iMindMap 8: An awesome new tool for creating and presenting your ideas

ThinkBuzan has placed brainstorming front and center in iMindMap 8, the latest version of its popular mind mapping software program. It features an excellent new free-form ideation mode, improved Windows ribbon toolbar and branch target tool, as well as a redesigned presentation view that contains some great new capabilities.

In this review of iMindMap 8 Ultimate, we’ll take a closer look at the most relevant business-focused functionality of this new version, and I’ll give you my opinion on the program’s pros and cons.

A significant improvement in usability

When I reviewed iMindMap 7 a little over a year ago, I praised its many new features, but expressed some reservations about its overly-complex toolbars and contextual tools, which I thought could overwhelm first-time users. For version 8, ThinkBuzan has succeeded in fixing these issues and helping users get oriented and get down to the task of creating mind maps.

One case in point: When you first open iMindMap 8 Ultimate, you’re given three choices: Create a new session in brainstorming view, create a “professional” mind map or a Buzan mind map (see the screen shot below). What’s interesting to me is the distinction between the latter two map types. The thumbnail image of the professional mind map shows skinny, angular connector lines and rounded rectangle topic shapes, while the Buzan mind map has colorful tapered branches with words upon them – what we’ve come to expect from iMindMap. Apparently, it’s developers have recognized that business people tend to be very pragmatic, and want map designs that look more professional and less “creative.”

Brief on-screen instructions are clear and easy to understand, and should help new users understand the basic concepts of creating mind maps and brainstorming with iMindMap 8. Nicely done!

To give me a better sense of what changed from version 7 to 8, I opened up a map I created last year in iMindMap 7, and compared the two. The differences are striking! iMindMap 7 looks cluttered, with tabs and buttons everywhere – in the toolbar above the workspace (which has two sets of text menus above it) and in the properties panel on the left side of the workspace, which displays 6 tabs, with several more hidden from view.

By comparison, iMindMap 8’s user interface is simpler, more businesslike and efficiently designed. Its menus and options are all still available, but they are better presented in ways that don’t overwhelm the user. Kudos to ThinkBuzan on an excellent user interface!

Brainstorming view rocks

iMindMap 8’s new brainstorming view (only available in the program’s Ultimate version) resembles a cork board; ideas and images can be placed on it and are styled to resemble Post-It notes. It’s a perfect representation of a brainstorming wall in your cubicle, office or in a meeting room.

Using the program’s contextual brainstorming toolbar, you can easily add ideas, small ideas (think of half-sized sticky notes) and images to its canvas, and move them around at will. A playful-looking font gives you the impression of hand-written notes, adding to the authenticity of this creative thinking environment. Images appear as if they have been affixed to a sticky note at the top edge with a piece of transparent tape – a nice touch, in my opinion.

One key to capturing ideas in a program like this is the ability to do so quickly. That means keyboard-only input. I experimented a bit and determined that the INSERT key doesn’t work, but the spacebar creates a new idea in your brainstorming workspace. You can also create a new, regular-sized idea by double-clicking in a blank area of the workspace.

Adding a group to your brainstorm causes iMindMap 8 to add a white box to the corkboard surface. Like images, groups appear as if they were taped to the surface. Adding items to a group is as simple as dragging and dropping them into it. The box automatically resizes as you add more ideas to it.

This is an ideal setup, because it enables you to engage in free-form brainstorming, without regard to the structure of your ideas. You can then switch from ideation to evaluation, grouping your ideas in ways that make sense to you. In doing so, you’re creating a hierarchy that will drive how they are arranged when you switch to mind map view.

Another way to visually classify your ideas is by color; iMindMap 8 enables you to select from 8 colors for ideas. The virtual Post-It notes can also be toggled between full and half-size, if you need to squeeze more ideas into the space of your screen. In addition, you can drag with your mouse on a blank area of the workspace to access additional screen real estate, giving you almost unlimited room to capture your inspirations.

I played around with brainstorming mode while evaluating iMindMap 8, and was delighted with its functionality. I’m an avid student of brainstorming tools, technologies and techniques, and I’m not easily impressed. ThinkBuzan definitely got brainstorming mode right in iMindMap 8!

