So you want a tech savvy copywriter?

It's one thing for a copywriter to sell the benefits of products like beer, butter or banks. Quite another when it comes to technology.

First base is to make sure that the copywriter actually understands the products him or herself. Only then does the art of copywriting come into play.

In a former life, I worked as an in-house copywriter for Hewlett Packard. Altogether, I've written technical copy for sectors ranging from engineering to IT, tropical medicine to nuclear power. I've worked on accounts from Siemens to Cisco Systems, Intel to BNFL. In every media, from national press ad campaigns to technical manuals, online training guides to sales brochures.

In short, I ‘do' technical copywriting.


Blogging IT 

These blogs were written recently for a leading server supplier. I have many, many more.

BYOD. Bring Your Own Data-centre

BYOD. It sounds like one of those textisms so beloved by teenage girls and misused by prime ministers. Or a budget restaurant that doesn't have an alcohol licence. Yet you'll have to get used to BYOD - Bring Your Own Device - I'm afraid. It ain't going anywhere, not soon, nor not-so-soon. In fact, this is a flow which organisations may be advised to go with. Or maybe not...

Man the barricades
Make no mistake, an invasion is going on at your data centre. Email, calendar, wi-fi, corporate data - all are being accessed through your staff's mobile devices. People are either using them off-site or, increasingly, using them in the office itself. Indeed, in some ways BYOD stands not so much for ‘Bring Your Own Device' as ‘Bring Your Own Data-centre'. The question now re BYOD is not so much ‘should you allow it' as ‘how can you manage it?'
Of course, staff are going to want a greater or lesser measure of control over what is, after all, their own property. The ownership issue is a thorny one, as is the proliferation of hardware, OS's, apps and security arrangements. Users may have multiple devices, too, many of which may be rooted or jailbroken but able to access your network just the same. Not good.

Multi-culturalism rules
Given the rate of proliferation and obsolescence, standardising company devices is not really on. Multi-culturalism has come to office computing, well and truly. And it's all a bit chaotic. Which is why CIO's could do worse than to create - and enforce - some guidelines:

The pros?
• Boost productivity
• Cut costs
• Save IT staff time
• Streamline your corporate mobile operation
• Gain the freedom to experiment with new technologies
• Earn big brownie points in the popularity stakes!

And the cons?
• Risk of sensitive data being sent out of the organisation
• Risk of access by unqualified personnel
• Costs shifted to employees
• Possibly a hassle-laden stipend issue
• Expected higher out of hours availability for staff
• Big brother/conspiracy issues
• Extra loading on wi-fi networks
• Need for more security on email and file servers
• More diverse work for help desks
Clearly, this is a more complex issue than most, with benefits and drawbacks for both data centre managers and company employees alike. Perhaps the best route is to open a dialogue between interested parties, and adopt a partnership type approach.

Ask not what your date centre can do for you ...
What can be said with some certainty is that the old way of viewing mobile devices is dead. It's now about empowering as many people as possible, encouraging them to become more responsive, agile, and inter-connected. Which means getting everybody concerned onside. Indeed, I'm even tempted to quote JFK:
‘Ask not can your date centre do for you - ask what you can do for your data centre!'
Realise that even in this day and age, a company shouldn't have to support any old device. There are limitations on OS, security and compatibility, and those guidelines I mentioned should be loose enough not to put your neck in a noose. For example, there are seven versions of the android OS alone! It can also cause issues when some staff's devices can access company mail and others can't. There aren't enough hours in the day to sort all those things out.

The penny must drop
You may want to relinquish responsibility for the entire corporate hardware and software stack, at least for some users. Let the penny drop that the role of the data centre has changed. It's no longer about tasks like ensuring files are saved on the file server. Servers must now support VDI, application virtualisation and other replacement technologies. It means taking a new look at security. Just as a firewall is needed for web servers, so it is now for internal servers too. Remote access is bound to become more or less universal, whatever the platform, but as a rule of thumb only let BYOD users access the services they need to function.

So, pain or gain?
As with so many areas, BYOD is a two-edged sword. Yes, there are potential areas of conflict with staff. Yet on an organisational level, it can be a positive development. As well as the benefits described, it can allow you to experiment with new technologies more easily. It can save the time of IT staff, enabling you to refocus. It can also shift the burden of support from hardware to applications.
Once teething troubles are out of the way, the gain should outweigh the pain. However, BYOD is not for everybody, and many early adopters are either backtracking or abandoning the practice altogether. Whatever you decide, though, be pro-active about it and don't be caught out reacting after the event! For professional advice, call on XXX YYYY or email:



The server's gone down!

Oh dear. The dreaded phrase. It's not good, not good at all. And when servers are down, or running badly, it means that critical apps are not running, users are not using, opportunities are not being realised, emails are not being read, data is being lost. Maybe all of them, all at once. As the resident IT administrator, do you:

a) Panic and hide in the little boy/girl's room?
b) Switch to troubleshooting mode, roll your sleeves up and get stuck in to finding a solution?
c) Go for a coffee and scan the footie results while you think things through

If your answer is:
Mostly a's - get a backbone
Mostly b's - get a brain
Mostly c's - get a pat on the back. Not that you have to read the footie, of course. If crown green bowls are more your bag, then that's just fine.

