Thursday, December 17, 2015

NoSQL Solution Series - Part 1

NoSQL is something that we hear about a lot these days. In a series of articles, I will try to highlight what, when and why we need NoSQL solutions. Also there are several NoSQL options available in Azure. We will try to explore each of these and try to understand when to use which solution.
This article focuses on the basics on NoSQL:
First of all, the term "NoSQL" is a misnomer. What it means is "non-relational". Well if you remember E.F. Codd, ACID properties & the evolution of RDBMS you might say that we have come a full circle. That's true in a way. Because with the proliferation of various types of data - documents, JSON, User Preferences etc and with the advent of Internet Of Things (IoT), there has been a significant change in the very nature of data. Earlier most DB systems were built to support organizational data - meaning transnational data and therefore Relational DB made perfect sense. Now the nature of data is changed to - high volume, high variety & high velocity. In comes NoSQL!
NoSQL is not a technology but a conceptual solution solved by using different database technologies. Fundamental idea is to support "high volume, high variety  & high velocity" data storage. But this does not mean traditional RDBMS is getting replaced. There is still a lot of data that is well structured and suited for RDBMS in which cases the solution is to use a RDBMS database. Both RDBMS & Non-RDBMS (NoSQL) have their own space and a database architect needs to make a call on the right solution based on the nature of the data and needs of the customer.
In our next post, we will look at the basic classification/types of NoSQL and the advantages of using NoSQL.

E-Commerce Industry: The business area for IT companies in the Middle East

The Middle East's e-commerce space has been booming over the last few years, with a recent report by payment solutions provider Payfort, suggesting regional e-commerce sales could touch $15 billion by end of 2015, up from $9 billion in 2012. Competitive pricing and better deals (60 per cent) were found to be key motivations for users shopping online, while convenience (56 per cent) was also a key factor. The report found that there are around 4.43 million online buyers in the region mainly spread across the UAE, KSA, Egypt, Qatar and Kuwait, with the UAE accounting for the biggest chunk at 3.6 million. Online shopping in the Middle East is rapidly evolving and has grown by 1500% over the last decade. With a dynamic young population and with one of the highest global per capita internet penetration levels the online spending potential is quickly emerging as one of the highest in the world.
PayPal has relatively recently joined the party and they recently released some statistics based on their research in the region:
  • There are 110 million internet users in the Middle East and North Africa, of which 30 million are shopping online already. PayPal estimates a total population of 350 million.
  • Spending online in the Middle East and North Africa was $9 billion in 2012 and is forecast to grow to $15 billion by 2015, of which $3 billion will be spent on mobile, up from the $500 million spent today.
  • Travel tickets are currently the biggest spend for online shoppers in the Middle East, with an average of $1,521 spent each year, followed by $250 on consumer electronics.
  • About 10% of purchases in the Middle East are made on a tablet or mobile, and 90% at a PC or laptop.
  • Trade between online shoppers in the Middle East and businesses based in the region makes up only 10% of total spend. The rest is consumers buying from outside the Middle East and delivering to the region.
  • About 80% of online purchases in the Middle East are made with cash on delivery. Credit and debit cards make up 15% and PayPal the remainder.
  •, and are the three biggest, locally-based e-commerce sites in the Middle East based on consumers’ average annual spend.
A large chunk of regional entrepreneurs are now targeting e-commerce or online platform based industries. "Creativity is the name of the game moving to the future. Hence, the internet offers regional entrepreneurs new ways to market their goods and services and differentiate themselves at the same time. thanks to social media and heavy internet usage, people are turning to online portals for time and efficiency. Businesses that are centered around facilitating time and those that help consumers find solutions to existing problems will be extremely successful. But while the industry is flourishing, experts highlight the lack of established players, with only a few successful ventures standing tall in the region.
Setting Up Troubles
One major challenge to set up an online venture is that although it is extremely easy for an entrepreneur to start a business in cities such as Dubai, permissions for e-commerce gateways are still a grey area in the region.  In order to set up full-fledged e-commerce portals, companies invest a hefty sum or generally piggy back off existing portals. Presently learning from more advanced digital markets like India, where the technical talent and resources have really made it easy to launch a digital venture.
Developing your E-Commerce Business
A successful e-commerce store development could be difficult if you are not well aware of the basic principles and techniques on how it should work for your online business. With some know-how and basic idea you can come up with an online store that can really help your business to make good money online. A professional ecommerce store can bring you number of benefits such as cost reduction by reducing labor, shorter payment time, flexibility and efficiency and improved customer services. You will also get access to the new markets with high potential anywhere in the world.
E-commerce store development requires professionals who have technical skills and expertise in creating an online shop for your business according to your specific needs. They have huge knowledge and experience of developing small and large e-commerce stores. With custom e-commerce you will be rest assured that your business would get remarkable online presence and high return on your investment. You can fully automate your business to managing from the stock, selling, payments, delivering and to the customer support. 
At iLink Systems, having worked with companies in the US we have extensive experience at building E-Commerce solutions for key players and would like to collaborate with companies looking to expand their business the internet way.
The future of eCommerce in the Middle East is bright. We all know this, but it’s exciting to see the first real success stories of local and international brands that are paving the way for others to follow. More importantly, they are encouraging and building trust in online shopping in the Middle East and converting internet users to online shoppers. Another quick way to go eCommerce is to use an eCommerce engine like Shopify or uCommerce and here too we see increased interest within the region. Integrations with various online payment gateways are also becoming a more common feature across projects. The most popular payment gateways are: Network International (CyberSource), PayPal as well as solutions from Mashreq Bank (MiGS) and National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

