Category Archives: Technology

Cloud Availability: Are You Feeling Lucky?

Cloud Availability: Are You Feeling Lucky?

Cloud Availability

I’m a firm believer in having control over anything that can get me fired. So, while the cloud is wonderful for solving all sorts of IT issues, only the bold, the brave or the career suicidal place business-critical applications so completely out of their own control.

My company began pushing applications to the cloud around 2004. Today the majority of our applications are cloud-based. Our most important applications, however, stay in-house and run on fault-tolerant servers. I know everything about them … where they are, what platform they are running on, when and how they are maintained, where data are stored, what the current rev levels are for everything that touches them. More importantly, I know what is being done and by whom if the server goes down, which hasn’t happened in years. Thanks to how my platform is architected, I can be reasonably sure when applications will be back up and running. And, problem’s root cause will not be lost to the ether. This is how I sleep well at night.

On the other hand, having a critical application go offline in the cloud is a CIO’s nightmare. The vendor is as vague about the problem as it is estimating recovery time, saying (or, posting to Twitter) only that they are looking in to it. Of the thousands or millions of clients they have (think Go Daddy), whose applications come back first and whose are last? No matter how cleverly you phrase your response when the executive office calls for a status update, the answer still comes across as, “I have no idea what’s going on.”

No worries, you have a failover plan to switch to another location or back-up provider. This being the first time you are actually doing it for real, some critical dependencies or configuration errors surface that were missed in testing. All this also adds cost and complexity to a solution that was supposed to yield the opposite result.

Why this is important

Getting sacked notwithstanding, losing critical applications to downtime is extremely costly, whether they reside in the cloud or internal data center. Many may think this is stating the obvious. In our experience, corroborated by ample industry research, more than half of all companies make no effort to measure downtime costs. Those who do, usually underestimate by a wide margin.

Cost-of-downtime estimates provided by a number of reputable research firms exceed $100,000 per hour for the average company. The biggest cost culprits, of course, are the applications your company relies on most and would want up and running first after an outage. The thought of ceding responsibility to a third-party for keeping these applications available 24/7 … whose operations you have no control over, whose key success metric is the lowest possible cost per compute cycle, whose SLAs leave mission-critical applications hanging over the precipice … is anathema.

This is not an indictment against cloud service providers. This is only the current reality, which will improve with time. Today’s reality is completely acceptable for more enterprise applications than not, as it is in my company. Regrettably for some companies, it’s even acceptable for critical workloads.

At a recent CIO conference my conversation with a peer from a very recognizable telecom and electronics company turned to application availability. I was confounded to hear him declare how thrilled he’d be with 99.9% uptime for critical applications, which I believe is the level most cloud providers aspire to, and ordinary servers are capable of. If analysts’ downtime cost estimates are anywhere close to reality, 99.9% uptime translates into about $875,000 in cost per year for the average company. This was a Fortune 500 firm.

Determining the total of hard and soft downtime costs is not easy, which is why it’s often not done well if at all. For example, downtime impact can ripple to departments and business functions beyond the core area. There may be contractual penalties. News headlines may be written.

Making technology choices without knowing your complete downtime costs is a crap shoot. Making informed ROI decisions is impossible. You may even find that savings from moving not-so-critical applications to the cloud are inconsequential, as I did with our company’s email system. That will stay in-house. And, I will continue to sleep soundly.

By Joe Graves – CIO of Stratus Technologies

Joe was named CIO of Stratus Technologies in 2002.  During his tenure, Joe has recreated the Stratus IT environment using innovative approaches such as virtualization and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Prior to becoming CIO, he was responsible for managing IS operations followed by IT application development. Prior to Stratus, Joe held various software engineering positions with Sequoia Systems and Data General.

Why Haven’t Companies Caught Up With The Cloud Yet?

Why Haven’t Companies Caught Up With The Cloud Yet?

The concept of ‘the cloud’ has been around for some time. More and more businesses are using it every day. This is because cloud computing as a concept and technology brings immense benefits to businesses. It not only streamlines daily activities, but it also saves them a lot of money. Even so, the application remains slow. What are the reasons for the lag in cloud computing uptake even when its benefits are evident? This article gives you three reasons why the uptake of cloud computing by corporates remains low and will be so, unless something changes.

