Three Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Public Cloud


As a cloud consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to see dozens of different public cloud implementations – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Regardless of where you are on your journey, every organization faces challenges – whether unexpected costs, unplanned outages or security-related issues. In my experience, most are avoidable with a little extra planning.

As you invest more time and treasure in the cloud, I recommend the following to build the foundation to keep your cloud strategy moving in the right direction.

Embrace the Practice of ‘Least Privilege’

Most IT organizations are under intense pressure to provide cloud-based resources as quickly as possible. For the sake of speed, relatively junior people, or those who aren’t accountable for cost overruns, are given blanket rights to deploy whatever they want. I’ve seen organizations incur unnecessary costs due to people standing up workloads they don’t need. I’ve also seen outages occur because someone with universal access has inadvertently shut down infrastructure.

For most, privileges should be based on the minimum requirements to do their job and nothing more. In some cases, that means being able to stand up a workload or create a database – full stop. It takes a little extra time and forethought but abiding by the principle of ‘least privilege’ is one of the foundational practices I recommend to anyone looking to save time, money and grief.

Manage API Keys with Care

APIs are integral to life in the cloud. They enable functions and allow systems to share information. But if not handled properly, they pose a significant risk to your enterprise.

All too often API keys are stored in scripts or programs. This is of particular concern when developers use publicly accessible services like GitHub to manage code development. All it takes is someone outside your organization getting their hands on an API key to access your environment. If the owner of the key happens to have universal admin rights, they can then do whatever they like with your cloud infrastructure. I’ve seen organizations on the receiving end of substantial bills because an unscrupulous individual has used their infrastructure to add computing muscle for Bitcoin mining, among other activities.

I recommend never assigning an API key to anyone who doesn’t need it and for those who do, ensure you’re practicing the principle of ‘least privilege.’ That way, unless they have universal admin rights, you’ll limit the damage. You can also rotate API keys the same way you rotate your passwords. Better yet, by using IAM Roles in Amazon Web Services or Key Vault in Azure, you can generate temporary credentials at random, making it almost impossible for API keys to fall into the wrong hands.

Good Policy and Governance Saves Money

I’ve met with many CTO’s who express frustration with the unchecked growth of their cloud spending. More often than not, we discover that IT is adding cloud resources to support application development and then failing to decommission them after the completion of the project.

So-called ‘compute sprawl’ is one of the biggest contributors to cost-overruns. Abiding by the principle of ‘least privilege’ gives you a head start by only entrusting those to deploy workloads who can be held accountable.

Even so, you need a tool that can continuously monitor cloud usage. The Softchoice Cloud Dashboard is a great resource because it allows you to track consumption in real-time by department, project and individual user. It’s also free!

Documented policy and governance for how cloud resources are requested and retired are perhaps the best medicine of all. For example, when requesting resources, the amount and lifespan for cloud-based compute should be specified at the outset. As you near the end of the project lifespan, reach out to see if an extension is required, and, if not, decommission the infrastructure at the agreed upon date. Many governance activities can be automated using APIs, saving time in the long run.

You can also tag resources to delineate between production as well as testing and development environments. Tagging resources allows you to generate reports that give a snapshot of your infrastructure and zero in on areas with low utilization so you either look for opportunities to consolidate or shut them down altogether.

Avoiding the most common mistakes isn’t that complicated. But it does take time and a little foresight. If you’ve got a best practice or a question, I’d love to hear it. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Learn more about avoiding cloud computing mistakes. View our latest Cloud Governance event presentation:


Unleashing Productivity: Softchoice CEO David MacDonald’s address to the CD Howe Institute

The following is a keynote address delivered by David MacDonald, President and CEO of Softchoice, delivered at the CD Howe Institute in Toronto on May 18, 2016.

Unleashing Productivity: The Role of Innovative Technology in Canada’s New Economy

Good afternoon, everyone.

