Showing posts with label cloud solutions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cloud solutions. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Modern Customer Relationship Management

At April's Tech Talk Tuesday, we previewed six Modern Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems.

There are hundreds of CRM systems available. To focus on 6 , we looked for modern tools meet important criteria:

  • Web based 
  • Customizable 
  • Documented APIs 
  • Social Media Integration 
The six we experimented with are all excellent choices for managing customer databases. When it come to choosing one, the answer lies in choosing the right tool for the right business.


Highrise, from the makers of Basecamp is a Simple tool that works great for any small to medium size business. It integrates well with Basecamp, so for a typical web development shop that already uses Basecamp. this is a natural choice.


In the presentation above, Salesforce is referred to as the 800 pound gorilla of Cloud CRM.  Salesforce is widely implemented, and even has it's own programming language for customization. (APEX).


Zoho is the value play in choosing a CRM, giving you a feature rich CRM system and affordable pricing.  Zoho implementations are increasing faster than any other solution listed here.  They'e the rising star in Cloud solutions.


SugaCRM is is ideal for clients looking to host their own CRM system.  But there's also a hosted solution available.  The product uses what they call a "commercial open souce" license.


Insightly started of as a google app, and as a result integrates well with thing like Google Calendar.  Clients familiar Googles ecosystem should look closely at Insightly.


Nimble is a newcomer, and has a more modern feel than other CRMs listed here.  Nimble has some impressive Social Media integration features, allowing users to easily associate customer with online profiles. A cutting edge startup would play well with Nimble.

It's been a while since we created The App Train infographic, but these are the CRM systems we are looking a t now. Thy're a just a few of the many available.  What are your favorite CRM tools?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Using the Chromebook for Software Development

Recently I compared two nice chromebooks. The Acer 720P  and the HP 11.  Both laptops sell for around $200. I ended up buying the Acer because it has a touchscreen, and the  Haswell processor which has a long battery life.  The HP 11 would have been a great choice too, because it is so lightweight at 2.3 pounds, and charges with a standard USB charger, which would have lightened my travel bag even further.

Since then I've been using the Chromebook as my main software development machine. There are two reasons this works.

1)  Cloud Applications

The best software now runs in the cloud.

Cloud based Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) are the present and future of software development.   You can even share configurations across multiple users.  I work on some legacy projects where up to 80% of developers time is spent on configuring things like Environment Variables on the desktop. With the Cloud IDE,  repeating this nightmare for every new desktop is a thing of the past.

Fantastic utilities like Pixlr for quick graphic design, Google Drive for collaborative documentation,  Trello for task management and Bitbucket for source control make cloud developers instantly productive and happier.

2) Legacy Support

Not every software project is on the cutting edge.   When I need a specific desktop environment such as Windows, I rely on virtual machines to provide me that environment instantly.  Amazon Web Services is the pioneer in making endless resources available to Software Developers.  Their Free usage tier is a must for any engineer.  VMWare, Virtualbox and Windows Azure have also begun to provide virtual machines (VMs) in the cloud.

A hackers paradise

When it's time to play behind the scenes of the operating system,  Linux is a frequent choice.  Thanks to Crouton, You can now have an Ubuntu instance accessible from the Chrombook shell.   I already have legacy java projects running on my linux instance.  I work there when I don't want to utilize cloud resources. Linux is also great for running desktop software that can't be accessed from the cloud, such as the Kerbal Space Program, where I get to spend time above the clouds.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What is Fog Computing?

Are you in the mood for a new technology buzzword?  CISCO's marketing department is rolling with the term 'Fog Computing'.
The Fog is an extension of the Cloud.  So in Fog Computing, data is stored closer to the devices we use to access the internet. The benefit is a reduction of bandwidth and latency.
CISCO routers already live in this grey area between out devices and big data providers. CISCO is adding Linux operating systems to some of their routers, and manage frequently accessed data with a distributed network of these router on the edge of the cloud.
by David Flectcher

Naturally several definitions of Fog Computing mention another buzzword, The Internet of Things. But the concept of caching data nearby isn't new.   My paper Smart Technology for Big Data talks about how Facebook caches images close to users based on how likely the images will be accessed.  Today's article Forget 'the Cloud'; 'the Fog' Is Tech's Future in the Wall Street Journal reluctantly embraces the new term.
Welcome to the Fog.

Monday, May 5, 2014

An IT Department at your fingertips : Amazon's EC2

Amazon Web Services is an essential tool for a versatile software consultant. It gives us a vast array of possible configurations. This comes in handy when working out new ideas. But it's also great for installing and testing legacy code.

