Database decisions: AWS has changed the game for IT

You may not have heard of OpenSCG, but Amazon Web Services has. A week ago, AWS quietly acquired the PostgreSQL migration services company founded by PostgreSQL veteran Denis Lussier. While some PostgreSQL fans weren’t happy about the move, the OpenSCG acquisition is emblematic of a much larger move by AWS to serve a wide array of database needs.

At the recent AWS Summit, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said as much, declaring that “what makes AWS unique is the data we have, and the quality of that data.” Taking a slap at Oracle in particular, Vogels derided the “so-called database company” for offering far fewer relational database services than AWS, and just a fraction of the array of database services that AWS offers (including NoSQL offerings).

With more than 64,000 databases migrated to AWS in just the last two years, AWS looks set to hold even more enterprise data.

AWS doesn’t tend to announce its acquisitions. They’re invariably small, not triggering any legal requirements to announce them, and while some companies acquire so they haveproducts to sell, AWS only acquires complements to the services it builds in-house.

Nor is it surprising that AWS would be interested in the PostgreSQL sponsor. As one Reddit commenter mentions, “True PostgreSQL expertise is difficult to come by and OpenSCG has a lot of it. If you combine that with Amazon’s clear support of deploying Postgres-related products (RDS/Aurora/Redshift) and its message of #DatabaseFreedom, … it becomes pretty clear why AWS was interested in OpenSCG.” Although OpenSCG has been an AWS partnerfor some time, OpenSCG has particular expertise in helping companies migrate to PostgreSQL.

Which is, of course, perfect for an AWS that is intent on moving orders of magnitude more database workloads than the current 64,000 to AWS.

AWS seeks to be the “every database” store

Not all those database workloads involve PostgreSQL, of course. Although the open source database has experienced a renaissance of popularityover the last few years, it’s just one of the various databases that AWS supports. AWS has been aggressively decomposing applications and infrastructure to give its customers the specialized services that let them develop what they want, Vogels says, “instead of AWS telling them what they must develop.”

You want PostgreSQL? AWS can help with that. How about a NoSQL database with infinite scale and predictable performance? AWS has that, too, with DynamoDB, but also through partners like MongoDB that run a large percentage of their workloads on AWS.

The list goes on.

And on.

All of which leads to the question “What does this mean for IT’s database decisions?”

The database choices aren’t like they used to be

Oracle and Microsoft’s trump cards to date have been that they collectively own three of the world’s most popular databases, including Oracle, MySQL (owned by Oracle), and Microsoft SQL Server. As data has changed, however, these trump cards have lost some of their luster, serving as an almost unwelcome crutch at times. Oracle has missed the market transition to big data applications.

By contrast, Microsoft has not rested on its laurels, releasing a spate of database options, including CosmosDB. Although Microsoft Azure has fewer database alternatives than AWS, it’s a strong No. 2 to AWS’s leadership position. So far, developers have preferred AWS’s approach, which is to offer maximum database choice, fitting particular databases to specialized needs. Even so, Microsoft at least has a credible strategy.

Oracle, by contrast, has spent years ignoring or deriding the cloud, then basically fork-lifting its database to the cloud. A year ago, it made the silly move of trying to raise the price of running Oracle on AWS, hoping to get customers to defect from AWS and run those workloads on Oracle’s struggling cloud. It hasn’t worked.

Nor will Oracle have much hope if AWS continues to move more database services into its arsenal of server-less functions. As industry expert Simon Wardley posits, “As Amazon’s server-less ecosystem grows, the more metadata it can mine, the faster its rates of innovation, customer focus, and efficiency. Once it gets to around 2 percent of the market then it’s game over for all those not playing at scale.”

Microsoft (and Google) are sprinting to add database services, including serverless options. Oracle keeps muddling through a 1980s way of thinking about the database, and it’s going to cost the database hegemon its lofty market position.

Meanwhile, AWS keeps steadily building out the database services developers require for next-generation applications, all while improving its abilities to migrate existing workloads to AWS.