Simplified branch target aids new users

In iMindMap parlance, the branch target is a set of buttons that pop up as you hover over the end of a map branch. They enable you to complete common tasks without needing to move your cursor back to the ribbon toolbar each time. In version 7, the branch target was like a Swiss Army Knife, with a myriad of commands clustered into a two-tiered set of icons. In iMindMap 8, it has been considerably simplified to do four things:

  • Adjust the branch’s shape
  • Add a new subtopic
  • Add a new box topic
  • Add a relationship line

ThinkBuzan has wisely limited its functionality to one essential über-task: Adding content to your mind map. This should make iMindMap 8 much more intuitive to use, especially for first-time and occasional users.

Another simplification: In previous versions, when you selected a branch, control points were visible, which enabled you to reshape the branch. These are now turned off by default, but can be toggled on via a command in the layout menu. I think this is a wise decision; the average user will probably never used this feature. Advanced users, who want precise control over branch shapes, will appreciate that it’s still there and can be turned on as needed.

Presentation view gets a facelift

The presentation view of iMindMap has been significantly improved in version 8, and contains some very cool touches. You can auto-create a presentation with a single mouse click, or “roll your own.” You can then make adjustments in the slide viewer panel on the left side of the program’s workspace by dragging and dropping them into the order that makes the most sense to you. You can even rotate the view, to add more visual interest (don’t overdo it, though!).

You can also group slides in presentation view. How does this work? Let’s say you have a pair of topics at the lowest level of one of your map’s branches that the auto-create function has interpreted as two separate slides. Simply multi-select the two slides and group them. The result is a single slide with both topics displayed. Two slides have become one using a simple, intuitive process. If you change your mind, iMindMap 8’s presentation toolbar contains an ungroup button, which returns the topic to its previous state.

As you view a slide in the sorter, a blue box appears over the mind map that corresponds to the amount of it that will be shown in that slide. If you want to adjust that to zoom in, zoom out or reposition that slide’s view, you can do so by manipulating the blue box. Nice! The updated presentation view in version 8 now enables you to add notes to each slide. During a presentation, these notes appear to you but not to your audience.

When you give a presentation using iMindMap 8, your presenter view displays the current slide with a timer below it; to the right are smaller views of the next slide and any notes you have added to the current one. Your audience only sees the current slide.

You can also open a vertical sorter panel during a presentation, which enables you to immediately move to any slide in your presentation – ideal if a member of your audience wants you to go back to a specific slide for additional discussion about it. Best of all, this all happens “behind the scenes” – only on your screen. I love the intuitive way this works!

Best of all, iMindMap 8 “flys” you from one topic to another during presentations, rather than just displaying a series of map “snapshots” as some competing programs do. This latter approach is inferior, in my opinion, because it causes your audience to lose sense of where the currently-displayed topic resides within the overall structure of your mind map.

One of the keys when presenting information to an audience is to include your company or brand logo on each slide. iMindMap 8 makes this easy. All you do is click on the “branding” icon in the presentation toolbar, and the program lets you select an image from your hard drive. You then have the option of placing it in any one of the four corners of your slides. It may take some experimentation to get the logo to display at the size you want it – you can’t scale it up or down within iMindMap. Perhaps ThinkBuzan will add this capability in a future version.

Presentation view also includes an intelligent group of settings that give you more finite control over how it handles animations, transitions and how the program traverses from one slide to another. Kiosk mode enables you to set up your presentation to auto-run and loop continuously, unattended. This is ideal for trade show booths, lobby displays and other applications where you want your presentation to run continuously.

Contextual menus reduce visual clutter

In iMindMap 8, ThinkBuzan has adopted a user interface technique that Microsoft Office has used for years to help manage complexity: Contextual menus. These are additional tabs that only appear in the ribbon toolbar when you’re performing certain functions – such as branch tools, brainstorming and presentation mode. This helps to decrease toolbar clutter and once again, makes iMindMap 8 easier to use.

New icon library and properties panel

iMindMap 8 features a new icon library and properties panel, nestled in a set of buttons that expand into tabbed panels on the right side of the workspace. Seven buttons/tabs provide fast access to topic notes, the image library, icon library, attachments, flowcharts, snippets (segments of mind maps that can be added to your map at any time) and task data. The design of these tools is clean, uncluttered and intuitive.

Conclusion

It’s common for mind mapping programs to fall victim to “featuritis.” Under pressure from customers and salespeople to “just add this one more feature,” software often becomes bloated and harder to use as more features and functionality are added.