Integrate your application authentication with Office 365

Most of us working with Office 365 usually manage users through the O365 Admin Center portal. Did you know that Microsoft Azure Active Directory (AAD) is the directory store that is powering O365 for user management.
If you are small/medium business organization and would like to manage all your application authentication through a common solution, then should you not leverage this AAD? Well, you are already paying for the Office 365 service so why not leverage the AAD that you already have?
Now the common problem here is you don’t have direct access to AAD management from O365 Admin Center.
But if you have worked with Azure, you know that you can manage Azure AD from Azure Management Portal.
Now those are two different things – Azure Management Portal and O365 Admin Center.
What if you are able to link those two together? Can I then manage my O365 AAD through my Azure Management Portal?
Well the answer to both the above questions is the same - “Yes, you can.”  Now if I can manage my O365 AAD through Azure portal, then couldn’t I use it as a common authentication platform for my business applications? The answer is “Yes, you can”.
It is very easy to make this association if you don’t have an existing Azure account.
Login to O365 Admin Center and under “Admin” click “Azure AD”. You will be directed to a page to create an Azure subscription and follow the steps there to create an Azure subscription using your O365 Admin account. It’s simple and direct.
However there is another possibility – what if I already have an Azure account (
Also I have a separate O365 subscription ( Can I link these somehow?
Well the simple answer is “Yes, you can”. But it’s a little convoluted process - not a simple one on one
matching. If you are stuck in a similar situation or would like to see the O365 AD associated with your Azure account, then here are the steps to associate your live account with your O365 account and access the AD associated with O365.
1. Logon to Azure Portal using your live account.
2. Click on New -> App Services -> Active Directory -> Directory -> Custom Create
3. Now select "Use existing directory" from the drop down as shown below:
Office 365
4. Make sure you select the Check Box (in image above).
5. Now you will be logged out and redirected to Azure login.
6. Now login using your O365 Global Admin credentials.
7. Once you login, you will see a prompt asking to add your Azure account ( as a global admin for O365 Tenant. Click Continue.
8. Now logout and login again using your Azure account.
9. Go to Active Directory in Azure Management Portal and you can see a new AD
I remember seeing the default O365 AD by the name "Contoso".
Well, if you don't like it you can always rename it to whatever name you prefer.
Now that you have access to O365 AD you can do a lot more from secure application authentication & single sign on standpoint.
More value out of Office 365 at no additional service cost! If you would like to integrate your applications into Office 365 AD for authentication,
Please feel free to reach out to us.

