Amazon cloud – A practical experience..

Being a strategist, enterprise architect, chief architect and a leader, I do not believe in setting direction without knowing or approximating the n th step. In one way, it is very mathematical in the approach as similar to dynamic programming. As dynamic programming used computer programs like computer chess programs, estimating the n th step is based on probable choices using intuition and facts. The facts has the highest probability for success than intuition and I prefer to use the fact when fact can be searched and found. Use intuition only when the facts can not be found.

Cloud computing is in every practical enterprise architect’s or IT strategist’s technology road map and the implementation of the cloud computing for any IT organization is the question of when. Cloud computing has enough cloud in the sky and in some area it is already drizzling and in some area it is more than drizzling. It is going to rain and as people say, when it rains, it pours. Same thing is applicable to cloud computing. It is going to rain all over and when it rains, it is going to pour.

To be proactive for any future requirement for the organization (like I did with google apps on gmail), as an enterprise architect leader, I subscribed to the amazon cloud to set up an infrastructure for web hosting.

I would like to summarize my findings in an executive level.

  1. Set up an elastic amazon cloud for a web site is very easy and designed for a non technical person. (Obviously, it is very very easy to set up for a technical person)
  2. Select the stack you would like to have in the cloud. There are numerous infrastructure stack already available and ready to use (like wordpress, LAMP, Identity management and etc). It is also easy to create a custom stack for your use or promote it your stack for a public use.
  3. Create an elastic IP address for the stack created.
  4. Login to the clone (or instance) using ssh and do the necessary configuration
  5. Load the application
  6. Map the domain address to the elastic IP address
  7. If the traffic to the site increases, increases the number of clones (or instances) associated to the dynamic IP address
  8. It cost me $2.18 and my 30 minutes time (cost for my 30 minute is priceless!)

All the above steps were done in less than 30 minutes with out any prior training. The site was launched in 30 minutes. The above steps make me think, why an organization has to have an army of people to set up and support an infrastructure? CXO, if you are reading this blog, do not spend any more of your significant G&A budget on the infrastructure, ask your enterprise architect to look into cloud computing and save significant cost and divert your G&A into innovation, investment management and enterprise architecture!

Cloud Computing Architecture and its future..

Cloud computing concept continue to receive acceptance and its adaption increases exponentially.

I heard today from one of vendor representative that he grew up in the farm and growing up in the farm means he had to learn whatever required in no time to do farming. He confirmed my thoughts on how farm boys grow up in the farm. Cloud computing basically took the farm boy approach. Do whatever is required to do the job!

Fifteen years ago, the PC support team use to install the operating system (windows 3.11,MS-DOS ) in each and every PCs and PC support cost use to be a significant cost in the IT shop. As repetitive mundane tasks mandates  innovation, solution like Norton Ghost solution were emerged and hence deployment made easy and drove the PC support cost down.

Cloud computing took the Norton Ghost solution to the server environment.  Like me, I can imagine most of the IT members spent significant time in  building the development, testing, staging and production environment for each application and spent  time to ensure that all the environment were build alike and still had environment behaved differently for unknown reasons. Cloud computing solves all theses problems.

Key components of cloud computing:

Utilizing the external storage in the server environment has been in use for quite a while. In some cases, like manufacturing production databases, selecting the apt external storage platform including hardware, storage operating system, connectivity and raid types plays a vital role in the system architecture.  Likewise, in the cloud computing, the storage and processing unit are physically separated and logically connected as and when required. It includes the boot volume too.  To manage both processing units and storage units, an external operating system called cloud computing operating system is used. There are vendors like vmware sells cloud computing operating system like vmware vSphere and there are open source cloud computing operating system like eyeOS

  • Processing Units
  • Storage units
  • Cloud computing OS
  • Network units

Architecture of cloud computing:

For external users

Have a OC3 or OC12 or OC48 internet link based on your requirement to connect to the internet for your data center. Have a cisco 7200 series and cisco ACE series for your first and second layers of your network. Have netcahce or ssl accelerator or intrusion prevention devices based on your requirements. Connect the internal vlan with blade server (HP) and storage units like EMC. Slice the EMC luns to have a preload images like Redhat, Windows with preloaded system software like application server, web server, domain name server, database server, director server and etc. Install the cloud computing operating system in the external boxes and link both processing and storage units. The cloud computing operating system manages both processing and storage units.

If there are requirements to connect stand alone servers, it can be connected in the internal vlan.

The architecture is straight forward and purposefully I’m not drawing it.

For internal users:

The same architecture expect OC3 internet link.

