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tools and technology

The Best Applications for Project Management: From Planning to Communication

Operational issues are one of the most complex moments in every business. If your business involves various processes and groups of professionals, applications can deal with the main issues.

How do you define what tools does your team need? Collect communication use-cases that the team utilizes at the time, then analyze current processes and company needs, and think what needs may be present in the future.

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How to Build Your Next App at 4x the Speed

"In terms of prioritization of new funds for digitalization, investment in digitalization was placed in the top 3 for 8 of 15 industries in 2018." — Gartner

In this new age of digital transformation, we need to get our applications to the market as soon as possible. There is so much competition around us, and feature and appeal aren’t all that are required. You don’t want to release your app only to find out your competition beat you to it. And there are also the costs associated with development. Being Agile and lean is the key to survival.

I’ll be talking about an exciting concept called Backend as a Service (BaaS) which accelerates the development process. It essentially aims at automating your backend (more on this later) to give a boost to your development efforts.

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The Best Team Collaboration Software for Increased Project Productivity

Team Collaboration has multiple territories. The territory of time-tracking that entails project managers to track employee hours and monitor team accountability. Teams from various departments have varying patterns of functioning.

For growing businesses, each day is a struggle. Teams endeavor to battle the rising competition, reduce project overheads and meet weekly goals to keep the boat afloat.

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6 Simple Mind Mapping and Brainstorming Tools for Agile Web Development

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Building an app or website is never a one-man show. Developers often work within a dense ecosystem of project managers, content creators, digital marketers, UI designers, and a host of other team members who are usually required to build a functional system.

But even with multiple professional team members working on the same project, success is not always guaranteed. It gets worse for developers looking to instill the principles of Agile web development, the project management methodology that allows developers to efficiently respond to change, allowing for maximum flexibility and adaptive planning as the project chugs along.

For Agile project development, communication is critical to the success of the project. Team members must stay in a constant state of self-organization and collaboration, always ready to tackle issues as they pop up.       

To fulfill this need, it’s always important for development teams to stay in the know when it comes to individual knowledge among team members, which is why brainstorming and knowledge mapping are crucial elements for successful projects. Knowledge mapping is an essential activity that helps teams to identify existing knowledge, what knowledge is missing, and the team’s needs.

There are a handful of useful business tools that teams can use to discover and analyze their knowledge requirements. Check out some of the most effective ones in the next section.

MindView

MindView is a simple mapping tool that allows users to brainstorm and organize thoughts and ideas into actionable plans. While MindView is normally used by individuals to create mind maps, development teams use this tool to assess available knowledge and can come in handy when managing communication with clients.

MindView integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Office and even comes with tons of templates and video tutorials for beginners.

GroupMap

GroupMap is a useful knowledge mapping tool that lets organizations collect and analyze data from different teams and departments within the organization. Users can create maps using custom parameters then have team members share their views from within the map. Team members can grow the map by adding comments via brainstorming sessions.

At the end of the day, the mind maps created from GroupMap can be used to build on new ideas and fill up identified gaps within the project. 

MindMeister

MindMeister is an online-based collaborative tool for mind mapping and brainstorming. It allows organizations to brainstorm by enabling individual users to draw brain maps and share them with other individuals within the team.

Aditya Kamath, Brand Manager of BeBeautiful, says mind mapping tools such as MindMeister can be game-changers for businesses that have outsourced their development projects to external teams.

Citing an example of a redevelopment of his beautiful website, he says that the pool of information collected via such tools provides vital insights into the project for non-technical members, enabling him to maintain visibility into the project and propose timely changes as the project progresses.

Edraw

One of the most effective ways of mapping knowledge within teams is by diagrammatically representing the flow of information as the project matures. Edraw is a cross-platform application that does just that. Its many features include tools for creating organizational charts, flowcharts, mind maps, and workflows that can all be used to show the flow of information within the development cycle.

Edraw is also perfect for large development teams with multiple moving parts, especially international development companies with multiple contacts in more than one location. These often produce a lot of complex data that can be analyzed using Edraw to provide valuable insights on the project.     

LucidChat

Like Edraw Max, LucidChat is a diagramming tool that helps businesses and individuals to map out ideas when creating a mind map. LucidChat comes with a number of basic mind-mapping tools and also allows for real-time collaboration between multiple teams, which makes brainstorming sessions more productive.