The evolved Office 365 Enterprise E5

Recently Microsoft announced that the Office 365 Enterprise E4 plan will be replaced by the new “E5” plan before end of this calendar year.
Let us try to understand what this means:
E5 – An evolution of Office 365 capabilities:
The new E5 will offer a set of new capabilities and features for enterprises. The major ones announced by Microsoft are listed below:
  • Skype for Business Feature Enhancements:
  • Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling - This will provide people the ability to make and receive traditional phone calls in their Skype for Business client, and manage these calls with features like hold, resume, forward and transfer. Cloud PBX will be released for customers worldwide, with a configuration option for customers to use existing on-premises phone lines for inbound and outbound calling.
    PSTN Conferencing - This will allow people invited to a Skype for Business meeting in Office 365 to join the meeting by dialing in using a landline or mobile phone. This traditional dial-in capability is in addition to simple, single touch join options on PC, smartphone and browser, and allows people to join an online meeting even in places with no Internet access. PSTN Conferencing in Office 365 will also allow people to add others to a meeting by dialing out.
    This is something that we have been waiting for and finally it’s going to be available for all our enterprise customers and we are really excited!
  • Enhanced Analytics:
  • New analytics features like Delve Organizational Analytics and Power BI Pro will be provided as part of E5 license.
  • Advanced security features:
  • e-Discovery: Earlier this year Microsoft acquired Equivio and the new “Equivio Zoom” will soon be providing powerful e-discovery features to help customers meet legal and compliance challenges
    You can read more about its capabilities here.
    Customer Lockbox: This new capability offers organizations complete control over its contents such that if some Microsoft engineer needs access to certain content to resolve an issue, the same can only be done
    by getting the explicit approval from the customer, In other words Use of the Customer Lockbox feature ensures that Microsoft engineer does not get access to the customer’s content without customer’s explicit approval.
    Advanced Threat Protection (ATP): Exchange Online today offers EOP for email protection against spam, viruses and malware. As the attacks are getting more sophisticated day by day, the ATP is a new feature to provide
    advanced security on top of EOP. The features include protection against unknown malware  and virus (using Machine Learning), Real time time to click protection against malicious URLs and rich reporting.
What about the cost?:
Well, there is no official word here. But given that E5 offers additional capabilities, the cost of E5 could be higher compared to E4.
If you are an existing Enterprise E4 customer, then it’s time to start thinking about the various options at your disposal – upgrade to E5 or move to E3 plus Cloud PBX.
Finally ask yourself the question “What is the business value versus the cost increase?” and you will know what to do.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Learnings from GITEX 2015

