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How to get cloud cost reporting under control

You have to standardize on a set of descriptive tags to identify the assignment of resources to cost centers

Although vendor-written, this contributed piece does not promote a product or service and has been edited and approved by Network World editors.

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A recent report by RightScale says 71% of companies surveyed have adopted hybrid cloud, up from 58% year-over-year, but concern over cloud costs has risen to 26% from 18% three years ago. If you’re struggling to gain control over your cloud cost accounting, there’s no time like the present to address it. Solving this issue isn’t necessarily difficult when it’s tackled early, but left to languish the amount of support and technical debt you incur can become insurmountable.

At the core of this problem is the need to gain greater clarity into the breakdown of your spend based on actual usage, allowing for greater understanding of direct costs and a more granular means of managing it. This clarity comes with a catch – your ability to standardize on a set of descriptive tags to identify the assignment of resources to cost centers within your business.

Whether you’re just starting off in cloud or you’re trying to get your cost reporting under control, there are some pretty simple steps that will help you cut through the confusion and concern.

Get organized and keep it simple

For most Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions, when you begin to deploy resources you’re able to add some level of descriptive tags to help identify and organize them in a meaningful way. For most cloud cost management tools, these tags associated with resources are the dimensions on which you’ll be able to directly segment cost. As you’ve probably guessed, harnessing this tagging structure is the first critical component in identifying where your cloud costs stem from.

If you’re utilizing an Amazon Web Services (AWS)-native, tag-based solution, you should first turn on Detailed Billing Reporting with Resources and Tags. Enabling this will provide you with the core data set you can start digging into. Then there are three big decisions you need to make in terms of how you apply this to your environment:

You need to balance how you’re going to use tags (Note: tags in AWS are limited to 10 per object). Balancing functional and cost allocation usage of tags takes some finesse. Keep in mind that developers and infrastructure engineers may want to use tags for things like clustering and service discovery, so monopolizing all 10 tags in AWS for billing purposes may impact their approach to these problems and force them to implement a non-optimal solution.
You need to know what you’re able to tag and how that affects your usage of those resources (i.e. S3 buckets can be tagged, but not objects). This may also affect how you use these services once you decide how you’re going to segment costs.
You need to decide when resources need to be tagged. Some organizations unknowingly destroy untagged or incorrectly tagged resources automatically as a part of their governance routines. Be wary of this when you’ve begun this process to avoid undoing your efforts to segment costs.

Other 3rd party products offer more intricate ways of identifying resources beyond tagging, including leveraging Amazon Resource Name (ARN) path-based hierarchies that can achieve a more flexible and less limited structure. While it’s a much more flexible means of building out a cost structure hierarchy, it also requires both a prescriptive or automated approach. Using both approaches is key in launching resources. To ensure paths are set properly, also incorporating a 3rd party tool to aggregate billing and utilization data or to simply extract and present the data (more on this in a bit) is critical.

Make it easy to do the right thing
Most organizations rely heavily on this billing-level data for accounting and chargeback purposes. In working to ensure that you have a high level of accuracy in the application of tags or a resource-based allocation strategy, you have to both define a standard and then provide the means to apply it properly. When you’re allowing multiple people to launch instances or create resources in AWS, keeping this level of standardization can be tricky. This leads to a decision on whether resources outside of the segmentation model should be summarily deleted or not.

The key to compliance with a cost accounting resource segmentation structure isn’t really the carrot or the stick, it’s all about a comfortable pair of shoes. By this I mean that if you want resources to be deployed in a manner that requires significant attention to detail, you don’t necessarily need to give people positive reinforcement (a party for the team with the best compliance) or negative reinforcement (deletion of untagged resources). You do, however, need to carve out the best path possible for moving forward. Solving this problem lies in building out templates that represent the units of work that your organization needs to deploy—from instances to workloads—within the Infrastructure as Code solution of your choice.

If you’re on AWS, AWS Service Catalog allows you to build custom AWS CloudFormation templates. These templates apply tags or set paths desired based on input parameters that enable the desired setup with the right amount of variability. If you’ve embraced Infrastructure as Code fully, there are other options, including managing deployment through Chef, Puppet or Terraform. These platforms make it possible to further integrate deployment templates with other backend governance or even external cost management tools.

It’s a best practice to have reports that clearly define where your costs exist in a given deployment or even across your enterprise. If you don’t use the data beyond cost chargeback, you’re not maximizing its full potential and value. One of the great things about having data segmented around cost in an on-demand compute cost structure is that business units are prompted to ask questions they weren’t considering previously. Examples of these are:

Is it really worth $’x’ to run 15 different environments?
Can I pay less for less performance where I don’t need it?
If I pay more (scale up), can I avoid having to refactor/redevelop a part of my application?

Some of these business-level questions presented above have an underlying consideration of cost-to-value vs. a simple cost consideration. At this point, being able to include other sources of data in the overall analysis becomes critical in order to identify a relative cost as compared to performance (system or business-level). For web-scale applications, understanding the relative cost per user and being able to tie the cost of infrastructure services to client delivery or new client acquisition is just one of the capabilities that are driving innovation in the cost management market.

For steady-state and legacy workloads, the ability to easily lock-in AWS cost optimizations with Reserved Instances is a boon to traditional IT organizations looking for guidance and recommendations as they get on board with cloud. In the case of hybrid deployments (private data center + cloud), these third party tools can act as a great way to distill the enormity of data that’s available into actionable concerns. This small consideration tends to reduce the confusion and frustration of managing the cloud into a much more manageable package.

Based on everything that’s out there to help you get moving with a successful cost reporting strategy for your cloud deployments, it’s possible to satisfy your financial curiosity while also adding value to the business. While this all sounds pretty daunting for someone just starting out, get moving now and iterate over time.

McClory has been writing code, managing DevOps, and designing scalable application infrastructures for more than ten years. As COO and CTO of DualSpark, Patrick served as an expert Amazon Web Services consultant, helping clients capitalize on the benefits of cloud architecture and design with modern and innovative software, infrastructure, and automation strategies leveraging solutions from AWS. After the acquisition of DualSpark by Datapipe, McClory assumed the role of SVP of Platform Engineering and Delivery Services. To learn more about Datapipe, visit


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25 highest paying companies: Which tech co outranks Google, Facebook and Microsoft?

Tech companies snag 20 spots on Glassdoor’s ranking of 25 highest paying companies in America

Tech companies dominate Glassdoor’s ranking of the highest paying companies in the U.S., snagging 20 of the top 25 spots. But no tech company ranks higher than Juniper Networks, which pays its workers a median total compensation of $157,000.

The next-highest ranking tech company is Google, which landed at No. 5 on Glassdoor’s list with a median total compensation of $153,750.

While tech companies earned the most spots on the list, consulting firms set the high bar for compensation in Glassdoor’s report, “25 Highest Paying Companies in America for 2016.” No. 1 on the list is A.T. Kearney, which pays a median total compensation of $167,534. Strategy&, at No. 2 on the list, pays a median total compensation of $160,000.

Juniper placed third among the 25 companies, while McKinsey & Company ranked fourth with a median total compensation of $155,000.

Glassdoor’s total compensation figures include base salary as well as other forms of pay, such as commissions, tips and bonuses. The data comes from U.S.-based employees who voluntarily shared their compensation on Glassdoor’s website during the past year. Companies considered for Glassdoor’s report must have received at least 50 salary reports by U.S-based employees during the 12-month time frame.

“Salaries are sky-high at consulting companies due to ‘barriers of entry’ in this field, which refers to employers wanting top consultants to have personal contacts, reputations and specialized skills and knowledge,” said Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor chief economist, in a statement. “In technology, we continue to see unprecedented salaries as the war for talent is still very active, largely due to the ongoing shortage of highly skilled workers needed.”

Here is Glassdoor’s full list of the 25 highest paying companies in the U.S.:

1. A.T. Kearney: median total compensation $167,534; median base salary $143,620
2. Strategy&: median total compensation $160,000; median base salary $147,000
3. Juniper Networks: median total compensation $157,000; median base salary $135,000
4. McKinsey & Company: median total compensation $155,000; median base salary $135,000
5. Google: median total compensation $153,750; median base salary $123,331
6. VMware: median total compensation $152,133; median base salary $130,000
7. Amazon Lab126: median total compensation $150,100; median base salary $138,700
8. Boston Consulting Group: median total compensation $150,020; median base salary $147,000
9. Guidewire: median total compensation $150,020; median base salary $135,000
10. Cadence Design Systems: median total compensation $150,010; median base salary $140,000
11. Visa: median total compensation $150,000; median base salary $130,000
12. Facebook: median total compensation $150,000; median base salary $127,406
13. Twitter: median total compensation $150,000; median base salary $133,000
14. Box: median total compensation$150,000 ; median base salary $130,000
15. Walmart eCommerce: median total compensation $149,000; median base salary$126,000
16. SAP: median total compensation $148,431; median base salary $120,000
17. Synopsys: median total compensation $148,000; median base salary $130,000
18. Altera: median total compensation $147,000; median base salary $134,000
19. LinkedIn: median total compensation $145,000; median base salary $120,000
20. Cloudera: median total compensation $145,000; median base salary $129,500
21. Salesforce: median total compensation $143,750; median base salary $120,000
22. Microsoft: median total compensation $141,000; median base salary $125,000
23. F5 Networks: median total compensation $140,200; median base salary $120,500
24. Adobe: median total compensation $140,000; median base salary $125,000
25. Broadcom: median total compensation $140,000; median base salary $130,000

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10 boot camps to kick start your data science career

Data science is one of the fastest growing careers today and there aren’t enough employees to meet the demand. As a result, boot camps are cropping up to help get workers up to speed quickly on the latest data skills.

