Tag Archive for automation

TekBytes #1 – CloudSpotting – A New Tech Podcast

CloudSpotting podcast

In the spirit of these new short-form blog posts (see TekBytes: A Blogging Experiment) it’s probably appropriate that I write a quick post on a new short-form podcasting project I am working on; CloudSpotting!

My day job is as a Solutions Architect at Rackspace, where I’m fortunate enough to work for one of the most tech-agnostic global service providers around! A typical week could include me talking about or designing solutions based on VMware, Hyper-V, AWS, Azure, GCP, OpenStack, or even just plain old dedicated servers! Add to that a swathe of security, networking and storage “stuff”, it all adds up to a pretty healthy mix.

CloudSpotting Time!

Myself and my colleague Sai Iyer thought it would be fun to share some of our learnings and experiences in designing and operating customer solutions. What better way (we thought!), than an easy-to-consume 30 minute monthly podcast for architects and engineers… In the first episode, we discuss scaling applications for peak periods and the insane growth of Kubernetes adoption! We already have episodes planned on phishing, cyber kill-chains, encryption, automation & DevOps along with a host of other topics, so watch this space!

Just to be clear though – No Kool aid, just cool tech! 🙂

For those of you who are also regular Open TechCast listeners, this doesn’t mean I am changing lanes in any way, there will just be more of my dulcet tones available on your favourite podcatcher (which may or may not be a good thing!).

Where can I find it?

If you want to catch the first episode, just search for “CloudSpotting” on iTunes or Stitcher, or catch the show on Soundcloud here:

CloudSpotting – Season 1 Ep 1 – Peaking Early – A discussion on Application Scaling

We have also settled on the Twitter hashtag #spottingclouds, as the reverse has lots of great photos, but not so much tech! 🙂cloudspotting-logo-horizontal

VMworld Europe 2015 Day Two Roundup

Doesn’t time fly by fast when you’re having fun?! Day two was frankly a full-on brain cram fest for me…

The morning started off with the keynotes, which (if I’m honest much like the US announcements) were interesting but not earth shattering for me.

It was nice to see Claranet featured for the second year running in the keynote speech though!

I will leave it to others this year to summarise the announcements, but the coolest new product which peaked my interest was vSphere Integrated Containers.

VIC is more than simply the ability to see containers running inside of a VM. In actual fact it allows you spin up containers within forked VM clones on a one to one basis, where the additional RAM and storage are copy-on-write. All this in about the same time it would normally take you to launch a standard container natively. As the VM is then subject to the usual features and benefits of a standard VM, you have the ability to control it’s access, security and performance at a very granular level.

To the developer this still uses the standard docker interface, but the infrastructure admin can manage things through vCenter as they always have done. Of course this means you are also subject to the usual limits on vSphere (for example up to 10k objects per vCenter), so this is not hyper scale, but lets be honest, how many of us are actually doing that? VMware also have a solution for this scale, Photon platform, but I’ll save that for another day.

I had a quick trip to the VMware Video Game Container System later in the day where I had the opportunity to spend 20 minutes chatting with one of the VMware CNA Product Managers about some of their roadmap developments, and suffice to say the future looks very impressive! They also demo’d the ability to containerise virtually any operating system; they were actually running MS-DOS containers and Prince of Persia inside of them! If you want to learn a bit more about CNA, check out the intro blog on the VMware website:

https://blogs.vmware.com/vsphere/2015/10/vsphere-integrated-containers-technology-walkthrough.html

Later in the morning, I was kindly invited to a vExpert vRA.next Workshop in the HoL where we were lead through the latest features and improvements in vRealize Automation. There certainly seemed to be something for everyone, significant improvements in the speed and method to deploy which made a lot of people very happy, as well as a rationalisation of the server roles. The only thing which was a slight downer for me was the fact that true multi tenancy is not quite there yet in the product.

After a quick bite to eat, including some English Bread Triangles, I managed to get a bit of time wandering round the fringes of the Solution Exchange. Hiding at the back of the hall I came across a really interesting new security startup who only recently came out of stealth and went GA just this week, called GuardiCore. Amongst many other nifty features, their software can monitor for any blocked / dropped packets from potential attackers, and immediately redirect the potentially malicious session to a honey pot machine, logging all further communications with and actions of the attacker.

GuardiCore leverage NSX in a big way, avoiding the need for agents within the guest OS, but can also work with vanilla vSphere if that’s your (more likely just now) platform. Their demo was excellent and I will definitely be keeping an eye on them in future. If you happen to be passing booth E149 I recommend you stop by for a chat, it will definitely be a good use of your time!

The afternoon was spent mostly in sessions, including the highly popular VAPP5129 – Database Virtualization: Doing IT Right with vSphere 6, presented by Michael Corey and Don Sullivan. This is a must see session if you manage DB infrastructure in any way, so check it out when it hopefully comes out on youtube or VMworld.com. Do prepare yourself to replay it several times over to capture all of the content as attending it was like being hit with a recommendation gatling gun, but the accompanying slide deck should be basic training for all new VMware admins in the field! Michael also provided the quote of the day for today:

Right sizing is everything.

