Tag Archives: wireless

Tech Tips From The Nonprofit Technology Conference

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in May of 2010.

Last month, I reported on the first annual Tech Track, a series of sessions presented at the April, 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. In that post I listed the topics covered in the five session track. Today I want to discuss some of the answers that the group came up with.

Session 1: Working Without a Wire

This session covered wireless technologies, from cell phones to laptops. Some conclusions:

The state of wireless is still not 100%, but it’s better than it was last year and it’s still improving Major metropolitan areas are well covered; remote areas (like Wyoming) are not. There are alternatives, such as Satellite, but that still requires that your location be in unobstructed satellite range. All in all, we can’t assume that wireless access is a given, and the challenge is more about managing staff expectations than installing all of the wireless by ourselves. It will get there.
Wireless security options are improving. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), remote access solutions (such as Citrix, VNC andTerminal Services) are being provided for more devices and platforms, and the major smartphone companies are supporting enterprise features like remote device wipes.
Policy-wise, more orgs are moving to a module where staff buy their own smartphones and the companies reimburse a portion of the bill to cover business use. Some companies set strict password policies for accessing office content; others don’t.

Session 2: Proper Plumbing

This session was pitched as covering virtualization and other server room technologies, but when we quizzed the participants, virtualization was at the top of their list, so that’s what we focused on.

We established that virtualizing servers is a recommended practice. If you have a consultant recommending it and you don’t trust their recommendation, find another consultant and have them virtualize your systems, because the recommendation is a good one, but it’s a problem that you don’t trust your consultant!
The benefits of virtualization are numerous — reduced budgets, reduced carbon footprints, instant testing environments, 24/7 availability (if you can upgrade a copy of a server and then switch it back live, an advanced virtualization function).
There’s no need to rush it — it’s easier on the budget and the staff, as well as the environment, to replace standalone servers with virtualized ones as the hardware fails.
On the planning side, bigger networks do better by moving all of their data to a Storage Area Network (SAN) before virtualizing. This allows for even more flexibility and reduced costs, as servers are strictly operating systems with software and data is stored on fast, redundant disk arrays that can be accessed by any server, virtual or otherwise.

Session 3: Earth to Cloud

The cloud computing session focused a lot on comparisons. While the general concern is that hosting data with a third party is risky, is it any more risky than hosting it on our own systems? Which approach is more expensive? Which affords the most freedom to work with our data and integrate systems? How do we manage disaster recovery and business continuity in each scenario?

Security – Everyone is hackable, and Google and Salesforce have a lot more expertise in securing data systems than we do. So, from a “is your data safe?” perspective, it’s at least a wash. But if you have sensitive client data that needs to be protected from subpoenas, as well as or more than hackers, than you might be safer hosting your own systems.
Cost – We had no final answers; it will vary from vendor to vendor. But the cost calculation needs to figure in more than dollars spent — staff time managing systems is another big expense of technology.
Integration and Data Management – Systems don’t have to be in the same room to be integrated; they have to have robustAPIs. And internal systems can be just as locked as external if your contract with the vendor doesn’t give you full access and control over your data. This, again, was a wash.
Risk Management – There’s a definite risk involved if your outsourced host goes out of business. But there are advantages to being hosted, as many providers offer multiply-redundant systems. Google, in particular, writes every save on a Google Doc or GMail to two separate server farms on two different continents.
It all boils down to assessing the maturity of the vendors and negotiating contracts carefully, to cover all of the risks. Don’t sign up with the guy who hosts his servers from his basement; and have a detailed continuity plan in place should the vendor close up shop.
┬áIf you’re a small org (15 staff or less), it’s almost a no-brainer that it will be more cost-effective and safer to host your email and data in the cloud, as opposed to running our own complex CRMs and Exchange servers. If you’re a large org, it might be much more complex, as larger enterprise apps sometimes depend on that Exchange server being in place. But, all in all, Cloud computing is a viable option that might be a good fit for you — check it out, thoroughly.

I’ll finish this thread up with one more post on budgeting and change management in the next few weeks.

How Technology Might Shape The Future Of Our Cities

This was originally posted on the Earthjustice Blog in May of 2009.

The future is now — at least, the future is now in theaters. And what the future looks like, particularly, our cities in the future, is highly disputed in the pop culture realm.

Take this article contrasting Star Trek‘s vision of San Francisco with Terminator: Salvation’s view of same. One movie envisions a future where the threat of global warming was either contained, or just not the threat that we know it is; the other a future where our technology stood up and ravaged the planet before climate change had a chance.

I’d say the chances that San Francisco will look as shiny and steely as Star Trek predicts are about as likely as the machines becoming sentient and taking over; we’re in for something different, and what our cities will look like depends heavily on how quickly and creatively we can harness technology to work with our planet, instead of against it.

Mitchell Joachim, one of the founders of Terrefuge, an Ecological Design Collaborative for Urban Infrastructure, Building, Planning, and Art, was on the Colbert Report recently, speaking about the radical work his group does in envisioning how an eco-friendly city might work.

It’s a vision that seems half scientific, half Dr. Seussian, but, given the impending dangers we face with climate change, seems particularly apt. We’re not going to solve these problems without a huge amount of creativity and a willingness to accept what would normally seem unacceptable. In that light, Joachim’s ideas are particularly refreshing. Consider these proposals:

The Fab Tree Hab is living, organic housing. Vegetation is prepped with technology that plots the growth; these homes are edible, producing food and shelter simultaneously. As Joachim explains it: “The Fab Tree Hab presents a sophisticated methodology to grow homes from living native trees. This 100% living habitat is prefabricated using Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) reusable scaffolding, manufactured off-site in advance. These scaffold sections can be readily shipped and assembled to fit local tree and woody plant species. Therefore, we enable dwellings to be a fully integrated part of an ecological community.”

Joachim re-envisions transportation as something soft, squishy, and self-powering, in the form of SOFT Cars and Blimp Bumper Buses. S.O.F.T. stands for Sustainable Omni Flow Transport. Cars would be safer and recyclable, with most of their electronics stored in the wheels, allowing for comfortable rides, milder collisions, and stackable recharging stations.

The Blimps would be made of organic materials and self-charging. Going at a rate of 15 miles an hour, commuters would just hop on and off of the seats dangling down from the vehicles. The world that Joachim is pitching is not only one that is ecologically sustainable; it’s also pretty pleasant! It’s not a vision of “back to nature” as much as it’s a vision of moving forward with nature.

Of course, Joachim isn’t the only one thinking about cities and greenhouse gases.Cisco’s Urban Green IT Initiative proposes municipal wireless projects, enhanced public transportation, and environmentally-focused building standards as immediate priorities. Per Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, one of the three cities kicking off the initiative:

Cities are responsible for 75 percent of the planet’s energy use. Sixty percent of the world will live in cities by 2030, and global electricity use will grow by more than 35 percent. We’ve got to get something started now to hold off detrimental effects to the environment that have already begun.

I’m as big a fan of the Hollywood sci-fi epics as anyone, but I hope we’re also paying attention to people like Mitchell Joachim and the others who are truly envisioning a future where the benefits of technology work in concert with the natural power and beauty of our planet to support a sustainable urban lifestyle.

As Earthjustice works to stem the damage being done to our planet, let’s concurrently focus on the improvements that we can make as we face the sometimes daunting challenge of climate change.