Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The end to this chapter ... Turning the page!

Dear friends, the Digital Systems KTN finishes with its funding on March 31st. At this point the story of the rise and fall of Grid Computing and the emergence of Cloud Computing can be told. From the 1st of April I will shift to a new blogging platform, just for the change, and you will already find my introductory piece here.
I have been the Director of a KTN for 6 years and have had the privilege of working with a fine bunch of people from Malcolm Atkinson and Dave Berry at the National e-Science Centre at the University of Edinburgh, to Tara Kelly here at Intellect; Gillian Law at both NeSC and Intellect; and Mahesha Pandit here at Intellect. Along the way Mark Parsons covered our interests from EPCC also at the University of Edinburgh when Dave Berry left for service-orientated pastures anew. We have been grateful to many people in these organisations for their help as we learned how to deliver against the KTN vision, in many cases helping define it too!
We have also been grateful to colleagues from our industry, Dave Pearson, John Barr among many others, who have provided the intellectual horsepower, encouragement and support to allow our agenda to flourish and grow.
The last 2 years have been dominated by the KTN "optimisation" agenda driven by our paymasters the Technology Strategy Board, and we have successfully brought to life a Digital Systems KTN in the wake of the Grid Computing Now!, Cyber-Security and Location and Timing KTNs. It has been a pleasure to get to know Bob Cockshott and Tony Dyhouse and their colleagues at NPL and QinetiQ, as we have pulled together into a new KTN, in the full knowledge of the further change ahead. We are now merging with the Digital Communications KTN in the final stage of optimisation and my colleague Philip Hargrave and his employers the ICT KTN Co., will take over the administration of the grant from the TSB.
This leaves me free to concentrate on the task at hand, and you should read my new blog entry for more details on that. I will also have some more time to spend with my colleagues at Intellect, the UK High Technology Trade Association, too. I'm certainly looking forwards to spending more time on innovation and much less on administration!
As for the bottom line of our work, we publish the latest Annual Report for the Digital Systems KTN in the next few days and there'll be data aplenty to see there. But for the casual reader, we've successfully grown a new community of 1800, and rising, around our programme in the last year. Inheriting relatively few from our "legacy" communities. We've participated in more than 150 events, some of which were our own - but most of which enabled us to address new audiences. And we added 15 case studies to the portfolio making a total in excess of 60 available online, the vast majority of which describe successful adoption of distributed computing. I am also delighted to relate that there have been several notable successes in the adoption of distributed computing which I have had the privilege to personally witness in the past 6 years. Perhaps the most promising is eMediaTrack, an UK based start-up, now firmly rooted in Oxford for technology development purposes, while plying its trade in Korean Government. Korea is a nation which has stated a desire to "lead" the race to the Cloud for Government computing. I know, I was there at the event they announced it!! I was also personally involved in the development of the UK G-Cloud strategy for Government computing. This story is still being written. But the ideas are of great interest within and beyond our shores.
For those of you interested in the Grid to Cloud story. I think it is safe to say that the future of distributed computing, and services, lies firmly in the Cloud. Recent announcements of Grid services available in the Cloud have possibly made this point even more definitively. Recent announcements of cloud services available from national infrastructures also make an important point about ease of use and broad applicability of cloud based services. However, please don't be confused. Grid computing underpins the service infrastructures for all of the leading service providers. Open standards of the type being championed by OGF, are pivotal in the operation of these companies. And much of the learning from the Grid community will eventually come home to roost in Cloud services I am convinced. So with that thought I propose that we should declare victory at this point and move on to the brave new world of IT as a Service. That's my plan!

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Friday, October 01, 2010

So many opportunities, so little time ...