What is GITEX?
Launched in 1981, GITEX is the ICT business gateway to the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia Region. Focused on providing exhibitors with high ROI through direct business opportunities with decision makers, GITEX has maintained its position as the industry’s trend setting authority. GITEX continually identifies the hottest global IT trends and incubates these into the event either as new sectors or conference programs. The sectorization of GITEX has enabled new companies to participate in identified trends as well as giving visitors the opportunity to engage, learn and implement the advances in the industry. GITEX’s role in the ICT industry is pivotal for the re-export market. It is an annual international trading hub for the global technology sector. GITEX acts as both, an inbound sourcing platform for the entire Middle East region and the eminent source for anyone interested in doing business in the region.
Key Market Trends in the Middle East 
  • With over 2.2 billion smartphone users worldwide, the mobile market easily outnumbers the broadband internet market. This, combined with advances in smartphone technology, means the mobile device is the future of all advertising.  As device manufacturers provide handsets with embedded applications such as Facebook and You Tube, the groundwork has been laid for greater UGC (user generated content) and as such, it will become the ultimate advertising platform that will reside in people’s pockets, no matter where they are or when they access their phones.
  • The Net Generation in the Middle East:  Born after 1977, the Middle East presents a unique swathe of Net Generation users, for whom all things digital come as second nature and who therefore embrace technological advances and who are prepared to spend higher than average proportions of their income on media and content consumption.
  • Traditional media (print) still plays an important role in the Middle East due to the established newspaper reading culture.
  • Literacy plays an important role and has a direct impact on traditional printed media and there are wide differences from country to country in the region. For example in Morocco and Yemen the average literacy level is around 50%, compared to 90% in Kuwait, UAE and Qatar. This results in disparities from country to country where literacy levels are low and visual mediums such as TV have a higher importance attached to it, compared to print media.
  • Broadband penetration – low and slow broadband penetration remain major constraints to the wholesale adoption of modern media methods and again vary from country to country. Typical barriers to improvement in this sector include cultural barriers, high retail pricing and poor telecommunications access network infrastructures.
  • Despite the high costs of implementing and developing telecommunications access network infrastructures across large geographical areas, the mobile phone is rapidly emerging as a rival means to broadband access and internet content delivery and is increasingly providing an alternative way of watching TV on the go via IPTV technology.
  • Broadband penetration in the Middle East will grow strongly, supporting social network growth and e-commerce development.
  • Tablet adoption will rise quickly in the region as multiple devices enter the market, creating new content opportunities.
  • Facebook will open up new opportunities for Arabic language marketing.
  • The swelling numbers of consumers online across MENA will force more consumer brands, retailers and consumer service companies to embrace digital.
  • The Arab world’s online shopping market will become broader-based, providing consumers with new choice and web ventures with new opportunities.
  • Online Arabic language content will remain an issue of concern for the region, but opportunities for Arabic content will continue to grow, perhaps faster than ever before.
  • Independent online media launches will continue, whilst traditional media continue to procrastinate about online.
  • A new generation of specialized blogs will emerge in the Middle East
  • We will see more social change and social initiatives driven by online media, with people finding new ways to work together to achieve community objectives.
Top 5 Tech Trends from the GITEX Shopper
1 Multi-device lifestyles: Mobile devices are becoming an indispensable part of everyday life both at home and at work, as our world becomes increasingly digitized and connected. It is now commonplace for people to not only own more than one device, but also to use more than one device simultaneously, such as browsing social media on a smartphone while watching TV.
2 Wearable Tech: The wearable technology market is gaining traction with everything from fitness and health related products to smart watches and audio-wearable tech. These products are becoming increasingly complex, able to provide significant levels of information and contribute to quality of life – whether convenience, time management, enjoyment, or critical health monitoring. 
3 Mobile Commerce: The growth of mCommerce is changing the way consumers purchase goods and services, with the use of handheld devices such as smartphones and laptops leading to a surge in both markets.
4 Social photography: With one out of every four people around the world now regularly accessing social media, social photography is driving demand for smartphones, tablets and digital cameras. While smartphones and tablets provide the fastest sharing option of moments, digital cameras offers the highest quality pictures which can now also be shared thanks to new technology such as inbuilt WI-Fi.
5 Interconnectivity: As homes get smarter, the tech industry continuously produces devices capable of “communicating” with each other, such as TVs, smartphones, computers and refrigerators which are revolutionizing the way we live our lives.

Does Microsoft OFFICE 2016 make life easier?

