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Monday, December 5, 2016

Are you running away from the cloud too ?

The last handful of years has seen an en-masse migration away from dedicated servers for businesses and government into virtual servers (sometimes called Virtual Machines, or VMs) that are generally hosted within large data centres.

Providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure are well known to many of us as "cloud providers" that can help take the worry out of hardware purchasing and maintenance by providing a slice of a machine's computing power and storage instead of the entire thing.

The size of the slice can change with your needs, and so a scalable solution can be found for many things.

In this way, "cloud" providers were seen as generally being able to provide a more cost-effective way of hosting your online services (public or private) and could increase the computing power very quickly if the need arose.

That's a great theory ... but you know what they say about theory and practice ... "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice - but in practice, there is".

The reality of cloud providers is that they are there to make money like any business - and so even though they have a very wide scope to spread the cost of their hardware across many customers per physical server (or the equivalent thereof, depending on how they have built their cloud), they will always tend towards a less-than-fair model for pricing because the whole question of server resources is rather opaque to most users.

So whilst the trend for the past few years has been to migrate to the cloud, there is an increasing trend in the last 6 months or so for some business bean counters to have done what they do best (counted their beans) and worked out that - in actual fact - they are worse off economically for being in the cloud than before when they had some of their dedicated servers located within their own premises or co-located within data centres.
Some of our own dedicated servers

This is giving rise to a new trend of migrating quite a lot of services away from the cloud and back into on-premise, private cloud, or co-located dedicated servers - creating hybrid service offerings that can take advantage of the best that cloud offers but keeping others away from the cloud and remaining more economical for doing so.

As an exercise, we recently priced up the computing power, storage and data traffic for just a single one of our dedicated servers to work out the equivalent cost of an Amazon AWS instance.

This was for a fairly basic dedicated server that we originally provisioned in 2011 (8 cores, 2.5TB storage, 16GB RAM). We priced it based on its past 30-day utilisation, running at about 20% average CPU. It's a fairly busy server, but nothing extraordinarily flat-chat and frankly it's getting a little old and slow compared to our newer resources.

Our dedicated server costs, for hardware (upgraded every 36 months), the rack space with power and 200GB of traffic came to just shy of $800.00 per month (including amortising the hardware costs over 3 years).

Amazon's equivalent was an i2.8xlarge EC2 instance which would cost $3,300.00 per month (as a reserved resource) or $6,900.00 per month as "On-Demand"

That's a massive difference between cloud and dedicated hardware and can prove unbelievably uneconomical if you're not managing the instances well and - as many businesses tend to do - forget to regularly check that you're getting good value for money along the way.

The news is better if you compare one of our newer servers that currently has only a handful of shared-tenancy clients sitting on it and isn't terribly busy by most measures. This dedicated server would cost close to the same for us as the busy one in the example above (in this case about $700.00 per month) because we have to amortise the hardware costs, but from AWS would only cost about $120.00 per month.

Our solution, obviously, is to put more customers on this server over time so it becomes more profitable.

What would Amazon EC2 cloud cost us for one fairly busy server per month (USD) ?  Yikes!

We're obviously a little different to most businesses because we provide hosting ourselves and therefore keep a close eye on our resources, maintenance costs, etc - and in most cases we share the hardware resources across several customers at a time by providing shared tenancy hosting (one server, many websites) ... so our monthly charge--out rate for a small business website hosting (100MB storage and up to 5GB of traffic per month) is only $10.00 (+GST).

But you could imagine if we were, for instance, a mid-tier accounting firm who had moved our busy email server into the cloud a couple of years ago because our IT consultant said it would be a good idea - before we then doubled in size. With a cloud provider like AWS or Azure, we could be paying the equivalent of a brand new server every 3 months over-and-above the cost of the service itself - and would never actually have a server we could call our own.

Give us a shout if you need hosting for any size of business and if you're a bit of a greenie, check out our environmentally-friendly "GreenServe" solution that offsets the power used to run and cool the server (try doing that with your giant data centres, Amazon!).