LucidChat is quite easy to use, thanks to a ton of tutorials and a large user community. This tool also adds social sharing and custom themes to its arsenal of features.

Bubbl.us

Bubbl.us is another online-based tool for creating mind maps. It is also one of the easiest tools to use for teams. Individual users within a team can create new idea trees and expand them using input from other team members. Each Bubbl.us contribution grows the tree, which can then be used to provide insights about the project in real-time.  

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5 Tips on how to Use Kubernetes Right

In order to use the cloud computing efficiently today, you have to be use Kubernetes to orchestrate your workloads. Here are 5 tips on doing this correctly.

 Kubernetes orchestrate your workloads

Kubernetes is the cornerstone of the modern cloud infrastructure actually and has already turned from just one of the tools in the DevOps toolkit into the basic approach to cloud infrastructure management. Running apps in Docker containers instead of launching them on separate virtual machines turned out to be so efficient that it is by now literally the most popular way of deploying the apps in the cloud.

AWS and Azure, GCP and DigitalOcean provide Kubernetes-as-a-Service (though a DigitalOcean offering will go live in September 2018 only). All this attention to Kubernetes technology leads to a situation when DevOps engineers and other IT specialists worldwide are intrigued to get the hands-on experience with this tool. Below are 5 tips on how to use Kubernetes right.

  • Do your homework and read lots of guidelines on the tool

  • Evaluate the scope of involvement correctly

  • Learn the differences between using Kubernetes with AWS or GCP, Azure or DigitalOcean

  • Don’t try to use all the newest features at once; use what fits your project best

  • Still check on all the latest features — some of them might be the best fit for your project

We go through these points in some more details to explain our point of view.

Read the Kubernetes Documents Before Diving Deep

The official Kubernetes tutorials are detailed, precise, on-point and kept up-to-date. If you are willing to invest some time into reading it, you will get a solid theoretical background and avoid many costly practical mistakes. Should you prefer to watch some explanatory videos, there is an Open edX course on the topic, giving you a chance to grasp a solid understanding of the system basics.

There is no actual need to read all the explanatory documents — grasping the concepts of namespaces, secrets, RBAC, deployments and rolling updates will suffice for a training run. But the more you read, the more you will know about Kubernetes features and management practices, which will be hugely beneficial for you in the end.
Kubernetes documents before deep dive

Know What Are You Going to Do with Kubernetes 

Clearly define the scope of involvement for the Kubernetes project. Do you simply want to launch a Kubernetes cluster on your cloud infrastructure or bare-metal servers? Or you would like to run a test of creating a CI/CD pipeline for your app inside a Kubernetes environment? Or are you going in full speed and aiming to push all the way through to deploying Kubernetes to your production environment and re-configuring your whole software ecosystem?

If the latter is true for you — perhaps hiring an experienced Managed Service Provider to deliver DevOps-as-a-Service would be better than bumping headfirst into the wasp’s nest, which is an untamed Kubernetes management and configuration. Don’t get us wrong, Kubernetes isn’t a maze, but it is a complex production-ready enterprise-grade infrastructure management system with lots of processes under the hood. If you aim to use it in production, trial-and-error will definitely not be the best approach, while using a friendly help to design and configure it to fit your needs, along with training your IT department to work with it will save lots of time and effort.

Every Cloud Service Provider Works Differently with Kubernetes

While the core functions of Kubernetes remain unchanged regardless of where you use it — with AWS of GCP, Azure or DigitalOcean — it is the implementation that changes depending on the cloud provider. There are some differences — significant ones, we must say — between the ways AWS and GCP deal with certain Kubernetes functions. There are great collections of plugins and additional services built around Kubernetes, like Amazon Fargate highlighted during the last AWS Summit 2018 London, but every business is absolutely free to choose their own approach and build highly-customized Kubernetes clusters for their needs.

Don’t Fall for All the Latest Features, Use What Your Project Needs

Kubernetes is constantly and dynamically evolving and there are lots of new features becoming available with each release. For example, using RBAC allows building complex multi-tenant clusters with fine-grained access controls and permissions, where multiple apps will co-exist without interfering into each other’s operations. However, done is better than perfect, and if your system works just fine — perhaps it’s worth leaving it as it is.

Keep an Eye for Kubernetes Updates

Just keep in mind that we do not encourage you to remain rigid. The Kubernetes ecosystem evolves fast, with tools like Helm and Brigade finding their way into daily IT operations, so staying informed of the last Kubernetes updates and developments is essential. For example, some new feature will simplify greatly the workflow for your app deployment, or some additional functionality will allow you to resolve the existing performance bottleneck for good.