It’s been the one thing that has existed on virtually every computer - essential for home accounting, homework for the kids, sending personal emails and doing important projects at home for work or college. At this stage, it’s safe to say that it’s part of the family.
Now, Microsoft has released Office 2016.  These apps are the latest addition to Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based subscription service, their most comprehensive solution ever. Office 2016 isn’t just about Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The new and enhanced productivity suite has a lorry-load of incredible and helpful new tricks and features that are designed to make your life (and work) that much easier.
Microsoft applications of the past introduced you to the very concept of computing, but now they are reinventing what it means to be productive online. Be that connecting, creating and sharing with friends and colleague all over the world. All of which is doable on every type of device - no longer confined simply to your laptop.
Microsoft believes that you do — but more importantly, it wants you to get on the new way of thinking about Microsoft software: constantly updated, available in the cloud, and getting new features all the time. But that vision will take time to pan out. Right now you should make your choice to switch based on whether or not you really want the new features.
Office 2016 allows several people to work together on documents and incorporates a “Groups” section into its software that makes it easier for people to collaborate on projects. It also adds a “Tell Me” tool to Word, Excel and others that allows users to quickly search for functions instead of navigating Office’s labyrinth of menus, makes improvements to Outlook that prioritize important emails, and deeply incorporates Skype, the internet chat and video call service. New features in Windows 10 such as Cortana also integrate with the software, allowing the personal assistant to read and search your files to improve features such as the calendar.
Creating, collaborating, together with real time co-authoring
One of the biggest additions to the new Office 2016 is real-time co-authoring in Word. For the first time, you can now work on the same document at precisely the same time as potentially multiple friends and family members - not only that but you can see it all happen as they type. All of the changes are stored on one of Microsoft’s Cloud services and you can view and edit everyone’s revision history too.
Clutter be gone
Don’t you just love the work that your Spam folders are doing? They take in all the emails you never want and store them away from your eyes so you don’t have to worry about them. That’s what Clutter aims to do on more broad level. For example, if you never open emails from that online retailer you subscribed to, now they will be bundled together alongside those daily ‘funny’ emails your uncle sends you.
 Skype integration
Sometimes you just need to have a chat with the people to collaborate. Before, you had to either call, email or use a third-party app or software to get your point across. Now, Microsoft have added the ability to chat from inside the apps so you can collaborate instantly, via Skype.  For example, start video or voice) from within Microsoft Word or Outlook - so no need to open or click between any other apps/windows. Just one click and you’re there - making collaboration seamless.
Tell me something you need
Sometimes, remembering the smallest things can be the hardest. If you hate formatting documents and trying to remember how to carry out a function like text indentation, a feature you may only use once in a blue moon. Now Office has come up with a solution. That solution is Tell Me. Simply enter a text command and Office will instantly figure out what needs doing and fix it for you. Want to change font to Arial? Simply enter “change font to Arial" and click on the corresponding command in the Tell Me search bar. Simple.
Smart Lookup is pretty smart
Ever been in a document before but need to check the spelling or definition of a word? Now, all you have to do is highlight the text or phrase, right click and select Smart Lookup in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. Office will then correlate all the most relevant info for you to use - all in your current window, meaning you won’t have to pop between applications and potentially get lost amongst a sea of cat videos. It can also be used for more complicated tasks like gathering info on cities, backing up your statements, checking dates and much more.
Away with the cloud(s)
When you sign up to Office 365, you get 1TB (that’s 1,000GB’s) of cloud storage. This is really an incredible offering - perfect for you or your family backing up your family photos, videos, documents, files or anything for that matter. This could all but eliminate the need for you to lug around those hefty storage hard-drives and better still, when it’s in the cloud, it’s easily accessible all over the world and on any device. And just to put that 1TB into perspective, other popular online storage clients only give you 25GB of storage. Not bad?
Sharing made simple
With the growing need to be able to share anything and everything - Office 2016 now enables you to share right from your document with a click of a button. This may sound simple (and it is), but this new feature will save you a lot of time.
Perfect for all the family
If you sign up to Office 365 for the year, you only have to pay for one user. That includes new Office 2016 apps for PC and Mac as well as installation on PC or Mac, tablet and phone. You’ll also get that shiny 1TB we talked about and expert Office technical support included. Not to mention the fact that Office 365 is now always updating it’s features so as soon as they become available, you’ll have them. You can also pay monthly, should you need to.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Who’s the best PA after all??

A take on Cortana vs Siri vs Now!!

The battle of the digital assistants is back, with Microsoft releasing a new version of Cortana in the latest Windows 10 Build. With Apple presenting the iOS 9 with an improved Siri, it was expected that Microsoft will push itself back into the race, with a more helpful Cortana. With each passing year, the digital assistant war shifts priorities from the precision of the results provided to how inconspicuously your digital life can be managed by your assistant with minimal supervision.

Each digital assistant has its own agenda. One of the primary advantages Siri poses is the interface where she quietly works behind the scenes. The integration of Siri with the iOS is incredible. Her providing results of what you think, even before you request her for it, seems like pure magic the first few times. It defines the direction we head to in an era with digital assistants, where she plays out your exercise beats once you enter the gym, launches the Apple pay app when you approach the pay counter at the groceries and knows what you want without being explicitly told. One of the biggest features coming to iOS this year is intelligence. With iOS 9, iPhones and iPads are getting more capabilities and smarter processing, based on what Apple is calling "proactive assistance." Siri and Spotlight on iOS 9 work together more tightly than ever before, and Apple says they are the backbone to the underlying recommendation system behind iOS 9's new smarts. 