Monday, November 28, 2016

(almost) FREE MONEY - Queensland Small Business Digital Grants

The Queensland State Government have made available funding for small businesses who want to improve their digital presence or improving their business to become more competitive through the use of digital technologies.

The initiative is called the Small Business Digital Grants Program.

These are matching grants of up to $10,000.00 (plus GST where applicable), meaning that - if eligible - your business could receive up to $22K (including GST) worth of systems and services at a cost of only $11 grand.

Up to 20% of your own contribution can even be made as in-kind effort for your personal time in being trained to use new technologies.

According to the SBDGP web page, the digital technology or services must fall under one of five areas:
  1. Digital marketing & social media
  2. Digital content (web pages, mobile apps, media etc)
  3. Receiving payments or selling online
  4. Specialised digital technology or software (business specific)
  5. Digital planning and advice/training

Queensland Government Grants and Creative Intersection can help your business get "digital"

This means that if you have a small business with less than 20 employees, with an ABN, and are headquartered in Queensland you could get a leg-up from the government for something like:
  • A website for your business
  • A private mobile app or website for your workers to perform their jobs better (e.g. a timesheeting or safety checklist app)
  • An online store
  • Adding the ability for your existing clients to pay their bills online through your website
  • Setting up and maintaining a social media page/feed (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, etc)
  • Training or consultancy for yourself or your staff to learn how to use technology better for your business
To help you take advantage of this initiative, we have come up with some excellent offers that fall well with in the budget to give you the best bang for your government buck!

The current funding round closes on 9th December 2016, so if you're interested in improving your business and paying a lot less than you usually would, give us a shout and also check out the SBDGP web page.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Can I Patent My App or Software Idea ?

This is a question that we have been asked a lot over the nearly 17 years that we have been creating software applications (apps, functional websites etc) for clients all over the place.

Intellectual Property, or "IP", can be a bit confusing and it may be a good idea for you to talk to a solicitor for more specific advice once you get down the track a bit further with your idea, but we're happy for you to benefit from our experience with patents and copyright law at any time so here's a little of what we know.

The answer is that, yes, sometimes you can actually seek a patent for your app idea - but not generally for the app software itself.

You see, apps are software which means that the lines of code that are written by software developers such as ourselves, are controlled by copyright rather than patents. Generally, if you hire us to do a job (create an application) we will assign the copyright to you so that you can freely alter it, or have others alter it in the future without worrying that we will try to claim ownership over that code.

If you have created a whole new way of doing things - or even if you have just come up with a unique way of doing some part of an existing process - then you may be able to apply for a patent for that process itself.

Patents, according to the definition that IP Australia provides are "legally enforceable right for a device, substance, method or process" and for your application to be successful, "your invention must be new, useful and inventive or innovative".

The key thing with patents - aside from making sure that you actually have something unique that someone else hasn't come up with before - is that they let you establish a "Priority Date". This is the date at which you have been formally acknowledged as having come up with an idea and is usually the date that your application was approved by IP Australia.

In Australia, there are 2 types of Patents that can be relevant to your software idea:

The Standard Patent ("Invention")

This is the traditional type of patent wherein a full "Examination" is performed by IP Australia to ascertain if your idea has been invented by someone else before yourself. This process is the more involved (and more expensive) of the two types of patents but gives you better protection and lasts up to 20 years.

If you are granted a patent, you own the exclusive commercial rights to your invention.

For a cheaper alternative to get started, you can apply for a "Provisional Application" which gives you a sort of hold for 12 months while you consider whether you want to go through the process of a full patent application process. If before that 12-month period expires you decide to apply for a full patent (and assuming that patent is granted) then your Priority Date is established as the date of your Provisional Application rather than at the time of the full application.

You can apply for standard patents internationally either by filing in each country, or by filing through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) which gives you access to 148 countries (including Australia, of course).

The Innovation Patent ("Innovation")

This is a newer style of patent application that was introduced a few years ago by IP Australia and can be ideal for software and other "fast" technology-based ideas.