That’s why iMindMap 8 is a breath of fresh air. Its clean, intuitive design makes it a pleasure to work with. As I’ve said in previous reviews on this blog, there’s a real art to keeping what’s visible in a user interface simple enough so new users don’t get overwhelmed, while also keeping advanced functionality close at hand to meet the needs of power users. ThinkBuzan got this balance right in version 8.

I’m an especially big fan of the new brainstorming mode, which helps you get into a creative mode with its corkboard background and colorful sticky notes to capture your ideas. I’m glad to see it supports keyboard-only input, so when the ideas are coming hot and heavy, you can keep up, whether you’re facilitating a group brainstorming session or ideating solo.

The presentation mode also includes some thoughtful touches that elevate it above many competing programs. I especially love the group/ungroup slide and branding capabilities. In addition, the “flip screen” command is very useful – since most times you’re going to be preparing presentations at your desk or at a laptop, without the benefit of a second screen. Being able to toggle back and forth between your view and what your audience will see is a real plus. Compare that to what you would otherwise need to do – run your presentation, exit from it, tweak and repeat. This is much faster!

Best Blog Software for Both Beginners & Developers to Use

To select the best blog software for our readers, we have reviewed dozens of blog applications mainly from feature and support. As a result, we found that the ones introduced below are the best, coming with a large number of highlights to enable bloggers to get started easily and manage their blogs effortlessly.

The most common and efficient way to set up a blog is to utilize blogging software. Doing this way, normal bloggers, especially beginners, can either save the time and energy of working on building a blog manually or save the budget spent in hiring a web developer to handle the code-related process. There are dozens of choices, and we only select the best ones to introduce here. All of them are backed by a large community of developers and contributors, and come with great ease of use.

In below, we have worked out a comprehensive review to list the main information of them to explain why they are the best. Move on to the details.

WordPress

Website: http://wordpress.org/

WordPress, which is both free and priceless at the same time, is PHP open source software that can be used to create a beautiful blog. It is easy to install and upgrade this software. If you want to use an FTP program, you are able to create a database, upload WordPress using FTP and run the installer. If you are not familiar with FTP, you need to choose a web host offering 1-click script installer to help you install this application with a few clicks.

WordPress is the most widely-used blogging platform as well as CMS around the world that has over 60 million loyal fans including some large and well brands like eBay, Metro UK, Variety and BBC America. Starting as simply a personal blogging tool, now WordPress is adopted for all kinds of mainstream purposes, such as education, technology, e-commerce, etc.

WordPress is backed by a huge community consisting of millions of users in all levels of knowledge on this software – from beginners with nearly no technical skills to web developers having been devoted to the online development for years. With the contributions of so many people, WordPress comes with excellent customizability, with which users can make any changes they like to give a new look or add new functionality to their blogs.

Reliability is the most important factor to evaluate software. According to our experience, most software complaints come from mass of bugs and problems, and meanwhile, most happy experience come from reliability. In this case, WordPress has been proven to be a reliable software for many years so far.

More highlights of this blog software are listed in below.

  • Simplicity & flexibility.
  • Available in more than 70 languages.
  • Built-in comments & search engine optimization.
  • Thousands of free elegant-designed themes & plugins.
  • Textpattern

    Website: http://textpattern.com/

    As a reputed blogging tool, Textpattern has great flexibility and extensibility which are loved much by web designers, developers, publisher, and bloggers (the largest part of its customer base). The powerful and sophisticated engine makes this CMS a suitable choice for whatever types of blog and other website that you can imagine.

    Textpattern is a flexible, elegant and easy-to-use, with numerous built-in tags and reusable code partials that enable you to fully control the presentations of the content of your blog. With a browser-based interface in more than 40 languages, excellent support and full range of features, this software is suitable for publishers, designers and developers to establish a blog.

    The admin interface of Textpattern is minimalist, efficient and clearly labeled, with which bloggers can easily get on with publishing and managing content. Built-in tags and textile are also coming with the software, which enables users to have complete control over the content and presentation, as well as get the ability to transform plain text into fully-formatted web content in seconds.