Google Now has quite a different approach where in a set of cards are provided for each search. Once configured, each set of cards, appear with a list of options alongside it giving the user the choice to filter the cards provided as per requirement. Currently judged the best among the three, Google Now does an incredible job of giving the user options to fine tune what he/she views, keeping in mind previous searches, telling the user when to leave for the next appointment and providing notifications on the Chrome browser on the desktop. All this is done with a commendable connecting of dots by going through emails and calendar synced with the Cortana app, estimating the traffic and time taken through Maps and finally giving the user a reminder for the time to leave for the appointment. Keeping in mind your current location and your interests, it also gives places to visit nearby and restaurants to dine out.

On triggering the Search app, Cortana provides a one-page summary in a card-like fashion of what she thinks is of priority to the user. The new Cortana looks really great, and with Microsoft fixing the few bugs that have crept into the latest build, she definitely puts herself at par with the others in the race. Bills to be paid, game scores, local weather were all arranged in a summary in this lovely UI. Cortana scores with her personal touch in this build, where you actually feel there is a mind working somewhere behind the screen. The latest build gives very neat and organized look, and a connectivity between your PC, tablet and phone.

Cortana’s Key New Features

·         Your Microsoft account helps keep your personal assistant connected to you across device experiences, whether on your PC, phone or Xbox One. Cortana’s Notebook will be available across your devices to keep track of details important to you. Cortana only knows what you want her to know and you are fully in control of how you use her across devices.

·         On Xbox One, Cortana knows your friends and makes it easy to invite them to play with you through simple voice commands. If you want to record and share a clip of your game play, you can use Cortana to precisely control the length of the recording and quickly share it with your friends without leaving your game. Cortana will also help you find information about games, such as the release date of an upcoming game, or help you get achievements by surfacing videos and information to help you succeed.

·         On your Android phone you can ask Cortana to remind you to walk the dog at 8pm in the evening, and then when you’re watching a movie your Xbox will interrupt playback to let you know it’s time to take the dog out.

New in the Competition

News is that Yahoo hinted that the firm might compete with voice-based virtual assistants in the future with its own search-based mobile offering.  It is worth mentioning that Yahoo has already taken a step towards offering a virtual assistant product with its Aviate launcher, which learns user's behaviour and shows up content and apps most relevant to the user at that point of time in the day. Of course, the app has a long way to reach the likes of Siri, Google Now and Cortana. Recent reports also indicate the firm will unveil a messaging app later this quarter, a video-focused product that will take on popular rivals like Skype and Snapchat. The unnamed messaging app is said to be the first product under CEO Marissa Mayer.

Soundhound announced the beta launch of Hound, a voice-enabled search assistant that responds to more queries, more quickly, than any of its competitors. The company also announced the private beta launch of Houndify, a developer platform that will give companies the chance to add its services or information to Hound. The announcement included word that Expedia, the travel booking service, has already partnered with Hound to enable users to book flights and hotel rooms using Hound. Hound will be in for a fight to build awareness for this new service. Apple, Google and Microsoft have all invested heavily both in developing their voice features, and carving out space for Hound and Houndify will be a challenge. However the makers think the quality of his product will make the difference.

In Conclusion

It’s hard to say one personal digital assistant is the best for you because basically your personal digital assistant choice will be dictated by whether you buy an Android phone or a Windows Phone or an diPhone – neither personal digital assistant is available on the other’s hardware. However, feature-for-feature, Microsoft’s Cortana comes in ahead of Google’s Now. The level of control and personalization Cortana offers is far superior to anything Now has. Microsoft clearly knows that while personal digital assistants are still somewhat of a novelty for now, they are certainly the future of computer interaction as our devices get smaller and more wearable. Voice will eventually be the only input method of many of our wearables and the company is clearly positioning itself to be the leader in where human/computer interfaces are going.

All in all, with each of them vying to be the perfect digital assistant, we can expect much more improvements ahead. On the flip side, what’s left to be found out is how much of our personal details are being compiled in the cloud or digital database for the purpose of our digital assistance.