almost unusable with so little memory after installing the needed software. So the question is how long do we wait for the 128 gig version!


Saturday, February 2, 2013 #

Yesterday, Microsoft launched modern.IE, a new set of tools and resources to help developers test their sites for the over 50% of users who run various versions of Internet Explorer. modern.IE includes a wizard that scans a Web page URL for common interoperability problems and suggests some ideas for how to address those issues to improve the user experience across modern and older browsers.

I fully endorse utilising tooling like this in web development and have been promoting across our project development teams and even on our own web site!

It is very important in todays multi-browser, responsive designed web sites that we continue to push the boundaries but retain compatibility for the user.


At long last we have the Office 365 we deserve or do we? The concept of Office as a service is exciting and means for the average user both business and consumer access at a sensible price to the full office suite, web apps, skype and sky drive. With Office 365 Home Premium we have 5 installs for the home user including Office for Mac! But with Google ‘all over’ Office with it’s offering is it enough not to also attack the Android and IOS market? The worst kept secret in Redmond is that Microsoft have these apps developed already!

Of course the Office team would love to strengthen hold on the ‘Office’ market and covering off a formats including the mobile formats. The problem for Microsoft is Windows 8 and really Windows 8 RT. At the moment the only way to get an Office app on a Slate/Tablet is to buy Surface. Now Microsoft have already seen how difficult breaking that market so the thought of giving up any advantage must be a no go for the Windows team.

Time will tell which group really holds the whip hand!

The bottom line for me is the winner will be the user!

Want to know more how Office 365 can help your business please contact Pam.Pickup@Solidsoft.com

 

 


Friday, February 1, 2013 #

One of the joys of my working life is the variety and contrasting nature of each day. This is in part due to the very nature of working at Solidsoft and of course with the cutting edge technology I work with.

This week has been a diverse mixture of Microsoft Azure solutions and Microsoft BizTalk based integration solutions. More interestingly I have spent the last two days with three Fire & Rescue County IT teams discuss the integration of a new Command and Control system.

Because of The nature of the last engagement the focus on ‘getting it write’ has never been so clearly defined! With this sort of engagement where lives are at risk it is paramount not only do we consider the ‘happy paths’ but even more importantly are the ‘unhappy paths’ as these are the ones that are critical to he project success.

Finally after a 3 hour drive home the only low point was the inability of Vodaphone to support the upgrade of my Nokia 800 to Windows Phone 7.8! As always the simple stuff is always the hardest. How come Everything Apple make upgrades so easily and Microsoft don’t!

 


Tuesday, January 29, 2013 #

Cloud: Financial Challenge

In the new world of cloud computing operations mangers and CFO’s are waking up to a new set of challenges. Having committed to cloud computing and allowed innovation to flourish they are finding the draw backs. The variable cost of cloud usage and more importantly the value achieved with that usage!

To explain let’s consider the cost model of cloud. It comes in the form of two charges; a fixed price for simply spinning up a resource and a per unit usage cost based on the actual CPU ticks or data byte flow. So the challenges are simple:

  1. Do we have fixed price resources hanging around we are not using?
  2. Do we have badly designed solutions wasting resources hand-over-fist?

The cloud vendors learning from the mobile phone companies are offering up a pay-as-you go approach where you pay for what you consumed that month. With Microsoft Azure you can cap that spend but it does mean your solution stops working – not the ideal. The second offered approach is that of buying an agreed block of cloud resources with the ability to go over this should the need arise but with the bonus of a discount on the main purchase. This is a little more like the monthly contract mobile approach and requires management to not over spend. 

The problem with the manner in which we must pay for our cloud is it is still unpredictable. In the old world once I bought the computing asset, the fact it lay ideal in the corner did not really have a financial implication.  Treating a cloud resource this way does.

Managing the Challenge

Managing the financial challenge starts before the first cent of resource is consumed and pervades through out the life of application utilising cloud.