The idea here is that it's not so much about "invention" but rather it's about "innovation".

So, if you have come up with a new way of performing an existing process - but have made it better in some innovative way - then you can apply for an Innovation Patent.

Innovation Patents aren't searched ("Examined") by IP Australia so the cost is far less ($180.00 at the time of writing) and they only last for 8 years.

Examination by IP Australia is optional and can be requested by yourself or someone else who wants to challenge your patent in the future. If, at that point, your patent passes examination and is certified then you have an enforceable patent.

Typically, the process takes about a month for the patent to be granted and it usually takes about 6 months for an examination to be completed (if requested).

The documentation needed for an Innovation Patent is relatively simple, providing you have the right knowledge and forms (IP Australia are sticklers for using the correct formatting and margins etc in their applications).

We have helped a number of our clients to prepare the documentation needed for both types of patent applications and have been granted an Innovation Patent on our own concept called "AssessPal".

In the case of our AssessPal concept. our claims are that we are applying 3-D technology in a particular and unique to an existing process of assessing motor vehicles for damage. There are 3 separate claims (Innovation Patents can have up to 5 claims per patent). Check out our patent here.

An example of an accompanying illustration for our own "AssessPal" Innovation Patent application
(Australian Innovation Patent #2016101591, granted on 8/9/16)

Give us a shout and grab a coffee if you'd like to discuss whether we can help create your new idea.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pun alert: We have some skin in the game!

The start of the new Financial Year sees Creative Intersection taking an exciting new step and becoming an equal partner in the ApreSkin app.

When we originally developed the ApreSkin app, alongside our client Dr Brad Jones (via his corporate innovation vehicle of 3D Medical Software Pty Ltd), we felt that the concept had such a huge potential that we couldn't help ourselves from investing our considerable resources to produce the best possible product.

Wanting to improve their ability to bring innovative products to market, 3D Medical Software approached us with an equity deal that has seen us take a 50% stake in the ApreSkin product line.

We are very much looking forward to guiding the technical development of ApreSkin, and already have a new public version of the app in the pipeline.

The "old" ApreSkin iPad app has been renamed to "ApreSkin MD" as we added a cutting-edge graphics engine for even better compatibility and performance. The new public-use app will be known as "ApreSkin you" and will initially be release for iPhone (with an Android version in the pipeline). 

Watch this space for its release in the next few weeks.

ApreSkin - Creative Intersection's exciting new direction with a 50% stake in this app

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Apple Pay with ANZ (including VISA) in Australia today

This is an update from our previous post back in November 2015 where we announced that Apple Pay had hit Australia in a limited way. At the time, the service was limited to American Express cards issued by Amex themselves only.

Well, that all changed today after ANZ and Apple finally reached an agreement over fees that Apple charge to provide the gateway between their devices and the merchant/clearance facilities that the banks provide.

The "interchange fees" that the card-issuing bank can charge the acquiring bank (the bank handling merchant services for a business) are capped at 0.5% in Australia, so there's only a fairly small pie for those card-issuing banks to share with Apple.

It all comes down to tenths of a percent, but all that adds up to big bickies when you have - potentially - billions of dollars in transactions processed every week.

So, as of today, you can use Apple Pay if you have an iPhone of the correct flavour (iPhone 6/6 Plus or newer, any Apple Watch, or iPad 2/Pro/Mini3) and an ANZ card (Visa or Amex ... but not Mastercard, ANZ Access or ANZ Corporate cards).

Looking at ANZ's info page (http://applepay.anz.com/), they have a delightful little slam of their opposition in the Terms and Conditions (point #2:  "Apple Pay is not currently available at NAB, CommBank or Westpac"). Gotta love the bravado, but hope they remember to change that bit in a couple of months when the other banks finalise their own negotiations!

Remember that not only does Apple Pay mean easy payments for consumers at the checkout, but Apple Pay can be integrated into apps to pay for real-world goods and services without the 30% cut that Apple take for in-app purchases. Uber already has an option to pay for rides using your credit card using Apple Pay in some regions.

