SharePoint And Why You're Probably Using It Wrong

So you have SharePoint. You acquired it through a package you purchased with other Microsoft products, or you heard about it from someone and decided to stand it up and see what it can do. Either way you spent some time, resources and much-needed network capacity to put this in place.  Now what? That’s a question many organizations ask, and if you’re not asking this question you’re probably still using Sharepoint wrong. Let me explain why.
Many of the organizations I’ve spent some time with have SharePoint. Most have the Foundations version and have no idea why they would pay for the Enterprise license. Foundations is still a strong version and can be utilized to reduce company expenditures on other vendors for products such as hosting your intranet or conducting surveys, as a few examples. I’ve seen this time and time again.  A company has an external vendor that hosts its intranet. The design elements are minimal and the cost associated with development of a product that can integrate with the organizations email client or other applications can be costly.  Why would you spend that time and money when you have the capabilities and product sitting on your network not being utilized to its minimal potential? SharePoint can be your front-facing intranet/extranet site. It can be your employee daily landing page with links to tools, web-hosted applications, announcements, statistics, documents, pictures, knowledge, reports, presentations, surveys, and more.
Think about it for a moment: You probably have a team portal setup for each department or some of your departments.  It’s probably a basic SharePoint template with an Announcement section, Document Repository, Calendar, maybe a fancy logo and a tab at the top to go to the parent site. If this sounds like you, then you’re using Sharepoint wrong.  Remember, SharePoint’s a tool that has many capabilities.
With the basic features offered through SharePoint Designer and the default page and web part templates, you can customize each portal, page and web part to fit many of your business needs without spending money on development.  You don’t need a web developer to manipulate multiple lines of code to embed a video on your page or customize the layout.  You can assign rights to individual teams and with little training they can be off and running on their own – now designing portals specific to their function and needs. I’m not saying go and fire your web developers.  I am saying you can utilize the functionality of SharePoint so your web developers can focus on other projects. You can code pages in SharePoint and design web applications, custom API calls and external facing sites.  So keep those web developers around.
Now that I have you thinking about what you can use SharePoint for, let’s talk about why you might consider the Enterprise license. The first thing I think of when someone asks about the Enterprise license is Workflows. Workflows can be designed to do many, many, many, many automated things. Let’s say you have a employee-engagement survey.  You want to know how your employees feel about the organization or an application that just went live.  You use SharePoint and create a really cool survey that changes the questions based on the previous answers, then take that information and add it to a live, up-to-the-minute graph on your main page. How do you do that? Answer: Workflow.
Maybe you have a form that needs to be filled out, and when someone submits the form, an email needs to be sent to a group for review. How do you do that? Answer: Workflow.  If you haven’t already guessed why the Enterprise license is useful, the answer is: Workflows.
Another thing that comes to mind when someone asks about the Enterprise License is MS Office integration. Yes, I said it. MS Office Integration. It delivers the ability to collaborate on those projects or documents right through SharePoint, or create awesome Visio diagrams on your main page.  Maybe you really wanted to use an Access Database for something and need to easily query the results in a list. I’m here to tell you that SharePoint Enterprise license has MS Office integration.
A few other features you’ll miss without the Enterprise License include business intelligence, robust search features, custom social-media-style profile pages, more design elements, scorecards, dashboards and a better mobile experience.  All versions of SharePoint have Android and IOS support, however, I’ve found the Enterprise version has more features for navigation that work better with the mobile devices.
If you’re not already preparing a use case for SharePoint, and an argument for why you should upgrade your license, then you really should get out there on the Internet and browse some additional topics.  Check out what other companies are talking about.  Really think hard about why you have this product in your environment you’re not doing anything with. There are many resources available to help you start your SharePoint journey.  Why not start it today?
Art work provided by John Norris

Why Should I Use An IBM Business Partner?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to deal directly with IBM?

