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Project TD - Day 55 update – A Word About Microsoft Azure

[Ongoing series of blog posts to inform potential developers, users and (hopefully investors) about this new app ecosystem I am architecting, designing, developing and deploying. More details at this page]

I have been working on Project TD for about 55 days now. It has been an interesting experience because of what came before Project TD, and the incredible potential TD holds, if it should be fully realized as per its original vision.

Day 55 is also significant in many ways because, till now, most of the blog posts have been about explaining the concept, the design and the work process. All this is good, and obviously essential. If one were to compare this to a vacation, then, till now, I have been mostly planning the vacation. Deciding on the places to hit, the modes of travel, the clothes to pack, accessories being purchased and so on. It’s all happening in the drawing room. It’s like the first half of a heist movie.

Now, things are getting real. The vacation is planned. The places chosen. It’s time to step out of the comfort of the home and go outside. Time to carry out the heist, and I guess, I am stealing knowledge, to complete the metaphor.

For the last couple of months, I have spent a small fortune (to be honest, it’s a lot of money for a small time businessman such as myself) in setting up all the necessary hardware. I have got the computers, power supply, mobile devices, tablets, office space and everything else. In each case, I also had to invest in a backup system, which simply multiplied the cost by 2. All this is the ‘planning part’.

Now, all these ideas must become real, and the services must run on the cloud. The cloud is the backbone. The cloud is where Project TD will live. I have been using Microsoft Azure for a little over 5 years now. However, I have only been using it in bits and pieces. To host a website here, run a mobile data service there, setup a notification center here, host a virtual machine to test an application and so on. None of them were related to each other, so it wasn’t a complicated system. Project TD though, by any measure, a complicated system. It will push my ability to harness the power of the cloud to levels I have never done before. Almost every part of this system can be automated, post deployment. I will taking advantage of that too and see how far ahead automation has come.

And the monetary cost! Man, I have going to be paying huge bills for at least the next 2 years!

While the cost – time and money – is huge, I am convinced that the cloud thing is pretty much in place now. As the amount of data people consume is only going to increase, the requirement for cloud services will only increase. Project TD will help me figure out how to make multiple cloud components work with each other in a rather complicated system. By extension,  this should provide me insight into what is best fit for the cloud and what are not.

I will be the first to admit that Microsoft Azure is expensive when compared to Amazon and Google. However, I find that Azure has a lot better support to Visual Studio, which is a deal maker for me. Microsoft is one of the big dogs (if not the biggest dog) in the cloud business, and they are constantly adding new stuff to their cloud services.

So yeah, Dear Mr. Azure, don’t let me down man.

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Choice of Cloud Platform

[Ongoing series of blog posts to inform potential developers, users and (hopefully investors) about this new app ecosystem I am architecting, designing, developing and deploying. More details at this page]

The app ecosystem has many components but it can be broken down into two essential parts. There are the user apps (all types of users) and the API engine (which also includes the data storage system). The user apps live on the web, android and iOS. The API engine and the data storage system live on the cloud.

For almost a decade now, we have been hearing about this cloud. We hearing about it so much, sometimes, it’s almost funny to talk about it. However, the cloud is very real, and it really does make life simpler. For a developer, the cloud technology is a god send. It reduces costs, allows new features to become immediately available and mostly makes life better for end users as a consequence. It is only obvious that my app ecosystem runs all its processing in the cloud.

For cloud, I can only think of two choices – Azure and Amazon Web Services. I understand that Google also provides cloud services, and there are a lot of many smaller companies that provide cloud services. It is also possible to utilize cloud software to build our cloud services.

For those who are unclear about this concept of cloud, I will put a simple definition here. Cloud is about a service that can be scaled up and down as per requirements. Almost instantly. That is the cloud. For instance, I am running a server on a VM and I realize that I need additional 16 GB of RAM instantly. With a conventional VM, I will have to go through a series of steps and wait till it gets provisioned. This is just for RAM increase. What if I only needed the processing power increase for one day (perhaps I was launching some huge sale which only lasts one day) and no more. What if I wanted a bigger hard drive for a week only. Or perhaps, I don’t know what I need, and I wish to increase or decrease or perhaps I just wish to experiment and find the ideal combination. All this will lead to a flexible solution that will allow reduction of cost.

