Monday, July 28, 2014

Remote worker - yeah sure, who are you kidding?

Dimi Doukas blog - working remote on terrace
Working remotely on a terrace - beats the open office, eh?
My mom called me today and asked me 'are you at work or at home?' and when I answered 'both' there was a pause, longer silence where I guessed she was trying to figure it out what I meant. For her I kind of understand it. She's from the era (as she's 70 years) where she hasn't been so used to the idea of someone working at home. Although there has always been professions that has enabled working from your 'home office'. Like tailors for example or shoemakers. Before the era of shops and malls, they usually worked at their home where customers would come.

Not only the older generation have difficulties in understanding someone working at home. It's like you either work or you're at home. Like they couldn't be the same. I've found this thinking surprisingly common in IT business too. Surely, we sell 'remote worker solutions', but when it comes into working remotely yourself, for some reason lots of people have always some kind of fundamental doubt about it. You get the same kind of question from IT professionals that my mom asked me, 'are you working or at home?'. When you tell someone face to face that you're going home to work remotely or you'll be at home working tomorrow, there's this look in their eye, maybe a grin even. Like you've just told a widely known name for 'you're actually not working but instead doing something else'. Like sunbathing, gardening or just watching TV. Do remote work and you'll do less those things I'd say :) People who drop their gloves at four a clock (or three if they came late) will actually get to do a lot more other stuff than work than the ones carrying their work to their home (or keeping it there). Earlier I had my working corner in our bedroom. As the desk lamp was illuminating the room too much at night, irritating my wife, I bought an illuminated keyboard. I mean... 'how low can you go...?' :)

Even though I've been a remote worker as long as it has been possible, I still think remote work is invented by the employers (if not the devil himself) and not by the employees :) I find myself doing longer days as there's no breaks like driving to work or driving to home. So you'll end up sitting there until the night comes, unless you have a hobby or some event that would drag you out from your seat. And nowadays we have not only the remote working option from home, but with the smart phones and even more with the pads and 3G/4G connected laptops, we can work from anywhere. And we really work from anywhere. From our vacation, from the highway going 80miles per hour, from the movie theatres. So what happens with the technology evolving faster than our thinking, is that we're working more and more 24/7. In the end that's not going to serve anyone. Employees will be more tired, doing less with more time because of that, and the quality of their work will reduce. As in so many other areas, 'less is more' is true here also.  

Sometimes power outages are welcome, they remind that you could really do something else for a while. Having DSL connection isn't always a blessing. When you're passionate about IT, about technology overall, you seem to want to be connected everywhere. Sometimes it just goes over board. The pace is not days, it's not hours, not even minutes, but it's more seconds that we expect to get answers, to be picking up the phone, answering email and chat. I see that in my work where earlier you asked for pricing and expected it to be in couple of days (if the provider of the quote was fast), now we need (or think we do) it in minutes, couple of hours max. We can't go much faster than it is already unless we leave people out of the process altogether. Seeing so many times when we have a hurry for waiting in the end, I'm more often asking myself 'what's the rush?'. Why I need to do pricing in couple of hours if the order still would come maybe in weeks or even Months later. We're just got used to the idea that when someone asks for something we need to get the answer right away. The way of internet generation has learned to behave. If the web page is not opening in 5 seconds, you're already typing another page address. Not everything is priority 1 and I think that we should each of us remind ourselves. Only very rare cases actually is priority 1. And what happens is the old story about the boy who cried the wolf', if you shout too often something that isn't actually true, no-one will take it seriously when you really have a hurry. They just get tired you pushing to get everything this minute when you're not really needing it that fast in the end.

So balancing the working time and your off-duty time and drawing a more solid line between the two is important. We're not paid to be there 24/7 365d per year. It's good to be flexible and do things when needed, but if it starts to be situation every Month, every week or every day, then something is fundamentally wrong and needs to be fixed some other way than burning the candle from both ends all the time. I heard that in Germany it's even common that if you'd have a company phone, you'd leave that into the office when you leave the office. I know that in many other countries, like in Finland in my case, you use the same phone after work as well for you private life. So you'll have the same phone and number all the time. Reachable for both work and personal matters. Leaving the work phone to the office could be a tempting option :)

Will the pace slow down? It really needs to do that. Technology is not going to be a solution for that. Once again we need to realize the fact that we're not evolving as fast as technology. And we're not extension to the technology either. Like with fire, it can be a good servant but a lousy master. The same goes with technology. We just tend to forget that.