This is a topic of much discussion around the TxMQ office these days, as it is at other solutions providers. Prospective customers often ask us: If my company’s able to go direct with my manufacturer/vendor (be it IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, or whomever), why shouldn’t we?
It’s a fair question. Companies, especially large ones, oftentimes have multilayered supply-chain relationships for acquiring software, hardware, and talent.
On the one hand, long-standing, embedded relationships often dictate the way a company acquires technical solutions. A friendship nurtured through years of trusted business dealings – sometimes called a “trusted advisor” relationship – may be the perfectly legitimate and ideal way of solving technical challenges. Yet sometimes things change. What happens when your salesperson – the same salesperson who’s covered your company for years – resigns?
Back to the broader topic of direct or business partner: As software and hardware companies like IBM and the other majors evolve over time, their business models push more sales through channel partners. Business partners are inevitably smaller companies, and are typically far better equipped to build and maintain longstanding, deep customer relationships. Sales teams at the major vendors change, oftentimes annually, leading to spotty coverage of accounts, and occasionally even leaving some companies with no direct coverage at all.
Business partners typically offer more consistency and stability of coverage. In addition, as IBM and the majors continue to add layers of complexity to their brands, and shift products in their portfolios, it’s very difficult for companies (and even their field salespeople), to keep products straight.
Surprisingly, this is a knowledge area in which partners tend to excel. Most of the leadership at business partners were themselves former employees of the majors. They left the majors to explore greater freedom to engage with customers, and to build deeper, better relationships over longer periods of time without the bureaucracy that comes with working in a large shop, or the threat of annual account “realignment.”
Also, as solutions offered to customers become more complex and cross over traditional brand borders, business partners are better able to navigate these tricky waters.
Recently IBM, along with other majors, went through internal realignments that left salespeople covering products new to them, and others were shifted to entirely new lines of business. Not so with business partners, who are free to engage as they always have.
What about software and hardware sales? Logic says it must be cheaper to buy direct. No indeed. IBM, as one example, has dramatically shifted internal teams, and reduced field and inside sales coverage to better align their resources with today’s market. What does this mean? It means it’s usually cheaper to order software and hardware from a partner. IBM knows it’s very expensive to have a large, geographically dispersed sales team, and far more cost-effective to let IBM business partners sell more and more software, services and hardware for them.
Partners therefore have full access to special bid requests, discounting, plus any and all sales tools a direct seller has in the arsenal. In addition, it goes without saying that a business partner’s services rates are nearly always below IBM direct rates.
Conclusion
In the end, each company must decide what’s best for itself, but don’t presume that the way you engaged with IBM and others in the past is the best way to engage in the future. A business partner can be your best ally to stay current with technology, and enable the nimble, robust infrastructure your company needs to compete and win in today’s marketplace.
Let’s take this conversation a bit further – email me at chuck@txmq.com.
(Image by Flazingo Photos)
 
 

MQTT Repositories Review – Mosquitto, MessageSight & More

In my previous blog (Rigorous Enough! MQTT For The Internet Of Things Backbone), I presented the MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol, which helps provide the required communication for smart devices. But without a broker repository or destination to support the protocol, MQTT can’t complete its mission.

In this article, I’ll first review one of the open-standard MQTT repositories called Mosquitto, and then cover IBM MessageSight. In future blogs I’ll present additional information on both the security component and additional broker functionality.

Mosquitto is an open-source (BSD-licensed) message broker that implements the MQTT protocol versions 3.1 and 3.1.1. It provides a lightweight server implementation of the MQTT and MQTT-SN protocols, written in C, so it can run on machines that can’t run a JVM.

Mosquitto regularly has an executable in the order of 120kB that consumes around 3MB RAM with 1,000 clients connected. There have been reports of successful tests with 100,000 connected clients at modest message rates.

In addition to accepting connections from MQTT clients, Mosquitto can bridge to other connected MQTT servers, including other Mosquitto instances. It’s thus possible to architect MQTT server networks, and pass MQTT messages from any network location to any other.

