Cloud Technologies – Containerizing Legacy Apps

Information technologies are continually in a state of transition and organizations often need tools to help them transition from one platform to another, especially with regard to legacy apps. Many companies either still find value in these apps or simply cannot make the transition to Cloud technologies fast enough due to budgetary concerns or other reasons. For these organizations, IBM is now offering the Cloud Private platform, which allows businesses to embrace the Cloud by not only containerizing their legacy apps but also containerizing the platform itself, along with other IBM tools and many of the notable open source databases.

Providing Bridges

Through their Cloud Private platform, IBM provides the bridge between current cloud services and an organization’s on-site data mechanism. In essence, it allows a company’s legacy apps to interact with cloud data. IBM understands the value of making a platform accessible to other technologies and they used this philosophy as well with their Cloud Private tools. Whether an organization uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform or Amazon Web Services, IBM’s Cloud Private is flexible enough to work with both.

A Comprehensive Package

IBM’s Cloud Private platform offers a comprehensive package of tools to help companies mix and mingle their legacy apps with other cloud services and data. The Cloud Private toolset includes components for:

  • Cloud management automation
  • Security and data encryption
  • The core cloud platform
  • Infrastructure options
  • Data and analytics
  • Support for applications
  • DevOps tools

Providing a comprehensive transitioning tool, such as the one IBM developed, should help companies make the most of their investment in their legacy apps. In addition, it will provide them with the time buffer they will need before eventually making a full transition to the Cloud.

Artificial Intelligence – The Number One IT Career Path

There is good news for those who have decided to acquire artificial intelligence skills as part of their IT career path. IBM Watson gurus will be pleased to learn that AR and VR skills are in the top spot of in-demand skills for at least the next couple of years. According to IDC, in the near future, total spending on products and services that incorporate AR and/or VR concepts will soar from 11.4 billion recorded in 2017, to almost 215 billion by the year 2021 — a phenomenal amount of growth that is going to require a steady stream of IT professionals that can fill the need for these widely expanding fields and others. Read on to learn more about the top five IT careers that show nothing less than extreme promise for anyone willing to reach for the rising IT stars.

Computer Vision Engineer

According to the popular job search site Indeed, the top IT position most in demand for the next few years goes to computer vision engineers. These types of positions will require expertise in the creation and continued improvement in computer vision and machine learning algorithms, along with analytics designed to discover, classify, and monitor objects.

Machine Learning Engineer

If vision engineers are responsible for envisioning new ideas, then machine learning engineers are responsible for the actual creation and execution of the resulting products and services. Machine learning engineers actually develop the AI systems and machines that will understand and apply their built-in knowledge.

Network Analyst

As AI continues to grow exponentially, so does the IoT. This means an increased demand for network analysts who can apply their expertise to the expansion of networks required to support a variety of smart devices.

Security Analyst

As AR and VR configurations become more sophisticated, along with more opportunities for exploitation through more smart devices, cyber attacks will become more sophisticated as well. Security analysts will need strong skills in AR, VR and the IoT in order to protect an organization’s valuable assets.

Cloud Engineer

Behind all the scenes is the question of how these newer concepts will affect cloud services. The current expectations are that solutions will require a mixture of both in-house technology and outside sources. Cloud engineers will need to thoroughly familiarize themselves with AR and VR concepts in order to give them the necessary support.

IBM i and the API Economy

By Dan Magid

The API economy is a new frontier for companies seeking to get the most out of their data. With the right API, you can transform rigid workflows into the intuitive web-based and mobile experiences that today’s users demand, using modern programming languages to access real-time transactional data. This way, users can harness the value of information from the transactional systems that fuel their businesses without unnecessary time, cost, and risk.

According to Coleman Parkes Research, 88% of all businesses employ APIs. But our internal research shows that only 38% of IBM i users are enjoying the benefits of the API economy. Perhaps this disparity is due to the lack of API expertise among IBM i shops, where most developers use RPG and COBOL vs. modern tools like Node.js or GO, or the time and resource constraints that are common among IBM i shops.

