New Year, New Look – Technology

Technology – is quite literally our bread & butter.

Our strength is .Net (& associated technologies) & NodeJS (& associated technologies). We work on everything from desktops, web, mobile, hybrid & cloud. We develop for custom line-of-business applications, one-off mobile apps, API’s, Arduino-based robots and everything else that is possible within these technologies. We work with databases like SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, MongoDB, & CouchDB. We are decent with SSRS, SSIS technologies. We work with Azure, AWS, Heroku & AppFog cloud services. We have worked on various domains like Banking, Insurance, Mortgage, Media & Healthcare.

It is easy to go crazy & get the best-in-breed for what we need as our IT stack (both in-house + client-facing). However, we believe that we need to keep our in-house technology costs to a minimum to free up more capital on other revenue-generating areas like: Client Projects, R&D, Sales, Marketing etc., given that we are self-funded (aka: its coming out of our own pockets!)

So, while we can (& do!) use all of these technologies & tools – we prefer to keep our own internal systems as light as possible by using Open Source Software, where possible. So, Notepad++, Visual Studio Express Editions etc., are more common place than full-blown Premium Editions for anything internal. Thank you OSS & the people who contribute their time/effort to creating them – our small company is totally dependent & grateful to the community. On our future to-do list – we have a goal to contribute back sufficiently to the community & hopefully show our respect to the whole initiative.

On the other hand, client-facing projects & R&D get all the love – best of what we have today, with a healthy does of “is there an OSS option” before we plunge into licensing & installs etc.

To help focus where we really want to spend our limited cash, we came up with a simple criteria as below:

  • Client-facing IT
    • Will do whatever it takes to deliver the best results
    • Costs are offset via pricing of that specific service
  • R&D efforts IT
    • Will take a one-time hit on specific projects
    • Will be OSS, where-ever feasible & if we have alternatives to a specific technology/solution
    • Costs are budgeted for the year & spend is monitored
    • Expected ROI is tracked very closely
  • Internal IT & Website(s)
    • Will be OSS, where-ever feasible
    • Each item given a nominal value of $50/year (or less!)
    • The only spend allowed for items in this bucket are related to security & privacy of data, which might push up the nominal value

The Cost of a Website

With our limited budget of $50.00/year (or less!), here is our technology stack & costing for this website:

Description Cost
Development

NodeJS with Express Webserver. Front-end is built using Bootstrap with Font-awesome & a sprinkling of custom CSS. All code done using NotePad++  as IDE, keeps the overall tool licensing to a minimum!

$0.00
Source Control & Issue Tracker

BitBucket has been our go-to system for both source control & internal issue tracking. Couple of reasons for this selection: unlimited PRIVATE repositories (a must) which GitHub does not provide! Built-in Issue Tracker (not the greatest), however it can be independently private and/or public to accept bugs. Limits to 5 users – which is effectively more than double our current staff. What else can a SMB ask for?

$0.00
Email

Mandrill/Mailchimp for email/campaign  solution (12,000 emails/month free rocks!) & we don’t blast out half that. AWS SES is another option, but we wanted a higher-level of functionality (like: Campaigns, Mailing lists etc.) without having to write & so Mailchimp it is.

$0.00
CDN

all images assets (& eventually all static files like: .css, .js, .html etc.) hosted by Cloudinary Free account. 75,000 images in that band & we have uploaded 21 of which 15 background images of the home page & remaining various versions of the Logo, Favicon & touch-enabled versions for iPhone/Andriod/Windows.

$0.00
Infrastructure

AWS Free-tier for 1 year rocks! (& keeps the $ down too). Node-clustered t1.micro Ubuntu instance deployed to US-East data center. We don’t have large traffic (per our Google Analytics Stats). But if we see loads moving up, we will scale. A Load Balancer + 2x t1.small instance would suffice for the next step if/when we get to it.

*AWS Free-tier year 1;
$0.00*
Domain Hosting

GoDaddy (irrespective of their racy ads, which we love in a quirky way!).