Check for the updates to the official Kubernetes documentation and skim through their changelogs to know what’s new and what they are up to next. This way you will be able to receive the best ROI and allocate your computing resources in the most efficient way.

Kubernetes ecosystem

Conclusions

If you are going to benefit in full from all the features and capabilities of a complex production-ready cloud infrastructure management system Kubernetes is, you have to approach the task with utmost attention. Learning the ropes with Kubernetes is tough, but certainly not impossible.

Actually deploying your app to the cloud using Kubernetes pipelines is quite doable, yet in order to use Kubernetes right and to its full capacity — it would be better to opt for professional DevOps services to complete the project and train your in-house IT team to get the most out of Kubernetes.

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Top 11 Continuous Delivery Tools for Kubernetes (Part 1)

Standing up Kubernetes and getting your apps running on it is a fairly straightforward process, but when it comes to updating and deploying apps, it is not always so simple. In particular, performing manual Kubernetes deployments with a large development team can be error-prone:

  • Almost everything related to deployments or most user-facing components in Kubernetes are defined in YAML files. These can be frustratingly error-prone with no feedback when things go wrong.
  • Kubernetes applications are comprised of several different resource types, some of which may need upgrading, and depending on the type of app you are working on, knowing what to update can make deployments complex.
  • Keeping track of the diff history, managing rollbacks of new and old deployments especially when you are working on a large application within a team can be challenging.
  • Managing secrets in Kubernetes between team members working on the same app across different repos requires that you are careful.

To mitigate these problems the ultimate goal for developers working with apps running in Kubernetes is to automate the workflow for code updates to achieve an end-to-end Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.

Depending on your team’s needs and workflows, some tools might be better than others. In this two-part blog series, we discuss some of the more popular tools and highlight the pros and cons of each.

Throughout this survey of CICD tools for Kubernetes, three different patterns emerge:

  • Package Managers
  • CI with CD support for Kubernetes
  • CD only tools

In part 1 of this series, we’ll be looking at tools that fall under package managers and CI tools with CD support for Kubernetes.

Package Managers

Traditional package managers have been around for some time and are a development pattern that is recognized by most engineers. Kubernetes package managers attempt to emulate the functionality of classic package management tools like: apt, yum, apk, and Homebrew.

CD tools in this category update, version, and delete Kubernetes configuration assets for your application as well as deploy new features to your cluster.

Helm has been referred to as the package manager for Kubernetes that works similarly to apt, yum or npm.

Helm uses ‘charts’ where a package of Kubernetes resources and any dependencies needed for your app are defined. Helm charts for a service or set of services reside in their own directory. At a minimum, the directory must contain a file that describes the package, called a Chart.yaml file, and a values.yaml that specifies the default configuration options.

Once a developer calls a chart from the command line, Helm generates the YAML files for the Kubernetes deployment and then applies them to the cluster.

Since Helm is open source, there are a number of OSS community charts that attempt to standardize configurations for many common services used across common applications. These open source charts can be downloaded, amended and used within your own organization from Kubeapps Hub.

An advantage of using Helm is that it makes deploying complex applications more portable, supports automatic rollbacks and is a familiar pattern for developers that makes it easy for them to understand. The drawbacks are that Helm is complex to setup and keeping secrets secure across your pipeline can be difficult to configure.

Another popular package manager type tool is ksonnet and jsonnet. Much like Helm, it provides a way of packaging up Kubernetes resources that can be used to generate the required configuration files for your deployments. Ksonnet is the command line utility and jsonnet, described as a superset of JSON, is the language used to describe your application.

An advantage of this approach is that developers who are already familiar with JSON can easily adopt jsonnet and use it to describe application objects and then deploy their applications without having to wrangle a pile of YAML files. But then, jsonnet is not pure JSON and still requires you to learn its differences.

Draft is Microsoft’s open-source build and deployment tool. It is like a pipeline orchestration CLI that could also be classed as a package manager. Developers can use Draft to generate Docker images after code has finished going through CI. It can also be used to create Helm charts that generate the YAML files Kubernetes needs to deploy your application.

A pro of using Draft is that you can use it with Helm to package their applications and deploy them to Kubernetes running on Azure.