Today, I want to talk to you about the disruptive technologies that are shaping the world around us, and how we, as Canadians, can take advantage of them to nurture a more productive, competitive, and true 21st Century economy.

Before we start, I want to tell you something about myself. I don’t just lead a company that sells technology, I really love technology. You remember those old Hair Club for Men commercials? “I’m not only the President, I’m also a client”?

I believe technology has the power to unleash the potential of people. It has the power to make businesses more productive and to help them compete on a global scale. Technology can help to diagnose, treat and cure diseases. It can give people regardless of financial standing access to the learning they need to build a better life. Technology is the great leveler. And in 2016, we’ve only just scratched the surface of what we can do with it.

I believe we are on the cusp of the next great age in human history. An Age of Potential. And technology is leading us into this new frontier. Over the last couple decades, very smart people have made some very incredible breakthroughs in technology from new connected devices and new computing systems, to cloud-based services and artificial intelligence.

Who knew that when we watched The Jetsons in their flying car all those years ago that a completely self-driving car would be a MUCH bigger deal? And they’re not too far off from hitting the streets of Toronto.

As far as we’ve already come – from the days of floppy disks and dial-up Internet – within the next couple years we’re going to see innovation accelerate and technologies used in ways that seemed like science fiction not too long ago.

This new era of accelerated productivity and innovation will be akin to the Machine Age, which reached its peak about a century ago. It will produce immense gains in productivity, new jobs, new services, and corresponding gains in our quality of life. It will quickly change the business landscape and societal norms. Business leaders will either need to adapt or risk losing everything.

In the Machine Age, entrepreneurs took the great innovations of the Industrial Revolution, and built upon them, and built upon them, and built upon them. It changed not just what we made, but how we made it.

This is the era that gave us the assembly line, mass production strategies, and the division of labor. Suddenly the craftsman that would build an entire product from start to finish gave way to specialized workers who would use new single-purpose machines to perform one specific task before sending the product on down the line.

There’s no better example of this in action than the originator himself, Henry Ford. In 1910, in their first year of mass production, assembly line workers built 19,000 Model-T cars. Two years later, they made 78,000. Two years after that, they made 261,000 – from that same single location.

It’s because they continued to invest in innovation to optimize processes and the tools they used. Within those first four years, they went from building a single Model-T every 12 hours to every 93 minutes. Within a decade, they were making one per minute.

This seismic economic shift from the farm to the factory also translated to gains in quality of life. From automobiles to radios to vacuum cleaners – mass production made things cheaper to build, more readily available to the public, and more affordable to the middle class. The skills gap it created fueled the need for better education, which ultimately led to a public school system.

A growing economy meant better public infrastructure from roads and bridges to electricity and water works. People started to live longer. By comparison, in 1900, the average life expectancy in Canada was 47 years for a man and 50 for a woman. Today, it’s over 80. In 1900, 70 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, today it’s just 11 percent.

Our World is About to Change

Like the Machine Age, today we’re seeing entrepreneurs and innovators build on and advance the products and services we use every day. The founders of Uber, for example, didn’t invent the smartphone. They don’t own a fleet of cars. They simply developed an app – a ride sharing app – that people find more user friendly, more efficient, and less expensive than taking a regular cab.

To show how far we’ve come from Henry Ford’s Model-T, Google plan to bring a self-driving car to market before this decade is out. A self-driving car! Their prototypes have already logged over 1.5 million miles of highway and city driving.

Recent statistics show 94 percent of traffic accidents in the United States are from human error. Globally, over a MILLION lives are lost in traffic accidents every year. Self-driving cars would not only virtually wipe out these stats, they would also double the capacity of our current road networks – DOUBLE – with efficiency gains to be found in everything from shipping and deliveries to daily commutes, to reallocating first responders like police and paramedics to other emergencies. Think of what that will do for our cities!

