It has been a few years since we last looked at single sign-on products, the field has gotten more crowded and more capable.
Since we last looked at single sign-on products in 2012, the field has gotten more crowded and more capable. For this round of evaluations, we looked at seven SSO services: Centrify’s Identity Service, Microsoft’s Azure AD Premium, Okta’s Identity and Mobility Management, OneLogin, Ping Identity’s Ping One, Secure Auth’s IdP, and SmartSignin. Our Clear Choice test winner is Centrify, which slightly outperformed Okta and OneLogin. (Read the full review.)
Centrify Identity Service
Centrify has put together a solid single sign-on tool that also has some terrific mobile device management features. If you are in the market for both kinds of products, this should be on your short list. The admin user interface is well thought-out. Set up was quickly accomplished. Multi-factor authentication settings are located in the policy tab for users and in the apps tab for individual apps. The MFA choices are numerous, including email, SMS texts and phone calls, and security questions. Centrify comes with dozens of canned reports, plus the ability to create your own using custom SQL queries.
Microsoft Azure Active Directory Access Control
Earlier this year Microsoft added Azure Active Directory to its collection of cloud-based offerings. It is difficult to setup because you tend to get lost in the hall of mirrors that is the Azure setup process. It is still very much a work in progress and mainly a developer’s toolkit rather than a polished service. But clearly Microsoft has big plans for Azure AD, as its new Windows App Store is going to rely on it for authentication. If you already are using Azure, then it makes sense to take a closer look at Azure AD. If you are looking for a general purpose SSO portal, then you should probably look elsewhere.
Okta Identity and Mobility Management
Okta tied for first place in our 2012 review and it remains a very capable product. Okta’s user interface is very simple to navigate. Okta has beefed up its multi-factor authentication functionality. It now offers a mobile app, Okta Verify, as a one-time password generator. It also supports other MFA methods. Okta has its own mobile app that can provide a secure browsing session and allow you to sign in to your apps from your phone. It contains some MDM functionality, although it is not a full MDM tool. Reports have been strengthened as well, but reports only show the last 30 days.
OneLogin was the other co-winner of our 2012 review and while it is still strong, its user interface has become a bit unwieldy. OneLogin has numerous SAML toolkits in a variety of languages to make it easier to integrate your apps into its SSO routines. It also has specific configuration screens to set up a VPN login and take you to specific apps. OneLogin’s AD Connector requires all of the various components of Net Framework v3.5 to be installed. Once that was done, it was a simple process to install their agent and synchronize our AD with their service. OneLogin has 11 canned reports and you can easily create additional custom ones.
Ping Identity PingOne
Ping began as on-premises solution with PingFederate, but now offers cloud-based PingOne, web access tool PingAccess and OTP soft token generator PingID. Multi-factor authentication support is somewhat limited in PingOne. You can use PingID or SafeNet’s OTP tokens. If you want more factors, you have to purchase the on-premises Ping Federate. Reports are not this product’s strong suit. The dashboard gives you an attractive summary, but there isn’t much else. Ping would be a stronger product if consolidated their various features and focused on the cloud as a primary delivery vehicle. If that isn’t important to you, or if you have complex federation needs, then you should give them more consideration and look at PingFederate.
Of the products we tested, SecureAuth has the most flexibility and the worst user interface, a combination that can be vexing at times. SecureAuth is the only product tested that has to run on a Windows Server. The interface is supposed to get a refresh later this year, but the current version makes it easy to get lost in a series of cascading menus. The real strength of SecureAuth always has been its post-authentication workflow activities. SecureAuth’s MFA support is strong, featuring a wide selection of factors and tokens to choose from. This is a testimonial to its flexibility.
SmartSignin has been acquired by PerfectCloud and integrated into their other cloud-based security offerings. They now support seven identity providers (Amazon, Netsuite and AD) with more on the horizon and more than 7,000 app integrations. The identity providers make use of SAML or other federated means, and come with extensive installation instructions. This is a little more complex than some of its competitors. When it comes to MFA support, SmartSignin is the weakest of the products we reviewed. They are working on other MFA methods, including SMS and voice, but didn’t have them when we tested. Also, MFA is just for protecting your entire user account, there is no mechanism for protecting individual apps.
There’s a lot more to it than just how many apps you can put in a box
Name a tech company, any tech company, and they’re investing in containers. Google, of course. IBM, yes. Microsoft, check. But, just because containers are extremely popular, doesn’t mean virtual machines are out of date. They’re not.