EC2 - Virtual Servers in the Cloud

The EC2 tab lets us create virtual machines of many flavors. You can test out AWS for a year using the free usage tier.

Don't have a copy of windows handy? Spin up an EC2 instance with Windows, then connect using remote desktop software.  You can also use a Linux box any time you desire.

There's much that can be done with these instances, even install X-Windows on a linux instance and connect from a Chromebook using Chrome Remote Desktop.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Running OpenTSDB on Amazon EC2

Although there are cheaper alternatives for production systems, It's easy enough to get The Open Time Series Database OpenTSDB running on an EC2 instance of Amazon Web Services.

  1. First you'll need to run HBase on EC2
  2. Make a data directory mkdir hbase_data
  3. vi hbase-0.94.13/conf/ hbase-site.xml
  4. Using vi update the hbase.rootdir property value to: file:///home/ec2-user/hbase-0.94.13/hbase-\${}/hbase
  5. sudo yum install git
  6. git clone git://
  7. sudo yum install automake
  8. yum install gnuplot
  9. cd opentsdb
  10. ./
  11. env COMPRESSION=NONE HBASE_HOME=path/to/hbase-0.94.X ./src/
  12. tsdtmp=${TMPDIR-'/tmp'}/tsd
  13. mkdir -p "$tsdtmp" 
  14. ./build/tsdb tsd --port=4242 --staticroot=build/staticroot --cachedir="$tsdtmp"
  15. In AWS, click on your EC2 instance, then click "Security Groups" at the bottom left.  Click on the default group, then click the "inbound" tab.  You can now open the ec2 port 4242. 
Your ip address on port 4242 will display the web UI for your instance of OpenTSDB:

  • Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    The App Train for your Business (InfoGraphic)

    The App Train

    Top 10 Cloud Apps for your Business introduced apps often used from the cloud. There are several vendors to chose from when implementing these apps. The infographic above shows some of the many options available.  Each vendor has their strengths. Choosing the right vendor depends on your needs and preferences.  Contact AppTrain for help with your cloud solutions.

    Document Management
    Google Drive
    Zoho Docs
    Amazon S3

    Project Management
    Zoho Projects
    Salesforce Do

    Website Publishing

    Zoho Invoice

    Customer Relationships
    Microsoft Dynamics

    Mailing Lists

    Version Control

    Issue Tracking

    Site Monitoring

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    Top 10 Cloud Apps for your Business

    Cloud Computing has graduated from being a technology buzzword to being an essential part of any business or organization. Let's take a look at the main categories off apps that have made the move from shrink wrapped software installed on our local clients, to web based clients that we can run from anywhere. Each of the ten apps covered here are provided by multiple vendors. Example apps are provided. Some of the leading vendors for each category are mentioned, along with a few AppTrain favorites.  Additional cloud apps for your business are listed in The App Train for your Business infographic.

    1. Email

    Email was the first business app that moved to the cloud. Even legacy organizations that still operate email servers now accommodate employees with web based email clients. In the AppTrain email comparison in March, GMail and Zoho Mail emerged as the front-runners for Email in the cloud.


    2. Document Management

    Cloud storage offers lower costs, better security, better integration, and improved productivity when compared to legacy office networks. The integration and productivity come from excellent Content Management tools that have evolved. Again Google and Zoho are the favorites in this space.


    3. Project Management

    Project Management tools will be the subject of a future AppTrain comparison article. BaseCamp is the forefather of the web based project management revolution. But the space is now quite crowed , and some excellent tools like Teambox are emerging.

    4. Website Publishing

    A clear favorite did not emerge from our Cloud Based Website Builder comparison. The quick site builders fall short when compared to publishing tools like WordPress and Joomla. It seems a Cloud Based Website Publisher Comparison would be more appropriate. Linux for You has an excellent WordPress vs Drupal vs Joomla comparison.

    5. Accounting

    For invoicing The in-house favorite here at AppTrain has been Freshbooks.  Freshbooks is a classic start in your parents basement company that is now an a accounting leader in the Cloud.

    6. Customer Relationships

    I'm not a big acronym guy. But  Saleforce has put CRM on the map and has branched into one of the leading cloud computing companies. SugarCRM entered this field not long after, and more recently Zoho has joined the game with , you could have guess it,   ZohoCRM. Leadmaster and Microsoft Dynamics certainly deserve consideration just for not using an acronym in their name.

    7. Mailing Lists

    When a customer wants to do email marketing, We beg them not to, and try to hip them to social media. But if they must, We refer them to MailChimp. It's good to know Monkey's are still finding work since the space program has cut back.

