Author Archives: Harry Tarnoff

Introducing AmpUp, a Cloud-Based Enterprise Platform

AmpUp logo

We have developed a web-centric database tool called “AmpUp” used for rapid development of enterprise systems. Born out of necessity for supporting our customers, AmpUp has successfully demonstrated that it reduces implementation efforts and budgets by more than 50%.

Conceptually, the AmpUp tool is a wrapper between an organization’s data and its website. By providing a number of  high-level enterprise system functions for database access, user security and web page generation, developers are now able to concentrate the bulk of their time on their customers’ unique requirements.

AmpUp follows the cloud paradigm of Platform as a Service (PaaS). This is where AmpUp’s functions are available to a public or private cloud and can be shared across several systems. For customers with more sensitive applications, AmpUp is available for installation on their private Intranet as well.

While there is more technical information about AmpUp on the DataPlex website, in this article we would like to focus on these four features:

  • Automatically taps into existing databases
  • Provides instantaneous web forms and reports
  • Enables static and dynamic field dropdown selection
  • Easily adds data record navigation controls

Website Design and Smartphones: To Flash or Not to Flash (Part II)

In Part I, we discussed how relying on Flash for websites can lead to problems with smartphones that don’t support Flash. We recommended the solution of detecting whether Flash is installed and, if not, substituting an alternative such as a non-animated graphic image. But that can be rather boring and not in keeping with your site’s up-to-date and sleek philosophy.

In this Part II, we present how, for our clients, we have created Flash-like effects without using Flash at all. Who says that the alternative has to be a boring static image, right?

One word, JavaScript. JavaScript (JScript for Microscoft’s Internet Explorer) is the de facto client-side scripting language embedded in every modern-day browser that, if utilized properly, can be leverage to provide special effects without the need for Flash. All smartphone have to support JavaScript since so many website use it. Note: JavaScript is not the same as Java which, like Flash, needs to be installed in your browser separately and is not available on all device platforms. JavaScript is the only universal browser scripting language.

Let’s explore a few examples of what we can do with JavaScript.

Example 1:  Rotating and Fading Slideshow

Here’s where a spot in a web page is used to show one picture after another. In the old days, a few years ago, abruptly changing from one image to another was an accepted practice. As designers started to use Flash more, they leveraged Flash’s ability to fade one image out and another back in. Well, JavaScript can do that t0o.

Check out Example 1.

Apple eschews Flash technology, and that’s why there is and probably will never be any Flash support on the iPhone and iPad devices. If you go to Apple’s website, you’ll see them using this effect in many places.

Example 2:  Rotating, Fading and Sectioned Slide Show

One disbeliever who is now a happy client said, “so, you can rotate through images, but what about special effects?” We asked him to mention one, and he said “okay, can you have an image swipe across from left to right in three sections?” We worked for a bit and show him something similar to our second example here, and he was convinced.

See Example 2.

What is going on here is that there are actually several images next to one another, three panes as it were. The JavaScript code rotates through the images in tandem, offset by a small delay to get the desired effect. Note the combined effect of simultaneous sectioning and fading.

Example 3: Two-Dimensional Sectioned Slide Show

Just to prove our point without any doubt, we took our second example with horizontal sections and added vertical sections to generate two-dimensional sectioning with two rows and three columns.

See Example 3.

There are other possibilities limited only my our mutual imaginations. Like Flash, JavaScript can create the following effects:

  • image fade in / fade out
  • image scrolling
  • drop-down / slide
  • changing speed
  • changing color
  • rotation
  • zoom in / zoom out
  • sprite (individual image) control
  • overlaying / superpositioning
  • multiple image morphing
  • synchronization of disconnected animations

JavaScript is not as good as Flash in:

  • video playback
  • accurate sound and video synchronization
  • high frame rates for graphics
  • unlimited text font support
  • realtime user interaction

This comparison does not suggest that JavaScript is every bit as good as Flash in its handling of effects. Far from it. Flash is a much better environment for creating animation because it has a complete development platform for developing its code and a specialized environment in which to execute it.