    What’s more, if you want to go beyond the software’ default capabilities, you are allowed to quickly install any of hundreds of available plugins or create your own in PHP. Moreover, In the Textpattern’s wiki, technicians and engineers have worked out a pile of in-depth articles with a lot of information about software installation, administration, themes and plugins. If you can’t find the answers you need in the wiki, you can check the official forum or contact the company’s community.

    b2evolution

    Website: http://www.b2evolution.net/

    b2evolution is a popular CCMS (Content + Community Management System) that is mostly used to set up and manage multiple blogs. Being free and open source under GNU GPL, you can freely download and install this software to fully power your own blogs.

    b2evolution can run on any web hosting platforms supporting the recent versions of PHP and MySQL, and it is another state-of-the-art publishing system besides WordPress, with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and ease of use. Besides, b2evolution comes with many features including an extensive plugin and skin system.

    Nucleus CMS

    Website: http://www.nucleuscms.org/

    Nucleus CMS is a self-hosted fully featured content management system that comes with the largest advantages in blog management. Now in version 3.65, it is one of the lightest, most flexible and secure options for maintaining one or multiple weblogs with a team of authors.

    Nucleus CMS has a large number of helpful blogging-related features which can be used to schedule works, boost search engine rankings, managing comments and categories, and so on. Also, there is a built-in backup system which allows users to create a backup version of the database contents with a simple one click to significantly reduce the risk of unexpected data loss.

    Weebly

    Website: http://www.weebly.com/

    Starting a blog with Weebly is very simple, because you have the ability to use flexible drag and drop interface to build your blog content quickly and easily. Moreover, the powerful design and publishing elements enables you to focus on your content while the Weebly services pull all the weight in the background. In addition, there are a plethora of widgets and media options in your blog dashboard, so that you can make it all work with ease, no matter you blog is about photo journal, video diary or literary review.

    More highlights of this software are :

    • Full control over layout and post structure allows you to create exceptional blog sites.
    • Complete category, tag and sidebar customization provide the key navigation and interaction elements modern blog visitors crave.
    • Free blog templates are able to work as standalone sites or pieces of a larger website.
    • RSS and social sharing feature are built into every blog to help amplify your message across the channels that matter.

    Typepad

    Website: http://www.typepad.com/

    Typepad is one of the most famous blog software, with which you are able to publish quickly and easily from your computer, mobile or even via email. In addition, this application allows you to tweak a theme with custom CSS. You just need to use the Theme Builder to easily build your own design or design your own template from the ground up. Moreover, you are able to use your blog built with Typepad to sell your products or services, run ads and join their effective affiliate program.

    In addition, you have the ability to see what is going on with your blog since the smart stats of audience integrated with Google analytics is on your blog. Furthermore, you are capable of using the beautiful templates and user-friendly design tools to handcraft you own special blog. If you had any problem about blogging, you are allowed to contact the professional Typepad team for help anytime.

    Drupal

    Website: http://drupal.org/

    Some people might be surprised at the selection of Drupal for blogging, as it is not commonly used for this purpose. But in fact, according to our review and experience, Drupal is a quite good CMS for building and maintaining fully featured blogs due to its user-friendly user interface and built-in blogging features.

    The functionality and customization possibilities are unlimited with Drupal because there are over 24,000 modules and themes available at Drupal.org, let alone the numerous ones at other marketplaces. The active community is still working on the development and extension of Drupal core.

    Wix

    Website: http://www.wix.com/

    Being a beginner, if you have sufficient ideas about PowerPoint presentation, then Wix is an appropriate tool for you. It is ranked as one of the best website building software available presently because of its versatility in the operations and simplification of tasks.

    Wix appreciates the fact that you are a beginner in the field of website building and provides you with a simple user interface. The drag and drop feature is one of the most attractive features of Wix because it allows you to upload content or images within minutes.

    One of the highlights of this website building tool is a series of templates facilitating the design and appearance of the website. However, the templates once applied cannot be changed after the project has initialized. To make it possible, the user has to start all over again.

    Wix offers a manageable storage and bandwidth limit of 500MB each.

    SquareSpace

    Website: https://www.squarespace.com/

    It is one of the most versatile website building software with some premium features for the prospective website makers. It offers a sleek design to the website that is full of attractive features and functions. Being premium website building software, it has several plans for its clients that help the clients choose the most appropriate one for their websites.