Yes, containers can enable your company to pack a lot more applications into a single physical server than a virtual machine (VM) can. Container technologies, such as Docker, beat VMs at this part of the cloud or data-center game.
VMs take up a lot of system resources. Each VM runs not just a full copy of an operating system, but a virtual copy of all the hardware that the operating system needs to run. This quickly adds up to a lot of RAM and CPU cycles. In contrast, all that a container requires is enough of an operating system, supporting programs and libraries, and system resources to run a specific program.
What this means in practice is you can put two to three times as many as applications on a single server with containers than you can with a VM.
In addition, with containers you can create a portable, consistent operating environment for development, testing, and deployment. That’s a winning trifecta.
If that’s all there was to containers vs. virtual machines then I’d be writing an obituary for VMs. But, there’s a lot more to it than just how many apps you can put in a box.
Container problem #1: Security
The top problem, which often gets overlooked in today’s excitement about containers, is security. As Daniel Walsh, a security engineer at Red Hat who works mainly on Docker and containers puts it: Containers do not contain. Take Docker, for example, which uses libcontainers as its container technology. Libcontainers accesses five namespaces — Process, Network, Mount, Hostname, and Shared Memory — to work with Linux. That’s great as far as it goes, but there’s a lot of important Linux kernel subsystems outside the container.
These include all devices, SELinux, Cgroups and all file systems under /sys. This means if a user or application has superuser privileges within the container, the underlying operating system could, in theory, be cracked.
That’s a bad thing.
Now, there are many ways to secure Docker and other container technologies. For example, you can mount a /sys file system as read-only, force container processes to write only to container-specific file systems, and set up the network namespace so it only connects with a specified private intranet and so on. But, none of this is built in by default. It takes sweat to secure containers.
The basic rule is that you’ll need to treat containers the same way you would any server application. That is, as Walsh spells out:
Another security issue is that many people are releasing containerized applications. Now, some of those are worse than others. If, for example, you or your staff are inclined to be, shall we say, a little bit lazy, and install the first container that comes to hand, you may have brought a Trojan Horse into your server. You need to make your people understand they cannot simply download apps from the Internet like they do games for their smartphone.
OK, so if we can lick the security problem, containers will rule all, right? Well, no. You need to consider other container aspects.
Rob Hirschfeld, CEO of RackN and OpenStack Foundation board member, observed that: “Packaging is still tricky: Creating a locked box helps solve part of [the] downstream problem (you know what you have) but not the upstream problem (you don’t know what you depend on).”
Breaking deployments into more functional discrete parts is smart, but that means we have MORE PARTS to manage. There’s an inflection point between
To this, I would add that while this is a security problem, it’s also a quality assurance problem. Sure, X container can run the NGINX web server, but is it the version you want? Does it include the TCP Load Balancing update? It’s easy to deploy an app in a container, but if you’re installing the wrong one, you’ve still ended up wasting time.
Hirschfeld also pointed that out container sprawl can be a real problem. By this he means you should be aware that “Breaking deployments into more functional discrete parts is smart, but that means we have MORE PARTS to manage. There’s an inflection point between separation of concerns and sprawl.”
Remember, the whole point of a container is to run a single application. The more functionality you stick into a container, the more likely it is you should been using a virtual machine in the first place.
So how do you go about deciding between VMs and containers anyway? Scott S. Lowe, a VMware engineering architect, suggests that you look at the “scope” of your work. In other words if you want run multiple copies of a single app, say MySQL, you use a container. If you want the flexibility of running multiple applications you use a virtual machine.
In addition, containers tend to lock you into a particular operating system version. That can be a good thing: You don’t have to worry about dependencies once you have the application running properly in a container. But it also limits you. With VMs, no matter what hypervisor you’re using — KVM, Hyper-V, vSphere, Xen, whatever — you can pretty much run any operating system. Do you need to run an obscure app that only runs on QNX? That’s easy with a VM; it’s not so simple with the current generation of containers.
So let me spell it out for you.
Do you need to run the maximum amount of particular applications on a minimum of servers? If that’s you, then you want to use containers — keeping in mind that you’re going to need to have a close eye on your systems running containers until container security is locked down.
If you need to run multiple applications on servers and/or have a wide variety of operating systems you’ll want to use VMs. And if security is close to job number one for your company, then you’re also going to want to stay with VMs for now.
In the real world, I expect most of us are going to be running both containers and VMs on our clouds and data-centers. The economy of containers at scale makes too much financial sense for anyone to ignore. At the same time, VMs still have their virtues.