However, the fact is that APIs are the most effective way for IBM i shops to expose real-time transactional data for access by modern web, mobile and IoT applications, so bridging the knowledge gap between modern application development and the languages that power your critical IBM i applications should be a top priority. But it must be done without hurting productivity, blowing the IT budget or risking catastrophic application errors.

These goals—building and deploying APIs without negatively affecting organizational performance—may appear to be contradictory, but they don’t have to be. How do you do it? I recommend a two-pronged approach:

  • Look for tools to build APIs directly from the host-based application that run your business—but without needing to modify the codebase that runs your business
  • Ensure that your API functionality is easily tested against any other host-based application changes that occur, vastly reducing the resources required to ensure that APIs continue to work in a world of ever-changing user and IT requirements

Following this approach will enable you to not only extend the value of your IBM i platform, but also unlock the value of your applications to a world of new uses. And without the need to modify source code, it will also help you bridge the knowledge gap between your IBM i applications the web and mobile applications that need their functionality.

I’ll finish with the results of a recent study by Quark and Lepton, which showed that the IBM i platform typically costs about one-third as much budget to operate over a three-year period compared to Oracle/Linux or SQL Server/Windows platforms. IBM i is by far the most cost-effective, and with the right API approach, it can serve you effectively for years to come.

Guest Blogger

Daniel Magid is Managing Director of Rocket Software’s Application Lifecycle Management & DevOps lab, and is a recognized authority on helping leading organizations achieve compliance through ALM solutions and DevOps best practices. He has written a variety of articles for leading IT publications and is a regular speaker at technology conferences.

Cloud Technologies and Handling Ransomware

Cloud computing is one of the best technologies to have in the workplace. Not only can you store your data quickly and efficiently, but it’s also easier for you to access any data. With that said, when it comes to your business security, especially the malicious tool known as ransomware, why are cloud services so important?

Cloud = Virtual Storage

One reason why, is because cloud computing allows you to store your data virtually over the Internet. This makes it untouchable in the event of a disaster. Let’s say a ransomware attack happened on your device, and it affected the data on your hard drive. Despite this, none of your virtual data would be affected, especially since this isn’t what most hackers are banking on. However, since ransomware locks your computer, you wouldn’t be able to access any of your virtual files, right? As a matter of fact, you can. Cloud computing not only keeps your files safe in the event of a disaster, but your data is also accessible from any device with an Internet connection. Whether it’s another computer in the workplace or even your mobile phone, the sky’s the limit to where you can access your personal data.

For more information about cloud computing, COMMON offers educational opportunities throughout the year. Stay in touch to see when the next cloud-related sessions become available.

The Role of IT in the Retail Industry – Adapting to Trends

IT has a substantial role to play in the modern retail industry. This has been the case for a long time. However, the world of information technology changes quickly enough that individuals working in retail have had to adapt to various trends.

Mobile Apps for Retail Stores

Many experts today are now urging all retailers to create apps that specifically pertain to their products and even their store locations themselves. This is one of the biggest trends with regards to IT in the retail industry. All of these apps are incredibly different, however.

RetailSome makeup stores will offer apps that enable users to test products in advance in a whole new way. Some of the apps will offer customers convenient discounts right at their fingertips.

People can use apps in order to get a sense of where different items are located and whether or not they’re currently available. As such, there are apps that will truly help people overcome some of the most frustrating parts of shopping in the first place.

Cloud Computing in Retail

Thanks to cloud computing, it is much easier for retailers to consistently monitor their inventory. They can quickly get a sense of what they have in stock and what’s going on with orders. Losing large amounts of data is much less likely in the era of cloud computing. While this makes the technical side of the equation easier, it also means that retail workers can place more emphasis on customer service.

IT helps improve efficiency in the retail industry. The retail industry may also be able to fulfill more of its primary objectives thanks to modern information technology trends.

Demand for Cloud Technologies

Those who have skills and experience with cloud technologies are going to be much in demand in the next few years. According to Tech.Co, the use of cloud computing technologies is expected to quadruple in the near future. Estimates are that cloud data centers will manage a whopping 92 percent of all workloads.

So who are the biggest contributors to this massive progression to the cloud? The biggest players are the IoT (internet of things) and big data centers. Most of the growth will occur in public cloud data centers, with the use of private clouds beginning to decline. Interestingly, predictions are that infrastructure as a service (IaaS) will decline somewhat, due to many organizations focusing on improving their own corporate infrastructures, including both data storage for sensitive information and acquisition of their own high-speed connections.