Data Scientist is the best job in America, according to data from Glassdoor, which found that the role has a significant amount of job openings and that data scientists earn an average salary of more than $116,000. According to its data, the job of data scientist rated a 4.1 out of 5 for career opportunity and it earned a 4.7 for job satisfaction. But, as the role of data scientist grows in demand, traditional schools aren’t churning out qualified candidates fast enough to fill the open positions. There’s also no clear path for those who have been in the tech industry for years and want to take advantage lucrative job opportunity. Enter the boot camp, a trend that has quickly grown in popularity as a way to train workers for in-demand tech skills. Here are 10 data science boot camps designed to help you brush up on your data skills, with courses for anyone from beginners to experienced data scientists.

Bit Bootcamp

Located in New Jersey, Bit Bootcamp offers both part-time and full-time courses in data analytics that last four weeks. It has a rolling start date and courses cost between $1,500 – $6,500, according to data from Course Report. It’s a great option for students who already have a background in SQL, as well as object-oriented programming skills such as Java, C# or C++. Attendees can expect to work on real problems they might face in the workplace, whether it’s at a startup or a large corporation. The course completes with a Hadoop certification exam using the skills learned over the past four weeks.
Price: $1500 – $6500

NYC Data Science Academy
The NYC Data Science Academy offers 12-week courses in data science that offer a combination of “intensive lectures and real world project work,” according to Course Report. It’s aimed at more experienced data scientists, who have a masters or Ph.D. degree. Courses include training in R, Python, Hadoop, Github and SQL with a focus on real-world application. Participants will walk away with a portfolio of five projects to show to potential employers as well as a Capstone Project that spans the last two weeks of the course. The NYC Data Science Academy also helps students garner interest from recruiters and hiring managers through partnerships with businesses. In the last week of the course, students will participate in mock interviews and job search prep; many will also have the opportunity to interview with hiring tech companies in the New York and Tri-State area.
Price: $16,000

The Data Incubator
The Data Incubator is another program aimed at more experienced tech workers who have a masters or Ph.D., but it’s unique in that it offers fellowships, which means students who qualify can attend for free. Fellowships, which must be completed in person, are available in New York City, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area. The program also offers students mentorship directly from hiring companies, including LinkedIn, Microsoft and The New York Times, all while they work on building a portfolio to showcase their skills. The boot camp programs run for eight weeks and students need to have a background in engineering and science skills. Attendees can expect to leave this program with data skills that will be applicable in real world companies.
Price: Free for those accepted

Galvanize has six campuses located in Seattle; San Francisco, Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, Colo.; Austin, Texas; and London. The focus of Galvanize is to develop entrepreneurs through a diverse community of students who include the likes of programmers, data scientists and Web developers. Galvanize boasts a 94 percent placement rate for its data science program since 2014 and students can apply for partial scholarships of up to $10,500. According to Galvanize, students have gone on to work for companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Air BnB, Tesla and Accenture. This boot camp is intended to combine real life skills with education so that graduates walk away ready to start a new career or advance at their current company through formal courses, workshops and events.
Price: $16,000

The Data Science Dojo
With campuses in Seattle, Silicon Valley, Barcelona, Toronto, Washington and Paris, the Data Science Dojo brings quick and affordable data science education to professionals around the world. It’s one of the shortest programs on this list — lasting only five days — and it covers data science and data engineering. Before you even attend the program, you will get access to online courses and tutorials to learn the basics of data science. Then, you’ll start the in-person program which consists of 10 hour days over the course of five days. Finally, after the boot camp is complete, you’ll be invited to exclusive events, tutorials and networking groups that will help you continue your education. Due to the short nature of the course, it’s tailored to those already in the industry who want to learn more about data science or brush up on the latest skills. However, unlike some of the other courses on this list, you don’t need a master’s degree Ph.D. to enroll, it’s aimed at anyone at any skill level who simply wants to throw themselves in the trenches of data science and become part of a global network of companies and students who have attended the same program.
Price: Free for those accepted

Metis has campuses in New York and San Francisco, where students can attend intensive in-person data science workshops. Programs take 12 weeks to complete and include on-site instruction, career coaching and job placement support to help students make the best of their newly acquired skills. Similar to other boot camps, Metis’ programs are project-based and focus on real-world skills that graduates can take with them to a career in data science. Those who complete the program can expect to walk away with in-depth knowledge of modern big data tools, access to an extensive network of professionals in the industry and ongoing career support.
Price: $14,000

Data Science for Social Good
This Chicago-based boot camp has specific goals; it focuses on churning out data scientists who want to work in fields such as education, health and energy to help make a difference in the world. Data Science for Social Good offers a three-month long fellowship program offered through the University of Chicago, and it allows students to work closely with both professors and professionals in the industry. Attendees are put into small teams alongside full-time mentors who help them through the course of the fellowship to develop projects and solve problems facing specific industries. The program lasts 14 weeks and students complete 12 projects in partnership with nonprofits and government agencies to help tackle problems currently facing those industries.
Price: Free for those accepted

Offered through Northeastern University, Level is a two-month program that aims to turn you into a hirable data analyst. Each day of the course focuses on a real-world problem that a business will face and students develop projects to solve these issues. Students can expect to learn more about SQL, R, Excel, Tableau and PowerPoint and walk away with experience in preparing data, regression analysis, business intelligence, visualization and storytelling. You can choose between a full-time eight week course that meets five days a week, eight hours a day and a hybrid 20-week program that meets online and in-person one night a week.
Price: $7,995

Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School
The Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School — or DS3 — runs for eight weeks during the summer. It’s an intensive program that is intended for upper level undergraduates or graduating seniors to help grow diversity in the data science industry. Attendees get a $5,000 stipend as well as a laptop that they keep at the end of the program. Classes accommodate only eight people, however, so the process is selective, but it’s only open to students who already reside or can make their own accommodations in the New York City area.
Price: Free for those accepted

Silicon Valley Data Academy
The Silicon Valley Data Academy, or SVDA, hosts eight-week training programs in enterprise-level data science skills. Those who already have an extensive background in data science or engineering can apply to be a fellow and have the tuition waived. You can expect to learn more about data visualization, data mining, statistics, machine learning, natural language processing as well as tools such as Hadoop, Spark, Hive, Kafka and NoSQL. Programs consist of more traditional curriculums including homework, but it also includes guest lectures, field trips to headquarters of collaborating companies and projects that offer real world experience.
Price: Free for those accepted


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Five ways your startup is screwed

The founders of failed startups share lessons learned along the way — and signs of impending doom they wish they’d spotted sooner

Building a startup is risky business. For every Facebook, Google, or Uber, there are hundreds of once-brilliant-seeming companies that entered the tech landscape with great fanfare — only to fizzle out and fade away a matter of months later.

We tend to hear about these failures far less frequently than the successes — that’s a shame, because there are important lessons to be learned from those who tried and fell flat on their faces. Lucky for us, a venture capital database company called CB Insights took it upon itself to track and compile the many postmortem emails, blog posts, and interviews startup founders have shared over the past couple of years. Boy, do those missives contain fascinating insights.

I sifted through all the tear-shedding, blame-shifting, and self-flogging to find some of the more telling themes from these sorrowful tales (setting aside the obvious stuff like running out of money or building a product that people flat-out rejected). You might recognize one of these signs from a startup you know today. Or, given that IT projects are often like microstartups within an organization, you might learn a lesson or two about how not to steer your project straight into the ground.

Failure sign No. 1: You don’t have a strong and consistent focus

Knowing what a business is all about means everything — especially in the critical early months when a startup is working to find its footing. If you see a startup without a strong focus — or with a focus that keeps changing or expanding — it might be time to start worrying. It’s a lesson numerous founders have learned the hard way.

“We were trying to do everything for everybody,” writes Yash Kotak, founder of the failed startup Lumos. “We were making switches that could automate your lights, fans, ACs, and water heaters. We would have tried to automate your TV, fridge, oven, and car as well, had it been feasible to do so.”

The issue, Kotak says, isn’t that it’s inherently bad to pursue multiple angles; it’s that you can spread your resources only so thin before they get tight — and that’s when something is bound to snap. Sound familiar?

“As a startup, you are constrained in resources,” he reflects. “So it is always better to identify and solve one problem very well instead of solving n problems in a so-so way.”

Thor Fridriksson had similar struggles at his now-defunct startup, Pumodo. As he recalls it, he and his cohorts got “tangled in the hype machine” and made the same mistake of being mediocre at a bunch of things instead of being exceptionally great at one.