As container technology matures, what I really expect to happen, as Thorsten von Eicken, CTO of enterprise cloud management company RightScale, put it is that VM and containers will come together to form a cloud portability nirvana. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.
CEO Nadella’s influence, platform-agnostic approach cited
Microsoft so far this year has been the most acquisitive company in enterprise IT, snapping up at least four firms on top of four others that it bought in the last two months of 2014. And while the buyouts might at first glance appear scattershot – we’re talking text analysis, calendaring and digital pen startups among others — there does seem to be a grand plan here.
Our regularly updated Enterprise Networking & IT Acquisition Tracker shows through the first calendar quarter that Microsoft has announced more than twice as many buyouts as any other company (not that all acquisitions are immediately made public and taking into account that our tracker is focused on enterprise-related acquisitions — Google has bought at least four consumer-oriented companies).
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is starting its 40th year on a real buyout tear, fleshing out its mobile, cloud and big data/analytics offerings through acquisitions as it moves forward on big initiatives such as Windows 10 and its new Spartan browser. According to the company’s own Acquisition History chart — see a condensed and sortable version at the very end of this article — Microsoft has not gobbled up five companies in a quarter since 2008 when it bought 9 firms, not many of which most people would recall. Caligari or Credentica anyone?
Of the hundreds of TED talks available online, many are geared toward helping people view life in a new
Microsoft finished 2008 with 16 announced buyouts, the most of any year included in its Acquisition History tracker, which goes back to 1994. Wikipedia keeps a list that dates back to 1987, but few purchases were made between then and ’94. Other than for its largest deals, Microsoft is cryptic about how much it pays for companies, requiring those interested to ferret through its SEC filings for clues.
So, Microsoft is on a record-breaking M&A pace for calendar year 2015 — its fiscal year starts in July and ends in June — and all of the deals so far have possible enterprise IT implications. The rundown: LiveLoop is involved in PowerPoint collaboration; Equivio makes text analytics/e-discovery software that could bolster Office 365; and open source company Revolution Analytics promises to bring R programming to more IT shops. It has also been widely reported that Microsoft is buying Israel’s N-trig, which sells digital pens for devices like the Surface Pro 3 tablet (If the N-trig deal is in fact true, three of Microsoft’s last nine deals would have involved Israeli firms). One other deal, Microsoft’s acquisition of iOS/Android calendaring app maker Sunrise, is a consumer-focused pact on the surface but an investor says Sunrise had business use cases in mind.
Microsoft is also rumored to be a front-runner to buy social news reader Prismatic, which would not appear to be an enterprise-related buy.
As Fortune wrote recently, “Microsoft is buying startups people love…”
We reached out to Microsoft a week ago to discuss the spending spree with their M&A personnel and we will either update this article or create a new one if they do get back to us. In the meantime, we got feedback from industry watchers and investors, all of whom credit CEO Satya Nadella and his “new” Microsoft for heading aggressively down the acquisition path.
“Right now is a great time for Microsoft to be buying startups,” says Forrester VP and Principal Analyst J.P. Gownder (@JGownder). “Companies in some of these fields, like machine learning (Equivio), are solving really specific problems in computational intelligence, and would require Microsoft to staff up big teams to catch up. In other cases, the company purchased is already a key partner [such as heavily reported but unconfirmed N-trig buyout]. And in yet other cases, they are receiving IP that applies to their cross-platform strategy to deliver iOS and Android apps (as with Sunrise). These are all well-considered, smart acquisitions.”
CEO Nadella has indeed been a force behind Microsoft’s approach, Gownder says.
“Satya Nadella is driving a new Microsoft forward: One that is more agile, more attuned to customer needs, and less entrenched in the platform wars. He wants to deliver an experience for Windows that customers will ‘love’ (not tolerate), in his words, while also empowering Microsoft to deliver software and services on non-Windows platforms. To accomplish these goals, he needs the traditionally contemplative, slow Microsoft organization to move more quickly. So these acquisitions flow naturally from the new mindset, and bode well for Microsoft’s future (even if a lot of work remains to be done).”
Rob Go (@RobGo), co-founder and partner at Sunrise investor NextView Ventures, concurs.
“Microsoft has had a history of growing its product and talent base for many years. But under Satya Nadella, what we are seeing is a company moving with renewed strategic focus and conviction. One major theme that ties together many of these
acquisitions is a newfound respect for the ecosystem that surrounds the company’s software and hardware products. From an ethos that was much more protective and silo-ed, Microsoft is making major moves in extending their software onto other companies’ platforms (leading productivity apps on IOS and Android like Sunrise and Acompli, a platform-agnostic file viewing service like LiveLoop, third-party integrations with Dropbox, etc).”