In addition, a recent study, “2017 Cloud Computing and Business Intelligence Market Study” conducted by Dresner Advisory Services, notes that as organizations are turning to public clouds, they are also looking for cloud-based business intelligence tools such as dashboards, advanced visualization tools, ad hoc queries, data integration and data quality, end-user self-service and reporting features. The study goes on to note the trend for increasing demand for cloud-based BI services, is largely driven by smaller organizations. However, not included in their across the board “must have” list for BI services, is social media or streaming analytics, although these are still important in certain industries.

Trust in the cloud is not just increasing for businesses. Consumers are also expected to demand more from the cloud. Estimates are that personal cloud storage will increase from 47 to 59 percent. That may not sound like a huge percentage increase, but globally the increase represents about a billion more users.

The future looks bright in the cloud, supported by both business and consumer demand. Anyone interested in applying their technology skills to this trend will most likely have a bright future as well.

Layers of a Scalable Cloud Architecture

Cloud

The cloud computing ecosystem is huge and consists of several technologies. Many companies rely on these varying cloud infrastructure to deliver their products and services efficiently. This brings up the question, how scalable is your cloud architecture?

Using the right architecture is extremely crucial for your entire cloud’s operation. It is important that organizations understand the specific requirements of their servers, and if they are already using a cloud platform, decide on the type of cloud architecture that would be best for their business logic.

Before choosing a cloud computing architecture, the first thing that’s required is a scalable structure. Cloud computing is scalable when all its components are independent of each other. This independence allows systems to scale at exceptional levels and is usually implemented at the design stage.

Features of a Scalable Cloud Architecture

Typically, cloud computing systems involve different cloud components communicating with each other on a system that functions like a messaging lineup. How these components interact is what determines the scalable nature of your infrastructure. There are two layers that make up a scalable cloud architectures:

1. The Client / Front-end

The client structure is where all users interface with the target platform. This is usually the mobile or web application that manages users, sessions and pages. The client usually makes API calls to the server.

The front-end comprises of single user or a network of users. Note that some front-ends will not look like the regular applications we see everyday. The main thing to remember during the design stage is that this is the layer that communicates with the back-end. Therefore RESTful calls to the back-end is the main purpose during the front-end design stage. Whatever visual design you build into your cloud’s front-end, making API calls to the server is the main focus at this stage.

2. Server / Back-end

Your server comprises of data, caching services and all services that interact directly with your server applications. This interaction is necessary for data delivery.

Your server applications drive your business functions and can include apps like CRM, inventory, accounting, reservation system and much more. Adding new applications is part of scalability, so as you add new applications, the demands of higher traffic and computing loads must be anticipated. Your front-end will not automatically scale to size unless you ensure that your back-end accommodates the new load and traffic.

For best practices in maintaining and protecting client’s data, a cloud computing structure requires a high level of redundancy than is necessary for a system hosted locally. The backup created by this redundancy means that the back-end server can jump in and access backup images for quick restoration of data.

In a highly scalable cloud computing architecture, applications are managed, controlled and served by the back-end. The strength of the back-end is how it manages security protocols, traffic and system files. If the applications on your server are broken down and classified into sub-components of the main server, your cloud infrastructure will deliver limitless efficiency and possibilities, making scalability much easier.

Public vs Private Cloud Technologies

Both public and private cloud hosting solutions greatly benefit any growing business requiring expansion capabilities. Leveraging this technology is key to improving many aspects of your business strategy including revenue growth and employee morale, but the debate continues as to which is superior. Thus, the beauty is in the eye of the user. Choose the one that’s the most pertinent to your company’s needs. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some comparative features to help you make a more informed decision.

Public Cloud

The public cloud is an environment containing multiple users whereby each user purchases their own piece of the cloud server. The commune of the cloud computing world, public clouds are convenient in that they rarely require any type of contract and generally run pay by the hour services. Also a perk for some, public clouds are self managed, giving the user the freedom to set up and manage their own particulars.

