Tag Archive for Google

Now that’s what I call… Tech Predictions 2017

predictions

At this time of year, it is customary to look back at the past 12 months and make some random or not-so-random guesses as to what will happen over the coming 12. As such, what could be more fitting for my final post of 2016?!

Here’s a few of my personal best, worst, and easy guess candidates for 2017…

Tekhead Predictable Tech Predictions 2017

Easy Guesses

Come on Alex, even Penfold could have predicted these!

  • AWS will continue to dominate the cloud market, though the rate at which they deploy new features will start to slow (over 1000 a year is pretty unsustainable!). Their revenues will continue to grow at gangbuster rates, however their market share will be slightly eroded as people experiment more with their competitors too.
  • Microsoft Azure will grow massively (not quite 100% but not far off it). Their main growth will probably be in hosting enterprises and typical line of business applications as people move their legacy junk into the cloud. The recent announcements of the Single Instance VM SLA of 99.9% will definitely accelerate this as customers will feel less include to refactor their applications for cloud.
  • Distributed everything!
  • Docker will start to become more mainstream production and less Dev/Test.
  • Google will kill off at least one popular service with multiple millions of users.
  • The homelab market will reduce as people do more and more of their studying in the cloud.
  • Podcasting will become the new blogging (if it hasn’t already!)
  • DellEMC will continue to hack off bits of its anatomy to pay back that cheeky little $67Bn debt.
  • I continue to use memes as a crutch to make my otherwise lifeless articles marginally more interesting!obvious
Best Guesses

Its on the cards… maybe?

  • Google will continue to be ignored by most enterprises for Cloud IaaS. They will gain some reasonable growth in the web application space after another mass marketing activity to developers, ISVs and hosters.
  • Oracle grows Cloud revenues 50% or more but market share remains small. Their growth is mainly driven by IaaS revenue as customers begin to move their workloads to be closer to their data in the Oracle PaaS and SaaS services.
  • There will be no major storage company IPO in 2017, i.e. over $200m.
  • Many storage startups will run out of funding and die on the vine (depressing I know!). Their IP will be snapped up by the old guard storage companies in the proceeding fire sales…
    fire-sale
  • 3D XPoint will begin to creep into storage arrays by the end of the year, fuelling another storage VC funding bubble for at least another 12 months for any company who claims to have an innovative way to use it.
  • A major cloud provider suffers a global outage.
Worst Guesses

These probably won’t happen, but if any of them do, I’ll claim smugly that I knew they were always going to!

  • Pure Storage will make an acquisition of a storage startup to create their third product line, perhaps a secondary storage company (i.e. not just all flash) along the lines of Cohesity.
  • Cisco will buy a storage company. They will be more successful at integrating it than they were with Whiptail! (Which wouldn’t be difficult… 😮 )
  • Spanning a single application over multiple clouds becomes a real possibility, as one or more startups come out of stealth to provide innovative ways to span clouds. Nobody buys into it, except maybe for DR.
  • Tekhead.it becomes the most read blog in the world in 2017
  • Cats take over the planet and dogs are forced to form a rebel alliance which is ultimately victorious when a chihuahua takes out the entire cat leadership in one go, with a stolen reaper drone.Cats vs Dogs
  • Jonah Hill wins Strictly Come Dancing, narrowly defeating Frankie Boyle and Charlie Brooker in the final.
And finally…

Here’s wishing you all an awesome, fun and prosperous 2017!

Maximising WordPress Blog Performance with Free CloudFlare CDN

Free WordPress CloudFlare CDN

Just a quick update on a handful of changes I have made / am making to the site, the first of which is hopefully pretty obvious from the post title! I have been meaning to add a CloudFlare CDN to my WordPress site for a very long time, but like all things which involve a bit of complexity and time to implement, I’ve been putting it off!

My blog was recently suffering quite a few issues caused by the performance of my site host (possible news on that upcoming in the next few weeks). I wanted to both mitigate their performance problems, and generally reduce page times to my site as part of my recent efforts to improve SEO for the site. As many of you may know, Google rank sites higher if they have page load times under about 2000 ms (or 2 seconds to us human folk!)

There are many ways to improve site performance in WordPress, but the one with then biggest impact is to introduce a CDN.

So what is a CDN?

If you haven’t heard of a CDN before, it’s a pretty simple concept. You start by registering DNS for your domain with the CDN provider. After this they sit inline and intercept inbound all requests for content from your site (e.g. images, javascript files, static html, etc) and deliver them from local caches logically and physically closer to the requesting browser. Most CDN providers will have these caches (or POPs aka Points of Presence) all over the globe.