That said, if you would like the maximum amount of interoperability especially with smartphones, that Flash is that much a better environment doesn’t matter. In that case, turn to JavaScript.

Since JavaScript doesn’t have an Adobe behind it pumping out development environments for creating animation, you will need to turn to a development firm that knows JavaScripts in’s and out’s, matches up what you’d like to see, and provides a custom solution for your site. While that might sound expensive, it’s really not as we have created JavaScript replacements for fractions of what the original Flash effort cost.

*     *     *

In our two-part article, we hope we’ve expanded your thinking about how not to use Flash, at least not for every animation. We would enjoy hearing from you if you’d like to see if we can help with your site animations.

At the Crossroads of Enterprise, Mobile and the Cloud

DataPlex helps you intersect enterprise, mobile and the cloud

Navigate the Intersection of Enterprise, Mobile and the Cloud

As a disruptive phenomenon in the realm of information technology, Cloud Computing is evolving quickly and driving changes both in the personal space and in the corporate world towards a more portable and web-centric infrastructure, particularly in such areas as sales, marketing, customer relations, logistics and fulfillment.

Back in  October 2008, we said “In only a matter of a couple short years, mobile computing with third party applications will become de rigueur, so it would be wise to plan for that eventuality.” It seems we’re on track.

More important than the introduction of the next generation electronic devices such as the latest iPhone and iPad is the prodigious convergence of enterprise IT with mobile computing with cloud-based services. If you missed it, our previous newsletter article “Exploring Cloud Computing” discusses the current state of personal and corporate services being provided over the Internet. It makes cases for when organizations with existing IT structures should explore moving some of their internal and commercial processes over to the cloud.

While one might understand that the cloud is basically a set of remote software services that can be leveraged to reduce the size and cost of in-house IT support, what he or she should also understand is how the growing shift to the cloud is affecting the types of devices and applications we all use.

DataPlex web designers update caterer’s website

Our professional web designers updated the web site for Cynthia Brooks Catering of Pasadena, California. We replaced their Flash-based slideshows with ones based on Javascript so that they website is viewable from smartphones and the new iPad.

Cynthia Brooks Catering webpage

DataPlex launches new website for Dynaroll Corp.

DataPlex website designers and software engineers tied together several web technologies to launch Dynaroll Corporation’s new state-of-the-art website. Dynaroll’s website is now the most extensive destination for all things ball bearings:  for ordering ball bearings, learning more about ball bearings, using ball bearings in assemblies, assembly production and qualification, and torque testing.  It consists of over 400 pages of technical information and bearing data.

Dynaroll webpage

Cloud Computing Issues

This is a sidebar to our Article “Exploring Cloud Computing“.

Here is a rundown on most of the current issues concerning cloud computing:

Security – While a leading edge cloud services provider will employ data storage and transmission encryption, user authentication, and authorization (data access) practices, many people worry about the vulnerability of remote data to such criminals as hackers, thieves, and disgruntled employees. Cloud providers are enormously sensitive to this issue and apply substantial resources to mitigating concern.

Reliability – Some people worry also about whether a cloud service provider is financially stable and whether their data storage system is trustworthy. Most cloud providers attempt to mollify this concern by using redundant storage techniques, but it is still possible that a service could crash or go out of business, leaving users with limited or no access to their data. A diversification of providers can help alleviate this concern, albeit at a higher cost.

Ownership – Once data has been relegated to the cloud, some people worry that they could lose some or all of their rights or be unable to protect the rights of their customers. Many cloud providers are addressing this issue with well-crafted user-sided agreements. That said, users would be wise to seek advice from their favorite legal representative. Never use a provider who, in their terms of service, lays any kind of ownership claim over your data.

Data Backup – Cloud providers employ redundant servers and routine data backup processes, but some people worry about being able to control their own backups. Many providers are now offering data dumps onto media or allowing users to back up data through regular downloads.