IT decision-makers’ laxity

The first groups that should be to blame for the slow IT uptake by corporates are the IT decision-makers. Most IT managers in many companies are reluctant to suggest new technological applications. Naturally, this is because, more often than not, it requires new training. Most of them are highly qualified in different IT fields; however, most of their certifications are built upon old IT business models and technologies. Because of this, implementing technology they themselves aren’t experts in, is challenging. Some of them may be afraid of losing their authority in their field and, thus, may capitalize on the small cloud computing weaknesses to avoid suggesting it to senior management.

Poor service providers

The other valid reason for the slow cloud computing uptake is poor service providers. Most huge companies provide lip service to companies in IT. In most cases, they have invested heavily with their customers. Running these systems manually also becomes a major revenue earner for many. As such, they control whatever technology a company’s operation history, function and operation culture is based on. Also, they control what technology their corporate client uses. They can only move in with new technology—such as cloud computing—when a competitor moves in. Adoption then becomes difficult as little or no advanced cloud technology is taken up. With these rigid IT companies offering services to many corporates, the uptake for such new and useful technology will remain disappointingly slow.

General bad publicity in the public domain

Cloud computing technology receives a lot of publicity, mainly negative. Media reports on security breaches at cloud computing platforms are often blown out of proportion. There are many conspiracy theorists that thrive on all the negatives surrounding cloud computing technology.

Cloud computing has been tagged ‘one big conspiracy’ by huge corporates who want to control personal details and information. When such sentiments are left floating in the public, the results echo a lot of negativity. The fact that most people worry about their privacy and who has access to their data also makes business’ adoption of the progressive technology behind cloud computing slow or non-existent in certain cases.

Cloud computing faces many challenges. However, these cannot be matched with the benefits businesses stand to gain with it. Educating the larger business community, employees, service providers, and vibrancy in the sector may be the only solutions to the slow uptake.

By Walter Bailey

A Hitchhikers Guide To The Cloud – Database Challenges To Consider

A Hitchhikers Guide To The Cloud – Database Challenges To Consider

A Hitchhikers Guide To The Cloud 

The cloud has turned traditional data management on its head. People still think they will be able to command endless resources while being able to deploy, run and consume a distributed data solution anywhere, anytime. But there are key database challenges when putting your applications in the cloud that are unique and can’t be ignored.

1. High Availability

In the cloud, high availability isn’t just about hardware resiliency anymore. Because customers are removed from the actual hardware, you can no longer plug in an extra power supply, network card or swap hard drives if anything goes wrong or if you need additional resources. The cloud is not predictable and needs to be closely monitored and managed. Besides the large-scale cloud outages we all know about (such as the Amazon-EC2 US-East meltdown recently), we have to face the facts: server crashes, hardware malfunctions and other slipups are all part of the territory in the cloud. With that in mind – cloud users need to be prepared. There are hardly any SLAs for databases in the cloud. To prepare and run effectively on the dynamic cloud environment, every database, regardless of its size, must run in a replicable set-up, which is typically more complex and expensive. Maintaining high availability depends on the availability of “more of the same” resources and the ability to dynamically provision them on the fly once a failure is identified.

Often, when speaking about high availability of the database, the most obvious component is the availability of the data itself, via replication. Yet, if we remember that high availability means that the application continues to communicate with the database as usual, then the plot thickens.

Any solution to ensure availability of the data storage layer must address the availability of the front-end layer of accessing the data so that the connection between the application and any operational DB replicas is not compromised.

On the data storage level, you’ll need to replicate the data, ensure data consistency and synchronization across replicas. Then you’ll need to set up an auto-failover mechanism to monitor the cloud for any failures, identify when a replica is unresponsive and continue service from the remaining surviving replicas.

This then creates the issue of how to manage high-availability of the DB connection. Procedures to ensure high availability, as well as numerous scaling considerations – in particular scale-out – result in several copies of the database that can all be accessed via different addresses. If a replica crashes, you need to monitor which hostname is no longer available and then stop directing traffic from the application to this database.

How do you manage high availability of your database connection string, in a dynamic environment prone to failures in addition to being prone to scaling-out to additional servers (and additional connection addresses) to accommodate bursts in demand?

One way to ensure high availability of the database connection would be to provide users with the multiple front-end addresses and ports and let them handle it on the application level. Users will have to manage connection failovers, load balancing, etc. Needless to say, this will be a major headache as the developer would need to manage the DB connections 24/7 by connecting the app with an available database front-end (very similar to phone operators in the early days).