If you have an app idea or an existing app that could benefit from Apple Pay integration, give us a shout.

Confirmation of ANZ Visa card added to Apple Watch Wallet

Ready to start spending money using ANZ Visa via Apple Watch

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Announcing our Parse Migration and Hosting Service

As of January 2017, the party is over and Parse will stop operating. Hundreds of thousands of apps that rely on services provided by Parse will stop working entirely and developers need to get their apps converted to other platforms or providers before this date to avoid being rendered inoperable.

Facebook have, however, been kind enough to create a number of tools to help migrate data from their Parse platform - and more importantly have open-sourced the server itself (without a few of the features).

The team at Creative Intersection, being app development experts across a large number of platforms, have started to offer our help to owners of soon-to-be-orphaned apps to migrate to open-source versions of Parse Server hosted by us ... or to migrate the services baked into those apps across to bespoke solutions (like those that we create and use every day for apps that we develop). Such bespoke solutions are not dependent on any one vendor and therefore are portable between hosting providers and support teams.

Check out our Parse Migration and Hosting page for details.

If you are one of the unfortunate app publishers or developers left out in the cold by the Parse shut-down, drop us a line and we can talk about what is needed to help you keep your app alive.

Parse is shutting down.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Dangers of using Third-Party App Backend Services

We often meet with would-be and current app publishers to discuss taking over their partly-finished apps from overseas and local developers when the wheels have started to come off the cart. It is a sad fact of life, but you tend to get what pay for and choosing shortcuts and cheap outsourced options often brings with it some fairly predictable outcomes.

We don't judge, and are (almost) always happy to lend a helping hand to finish apps to a Release stage if they have failed to be completed.

Unfortunately, however, we also come across situations where an inappropriate platform has been chosen and that platform simply won't get the app the rest of the way to a completed, scalable product.

Sometimes it's because previous developers have chosen to create a "cross-platform" app using any number of tools that are yet to work and perform perfectly on any platform.

But the more heart-breaking scenario is when previous developers have deliberately chosen the latest and greatest service platform that then gets shut down because it was just isn't making money (or start charging huge sums of money for existing apps to remain active).

One platform that we have talked with a few app publishers about in the past is called "Parse", a "Mobile Backend as a Service" (or MBaas) product. On the surface of it, it seemed like a good idea to them - owned by Facebook since 2013, it enjoyed a good following and made it easy for less technically athletic developers to create complex services such as Push Notifications and server-side data storage/API's.

Mark Zuckerberg presents at the Facebook Parse Developer Day in 2013.
Pic courtesy of Jolie O'Dell/VentureBeat

Our Managing Director, Ian Exaudi, recalls having meetings with several prospective and current app publishers as recently as last year, who were keen to save budget by getting their app to work via Parse instead of a bespoke API such as those that Creative Intersection builds and hosts.

"It's a tragedy when an app publisher spends $50-80K on an app through another developer only to discover that the app will soon stop working and need to be completely re-built because someone has decided to kill off a third-party service", says Ian. "We feel the pain of these entrepreneurs who are having a red-hot go at doing something cool with a new app but have gotten themselves stuck after receiving ill-considered or inexperienced advice early in their venture".

Last week's announcement from Facebook is a case-in-point. Parse will be shutting down in January 2017, leaving many app developers and publishers stuck and needing to invest in massive changes to their apps and systems just to keep going.

Here is Parse's own announcement.

Lesson:  Own as much of your product as you can!

If you would like to talk about how to get your Parse-based app working again, give us a shout.

(update 3/2/16): We are now offering a Parse Data Migration and Hosting service.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In-depth Analysis Competition Winner Drawn

Congratulations to Jennifer Barraclough from Tassie who was drawn at random from the 574 entries we received across Facebook and Twitter during our competition.

We have been in touch with Jennifer and are excited to see how her great app idea will change the world!