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Jack Gold (@jckgld), principal analyst and founder of J. Gold Associates, describes Microsoft’s moves as both offensive and defensive, and a good use of a cash hoard that hovers around $90 billion even if the company is just scooping up qualified professional staff additions.
“Nadella has refocused Microsoft on becoming innovative again, after a significant number of years where it mainly coasted,” he says. “The acquisitions signal a willingness to go outside for tech it doesn’t have, but thinks it needs to be competitive long term with Google, Apple, IBM, Samsung, etc. Further, it signals that it’s full blown into going to the cloud, after its lukewarm thrusts under the previous management. That’s the offensive side.”
Defensively, look for Microsoft to consume valuable startups and other companies going forward before Google, Apple and others do, Gold says. “As for what this means for enterprise, I see Microsoft’s newfound willingness to go after tech outside its four walls as a refresh of its earlier years where it was an innovator” with Office, Exchange and Windows, he says.
While none of Microsoft’s latest deals would be characterized as blockbusters – unlike billion-dollar-plus transactions in recent years for Nokia’s phone business, Skype and even Minecraft maker Mojang – the startups being stockpiled could pay big dividends for the company and its customers.
I used the Acer Chromebook 15, which boasts the largest screen of any Chromebook, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it yet.
Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to review two laptops. Both of them being… rather beefy: the Chromebook Pixel and the Dell M3800. These two machines are powerhouses – sporting extremely high-resolution screens and high-end processors – with price tags to match. But then, this past week, the delivery man dropped off an entirely different category of laptop: the Acer Chromebook 15.
The model I have here is the CB5-571-C09S, sporting a 15.6-inch display (with a 1080p resolution), an Intel Celeron CPU (at 1.6GHz), 4GB of RAM, and a 32GB SSD. All of which costs $350 retail.
I’m going to come right out and say it – I’ve had a difficult time figuring out exactly how I feel about this laptop.
On the one hand, it has a huge display, the biggest of any Chromebook ever made. It may not come even close to the resolution of Google’s Pixel, which rocks 2560×1700, but the Acer’s 15.6-inch screen makes the Pixel’s sub-13-inch screen look tiny by comparison. This is a big freaking laptop screen.
See also: A Linux user tries out Windows 10
The screen quality, it should be noted, is pretty nice. The viewing angles aren’t quite as good as the Pixel (or the Dell M3800’s 4K display), but it’s not bad either. And, considering the massive price difference between the Acer and those other laptops ($350 for the Acer vs. over $2,000 for the Dell and over $1,000 for the Pixel), that reduction in quality is actually not as dramatic as you might expect.
The guts of the machine (CPU, RAM, and hard drive) are all excellent… for a $350 machine. If you sit down and compare the specs of this relatively gargantuan-sized Chromebook against a Pixel, you will be disappointed. But when you remember that you can buy three of these Acer laptops for the cost of a single Pixel, things start to look (a lot) more interesting.
Is the Acer Chromebook 15 a speed demon? No. It isn’t exactly decked out with the latest and greatest i7 processor. But it’s no slouch, either. In fact, I very rarely experienced any sluggishness with this machine. Even with a large number of tabs open and Google Play Music streaming some tunes in the background, the entire system was peppy and responsive.
See also: Dell’s Ubuntu-powered M3800 Mobile Workstation is a desktop destroyer
And, let’s be honest, in a Chromebook that’s really what you care about: lots of Chrome tabs, background audio, and playing either a YouTube or Netflix HD video clip. This little Acer (did I just call this mega-sized laptop “little”?) can handle all of that without slowing down in the slightest.
The battery life is pretty solid as well. Acer claims around nine hours of battery life. I drained the battery (from completely charged down to nothing) in around eight hours. But that was fairly heavy usage with music playing in the background the majority of the time (one does want to rock out while reviewing hardware, after all). Eight hours of battery life on a gigantic 15.6-inch screen seems really solid to me.
So, what’s the problem? It sounds like I’ve just described a pretty doggone great laptop at a super low price. If I stopped right there, purchasing this Chromebook is a no-brainer.
But, instead of stopping there, let’s talk about the build quality for a minute.
When I first unpacked the box, and pulled out this large white laptop, I was struck by something… profound.
This machine is… profoundly plastic.
The model I have here is white. Solid white. With a subtle crisscross embossing patterning covering the entire outside.