Who remembers Watson? IBM’s question-answering computer that beat two all-time Jeopardy champions? Well, developers at Google reached a new milestone in artificial intelligence this year and, just like Watson on Jeopardy, it came from the challenge of beating humans at their own game.

The Chinese board game Go is considered more complex than chess, because it has a larger board with a broader scope for play, on average longer games, and more alternatives to consider per move. It’s so hard for humans to learn a strategy for Go, it was once thought impossible to teach a computer to play the game at a master level, because it requires the program to mimic more elements of human thought than chess and certainly more than Jeopardy. But just two months ago, Google’s AlphaGo became the first computer to beat a world champion – and the machine won four out of five games.

While these innovations started out as fun challenges to beat, the applications of the technology have tremendous real world potential – in manufacturing, energy, health care, finance, education, every sector. Computers doing complex automated tasks more efficiently and effectively than we can – from driving cars, to diagnosing medical conditions, to manufacturing goods and managing supply chains.

What is Driving These Innovations? 

So what trends, what disruptive technologies are driving this new accelerated era of productivity and innovation? Technology consultants, Gartner, have coined them the Nexus of Forces. These are Cloud, Mobility, Social Technology, and Big Data Analytics. I’m sure you’ve all heard these terms before, but who can really define them and why they’re so important to business productivity?

Starting with the most common… Cloud is a general term for the delivery of hyper-scale computing over the Internet. Instead of building and maintaining an IT infrastructure that is physically in your office building, you’re essentially renting space as needed from a third party vendor, and accessing it over the Internet.

Mobility, along with Cloud, is also shaping our work habits and how we access information. Mobile devices like laptops, tablets, smartphones, and wearables like the Apple Watch are becoming more prevalent in the workplace. They allow us to unplug from our desks and perform business tasks from virtually anywhere, anytime. Mobility has also given rise to location-based services, which use your GPS position to provide information based on your immediate surroundings – helping us find a nearby restaurant or pharmacist, to order an Uber car, or notify us of a sale from inside the shopping mall.

Social Technology is essentially any technology that facilitates social interactions. Think web conferencing. Think social media like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Taken together with Cloud and Mobility, Social Technology brings us virtually together and allows us to collaborate and communicate in real time.

All of our online interactions, social or otherwise, are being monitored and catalogued by businesses, creating enormous amounts of data. In fact, the total amount of data that industries capture and store doubles every single year. That’s why they call it Big Data! The websites we visit, the purchases we make, the ads we click on, the terms we search for, the things we post and like on social media… businesses today are turning this data into actionable outcomes: better understanding and targeting customers, streamlining businesses processes, and optimizing performance.

Gartner recently added a fifth trend to their Nexus of Forces, which ties the first four together, and that’s the Internet of Things. This is a term for a network of everyday objects – devices, vehicles, buildings, home appliances – with network connectivity that allows them to collect, send and receive data. Whenever you hear an object referred to as ‘smart’ this is what they’re talking about. Smartphone, smart car, smart home. You might already own a smart thermostat or smart washing machine in which your thermostat communicates with your washer to start a load when you’re not even home and when it’s most cost-efficient. On a larger scale we’ll soon have smart cities in which traffic lights co-ordinate during rush hour based on traffic algorithms and real-time data like car accidents and road closures.

This Nexus of Forces are already having a tremendous impact on the business world. These are not fads, and they won’t die out in a couple years. These are the driving forces of innovation, accelerated productivity, and business analytics that are helping organizations to better understand their customers, introduce new products and services, and gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Why Should You Care? 

Fifty years ago, the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company was 75 years. Today, it’s just 15 years. That’s 75 to 15 years in half a century. And it’s getting shorter.

So what changed? Technology has shifted the balance of power in favor of the consumer and the agile entrepreneur. Never before have your customers had more choice or been better informed about their choices than today.

That shift is challenging the established order, creating new market opportunities, and forcing us to try new things to maintain strategic relevance and deepen their loyalty. Sometimes those things don’t work as planned, but it’s always the companies with an eye for innovation – and the guts to go after it – that survive.