A second repository for MQTT is IBM MessageSight, which is built for high performance to offer persistent, transactional messaging. The hardware is 2U form factor. IBM MessageSight includes built-in security to enable integration with external Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) security systems. MessageSight also offers Transport Layer Security (TLS), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), FIPS 140-2, NSA Suite B ciphers and Level 1 secure Crypotgraphic Store securities.

Fine-grained messaging-authorization policies restrict access based on combinations of: user or group, client identifier, protocol, network interface, listening address and/or port, client IP address or range and destination topic and queue name.

The MessageSight repository supports connectivity to WebSphere Message Broker via JMS and/or MQTT nodes. It also integrates with Java environments and with rich HTML5-based web applications. Additionally, MessageSight allows development of interactive mobile-messaging applications with IBM Worklight Studio Developer, which delivers:

  • Friendly APIs and libraries
  • MQTT clients and libraries for a variety of platforms (C- and Java-based APIs)
  • Libraries for Google Android and Apple iOS
  • JMS client
  • JavaScript API for HTML5-based applications
  • PhoneGap MQTT plugins with JavaScript API for use with IBM Worklight
  • Apache Cordova
  • Adobe PhoneGap

MessageSight also offers simple and scalable management through policies. A single user ID is defined on the queue manager for IBM MessageSight, which enables a business to sense and respond to data coming from the edge of the enterprise. IBM MessageSight offers high availability with either an active or passive standby.

There are several public repositories that include Hive MQ, which provides a repository that anyone can engage with. In addition, there is cloudMQTT, which is a repository hosted in the cloud. There are other implementations of the broker space, namely gnatMQ, which is an implementation of MQTT but specifically for.Net, and ActiveMQ, which is a product of the Apache group.

Rigorous Enough! MQTT For The Internet Of Things Backbone

The topic of mobile devices and mobile solutions is a hot one in the IT industry. I’ll devote a series of articles to exploring and explaining this very interesting topic. This first piece will focus on MQTT for the Internet of Things – a telemetry functionality originally provided through IBM.
MQTT provides communication in the Internet of Things – specifically, between the sensors and actuators. The reason MQTT is unique is, unlike several other communication standards, it’s rigorous enough to support low latency and poor connectivity and still provide a well-behaved message-delivery system.
Within the Internet of Things there’s a universe of devices that provide inter-communication. These devices and their communications are what enables “smart devices,” and these devices connect to other devices or networks via different wireless protocols that can operate to some extent both interactively and autonomously. It’s widely believed that these types of devices, in very short time, will outnumber any other forms of smart computing and communication, acting as useful enablers for the Internet of Things.
MQTT architecture is publish/subscribe and is designed to be open and easy to implement, with up to thousands of remote clients capable of being supported by a single server. From a networking standpoint, MQTT operates using TCP for its communication. TCP (unlike UDP) provides stability to message delivery because of its connection-oriented standard. Unlike the typical HTTP header, the MQTT header can be as little as 2 bytes, and that 2 bytes can store all of the information required to maintain a meaningful communication. The 2 bytes store the information in binary using 8 bits to a byte. It has the capability to add an optional header of any length. The 2 bytes of the standard header can carry such information as QOS, type of message, clean or not.
The quality-of-service parameters control the delivery of the message to the repository or server. The options are:

Quality-Of-Service Option Meaning
1 At most once
2 At least once
3 Exactly once

These quality-of-service options control the delivery to the destination. The first 4 bits of the byte control the type of message, which defines who’ll be interested in receipt of these messages. The type of message indicates the topic of the message, which will manage who receives the message. The last element will be the clean byte, which like the persistence in MQ will determine whether the message should be retained or not. The clean option goes a step further in that it will also tell the repository manager whether messages related to this topic should be retained.
In my next blog I’ll discuss the broker or repository for these messages. There are several repositories that can be used, including MessageSight and Mosquitto among others. The beauty of these repositories is their stability.
(Photo by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life)

Using IBM MessageSight For Remote Vehicle Services

The past year has shown us this important trend: Automobiles are the prime driver behind the growth of the Internet of Things. The thought of connected dishwashers and toasters and thermostats and hockey sticks is intriguing, but smartcars are where the action’s at. Manufactures know it. App developers know it. And IBM knows it too.
IBM, in fact, is heavily pushing its MessageSight appliance as a connected-car solution for remote services. Big Blue’s approach is logical, and I like the company’s suggested use cases. Here are a few examples of how MessageSight might be deployed to support remote vehicle services.