“Our business plan was changing every week,” Fridriksson writes. “We went from focusing only on football to becoming [an] app for all sports.”

Pumodo’s mantra, according to Fridriksson, was “think bigger” — a plan that also didn’t pan out for Jeanette Cajide, founder of folded mobile app Blurtt (yes, Blurtt).

“Ideas are a dime a dozen; the difference is in the execution,” Cajide notes. She should know: Her startup went through four different business models before finally calling it quits.

That brings us to our next sign that something might be amiss…

Failure sign No. 2: Your vision’s been twisted out of your control

Blurtt started out as a place where you could pay two bucks to create a custom physical postcard from your phone and have it sent to someone in the mail. A year later, it shifted its model to being a free service supported by ads on the back of each printed postcard.

A year after that, the company pivoted again and became a “mobile platform of micro-gifting and greeting cards” — whatever that means. Soon thereafter, it tossed that idea aside and tried to convince people to download its app for creating digital “blurtts,” which were basically images with text-based captions stamped on top. (Where have we seen that before?)

“In the end, the passion and magic was lost,” Cajide says. “Remember why you started this in the first place and never lose sight of it, because once it becomes something you are not happy doing, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

Speaking of which, remember Secret? It was an anonymous message-sharing tool that was all the rage among Silicon Valley insiders for a few minutes in 2014. It was also a startup with serious money under its belt: a valuation of more than $100 million at its peak.

But all that cash couldn’t keep the train a-chuggin’: After struggling to deal with complaints of bullying and baseless rumormongering (gee, who woulda thunk on an anonymous message-sharing app?) — and simultaneously facing a troubling trend of declining use — the company shut down and returned its money to investors after a mere 16 months on the market.

Secret went through several evolutions along the way, shifting its design and philosophy to try to address complaints and keep everyone happy. In the end, its co-founder, David Byttow, said the startup was no longer the entity he had set out to build.

“Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company,” he wrote, “so I believe [shutting down is] the right decision for myself, our investors, and our team.”

A loss of original vision was also blamed for the collapse of ProtoExchange, an outsourcing marketplace for hardware engineering, as well as for the downfall of Digital Royalty, a social media strategy startup that underwent “sizable shifts” in the months leading up to its shutdown.

“Some of these shifts were in our control and some were not,” its founder, Amy Jo, eulogized. “In order to honor our core values, which have been the epicenter of our culture, we have decided to hang up our crown.”

Pour one out for our crownless homies.

Failure sign No. 3: You aren’t ready for success

Some startups have stellar ideas but lack the resources or know-how to execute them. And — you guessed it — that dangerously spicy combination doesn’t exactly create a foundation for long-term success.

Ask Martin Erlić, whose startup UDesign went from promising new concept to kaput old company in the span of a single year.

The idea sounds solid: UDesign was an app that’d make it simple to create your own pattern and use it on a custom piece of clothing. Neato, right? But instead of hiring experienced programmers, Erlić and his partners in crime decided to “wing it” and do the dirty work themselves.

“What ended up happening was that we spent everything we could have spent on polishing the product … on marketing instead,” he explains. “We thought we could trick people now and make up for it later. Wrong.”

Flash without function — an age-old tale. It’s one Attila Szigeti, founder of startup flop, also knows well.

“We only had a crude prototype but no amazing product, and we couldn’t attract [a] considerable number of users,” he recalls.

Some startups don’t even get that far. Jeremy Bell’s former company, Wattage, was supposed to make it easy for anyone to come up with an idea for an electronic device — dragging and dropping components like buttons, sensors, speakers, and displays into an online creation tool — then have the gadget manufactured and delivered in a matter of days.

Yet again, it was a cool concept without the legs to hold it up.

“When I looked at the various prototypes we’d created, the quality simply wasn’t there yet,” Bell admits. “We were heavily using laser cutting as our means of fabrication, and while it allowed us to produce something close to our vision, it wasn’t good enough. What we really needed was a hybrid of laser cutting and 3D printing, but unfortunately, 3D printing is still far too slow and expensive to be realistic.”

As it turns out, not being realistic is a pretty big hurdle to overcome.

Failure sign No. 4: You’ve built your business on a legal landmine

Play with fire, and you’re bound to get burned. It may sound obvious, but man — an awful lot of startups have disintegrated in heat-generated meltdowns.

The most prominent examples revolve around rights-related woes. Take Grooveshark, a music discovery startup that managed to last an impressive 10 years before its legal oversights caught up with it.

“Despite [having the] best of intentions, we made very serious mistakes,” the company conceded in an unsigned shutdown memo. “We failed to secure licenses from rights holders for the vast amount of music on the service. That was wrong.”

Grooveshark’s settlement agreement with record companies forced it not only to shut down the service and wipe all the company’s servers clean, but also to turn over everything it owned — the website itself along with all apps, patents, and copyrights — to the rights-owners it had wronged.

Things weren’t quite so dire for Exfm, another music discovery service. But while the company didn’t get clobbered in the same way as Grooveshark, legal issues definitely played a key role in its decision to go dark.

“The technical challenges are compounded by the litigious nature of the music industry, which means every time we have any meaningful growth, it’s coupled with the immediate attention of the record labels in the form of takedowns and legal emails,” the company’s founders stated in an email to subscribers.

Once-trendy “social streaming” startup suffered a similar fate — and even noted that it should have paid closer attention to the troubles its predecessors had faced.

“Ultimately, I didn’t heed the lessons of so many failed music startups,” founder Billy Chasen says. “It’s an incredibly expensive venture to pursue and a hard industry to work with. We spent more than a quarter of our cash on lawyers, royalties, and services related to supporting music.”

Failure sign No. 5: Your product depends on someone else’s service

Call it the “single point of failure” fragility: If your business relies on someone else’s service to exist, you’re pretty much asking for trouble.

We’ve seen sob stories from several startups that hitched their wagons to Twitter only to have the virtual rugs pulled out from under them with little to no warning. The most recent high-profile example is Twitpic: The once-vital image sharing service clashed with Twitter’s growing ambitions and found itself immersed in a battle it couldn’t win. According to the company’s bye-bye missive:

Twitter contacted our legal [department] demanding that we abandon our trademark application or risk losing access to their API. This came as a shock to us since Twitpic has been around since early 2008 and our trademark application has been in the USPTO since 2009.

Other founders found themselves facing an about-face with Facebook, like Lookery — a marketing company whose currency revolved around social network data.

“We exposed ourselves to a huge single point of failure,” co-founder Scott Rafer muses. “Predictably and reasonably, Facebook acted in their own interest rather than ours.”

Rafer says his startup “could have and should have” used its resources to establish some level of independence instead of investing further in Facebook’s platform — a similar sentiment to the one expressed by PostRocket, a company that set out to help customers reach more fans in Zuckerberg’s virtual backyard.

“We should and could have done much better in bringing you a reliable product that expanded as quickly as the landscape of Facebook marketing changed,” co-founder Tim Chae confesses. While informing customers of his company’s demise, Chae actually suggested they turn to Facebook’s then-new analytics service as an alternative, saying the product “blows any other service out the water” — a perfect summary of the danger associated with trying to fill a hole in an existing service.

Even if a startup doesn’t get shut out entirely, trying to keep up with a fickle step-parent’s evolving requirements can take significant resources — which is especially challenging when funding is limited. Social media marketing firm Argyle Social cited that factor in its failure, as did song sharing service This Is My Jam.

The single point of failure can even come from a detail as seemingly innocuous as search: A startup called Tutorspree put all its consumer-attracting eggs in the basket of search engine optimization — and when the tides one day turned, it found itself lost at sea without a life preserver in sight.

“We were single channel-dependent, and that channel shifted on us radically and suddenly,” co-founder Aaron Harris explains. “There is a chance that a single channel can grow a company very quickly to a very large size, but the risks involved in that single channel are large and grow in tandem with the company.”

You don’t have to be a scrappy startup to sense the danger in that arrangement.


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New products of the month Dec 2015

New products of the week
Our roundup of intriguing new products. Read how to submit an entry to Network World’s products of the week slideshow.

GigaVUE-FM appliance
Key features: The GigaVUE-FM appliance simplifies the management and orchestration of visibility infrastructure and enables enterprises to increase the scale and reach of Gigamon’s Visibility Fabric with additional, dedicated compute capacity.

ImageCenter ADS-3000N
Key features: High-Speed desktop scanner with Gigabit Ethernet and SuperSpeed USB 3.0 connectivity offering powerful features for mid-to-large size workgroups that simplify the way documents are captured, managed, processed, and delivered.

SafeBeyond iOS App
Key features: SafeBeyond launches video capture app on iOS allowing users to more spontaneously record, capture, save and store their invaluable memories and moments.

Couchbase Server 4.1
Pricing: Community Edition is free with support available through the community. Enterprise Edition provides professional support and starts at $5,600 per node.

Key features: A distributed NoSQL database engineered for performance, scalability and availability. Added features include full CRUD support for SQL-based query language N1QL, prepared statements and covering indexes for faster queries.