The point is that by jumping in to troubleshooting without thinking first, you may waste hours and hours of your time. Analogies of needles and haystacks spring to mind. Worst of all, it may be the wrong haystack.
This is because troubleshooting server issues can be difficult. As in good detective stories, the obvious culprit may not be the real one. It could be the server hardware. But then again, it might be the server operating system or OS. Or, yet again, it could be your applications software.
Servers are more complicated than desktop PCs, in terms of both hardware and OS. Unfortunately, they're more critical too.

Don't leave the detail to the devil
In view of the above, in troubleshooting servers it pays to be methodical:
• After you've finished your coffee, start at the beginning. The hardware. Check the servers, the peripherals, the cabling.
• Hardware OK? Then it's time to look at the OS configuration. The wrong TCP/IP settings can play havoc with addressing and routing. Connectivity problems can often be traced to the wrong IP addresses. Names and IP addresses must correspond.
• OS OK? Then look to your applications software, Columbo! Server applications differ from their desktop cousins, and are usually concerned with the three ‘M's - maintaining, monitoring, managing. But just like desktops, there may be a compatibility issue with the OS, and you can get dedicated software to determine this. Also see if recently installed applications software is causing any issues.
• Next, check licenses, security settings and other tedious stuff
• After all this, have you considered it may not be the server at all?! Investigate other hardware such as client computers and routers.
• And if your servers are still down, sorry, it's time for the dreaded OS reinstall. Pity about the golf game this weekend - who knows, it may rain anyway. At least you'll be glad you backed up all your data, didn't you! Didn't you???!!!
On the subject of back-up, it's possible to create a virtual server that's an exact copy of your mainline server. It won't be as robust, but can be invaluable while you're getting the real one back up and running. And always include a UPS to protect your servers in event of power failure.

Be proactive - even be Proliant
As with everything in computing, in equipment in general, prevention is better than cure. Which means proactively anticipating problems rather than reacting to them. There's no substitute for a well-planned and thoroughly executed maintenance programme to head off many troubleshooting issues before they even start.
Even better, migrate to the latest generation of servers such as HP's - Hewlett Packard's - ProLiant Gen8 servers or Dell's PowerEdge servers. These reduce IT maintenance and system downtime to an absolute minimum, and practically make troubleshooting a thing of the past.

For more advice on server troubleshooting, call XXX YYY or email ...



Virtualisation. Virtually certain to improve life

Really? That is, is all this virtualisation automatically a good thing?

Imagine it happened to a human being. You'd have an uber schizophrenic. Not just Jekyll and Hyde in one body. But the Wolfman as well. And throw in Count Dracula for good measure. The psychoanalysis would need Dr Freud himself.
Yet that's what you're getting with a virtualised computer infrastructure. Several virtual desktops residing in one physical machine. In fact, they don't even need to speak the same language! Enough to make the most competent IT administrator run for cover!
Or is it? Let's look at the upsides.

Save - and save again
First, with virtualisation you maximise your resources, or at least make more use of often under-utilised infrastructure. You can run several different operating systems at once. You get extra power too - yet only pay for it when you need it.
Which, of course, brings us to the cost aspect. With fewer machines to support, you can certainly save money on maintenance as well as cooling and energy costs
So that's the finance department happy. What about hard-pressed IT administrators? They can expect to save time and hassle on:
• Supporting physical hardware
• Set-up time - you can have preconfigured virtual desktops, dedicated to tasks such as training
• Downtime for end users
And you save space, as you have fewer physical machines in the office - or the rented rack. Stands to reason, really.

Any more goodies?
Plenty. As you can run files on almost any configuration, you can extend the life of your old system. Or save on the spec if you do decide to replace. The simple, flat files are portable, and easily backed-up. What's more, the problem of archiving and outdated formats is alleviated - simply take a snapshots of the virtual machine. The inherent scalability of the concepts means that you also enjoy the flexibility to keep pace with an ever-changing market.
So far, so good then. I'm sold. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

And the bad news?
Don't push your luck, Dr. Jekyll!
Applications with complicated graphics tend to monopolise computing resources, which doesn't work well in a heavily virtualised environment. The familiar problem of software compatibility also raises its head.
Nor is the remaining hardware as easy to support. For maintenance and rebooting on the host machine, all virtual machines must go down at the same time. This needs careful planning.
The cost savings so glowingly referred to above aren't automatic, either. Money saved on hardware may be offset by extra admin costs elsewhere. Having all those virtual machines running simultaneously on different software platforms can get confusing. While although administrators have life easy in some ways they may need to pick up new skills.
Like they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Virtualisation is definitely not a one size fits all solution. I recommend you to evaluate according to the needs of your organisation or department. Or contact us for professional advice on whether virtualisation is for you.


Some more hi-tech highlights 

Intel - Putting distributors in the picture
Hewlett Packard - PC's that never grow old
DEC - The wise move in IT Project Management
BNFL - Reassuring the public about nuclear waste
Pressure Tech - raising the profile
Ferranti - Cutting the cost of securing the country