Monday, July 14, 2014

IT networks are the bottlenecks that will slow us down

In general the networks are outdated and preventing the development to come
Most of the networks are outdated
and preventing the adaption of the new
technology and applications
Now we're in ethernet era using many times 1Gb connections, 10Gb connections or fibre channel with 32Gb, or even faster connections (like 128Gb fibre channel forecasted to be published in 2016). So where's the problem? That has been taken care, right? Wrong! That served us alright the past decade. What we've seen now for the past years has been the explosion of the mobile devices - mostly phones and now pads. But even with that, we still managed somehow. Because that has been only the first step in the evolution to come. What we'll see next is that the number of devices needing network connection will be something we couldn't foresee. And there's the real problem. In the next coming 5 years we'll be seeing a lots of totally new integrated intelligence installed into various products we didn't think would be possible. The near future already will look like science fiction as we're able to get information from all kinds of things. The AI (artificial intelligence) will be sewed into our clothing, into diapers for babies and for the people needing those in hospital and care home environments. New kind of sensors and applications will be also built into clocks, helmets, driving gears, autos, cups, shoes, tools, toys, bandits, homes, offices, built into wallpaper, in road tarmac. Everywhere. The number of usage is limitless and there comes our problem. Each of those integrated devices will need network connections, mostly wireless one. Even though you'd use something short distance connections like Bluetooth to gather the data to some other device, that won't solve the problem. There will be a HUGE increase in the amount of the data passing through the networks and also the need for speed that the data needs to be transferred.

The current stage of network is mostly outdated. No matter if you've refreshed your network devices this year, it won't be enough. As the design you have in your network, as well as the devices you've bought are most likely already outdated. And the same is true all the way from the smaller companies to the telcos that provide the backbone networks. And the closer the backbone network we go, the more crucial the problem will be. The amount of the investments needed are so big that business companies are not willing to make that investment in advance. So they will be slowing down the development for years and preventing people to adapt to the new technology as fast as it would be possible. 

With this new kind of technology at hand, it will generate whole new business opportunities that was impossible earlier. Only imagination will be the limit, as there are millions and millions of things you can monitor, get data from, and then produce something useful or entertaining with that data. And when we've taken the fist step in that, the next would be combining these solutions and the data together and create more complex and more total solutions where these units talk to each other and produce even more useful information that we can use to make our lives better and more safe.

Now we're there already, in the science fiction movie. It's here today. But our company networks and core networks are not there. Not to mention the networks that we have in our homes and houses we live. I would say it's time to stop saving in the wrong place. In this era of virtualization and clouds, everyone is talking how you should move your servers and applications into the cloud. But even if you'd do that, you'd still need to access it. The data, the pictures, the video needs to pass your local network in a way or another. So you can't escape the fact that your home yard needs to be fixed first. So start with your home or company network, whether the servers and the applications are in your local network or in the cloud. Make sure you have enough capacity to start with. And what's more important is that your plan and the solution you'll get will be scalable and you don't build yourself bottlenecks where everything is efficient until we come to this one spot where it's not - like the internet connection. Once again your network is as good as it's worst (slowest) component. And it's as vulnerable as your high availability options and secondary connections - or the lack of them. So start demanding this, not only from your network, but also from your service provider that provides the connection and the backbone you will be using now and in the future. Make sure they don't jeopardize your future with inadequate network solutions.

The past 20yr the generation in IT has built what we've got now. And that has been a huge leap. But the next 20yr will do and require easily 1000 times more when it comes to the speed, amount of data,  the wider scale of usability on applications, and the complexity of the network we'll be seeing later on. We thought we've seen it all, but we've seen nothing yet. This is just the beginning. What we've seen now is just a scratch of the surface. From now on we'll be needing much longer lifecycle for devices from the manufacturers. We need to get out from this 3yr cycle with hardware. We need to get more scalable and longer lifecycle products that we can use 5-10yr. Products that you don't need to change often, that are modular and can be expanded. Something that we could left there for 10yr without the need to touch them. As the amount of products will increase, we need to start doing things better for them to last longer. The cheap plastic, throwaway kind of products are not sustainable development that we can build on, for both energy and environmental reasons.