Modular Data Line Fallback Switch
Key features: Automatic or on-demand A-B fallback switching for RJ45 Ethernet 10/100/1000, T1/E1 and RS-232/422/485 data lines. Accommodates up to 16 modules, allowing switching capacity to be expanded as needed.

StealthAUDIT 7.1
Key features: Enterprise-scale, flexible unstructured data access management to track who owns, manages or accesses sensitive unstructured data. Delivers new support for Microsoft Azure cloud-based directory service, NAS and UNIX support, etc.

Thunder TPS 3.2
Key features: A10 Networks announced enhancements to its multi-vector DDoS protection solution, Thunder TPS (Threat Protection System)—including the ability to send alerts to Verisign’s cloud-based DDoS Protection Service using the OpenHybrid API. Thunder TPS 3.2 now enables more organizations to intelligently provide an always-on application experience.

Attunity CloudBeam for Google Cloud SQL
Key features: Attunity CloudBeam accelerates transfer between on-premises enterprise data sources and Google Cloud SQL. Customers can leverage this solution to enable cloud-based Business Intelligence and Big Data analytics applications.

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16 must-have Android productivity apps

From basic business tasks to advanced automation, these 16 apps will make your Android device more useful than ever

16 must-have Android productivity apps

Gone are the days of a phone revolving around voice communication. These days, a mobile device is a powerful personal computer, and with the right set of tools, it can be an invaluable productivity machine.

How do you transform your Android device from interesting gadget to indispensable assistant? We have you covered. These 16 apps are among the best functionality-expanding productivity tools available for Android today. Put them on your Android smartphone or tablet, and get ready to watch your productivity soar.

(Note that this list does not include Google apps that come preloaded by default with Android, such as Gmail and Google Drive.)

OfficeSuite 8
OfficeSuite 8 has won our last three Android office suite shoot-outs, and for good reason: It’s hands-down the best fully featured office suite available for Android users.

OfficeSuite Pro costs $14.99 plus another $10 for an essential font compatibility add-on (or $19.99 a year via an in-app purchase for the Premium version, if you’d rather go the subscription route) — but you get what you pay for: The program boasts an elegant design on both smartphones and tablets and is jam-packed with advanced desktoplike functionality for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It integrates with numerous cloud storage services and offers native PDF-markup commands.

Even with Microsoft’s own Office apps now available on Android, OfficeSuite 8 remains the most robust and user-friendly option the platform has to offer.

App: OfficeSuite 8
Price: $14.99 for Pro; $19.99 per year for Premium

Cabinet BETA
One of Android’s greatest assets for power users is its unrestricted file system access: You can browse your Android device as you would a computer, navigating through folders and moving, deleting, or sharing files as you wish.

Plenty of apps can help you do that, but Cabinet BETA stands out for its clean and modern Material Design-based user interface. Cabinet makes it easy to manipulate folders and files, zip and unzip archives, and share files directly to any service you have on your device (email, social media, cloud storage, and so on). Best of all, it’s free.

When you’re at your desk, it can get annoying to keep grabbing your smartphone to send texts or see whose call you missed. Why not do it all from your PC instead?

AirDroid makes it possible: Once you’ve installed the app on your phone or tablet, you simply pull up on your computer’s Web browser. From there, you can read and send texts, view call logs, browse through your device’s storage, and wirelessly transfer files between your Android device and computer. With certain devices, AirDroid can even fully mirror your home screen on your desktop and allow you to control your phone completely from your computer.

AirDroid works over both Wi-Fi and mobile data connections. The app itself is free to use, though some features require a $20-per-year premium subscription.

Chrome Remote Desktop
Want full remote access to your PC from your Android phone or tablet? Google’s free Chrome Remote Desktop is all you need. Simply install the companion app for the Chrome desktop browser — compatible with any operating system where the browser is supported — and within minutes, you’ll be securely connecting to your computer from your mobile device.

Once connected, you can use your Android device to open folders, manipulate files, and run programs on your desktop system as if you were sitting right in front of it. You can connect multiple computers to the service, too; all you have to do is install and configure the Chrome app on each additional system, and it’ll show up as an option in the app.

Google Now Launcher
Android device makers love to muddy the OS’s interface with their attempts at visual design, but more often than not, those changes are a step in the wrong direction. Why not take matters into your own hands? The Google Now Launcher — loaded by default on Google’s own Nexus devices — gives you a clean and simple “stock” home screen setup that’ll improve your mobile experience and make you more productive.

Aside from eliminating the clashing colors and excessive clutter many manufacturers add into the environment, the Google Now Launcher puts the powerful Google Now service right at your fingertips as a permanent panel at the leftmost side of your home screen. That makes the service feel more like a native part of the system and allows easier access to useful contextual info that’s tailored to your needs.

Microsoft Outlook
Wish you could have the familiar Outlook email interface on your Android phone or tablet? Until recently, you were out of luck — but no more.

Microsoft officially released its Outlook app for Android earlier this year. The free app works with Microsoft Exchange accounts, as you’d expect, and it supports Office 365 and, along with third-party services like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and iCloud. It has integrated Outlook calendar support as well, including a nifty native scheduling feature.

If you already live in Microsoft’s world, the Outlook app for Android may be the missing piece you’ve been waiting for.

Today Calendar
Regardless of how you manage your appointments, being able to see them at a glance on your home screen goes a long way. The native Android calendar widget leaves something to be desired (as do most native widgets added by phone manufacturers), but fear not: Plenty of excellent alternatives are available.

One of the best and most versatile options belongs to Today Calendar, a top-notch calendar app that works seamlessly with the Google Calendar service. The app — which is available both in a free ad-supported form and a $6 Pro version — includes an attractive scrollable agenda widget as well as a separate month-view widget. Both widgets are completely customizable, so you can make them look exactly how you like.

Today’s full app interface is also a meaningful step above the default calendar apps provided on many devices in terms of both features and design (though you don’t have to use it in order to get the widgets).

Google Keep
Need a simple way to keep track of thoughts, tasks, and lists? (Who doesn’t?) Google’s Keep app gives you a dead-simple interface for recording, managing, and sharing all the little things in your life.

Keep allows you to jot down notes or leave yourself memos via voice and have them transcribed automatically into text. You can snap photos to include with notes, too, and even search later to find any text visible in those images.

Keep has a bunch of other useful bells and whistles, including a checklist function, the ability to tag and color-code items (then sort by those variables for easy access), and the ability to set location-based reminders for specific notes or lists. The app also makes it possible to share notes or lists, then collaborate on them with others in real time.

Perhaps most important, Keep works on any platform — and everything you do is always synced across all of your devices.

For hardcore note-taking junkies, Evernote is a tough app to beat. The service allows you to create multiple notebooks into which you can save text notes, complex lists, images, and voice reminders. You can even send content into an Evernote notebook by emailing it to a special address connected to your account.

Evernote keeps your stuff synced with its own cloud-based service. It’s accessible on the Web and on most major platforms, so that setup tends to work well enough.

Evernote is free, though certain functions — including offline access, advanced searching, and increased transfer allotments — require a $25- or $50-per-year premium subscription.

As any road warrior knows, keeping track of expenses can be a pain. Expensify can ease the burden. The app provides an easy-to-follow interface for tracking time, miles, receipts, and invoices on the go, then generating on-demand reports as needed.

Expensify lets you scan receipts as you get them, after which it automatically pulls out the pertinent info from the images and puts it into your records. It can tap into your phone’s GPS to log miles as you drive, and it offers offline functionality for the times when you can’t get a signal.

Expensify is free, though optional premium plans will lift certain usage restrictions and unlock additional features.

Travelers, meet your new best friend. TripIt takes all the heavy lifting out of travel, giving you a simple centralized place for storing and tracking all your travel info.

Once you sign up for TripIt, all you do is forward every travel-related email — flight reservations, hotel bookings, even car rental or restaurant confirmations — to TripIt then extracts the important details and puts them into comprehensive and user-friendly itineraries that are accessible from any phone or tablet (as well as from the Web). It can also sync the data automatically into your Google Calendar, if you want.

TripIt is free; an optional $50-per-year Pro subscription gets you a variety of advanced premium features, including real-time flight alerts and a virtual assistant for finding alternate flights along the way.

Google Translate
Going abroad? Google Translate is the companion you need. Translate makes it easy to convert text from one language to another in ways that actually make sense.

Sure, you can type in a phrase in your native tongue and have Translate move it into another language. But you can also take a snapshot of a sign, menu, or document with your phone and have Translate decipher the text. You can speak into your phone in one language and have Translate speak back in another. And you can do it all offline, provided you download the necessary language packs in advance.

Google Translate is free. ¿Cómo te gustan las manzanas?

Depending on your device, your default keyboard may be decent, but there’s a strong chance SwiftKey is better.

SwiftKey — free, with optional in-app purchases for extra themes — provides outstanding next-word prediction that’s personalized based on your typing habits. The app also has an excellent swipe-to-type option that lets you input text by sliding your finger from one letter to the next without lifting.

All combined, it’s a stellar keyboard that can boost productivity and transform your smartphone- or tablet-using experience.