*$50.85/5 years (1 year free + 4 years of hosting)
$10.17*
Blog

WordPress free edition to host this blog site & all the goodness associated with it! Yes it is not branded site & neither is it subdomain-ed under itwox.com. However we are pulling latest 3 entries from the blog into this site & based on how the traffic goes we will plan for better integration. We do have an up-coming release to have blog.itwox.com to point to this Wordpress blog

$13.00
 Total Cost (year 1) $20.17

NOTE 1: we don’t have a SSL Certificate for this site. We will need one eventually, especially one that covers sub-domains like *.itwox.com. If anyone has a good (& cheap) option, drop us a note.

NOTE 2: read the above cost breakdown purely from a website running perspective. We have not added the legal documentation costs of running a start-up, into this list as it is a different bucket of expense to the whole IT-side of the business. Perhaps one day, we might put that up into a blog post too.

Thoughts

While keeping the costs lean is ideal, we want to be practical & do what is absolutely needed & cut out the rest. Do you see anything that can be changed and/or needed which is missing from the list above? Leave us a comment.

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New Year, New Look – Design

Here is an interesting quote, which highlights our design philosophy:

Without good design, it is easy to miss the point
– Bjarni Wark

As a small start-up company, our need to project the branding/messaging is key both as a means to show the differentiating value we bring to our clients & as a message which will resonate with them if they had an opportunity to just glance over it once.

After a lot of debate, the simplest mission statement we could craft is:

We Deliver High Quality Software
– IT.Wox Mission Statement

This statement captures our area of work (namely Software Development), our approach (of Delivery) & what the client can expect in the whole process (High Quality).

Needless to say – our whole design now revolves around this message.

The Offerings

Limited as our team is, we cannot (& will not!) promise to do everything under the sun. Rather our focus is simple & plays to our strengths:

  • Consulting: which applies to one-off point-in-time help to our client needs for Architecture, Design & Development of Applications (usually web/mobile or hybrids). We bring over 20+ years of experience in this space & can help guide our clients for simplest to complex enterprise-grade implementations.
  • Development: which applies to our own development efforts, be it Open Source Software or custom Software Products (to be announced soon!) and/or custom development for our clients. We are hands-on technical team with skills in .Net & NodeJS platforms.

Our belief is that a company is successful if it has both Consulting & Development offerings. On one hand, Consulting exposes you to different & unique experiences with a constant need to quickly assess situations & provide solutions within a pre-defined timelines based off your past experiences/knowledge. On the other hand, in-house Development gives us the technical depth to dig deep & have our own arsenal of tools & techniques to offer when our clients approach us with their specific needs.

The Design

We feel our new site captures the mission statement & our current offerings really well.

Capture

Our mission statement really pops out with our service offerings following with clear Call-To-Action buttons inviting the visitor to contact us.

The site is responsive. We are using the excellent Bootstrap CSS framework for the responsive behavior & alignment of various components. JADE view engine delivers the HTML over ExpressJS web-server. We did think about Angular/React/Flux/(you name it…), but at this point we kept the over-all development complexity to a minimum by sticking to plain-old HTML renderings.

While the page content was intentionally kept spartan to avoid information overload, this layout allows us to expand the number of widgets on the UI & gives us an ability to show-case various items in the future in a dashboard-y way.

Contacts

One important addition to the UI is the Contact Widget:

Capture1

This widget will be visible on most of the screens in the new design, albeit with few modifications of the title to make sense in the different page contexts like so:

Capture2 Capture3

This allows our visitors to reach out via email and/or via our Twitter account for any question and/or comments in a consistent manner. Over a period of time, we hope to add a LinkedIn, Facebook & Chat/IRC links here.

While having an email contact for support is no-brainer, we did debate including the Twitter account up there. We look at Twitter as a social communication “headliner” rather than a discussion forum. However it might help promote the brand by having few tweets going out at the current stage. Time & experience will give us better understanding of this design decision.