In a non-cloud scenario, there are people who have to do things manually. I am all for working with people (one cannot get anything done without people) but sometimes, they can be a hindrance rather than help. It is in human nature to make mistakes. That is why, when possible, we use machines. Cloud removes that human factor almost entirely. Without going through the IT team (or not have an IT team at all) I can provision stuff that are required to allow my service to work.

Now that I have discussed what the cloud is, time to decide the choice of cloud provider. For extremely obvious reasons, I will go with Microsoft, with the only alternative I would recommend being Amazon Web Services. Compared to Amazon, Microsoft services are expensive, and they have reduced trial periods. For instance, Microsoft is generous enough to give a month or at most 3 months of trial services. Amazon though, can give a year worth of free services in some cases. Clearly Microsoft is expensive.

However, for one thing, I have been using Azure for almost 5 years now and so far, it has not disappointed me. Their service is excellent, and Azure keeps getting better with new services being added constantly. They met my needs 5 years ago, and I am sure they will meet all my IT needs for years to come. It is possible I am a little biased here, but I am yet to come across a simple reason (other than low price, which is not really a priority for me) why I must explore Amazon Web Services, or some other cloud service.

So yes, the app ecosystem Project TD will be powered by Azure cloud.

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Mom Mode – Trying to Figure User Interaction Part Out

I recently wrote about an issue with user interaction. Since I wrote (and that thought entered my mind) that, I have been unable to get it out of my head. I keep thinking of a few questions.

Can the issue be fixed?

If it can be fixed, what kind of solutions are available?

Which of those are feasible, not just for my mom, but other mom’s (and their sons) who are in the same spaceship as me?

Like a lot of people, I try and look at a problem with an approach that there is usually a solution. At least, some amount of time must be dedicated tackling the issue, document the steps taken and then arrive at a conclusion. One conclusion is that there is no solution. Another conclusion is that there is a solution. It’s not blind positivity. I like to call it, pragmatic positivity. In other words, assume a positive output and then dedicate sufficient time to prove or disprove the assumption.

Going back to the first question, I would like to start off by assuming that the issue can be fixed. A future blog post will either prove my theories or disprove it. Now that I have assumed that the issue can be fixed, I need to look at what I know about the person of interest. In this case, the POI is my own mother. That means, I have years of experience observing her. All the data is in my head. The things I did before I was 4 is completely a blur to me, but I remember most of the important events in my life since I turned 5. Obviously, almost all the important moments have a mom component in them.

In other words, deep within the confines of my mind, I have data about my mom unconsciously logged away. All I need to do is go back in time – inside my head – and look at her interactions with the variety of technology things that she has used. Perhaps I have mentioned this before, but our family comes from a rather poor background. Things like going to the movies was a luxury, as recently as 8 years ago to me. To my mom, even today, she is convinced that only the rich people go to the multiplex or take a taxi cab (something that is part of my daily life since 4 years). That means, she has interacted with things that are low tech, and thanks to my choice of career (computer science, of course), she has interacted some pretty high end stuff too. I remember her reaction when I told her that I have paid roughly 7500 bucks for a keyboard and mouse. It took me quite a while to convince her that the purchase was indeed essential for my work, and I am not some kind of deranged spend thrift.

While recollecting the data about my mom’s interaction with technology will take a while, I know that she is a fast learner. The good book of biology says that genes are passed on from our parents. All through my life, I have noticed that my classmates, my fellow engineers, my work colleagues have always taken longer than me to learn something new. Somehow, my reflexes and my ability to learn new things are just as sharp as they were when I was a teenager. Sure, I may have worked on it but mostly, I think, it’s in my genes, and I got these attributes from my mother. After all, she is the one who taught me English despite herself being a Kannada medium student who did not finish her 10th standard schooling.

All this brings me to a conclusion. To solve the problem of her interaction with cloud services, I must understand that kind of interactions she is currently able to do. At this point, I must already agree that the current interfaces – touch screen and their small sizes – are simply not an option for her. This is a woman who grew up watching a black and white television (with huge knobs for changing channels), which had to thumped on the sides, and the antenna bent and shaped to see something, and now, she has to watch her kids use a tiny smart device that can happily show almost any video on the planet. She has lived through multiple eras of technology and used all of them (and taught me how to use them). Now, I guess, she is at the end of her learning curve.

All in all, till now, the horse would go to the well. Now, I must bring the well to the horse.  

You can get more details about Project TD, right here.

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