    8. Version Control

    Version Control is really document management for programmers. When a client starts developing software they're morphing into a competitor of AppTrain. To make the fight fair, we make sure they know about Unfuddle.  Unfuddle is a collaboration suite for programmers and includes project management and issue tracking along with version control.  The version control options are Subversion and Git but it's the integration with the other tools that sets it apart.

    9. Issue Tracking

    Things that don't work are called issues. When the issue with software it's called a bug. Do you think Unfuddle developers tracked issues in Bugzilla? Or the creators of Fogbuzz logged bugs in BaseCamp? All four of these tools are excellent, so more than likely, they ate their own dogfood.

    10. Site Monitoring

    Once a web site or product is in production, we want to make sure it stays working. Uptrends can check any site, verify content and perform multiple step transactions from multiple sites around the globe. They then send alerts via email or SMS when a site isn't performing properly. MxToolbox is a great tool for making sure your dns records are in order, and for staying off spam lists.  They also provide email alerts.

    By developing an effective cloud strategy, companies can obtain and keep a competitive edge over companies stuck spending money and time maintaining legacy in-house IT Infrastructures. AppTrain migrates existing infrastructures to cloud solutions, and provides training to help maintain productivity through a seamless transition to the cloud.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Cloud Based Content Management Comparision

    Cloud based Content Management is the service that holds other cloud applications together, similar to the way a traditional office network held together desktop services.  Email, Project Management and Web Site builders all need to be able to integrate with a Content Management service.  Few enterprises can afford to ignore the benefits of cloud based document management, or web based content management.  Cloud storage offers lower costs, better security, better integration, and improved productivity.

    Content Management in the Cloud has begun to share functionality with Cloud Based Website Builders. None of the tools in the Website Builder Comparision  article fared well.  The main reason is that focus is moving to the Content Management systems.

     Google DriveSkyDriveZoho Docs, and HyperOffice are all similarly priced, and offer generous free storage to get started.  Basic file editing is available from browsers and phones, but after that differences are significant.

    Microsoft SkyDrive

    is essentially SharePoint re-branded.  When you log into SkyDrive it runs from  Microsoft has progressed enormously over the past couple years in the world of cloud solutions and SkyDrive reflects that progress.

    Microsoft's strengths are still rooted in the desktop world, so every effort is made to integrate with those applications.  For a workforce comfortable with these tools,  SkyDrive is the clear choice for migrating to cloud based services.   SkyDrive can edit documents in just about every popular Microsoft format, and SkyDrive's integration with Microsoft Office sets it apart from competitors.


    "SkyDrive is a work in progress" concludes David Sobatta in his article comparing document management performance.  The lack of important features like uploading multiple files, collaboration among multiple editors,  autosave and versioning of documents is frustrating for anyone who has used the better tools available. SkyDrive needs work.

    Google Drive

     is the established leader in Web based content management.   Formerly called Google Docs, it's been around since 2007, and has continuously improved over that time.

    Most every capability needed to create edit and manage documents is available in the web based editor. The user interface consistently outperforms the competition in document management comparisons.  As Derrick Wlodarz explains,  "Google Apps brings an interesting breath of fresh air to the cloud platform market, while Microsoft feels like it’s forcing the tie-ins back to its desktop roots in order to make a cloud presence."  With not only a superior interface, but more functionality than the competition, Google Drive is a great choice for any business.

    Editing in Google Drive is fantastic, but you're forced to used their own formats. Editing a Microsoft document requires first converting into Google Docs format, and with complex documents, some formatting can be lost.  Many business users still need desktop capabilities to edit more complex Word documents and spreadsheets.


    Hyper Office Document Management incldues their Document Collaboration Solution. The file permissions, access control and version control are as good or better than any of the other three solutions. While Google Drive and Zoho both offer revision history,  HyperOffice provides complete version control with comments, audit trails, pruning, and overwrite protection.  There forms solution called HyperBase works as good as any other form provider as well.

    HyperOffice does not offer complete online editing tools.  Their approach is to leave editing to desktop applications.   HyperOffice also has a much smaller user base than other tools mentioned here, so Online support is limited.

    Zoho Docs

    Zoho has caught up with Google as fare as usability and features, and has even started to surpass them with support for some VBA scripts, and better sharing capabilities across different email providers.  Zoho's office tools work great in collaboration with their other products.  So if you love Zoho Mail, Projects, and Sites, then you'll love Zoho Docs.

    Some users have complained that  compared to Google Docs, Zoho Docs can be slow.  I didn't experience  this, but it's worth mentioning.  It's also worth noting the comment below the linked TechJotter article which says "In 2013, Zoho is so much better than Google Docs, it isn’t even funny."  Zoho is building a passionate fanbase, and if you check out their products you'll see why.

