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What is “the Cloud”? And what is it not?

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Clouds on summer sky (Photo: fastjel)

The Cloud – One of the hottest buzzwords and most abused in describing products or services recently. In this article I would like to mix facts with personal experiences I made, in order to assist everyone, who would like to find out what the cloud is and does and the things that is does not do (hence the title). Cloud has been buzzing around for a while now but when I witnessed both my parents talking about “the cloud” and how they use it in private I understood that this technology has arrived in mainstream and it is here for good.

Cloud??

So what is the cloud in few words? The cloud, or cloud computing is a technology design to enable users working with solutions independent from device, location and network. Of course there are specialisations with a larger or smaller focus on one or two subjects but in general this is it.

Origin of the Term

There are many theories on the origin of the term, yet there is no proven story. Feel free to check some good options on the Wikipedia article for cloud computing. My theory is that it developed from the use of cloud clip-arts and stencils in technical drawings or presentations, created to visualise a network setup. I am sure that even before the term became a buzzword, most of you have seen presentations with little black boxes, switches and routers in and around a large cloud to set a virtual border between realms.

Is the Cloud something new?

I am afraid it is not. The ideas and designs for such concepts have already been around since the 1950s but like with many breakthroughs in the user world, it required certain cultural and technological thresholds to be reached before the adoption could take place on wide-scale.

What is the Cloud?

  • Agility – The cloud is agile and therefore allows users to upscale or downscale their service based on business demand. Further the actual hardware, used to host a virtual machine, can be re-purposed if necessary. This is however not a cloud-only benefit, please read further down on infrastructure virtualisation.
  • Availability – Services have the technological possibility of being available independent from devices, network and location. This is of course relative to the design of each service along with its purpose but technically this is no limitation. For instance you can use cloud video conferencing services to join any enterprise-grade video conference call from your smartphone, notebook, office workstation, tablet or even from a private computer at your home or maybe somewhere else. Of course your conference partner needs to have their own environment set up to accept connections from outside in general. Cloud technology is not a wall-breaker and cannot bypass security of an organisation, if they don’t allow such connections by policy.
  • Business Continuity – Cloud services are set up with redundancy and failover automation in place. So that even if single devices would fail, users would not notice and can proceed using the service. Such reliability would traditionally cost a lot of money when investing in owned or dedicated infrastructure black-boxes.
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Asus product presentation event of cloud-enabled tablet device with Windows 8 (Photo: Tecdencias)

What is the Cloud NOT?

  • Cloud = VirtualisationVirtualisation of infrastructure is a great way of deploying new solutions and upgrading your environment. But if you do this within your WAN this does not automatically mean you are using the “cloud”. You are just virtualising your infrastructure. Fair and square.
  • “No more hardware” – Well that’s a lie. Using software solutions or virtual infrastructure there will still always be servers and databases that require a physical body. Only the deployment and usage is changed but there will always be hardware. You might not own the hardware and you will most likely never see or touch it but it’s there, somewhere in a physical data centre.
  • Grid computing – No, grid computing is not the same as cloud computing in my opinion. Even though, it might be its scientific opposite. Where grid computing allows many computing units to work on a common target (e.g. movie rendering in render farms or Bitcoin mining), cloud computing allows a single user to utilise just any infrastructure in the pool offered by the cloud service provider to achieve their objective.
  • “Private Cloud” needs to be on-premises – No that’s not correct even though it seems to be a common assumption. A cloud service can be deployed dedicated for your organisation without anyone else having access to it, but the location of the physical hardware is irrelevant in order to provide that. In most cases the service provider will utilise hardware that is physically near to the user base in order to avoid performance issues that could occur on long “open internet” routes.

Challenges of Cloud Technology

  • Security – Any cloud service can be set up in secure manner if the solution and the environment of the clients allow it.
  • Privacy – Yes, privacy is a hot topic nowadays. But actually, it always were even in pre-internet age. Privacy is nothing impossible even in the cloud, even in the internet if you choose the right service provider. And if you are looking for good providers but affordability is a concern, make sure that your selected partner has a few good reference clients to show-case to you.
  • Compliance – When you are in phase 2 of the provider selection, bring in the techies of your organisation to make sure all offered functions and features are compliant to any active IT security policies that you need to consider.
  • Vendor Strategy – Cloud providers equal single vendor lock-in? Yes, it can be the case but if you want to avoid that, talk about this particular subject with your provider candidates. A few providers out there have established alliances and offer support to avoid any lock-ins.
  • Online works, offline it doesn’t – Depending on what your solution looks like make sure that your workforce  can use the solution when they are online and when they are offline. For instance when changing a file being on a flight, the data should update and synchronise itself in the cloud again when they are online. However there are some services which this does not apply to such as real-time communication (e.g. WebRTC, video conferencing, VoIP telephony, instant messaging).