 

And now for something completely different… British Gas Hive Smart Thermostat Review

Having recently had the Hive smart thermostat system installed in our house by British Gas, I’ve been asked by a handful of people subsequently as to whether it is any good, so here are a few notes to that end… being a thermostat review of course, it does have the potential to be the most boring blog post ever! With that in mind, if you have narcoleptic tenancies or have pretty much anything else to do, I suggest you stop reading now!

Installation
We didn’t get off to a great start as there were some scheduling issues with BG getting the right engineer to come and complete the fitting (not all of their engineers are currently trained to do so). That aside, the actual install was relatively quick and simple, with a minor niggle when the engineer had to contact the Hive team to reset the device and get it to make its original connection “back to base”.

The thermostat is also completely wireless (using standard AA batteries), so we we’re able to relocate it as part of the installation, into our living room. Point to note, it is ideally meant to be installed at a height of 1.5m from the floor, something which our engineer didn’t actually mention when fitting it below this height. The wireless feature is very handy though, as the location of our old wired thermostat was not ideal and this will now more accurately allow us to control the temperatures based on where we spend the most time.

Functionality
Ultimately it’s a thermostat, so functionally it simply:

  • Turns our upstairs hot water on and off on a schedule (downstairs is on demand already).
  • Turns the heating on until it reaches the defined temperature.

But, compared to a standard on/off thermostat, it also:

  • Allows different temperatures at different times of day, instead of just being based on whatever temperature your legacy thermostat is currently set to.
  • Has built in freeze protection, so even if you turn it off when you leave the house, if the temperature drops below 5 degrees, it will automatically turn on your heating; very useful indeed!
  • Geolocation – Can use your current location (via the smart phone app) to turn your heating on / off depending on whether you are in the house, or within a specified distance of it.

Usability
Between myself using the app and my wife using the wall unit for the past week I can confirm that it is fine, but the wall unit UI is not quite as intuitive as it perhaps could be. For example changing the current scheduled temp will temporarily show the desired temp, then switch back to showing the current temp. This led my wife to believing that it had not accepted her new temp! Perhaps a better UI would have been to show both temps (current and target) on the same screen in different size fonts…

I have not yet tested the Geolocation feature so won’t comment on that yet, other than that I hope Hive are not keeping a track of your location history on their systems – this is not made clear on their FAQ website and would be a bit creepy if they were!

Configurability
Temperature on the thermostat can be set to the nearest 0.5 degrees, which is granular enough for us.

The only minor bugbear I found was that the original firmware delivered was based on a 4-slot schedule. For example:

  • 0600-0900
  • 0900-1600
  • 1600-2300
  • 2300-0600

That’s all very well if you are out during the day every day or want the same temperature most of the time, but what about weekends, or even if you have young children at home during the day. The recently added functionality to the system is a 6-slot schedule. So now you can have (for example):

  • 0600-0900
  • 0900-1200
  • 1200-1400
  • 1400-1600
  • 1600-2300
  • 2300-0600

This is much more useful, particularly for heating. I have found the 4-slot schedule perfectly adequate for the hot water schedule.

Customer Service
So far my only interaction with customer services was when I posted a tweet that I could really do with the 6-slot schedule (not rolled out to everyone at this point). A very polite customer agent at Hive picked up on my tweet:

He got my account details via DM, pushed out a firmware update to my device to add the functionality, and DM’d me again to let me know when it was updated a couple of hours later. How about that for customer service?!

Performance
The app can be a little slow refreshing your current heating status and temperature at times, even on a decent 3G connection and occasionally even on wifi. Other than that it’s pretty quick and easy to use. Telling the thermostat to increase the temperature usually results in the boiler kicking in 5-30 seconds later.

Security
As I understand it, Hive uses the fast growing industry standard ZigBee protocol, which uses 128-bit AES encryption for its communication between devices.

The hub itself is apparently an AlertMe SmartHub Nano, which runs a variant of Linux. This should be reasonably secure assuming it has been locked down, and that BG provide regular security patching to the device, especially in light of recent major security issues such ShellShock. Ultimately the device does not require you to open inbound ports on your router, so assuming all comms between hub and central system are SSL encrypted as they are with the apps, then it’s no less secure than your laptop accessing a secure website over wifi.

Money Saving & Costs
It’s too soon to tell whether it has saved any real money, but I do know that with the more specific schedules than we could achieve with our old thermostat I think it is likely that it will save money. Whether we get close to the claimed £150 pa on the website, I’m not convinced, but even if it only achieves a third of that, then it should pay for itself within 3 years.

The system comes with a one year warranty. Beyond that we use British Gas HomeCare, so any issues are covered by BG as part of our service plan. If you are not using BG HomeCare, then your mileage and potential costs may vary!

Moving House
Interestingly, if you move house or move into a house which has a hub, you can still use the standard thermostat functionality and configure it using the wall unit, but you would need to buy a new hub to get the online and app features, which seems somewhat unreasonable and wasteful to me!

Conclusion
Overall I’m pretty happy with the system and I think it will likely save some money in the long run, whilst providing a more convenient experience and comfortable home. My wife is less so, but then again, she still uses a BlackBerry!

Fingers crossed it lives up to expectations and that reliability proves good over the coming months and years!

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