You can bet if you’re not keeping up with the changing needs and expectations of your customers, then someone else will. If you’re not leveraging modern tools and technology to improve productivity, you will lose ground to your competition or some new kid on the block who comes out of nowhere to take your market share.

For every Uber, there’s a Beck Taxi. For every Netflix, there’s a Blockbuster. For every Apple, unfortunately, there’s a Blackberry.

At Softchoice, I’ve led the transformation of our business in recent years from a reseller to a full IT solutions and managed services provider. We needed to change to stay ahead of our customers’ needs in the face of growing complexity of IT. Nobody buys software from a box anymore.

As an example, before Cloud, Softchoice earned a significant portion of our revenues from selling and managing software licenses for our customers. Microsoft was, and still is our biggest partner. Only now, we’re #1 in Canada and #2 in the US for deploying Microsoft Cloud technologies like Office 365 and Azure – their cloud computing platform.

When the world around us changes, we are forced to adapt… to advance… to innovate… to find new ways to fulfill customer needs. In business, as in life, the more urgent the need… the quicker we must rise to the occasion.

How Can We Capitalize? 

So, how can we as Canadians make sure we’re on the right side of progress? How can we take advantage of this accelerated era of technological innovation?

#1. Business leaders need to rethink their business models and look at where disruptive technologies can give them an edge.

Canadian businesses have long been slow to adopt leading-edge technologies. We’re behind many of our peer countries when it comes to investing in new technologies and innovation. Canada’s ICT (or information and communications technology) investment per worker is half of that in the United States – and the trend line is going in the wrong direction. Whether they see it as too expensive, too risky or too complex Canadians are reluctant to implement new systems that will enhance their competitive position.

Productivity is one of the most important factors of determining a country’s future prosperity, as it’s a measure of how efficiently and sustainably we’re producing our goods and services. Canada’s labor productivity, while getting more efficient, has been growing slower than other top performing countries for decades. This needs to change now.

There are tremendous productivity advantages to Cloud that give even small businesses the same computing power as multinational corporations. It’s infinitely scalable, you only pay for what you need, and it removes the hefty capital investment for an on-premises, complex IT environment. A recent Harvard Business Review article reported that 74 percent of businesses believe cloud computing has given them a competitive advantage. The main reason is that they felt cloud enabled them to “capitalize on opportunities more quickly” than their competitors.

We can’t hold ourselves back with data residency concerns over where that data is being stored. If the CIA can work securely in the Cloud, then so can our government, banks and large enterprises.

In addition to productivity gains, a recent Softchoice study found that North American workers truly do value Mobility. Most people want greater autonomy over their work week, even if it means working outside the 9-to-5. Technology is enabling that. 70 percent of the workers we surveyed said they’d be prepared to quit their jobs for an employer that gives them more flexibility over where and when they work. As the millennial demographic grows in the workforce, implementing this type of mobility will be key in attracting and retaining the industry’s top talent.

And #2. We have to regain that entrepreneurial spirit of the Machine Age and invest in innovation again.

Canadians have some natural advantages that put us in a position to succeed. We’re a natural trading partner to the biggest economy in the world. We have a vast country in terms of size, resources and people. We grew up reading the Corn Flakes box in English AND French. We naturally adapt and adopt new cultures, new ideas, new perspectives. We’ve developed to be more adaptable in business, too.

While Canadian businesses spend over $15 billion per year on research and development, as a group we spend much less as a percentage of GDP than our international peers. In particular, large business R&D has fallen dramatically in Canada over the past 15 years, while it has continued to climb among peer countries, including the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany and France.

Canada also lags behind the U.S. on venture capital investment as a percentage of overall GDP. That’s a key indicator of innovation, as venture capital is needed to seed start-up companies and help existing companies to increase their competitive edge through new and improved products, processes and services.