Another way is to embed high availability into a driver. The driver will be supplied with the initial front-end details and would be updated automatically with any additional front-ends. The driver will balance the connections between front-ends, handle failover automatically, and move connections seamlessly in scale-in and scale-out cases without closing the connection on the user side.

The third alternative is a balancer component on servers, which is installed with each database instance. This component takes care of balancing and availability between all the front-end nodes and seamlessly moves connections when scaling in or out.

2. Management

Database management systems are not only complex systems, but they are also key components in the operation of most software stacks. Given its criticality and complexity, operating a database can be a daunting task that requires significant expertise and considerable resources that are not always readily available to everyone.

Maintaining high availability requires continuously monitoring the cloud environment for any failures, configuring auto-failover mechanisms and keeping multiple copies of the database tier always synchronized and ready to spring into action. Ensuring elasticity means you need to monitor and re-configure and deploy your servers (and sometimes change your app) to add additional resources or to remove them if they go underutilized.

Developers flock to the cloud, and with good reason. The flip side is that once the application gains momentum, it requires a skill set not readily available for most developers. To allow developers to focus on their code rather than on the IT, the cloud ecosystem provides a myriad of off-the-shelf development platforms and cloud services to integrate with to streamline development and time-to-production.

3. Scalability

Scalability and elasticity are the trendiest words in the database arena these days – everybody scales, and everybody claims that only they scale the right way.

Scaling an application (by adding additional servers and load balancers) is pretty much a no-brainer, and many cloud providers offer that. Some, like Amazon EC2, even offer the automatic addition of servers to scale an application once CPU usage is high.

While scaling an application is pretty straightforward, scaling the database tier is more difficult, particularly when scaling out by adding nodes. Scaling a database in general is no trivial task because of its “statefull” nature (unlike the cloud’s stateless environment), and in the cloud, it is even more difficult.

Cloud applications are often characterized with fluctuating demand (spiking at any moment). Databases need to be able to instantly and automatically scale both in throughput and size to accommodate increasing demand from the application.

When evaluating a database solution, ask yourself how it scales and see if it scales in a way that would be optimal for the needs of your application.

4. Elasticity

The cloud is all about flexibility in resources – allowing you to add/remove resources to match your needs, with no need for over-provisioning or over-paying to prepare for any future peaks. Elasticity isn’t just about increasing resources when you need to by scaling up or out, but also shrinking those back down when your database is underutilized, to save on costs. Elasticity needs to be supported to accommodate very granular increases in resources so that to gain +0.X more power doesn’t mean you need to commit any pay for a much larger (+XXX) machine.

Understanding these key challenges can help to successfully deploy, run and consume a database in the cloud. Developers who are aware of the dynamic nature of clouds will take extra care protecting their assets and will be able maintain a successful application that is usable, satisfies users and produces revenue.

By Razi Sharir,

Razi Sharir, CEO of Xeround, has more than 20 years of management experience in product/solution development. Prior to Xeround, Razi has led the strategic transition from traditional data centers to cloud computing at BMC Software and the Incubator/Innovation Lab business unit.

Effective Ways Cloud Computing Can Contribute To Education Success

Effective Ways Cloud Computing Can Contribute To Education Success

Cloud Computing Education Success

Cloud computing and education sounds ambiguous on the face of it. Naturally, it’s because, very few individuals, publishers and users alike come from the education sector. In most cases, cloud computing is only associated with businesses and how they can leverage their efficiencies.

Just to introduce how the cloud deserves a place in our current education institution, it’s important to reiterate the education philosophy. Its essence is knowledge. It’s this knowledge which brings advancement, achievement and success. However, there are several things which make these parameters unattainable. In blunt language, this is failure. Small classrooms, lack or resources, short-handed staff, lack of adequate teachers…the list is endless. One way or the other, cloud computing can be utilized to improve education standards and activities. The end result will be to curb the above problems and instead, boost performance.

Capitalizing on economies of scale

Problems like those in which students cram into a class room can be solved with virtualization of the class environment. Students can actually log onto a space online and attend classes outside of the ineffective class environment. As such, the lecturers do not have to stress themselves out with outflowing classes beaming with crammed students. Instead, they can focus their attention to creating content students will understand, develop their skills and pass their exams.

