Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

February 01, 2011
Filed Under (Architecture and Strategy) by Ollie Cronk on 01-02-2011

Since attending the Seminar by Gartner on Enterprise Architecture last year I have been focussing on formalising my IT Architecture skills (well when time allows!!). TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) 9 appears to be the way to go. You can think of it much the same way as PRINCE2 is to Project Management – its something that provides the core principles but it needs to be tailored to the organisational specifics.

Came across “TOGAF 9 in pictures” available on http://www.orbussoftware.com/downloads which is a really effective way of getting to grips with the core concepts.

Also (on the same site) found a stencil for ArchiMate; Archimate is a means of standardising the way that Enterprise Architecture is defined at a high level. Chapter 2 of the specification makes good reading – has a nice summary on why EA: http://www.opengroup.org/archimate/doc/ts_archimate/index.html

From my research IT Architecture (in particular Enterprise Architecture) still seems to be something that different people and organisations view differently – in particular role definitions / responsibilities seem to vary massively. I also fear that often the goal behind EA initiatives aren’t clear enough and some organisations just want to “tick the EA box” rather than get true value from it.



February 01, 2011
Filed Under (Technology) by Ollie Cronk on 01-02-2011

I am seriously impressed by Microsoft OneNote and the HP Tablet that I am now using. I realised I was creating quite a bit of waste paper from my notes – so have moved them electronically.

I have a workbook for work and one for personal tasks and sync the workbooks between my home and work folders which is really neat. I have been using this setup for several months (mostly using the keyboard although sometimes in meetings the stylus is a faster and easier way of capturing thoughts and diagrams).

Visio 2010 is pretty cool tool, I would have to say that Windows 7, Visio and OneNote are my top 3 Microsoft products right now!

Visio 2010 even has support for Inking and Multi-touch – http://blogs.msdn.com/b/visio/archive/2009/12/18/visio-2010-better-with-windows-7.aspx and the MS blog  has some other pretty handy tips: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/visio/



December 17, 2010
Filed Under (Architecture and Strategy, Open Source, Technology, Web Development) by Ollie Cronk on 17-12-2010

We’ve gone through quite a few security / penetration / web application tests at work (often as part of compliance with HMG SPF / InfoSec standards for UK Government projects) and thought it would be useful to list some of the steps you need to consider (hardening, configuring etc) to ensure your application has a reduced security exposure. I feel that you should view security testing as an opportunity to improve the quality of your work rather than see it as a box ticking exercise (ultimately the testing is about making your application more secure which can only be a good thing). Whilst a lost of our work is based on LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) many of the concepts below apply regardless of the technology used.

Firewalls and Port Access

Firewalls and access to ports – one of the most obvious – but you need to consider whether the risk profile requires one or 2 levels of hardware firewall, or whether iptables is sufficient. Can you lock down the environment such that you only expose port 80 or 443 to wider internet and create a restricted IP address based white list for administration (eg SSH access)? On many of our Architectures we only expose the load balancer(s) and or proxy layer to the internet, everything else is not available at all to general IP addresses across the internet.

If you do have to have SSH open to all make sure that you install denyhosts (which helps to prevent SSH brute force attacks by adding persistant bad username/password attempts to /etc/hosts.deny – preventing access from the offending IP address)

Cross Site Scripting (XSS) and SQL Injection vectors

Check that your application does something sensible if someone attempts to put javascript into text input boxes. Check that putting in something like:

“><script>alert(‘If you see this in an alert box there is a XSS vector in your application’)</script> into a username box (for example) does. If it brings up an alert dialog you know you have a problem. See the  XSS Wikipedia page for more info.

Similarly for SQL – if you put in rogue SQL key words does it mess with the SQL that is run? Do something non- destructive (particularly if you are spot checking a live web site environment!) A good example I like to use is can I add parameters to a where clause to see data I shouldn’t be able to see.

Personally I prefer 2 levels of checks for SQL Injection and XSS type code in application input: – one at the application input layer (eg sanitising user input asap) and another at the database interface / wrapper layer to ensure nothing nasty can get sent to be stored or messed about with on the database tier.