The drawbacks, however, generally pertain to security. The public cloud provider customarily designates the hardware and network your virtual server relies on. Because other users in the cloud also share these facets, compliance requirements such as SOX or PCI are rarely possible. Therefore, development systems and web servers employing a business model that does not require security and compliance are the best candidates for public cloud computing.

Private Cloud

As the name suggests, the private cloud hosting environment caters to a single user. Your own personal computing residence, the private cloud provides your company with dedicated hardware and secure data storage capabilities that none of the center’s other clients can access. Security compliance standards are therefore easily achieved. An additional benefit is that the private cloud’s hardware, network and storage performance are also highly customizable.

This is a higher-end, more specialized service that aptly tends to cost more. Though you’re gaining many advantages over the public cloud, the resources provided in the private cloud are numerous and can potentially be under-utilized by smaller businesses. It’s also pertinent to consider many private clouds potentially require a contractual obligation.

As with any tech upgrade for your business, doing your due diligence is crucial to finding the solution that’s right for you.

Swift and Kitura

SwiftMost developers think of Swift as Apple’s latest open source language for macOS and iOS. However, IBM is also putting a lot of effort behind it. The open-source Swift language is suited for many kinds of work, and IBM is promoting it as a language for Web and cloud applications.

KituraIBM’s Kitura Web framework, written in Swift, includes its own HTTP server. It aims at the development of full-stack applications using Bluemix and an OS X or Linux server.

IBM Cloud Tools for Swift simplify the job of developing applications using Swift on both the client and server sides. Currently the emphasis is on mobile applications, but Apple is energetically moving to Swift for macOS (formerly OS X) development, so Mac-native clients will be feasible.

Swift includes many modern features, compiling to very efficient code while providing a higher level of code safety than the C-based languages which have traditionally been used for low-level code. The features contributing to code safety include:

  • Almost no use of raw memory pointers. They’re available when it’s necessary to address memory directly, but otherwise aren’t needed.
  • Restricted use of null values. A common software bug is the failure to handle unexpected null (called nil in Swift) values. Normal variables in Swift never have nil values. A variable has to be declared optional in Swift to allow nil, calling attention to the need for checking. An optional can be assigned to a normal value after excluding the nil case.
  • Safer switch statements. A switch statement must exhaustively cover all cases, and cases don’t fall through to the next one by default.

Developers can join the Kitura community by submitting a Contributor License Agreement. There are a lot of opportunities for developers to contribute to Swift and Kitura projects.

The Move to Cloud Storage is Gathering Steam

Both large enterprises and smaller companies are well into a process of transitioning their data storage from on-premises data centers to the cloud. The advantages of cloud-based IT storage are compelling.

Advantages

First, cloud storage relieves a company of the necessity of up-front capital spending to purchase storage hardware. Cloud storage vendors store the data in their own remote data centers and charge a monthly fee for just the amount of storage a customer actually uses in that billing period.

Another advantage is that good cloud storage providers are experts in data management, data security, backups and disaster recovery. This takes a tremendous load off a customer’s in-house IT staff, which can then devote its attention to issues that are more focused on the company’s core businesses.

Concerns

One of the major concerns many IT managers have about moving to the cloud is the security of their data when it resides in someone else’s facilities. But that concern is being alleviated by two factors.

The first is that due to the nature of their business, cloud storage providers are necessarily extremely competent at protecting their clients’ data, and can usually do a better job of it than all but the largest companies can do on their own.

The second factor that mitigates concern about using cloud storage is that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Many companies have settled on a hybrid solution that keeps their most business-critical data at home in their own data centers, while farming out less sensitive data to a cloud storage provider. Many times a cloud storage vendor actually implements and manages a private cloud on the customer’s premises. A survey by 451 Research indicates that by the end of 2014, 39 percent of enterprises had already moved to a hybrid solution.

Outlook

In 2015 spending by hardware manufacturers such as IBM on equipment destined for use in cloud data centers grew by 22 percent to almost $29 billion. According to IDC, spending on cloud infrastructure is expected to reach $37.5 billion by 2020.

As they become more familiar with the advantages of cloud computing, companies big and small are deciding that the cloud should be an integral part of their data storage infrastructure.

Cloud