There are also other ways colleges can leverage on economies of scale outside the classroom. For instance, if the paper systems are replaced by distributed work management systems, the workload can be reduced substantially. This can boost the rate at which they achieve efficiency needed to work optimally, just to name but, a few.

Improve collaborations and assignments working

Whereas many schools already have in place computer based learning, enough has not been done yet. With the adoption of different cloud computing platforms, students can collaborate more. They can work on assignments together as a team on the cloud.

This process is not only efficient for time saving qualities, but it also promotes understanding in students who are not great with face to face tutoring or discussion groups. As a result, more progress can be recorded among these students, compared to scenarios where traditional methods apply.

Improved access to education resources and sharing

The nature of the cloud also allows students to share beyond ideas. They can share education infrastructure and tools. With this in mind, colleges can spend less on new software, text books and latest-expensive quality learning material. This ensures that students and schools have it easy sharing quality resources. This will not only help colleges leverage tight budgets, but will also enable students to access vital information. Eventually, this will boost their academic grades, learning experience and enforce collaboration, all of which will boost the quality of education.

In general, education is wide. It has many functions, individuals and processes. Innovative tools like those hosted in the cloud can help optimize their functions, effectively. The above are broader aspects. There is a greater potential colleges can achieve with the cloud. However, adequate planning and investment need to be invested to enable this transition.

By Walter Bailey

10 Industries That Will Gain From Adopting The Cloud

10 Industries That Will Gain From Adopting The Cloud

10 Industries That Will Gain

Cloud computing, or ‘cloud’ as it is popularly known as, is the latest trend in the computer world. Everyone is talking about it and everyday new developments are coming in. Cloud computing is like a huge switchboard; when you need a power outlet, just plug in your device; and when you are done, remove it. You do not have to carry a switchboard or an adapter with you everywhere.

Therefore, the switchboard becomes a ‘service’ given to you at a cost or for free (depending on the vendor). Without doubt, cloud computing is here to stay, and more and more industries are joining the vast virtual world. Let us look at ten industries that will gain from adopting the cloud.

1. Education: It is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. The need and demand of education never goes down. Cloud computing in education opens avenues for better research, discussion, and collaboration. It also provides a software desktop environment, which minimizes hardware problems. Cloud computing also enables classes to be run on remote locations..

2. Marketing Companies: Today’s world is all about marketing and cloud computing takes marketing to a whole new level. The seller can have a marketplace without the need of investing in extra hardware, software, license fees etc.; and the buyer has more options for products.

3. Online Entertainment: Most people come on the internet for entertainment; therefore, cloud computing is the perfect place for reaching to a varied consumer base. Cloud-based entertainment can reach any device be it TV, mobile, set top box, or any other form. Better clarity and sound quality gets cloud entertainer more customers.

4. Healthcare: A better data management makes healthcare a perfect candidate for cloud computing. Both patients and doctors can access medical images, reports, records, and care management advice through cloud computing.

5. Information Technology: The IT industry thrives on information and cloud computing provides the perfect platform for testing of new software and techniques

6. Finance and Banking: As the international market grew so did the need for a more condensed and easier financial reach. Cloud computing eliminates the need for having a separate banking portal and client database for every location. This means faster and better business.

7. Telecommunication: Telecommunication companies can use cloud computing to provide both private and public cloud networks to customers and organisations for domestic and commercial purposes.

8. Hospitality Industry: Many big hotels have moved to cloud computing to get closer to customers. From reservation systems to menus, everything is available across the continents without any extra cost in infrastructure and individual training resources at every location.

9. Start-ups: Cloud computing has come as a boon for many start-ups. Start-ups can be built on cloud computing with little or no investment. A wider and diverse computer base can be easily accessed on the cloud.

10. Security: The computer and IT industry are forever plagued by hackers and other security attacks; therefore, security business will always be very much in demand. Security on cloud computing cuts down the investment cost and also decreases the need of extra space on every system.

By Tim Burg

Cloud Infographic: The Big Data Boom

Cloud Infographic: The Big Data Boom

The Big Data Boom

Data is a common problem in organizations, and hence they want to figure out how to get their enterprise data assets under control. The friendship mantra of big data and the cloud can be verified by analyzing the emergence of cloud computing with the processing power to manage exabytes of information. Being able to handle large amounts of information is a priority for big enterprises in the industry because organizations are trying to get their data under control. Nevertheless, learning from the great success of big data in the cloud world, many governments have also become active players in the cloud domain.