This reduces both outbound bandwidth and server resources used on your web server (otherwise known as an Origin Server), leaving it to get on with serving up dynamic content only. (Yes, technically they can also serve dynamic content, but let’s keep it simple for now!)WordPress CDN CloudFlare Free

Why CloudFlare, and who are the alternatives?

For WordPress blogs, there are a number of well-known alternatives you could choose from (assuming you have little to no budget).

  • WordPress project Photon
    • Built into the Jetpack, this will cache much of your content to the WordPress cloud servers. This seems to improve performance a bit, but it’s not perfect. The great thing is that it’s insanely easy to enable, with just one check box. Zero hassle implementation!
  • Amazon CloudFront
    • If you are using AWS, this is a great option, and it’s pretty cheap at about 8-12p per GB of content delivered. You also get 2 million requests and 50GB per month free for the first 12 months on the AWS Free Tier.
  • Imperva Incapsula
    • If you want the ultimate WAF, I highly recommend this. Their pricing is a bit out of my league for this feature on a personal blog though, so at the free or low cost tiers, CloudFlare worked better for my budget! Ironically if you then move to an enterprise support tier (e.g. for a company site), they are very keenly priced vs some of their competitors.
  • CloudFlare
    • Superb free and “pro” tier features. Even at free tier you get free SSL, DDoS mitigation and CDN included!

I obviously went for the latter as it gives me options later on, to upgrade to a cloud-based WAF (Web Application Firewall), for a very reasonable price of only $20 per month. This is particularly useful if you are not so good at regularly updating WordPress or plugins as it will protect many of the most common SQL injection or XSS attack types.WordPress CDN CloudFlare Free

What issues did I have implementing CloudFlare?

So far the switch has been pretty easy and smooth, there were just a few considerations, one of which I have resolved, the others I am still working on.

Firstly, CloudFlare is a pure DNS and CDN provider, they do not provide email hosting or forwarding services as standard. By moving my DNS from my existing provider (ZoneEdit) I lost the email forwarding functionality (I’m lazy and just use a catch-all for the domain). Fortunately I found an article by Chris Anthropic on using MailGun as a free alternative.

Second, I am keen to utilise CloudFlare’s free SSL encryption. I have been messing around trying to get either Flex or Full mode working, but have run into a few problems, which I will probably document once resolved! As far as I can tell this is more down to WordPress than CloudFlare!WordPress CDN CloudFlare Flexible SSL

orWordPress CDN CloudFlare Full SSL

In the mean time, if you go to the HTTPS version of my site you will likely get a few cert errors. These mainly seem to be caused by some objects within pages being HTTP and some HTTPS. This is something I hope to have resolved soon!

Lastly, the massively improved page load times have (as per the theory of constraints) uncovered the next bottlenecks in my system, which mainly seem to revolve around certain plugins I’m using for WordPress. If you want to check your own blog, simply open Chrome developer tools, navigate to the Network Tab, then refresh one of your pages for a very useful picture of the load times on your pages and every object within them:WordPress CDN CloudFlare Free

The Result

So what is the result of all this effort? I seem to have reduced my average page load time down from 5-10 seconds, into the 2.5-3 second range for most pages, and much of that is background loading (i.e. most content appears almost instantly)! I will be working on those plugins to try to get everything under the 2000ms time frame over the next few weeks…

If you aren’t already using a CDN for your WordPress blog (other blog providers are available!), I highly recommend you check out CloudFlare!

What I read on my holidays – Uber Geek Edition!

Having only started in my new role at the start of July, I was fortunate enough to sneak in a cheeky week off work at the end of the kids summer holidays. My wife and I have done a fair bit of travelling in the past, but being parents of young children, we do not currently go in for big sightseeing tours. My ears can only survive hearing “my feet hurt” and “I need a wee” so many times before I give in to temptation and leave the kids by the side of the road!…

As I would prefer not to go to prison, instead we had a pretty chilled out week at a resort and I was able to get a wee bit of reading in; which was nice!

readingTypically I like to vary my reading between something for enjoyment, followed by something educational, then rinse and repeat. The former is generally some kind of fiction, especially science fiction / fantasy / humour.

IMO, Terry Pratchett was a true genius and is my favourite author by a huge margin, and he manages to achieve all three of these categories, and then some! Unfortunately, Terry passed away in March last year, leaving millions of fans deeply saddened. The two fiction books below were in fact originally recommended by him, and I would certainly echo this recommendation!

  • openstack-explainedOpenStack Explained – Giuseppe Paternò
    • I was fortunate enough to see Guiseppe present on OpenStack at this year’s Tech Unplugged event in London (see playlist of YouTube vids here and Guiseppe’s session recording is here), at the end of which he gave everyone a copy of his book for nothing, except the ask that we donated some money to charity for it. Very honourable indeed!

      I suggest if you do download the ebook from the above link, you do the same for your favourite charity! If you are struggling to choose one, I suggest Willen Hospice, who provided amazing care to a family member of mine recently (Donation Link Here).Anyway, the session was excellent and Guiseppe gave some insights into the growing adoption of OpenStack in the Enterprise today. In fact it led me to post the following tweet at the time:

      Guiseppe’s book is a great intro to all of the basics elements of OpenStack and what they do; well worth the cost of a donation for a download!

  • leaky4The Leaky Establishment – David Langford (or eBook here)
    • As an ex-press officer in the civil nuclear industry, Pratchett described this as the book he should have written!
      The satirical black comedy focuses around our hero, Roy Tappen, who accidentally smuggles a “pit” (i.e. a nuclear warhead core!) out of the nuclear weapons research facility he (regrettably) works in!

      Needless to say, his wife is none too impressed with him keeping a multi-megatonne explosive source in the house, and hilarity ensues as Roy plots to smuggle it back into work!

      Parts of this book had me in stitches; well worth a read!

  • openstack-cloud-computing-cookbookThe OpenStack Cookbook – Kev Jackson & Cody Bunch
    • I currently have the second edition of their book so it’s not 100% up to date, but as I was on holiday I wasn’t actually running through the labs specifically. Instead, I read the main content in each section to get a better understanding of how each of the OpenStack components connect together.

      The book is very well researched and written, with clear and easy to follow instructions for you to build your own OpenStack homelab. I will definitely be upgrading to the Third Edition when it comes time to build my own lab!

  • evolutionmanThe Evolution Man, Or, How I Ate My Father – Roy Lewis
    • This is one of the strangest books I have read in a long time, but a really enjoyable read! Originally written in 1960, it is a story about a tribe of cavemen of the Pleistocene era, trying to pass through multiple evolutionary leaps within a single generation, and covers everything from their discovery of fire, cooking, improved hunting techniques, domestication of animals, etc, but ultimately it is a story about the friction between progress and those who wish to avoid it!You might be wondering how the author manages any compelling dialogue with prehistoric tribespeople? The good news is, that’s the best bit!

      All of the characters speak as if out of the pages of a 1920’s period drama, or perhaps even the drawing room of Charles Darwin himself! The juxtaposition of the characters and their dialogue is really what makes the book so special in my opinion.

      AFAIK this isn’t available in eBook format, but in this case, I think good old fashion print just adds to the anachronistic experience! 🙂

  • SecondMachineAgeThe Second Machine Age – Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee
    • This book blends analysis of the history of technical innovations, with economics. It’s not my usual type of read, but it turned out to be fascinating on multiple levels.

      The geek in me enjoyed reading about the developments in technology and analyses of how they impacted the modern world, along with the predictions about where and how the authors believe technology will change our future.

      The parent in me took a lot of great ideas about how to advise and guide my children when they get to the age that they need to start thinking about their careers and university choices. One of the key recommendations made in the book was how people can remain valuable knowledge workers in the new machine age: “work to improve the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication instead of just the three Rs”. If you want to understand this more either for your children or yourself, I definitely recommend you read this book!

So what’s next on my list I hear you ask? (Well maybe not, but I’m going to tell you anyway!)… The Tin Men by Michael Frayn (another Pratchett recommendation), most likely followed by Google’s recent Site Reliability Engineering publication.

Does a Serverless Brexit mean goodbye to infrastructure management problems?

Last week I was able to get myself along to the London CloudCamp event at the Crypt on the Green, for an evening the theme of “We’ve done cloud, what’s next?”. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, CloudCamp is an “unconference” where early adopters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas. As you can probably guess from the theme title, many of the discussions were around the concept of “serverless” computing.

So, other than being something which seems to freak out my spell check function, what is “serverless” then?

I think Paul Johnston of movivo summed it up well, as “scaling a single function / object in your code instead of an entire app”, which effectively means a microservices architecture. In practical terms, it’s really just another form of PaaS, where you upload your code to a provider (such as AWS Lambda), and they take care of managing all of the underlying infrastructure including compute, load balancing, scaling, etc, on your behalf.

The instances then simply act upon events (i.e. they are event driven), which could be anything from an item hitting a queue, to a user requesting a web page, and when not required, they are not running. AWS currently supports a limited subset of languages, specifically Node.js, Java, and Python.

serverless introduction

There are of course other vendors who provide similar platforms, including Google Cloud Functions, IBM Bluemix OpenWhisk, etc. They tend to support a similarly small pool of languages, however some are more agnostic and will even allow you to upload Docker containers as well. Iron.io also allows you to do serverless using your own servers, which seems a bit of an oxymoron! 🙂

Anyway, the cool thing about serverless is that you can therefore “vote to leave” your managed or IaaS infrastructure (yes, I know, seriously tenuous connection!), and just concentrate on writing your applications. This is superb for developers who don’t necessarily have the skills or the time to manage an IaaS platform once it has been deployed.

Serverless Introduction - Tenuous doesn't even come close!

The Case for Remain

Much like the Brexit vote however, it does come with some considerations and challenges, and you may not get exactly what you expected when you went to the polling booth! For example:

  • You may believe you are now running alone, but you are ultimately still dependent on actual servers! However, you no longer have access to those servers, so basic things like logging and performance monitoring suddenly become a lot trickier.
  • Taking this a step further, testing and troubleshooting becomes more challenging. When a fault occurs, how can you trace exactly where it occurred? This is further exacerbated if you are integrating with other SaaS and PaaS platforms, such as Auth0 (IAM), Firebase (DB), etc. This is already a very common architectural pattern for serverless designs.
    You therefore need to start introducing centralised logging and error trapping systems which will allow you to see what’s actually going on, which of course sounds a lot like infrastructure management again!
  • It’s still early days for serverless, so things like documentation and support are a lot more scarce. If you plan to be an early serverless adopter, you had better know your technical onions!
  • As with any microservices architecture, with great flexibility, comes great complexity! Instead of managing just a handful of interacting services, you could now be managing many hundreds of individual functions. You can understand each piece easily, but looking at the big picture is not so simple!Serverless and Microservices Complexity
  • Another level of complexity is in billing of course. Serverless services such as AWS Lambda charge you per 100ms of compute time, and per 1 million requests. If you are paying for a server and some storage, even in a cloud computing model, it’s reasonably easy to understand how much your bill will be at the end of the month.
    Paying for transactions and processing time however is could potentially provide a few nasty surprises, especially if you come under heavy load or even a DoS attack.
  • Finally, the biggest and most obvious concern about serverless is vendor lock-in. Indeed this is potentially the ultimate lock-in as once you pick a vendor and write your application specific to their cloud, moving that bad boy is going to mean some major refactoring and re-writes!
    As long as that vendors pricing is competitive, this shouldn’t matter too much (after all, every single vendor is lock-in to some varying degree), but if that vendor manages to take the lions share of the market they could easily change that pricing and you are almost powerless to react (at least not without significant additional investment).
The Case for Leave

If you understand and mitigate (or ignore!) the above however, serverless can be quite a compelling use case. For example:

  • From an environmental perspective, you will probably never find a more efficient or greener computing paradigm. It minimises the number of extraneous operating systems, virtual or physical machines required, as this is truly multi-tenant computing. Every serverless host could undoubtedly be run at 70-90% utilisation, rather than the 10-50% you typically see in most enterprise DCs today! If you could take every workload in the world and switch it to serverless overnight, based on those efficiency levels, how many data centres, how much power and how many thousands of tonnes of metals could you save? Greenpeace should be refactoring their website as we speak!Serverless Computing is green!
  • Although you do have to introduce a number of tools to help you track what is actually going on with your environment, you can move away from doing a whole load of the mundane management tasks such as patching, OS management etc, and move up the stack to spend your resources on more productive and creative activities; actually adding business value (Crazy idea! I thought in IT we just liked patching for a living?)!
  • The VM sprawl we have today would be reduced as workloads are rationalised. That said, you just end up with replacing this with container or function sprawl, which is even harder to manage! 🙂
  • You gain potentially massive scalability for your applications. Instead of scaling entire applications, you just scale the bottleneck functions, which means your application becomes more efficient overall. Definitely time to read The Goal by Goldratt and understand the Theory of Constraints before you go down this route!
  • Finally you can potentially see significant cost savings. If there are no requests, then there is no charge! If you were running some form of event driven application or trigger, instead of paying tens or hundreds of pounds per month for a server, you might only be paying pennies! Equate this to dev/test platforms which might only be needed to run workloads for a few hours a day, or production platforms which only need to process transactions when customers are actually online, it really starts to add up, even more than auto-scaling IaaS platforms.
    Taking that a step further, if you have are running a startup, why pay hundreds or thousands a month for compute you “might” need but which often sits idle, over-throwing your functions into a scalable platform which will only charge you for actual use! I know where I would be putting my money if I were a VC…

Serverless Computing is hot!

Closing Thoughts

Serverless is a really interesting technology move for the industry which (as always) comes with it’s own unique set of benefits and challenges. I can’t see it ever being the defacto standard for everything (for the same reasons we still use mainframes and physical servers today), however there are plenty of brilliant use cases for it. If devs and startups are comfortable with the vendor lock-in and other risks, why wouldn’t they consider using it?

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