While Canada has been able to maintain a high standard of living despite their relatively weak investment in innovation, such things aren’t meant to last. That tenuous balance is straining under the weight of an over reliance on our resources economy and increased competition from abroad putting strain our trading relationship with the United States. Investment in the ICT sector will not only support direct STEM sector job creation, but also nurture an emerging services based economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, businesses that resist change will find themselves on the wrong side of history. I believe we’re at the next exciting inflection point in that history. One in which we must choose to get on board with or sink.

It won’t come without challenges and bumps in the road. Some professions will be forever lost. Other professions and businesses will be forced to transform to stay viable. Change will pose interesting questions about our long-standing approaches to education, government services, and economic stimulus.

But with this new Age of Potential will come new jobs, new businesses and new opportunities that will enrich our economy. We will enjoy incredible advances that will enhance our lives, and new industries that will enhance our GDP.

It presents an enormous opportunity for Canadian businesses to accelerate and grow with the pace of change that’s coming… to break new ground, invent, and innovate… and to ensure that the next Henry Ford, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk has a Canadian passport.

We have to have the courage to change, and change now.

Thank you.

North Americans are (Still) Careless Users in the Cloud

North Americans are (Still) Careless Users in the Cloud

In 2014, cloud computing was still shifting into the enterprise mainstream. Back then, Softchoice commissioned a study that discovered North American workers were careless users. Specifically, employees who use cloud apps displayed markedly more reckless technology habits and were more likely to put their employers’ networks and corporate data at risk.

Two years later, most organizations have gone from flirting with the cloud to wholesale adoption, yet despite their new level of cloud sophistication – not much has else changed! From lax password security to rogue IT behavior, North American workers are (Still) Careless Users in the Cloud. [Read more…]

Telemerge Talks Telepresence With PrintFleet CCO David Morrow

Telemerge Talks Telepresence With PrintFleet CCO David Morrow

Previously employed with Xerox, KPMG, Telus and Konica Minolta, David Morrow is currently a creative and goal-oriented Chief Commerical Officer at PrintFleet Inc. During his career he has been recognized as an expert in sales, performance management and a motivator of teams. We were able to steal 45 minutes out of his busy day to discuss how technology solves for the challenges he’s experienced in the sales management process.
[Read more…]

2 Principles Of Data Backup That Save $12,500 Per Hour

The 2 Principles of Data Backup that Save You $12,500 per Hour

According to a recent survey of over 2,000 SMBs, the average cost per hour of a data center outage is $12,500 for a SMB organization, and up to $60,000 per hour for a mid-sized enterprise. The report also indicates that less than 20% of SMBs back up all of their data, with 88% of businesses having lost critical data within the last two years. This of course doesn’t include businesses that are scheduling backups but have never tried to restore data.

Even in these instances, many organizations are unsure if these backups are valid until they receive an audit or need to restore data outside of their internal backup policy.

Here are the only 2 data backup principles you need to follow: [Read more…]

The Changing Role of IT: 5 Things Every CIO Must Know (and Respond To)

Changing Role of IT

In the world of IT, ten years feels like a few lifetimes.

Just think …

A decade ago, you needed a huge capital investment and a team of professionals to buy, install and manage software. Today, low-cost SaaS and high-bandwidth Internet allow you to receive most business technologies through the cloud.

Ten years ago, employees used corporate-issued devices for work. However, with consumer technology evolving faster than business technology, employees now want to use their favourite consumer devices at work. In fact, 50% of workers reported that their employer’s technology tools are critical in their decisions whether or not to work for a company.

Plus, remember all those kids who were entering high school or university ten years ago? They’re now becoming managers in Fortune 500 companies and will soon run the joints! And these millennials don’t remember what it was like before technology allowed them to access anything at any time from any device.

As these forces drive the IT revolution, here are five things you must do as a senior IT leader to stay relevant.

[Read more…]