Blog

Blogging is going to be key for us to show-case some of the interesting happenings around IT.Wox. Besides the title of our Blog is pretty cool (IMO):

Capture4

Needless to say, it had to be part of our home page.

We currently pull in the 3 latest postings from our blog & show up on the UI.

Ideally we would have liked to pull in content based off a specific tag and/or set of tags (e.g.: pull content which has been tagged “IT.Wox” on the blog). Or take it a step further & pull content based off the visitor’s browsing history (e.g.: pull content on “.NET” if the user has been searching on that term & we have Google and/or some other social behavior tracking software provide that context).

While the whole behavior tracking seems cool, we need to be cognizant of visitor privacy (which is a whole different post at a later time). Besides, what if the user has been searching for furniture during this holiday season & lands on this site out of some twist of fate? Do we show him a blank in the blogs as we (usually) will not have any content related to furniture?

So, the choice was simple – pull by tags at a later date (when we build up sufficient content) & till then latest 3 postings it is.

Feedback

At this time, this site contains the bare bone minimum amount of content & information needed. Over the coming months, we will expand both the content & the functionality of this site to better fit our needs. However, we are confident that the current design should hold for most of our use-cases & would love to hear your comments/feedback about this new look.

Is there any aspect of this site we should have styled differently? Do you like/hate it? Feel free to sound off in the comments & continue reading the remaining parts of this series.

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I love to Grunt & Gulp

Task Runners – like Grunt & Gulp are such time-savers!

Reason: Automation!!!
Remove the “grunt work” by making tasks repeatable & standardize build/deploy scenarios, win-win!

Now, I am sure many of the savvy techies in you would have already checked out Grunt/Gulp and using them in your own ways. Task Runners have been in the wild for some time now, with excellent tutorials to get you started & so I will not delve into the details of how/what/why of these items.

The point of this article is for an interesting thought I had:

  • Is there any real need for such a framework(s) in your code in the first place?
  • Aren’t we introducing additional components + complexity into our code by having such items?

Is there an alternative to get the automation benefits of Task Runners, without the need for additional complexity and/or bloat of adding such frameworks into your code?

When this thought occurred to me late last night (yes, during a New Year’s Eve Party & yes – I am THAT kind of nerd!), I just could not wait to get started & give it a twirl in the NPM world & see where I get to.

More specifically, I was thinking of code along the lines of:

// code in package.json
...
scripts: {
"build": "npm build:script && npm build:css && npm:deploy",
"build:script": "browserify src/index.js -o dist/lib.js",
"build:css": "less"
}
...

As soon as I started along these lines, a small voice in my head went:
did someone think of such a solution before & if yes, what does that code look like?
Answer: Google says someone already has got there first.

As I tip my hat to the master, I also realize that I have been 2 months 1 day slower in coming up with this thought & 23 days slower in publishing a solution

Respect!

I would strongly recommend to read through his material before continuing.

My personal opinion is that he is on to something here & I do see all the benefits in the solution.

Question: will I use the proposed solution in my own code-base?
Answer: While I really like the solution, is it worth the cost of readability for someone to “get” what it really stands for? I don’t know.

I will let this one simmer for a while & eventually wean off Grunting/Gulping.

I am too much in habit at this point in time.

Happy 2015!

WebsiteManager v1.0 Released!

Ladies & Gentlemen, presenting my first open-source application called WebsiteManager – finally released & ready for you good folks to use!

This version (v1.0) provides a UI to manage the ASP.Net Memberships & roles via a web application using ASP.Net MVC 3.5 (although you could use it on ASP.Net MVC 2.0 also)

I have a couple of useful ideas which I plan to implement in this application during the course of the new few releases.

So hang tight 🙂

Please feel free to download the latest bits from CodePlex, use it as you see fit. I would truly appreciate some feedback on this effort & open to any new ideas you would like to see put into the future releases.

Again – CodePlex is the place for all this information.

Have fun!