Data Portability and Conversion – Some people are concerned that, should they wish to switch providers, they may have difficulty transferring data. Porting and converting data is highly dependent on the nature of the cloud provider’s data retrieval format, particular in cases where the format cannot be easily discovered. As service competition grows and open standards become established, the data portability issue will ease, and conversion processes will become available supporting the more popular cloud providers. Worst case, a cloud subscriber will have to pay for some custom data conversion.

Multiplatform Support – More an issue for IT departments using managed services is how the cloud-based service integrates across different platforms and operating systems, e.g. OS X, Windows, Linux and thin-clients. Usually, some customized adaption of the service takes care of any problem. Multiplatform support requirements will ease as more user interfaces become web-based.

Intellectual Property – A company invents something new and it uses cloud services as part of the invention. Is the invention still patentable? Does the cloud provider have any claim on the invention? Can they provide similar services to competitors? All good questions and answerable on a case-by-case basis.

Once someone understands that cloud computing potentially suffers from much of the same fate as proprietary systems, the question becomes “do the advantages of using the cloud outweigh my concerns?” For low-risk operations and for insensitive information, the answer can easily be “yes.” Realize that cloud-based services can be backed-up, verified, double-checked, and made more secure by combining them with traditional non-cloud IT processes.

The Different Types of Cloud Computing

This is a sidebar to our Article “Exploring Cloud Computing“.

Here is a list of the five most common types of cloud computing.

Software as a Service (SaaS) – a single application, library of applications, an API of web services, infrasructure or development platform users who are not necessarily aware of one another interact with through their browsers; Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Zoho Apps are a few examples. Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) are closely related derivatives of SaaS.

Utility Computing – specialized apps coupled with dynamically reconfigurable resources with often a significant reliance on virtualization for ease of maintenance, portability and scalability.

Managed Services – piecemeal software extensions for existing IT departments such as virus scanners for email or remote desktop managers.

Service Commerce Platforms – a hybrid of SaaS and Managed Services presenting an automated service bureau. Think ADP.

Internet Integration – a combination of any or all of the above, from the same or different providers over a common “service bus,” today in its infancy. The “bus” is a standardized data transfer subsystem which allows different providers’ service elements to be plugged in and swapped out, allowing data to be shared across different providers and giving competitive choice to the user.

These services are provided by “cloud service providers,” also called “cloud vendors” or “cloud providers” for short. A “public cloud” provider is one who purveys services to pretty much anyone on the Internet. The largest public cloud provider in the world is amazon.com’s Amazon Web Services. A “private cloud” is a proprietary network or a data center that supplies hosted services to a limited number of other organizations or people. When public cloud resources are used to create a private cloud, the result is called a “virtual private cloud.” Private or public, cloud computing provides easy, scalable access to computing resources and IT services.

Police Field Reporting Enterprise System

We have been awarded the contract to create a police department electronic field-reporting system (EFRS) where officers in the field enter incident information directly into a computer instead of onto paper for later transcription. EFRS taps into the Emergency 911 System as well as the Ticketing System to populate as many data fields automatically as possible, saving the officers time and effort.

EFRS uses our new AmpUp enterprise tool for fast enterprise systems deployment. For this brand new system, we used AmpUp to take the MySQL database schema we created to automatically create data entry forms and reports. We touched up the field placement and substituted some forms based on Microsoft Word.

Learn more about our Enterprise System services.

Learn more about our AmpUp tool.

Learn more about us.

Exploring Cloud Computing

Volume 4, Number 1

Could You Be Using It Someday?

We have entered an era of Things Cloud: “cloud storage,” “cloud computing,” or, just simply “the cloud,” referring to how IT personnel often represent the Internet in their diagrams. Are there opportunities to save money or get improved processes by moving to the cloud? In our analysis, we find that the answer is a qualified “probably so.”

The Cloud

Most business have already encounter the first embodiment of the cloud, “cloud storage,” also know widely as “online storage,” where data is kept not on your local computer but “somewhere” on the Internet, often accessed through a web portal that serves as a user interface for storage and retrieval. Flikr, Gmail, Facebook, and Remote Backup are examples of large implementations of cloud storage. While cloud storage has been around for a while, the cloud-based concept is in the process of evolving into not just providing data storage but operations on that data as well. We’ve entered the age of “cloud computing.”