Cloud Computing Future:

The concept is very cost effective and efficient. Instead of building images for production servers with application server, web server, database server and etc.. the image will be elevated to more business unit image. Loan processing image, collection and customer service image, delinquency image, skip tracing image,  bankruptcy, treasury, securitization, point of sale and etc.  The technology cloud is in the phase of reaching maturity and business cloud is emerging. There is a huge potential for the players who get quickly into the business cloud.

Think about for a minute, if you are bank, why do you want to spend time on building IT infrastructure to process loan. Banks JUST want to focus on getting good papers, good customers and not worry about how the assets are stored, retrieved and processed. Whoever get into business cloud will lead that market segment for a while!!


Is google’s gmail ready for enterprise use?

Genchi Genbutsu approach for enterprise architect is an apt approach in some cases and this approach is apt for validating the viability of gmail for enterprise use. As a cost saving opportunity, the enterprise email infrastructure is one of the frequently visited area for potential saving  by practical enterprise architects. It is often studied by hiring external infrastructure architect specialist in the email infrastructure area to perform a business case and cost benefit analysis and internal enterprise architects lead that study by providing the necessary internal information. To perform the initial study, generally, it cost enterprise not a negligible money and time.  For an organization of size 10,000 employees, migrating an email infrastructure from Lotus Notes or Outlook to new email infrastructure will take at least 5-6 months (my estimate before I did this project) and requires coordination and training. Before the trigger is pulled to migrate the email infrastructure for cost saving opportunities, the business case and benefit analysis should be strong.

Recently, I lead and managed a team to study the gmail  for enterprise use by following Genchi Genbutsu approach and my results are summarized below.

Team Size: 3
Duration of the project: 6 hours
No. of email users:100
Cost: $5020 ($5000 is refundable if pilot results are concluded as not successful before 30 days)

Steps followed to establish the Google app’s gmail

  1. Tried to use the free gmail for 100 users. Selected 100 users in the organization and tried to create 100 free gmail accounts. Gmail has strong spam protection measures. It didn’t allow to create more than 20 users. gmail is performing lots of user traffic analysis on their side and predicting the creation of multiple users. Even though, we wanted to create  valid gmail viability using 100 legitmate users, google has build intelligence to prevent us creating more ids. Tried quickly to flush the cache in the browser, changed the browser, changed the PCs, changed the sub net still did not work. Google must be analyzing the user traffic by looking into the public ip (ie. web proxy to reach internet cloud) of our network. No customer service or support available for gmail. All the support material are available in the site and forums. No one available to talk to regarding the problem.
  2. Decided to use the google apps gmail to validate it.
  3. Bought new domain from godaddy.com (cost around $10)
  4. Configured the email gate way of the domain in registrar (godaddy.com) site by creating the MX records and setting up the priority. Good documentation available in the google app web site.
  5. In the online, bought 10 ids  from google apps (using google’s checkout)
  6. Used their mass upload of ids to create all 10 ids. CSV file contains the user name, user id, initial password and provision to reset the password after their first login.
  7. All ids were succcesfully created.
  8. Took one id and send and received email.  MX record took around 30-40 minutes to complete the configuration. After 30-40 minutes after the ids were created, we were able to successfully send and receive emails.
  9. Used the same format and added additional 90 ids to the CSV file.
  10. Used google check out to buy additional 90 ids ($4500). Additional 90 ids were not immediately added to the account after successfull completion of the transaction. Waited 40 minutes and tried to reach google check out support. There is no support/help desk number available. No contact information for sales.  I felt, may be, my credit card company is not authorizing the transaction since the amount is considerably large. Called the credit company’s support and found out the transaction didn’t reach the credit card company yet.  Waited for additional 20 minutes and assumed  google checkout is not authorizing consecutive  legitamate transactions in a short time (less than 60 minutes)
  11. Meantime, sent emails to their corporate support email address, google apps support email address, google checkout support email address screaming for “HELP”
  12. Repeated step 3-4 for a different domain and bought 100 ids this time. Transaction was complete and ids were not added to the account.. Got stuck again!!!
  13. Got a call from Google’s check out support. Told them what I wanted and second transaction was cancelled and additional 90 ids were added.
  14. Deleted all 10  ids I used to perform end to end test
  15. Tried to upload the 100 ids at one time.. Failed!!! Tried different combination, removed special character in the password, removed white spaces and few others. Nothing worked and everything FAILED!!!
  16. Tried to upload ONLY new 90 ids at one time. Successful!!!
  17. Once the ids were deleted, it can not be created immediately. It will take 5-7 days to recreate the same id. Strange!!
  18. For those 10 ids, had a different format ‘_’ instead of ‘.’ after the first and last name of the gmail address
  19. Loaded the 10 ids and it worked.
  20. Personalized the first page with company name, logo and etc.