    Google DriveZoho Docs, HyperOffice and  SkyDrive have all made great strides in Document Management , or more broadly Content Management.  Cloud based content management is the key to success for tomorrow's business.  Google's lead in this field has been just about erased by the products at Zoho.  And the mighty Microsoft is starting to move in the right direction.  HyperOffice is promising, but has some work to do to compete with the 3 leaders in Cloud based Content Management.

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Cloud Based Website Builder Comparison

    Website builders have been primarily cloud based for some time now.  These tools are great for getting a basic site up and running quickly, but aren't designed for creating robust dynamic sites with lots of interactive accouterments . Google SitesMicrosoft SharepointZoho Sites, and HyperOffice Site Builder are all given away free with other products.  They each have their individual shortcomings. But none of them are ideal for supporting a feature rich website.   Small businesses that are successful will likely grow out of these tools quickly , and move to more professional Website solutions.

    Microsoft Sharepoint

    started of as a site builder called FrontPage. It has evolved into a web based content management system that specializes in building Wiki like intranets, and has Project Management capabilities. It is also the external website builder for Office365. This comparison  focuses on just the Website Builder.

    Because it also handles Project Management, Content Management and Wiki creation, the Site builder naturally integrates well with these tools. It's easy enough to get up a few web pages up quickly. It also has fine grained access control. If you create usernames for your members, it's good at building a Member Login section of your site.

    The user interface is dated. It can be pretty confusing trying to find out where to go to do simple things like changing font sizes. The available functionality seems haphazardly organized, and it doesn't easily lead to elegant looking websites. Sharepoint doesn't have many site templates. It also lacks the basic ability to preview a page you're working on without saving it to the live site first. Sharepoint has so much going on that it can be overwhelming when you're trying to handle simple tasks. But if your  in a corporation using Sharepoint, and you learn your way around it, you'll likely be able to help people out.  As they say in the IT industry when something is unnecessarily difficult to use, "It's job security".

    Google Sites

    was created from a product called JotSpot that Google purchased in 2008 .  It comes free with any Google Apps product, including Gmail.

    Google's user interface is plain simple.  You can get a site up in no time.  Sites also offers a wide selection of both templates and themes.  You can always go to html edit mode for fine tuned customization.  Plus, Google offers widgets to integrate with it's other services like Blogger, Checkout and Maps.  Sites is the only of four mentioned here that allows rolling back to previous versions of built pages, and store a version history.

    While there's an html edit mode, you can't edit the html you've inherited from either a theme or a template. Also javascript support is limited.  You can't reference javascript libraries from other sites.   Sites hasn't changed much from its inception.  However Google now allows creating hosted websites from Google Drive, so apparently more advanced site developing is happening over there.  Much like Microsoft's Sharepoint, the lines between Site creation and Content Management are becoming blurred.

    HyperOffice Site Publisher

    Has a great selection of tools to choose from in design mode, and has the best pure  HTML editor of the four.  

    Some of the tools are quirky.  I grabbed a 'horizontal toolbar' and a 'vertical toolbar' from 'Menus' and put them on a page, and they both positioned themselves horizontally. Then I couldn't add items to them.  A search for online documentation or a tutorial for page creation came up empty.  There's not a huge user community publishing tips or solutions. Site Publisher is an unfinished product.  This means that features could be added quickly so it's worth keeping an eye on the tool.

    Zoho Sites

    The Zoho Sites user interface is nice, and loads quickly. Like the others, you can get a site up in no time.   It has plenty of  useful templates.  And the templates give your site pages tremendous consistency.  Your site will have a great look and feel.  You can also upload custom pages form another source.

    There's no HTML edit mode.  And you can't add javascript to you site.  So the tool is limited.  Previous versions of pages aren't saved, and there's no autosave capability of sites you're working on and no javascript support.  Zoho is actively developing their products, and emailed to say that version support will be added in a future release. If they integrate more with their Content Management system, look for more features as well.

     Google Sites and Zoho Sites  were a bit easier to use and fared better than Microsoft Sharepoint and HyperOffice Site Builder.  But none of the tools are very impressive.  Expect them to be deprecated as additional features are added to Content Management sites, such as html and javascript editing, and DNS support. Google Drive has already added a feature called "Site Publishing",  and Amazon's S3 also can be configured to host a website. Watch for the other Content Management and storage solutions to evolve in the direction of site hosting as "Site Builders"  like the ones covered here become obsolete.