Android-based Smartphones – Google’s Nexus One and Motorola’s Droid

Will Motorola’s Droid or Google’s Nexus One trump Apple’s iPhone?

The latest entries into the mobile computing market are the Motorola’s Droid and Google’s Nexus One, both based on Google’s powerful new Android 2.0 Operating System. Some reviewers have called these smartphones “iPhone killers.” Are they really? What does Android represent to mobile computing?

The Droid and Nexus One are both very capable devices, and they outperform the iPhone in several ways. Some if not most of their specifications indeed surpass those of the iPhone 3GS, Apple’s most recent offering, which, by the way, isn’t terribly surprising for two-year newer smartphone designs.

The Android devices tout a larger screen size, the ability to replace batteries, better voice control, application multitasking, turn-by-turn navigation like a standalone GPS device, and a less restrictive app marketplace. The iPhone has much more and better managed memory, seamless integration with its iTunes and app stores, a more protective app marketplace, a more fluid gesture-based interface, and a greater variety of more polished apps.

At DataPlex, we think of Android 2.o devices as different animals, less as direct competition for the iPhone and more as a gap-filler, particular for Verizon, the cellphone carrier that desperately needed a smartphone facelift. Many people will select Verizon smartphones because of their high-quality 3G network which is arguable better than that of AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive carrier. Others will cite the lack of availability of add-on apps for the Android devices as compared to the enormous quantity and variety of apps available for the iPhone.

We see the Droid and Nexus One dropping into the space between the uber-business-focused Blackberry and the sleek, arty iPhone, and some new apps will just make more sense for the Android platform than they will on those for other smartphones. Android will help make more accessible business and enterprise applications.

Don’t feel bad for Apple. Apple has never sought purely to dominate a market. Rather, it looks to make its offerings attractive and easy-to-use, particularly with the overall intent of integrating them seamlessly with the rest of its product line. Alternately, the Droid and Nexus One come across as capable, feature rich devices, but ones with some rough edges and some complexity in the veins of the longstanding PC vs. Mac debate. Apple has its followers and the attraction of its more polished market. Rumor has it that Apple will releasing its next iPhone version mid-2010, that is, after it releases its also-rumored tablet. Don’t be surprised if it incorporates some of Android’s new features.

To learn more about the differences between the Droid, Nexus One and the iPhone, read the following posts. As you mull over what they say, you’ll identify with what is important to you.

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg on his first impressions of Google’s Nexus One as compared to the iPhone:

http://ptech.allthingsd.com/20100105/googles-nexus-one-is-bold-new-face-in-super-smartphones/

GoGrid’s Technology Evangelist Michael Sheenan reports on a week he spent with the Droid:

http://www.hightechdad.com/2009/11/20/a-week-with-the-verizonmotorola-droid-by-an-iphone-addict/

Here, Technologist and TV Journalist Shelly Palmer provides a clear report card comparison of the iPhone, Droid and RIM Blackberry:

http://www.shellypalmermedia.com/2009/11/29/my-new-verizon-droid-plus-the-iphone-blackberry-droid-report-card-and-review/

Ars Technica has posted a very complete and technical analysis of the Droid sprinkled with comparisons to the iPhone:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/reviews/2009/12/review-of-the-motorola-droid.ars/

A bunch of pictures of the Nexus One:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2010/01/photo-gallery-googles-nexus-one.ars

Also, don’t forget that the Droid and Nexus One are only the first swath of Android 2.0 devices rolling out over the next several months, so be sure to watch for the latest in smartphone offerings. A good site to do that is:

 http://www.phonedog.com

Should you like any advice on your smartphone selection, feel free to drop me a note. Also, if you’d like to stay on top of things electronic from my perspective, you are invited to follow me on Twitter @DataPlexCEO.