How Challenger Brands are Succeeding in Marketing

There’s something about an underdog that we all love. Whether rooting for the fictional Rocky Balboa or real-life brick-and-mortar store that’s battling against a big-dog corporation, we often throw our allegiance behind an unexpected victor. It’s psychological. And that’s what challenger brands have found when trying to win over a consumer’s heart.

Challengers take pride in marketing themselves as innovators, hoping to bring change to a highly competitive field while reaching customers who may be loyal to an established corporate giant. Think about the arrival of Uber when taxis were the primary mode of transportation — or how grocery delivery apps now are pitted against standard grocery shopping. While originality is one of the major qualities challengers bring to the table, it’s data-based ads, relatability to consumers, and social media that all act together to garner the attention of the right consumer who will buy a product or service.

Marketing a Product That is New and Innovative

The best challenger brands offer products or services that customers may not already have. Marketing these products as something that consumers truly need to improve an existing experience is one way challengers can convert.

When Uber was founded in 2009, it successfully marketed itself as a better alternative to taxis. Uber offered a new form of transportation that was presented as more convenient and affordable. With a few taps on a phone, users were personally connected with a driver who would pick them up within minutes for a rate that was not dependent on the amount of traffic that might be encountered on a route to a specific destination. Uber found huge success in providing a service that customers didn’t know they needed — until they had it.

Zenni Optical provides a new way to get prescription glasses. If users want to ‘try on’ glasses before purchasing, the Zenni Frame Fit allows users to upload a photo of themselves and virtually try on different frames from a wide selection. From there, shoppers can get glasses delivered to their doorstep without ever having to step foot in a brick-and-mortar store. This challenger in the eyewear industry saw a gap and filled it with an innovative idea.

While Airbnb could be considered a challenger brand when comparing it to the traditional hotel industry, the widely renowned brand that offers stays in people’s homes and apartments now has challengers of its own. Onefinestay insists that it is steadily helping to rectify a possible flaw in Airbnb’s business model by having its staff personally visit a home or villa before it is available for a consumer to rent. The company also advertises itself as a luxury and destination service, helping it stand out in a field where the competition feels endless.

“Challenger brands need to be true to themselves and play to their strengths,” according to Spencer Aull, Senior Paid Search Manager at Wpromote, our marketing agency with the tagline The Challenger Agency. “If your edge is being local, then be local. If your product selection has better depth than it has breadth compared to competitors, then dominate that specific product line. Whatever differentiates the challenger business is what should be differentiated in their ads.”

Relating to Customers on a Personal Level

Large corporations often have a hurdle to overcome when trying to connect with consumers due to the sheer vastness of their audience and brand. That’s where challengers can gain an upper hand. They can succeed in relating to their customer on a more personal level by utilizing a specific generation’s culture, social movement and values.

“By honing in on small, niche, target audiences, challenger brands can leverage highly personalized content in their ads without worrying about pre-existing perceptions of their brand,” says Simon Poulton, Director of Digital Intelligence at Wpromote. “Although larger brands will have a greater awareness across the population, this is a double-edged sword. Larger brands have a stronger degree of ingrained brand perception, making it harder to pivot and launch new initiatives without investing more to re-educate the population.”

Glossier, a skincare and beauty brand that represents itself as “inspired by real life,” has been successful with its personalized ads. In a campaign released on the company’s website and social media channels in September of 2017, Glossier depicted five woman of varied body types to promote its new Body Hero products. By showcasing a more diverse set of physical forms that are not usually presented in the beauty industry, Glossier was able to relate to the self-love and body acceptance counter-culture. This “personalization” in the brand’s online presence was positively received by customers and publications alike.

Within the fashion sphere, influencers including Emma Watson and ethical fashion documentaries such as “The True Cost” have helped spread awareness when it comes to ethical production of clothing. Many challenger brands have responded, including Everlane. This somewhat unknown brand preached transparency by featuring a page on its website detailing information on each of its factories where clothing is made. The company also showcases photos of the working conditions alongside details on how it sources materials. This transparency has helped Everlane stand out among the competition and effectively garner greater attention from consumers by joining forces with a social movement.