Link Bubble
Let’s face it: Opening links from your phone isn’t always the best experience. Anytime you tap a link within an app — a news-reading tool, for instance, or a social media browser — you have to stop what you’re doing and wait for the page to take over your display and load.

Link Bubble brings a much-needed intelligent upgrade to the process. The app — which is completely free as of this month — opens all of your links in a floating and movable bubble that sits on the side of your screen. You can keep doing whatever you’re doing and continue to open more links as you encounter them.

Whenever you’re ready to read the content you’ve opened, you simply tap the bubble — and the pages appear in an overlay window on your screen. With another tap or swipe, you can move between them, share them to another app or service, or shrink them back down for later perusing.

It makes so much sense, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

Android notifications are powerful — but what if you could connect them to the Web and make them even more robust?

With the help of a free app called Hooks, you can. Hooks lets you set up custom notifications based on events that happen online — and in the real world. You could have the app notify you on your phone anytime your website or server goes down, for instance, or anytime new information is released about a software vulnerability you’re tracking. You could configure alerts for package deliveries, stocks of interest, or mentions of your company in Google search and social media.

And all of that is only the start.

Our last must-have Android productivity app is perhaps the most powerful and versatile of all. It’s called Tasker, and it’s an Android power-user’s dream.

In short, Tasker — which costs $2.99 — lets you create intelligent automation on your device. You could have your phone automatically connect to a certain Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device whenever you’re in a particular location or change its ring behavior and volume settings based on location, time of day, or currently occurring calendar events.

Tasker isn’t for the faint of heart — if you want something simpler but less versatile, the more user-friendly (and free) Agent might be the app for you — but if you’re up for a little geek-targeted tinkering, Tasker will open your Android device up to a practically limitless range of new and exciting possibilities.

App: Tasker
Price: $2.99
Developer: Crafty Apps EU

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7 signs you’re doing devops wrong

Misconceptions and flawed implementations may have you missing the true upsides of devops

Devops is a transformative ethos that many companies are putting to their advantage. As with anything that hinges on culture, however, it can be too easy to slap together a few tools, sprinkle in new processes, and call yourself a devops-fueled organization. After all, saying that your company embraces devops and regularly practices devops techniques is popular nowadays, and it can serve as great PR for bringing in great talent to your team. But in truth, many companies — and technical recruiters — that are proclaiming their devotion to devops from the hilltops aren’t really devops organizations.

Here we take a look at some of the most common misconceptions and flawed implementations of devops. Chances are, your company has fallen prey to at least one of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t practicing devops. It simply means you have a ways to go before your company can fulfill the promise. Devops isn’t an award or title you can achieve. It’s a philosophy, culture, and way of approaching the task of shipping code.
[ Harness the power of PowerShell: An intro for Windows Server | An intro for Exchange | Essential tips for Windows admins | Don’t get left behind — download the Devops Digital Spotlight, and learn all about the game-changer in app development and deployment. | Get a digest of the day’s top tech stories in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]

Read on, take a step back, and assess your company’s commitment to its devops mission. Candor and honesty are essential to guiding your team in the right direction.

Sign No. 1: You need to buy “the devops”

IT departments need “stuff” to operate. They need hardware: computers, servers, server racks, network switches, routers, and load balancers. They also need software: operating systems, antivirus products, productivity software, project management solutions, various line-of-business applications, and software to monitor the health and performance of hardware and software alike.

IT departments have been buying “stuff” since their inception. When the first company decided to use computers as part of their business practices, purchasing as the lifeblood of IT was born. It’s natural for IT higher-ups to think they can buy the next big thing that will help them help the business succeed. This is why some companies give themselves the false impression that they can buy “the devops.”

But it’s not for the wrong intentions. Many CIOs who attend devops conferences or talk about devops with fellow CIOs begin to see what devops can do for their company. Some decide they want “the devops” — and they want it now! What they don’t understand is that devops is not a product or service to purchase. It is a mind-set or mode of operation.

That’s not to say you can’t purchase a block of hours from highly paid consultants to learn devops principles, but by doing so, ultimately you are purchasing knowledge that requires significant work on your part to implement. Your team must absorb what’s being taught, and only then will devops practices begin to take root.

“Devops” cannot be obtained overnight with a simple check and a little training. It is a transformational approach to core processes, and it takes time, dedication, and especially a team that can implement devops practices, many of which will fly against your company’s previous modes of operation.

If your company has a devops budget, you’re doing devops wrong.

Sign No. 2: You equate software and tools to devops

This misapplication of devops runs in parallel to No. 1 above. IT shops acquire tools to do their jobs more effectively. It’s encoded in the job. IT shops have tools to manage clients and servers, as well as storage, compute, and networking resources. But when it comes to tools and devops, companies often get confused. To be sure, devops greatness cannot be achieved without tools. But when companies ignore other areas of devops and focus solely on the tools themselves, problems arise. Tools may be essential, but they are only part of what makes devops tick.

Various configuration management products associated with devops certainly help you build a devops culture. Without them, you undoubtedly are not practicing devops. You can code together your own tools to automate previously manual processes such as code testing, deployments, and server builds, or you can purchase tools geared to complete these tasks; either way automation is a huge part of devops. Without tools, you’d still be manually building test servers, running through runbooks, and checking off tick boxes on a checklist.

But devops consists of a number of facets that go beyond configuration management; don’t focus in on only one simply because a solution exists and it’s tangible. If you look for something tangible to latch onto in your journey to be a devops ninja, you will fail.

If your company bought Chef or Puppet as a cure-all for its devops needs, you’re doing devops wrong.

Sign No. 3: You use checklists or runbooks to manage code deployments

To hammer the point home, automation is the crux of devops. Automation is of paramount importance in an organizational devops culture. Companies practicing devops have a strong desire to automate everything possible. Automation allows them to remove human error and standardize processes across the entire software development lifecycle.

Businesses know that automation is the seed that grows other devops principles such as establishing consistent, routine code deployments. Without automation, reliable code deployments, in particular, would not be possible. Automation is a crucial philosophy to adopt when driving toward a devops culture.

So if you find yourself having conversations with co-workers that include statements like, “We don’t have time to automate,” or “Let’s just do it manually this time. It’ll be faster,” then you’re not doing devops. When embarking on a new project, if automating everything possible isn’t the first idea that comes to your head you’re probably not at devops mastery yet.

Devops-heavy cultures realize that even though it may take more time to introduce automation up front it will pay off through more reliable and faster code deployments in the future. Your company must understand that everything is on the table for automation. This means deployments, testing, code check-in policies, servers builds — everything.

If your company spends hours poring over checklists to ensure code is ready to be deployed, you’re doing devops wrong.

Sign No. 4: You release code to production every few months (or years)

Now that we’ve addressed automation it’s important to address deployment frequency. The sole purpose of devops is to fix bugs and release new features to production faster. That’s not done by following a traditional waterfall model; that’s done by being agile.

At its heart, the agile methodology consists of releasing small changes as often as possible. Its premise is to not plan every little detail ahead of time before releasing to production. It is about defining what is considered “production ready,” representing that with a set of automated tests, and trusting that the tests written correctly define what it means for code to be “production ready.”

Devops is synonymous with concepts like continuous integration and continuous deployment. Notice the key word in both terms: continuous. Devops is about consistently having developers check code in as often as possible, which kicks off automated tests.

For the true devops rock stars, it’s also about taking that code and sending it directly to production through continuous deployment. If your company allows developers to check in code that goes through automated pre-check-in tests, gets handed over to another set of tests to ensure that the code is ready for production, then goes live on your production servers if deemed ready automatically, then you know you’ve achieved devops greatness.

If your company releases code changes less frequently than the harvest moon, you’re doing devops wrong — no matter how small the changes or how quickly you make them.

Sign No. 5: You consider failure unacceptable

Culture is often considered a “soft” aspect of IT, but it couldn’t be more essential to devops. This is where companies often fail to achieve the promise of devops. They might be automating with the optimal mix of tools. They might be continuously updating their code. But their inability to fully assimilate devops culture gets them every time.

For example, when the code you committed goes on to blow up a production database, what happens to you? Does your boss publicly scold you? Do you get immediately called into a manager’s office for a “closed door” meeting? Is losing your job or your ability to deploy code to production ever again a possible outcome of committing code? If so, then your company is not practicing devops.

Instead, picture this: The meltdown of the production database is treated as a learning opportunity. Your manager brings everyone into a postmortem meeting to provide candid feedback. Everyone exhibits a level of candor that might make you squirm, but it’s never at a level that places blame. The root cause is determined, and new tests are built around your mistake so that it’s caught next time and everyone acts like it’s simply another day. This is when you know your company has adopted an important devops philosophy.

If you are no longer trusted with commit rights to production because you have made or might make a mistake, you’re doing devops wrong.

Sign No. 6: You blame others for system problems

Devops philosophy has borrowed heavily from lean, and not blaming others for systemic errors is a key facet that has influenced the human aspect of devops. As with embracing failure, removing individual blame for problems associated with the system is essential to successful devops practices.

