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.