In addition to relating with specific movements and ideals, many challengers seek to connect with their targeted generation as a whole. In February of 2016, PayPal released a video ad comparing “New Money,” or its online money transfer service, to “Old Money,” or traditional banking. The ad gained nearly 2 million views and smartly created an identity for a brand that relates to an up-and-coming generation of consumers.

Utilizing Data-Based Targeted Ads

Personalization of ads can also occur on a more technical level. While tools such as cookie tracking exist, challenger brands are taking advantage of additional and traditional marketing techniques including search engine optimization. SEO uses people’s search history as a basis for their online search results and can tailor recommendations for sites a consumer might see.

Digital marketing agencies such as Wpromote can also help challenger companies track people’s online purchase data to target ads at potential customers who have bought similar products or services. This data-based targeting capitalizes on a person’s interests and can help connect brands to customers who are truly interested in their products and services.

“Personalization is not just an advantage, but a necessity for challenger brands,” Aull says. “Understanding how users made it to their site or app — and what products or services they may be particularly interested in — will help challenger brands determine the right ads to highlight for each potential customer. The better that challenger brands are at meeting people at the right time with the right message, the more useful the information is to potential customers.”

When it comes to providing ads at the right time, location-based ads can do the trick. This tracking system presents ads for businesses in a particular radius, encouraging a customer to visit that business in real life. Location-based ads can be greatly beneficial to a variety of challenger brands — from brick-and-mortar retail stores to restaurants and lesser-known hotels.

Implementing Interactive Marketing through Social Media

As influential as social media can be for larger brand names, it is even more influential for challenger brands. While many corporations can feel stagnant and impersonal in their social media postings, challengers have truly stepped up their game when it comes to Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.

The women’s jewelry and accessories retailer Charming Charlie has done exceedingly well in connecting with its customers through interactivity. Their website features a #CCSTYLE page where customers can upload photos of their Charming Charlie purchases — be it jewelry, handbags, eyewear, scarves or shoes — and show off their personal styles. The retailer also encourages shoppers to post photos with the same hashtag on their Instagram accounts for the chance to be featured on the Charming Charlie Instagram.

Z Gallerie, the furniture and home décor brand, has also stood out on social media with 1 million followers on its Instagram account, challenging many big-name competitors. Not only does Z Gallerie offer an overall sophisticated tone with its photos, but the brand also features giveaways and posts from followers. These simple methods help attract a larger social media following and customer audience.

Marketing a product that is new and original, relating to customers on a cultural level, using data to customize an ad experience and providing an interactive edge in social media are just a few of the techniques challenger brands can employ to compete with larger companies.

Innovative Technologies To Improve Supply Chain Management

One of the most important business areas in any industrial facility is, of course, the supply chain. This is the point of operations that not only determine distribution efficiency but also the quality of the product a customer buys. Supply chain management is a key component of productivity and this has necessitated a paradigm shift in the way it is done. One of the most significant changes is the adoption of modern technology to enhance efficiency and accountability in the entire supply chain.

Computerized chain management has revolutionized modern business by allowing for better visibility and tracking. The technology allows for real-time monitoring of the entire chain including shipping and invoicing. The dynamism in technology products including smartphones, GPS devices, and tablets among others has also seen a steady rise in portable supply chain technology which is invaluable in monitoring the supply chain using wireless technology.

The key take away from this revolutionary technology is, of course, the flexibility it offers logistical managers in tracking and monitoring the entire chain. Supply managers can now make adjustments on the fly which averts disruptions in the supply chain. This in enhances customer satisfaction.

Global brands such as The John Deere Company are leveraging logistic management software to improve productivity in the supply chain. Others like Nike, in collaboration with DHL Supply Chain, are leveraging this technology to enable real-time monitoring of the warehousing and distribution process. In simple speak, integrating technology in supply chain management ensures:

  • Reduction in operational costs
  • Improved efficiency through reduction of errors
  • Greater customer satisfaction on the other end.