So the summer in the UK has ended, as any of you Ryder Cup enthusiasts will have noted, and before I pack up my pen to end the official working week, TGIF, I thought I must blog. I've spent a good proportion of my time this year talking about Cloud Computing in general and Government Cloud in particular. In fact, I started work with the G-Cloud Phase II team at this time last year. We produced our final reports in February and have been waiting since. Although a General Election and new Government has intervened. After 12 months we are now awaiting the results of new Government's planning to determine what happens next. What is certainly the case, is that we are all agreed - in the IT community at least - at what the opportunity is, what the challenges are and that there is no more money to be spent on doing anything. A recipe for an hiatus, I hear you say! Yes, well in ordinary times, perhaps that is so. But these are far from ordinary times. We heard yesterday that Ireland is on the brink of returning to its unenviable situation of being a poor country. The UK is not in the same boat, yet there is so much potential for us to change the way we do things, release the potential of exciting new ideas and perhaps the people to work on them. So why don't we grasp the nettle and move on? After all, it's not as if our current jobs are safe, is it? Why not reach for the stars and grasp the challenge and see what we can accomplish. After many years of ups and downs in the IT industry, I can honestly say that making do with less is preferable to not being there at all. In fact, a wonderful article in Harvard Business Review by Gary Hamel and the late CK Prahalad, "Strategy as Stretch and Leverage" pointed out that having insufficient resources will often lead to making choices and requiring innovation to get the job done. Why not capitalise on the genuine lack of resources and plan to deliver services differently? Share similar services with other organisations, outsource a large chunk of routine information processing to a SaaS vendor? Better still stop doing something which really doesn't matter or could be done elsewhere instead? After all, if the reasons for not doing so are rules written within the organisation, why not challenge the organisations own ability to manage change and do it anyway! You'll probably end up leaving anyway, why not try something  new and see if it works? After all, your job is probably on the block anyway! How else would you wish to spend your life? Have a good weekend - at least!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Virtualising the Workforce

I've been intrigued in recent days by the idea of procuring virtual workforces to complete projects successfully bid for by lead organisations. One or two leading organisations in the UK are toying with bringing such a service to market. The proposition is particularly useful for smaller businesses, aiming to bid for more business but wary of commitments to recruit a permanent workforce on the off-chance of winning. It works thus: A business has proven expertise to structure and deliver a service to a customer but does not have the capacity to flex to meet demand. It engages a third party with access to skilled resources to back its bid and on winning the business, the project team is deployed in the name of the contract winner to deliver the goods. Such a model relies upon clear leadership and competence of the lead organisation, proven skills and capacity from the service provider offering the skills required. But, its a realistic model for the more fluid organisational world that we are migrating towards. It offers the same sort of flexibility to scale that Virtualisation and Cloud offer, and for the skilled individual, the ability to gain valuable experience and add to a CV in times which are proving challenging for permanent employment prospects. Its a win, win, win. For those of you who think that this is a new concept, I commend Charles Handy's book Inside Organisations and particularly his work on the Clover-Leaf organisation. This is a 1980's vintage piece of work in which Handy, a management researcher, speculated on the form of future organisations and the decline of the first job to retirement employer in place to that date. Its a live topic today, see http://www.flexibility.co.uk/flexwork/contract/birkbeck.htm.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

UK Government and the Green Challenge

Things are moving at pace in the Cabinet Office in the area of Efficiency and Reform Group improvements. The latest being an incitement to work together with contractors to reduce energy usage by 10%. See here . This is a call to arms from Government to their network of service providers to help to accomplish the targets for improvement. This specific call is to adopt the new Energy Efficiency Code. This states that all departments should:
  • work with facilities management contractors to prepare plans to cut carbon by ten per cent by May 2011;
  • give serious consideration to private sector ideas to cut carbon emissions; and
  • agree to explore agreements, possibly through changes to existing contracts, which benefit government departments and private companies in their pursuit of reducing carbon emissions.
In response, contractors are asked to share their expertise with public bodies and actively identify opportunities to reduce energy emissions.

Could this be the pattern of things to come? I think so. Helping to achieve targets will move the government forwards and perhaps is the best portend of the opportunity ahead for the G-Cloud programme. Now headed by Chris Chant and Andy Tait in John Suffolk's team at the Cabinet Office.

To help with the reduction in Carbon Emissions, we have a number of tools in our armoury in the IT Industry, perhaps here is the opportunity to begin to show what they can accomplish. After all, didn't someone say that Green IT is free? I.e. we should be able fund investments to reduce energy consumption through savings on our energy bill and operating costs?