Design Where the story begins. Any application utilising cloud resources must be designed in such a way that maximises and limits the use of these costly resources. A ‘just-in-time’ approach to resource usage must be adopted. As with all software development it means experience and a full understanding of the vendors product is paramount in developing solutions that are not just technically excellent but financially prudent as well. Simply migrating a ‘working’ on premises solution to the cloud with out this consideration can be less than optimal and very costly in the long run.

Build in Management It is now very important that developers build in resource management tools or at least make provision for management of resources in the design of solutions. This means the resource usage can therefore be monitored as it is used rather than relying on the vendors bill.

Operational Management Strangely many operations departments feared the arrival of cloud as their control and power would be greatly diminished. In fact just the opposite is true their role in the monitoring, stopping and starting of cloud resources is key to the financial well being of the use of cloud. The ops team need to be well practised in the art of predicting the expected usage of cloud resources and monitoring the reality. Obviously one of the joys of cloud is the ability to scale and shrink as required, for the financial impact of this to be realised good management and monitoring is required.

Cloud Development Companies help meet the Challenge

Whilst the innovation cloud fosters is highly attractive to companies the on-going financial challenges brings can be a shock. This is where experience, understanding and a friendly partner can pay dividends of the TCO of your cloud projects. Designing and architecting the best solutions is their business and as such considerations around the financial challenge figure highly in the approach taken. So confident are we of this ability at Solidsoft we have even taken the worry away completely by building the cloud usage costs into the support costs for a number of cloud projects.

The experience of working on many different and varied cloud projects day-in and day-out should not be under estimated and as such working with a partner with these qualities should always form part of any plans for exploiting cloud.


For a number of years at Solidsoft there has been the in house joke around the existence of the ‘Psychic Adapter’ for use in BizTalk projects and more recently Azure (Cloud) based application integration projects. The theory goes that if all else fails when integrating with a new system that has no clear API or means of connecting to it the Psychic Adapter will be used and it somehow allows connection to this target system without the necessary angst of the developer/consultant to discover a solution to the problem.

Of course in reality the Psychic Adapter doesn’t exist but what does is experience, experience of a group of BizTalk consultants that are able to solve the supposedly unsolvable. It is the necessary apprenticeship that we go through with BizTalk that allows us to become the Psychic Adapters as it were and what separates us from those that have ‘done a couple of things’ with BizTalk.

As CTO I am involved with many pre-sales calls around the use of BizTalk. To be honest I’d rather be involved with calls around ‘we have this business problem can you help?’ but as Microsoft is product centric the recommendation to us usually comes because someone is looking for ‘help with BizTalk’. So the conversation starts along the lines – ‘We have decided to use BizTalk and Microsoft recommends you guys’ or ‘We are trying to install BizTalk to do a pilot and hit a snag, can we have a couple days to get us up and running’ – both are coming at us with a solution rather than a problem and both, obviously have no real understanding of BizTalk. So we are almost back to being ‘Psychic Adapters’ again.

We have to try and ‘get them real’ and onto the problem they are attempting to solve, try to almost double guess how they got here. Finally we have to remove the notion that BizTalk (or should we really say – integration)  is just another simple developer task. Strangely enough this brings me back full circle to ‘The Psychic Adapter’ – having established the problems and then learnt a little about the edge systems involved we get to that nirvana moment where we ask ‘does XYZ have a documented API?’ invariably that’s where the answer is ‘No, that’s what we want BizTalk for!’ – Ah ha! Let’s get out the Psychic Adapter!

Now on reflection looking back at the hundreds of BizTalk projects and more recently Cloud based integration projects we have completed I can honestly say I have found there is a ‘Psychic Adapter’! It’s the skills and experience of the Solidsoft consultants who day in and day out solve the unsolvable be it with BizTalk or cloud based application integration. So I can now say: Solidsoft Provides Psychic Adapters Cloud and BizTalk based application integration!