    When it comes to the technical specification, SquareSpace provides its remarkable service in various packages starting at $8 per month. Under the cheapest offering, SquareSpace allows 500GB of bandwidth, a mobile-compatible website with up to 20 pages and 2 GB storage. Adding to it, the client gets a custom domain and an all-time support. In its best plan, SquareSpace allows you to enjoy unlimited bandwidth in addition to other premium features.

    The best part of SquareSpace is that it allows the website to transform into WordPress in the long run to enjoy its highly customizable features.

    uCoz

    Website: https://www.ucoz.com/

    uCoz is a website building software having the simplest user interface. It is the software that builds websites for free. It offers many features to the users who choose to make a website using this software.

    Being a template-based website building tool for beginners, uCoz consists of about 250 default templates and 22 modules. Adding to it, it is compatible with tons of widgets and gadgets that can be customized into the website. It supports data backup and allows unlimited disk space to all its clients.

    Jimdo

    Website: https://www.jimdo.com/

    If you are looking forward to having a remarkable user interface on your website, there is no better solution than Jimdo. It is a website building software that consists of Dropbox integration and many attractive features. The Dropbox integration allows you to share or use the photos easily, thanks to the Dropbox account!

    Being a paid website building software, Jimdo has some very attractive features to offer. It has the ability of produce coupon codes which are required in multiple fields. Apart from it, Jimdo has an automated system of email where purchase confirmation emails are generated automatically.

    When it comes to the specification, you get about 20 custom email addresses which you can use for different legal purposes. Adding to it, Jimdo allows you to get unlimited storage.

    Conclusion

    Based on our review on the blogging tools’ features and users’ votes, WordPress is the deserved winner of the best blogging software that can be used to build a rich-featured, easy-to-use, and search engine friendly blog. However, as WordPress needs a server to reside on, we recommend the following 3 best web hosts for WordPress companies for their ability to well serve WordPress blogs with excellent reliability and high performance.

Is OpenStack Ready for Enterprises?

Currently there is a lot of talk justifiably about OpenStack because Enterprises, Telco Providers and SaaS vendors are all looking for an open source based Cloud OS stack alternative for their clouds. The early adopters in the hype cycle have already started deploying it, but the real question is whether OpenStack is ready for Enterprises to run their business critical applications on it. Before I answer this question, I will briefly describe what OpenStack is and will then give my opinion about OpenStack readiness.

OpenStack is a conglomeration of a number of distributed services like Compute (Nova), Network (Neutron), Storage (Cinder, Manila, Swift), GUI (Horizon), Monitoring (Ceilometer), Database (Trove) etc that together represent a Cloud OS. Companies such as HP, RedHat, Cisco, EMC, Mirantis are packaging these various services into distributions (similar to what RedHat does for Linux) and are providing support services.  In some cases these companies are also providing their own public clouds that are based on OpenStack.  For many of the current OpenStack services, the publically available code is not enterprise ready, and in these cases, vendors are augmenting the open source code with their own proprietary plugins. In essence, these companies are trying to become the private data center infra-structure provider of choice and are projecting themselves as the single neck to choke.

OpenStack definitely has momentum because of the amount of money big companies like Cisco, HP, EMC, Huawei and the Telco providers are ploughing into it. The attendance at the OpenStack conferences is steadily increasing every 6 months and a lot of new functionality is being delivered in each new OpenStack release (every 6 months).  It is safe to say that currently OpenStack seems to be having more momentum than other open source based cloud stacks like CloudStack.

However, here are my thoughts on what needs to be done in order for OpenStack to really become main-stream:

  • Too many Networking Initiatives: Currently, there are way too many networking initiatives like Neutron, OpenDaylight, ETSI-NFV, OP-NFV, ONF, and ONOS that at the end of the day are trying to provide a framework for SDN, NFV and Cloud OS networking. Some of these initiatives are being driven by networking vendors and others are being driven by Telco providers. Dust still has to settle with respect to which ones will gain traction. OpenStack networking community cannot do everything on its own, and they need to strategically adopt code bases/designs from these other standards groups.
  • Too many disparate services: Linux was successful because Linus Torvalds ensured that there was a single cohesive vision for the Linux Kernel. Currently, in OpenStack, there are many developer cliques that are driving the different OpenStack components. Hence, currently there is a lack of a cohesive vision with respect to the development of the features for these various OpenStack services. At Google, Microsoft and Amazon, there is a single individual whose neck is on the line for providing a set of cohesive cloud services. Thus, there is a need for a benevolent dictator in the OpenStack community.
  • AWS APIs Rule:  Many graduating students are getting their training in building applications using the Amazon AWS APIs because many universities have started letting their undergraduate students do their projects on AWS due to agility and cost reasons. Since OpenStack is playing catchup with AWS, it is critical for OpenStack to mimic AWS APIs in order to make it easier for new graduating students to code to OpenStack APIs.  So far Amazon has not started any litigation against OpenStack, and thus, copying AWS APIs is a positive strategy to pursue.
  • Difficult to Deploy and maintain:  Most of the enterprises that have successfully deployed OpenStack have either employed an army of consultants or are large government agencies with an army of internal hackers/developers. Furthermore, since the APIs/content is changing with every release of OpenStack, it requires expensive full-time technically savvy people to constantly maintain OpenStack deployments.

In conclusion, I want people to have an open source alternative in the Cloud OS space in order for people to have choice and also a vehicle to innovate. I want to see the OpenStack initiative succeed, and that is why I am highlighting the issues that I want to see get addressed.

Equinix Programmable Network (EPN): A Dynamic Foundation for Multi-cloud

Cloud computing is here to stay. Most enterprise CIOs I speak with are turning to the cloud to increase business agility and enable elasticity for both their application portfolios and business processes. And, in almost all cases, they are adopting more than one cloud platform to support their business applications – applications that require multiple services that run on multiple clouds. This practice of multi-cloud, multi-platform deployments addresses the unique requirements of these business applications, while also providing better value via higher availability and scale than single cloud deployments.

Yet, the move to this multi-cloud architecture can be hindered by the time and effort it takes to provision individual ports and connections to each cloud platform – often measured in weeks, not the seconds that are required to be truly agile. We designed the Equinix Cloud Exchange specifically to meet these provisioning needs and enable customers to connect to multiple cloud service providers (CSPs) either via colocating in an Equinix data center, or through their choice of network services providers (NSPs) through a single port connection.

At the heart of Equinix Cloud Exchange is the Equinix Programmable Network (EPN), the foundational layer that enables this.  EPN takes a software-defined networking (SDN) approach and allows customers to self-provision these connections instantaneously. It’s highly scalable, provides ease of management via automation and ensures customers can maintain a vendor-neutral strategy.

As we continue to develop the EPN platform, we are ensuring that the core of the EPN software adheres to the following principles:

  • Agility and Management at Scale: Manually provisioning, monitoring and trouble-shooting network connections isn’t practical in an agile, multi-cloud era, in which CSPs, NSPs and cloud integrators deal with thousands of enterprises. EPN allows users to control network service management via a proven set of APIs that allow customers to self-provision multiple new connections instantaneously. Equinix Cloud Exchange is able to manage at scale because EPN has been architected to leverage an SDN-based approach, where users specify their requirements in high-level service-based terms and EPN automates the underlying low-level network management operations.
  • Modular Architecture: EPN employs a modular, service-based architecture through which new services are described via high-level YANG language models. Today, EPN provides Layer 2 connection management, virtual local area network (VLAN) management and link aggregation services. However, its modular architecture makes it easy for EPN to roll out new services in future releases at higher Open System Interconnection (OSI) networking layers and also to orchestrate third-party network management services.
  • Multi-Cloud Awareness: From the very beginning, EPN has been designed to operate in a multi-cloud environment. Thus, it uses the notion of “transactions” to configure distributed resources (e.g. switches) across multiple clouds as a single atomic operation.
  • Vendor Neutrality: EPN is a logically centralized SDN subsystem that is hardware vendor-agnostic. The SDN subsystem abstracts the underlying network topology. This allows both cloud providers and enterprises using EPN to seamlessly deploy switches from multiple vendors and maintain a vendor-neutral strategy.

In sum, just as Equinix has grown to become a leader in providing interconnectivity solutions to Enterprises and NSPs, we are also leading the cloud interconnectivity industry through the capabilities of Equinix Cloud Exchange.  Equinix Cloud Exchange is a multi-cloud interconnectivity solution that satisfies the high performance, availability and security requirements of today’s CIOs.  With Equinix Programmable Network (EPN) at its core, it provides us with a software-defined, next-generation network management platform. EPN and Cloud Exchange put Equinix, its customers and its partners squarely at the forefront of the cloud industry.