Emerging big data trends show that organizations are getting to the analytical states of their processes, gaining the ability to determine value, and getting to know what their data is doing in a particular state of their business.  Continue Reading

Infographic Source: Netuitive

Top Four Ways Cloud Computing Can Help Families

Corporate IT Jargon

Cloud computing is often confused with corporate IT jargon. Rarely is cloud computing sold as a family tool, product, or service. Naturally, you could blame it on the marketing people. Also, people’s lack of information on this topic can also be a reason for this statistic. Very few people imagine cloud computing can be used at home, with the same efficiency you would use it in their business.

1. Making copies of important documents

Sometimes, keeping relevant documents at home can be a challenge. You may have no idea where to store private and sensitive documents for an easy, but safe access. Instead of keeping your documents, such as your contacts’ list, on the fridge door, you can try storing them on the cloud. You will then be able to access them whenever you require.

2. Creating an updated family to-do list

The relevance of a to-do list cannot be ignored when you are trying to manage the activities in your life. You can make a calendar for family activities and chores and share it with all your family members using a simple cloud platform, such as Google Docs. This will allow all of you to participate in the activity planning and update the to-do list in real time.

3. Planning family vacations

Planning a vacation is a critical task every family has to deal with. In most cases, you do it online, because it’s the best approach, whether you are planning an adventure trip abroad or just looking for the best deal for an airplane ticket. Possibly, when you are doing this, you need other people’s help. All the research, trip and cost updates can be delivered right to you, when you need them. Cloud solutions can help you do this with ease.

4. Creating digital record keepers

When it comes to records, committing to memory is never the best option. That can be lost anywhere. However, if you consider digitally storing all the information you need, you are making a better choice. Whether you are looking for an old TV classic or some elementary school reports, the cloud is an efficient way to hold on to them, for longer.

Overall, there are so many ways cloud computing can help you at home. First, determine what you need to do and then research an appropriate cloud computing technique or tool to help you apply it.

By Walter Bailey

6 Challenges Of Testing SaaS Applications

6 Challenges Of Testing SaaS Applications

Testing SaaS Applications

SaaS has gained huge popularity in the last couple of years, with an increasing number of enterprises adopting it mainly due to the benefits like pay per use and on demand service. SaaS applications entail thorough testing for their integrity, different from that of on-premise applications. This involves testing of business logic, security, data integration, performance, and scalability, among others. Some of the challenges involved in testing SaaS applications are mentioned below.

1. Security and Privacy Testing

Being in a multi-tenant environment, SaaS applications need to ensure security, accessibility, and privacy concerns. They need to be tested for accessibility by simulating users with different privileges. The testing needs to ensure that one tenant’s data cannot be shared with another tenant. Some of the security testing includes SQL injections and testing cookies. Simulating such test using different user behaviors is a daunting task.

2. Short Notice Period and Frequent Releases

With frequent upgrades from SaaS application providers, it becomes necessary that the customers test the application for validity and security. The service provider usually allows one- or two-weeks’ time to the QA team for this. Ensuring that the existing application is running successfully and maintains security within such a short period is a challenging task. Moreover, any kind of testing or simulation of live upgrades on the application can hamper the work of existing users.

3. Performance testing

It is important to identify the most used parts of the applications and test them for performance. Simulating the real-life scenario using a massive number of users, users from different locations, and other varying factors in which the applications will run is a difficult task.

4. Integration and Migration

Integrating the SaaS application with other clients’ applications requires data integration testing for both incoming and outgoing data. This is a challenging task to test for data validation and at the same time for maintaining data security and privacy. Data migration between SaaS applications or from other applications requires a lot of time to understand the requirements and test the integration results.

5. Business Knowledge

It is very important to realize that clients must have people with in-depth business knowledge of the SaaS application. This will help in sorting out the configurable and non-configurable components and to realize the impact of change on these components. The SaaS application needs to be tested for business workflows and component functionalities.

6. Licensing

Licensing of SaaS applications varies on usage, functionality and number of concurrent users. It is important to test for all these parameters after a new release is made.

Jack Rosenblum

CloudTweaks Comics
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