To appreciate the need for supply chain management (SCM) technologies, consider some practical innovations that have been adopted by industry leaders:

  • Radio Technology
    One of the greatest headaches for any supply chain manager is the increase in anomalies when an order is in transit. This not only leads to losses but eventually also has a negative impact on a brand. If a product is lost during transit, the supplier bears all the costs and moreover, they have to bear with the ensuing cost of disruption. By adoption of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, a company can effectively monitor every product both at the production line and in the supply line. RFID chips are placed on all items which helps employees to quickly detect any anomalies in an order. It is an innovative way of correcting a problem before it ruins the entire supply chain.
  • Advanced Weighing Technology
    One of the greatest encumbrances in the supply chain is in the weighing process. Outdated truck scales are still used in most industrial facilities which greatly compromise efficiency. Luckily, modern technology includes the ingenious on-board truck scales.These allow for seamless operations when access to platform scales is not available. The scales measure payload weight and the truck’s gross weight. They enhance productivity by ensuring a truck carries the maximum weight right from the point of loading while also saving time and money. The on-board truck scales have also been adopted as a safety guarantee to ensure operators within a warehouse for instance only carry the allowed weight on their lifts.
  • Social Media Revolution
    There are over 1.3 billion Facebook monthly active users (MAUs) and about 320 million MAUs. With such numbers, it makes more sense for modern businesses to leverage the power of social media to optimize their supply chain operations. It is an ingenious way to open more channels and remain in touch in real-time with all stakeholders in the supply chain. It is easy to respond to questions, report in real-time about incidences in the supply chain, report price changes, and also enhance visibility of the company.
  • Transport Management Software
    Computerized supplies management is the future of the business. The use of computerized shipping and tracking systems helps to integrate all operations from one panel. Moreover, it is now possible to have such a panel in your mobile device meaning you can organize your inventory data, manage shipping, monitor distribution and create an electronic bill of landing, all in the comfort of your office or while on the go. This enhances customer experience and reduces errors in the entire process.
  • Data Analytics
    The 21st century has aptly been labeled the information age and this is because of the amount of data readily available. Every new tool is generating copious volumes of data that is driving intelligence which the supply chain management can use effectively. Think of all sources of data from RFID, customer surveys, CRM transactions and call center logs and you appreciate that supplies management will soon be driven by big data just like the modern stock exchange market.
    Final Word
    The whole idea of adopting technology in supplies management is to simplify the process, thus eliminating redundancy. By allowing a seamless process, modern technology will not only help reduce costs but also minimize the risks imminent in the supply chain. This is an innovative way to stay ahead of the competition by enhancing customer satisfaction and improving efficiency.

Cross-cloud software development reaches to Azure

Back in the early 2000’s, while working as an architect in an IT consulting company, I became fascinated by the promise of service-oriented architectures. Taking an API-first approach to application development made a lot of sense to me, as did the idea of using a message- and event-driven approach to application integration. But that dream was lost in a maze of ever-more complex standards. The relatively simple SOAP’s take on remote procedure calls vanished as a growing family of WS-* protocols added more and more features.

It’s not surprising, then, that I find much of what’s happening in the world of cloud-native platforms familiar. Today, we’re using many of the same concepts as part of building micro-service architectures, on top of platforms like Kubernetes. Like SOAP, the underlying concept is an open set of tools that can connect applications and services, working in one public cloud, from on-premises systems to a public cloud, and from cloud to cloud. It’s that cross-cloud option that’s most interesting: Each of the three big public cloud providers does different things well, so why not build your applications around the best of Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud Platform?

Introducing the Open Service Broker

One of the key technologies for enabling this cross-cloud world is the open service broker. Building on the SOA concept of the service broker, the Open Service Broker API provides a way to take information from a platforms list of available services, automate the process of subscribing to a service, provision it, and connect it to an application. It can also handle the reverse, so when you no longer want to use a service, it removes the connection from your application instance and deprovisions the service.