Everyone is Talking about Docker Containers

Recently at the Google Cloud Platform Live, Amazon re:Invent, VMWare VWorld and at the OpenStack conference, everyone was talking about Docker containers. Even Microsoft has recently announced that it will provide support in the Windows operating system for Docker containers.  In this blog I will briefly talk about what is Docker, why is there so much excitement about it, and my take on how this development offers more choices to the end customers.

Simply put, Docker is an application level container mechanism. The main difference between a Docker container and a Virtual Machine container is that a Docker container is a lighter weight container that does not package the guest OS inside it, whereas, a Virtual Machine container is a heavier container that packages a guest OS. Thus, multiple Docker containers share the same underlying OS, whereas, each VM container has its own guest OS.  The Docker container paradigm allows one to have stateless application level compute containers, and it also allows for the storing of the persistent state of an application in a separate Docker storage container that can be shared across multiple Docker application containers.

In addition to a Docker container, one also needs a container orchestrator to move a Docker container between the nodes in a cluster, and eventually, across clouds. Google and Amazon are both supporting competing Docker container orchestrator initiatives. Google is putting its weight behind the Kubernetes open source initiative, and Amazon has recently announced the EC2 Container Service.  Cisco and VMWare are also planning to provide support for Docker containers in their multi-cloud initiatives such as InterCloud and vCloud Air.

The reason why there is so much excitement about Docker containers is because of the light-weight nature of these containers one can pack more Docker containers on to a physical server than VM containers.  Thus, this leads to higher resource utilization. Docker containers also allow for the seamless movement of applications across physical machines regardless of the hypervisors running on those physical machines. Eventually, the goal of the Docker paradigm is to allow developers to specify the infra-structure level policies with respect to performance, disaster recovery, security etc. at the Docker container level, and for the orchestrator to interpret these policies and take the necessary actions. This key development gives more control to the application developer with respect to the underlying infra-structure.

In addition to the above mentioned benefits, I am particularly excited about the following additional benefit which I think has not been talked about much in the community. Currently, it is not easy for a customer to easily move the entire state of their application across the different IaaS vendors because each of the IaaS vendors uses a different hypervisor or container mechanism. Thus, in future, if applications are architected into a combination of stateless application compute Docker containers, and stateful Docker storage containers, then this gives an application the freedom to move the stateless compute containers across the different IaaS providers, while keeping the stateful storage containers in a common location such as an Equinix datacenter that can be efficiently accessed from all of the IaaS vendors’ infra-structure.

Furthermore, this also allows various storage and database vendors (both SQL and NoSQL) to host their storage/database as a service in the Equinix datacenter. The net winner out of this entire paradigm shift will be the customers because they will be able to build their distributed multi-cloud applications by leveraging the services across multiple IaaS vendors while maintaining the stateful components of their applications in a common location like the Equinix datacenter. I am a strong believer in giving more choices to the customers, and whenever, there is a paradigm like the Docker containers, that allows customers to separately shop for compute and storage services, I am all in favor of it.

The Best Twitter Plugins For WordPress

WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems or CMS that is widely used by various organizations, businesses as well as individuals. A range of online applications are made frequently using this CMS. A lot of users make use of Twitter plugins for WordPress in order to popularize their site and attract more potential customers towards the business or brand. Following are some of the most popular twitter Plugins for WordPress.

WPtouch

This plugin is undoubtedly one of the best Twitter plugins that you will use for WordPress. It offers some excellent features and usability to users. It works as a powerful mobile theme and helps to transform the blog into an iPhone application. Not only does it gives you a lot of style and theme for the articles, but works brilliantly with AJAX driven-loading of articles. You can transform your site in a stylish version for the mobile phone users with the help of WPtouch.

BuddyPress

This is another popular Twitter plugin for WordPress which is a hit among the social community. It allows the user to register for a site after which you can create the profiles and post messages etc. With this plugin, you will be easily able to create connections and interact with the other members of the group existing within the network. In simpler words, it will help you to achieve your personal and professional goals through these social networking sites.

AddThis

This popular Twitter plugin is widely known for its usability features. It is basically a Social Bookmarking Widget that is mainly used for sharing and bookmarking, thereby allowing the user to share and bookmark a site for the specific content that it has.