True devops practitioners believe that when something goes wrong the fault doesn’t lie with the individual using the system but the system itself. For developers and systems ops to get along, a blameless culture must be supported. Suppose a developer creates an application, tests the application on his computer, and hands the code over to operations. If a problem occurs when ops puts the code into production, ops can’t blame the developer for writing shoddy code, nor can the developer blame operations for not managing servers correctly.

Devops resolves this issue by first figuring out the difference between the two testing environments. Once discovered, the fix is implemented, and preferably, an automated test is created to ensure that, in the future, any flawed code will fail the newly automated test, which will prevent that change from ever getting into production.

If your company is firing staff simply for bringing down production, you’re doing devops wrong — regardless of any presumed role or responsibilities you attribute to those involved.

Sign No. 7: The developers and operations groups look like two grain silos

Devops weds the word “developer” to the word “operations.” If your developers and operations people still aren’t on speaking terms, you don’t have a chance at doing devops right. Devops is all about collaboration. It’s about coming together as a team to help the company, as a whole, achieve its goal. If your operations people refuse to communicate to developers other than throwing work over the proverbial wall, your devops dreams are toast.

This is the most important part of the devops philosophy. All of the activities I’ve touched on previously move toward this end result. It doesn’t mean developers should be forced to eat lunch with operations people or operations staff must invite developers to their weddings. It’s not about liking one another; it’s about looking past our human emotions to work as a professional team to build a product that propels the business forward.

If your company has developers on one floor and operations on another, with code commit messages as the only means of communication, you’re doing devops wrong.
It’s all about the culture

Devops is not for every company. There are situations that warrant a more meticulous approach to code management. However, even if your company isn’t fully committed to building a devops culture, there are many facets of the devops philosophy that can be applied to your practices successfully.

Above all, devops is a cultural philosophy. It takes patience, lots of hard work, an understanding of people, and a business that will support it to truly thrive.

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Top security stories of 2015

Not a shocker to have data breaches lead the way as criminals get ever more devious.

More data breaches

Hacking Team, Comcast, Ashley Madison… the list goes on of companies who became just another notch in the belt of cybercriminals. Like in years past, data breaches were top of the list for our year in review story. Here are some stories that made headlines in 2015.

Dell puts privacy at risk with dangerous root certificate
Dell has come under fire for shipping PCs with a pre-installed trusted root certificate that can be used to compromise the security of encrypted HTTPS connections.

“Surely Dell had to have seen what kind of bad press Lenovo got when people discovered what Superfish was up to. Yet, they decided to do the same thing but worse. This isn’t even a third-party application that placed it there; it’s from Dell’s very own bloatware,” commented the Reddit poster under the name “rotorcowboy”.

Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi discloses customer names and addresses
The Xfinity Wi-Fi service from Comcast disclosed the full name and home address of residential customers, which is something the company says isn’t supposed to happen. The disclosure of such information increases an already exposed attack surface, by allowing anyone with malicious intent to selectively target their marks.

It has been just over two years since Comcast launched the Xfinity Wi-Fi service, which created a separate wireless network in homes and businesses for existing customers and the general public.

Police arrest 15-year-old in TalkTalk hack
UK telecom TalkTalk disclosed a possible breach, which could impact upwards of 4 million customers. Those responsible for the attack likely compromised names, addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, email addresses, TalkTalk account information, credit card data, and banking information. A 15-year-old boy was later arrested.

Soon after the disclosure, TalkTalk reported that someone claiming to be responsible for the attack demanded a ransom, but the company didn’t go into detail on the demand itself.

4.6M customers impacted by Scottrade breach
Brokerage firm Scottrade alerted customers to a data breach, which affected 4.6 million people. Scottrade learned about the problem after being contacted by the FBI. According to the email sent to customers, and a public notice, the authorities learned that Scottrade was compromised while investigating other data-theft cases.

“If your information was contained in the affected database, you will receive a letter or email from Scottrade with additional information and resources. We have secured the known intrusion point and conducted an internal data forensics investigation on this incident with assistance from a leading computer security firm. We have taken appropriate steps to further strengthen our network defenses,” Scottrade told customers.

T-Mobile US says Experian breach exposed 15M customers
T-Mobile US CEO, John Legere, said that the names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birthdays, and ID information on more than 15 million customers had been compromised after a breach at Experian.

“The investigation is ongoing, but what we know right now is that the hacker acquired the records of approximately 15 million people, including new applicants requiring a credit check for service or device financing from September 1, 2013 through September 16, 2015,” a statement from T-Mobile’s head executive added.

Ashley Madison hackers publish compromised records
The group responsible for the Ashley Madison hack published the compromised records on Tuesday, delivering on the promise made when the hack was announced in July. The compromised records include account profile information, personal information, financial records, and more.

In July, a group calling themselves Impact Team leaked a selection of files that they claimed originated form Avid Life Media (ALM), the company behind adult playgrounds of Ashley Madison, Cougar Life, Established Men, and others.

IRS: Breach larger than first reported, 220k additional taxpayers affected
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said that the data breach reported in May has now impacted a total to 330,000 taxpayers. In addition, the agency sent 170,000 taxpayers notifications that their personal information was potentially exposed during the incident.

The compromise occurred through the “Get Transcript” application used by the tax agency. Using previously acquired personal information (PII), criminals were able to access the “Get Transcript” application to obtain old tax returns.

OPM says second breach compromised 21 million records
The breach at the Office of Personnel Management impacted 21.5 million people.The incident exposed Social Security Numbers and biometric data for federal employees and in some cases their families. OPM became aware of the second breach while investigating the first one disclosed in June.

At the time, the OPM said that the breach impacted the personal information of 4.2 million current and former federal employees. This second incident began in May of 2014 and went undiscovered for a year, however the OPM has stated that patches applied to systems in January halted the extraction of data.

Hacking Team hacked, attackers claim 400GB in dumped data
Specializing in surveillance technology, Hacking Team is now learning how it feels to have their internal matters exposed to the world, and privacy advocates are enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at their expense.

Hacking Team is an Italian company that sells intrusion and surveillance tools to governments and law enforcement agencies.

The attackers published a Torrent file with 400GB of internal documents, source code, and email communications to the public at large.

CareFirst data breach affects 1.1 million people
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) disclosed a data breach that impacts 1.1 million current and former members, who registered to use the insurer’s websites or who did business with them online prior to June 20, 2014.

CareFirst stated that they detected the initial compromise and took action to contain the attack. The assumption made was that their actions helped avoid a crisis.

Anthem: 78.8 million affected, FBI close to naming suspect
Anthem, the nation’s second largest health insurer, said that 8.8 to 18.8 million people who were not customers could be impacted by their recent data breach, which at last count is presumed to affect some 78.8 million people. This latest count now includes customers of independent Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) plans in several states.

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Hitch your IT career to a rising star with DevOps certification

Hitch your IT career to a rising star with DevOps certification

Savvy IT industry watchers have probably been noticing something called “DevOps” come gliding into view for a while now, striking regular pings on the scope of anyone scanning for either hot trends or spiking salaries. Even proponents of DevOps, however, sometimes struggle to define it in layman’s terms, a challenge that anyone who has ever tried to explain development methods like Agile or Scrum to someone outside of IT will understand. Beneath the jargon, however, there’s an important development model that is quickly gaining in popularity. If you’re involved in IT, then this is something that’s probably worth taking the time to understand.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a compound of “development” and “operations.” It’s a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other information technology professionals. DevOps is often shown graphically as three overlapping circles consisting of Development, Quality Assurance, and Information Technology Operations, with DevOps being the area of overlap that ties all three circles together.

DevOps is so much more, however, than the intersection of three circles. It’s often the intersection of five or ten circles — it just depends on the company that the DevOps is supporting. DevOps spans the entire delivery pipeline. This includes improved deployment frequency, which can lead to faster time to market, lower failure rate of new releases, shortened lead time between fixes, and faster mean time to recovery in the event of a new release crashing or otherwise disabling the current system. Simple processes become increasingly programmable and dynamic when using a DevOps approach, which aims to maximize the predictability, efficiency, security, and maintainability of operational processes. Automation often supports this objective.

DevOps integration targets product delivery, quality testing, feature development, and maintenance releases in order to improve reliability and security and provide faster development and deployment cycles. Many of the ideas (and people) involved in DevOps come from the enterprise systems management and agile software development movements.

DevOps aids in software application release management for an organization by standardizing development environments. Events can be more easily tracked as well as resolving documented process control and granular reporting issues. Companies with release/deployment automation problems usually have existing automation but want to more flexibly manage and drive this automation without needing to enter everything manually at the command-line.

Ideally, this automation can be invoked by non-operations employees in specific non-production environments. The DevOps approach grants developers more control of the environment, giving infrastructure more application-centric understanding.

The adoption of DevOps is being driven by factors such as:

● Use of agile and other development processes and methodologies
● Demand for an increased rate of production releases from application and business unit stakeholders
● Wide availability of virtualized and cloud infrastructure from internal and external providers
● Increased usage of data center automation and configuration management tools
● Increased focus on test automation and continuous integration methods

According to David Geer, 42 percent of IT pros surveyed had adopted or planned to adopt DevOps development approaches (Information Week, 2014 DevOps Survey). That number ballooned to 66 percent of U.S. companies using DevOps approaches by the time of a Rackspace survey only 10 months later. With DevOps clearly taking over the coder’s realm, most programmers will eventually have to yield to and master this mindset.