Finding:

  • It took less than 1 hour (once the ID’s are successfully bought) to create all 100 ids.
  • Each id has 25GB mail box size
  • Administrator can manage all users, implement security policy, configure mail relays easily using the gmail console, restrict the traffic and etc
  • Quick training material was developed easily
  • SSL enforcement can be centrally done by the administrator
  • Calendar, docs sharing, chat are part of the gmail
  • It is apt for a small size (less than 1000 employees) company
  • Fast, inexpensive, sufficient email space

Is google’s gmail ready for enterprise (10,000+ employees) use?

Short answer: No

Fuzzy answer: Almost there but not quite yet

Detail Answer:Support is the big concern. I could not talk to any one whenever I had a problem. I understand their support strategy. Provide all necessary information and empower the user to resolve the issues by them self. That is good strategy from google stand point. Not a customer friendly strategy. I had legitimate support issues during the check out and recreating the deleted ids. I had to wait for their support teams mercy whenever I had problem. Google is over analyzing the traffic and stopping the legitimate traffic. I can’t make 10,000+ employees depend on this infrastructure, when there is a problem, we need to wait for mercy of their support team to call us. Here is the screen shot of the 404 error received during the pilot (removed the company logo!!)

 

 gmailerrorConclusion:

Wait for Google’s revised support strategy or ask your 10000+ employees to use free gmail for one or two years for their personal use before you transfer the corporate email infrastructure infrastructure to google app’s gmail.

Bright Future for Auto-Industry

Simplifying a complex problem by breaking into small solvable parts and using knowledge learned in a driving school during a fatal accident are simplification and abstraction techniques widely used in a practical  world. Have you ever noticed the behavior of a person during  a fatal accident? During an accident, provided the person is not seriously injured and able to think to their capacity, the capacity (volume) and capability (strength) of the person is fully utilized to face and over come the situation. The capacity, capability and the effective utilization of it during the crisis or fatal accident increases exponentially.  If some one deeply think about why most of the people become effective during the crisis is due to extreme focus the brain forces itself to get over the situation. That is ultimatum for some of existing meditation techniques and the same reason why some of the adventures sports like rock climbing are very attractive. It is a kind of enforcement mind brings to mind itself. But at the same time, mind does not perform the strategic analysis  to its best during the crisis mode and that is the same reason why the best supreme court lawyer hires another lawyer when they face a crisis.

How this is relevant to current auto industry?

Well, GM and Chrysler both have had faced a separate fatal accidents.  Both are utilizing their capacity, capability and utilizing it effectively. When it comes to survival, as Maslow theory in the management suggests, your basic needs becomes top most priority and enlightenment are out of focus.  The decisions and execution made in last few weeks generally would have taken decades in their corporate culture. Executive management totally understand how to move forward. With assistance with auto task forces, concessions with unions, agreement with debtors ,reduction in  dealer network, dropping a brand, focus on fuel efficiency and quality  are good signs for a great recovery.

Why a great recovery waiting for them?

Four years ago, US market sold 17.5 Million units per year. This year, industry is struggling to sell 10 Million units. The average car age in America today is 9 years old.  Car purchase is the second biggest purchase a consumer would make after the American dream of owning a house.  Consumer confidence is the key and it is and it will continue to gain slowly for next 9 months and rapidly after that.  The credit market is far better than it was 6 months ago with enough capital infusion to credit market. Introducing better credit standards, oversight and governance, the credit market is stabilizing. The moment a person believes their jobs are safe, the consumer confidence in stock market, retail purchase, credit market will raise and the consumer is going to donate their 10 years old car to charity and buy the fuel efficient (Hybrid, Diesel, Electric) car. Both GM, Chrysler are making tough choices now and getting  ready to meet the huge market demand in 18 months.

Until then, sit tight and be part of the touch choices and move Detroit to new 2011++ future.

Yes I hear you.., I have not written a blog for almost a month.. that is mainly due to my last few weeks focus on completing  the graduate course on Linear Algebra. I had my finals yesterday and thinking about, should I take Dynamical Systems and Choas theory in summer. It will definetely help to model the current economical situation!!!