A drawback is that it requires a lot of configuration to ensure a large team of developers is not leaking cluster secrets; in addition to this, the project is also only in Alpha stage.

CI Tools with Kubernetes Support

Continuous Integration (CI) tools have been around for quite some time. They were designed to unit test and integrate your changes with the rest of your code base. If your tests pass, you can ask it to build a Docker image and send it to a repository. With Kubernetes fast becoming an established part of the development process for cloud-native apps, CI tools have further evolved and many have added cluster deployment capability.

4. Jenkins (Cloudbees)

Out of all of the CI tools that have added Kubernetes deployments to their feature set, Jenkins is probably the most popular and powerful tool used by developers today. Jenkins is the open source project and Cloudbees is its equivalent commercial product.

Jenkins describes itself is an automation server and originally the tool offered CI only. It includes a plugin for Kubernetes deployments that allows for Jenkins agents to run inside the cluster and make on-demand deployments as well as set up Blue/Green deployments.

Jenkins allows for declarative pipelines to be built where configuration files can be kept in Git. While it’s powerful, and many developers use it in their development environments, it can be complex, and error-prone. It also relies on a single tool for your entire pipeline which if cluster secrets are leaked outside can be insecure when you are working across multiple teams.

CircleCI is another a well-known and powerful Continuous Integration tool that includes an API for automatic Kubernetes deployments. But if you want to use CircleCI for Kubernetes, you’ll need to add the missing pieces of the deployment pipeline with custom scripts.

While CircleCI does continuous integration well and it also supports automatic deployments to a number of different cloud providers, it lacks rest of the pieces to make a complete pipeline. As a result, it’s up to you to harden the security and to build the scripts to deploy your updates to the cluster. Again, you could use CircleCI with Weave Cloud and not have to worry about the security issue.

Travis is a CI tool that you can use to trigger a set of commands after you’ve pushed code to your GitHub repo. It does not come with “out-of-the-box” support for Kubernetes.

Many people have forged their own pipelines with Travis CI, but it relies on connecting a pile of scripts together. And since in this type of pipeline, the CI portion needs the credentials for the cluster to kickoff the deployment, this method also suffers from the security issue of needing cluster secrets outside of Kubernetes itself.

An advantage of this approach, though, is that you can choose the tools you want and therefore have the best tools to create your pipeline. To mitigate the security issue, you could use Travis for what it was intended and build and incorporate Weave Cloud for cluster deployments.

If you’re looking for an end-to-end pipeline that doesn’t require many configurations and works right out of the box, then GitLab may be the answer. Gitlab comes with built-in support for CI and comes with a native auto-deploy component for Kubernetes. It can also support Helm charts if you don’t want to use their native auto deploy component.

In Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, only Weave Cloud handles cluster credentials in a safe manner and keeps them inside the cluster where they belong, rather than outside of the cluster where they may be exposed to unauthorized access to your cluster and by using a pull-based pipeline pattern, it decouples deployments from the rest of the pipeline. This means that you are free to choose the tools that best suit your needs without compromising security in order to do so.

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Time Management Apps for Boosting Your Efficiency at Work

As hard as we try to be more efficient and productive at work, it’s often hard to adopt better time management practices without using special tools. Here’s our selection of the best time management apps that will help you boost your concentration, spend less time on routine activities, and be aware of how you’re using your time.

1. Focus Booster: Focus@Will

The app uses neuroscience to improve concentration. It’s scientifically proven that specific types of sounds contribute focusing and productivity. Based on this knowledge, Focus@Will app has been developed. Its authors created a short algorithm for selecting the right music on the basis of personality type, and developed over 50 music channels that boost focus.

The app is cloud-based, so there’s no need to install anything or store music collections on your PC or smartphone. After subscribing, you can listen to your music channel from any device. The authors claim 4x focus increase and exponential productivity growth.

2. Pomodoro Timer: Tomighty

If you ever worked on your productivity, you most likely know about Pomodoro time management technique. In its original idea, a simple kitchen timer is used. However, why not use a software timer for that? Tomighty is a free and open-source app that is installed as a desktop app Windows and MacOS and provides three different modes: Pomodoro, short break, and long break mode.

3. Time-Tracker: actiTIME

When working on time management skills and habits, the crucial point is knowing where your time goes. A time-tracking and time management app like actiTIME can be of help here: with it, it’s easy to collect information on time expenses and then summarize the data. Detailed reports and colorful charts provide an overview of how you spend your time.

actiTIME is available as an on-premise app and a cloud service and offers packages for teams of any size. It helps freelancers, small and medium businesses, and large companies improve time management practices.