Server Hardening / Configuring

Ensuring the server is setup and configured properly

Google for and check the hardening guide for the operating system for recommended steps.

Ensure that security updates are being applied on a regular basis.

Ensure that anti-virus software is installed (for the Linux Platform ClamAV is an option)

Review (and peer review if possible) the configuration files for the main services on this box – for LAMP this means a minimum of:

(You can run locate <name of config file> to check where it is located)

  • /etc/ssh/sshd_config
  • php.ini
  • httpd.conf / apache2.conf (depending on how the server is configured) and configuration files for virtual hosts / SSL configuration
  • my.cnf (or other database config)
  • Load Balancer config files (for Pound this is typically /etc/pound.cfg)

These checks are particularly important if you are having a white box review of your system (where you give the SSH login details to a security tester to check the configuration).

Pre test checks

Before you hand over the system to the Internet Security guys run some of the kinds of tools that they will be running yourself to see what is available. As a minimum run an NMAP command against your ip addresses:

nmap -A -vv [IP Address]

And see what ports (and information about the ports) is returned. Also check if NMAP can enumerate what Operating System and Versions of Web Server software is running (can you do anything to remove version numbers or product names?)

These days  I like to use Backtrack (a Linux Distribution design for security testing) for security checks. I am running it as a Virtual Machine from with my Windows 7 machine (http://g0tmi1k.blogspot.com/2010/01/tutorial-video-how-to-install-backtrack.html as a useful video for getting it set up).

I could probably write all day about security but hopefully this gives a feel for the key aspects. Would be interested to hear anyone’s tips or must dos for LAMP security.



October 23, 2010
Filed Under (Linux, Open Source, Technology, Ubuntu) by Ollie Cronk on 23-10-2010

Recently changed the server this blog runs on to a low power Dual Core Intel Atom in a smaller form factor case (mini ITX). In an attempt to reduce my environmental and electricity footprint. Took the opportunity to upgrade Ubuntu Server to 10.04 LTS which comes with MySQL 5.1 and WordPress is now 3.0.1 ( which was a very easy upgrade – one click from within the web based admin – well done WordPress team for that!).

The Dual Core Opteron box this blog used to run on will now only be powered up when I am experimenting with Server Operating systems (will be re-built as VMware ESX host).

Getting in some IT geekery before my life gets turned upside down!



August 27, 2010
Filed Under (Architecture and Strategy, Technology, Web Development) by Ollie Cronk on 27-08-2010

Continuing in my series on professional development – see the previous article on documentation here (ok so there has been a bit of a pause and I am stretching things to call this a series – I had intended to post this some time ago!). This post concentrates on the benefits of using an Issue / Task / Bug Tracking Tool…

Keeping track of development tasks and issues in a centralised system helps enormously. Living without task tracking for your issues is a lot like not having having source control for your code. A good task tracking system – such as Fogbugz or Countersoft Gemini helps keep track of what the team needs to do, allows issues to be delegated / reallocated to more appropriate team members and enables multiple lines of support (eg 1st line, 2nd line etc). It also allows transparency on tasks (allowing Jane who requested a new developer to check the issue tracker for progress rather than interupting the technical team) and (particularly for those of us that need to follow ISO9001 type standards) provides an Audit trail if used properly.

Of course its not just about standing up an issue tracking tool – you need to agree on things like

– what defines an High Severity issue over a medium severity one? What Service Level agreements do we have and how does the issue track tie to those (eg does selecting medium mean response within a day as opposed to high which requires a response within 1 hour for arguments sake).

– What is the process from issue inception through to resolution (does a new change request issue go to Bob -or better Bob’s role “Change Manager” – who allocates it to someone to estimate and changes the status to pending estimation).

– What level of documentation are you looking for in the comments associated with a case – is just referencing a source control commit enough (which is ok if your source control commits are verbose) or do you want a short explaination of what was done?

Clearly if done right this can allow your team to scale and stop your developers getting bogged down with admin (make sure there is someone overseeing the issue tracker). It can also make it easier to seperate support work from new big development work (the former you can give to junior colleagues to help them get up to speed with support from more senior ones – preventing senior guys/girls from getting bored with smaller stuff).