Developed by a team from across several cloud-native platform providers, including Pivotal and Google, there are implementations for common platforms like Cloud Foundry, Kubernetes, and Open Shift. Microsoft has developing its own implementation of the Open Service Broker (OSB), with support for a selection of key Azure services, including Cosmos DB, Azure SQL, Azure Container Instances, and the Azure Service Bus.

OSB comes to Azure

Available on GitHub, the Open Service Broker for Azure (OSBA) installs on any platform that supports Open Service Broker, running anywhere. That’s a big advantage for developers wanting to take advantage of tools like Cosmos DB from applications running on AWS’s Kubernetes implementation or from an on-premises Cloud Foundry. It replaces Azure’s existing service brokers, with one common tool that’s developed in the open, rather than inside Microsoft.

Published under an MIT license, OSBA is an active project, with more than 340 commits and eight releases to date. The code is still under development, so while it’s alpha code that’s close to usable in production, there could be breaking changes between releases.

Getting the Open Service Broker for Azure working is easy enough: The project has a series of quick start documents to help bootstrap your projects. These samples include working with a local Minikube test instance, a Cloud Foundry installation, and AWS Kubernetes Clusters, as well on Microsoft’s own Azure Container Instances. Microsoft’s OSBA builds on work done by the Deis team, especially the Helm package manager. So you’ll need to start with Helm installed on your Kubernetes cluster, ready to install the service catalog and OSBA.

Using OSBA to manage service instances

Once you’ve installed OSBA, you can use the Kubernetes command-line tools to add new service instances. One important tool is the Azure CLI; this gives you access to Azure resources from your computer, with support for MacOS, Windows, and Linux. Once installed, you can use the CLI to collect the information you’ll need to work with OSBA, starting by logging in to Azure and listing available resources. You can simplify working with your tools by creating environment variables for any required login details and keys needed to handle provisioning Azure services, making it easier to automate operations without storing Azure log on details publicly. Once you’ve got this information, you can manage OSBA services running on Azure or check that services provisioned from elsewhere are set up and running.

With command-line access to Kubernetes, you can provision your Azure services directly from the service catalog before binding them to your application. Don’t forget that the process is asynchronous and can take some time, so any automation will need to check for completion before deploying and starting applications. A Kubernetes secret stores connection data for your service, ready for use in an application. Services can be deprovisioned the same way, first unbinding and then deprovisioning.

The same processes work across public and private cloud platforms, giving you a common environment for working with Azure services no matter where you code is running. Cloud portability is an important requirement for modern applications; using OSBA to provision access to Azure services from anywhere goes a long way to fulfilling that promise—making Microsoft’s cloud platform more accessible.

Getting your service APIs right

While the Azure implementation of Open Service Broker is clearly for use with Azure services, there’s nothing to stop you using an installation of the general-purpose OSB with your own services. That does mean you’ll need to think about how you’ll implement your own APIs, and how you’ll manage them. You can include OSBA calls in Kubernetes manifests or in Helm charts, so a single command line can deploy an application from the general service catalog, provision supporting services, and then launch the application. That way, an application that need MySQL support can run on Azure’s MySQL service.

That’s a big issue for any modern application, because it’s not only an issue of application design, it’s also one of application life cycles and lifespan. You’re no longer writing code for yourself; you’re writing it for every developer who’s going to use your service. You need to think about API design and development, looking at choosing the appropriate approach to take (choosing between RESTful and RPC and GraphQL) and how to consider versioning and deprecation.

While every API has its own unique use case, once you make it public your role changes: You’re no longer just a developer, you’re also a caretaker. Publishing services for use with Open Service Broker means you’re now committed to working on someone else’s timetable. As Okta’s Keith Casey points out, “Developers want to do something useful and then go home,” so your APIs need to be rock-solid and ready to go before you make them available through service catalogs and tools like the Open Service Broker.