And once we accomplish improved efficiency in our own shops, we can use our capabilities to support  collaboration and remove the need for travel and commuting, and thus really gain traction in saving carbon emissions. The Carbon Neutral Data Centre, a possibility? 

Certainly investments such as Virtualisation and selective Technology refresh can make a positive return. See our KTN website and the Green IT group for more!

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Trusting your Cloud Service Provider

One of the key challenges faced by users and suppliers alike in the new world of IT as a Service - is who am I dealing with? What can I find out about them? Can I trust them to run a service for me? Will they be there tomorrow. Colleagues in the UK service provider industry have developed a proposal which might help. The Cloud Industry Forum is an initiative which seeks to allow Service Providers to declare themselves in a coherent and open fashion. So that you will know who you are dealing with, who owns/runs the company and where their facilities are. These are key elements in developing an outsourcing relationship and this initiative is a good start to the process of openness. Let's face it, we are walking into a world where we do business on a personal or a professional level, with people we have never met in places we don't know exist. You try finding out where Amazon has its Data Centres! Take a look and let the team know what you think. Next step is knowing who we are when we strike an online deal with a service provider ... but that's another story!

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Making sense of a Life?

Just a bit of fun this one: I encountered an imaginative way of presenting a CV listening to Shaun Frolich of MS last week. He used the Wordle tool to represent his CV. What fun? Well, I had to have a go and here you are ... Wordle: Ian CV

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Digital Britain, Building Britain's Digital Future and G-Cloud

So yesterday's announcement of a General Election to be held on May 6th in the UK was extremely well trailed and predicted by all. Even the Queen was able to 'copter back to Buck House in time to see the Prime Minister as he requested the dissolution of Parliament. Now we have just one month to survive hostilities until its done and we move on.
However in the run up to the election several things of interest to the digirati have surfaced. Firstly, the Government published its Government ICT Strategy in January and announced plans for a Government Cloud. This is a longer term strategy to enable the government with the capabilities to bring services to the web for citizens, of whom an estimated 71% are now online. The key issues are accessibility and scalability and the Cloud computing model works well to support both objectives with suitably designed applications and infrastructures. I myself managed to obtain Road Tax and a new Driving Licence on line this month. The latter being made possible by linkages to the Immigration and Passport Service. We've also seen new services offered by Ordnance Survey which take advantage of the Cloud to scale to meet demand from up to 9M users simultaneously. So there is potential.
Secondly, and probably more political was the Building Britain's Digital Future announcement on March 22nd from Number 10, the web residence of the erstwhile Prime Minister, of plans to revolutionise the delivery of all government services (ex-Health Service and Dustbins one presumes) via the Internet. This is the logical consequence of following the advice of the recent notable advisers to government Sir Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt from the University of Southampton. Both of whom have already exercised their enthusiasms for the Web through the data.gov.uk initiative. Which, by the way, if it was extended more broadly as the norm throughout government could probably yield the sort of savings the political parties are looking for in avoided Freedom of Information requests. Has anyone asked the price of that as yet? This was a bold vision and exciting prospect for those of us who have laboured over the G-Cloud project vision without much political involvement. Well worth a read, and you might expect it to pitch up during the hustings!
Which leaves us with the 3rd, and perhaps key enabler for the stool of Digital Services to the Citizen. Last night in the mad panic that is the final act of a dissolving government, the Digital Economy Bill was passing through into legislation. The problem is that the strong lobby of the Creative Industries (cf copyright owners) have included measures which allow for undemocratic, if not immoral, powers to be exercised by Internet Service Providers where illegal file sharing is deemed to be taking place, without obvious recourse to law or appeal. The key remedies include removing internet access from locations deemed to have transgressed - by the copyright owner, one presumes. The unintended consequence may be that the current proliferation of wireless hot spots across the nation may be inhibited by those service operators wary of being caught in the middle of disputes. An half considered plan with far reaching consequences would be a tragic conclusion for a Government so keen to bring the UK into the 21st Century and certainly a wasted opportunity to move forwards. What price 2MB to the doorstep and a £.50 a month levy on wireline access?

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