4. To-do List: Clear

Creating nice and clear to-do lists to avoid overlooking something important in your daily routine increases productivity – this app is a great tool for that. The app helps unclutter your work process even if you have too many small tasks. With its multiple lists, you can sort your tasks by various areas: work, household, shopping etc.

Personalize your lists by selecting different color themes for them. Check what needs to get done soon in Today’s tasks view – this way you won’t miss out anything. Another helpful feature is iCloud sync: with it, it’s possible to access your task lists from anywhere.

5. Mindmap App: MindMeister

Mind maps are an efficient way to organize ideas. Use this tool to create your mind maps, share them with friends or colleagues, and work on them together. Such collaboration features as chat, comments and voting help develop great ideas in less time.

The tool also allows to visualize your ideas and prepare presentations. MindMeister has a built-in presentation module that converts your mind maps into informative and colorful presentations within a second. This way, you can communicate your ideas to others in an easy and efficient way.

6. Data Organizer: Evernote

Evernote is a tool that needs no introductions. If you’re not using it yet, consider adopting it. It provides a simple way to collect and organize all necessary information, helping you avoid wasting time on recalling what and where you’ve found and saved.

7. Email Organizer: Yesware

We all know what a time-waster inbox is. Spam and constant distractions for checking it seems to be the worst enemies of focus and productivity. A mindful time management approach involves optimization of this part of work, and Yesware is one of the tools that offers a solution to the inbox problem.

Yesware is a complex email management app that helps you schedule your communication, automate your emails by using templates, and manage follow-ups. If you’re a Salesforce user, you’ll also appreciate automatic sync of your emails, attachments, and meetings with it.

8. Meetings Manager: Clara

Speaking of meetings, the Clara app is worth mentioning. It is a meeting scheduling tool designed for HRs and other employees whose work involves multiple meetings. It helps you schedule, coordinate, and send invitations to all involved parties. The app is a great way to stop wasting time on manual coordination by email and phone.

9. Bookmarking App: Pocket

Do you consume a lot of information? If so, you’ll definitely appreciate Pocket, the bookmarking app. When you find a useful or interesting content, just save it to read later when you have time. This way, you’ll avoid getting distracted, save time, and discover new content. Pocket is available for mobile devices, desktops, and browsers.

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Cloud Services Comparison: AWS vs. Google vs. Azure

In a multi-cloud world, organizations may use different cloud providers for multiple capabilities concurrently. Most of the cloud service providers (CSP) out there offer high-quality services, with excellent availability, high security, good performance, and customer support. But the market is dominated by a top three—Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

Each CSP provides an array of products covering all you can possibly need for your online operations. They differ not only in pricing but also in how each names and groups their services. Below, we show the most common elements: infrastructure, auto-scaling, security, monitoring, and much more. Our aim is to help cross-identify comparative services from each CSP so that you can easily weigh your application or workload requirements to select the best fit for your business.

Cloud Services Comparison List

Compute

Calculate, process, and compute—a computer’s fundamental role. In addition, the right cloud provider can scale to thousands of processing nodes for you in just a few minutes.

Storage

A key function of cloud services is its storage capabilities. While AWS’ storage services are the longest running, Google’s and Microsoft Azure’s are also very respectable and reliable options.

Networking and Content Delivery

Each provider offers different networks and partners which interconnect their data centers across the globe using a variety of different products to achieve this.

Database

All three providers allow you to implement both SQL and NoSQL solutions. Alternatively, if you don’t need a database, go for their caching capabilities instead.


Management and Monitoring

Each of the top three offers a range of management and monitoring services which provide visibility into the health, performance, and utilization of applications, workloads, and infrastructure.

Security

Here, we cover the range of capabilities provided to protect services and data.

Developer Tools

And finally, the tools you need to build, deploy, diagnose, debug, and manage multiplatform, scalable applications and services.


Caylent offers DevOps-as-a-Service to high growth companies looking for help with microservices, containers, cloud infrastructure, and CI/CD deployments. Our managed and consulting services are a more cost-effective option than hiring in-house and we scale as your team and company grow. Check out some of the use cases and learn how we work with clients by visiting our DevOps-as-a-Service offering.

This post was originally published here.

Updated June 2018

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