One other observation on this is that whilst you do need to be strict in order to implement these tools (eg ensuring that folks always use the tracker rather than continuing to email you all the time) you need to make sure they don’t become a barrier to communication between the technical team and its customers. One thing I like to do when involved in an operational issue is to cc the issue tracker in on an more detailed email explaining an issue – the customer gets a personalised response and the issue tracker captures the commentary (preventing time wasted by copying and pasting).

Would love to hear others thoughts on their use of issue tracking systems and the pros / cons.



August 26, 2010
Filed Under (Architecture and Strategy, Random Thoughts) by Ollie Cronk on 26-08-2010

Those of us in the IT profession (or Information Management as one colleage recently suggested as an alternative*) don’t do ourselves many favours when it comes to using complex terminology and also expecting business people to understand and embrace IT best practises…

Whilst adopting concepts/practises such as Enterprise Architecture (EA), Data Governance, Information Management (IM), Knowledge Management (KM) are all well and good, the sheer number of buzz phrases and concepts must be bewildering for most  non techies. I will admit that sometimes I struggle with the difference for example with Master Data Management vs Master Reference Data without resorting to Google or Wikipedia.

Of course some will argue that is what the Architect or Analyst roles are all about – to match business requirements to IT solutions. But if we ever want colleagues or clients or stakeholders to truely embrace the concepts of Knowledge Management or Data Management / Governance we need to break down these barriers.

Its all too easy to get DM/IM/KM confused if its not the way you think. Generally / at a high level its accepted that Data can be converted into useful Information and that humans (eg employees) walk around with a lot of Knowledge that often needs to be managed (and shared) more effectively. But often we don’t take the time to even explain these concepts – we just jump into enterprise IT lingo and expect others to know what we are on about (or why it makes business sense). Sometimes colleagues can get confused by products such as Sharepoint and what they do – as they can think they are the solution to Knowledge Management – when actually they are just the product or underlying tool that can enable Knowledge Management – its embracing the core concepts of KM that is key.

If we are not careful we will go start to regress back to the bad old days of IT where the IT guy was locked in the cupboard as no one understood him…. Ok maybe thats going too far but you know what I mean!

Or maybe I am being unfair? After all every different business area I have worked in seems to have its own Acronyms (finance is a nightmare with IPOs, CFA, Swaps, Deratives etc etc etc) – is it now accepted practise to just Google terms you don’t understand and be proactive about learning these things? Unfortunately in my experience some people aren’t prepared to do that (unless its in their area of expertise) – and you just switch them off or loose them before you can sell them the juicy or beneficial part of the story.

* Information Management was selected as to not confuse people with “plain old Information Technology” – the physical desktop PCs, laptops etc and kit that every business needs. Information Management it was argued is different as it is the leveraging of IT capability (where IM people are part of the core business team) to improve the way Information is managed (or processes are operated) and used as an Asset rather than something just delegated to IT to “sort out”.



June 10, 2010
Filed Under (Linux, Ubuntu) by Ollie Cronk on 10-06-2010

Yeah finally fixed an annoying issue with my Linux Server at home (nice to flex my Linux admin skills!) documenting it here in case I ever need the commands again or its useful to others:

Problem:

Ubuntu 9.04 no longer booted after a minor update (from .15 to .16) with my Software RAID setup as described in these reported bugs:

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/mdadm/+bug/330298

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/mdadm/+bug/158918

Fix:

Following the instructions on https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/mdadm/+bug/136252/comments/5 fixed the problem but you need to run update-initfs -u so it updates.

Amazing what you learn when having to fix this kind of stuff – for one I now understand the memory based file system that linux uses during boot better.



March 01, 2010
Filed Under (Open Source, PHP, Technology, Web Development) by Ollie Cronk on 01-03-2010

Here are some notes / interesting products/thoughts that were mentioned (apologies this is more of a set of notes for me than a proper blog post – if I get time I will refine this!)

Started the day on a conference call back to the office so had to miss the keynote which was a shame as it was by quite an eccentric guy who Microsoft have hired (as a UX Architect Evangelist) largely about keeping thing simple and usability from what I gathered of the end of the talk.