So let's start demanding it from the network providers and the manufacturers. Let's make a choice with our feet and with our money. And let's make our networks ready for the future to come.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Big Data - salvation for the people or a big headache?

Check your pulse if you're working in IT industry and haven't heard about about Big Data
If you haven't heard about Big Data and you're working
in IT industry, you might want to check your pulse :)
If you haven't heard about Big Data, you're either far from the IT business, living in the hermit junction, or you should really check your pulse. As usual with the new trends, it shouldn't really be about the bits and bites. It's not either only about getting all the data together to be able to process it, but the understanding what it's all about and what could and should be done with it. So the crucial success factor will be the code that we create for the data. Gathering data into one place is easy. I do it everyday with my USB drive(s). I get them filled with data in no time. But different question is how am I able to benefit from the data I've stored. Do I have the means to find whatever I'm looking for, added with some intelligence, and creating something totally new from what I've got. Who are the most thrilled about this? Where's the money in short term? I don't think I'm far from the truth if I'd guess it's the advertising business. That's where the investments for Big Data will go first. I mean in private sector. I'm sure the intelligence agencies in several countries have done this forever and they're also the ones who have already, no doubt about it, put a lot of money and time to be the first ones to take advantage of it. But leaving them aside from this, after the advertisement industry the next ones that will follow are governmental usage, like taxation, healthcare, threat analyzes, science etc. And on private sector this would mean especially the larger companies who are trying to get more clear and accurate picture about the markets, the development needs of their products and the course the company is now vs where it should be going. So in general, everyone who would want to get better and smarter results from the data they have.

Having said that, to gather lots of data is not the biggest challenge. As so many times before, the technology itself, even though complex, will not be our biggest problem. Usually the big problem is everything else around it. People, the policies, laws and regulations, processes... and again people.
Bigger challenge will be the questions like where to get the information we'll need, when we need it, in a format that can be utilized? How to make sure the information will be valid and correct? Where and how to move and store the data? How to back it up? How to set the access levels and rights to meet both legal and ethical requirements?

Just to get the first steps right will have its challenges, not to mention what would follow. In a way, the whole thing works like a funnel. The stuff (data) you put from one end is the source for the data that comes out from the other end. So if we're having wrong data or we're missing some data in the first place, then the result will also be only partly true. And depending on the algorithms we're using and the code we've written, we might get good answers, bad answers, or in the worst case, very dangerous answers. You can easily think what might happen in army intelligence or in the health care business, if we get wrong and random answers on which we'll base our decisions. And when the data grows enough, we really WILL do our decisions based on that because there's no way of double checking it manually.

How to use it and how to make sure we handle and understand the data right. And how to process that information in a way that it will be useful. So that it will benefit us. And in the end in a way that it will benefit the mankind to put everything into broader picture as in the end, that's where it's going to affect eventually.

There are lots of opportunities with processing big amounts of data. We might find a whole lot of new kind of patterns that in smaller information junks would be invisible. This could lead into big steps in developing the urban environments in both logistical and environmental way. In healthcare - finding new kind of dependencies and relationships which might lead into new cures and treatments and longer life expectations. It could lead into understanding those physical and neurological areas as well as sociological dependencies that there are but that are impossible to see unless we have enough data. We might find answers to the food and water problem now and in the future. But... another side of the coin will be the misuse or the wrong interpretation of the results. And for some reason human beings have been always very good to misuse the good things. One example - and we're not far from there, looking what some countries like Iceland and Holland have done around genealogy - could be running searches within the data to find the hereditary illness or other genetic feature - racial as well. Putting people into different categories based on their genes. Does it ring any bell? For me it does, with a very bad echo.

Once again the technological evolution seems to take giant leaps as human beings are taking baby steps in their evolvement. Will there be a day when we compensate this difference with the technology like in the movies, having technological implants in our brains, that will be seen in the future. Some extra memory would come in handy sometimes :) Probably the answer is 'yes, that will happen'. But at the moment this gap between technological and human evolution is just growing, and the bigger the gap is, the bigger the risk will become we don't know how to use it the right way. Now is the time to take a mental step back, think, re-think, and then make the right decisions about how we'll utilize big data solutions. Decisions, that will carry us into the better future.