  1. Unlock doors. We already have remote unlock via key fobs and satellite, but the third option of a phone or pad unlock would be extremely handy. It would also save insurance companies money due to less frequent locksmith reimbursements. And it’s pure gold for car-rental companies that no longer need an employee to be onsite to unlock vehicles.
  2. Monitor warm-up temperatures. Remote car starters are already common, but MessageSight could empower climate control via phone or pad to not only start your car, but monitor the air conditioning and heater as well.
  3. Vehicle gauges. Develop an app to interface with the dashboard display to monitor tire pressure, fuel level, oil level, battery charge and more. Then interface those readings with calendaring software to generate reminders and schedule maintenance appointments.
  4. Vehicle Find. Key fobs only broadcast so far. Tap your phone or pad to toot the horn or flash the lights in a giant parking lot to easily find your vehicle.
  5. Predictive maintenance. Manufactures can collect data on usage and performance to lessen warranty claims and deliver push notifications for suggested maintenance plateaus.
  6. Driver assistance features. This technology is rapidly expanding. Prior examples of driver-assistance features include anti-lock brakes, object sensors and reprogrammed shift sequences. The near future is sure to include adaptive cruise control, infrared driving aids, lane-departure warnings, laser-based object sensing and more – all controlled via phone or pad.
  7. Increased efficiencies for fleet management. Enable real-time communication, routing and updates between driver, the vehicle itself and the sales-order system.

What sets MessageSight apart is how well the appliance integrates to support different networks and data-exchange rates, as well as the way it delivers appliance-quality security to the edge of the network.
Learn more about MessageSight: Contact TxMQ vice president Miles Roty for a free and confidential consultation: (716) 636-0070 x228, miles@txmq.com.

Internet Of Things In Focus At Europe's IFA Fair

Stroll through any box electronics or homestore nowadays and you’ll see the beginnings of the Internet of Things (IoT) – formal slang for the coming world of interconnected everyday devices. Best Buy is selling a smartphone-controlled garage-door openers and smartphone-enabled deadbolts as just a few examples.
Some true action on the IoT front took place this week at Europe’s IFA tradefair, held this year in Berlin, Germany. It concluded today and is touted as “the world’s leading tradeshow for consumer electronics and home appliances.” German engineering is always front and center at the show.
Early reports out of the show point to several highlights:

  1. A robotic vacuum cleaner from British sensation Dyson
  2. A growing horde of smartwatch competitors, led by Samsung’s Galaxy Gear S (Apple had its own homegrown Watch rollout concurrently in California)
  3. TVs with convex screens to better mimic the cinematic experience
  4. A new Sony glass to compete with Google Glass in the market of aug-reality
  5. Appliances for the interconnected home

About No. 5: Bosch and its partner Siemens debuted their first Home Connect oven and dishwasher, which should be available before the 2014 holidays. The Home Connect app, announced last spring, will run on iPhone and Droid and control compatible devices through the app.
The important part of this news is to track the competition for the overall IoT standard. Home Connect is an open standard that Bosch-Siemens developed. Both  brands use it, and curiously, it supports other competitive brands. Bosch and Siemens in fact passed on the Apple HomeKit connection standard in favor of their own proprietary system.
The Home Connect appliances are definitely cool. The engineering quality is crazy good – you’d expect nothing less from brands like Bosch and Siemens. But in terms of the IoT, they still only talk to each other. We’ll see in the coming year whether other manufactures develop for the Home Connect standard, or whether Google Nest, or Apple HomeKit or other emerging platforms can successfully attract brands into their big tent.

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