An Evaluation Matrix for an Enterprise Architect

Some times, a simple concept may be crystal clear to you in your mind, but, it may be difficult to grasp by the audience. Enterprise Architects must continuously work on the soft skills to communicate a message successfully irrespective of the audience knowledge level. In that regard, an evaluation matrix for an enterprise architect is given below.

  • Perform the necessary action to meet the given objective and unable to communicate to the necessary stakeholders = FAILED,  as an enterprise architect to meet the mission
  • Does not perform the necessary action to meet the given objective & unable to communicate to the necessary stakeholders = FAILED, as an enterprise architect to meet the mission
  • Does not perform the necessary action to meet the given objective = FAILED, as an enterprise architect to meet the mission
  • Perform the necessary action to meet the given objective and able to communicate to the necessary stakeholders = SUCCESSFUL, as an enterprise architect to meet the mission

A set of soft skill must be possessed by an enterprise architect to be a successful enterprise architect. Enterprise architect must be able to connect to the application team, infrastructure team, IT finance team, IT procurement team, business teams, senior management, executive management and others.

IT Finance Management Framework – Part 3

Typically, the organization structure is,  managers, project managers & senior manager will be reporting to director in an IT organization. Directors will have a functional responsibilities like sales & marketing, customer service, finance and etc.  Managers and senior managers are responsible for the managing the project, lights on and enhancement. For a zero based budgeting, managers of each application area will be required to come up with forecast. The skills required for each managers to come up with forecast are given below.

  • Understanding of over all business process
  • Understanding of their respective business  strategy and their current annual business plan. For ex. if a manager supports call center systems, then that manager must understand customer and service business area’s plan for that year.
  • Understanding of external market condition
  • Understanding of work load in their area in the past and correlation with business strategy and its annual business plan
  • Understanding of technological obsolescence and flexibility of their systems
  • Trend analysis

The above skills will be used to develop the forecast for keep the lights on, discretionary and projects spend for their respective systems, infrastructure, shared service.

it-finance-structure

Each manager will have set of systems to support. Logical group of the system are assigned to an internal order number. Each internal order number will have a set of systems. The light on, discretionary and project spends are allocated for each internal order number.

Only the department level cost center and general ledger (GL) number level cost will be submitted to the controlling office and eventually in to the enterprise financial systems like SAP or Oracle Financials.   The cash budget will have line items only  GL level (like employee, contractor, and etc) , director level consolidation of GLs and department level consolidation of GLs.  The rest of classification like lights on , enhancement, internal order number and etc are just allocation within the ITM budget for better understanding and reporting.

This step completes the creation of budget for the IT organization. The next step is to track the actual and report to stakeholders. The next part will focus on tracking the actual cost and reporting it to the various stakeholders.

IT Finance Management Framework – Part 2

Understanding how the IT budget process fit into the overall corporate finance is essential to grasp the big picture.  The following figure illustrates how the IT G&A operating budget fits into the over all corporate finance.

it_ga_budget2

IT organization must decide the technique suitable for the budget cycle. To select the best suited techniques the organization must make them self familiar with the available options. Let me list the various widely used technique available to create the IT G&A operating budget.

  • Static Budget – Presents one forecast for a given time frame and does not change for budget cycle
  • Flexible Budget – Budgeted Revenue and cost are adjusted during the budget cycle
  • Incremental budget – Previous year actual are taken as the base line and added or deleted additional cost for current year
  • Zero Based budget – Begins from ground up
  • Top Down budget – Each directors are given a budget task to align to CIO budget target
  • Participatory Budget – Developed as a collaboration with all directors (generally very difficult to make it practical)

There are other budgeting technique like activity based budgeting, Kaizen budgeting and etc. Kaizen  is a type of incremental budget with cost effectiveness target are given to each directors. To make the framework complete, I understand the widely used budgeting technique must be captured and it will eventually.

For this version 0.1, I want to start with zero based budget since I like the concept. It is very practical and gives an opportunity to each director or even senior manager or manager level to challenge every activities and look for some level of business case. Zero based technique can be used if it is top down budget and budget task are given by CIO to each director. Let me start with ZBB.

Zero based budgeting must be done in the manager or team leader level and rolled up to director and CIO level.  It requires the manager or team lead to understand the business and forecast the work required to keep the systems lights on, enhancements and G&A project.

it-finance-mgmt-how-to

The cost for lights on, enhancement and projects are will be incurred by employee, contractor, purchase servie, software cost & hardware cost. Each manager or team lead under each director will forcast for lights on, enhancement and project in terms of employee, contractor, purchase service, software cost and hardware cost.

The training required to perform the forecast will be the starting session of next part of this initial IT Financial Framework.