Wordbooker

With the help of Wordbooker Twitter plugin for WP, you can do cross posting to the Facebook Group, Fan Page or even Wall. You can use it as a Note, Status update or extract. A major reason behind the popularity of this twitter plugin is its ease of use and high visibility.

Network Publisher

It is one of the best Twitter Plugins for WordPress to keep your fans updated about the blog posts. With the help of this Twitter plugin you can publish the blog post automatically to various social networks including Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn etc. Also, it allows your follower to re-tweet blogs to the follower. Thus, if you are looking for a simple way to expand your follower base and display informative blog post, then Network Publisher is a must for you.

podPress

This WP plugin allows the ease of hosting a podcast. Not only will you get automatic feed generation in this Twitter plugin for WordPress but also various features like Podcast Download stats etc. This plugin supports a wide range of formats including that of Video podcasting.

IntenseDebate Comments

This twitter plugin offers you a wide range of uses. It is one of the best plugin when it comes to managing access to the files, pages and posts of a user. It helps to start a conversion on a blog. You can use it for building a self reader communality which will help to increase the comment on your blog and will surely increase your follower count.

All these Twitter plugins will definitely help you to get more Twitter followers, thereby helping you to popularize your brand and create more awareness.

Accenture Acquires Cloud Sherpas To Enhance Cloud Consulting Chops, Especially Around Salesforce.com

Accenture, the worldwide consulting company, announced today it was buying Cloud Sherpas, a firm that specializes in helping companies incorporate cloud services like Salesforce.com, Google and ServiceNow into the enterprise.

Accenture did not disclose the purchase price.

It’s not a coincidence that this announcement came as Dreamforce, the enormous Salesforce.com customer conference, is taking place in San Francisco this week. The acquisition actually has a lot do with Salesforce consulting services.

Accenture already has a team of more than 2700 consultants devoted to helping with Salesforce integration. They will be adding 500 additional Salesforce experts with the Cloud Sherpas deal.

“The context is Accenture has been driving a cloud first agenda in response to clients focusing on the cloud increasingly as a platform to fuel transformation,” Saideep Raj, global managing director at Accenture told TechCrunch. The deal certainly helps expand the Salesforce consulting team, but it’s more than that, Raj said.

Cloud Sherpas also brings experience with Google as Google’s largest consulting partner and ServiceNow, a company that Accenture is seeing embedded in an increasing number of enterprise processes where service is a key component.

Cloud Sherpas, has been around since 2007 and has grown into a worldwide consultancy with over 1100 employees, who will now be part of Accenture. As soon as the deal closes. They will join the newly created Accenture Cloud First Applications team.

If cloud computing is supposed to simplify computing, you may wonder why it would require a consulting team to help implement cloud solutions, and that’s a legitimate question. Companies moving to the cloud have lots of issues around digitization and transformation, and working with existing legacy applications alongside cloud applications. There are also issues of more complex custom integrations with a product as sophisticated as Salesforce.

That’s where Cloud Sherpas comes into play. While Accenture has also been helping companies make this move to the cloud, even before the acquisition, this gives them a huge team of experienced consultants to expand that consulting unit with one stroke of a pen on a check.

Cloud Sherpas formed at a time when the idea of Software as a Service in the enterprise was just beginning to develop as a mainstream concept. While Salesforce.com launched in 1999, many of today’s biggest cloud companies weren’t even around at that point. It was a company well ahead of the market need in that regard.

“We saw several things including demand from users of technology, not just as it relates to corporate transactions, but enabling the user experiences around mobile technology. The cloud was uniquely suited  to this and we thought it was going to take off and resonate with users,” David Northington, Cloud Sherpas CEO said.

Over the years, the cloud services have gotten better, and the projects have grown increasingly sophisticated. Northington says that as part of Accenture, that should only accelerate.

Today, there is all kinds of complexity in spite of the cloud notion of simplicity. If you’re integrating  enterprise cloud service into an existing enterprise stack, it sometimes takes help. For instance, companies working with Salesforce Wave, the company’s analytics platform might need help connecting to the various data sources and create the kinds of custom reports a company might need.

But it’s more than helping implement a single service, it’s about stitching together a range of services from a single vendor like Salesforce or across services, and that’s where this combination could really shine, Raj explained.

Cloud Sherpas has raised over $63 million, according to Crunchbase.

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