What does DevOps mean for a programmer’s profession?
There’s a lot of interest in DevOps in the IT world right now.DevOps introduces developers to operational requirements and the tools and methods necessary to ensure that the code they create is immediately functional, of high quality, and fit for the production environment. With solid training in these tools and methods, developers should find their talents highly sellable in a career world that is increasingly favorable to DevOps practitioners.

Adam Gordon, CTO of New Horizon Computer Learning Centers of south Florida, sats that important developer skills for DevOps environments include automating configuration management (infrastructure lifecycle management) using vendor-neutral tools such as Puppet, Chef, Ansible, SaltStack, and Docker. These tools integrate with a host of popular platforms and software including Amazon EC2, Amazon Web Services, CFEngine, Cisco, Eucalyptus, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Bluemix, Jelastic, Jenkins, Linux (various distributions), Microsoft Azure, OpenStack, OpenSVC, Rackspace, Rightscale, Salt, SoftLayer, Vagrant, VMware, and a rapidly expanding number of examples.

Some of the most popular vendor-specific DevOps platforms include those from Microsoft and VMware, says Gordon. Microsoft’s DevOps-related products include System Center with its System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and System Center Operations Manager (SCOM). These Microsoft developer tools enable functions such as automated configuration management, monitoring, and custom management pack development. VMware tools such as vCloud Air (vCloud Hybrid Service) bridge the VMware development platform to tools such as Puppet and Chef, according to Gordon, while the vRealize cloud management platform automates infrastructure and application delivery, monitoring, analytics, and management.

Finally, Red Hat Linux developers will find that learning to deploy this distribution can be useful for work in Red Hat-related DevOps environments.

Does everyone love DevOps?
No, not everyone. Take Jeff Knupp, for instance. In an April 2014 blog, Knupp claims that DevOps is “killing the developer.” Allow me to quote directly from Mr. Knupp’s post:

“There are two recent trends I really hate: DevOps and the notion of the ‘full-stack’ developer. The DevOps movement is so popular that I may as well say I hate the x86 architecture or monolithic kernels. But it’s true: I can’t stand it. The underlying cause of my pain? This fact: not every company is a start-up, though it appears that every company must act as though they were.

“DevOps is meant to denote a close collaboration and cross-pollination between what were previously purely development roles, purely operations roles, and purely QA roles. Because software needs to be released at an ever-increasing rate, the old ‘waterfall’ develop-test-release cycle is seen as broken. Developers must also take responsibility for the quality of the testing and release environments.

“The increasing scope of responsibility of the ‘developer’ (whether or not that term is even appropriate anymore is debatable) has given rise to a chimera-like job candidate: the ‘full-stack’ developer. Such a developer is capable of doing the job of developer, QA team member, operations analyst, sysadmin, and DBA. Before you accuse me of hyperbole, go back and read that list again. Is there any role in the list whose duties you wouldn’t expect a ‘full-stack’ developer to be well versed in?

“Where did these concepts come from? Start-ups, of course (and the Agile methodology). Start-ups are a peculiar beast and need to function in a very lean way to survive their first few years. I don’t deny this. Unfortunately, we’ve taken the multiple technical roles that engineers at start-ups were forced to play due to lack of resources into a set of minimum qualifications for the role of ‘developer.’ ”

“Imagine you’re at a start-up with a development team of seven. You’re one year into development of a web application that Xs all the Ys, and things are going well, though it’s always a frantic scramble to keep everything going. If there’s a particularly nasty issue that seems to require deep database knowledge, you don’t have the liberty of saying, ‘That’s not my specialty,’ and handing it off to a DBA team to investigate. Due to constrained resources, you’re forced to take on the role of DBA and fix the issue yourself.

“Now expand that scenario across all the roles listed earlier. At any one time, a developer at a start-up may be acting as a developer, QA tester, deployment/operations analyst, sysadmin, or DBA. That’s just the nature of the business, and some people thrive in that type of environment. Somewhere along the way, however, we tricked ourselves into thinking that because, at any one time, a start-up developer had to take on different roles, he or she should actually be all those things at once.

“If such people even exist, ‘full-stack’ developers still wouldn’t be used as they should. Rather than temporarily taking on a single role for a short period of time, then transitioning into the next role, they are meant to be performing all the roles, all the time. Most good developers can almost pull this off.”

Certifications in DevOps
The DevOps certification realm is taking root quickly. One organization that is out in front of the pack, however, is Amazon Web Services. If you want to make a strong move into DevOps, then consider any of the following credentials.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam validates technical expertise in provisioning, operating, and managing distributed application systems on the AWS platform. Exam concepts you should understand for this exam include the ability to:

● Implement and manage continuous delivery systems and methodologies on AWS
● Understand, implement, and automate security controls, governance processes, and compliance validation
● Define and deploy monitoring, metrics, and logging systems on AWS
● Implement systems that are highly available, scalable, and self-healing on the AWS platform
● Design, manage, and maintain tools to automate operational processes

Required Prerequisite: status as AWS Certified Developer – Associate or AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

● Two or more years’ experience in provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments
● Experience in developing code in at least one high-level programming language
● Experience in automation and testing via scripting/programming
● Understanding of agile and other development processes and methodologies

Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
170 minutes to complete the exam
Exam available in English
Exam registration fee is $300

DevOps is a hot trend in software development right now.AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam validates technical expertise in deployment, management, and operations on the AWS platform. Exam concepts you should understand for this exam include:

● Deploying, managing, and operating scalable, highly available, and fault tolerant systems on AWS
● Migrating an existing on-premises application to AWS
● Implementing and controlling the flow of data to and from AWS
● Selecting the appropriate AWS service based on compute, data, or security requirements
● Identifying appropriate use of AWS operational best practices
● Estimating AWS usage costs and identifying operational cost control mechanisms


No prerequisites; recommend taking System Operations on AWS

● One or more years of hands-on experience in operating AWS-based applications
● Experience in provisioning, operating, and maintaining systems running on AWS
● Ability to identify and gather requirements to define a solution to be built and operated on AWS
● Capabilities to provide AWS operations and deployment guidance and best practices throughout the lifecycle of a project

Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
80 minutes to complete the exam
Available in English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Brazilian Portuguese
Practice Exam Registration fee is $20
Exam Registration fee is $150

AWS Certified Developer – Associate

The AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam validates technical expertise in developing and maintaining applications on the AWS platform. Exam concepts you should understand for this exam include:

● Picking the right AWS services for the application
● Leveraging AWS SDKs to interact with AWS services from your application
● Writing code that optimizes performance of AWS services used by your application
● Code-level application security (IAM roles, credentials, encryption, etc.)

No prerequisites; recommend taking Developing on AWS

● One or more years of hands-on experience in designing and maintaining an AWS-based application
● In-depth knowledge of at least one high-level programming language
● Understanding of core AWS services, uses, and basic architecture best practices
● Proficiency in designing, developing, and deploying cloud-based solutions using AWS
● Experience with developing and maintaining applications written for Amazon Simple Storage Service, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Simple Queue Service, Amazon Simple Notification Service, Amazon Simple Workflow Service, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and AWS Cloud Formation.

Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
80 minutes to complete the exam
Available in English, Simplified Chinese, and Japanese
Practice Exam Registration fee is $20
Exam Registration fee is $150

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam validates advanced technical skills and experience in designing distributed applications and systems on the AWS platform. Example concepts you should understand for this exam include:

● Designing and deploying dynamically scalable, highly available, fault tolerant, and reliable applications on AWS
● Selecting appropriate AWS services to design and deploy an application based on given requirements
● Migrating complex, multi-tier applications on AWS
● Designing and deploying enterprise-wide scalable operations on AWS
● Implementing cost control strategies

Status as AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
● Achieved AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
● Two or more years’ hands-on experience in designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS
● Abilities to evaluate cloud application requirements and make architectural recommendations for implementation, deployment, and provisioning applications on AWS
● Capabilities to provide best practices guidance on the architectural design across multiple applications, projects, or the enterprise

Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
170 minutes to complete the exam
Exam available in English and Japanese
Practice Exam Registration fee is $40
Exam Registration fee is $300

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

Intended for individuals with experience in designing distributed applications and systems on the AWS platform. Exam concepts you should understand for this exam include:
● Designing and deploying scalable, highly available, and fault tolerant systems on AWS
● Lift and shift of an existing on-premises application to AWS
● Ingress and egress of data to and from AWS
● Selecting the appropriate AWS service based on data, compute, database, or security requirements
● Identifying appropriate use of AWS architectural best practices
● Estimating AWS costs and identifying cost control mechanisms

None, but it is recommended that candidates take the Architecting on AWS and AWS Certification Exam Readiness Workshop

● One or more years of hands-on experience in designing available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS
● In-depth knowledge of at least one high-level programming language
● Ability to identify and define requirements for an AWS-based application
● Experience with deploying hybrid systems with on-premises and AWS components
● Capability to provide best practices for building secure and reliable applications on the AWS platform

Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
80 minutes to complete the exam
Available in English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, French, German, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese
Practice Exam Registration fee is $20
Exam Registration fee is $150

There’s a lot of interest in DevOps in the IT world right now.AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

The AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional exam validates technical expertise in provisioning, operating, and managing distributed application systems on the AWS platform. Exam concepts you should understand for this exam include the ability to:
● Implement and manage continuous delivery systems and methodologies on AWS
● Understand, implement, and automate security controls, governance processes, and compliance validation
● Define and deploy monitoring, metrics, and logging systems on AWS
● Implement systems that are highly available, scalable, and self-healing on the AWS platform
● Design, manage, and maintain tools to automate operational processes

AWS Certified Developer – Associate
AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate

● Two or more years’ experience in provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments
● Experience in developing code in at least one high-level programming language
● Experience in automation and testing via scripting/programming
● Understanding of agile and other development processes and methodologies

Multiple choice and multiple answer questions
170 minutes to complete the exam
Exam available in English
Exam registration fee is $300

Click here to view complete Q&A of 70-697 exam

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One-woman whirlwind: IT training expert is a do-it-all ‘worker bee’

Jay McElroy is a friendly, busy and highly productive woman. It’s an understatement to call her a “ball of fire” — she’s more like a “Supernova!” A supernova of ideas and actions, that is. Jay herself describes it this way: “I’m, like, on speed from the minute I wake up, and I just go all day.”

In 2004 she founded McElroy Enterprises (ME), a corporate training company specializing in hands-on training for careers in the corporate IT, healthcare, retail and construction fields. “We put together a Job Candidate Certification (JCC) professionalization learning management system to give job seekers a complete education in preparing for, finding and succeeding in employment,” she said.

ME has had phenomenal success. At one point, with a barely believable staff of just 10, they were helping between 800 and 1,000 people per month get back to work in IT, healthcare, retail and construction. Beginning in 2008, JCC’s scope expanded to include additional markets and embraced the increasing utilization of video, electronic media and related technologies.

A lifelong work ethic

Jay is definitely the driving force behind ME. She praises her parents for teaching her to “work hard and never quit.” She was raised in a large family of “about 13 children,” she said. “My parents were always taking in other children who needed some help and guidance.”

Her father was a postal worker who did construction on the side, while her mom laid the ground rules for life at home. “We always helped around the house with chores. As each kid graduated from high school we were given the same option: If you weren’t planning on continuing on to college, then you had to pay rent to live at home, and have a plan to put enough money aside to get your own place,” she said.

Jay’s original career interest was to be an undertaker. “I figured it had lots of job opportunities and I’d always be employed,” she said. “Mom never told us what type of jobs we should work, ‘Just work hard and be honest.’ But this was the one time she told me to ‘pick another career,’ so I chose computers.”

Jay worked full-time while attending the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with a degree in Information Systems, as well as a minor in Computer Science and Industrial Engineering.

Get her for our department!

“I always wanted to work for IBM in Tampa, Florida, but there were no job offers. So instead I went to work for the Westinghouse Corporation in Pittsburgh, where I was assigned to a number of different divisions and learned a lot of great things,” she said. At Westinghouse her work ethic and positive attitude landed her in “special programs,” an elite group of employees that traveled around the country working on various projects.

IBM eventually called and asked her to come to Raleigh, N.C., to interview for a positon. Like a good high achiever, Jay didn’t just interview for one position: “I met with eight different managers and got eight job offers,” she said. Speaking later with HR, Jay mentioned that she really wanted to live and work in Tampa, so they sent her down there for an interview and, of course, she got that job offer too.

To top things off, IBM asked if, on her way home, she could stop in Maryland to meet a couple of executives. “In Maryland I interviewed with nine managers and received seven offers. I felt really good,” she said with a laugh. “HR told me that they didn’t bother returning calls from the other two managers, and that my only decision should be whether I wanted to live in Florida or Maryland. I had an aunt in Maryland, so that’s where I went.”

Real estate and home improvement

Most people move to a new city and slowly start learning the area. Jay is not most people: “I wanted to get to know the area quickly, so I earned my real estate license.” High energy and a sunny disposition enabled her to be a successful agent. “I would show houses in the evenings and on weekends, and even on my lunch breaks,” she said.

Jay McElroy is an IT training expert who’s succeeded at everything she’s ever tried.She sold houses to and for IBM employees, even going the extra mile to help flip their properties. She enjoys telling how she used construction skills learned from her father: “Working for IBM often means, ‘I been moved.’ When an employee would be transferred, I would agree to move into their empty house and renovate it. I’d do sheetrock, floors, painting and electrical. Then they could sell the house quickly.”

Jay loves to garden and is an accomplished landscaper. “A neighbor saw how I landscaped my yard and asked me to do his,” she said. “Before I knew it, others were asking and I ended up landscaping almost all the yards on my street.” In her spare time she has also built two houses.

Jay’s first IBM job was in database management. “I worked really hard,” she said. “When I moved on to another positon, they replaced me with five full-time people.”

“I just wanted to be a worker bee.”

Hard work and a can-do attitude led to career opportunities with other well-known companies such as Concert, a joint venture between British telecom, AT&T and MCI, Computer Sciences Corporation and the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Although Jay has often worked in management she said she never wanted to: “I just wanted to be a worker bee. My skills lie in understanding how all facets of a system work — at the nitty-gritty level, and I credit my career experiences with helping me recognize trending developments in IT training.”

Between 2005 and 2011 Jay recognized the need for workforce skills training, particularly among young people. “I saw they were lacking in basic skills that would help them find employment,” she said. “So I created Reaching Higher, a program to teach youth soft skills, created a six-week curriculum to help them find employment, and they started finding jobs. Then some of their parents started asking if we could teach them the same skills. So we did by creating Reaching Hire, which focused more intensely on employment.”

McElroy Enterprises has always included strong elements of IT training in each course. Recognizing the importance of IT certifications, Jay began teaching how search engines work, and how job candidates could get their resumes to the top of the stack. “Anyone can put a resume together,” she said, “but if you don’t know how things work once you put it online, it will not be seen.”

Government contract

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor selected Prince George’s Community College to receive a grant of $2.5 million through the department’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program. The College used the grant to develop the Hybrid Technology Training (HTT) program.

HTT partners with employers to create accelerated training in computer technology, networking and cybersecurity for unemployed workers, veterans, displaced and disadvantaged citizens, and victims of foreign outsourcing. Jay and McElroy Enterprises were a natural fit.

When HTT contacted ME’s Board, they suggested Jay help out, calling it a “vacation” of sorts for her. “I’ve never been one to take regular vacations — haven’t been on one in 10 years,” she said with a laugh. “But I liked what HTT was doing and I knew I could help.”

With Jay, HTT is focused on IT certifications and is able to incorporate virtual instruction, interactive simulations, online and real-world problem-solving challenges, and collaborations between learners and instructors.

In September of 2014, HTT began an eight-week pilot program focused on earning certifications for CompTIA: A+, Network+ and Security+. They have had great success, and Jay is understandably proud. “Our first cohort started with 18 students — three had to drop out, but the other 15 earned all three certifications,” she said. “Even better, several of them found employment in IT during the most difficult time of the year, December and January.”

One student, Roderick DeBrew, told how HTT helped him earn his certs and land an IT position: “Since December 12, 2014, I’ve been a contractor for the Department of Defense, in a cleared position as a NOC engineer. Every day I’m learning new techniques, processes and operational methods as it applies to Information Security and Data Centers.”

Success for students

Jay McElroy is an IT training expert who’s succeeded at everything she’s ever tried.A second cohort began in January and is showing great promise as well. In just five weeks, 20 of 25 students earned CompTIA’s A+ certification, and two earned Network+. Two other students earned PC Pro and one earned Network Pro.

Jay attributes HTT’s success to assessments that help students identify skill sets and interests. She also channels her mom by firmly telling students that, “No is not an option!” Jay said some students struggle and want to quit, but she does her level best to keep them engaged. “I know this program works,” she said. “If they put their time in, and sacrifice for a very short period of their lives, they will be successful and the sky is the limit.”

One of the components HTT uses to help students prepare for certification exams is Certification Training. “We use the trouble-shooting component scenarios for students to give them real-life on-the-job experience: Say they are moving an office and need to set up computers. Students just log in and do the lab; it shows what they can do,” Jay said. “LabSim is a phenomenal experience for students.”

HTT will continue its program through September and is hoping to market it more widely to students and the community. As DeBrew says, “The IT field is huge! I’m a product of the Hybrid Training classes. It’s a birthplace for a new opportunity to build a rewarding career in the IT industry.”

Surprisingly, for a woman who pushes IT cert training, Jay doesn’t have any certifications. “I kind of designed my own job candidate certification,” she said. “It took years to perfect it.”

Jay is a deeply religious woman who credits all her successes to her best friend, Emmanuel (God with us), and she feels an obligation to do as much good as she can. Her motivation in utilizing IT training is to make a difference in people’s lives. “I really get excited when I put something IT-based out there,” she said with a wide smile, “and it helps turn someone’s life around.”

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