Examples of Public Cloud Solutions

Summary

I hope this cleared some confusion around cloud terminology and technology. Further I hope it helped you through your process of picking a good service provider for your organisation if that was your objective. Further I would like to thank Simon Dudley of LifeSize and Phil Karcher of Forrester Research for hosting the webinar, which sparked the inspiration to write this article. LifeSize is often arranging interesting webinars and announces them on their social media platforms. Maybe I will see you on their next event – until then.

Have anything to add or feel I got the wrong picture? You are welcome to comment below and join the discussion. We at Telepresence24.com love your feedback!

How to become a Videoconferencing Expert

I will start this article by answering what exactly is an expert – to me it’s a person who is really really good at something. Simple as that. This post is only about my thoughts on what it takes for a person to become such, not how he uses his expertise.

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There is more to becoming an expert than this.

I agree with the assumption that all humans are born as “tabula rasa” (lat. blank state), meaning all their knowledge comes from learning, experience and perception, but with genetics playing significant role in the process. Unfortunately, not all people take advantage of the amazing opportunities that lie ahead of them in becoming really good in something they love doing, often due to fear of failure. But failure is not something to be feared of, on the contrary, as Thomas Edison said:

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Every person can be good at anything, good in so many things at the same time. But becoming really good at anything isn’t just a walk in the park. It takes discipline, focus and more importantly a strong will to make it happen.

So how does one become expert at anything? Well, I believe the formula is pretty much the same for any skill you choose. Since this is a Unified Communications blog and it happens to be the field that I’m currently working in, I’m going to point out what I consider to be important in becoming a Videoconferencing Expert.

Videoconferencing Education

I believe education is the first step in becoming good at something. Once you identify your objective and set your goals, you have to start preparing for reaching that goal, show genuine interest in learning all the bits and pieces that are related to what you really want to do, in this case Video Conferencing. I’m talking about harvesting knowledge you can use from every source you can get your hands on: specialized courses , forums, blogs, whitepapers, industry reports, product guides…

When it comes to official training, major industry leaders like Cisco and Polycom are already offering specialized training programs for anyone interested in becoming engineering or sales expert in Videoconferencing / Unified Communications and these certifications are usually valid for 2-3 years in order to keep up with the latest trends in the industry.

Cisco recently added two new programs to their certification portfolio focusing on Video, which already included the Cisco TelePresence Solutions Specialist and Cisco Rich Media Communications Specialist:

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CCNA Logo by Cisco

  • CCNA Video establishes an individual’s ability to deploy video endpoints, set up new users, and operate networked voice and video solutions for job duties that include configuring voice and video single-screen endpoint devices, supporting telephony and video applications, and troubleshooting. The certification also validates a candidate’s knowledge of the architecture, components, functionalities and features of Cisco Unified Communications Manager solutions.
  • Cisco Video Network Specialist establishes and enhances key skills including the ability to configure video single-screen endpoints, set up new user accounts, support video applications and troubleshoot networked video solutions.
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Polycom Logo

Polycom is offering the Polycom Certified Videoconferencing Engineer – a program that confirms the successful candidate has the necessary knowledge to perform implementation, configuration and troubleshooting operations for small to medium-sized environments on the Polycom RealPresence Platform including. In addition, the PCVE exam will validate the individual’s knowledge of networking models, standards and protocols relevant to videoconferencing.

Plenty of free training material is also available on the Internet. Personally, I liked the old Tandberg Certified Expert Partner (TCPE) program, simple and straight to the point, it’s perfect to gain the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to Video Communication.

Forums such as the VTCtalk and the Cisco Support Community are a great place for promoting and  sharing knowledge and engage other experts in constructive conversations about topics of the Videoconferencing / Unified Communications industry. There are also great groups on videoconferencing business and technology available on LinkedIn for anyone to join and listen or contribute.

Working Experience

It has been said many times before – no amount of theoretical knowledge compares to a real world experience, no matter what field are you part of. If you’re just starting in the industry, try an entry-level position and work your way from the bottom up. There are also companies who first offer training to their personnel for couple of months, and then make hiring decision, this is another good way of getting practical work experience.

And once you get there, try to learn as much as possible, try to learn everything you can about the topic, focus on becoming better and better until you become “so good they can’t ignore you”.

The constant hunger for knowledge is what separates experts from…well, everyone else. The beauty when working with technology is that it changes constantly, there is always something new to digest. Personally, I don’t understand how some people are pretty content with doing the same thing day by day. There is much more you can do, if you want to. The internet is there, the books are written and there are heaps of people to talk to, who are more than happy to engage in discussions – so jump right into it and become an expert!

I am going to end this post with two quotes from people who were really good at something and accomplished a lot:

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin