CDW StateTech Magazine: Review of Citrix XenMobile

xenmobile1Citrix has long offered mobile device management software in cloud and on-premises versions. The latest version, XenMobile 10, offers some welcome enhancements to the user experience and security. In my review for CDW’s State Tech Magazine, I walk through some of the notable features. Citrix sells three different software bundles under its XenMobile brand: XenMobile MDM, XenMobile App and XenMobile Enterprise editions.There are differences that you should be aware of.

A new way to get a coding job

I am now working as a consultant for a non-profit that, if successful, will change the way programmers and other tech types will get hired in our industry. It is an exciting time and I wanted to share with you who they are, what they are doing, and how you can help the effort.

launchcode-logoThe organization is called LaunchCode, and I have written about them here. The idea is to improve the way job candidates get screened for open positions, and to improve the supply chain of candidates, at the same time lowering the risk of a new hire for an organization.

Finding coders is hard, especially in those parts of the country outside the traditional tech hubs. It is hard to recruit them because hiring managers are busy, or they delegate the task to recruiters who don’t understand who is needed or the skills that are required. Some of the best programmers are people from non-traditional backgrounds, making them hard to evaluate. Many positions often go unfilled for months.

Enter LaunchCode. Last year they got started here in St. Louis by finding opportunities for people who had programming skills but hadn’t been hired because of a lack of typical credentials. They later expanded their reach by helping people take the introductory Harvard computer science class, CS50.In the year or so that they have been around, they have managed to get more than 160 people hired in dozens of companies in town, ranging from the largest IT shops to brand new startups. It is an impressive track record.

But that isn’t enough and they aren’t satisfied. They are trying to do several things at once to expand their reach:

  • First, create a large ecosystem of educational providers that offer coding instruction, to help people who need to brush up on their skills get better. While they started with Harvard and have a great partnership there, they have since expanded into more than 20 different providers that are teaching coding classes.
  • Second, develop a better way to vet people who are ready to enter the workforce by testing practice coding knowledge and how well a candidate will work in a team. That is their real secret sauce: if you can have something akin to a SAT but to predict coding prowess rather than just college performance, hiring managers are going to take notice. Years ago I remember a friend of mine had his own coding test that worked well for him when he was looking for programmers. LaunchCode is trying to do this on a broader scale.
  • Finally, expand to other cities that have programming jobs aplenty but have had trouble hiring coders. So far they have opened an office in Miami and one is planned for Kansas City and a few other places.

That last point is where I come in. LaunchCode wants to go nationwide, and to do so they need to first find the companies that are willing to support their effort and receive coding applicants for their open positions. I am helping them with this expansion drive, and trying to enlist as many companies as I can, based on my contacts in our industry. Here is where you help. If your company is in a position to hire coders, or if you know of someone in your circle that is in this position, email or call me and let’s chat.  I think we can help them succeed and really change the way tech hiring is done.

VMware blog: Simplifying Storage Solutions

Storage has seen its share of technology changes in recent years, but the most significant breakthrough isn’t higher capacity arrays, it’s the shift to software-defined storage. One of the reasons many enterprises are embracing this new paradigm is that in recent decades, managing storage has been a specialized skill set which has fostered organizational silos among other issues.

In this free e-Book that I wrote for VMware, I explore:

  • How virtualization and cloud management impact storage management
  • Implications of the control plane transitioning from hardware-centric to app-centric
  • The role of VMware hypervisor in managing storage

White paper: A Blueprint for Securing Mobile Banking Applications

lock-and-key-icon-thumb355812Mobile banking has the opportunity to become just as disruptive in the modern era as ATMs were back in the 1970s. From the convenience of our own homes, and with our own devices, we now have the opportunity to do just about everything except get cash from our bank.

I have been a mobile banking customer for the past several years. As an independent businessman, I get paid with a lot of checks from my clients. It used to be a chore to walk on over to the ATM to wait for a free machine to deposit them. Now I rarely visit the ATM, and having my bank email me a receipt is a nice touch. Plus, I can quickly pay my bills from my mobile phone too, so I am using my Web-based online banking access less and less. Mobile banking is not just convenient; it’s a great time-saver!

In this white paper that I wrote for Vasco and is authored by Will LaSala and Benjamin Wyrick, we see the results of some research around what consumers want from their mobile banking applications, discuss some of the current issues surrounding the evolution of mobile banking, and finally, review best practices that will help secure mobile banking apps without compromising user experience.

ITworld: Enterprise Mobility: Enabling the Mobile Worker

aaa2If it were easy to enable a mobile team, everyone would be doing it. Challenges range from the well-documented security risks created as IT loses control over the endpoint to the mission-critical applications that need to be accessed from a mobile device. But for many companies, the rewards outweigh the risks, and the momentum around mobile plays out in the numbers: According to a recent IDG survey, 81% of the companies have mapped out a mobile strategy, and 47% have deployed mobile apps beyond email. But for most respondents, security is lagging. 29% do not have a security solution for enterprise mobility, and only 7% said they were fully covered in all areas.

How are companies enabling their mobile employees and giving them the best experience possible? My paper has tips on how to jump start a mobile workforce, and give them the best experience possible. You’ll also find four case studies with very different mobile implementations, advice on how to share documents across devices, what to consider when building a mobile-first application and quick ways to build out the mobile experience.

You can download the paper here (reg. req.)

Network World review: Portnox, Extreme lead NAC pack

portnox NAC overview2Remember when network access control (NAC) was all the rage? Remember the competing standards from Microsoft, Cisco, and the Trusted Computing Group? Back around 2006, there were dozens of NAC products, many of which turned out to be buggy and difficult to implement.

But NAC hasn’t disappeared. In fact, NAC products have evolved and improved as well. I reviewed Enterasys/Extreme Networks Mobile IAM, Hexis Cyber Solutions NetBeat NAC, Impulse Point SafeConnect NAC, Pulse Policy Secure, and Portnox NAC. Overall, Portnox (above) was tops.

You can read my full review in Network World here.

Faking Internet comments and reviews

Chances are if you have read commentary and reviews of products and services online, you are reading lots of fakes. Various estimates put this at a third or more, either outright fakes or paid-to-post by organizations looking to game the system. In other words, buyer beware.

“There is a reason comments are put on the bottom half of the Internet,” says one post from the once active Twitter account AvoidComments. The account also includes this one: “The problem with internet comments is that you can never really know who’s saying them.” — Winston Churchill. Yeah, I bet he really did say that, and probably to Al Gore just after the Internet was created.

But enough snarky anecdotes. A communications professor has attempted a semi-scholarly work entitled Reading the Comments, and it is actually an interesting book despite this description. Joseph Reagle knows his subject and sprinkles enough curse words throughout his book to make it almost NSFW if you were going to read it aloud — which mirrors some of the online comments that he quotes from as you might suspect.

I guess I was pretty much naive when I began reading his book. I didn’t think much about the various reviews that I read about restaurants, hotels, or particular products. But I can see how things have gotten out of control in the past decade especially. Now you can pay someone a buck or so to write a review and have it look like it is coming from someone that actually used the product or service. Yelp is apparently infested with this sort of thing, and just recently a restaurant in the bay area rebutted a negative review with video footage of the reviewer and how he spent literally seconds inside the restaurant, mostly standing around.

Reagle states that “Online discussion of sexism or misogyny quickly results in disproportionate displays of sexism and misogyny.” He cites several now well-known cases of where women were buried in negative comments just because they were female.

He describes an entire universe of fakers, haters, and takers and how they have flourished online. That was both eye-opening and depressing. Then there is a whole sub genre of intentionally funny reviews. Computer scientists are using them to train natural language processing to detect irony. Think of them as Sheldon’s answer to the Turing test.

As someone who still writes product reviews for a living (mostly now for Network World, where you can read my collection here), this pains me. Most of the pubs that I once wrote reviews for have folded their tents, and it is getting harder to recruit vendors to support these reviews as of late.

Yes, I have posted some comments on Amazon, TripAdvisor and AirBnB, but only out of some loyalty to the books I read or places I stayed or ate at. AirBnB has this interesting log-rolling ethos built-in to their site. Once you stay at a place, you rate your host and your host rates you. That takes some of the snark out of your comments, but it also helps to improve the descriptions of each place and the expectations you have when you are choosing where to stay. And help to make sure that you are on your best behavior too.

Still, comments can tell us much about the human condition, and the social fabric of our lives. Perhaps too much, as many Gen X’ers are prone to oversharing. But that is for another column and another day. In the mean time, you can pre-order Reagle’s book, which will be available in May, here. And remember, as our Twitter friends have posted: Nobody on their deathbed ever said, “I wish I had spent more time reading Internet comments.”

The cashless customer is now king

I wanted to bring in my winter coat to the cleaners (maybe optimistically a week or so too soon) and in cleaning out the various pockets I came across some cash and a receipt dated last December. I thought about how long it has been since I have actually used cash.

What a difference from my dad’s world. My dad dealt with millions of dollars every day as a comptroller and always carried a wad of cash worthy of a mafia don. I still have his money clip somewhere. I put the few bills on my desk as a reminder and then thought about how the world has changed. Paying in cash is certainly becoming less common.

Most of my customers still pay me with paper or electronic checks, a few go through Paypal and every once in a while I get asked to accept credit cards. Now there are so many options for accepting Internet payments and two good ones that you might not know about. One is Simplify.com, which is part of MasterCard and has done a lot of work in developing their payment gateway. The other is Stripe.com. Both charge a bit less than 3% per transaction but have no other recurring fees. That is a lot less compared to just a few years ago, when you had to pay monthly processing and other annoying fees to have a merchant account. Stripe even accepts non-dollar currencies, including Bitcoins, and converts them into dollars for you.

aaa2Both Stripe and Simplify offer a variety of APIs, tools, code samples, and connectors to various payment-related apps. I like the way Simplify arranges its code samples, as you can see in this screenshot.

Stripe has more third-party plug-ins than Simplify, including more than a dozen just for WordPress. Both offer documentation on webhooks, which are URLs that can interact with short pieces of code for particular event notifications, although I think Stripe has better documentation. Both also support OAuth for consolidated signons to other SaaS apps without having to store your credentials. Finally, both can operate in either a testing or sandbox mode so you can try various things out, and then go live with actually processing real transactions.

We have come a long way with online payments to be sure. Both services allow you to build in payment processing to your website in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. I think my dad would be just as amazed as I am.

Ricoh blog: Is Directory as a Service Right for Your Business?

It usually operates behind the scenes, authenticating users and devices without much fanfare until something goes wrong. Typically, you employ Microsoft Active Directory, LDAP, or a Radius server to provide this function. But in the past year, a number of cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft Azure have begun to change the directory service model, offering Directory as a Service in the cloud.

In my latest article for Ricoh’s Work Intelligently blog, I talk about some of the issues involved in migrating your directory to the cloud.

Does your city have a data dashboard?

I love data dashboards. They are a great way to visualize data, to spot trends quickly, to get a handle on complex relationships, and to just geek out in general. At the Tableau conference last fall, the central ballroom area had its own data dashboard that showed you interesting up-to-the-second stats about how many Tweets were posted, where attendees came from, and other fun conference facts. You would expect something from the company that delivers a data dashboard product line to do something like this.

Data dashboards are popping up everywhere, and this past week I took a closer look at some of the ones that local cities are creating to monitor their own performance and connect to their citizens. A good “mayor’s dashboard,” as they are known, should show a lot of information in one screen, be attractive but not completely eye candy, and do more than just be a brochure for advancing the latest political agenda.

When you think about a mayor’s dashboard, it would be nice if they were actually used by the mayor to monitor progress and to help with his or her decision-making too. It should weigh items such as crime stats, quality of life metrics, and things that a city’s residents care about: trash pickup, time on hold in various phone queues and so forth. While the mayor’s dashboard is still an evolving area, here are some example of cities that have already implemented them and my initial thoughts.

And if you want some great general guidelines on building your own dashboard, start with this presentation from a past Tableau conference here.

Feel free to recommend your own in the comments below.

New York City has been working hard on opening various databases to public access, with more than 1200 different ones that can display various insights. It is all a bit overwhelming, not much different that what a visitor new to the city might find in real life. There isn’t a single pane of glass to summarize the information that I could find however.

bostonwBoston’s Mayor Walsh has had a public dashboard for more than a year, and is perhaps one of the more attractive ones (one part of which is shown here), with a rotating series of graphics on city performance data. You can see that there have four homicides this year, and compare with last year’s numbers. This is very actionable information too.

You would expect Portland Oregon to have a dashboard, and it does, showing things such as the percentage of renewable energy consumed and other groovy-oriented stats. It is arranged as more of a brochure than a dashboard: so you have to click around to find a particular stat, such as the average response time for a fire alarm is more than seven minutes. You can see in the graph that this hasn’t changed much over the years.

Detroit’s dashboard is more of a book report than an interactive dashboard. This shows you what they have accomplished last week such as how many LED-based streetlights were installed or blighted homes torn down.

London’s dashboard was launched last fall and is just for crime stats. It is chock full of graphs and figures, but you can’t see the whole picture on one page unfortunately.

Denver’s dashboard is more of an RSS portal, and you can customize it to your own particular needs, displaying alerts and news feeds on economic or public safety stats.

LA has several different data dashboards including a “performance” top-line summary that shows single numbers for things such as total employment, non-attainment air quality days, and the time it takes for police to respond to 911 calls. Clicking on any of these items will bring up graphical displays and lots of city rhetoric and more marketing information. There is also an open data project too.

Seattle’s dashboard has a similar design to LA’s, with single number top-line summaries that can be expanded with more graphical detail.