Day was very tough as a I had a late night catching up on various things to allow me to free up the Friday – its difficult sitting through talks when really tired!

Met with several former colleagues from my last company (and former colleagues from my current company) so was a bit of a blast from the past at times.

There appear to be a lot of development and interest around NoSQL / document based databases at the moment – definitely something to keep an eye on as it matures as a technology.
http://www.phpconference.co.uk/talks

RDBMS in the social networks age
by Lorenzo Alberton

Database Graph Structures via advanced features of SQL, using SQL-99 and SQL-2003 functionality that certainly MySQL doesn’t have any many other DBs won’t have the 2003 extensions. Obviously using this kind of advanced functionality will have an impact on Database server load.

This talk felt a bit like it was flying in the wind of most new thinking at the moment (although to be fair – this is partly what Lorenzo has now put on his website below) which is to keep your database tier minimally loaded as it’s the part that has most issues with vertical and horzontal scalability (keep most of the CPU load in the web app tier as its easier to add more nodes there).

Slides available at:
http://www.alberton.info/talks

Legacy Code Talk by Ibuildings
doxygen – code documentation for any language not just PHP

ctags.sourceforge.net

BOUML bouml.free.fr (reverse engineering capabilities)

phpcs – Codesniffer (part of PhpUnderControl)

Thoughts for tackling older PHP4 based projects and code bases – get them in Source Control, start to apply Continous Integration type approaches.

Suggestions made around
Full isolation (separate server)
Using wrapper classes
Possible code rewriting routes for legacy code:
Going from random mix of PHP business logic and HTML outputting to neater procedural based code
Procedural to OO
OO to full OO

CouchDB
Early sight of the possible future of web application data persistance and replication. Interesting that CouchDB makes uses of HTTP as the connecting protocol. Might be possible (but probably not desirable apart from specific cases) in the future to create web applications that are JS direct to CouchDB in certain cases?

http://couchdb.apache.org/

Web and mobile application monetisation models / Paypal X

Paypal appear to be launching a new platform / API

  • Adaptive Payments
  • Pay multiplerecipients at once
  • Partnership
  • Chained payments (e.g. commission based payments)

Bit disappointed by this one as it was about PayPal’s API (https://www.x.com) rather than strategies for monetisation which is what the title lead me to believe.

Web Services Best Practise
At the beginning lots of stuff about basic HTTP (eg HTTP headers, Verbs)that ever developer should know about.

Lorna (also from iBuildings) who gave this talk seems to have a bit of a sarcastic talking down to you type tone I found slightly annoying – maybe she gives training to newbies all the time or something. Or maybe I was just tired. She had some interesting things to say about Web Services design particularly towards the end of her talk. The talk was caveated as being a bit of “a rant” and it was exactly that in places – felt like she was having a go at everyone a lot of the time!

Beers at the end sponsored by Facebook were a nice touch though, although I only had time to grab a quick one whilst chatting to Mark Schaschke from iBuildings and a couple of guys from my previous company. Think next year I will sit this one out to allow more developers to attend as think they will get more value out of it.



November 09, 2009
Filed Under (MS Windows Vista 7, 8 etc, Open Source, Samba) by Ollie Cronk on 09-11-2009

Further to my blog posts involving vista (and the tweaks that can help make Vista/Windows 7 compatible with Samba) I came across a registry setting that needs to be changed to get offline files to work correctly:

“Set the following registry key on the Windows Vista client to prevent files from getting pulled down to the client again right after synchronizing changes to the server (due to Linux file systems having coarser timestamp resolution than Windows):

Create a DWORD value named RoundUpWriteTimeOnSync under the HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\NetCache key (create the key if it does not exist) and set it to 1.” from the Storage Team at Microsoft’s Blog: http://blogs.technet.com/filecab/archive/2007/03/16/using-offline-files-with-samba-emc-servers-nas-devices.aspx



June 30, 2009
Filed Under (Cycling, Gadgets) by Ollie Cronk on 30-06-2009

One of my better recent shots taken on the SLR:

Taken on a recent bike ride to Donnington and Bagnor

Info on Donnington Castle here and here on Wikipedia