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Cloud Based Email Comparison

    Email was the first core business service that migrated to the cloud. Mainly because the benefits of web based email are immediately obvious to users.  No more clunky desktop email clients that end up corrupting archive files.  No more running out of storage space. And perhaps the kicker that necessitated the switch to the cloud, the ability to immediately access email from anywhere with any device.  GmailOffice365Zoho, and HyperOffice all have email solutions for businesses. After the quick comparison chart below,are some of the benefits and common criticisms unique to each solution. Ultimately your choice of email provider will be based on the ability to integrate with other cloud services including Contacts, Calendar,  Document Management, and Collaboration.


    is the undisputed leader in cloud based email service.  It was created in 2004 as an internal email client for Google employees.  It now has over 425 Million users, and is the email provider for over 5 million corporations.

    With it's widespread adoption, nearly everyone knows how to use Gmail.  And it's design revolutionized web based emails.  It has excellent integration with other Google services like Search, Drive, Calendar, Tasks and Voice.  Gmail is fast, flexible and clever.  Features are constantly being tested in Google Labs helping Gmail retain it's technology lead over the other email platforms.

    Despite being the crowd favorite, Gmail is not for everyone.  By default replies to emails are grouped as conversations. Although this feature can be disabled, it is off putting to some users.  Also Gmail embraces the concept of  tags over categories.  Again, this throws off some users who have gotten comfortable with older email clients.  Using filters can help new users get a handle on how tags work. Perhaps the criticism most often bought up by competitors is that Google parses emails for keywords, then uses these to show targeted ads. however this is only for free email accounts.  This is disabled by default with a paid account.


    is enterprise-grade email from Microsoft.  Microsoft is the undisputed leader in client server email.  Exchange server is used by the vast majority of fortune 500 companies as their messaging system.

    Nearly everyone in the corporate world has used Outlook.  It is the industry standard, and users like it.  The web based version is a familiar interface and easy to adapt to from the traditional client.  Microsoft bundles Outlook365 with their new cloud offering, Office365. It integrates with familiar tools such as Calendar and MS Word. So switching to Office365 from the desktop version is not a huge learning curve.

    Microsoft's move towards cloud applications , or software as service is exciting, but a bit late in the game. The Outlook web client works well, but mainly in Internet Explorer.  Some key features such as document integration don't work nearly as well in other browsers. And some features common to other web based email clients are missing.  Searching for text within attachments yields unpredictable results. document types such as pdfs can not be added to document management with a single click. And Outlook365 doesn't recognize iCalendar (.ics) files.   Where features lack, users are directed to use the Outlook desktop client, which defeats the purpose of moving to the cloud.  However Microsoft is notorious for catching up on the technology curve as in the days of Explorer vs. Netscape. It's just a matter of time before Microsoft adds features that web users want.

    Zoho Mail

    is part of Zoho Office which debuted in 2005 and is a great contender in cloud based office tools.  There are already over 7 million users of Zoho Office.

    Zoho is a company completely dedicated to working online.  Although a newcomer,  Zoho has the most comprehensive collection of cloud applications. The mail user interface matches every feature available from competitors, then adds a few, such as integration with social media. It's interface is packed with more features than Gmail, yet loads faster.  iCalendar files open up automatically. Look out Google.

    The new car smell is great, but the Zoho applications are still being fine tuned.  A search for text within an attached pdf file didn't turn up any results in Zoho Mail.  Currently only Gmail can handle that task.   However new features are being added quicker than any competitor.  If you want to be near the cutting edge without getting cut, Zoho mail is your product.


    , formerly WebOS, has been building an online collaboration suite since 2002.  HyperOffice has over 300,000 users. Once a company before it's time, perhaps their time has finally come.

    HyperOffice Email stacks up well with the rest of the crowd.  It's products were built with small businesses in mind.  The company takes pride in customer service, and is quick to offer phone support to its users. It has an impressive suite of products that integrate well with it's email.

    The HyperOffice user interface takes a bit of time to load. And it's not that intuitive.  The email search function does not allow for searching content of an email , never mind content of attachments. The site fails to detect when it's being viewed from a mobile device, making an already clunky interface unusable from a smartphone.  While Microsoft can afford to get by without a few features, a small company like HyperOffice cannot.  They have some work to do in order to compete with the other cloud email providers.

    Gmail, Office365, Zoho, and HyperOffice are all acceptable email solutions.  Choosing one will depend mainly on user preference.  Before making that decision, consider features in accompanying products in the providers overall office suite, and how well those products integrate with email and with each other.  The good thing is that all four companies offer free trials, so definitely try before you buy.

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