The plastic isn’t the fancy kind of plastic, either. It’s the kind of plastic that many of my toys from the 1980’s were made with. The kind where, when you tap on it with your fingernail, it makes that distinct “just tapped on a plastic toy” sound. In other words: it feels cheap.
When you open the lid and look at the keyboard, the initial impression is a positive one. The keyboard is certainly full laptop-sized. Typing on the keys feels good… for the most part. Typing aggressively on the keyboard – which I tend to do – results in a sound not unlike banging on a small plastic drum. Or, if you had an original Nintendo Entertainment System, the sound when you knocked on the top of it. That “hollow plastic shell” sound. That’s the sound that banging on this keyboard makes. It’s not loud, and it’s not obnoxious, by any means. But it sounds cheap.
That’s a weird thing to say in a laptop review, I know. “It sounds cheap when you tap on it.” But it’s true. And it’s noteworthy. And it begins to make me realize why this laptop is available at such a cheap price.
Also… the screen bends. A significant amount. And rather easily. If you open the laptop (lift the screen up) and put just a small amount of pressure on the bottom of the bezel around the screen, it bends noticeably. This issue seems to pertain mostly to the display half. The keyboard half feels far sturdier and doesn’t seem to suffer from any bending or rigidity issues.
Interestingly, there are two things that do not feel quite as “cheap.” The trackpad (which has a good feel and a distinctive “click” to it when pressed) and the speakers (which are large, with visible plastic grating covering them, that produce quite decent sound for this price range of a laptop). Two components that, often, even expensive laptops don’t do well. So big high-five to the Acer crew there.
So, to sum up: on the one hand, this laptop sports the largest screen on any Chromebook and packs enough muscle to stand toe-to-toe with most other Chromebooks. But, on the other hand, the build quality reminds you that you only paid a fraction of the price that you would for a “premium laptop.”
Would I recommend this laptop to someone? You know what… yes. Yes, I would.
If you want a Linux-powered Chromebook with a big freaking screen… this is the Chromebook for you. I can literally put a Chromebook Pixel in front of the Acer’s screen and it doesn’t even come close to blocking the view.
It’s also an incredibly good deal. For $350, I could lug this laptop around with me and not worry too much about banging it up. I could break one and buy an identical replacement, and still have save several hundred dollars over buying a Pixel.
So, yes. The Acer Chromebook 15 is a good machine with an interesting place in the market. I’m glad Acer is making it and I can think of some people who would truly enjoy using it for the price.
But what would really interest me is if Acer were to come out with a premium version of this Chromebook. Made with metal instead of plastic. With a beefier processor and more storage. But still, of course, keeping a huge (for a laptop) 15.6-inch screen, I could see that machine really turning some heads (including mine). Even if it cost two to three times as much.
Perhaps a “Surface Pro 4” will debut at the same time or soon after Windows 10 launches. Here’s what we’d like to see in the Surface Pro 4.
Surface Pro 4
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has become a surprise hit, bringing in more than $900 million in revenue, according to industry analysts, and generating such enthusiasm that fans are looking forward to the next version. The Surface Pro 3 was designed to present Windows 8.1 at its best, so it’s expected that its successor will serve as a showcase for Windows 10, which could come out as early as this summer. Perhaps a “Surface Pro 4” will debut at the same time or soon after Windows 10 launches. Here’s what we’d like to see in the Surface Pro 4.
031615 surfacepro4 2
A better camera.
In our review of the Surface Pro 3, we found that its rear camera was unable to focus on objects within a few feet of it. That’s unfortunate because it means you cannot use it to capture an image of a sheet of paper with text on it. For the Surface Pro 4, we hope it has an improved rear camera that would easily let us do this. This would make the tablet even more appealing in an office environment or for work-related tasks if you can use it to quickly snap images of documents
Another keyboard option.
Generally, we like the Type Cover: Surface Pro 3’s keyboard (sold separately) that also serves as a protective cover for the tablet. However, the keys can feel slightly mushy if you don’t type with your fingers curved and wrists raised. For the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft may want to consider offering a second keyboard with keys more like a traditional notebook. The design should have sturdy hinges so that the Surface Pro 4 can attach to it (perhaps by strong magnets) without the need for propping the tablet up by its built-in kickstand, which is what has to be done now with the Surface Pro 3 when using the Type Cover.
A (slightly) larger screen
Speculation has it that the Surface Pro 4 might come in two screen sizes, possibly 8 inches and 14 inches. Microsoft considered releasing a 7 inch Surface Pro 3, but cancelled it. For the fourth Surface, the company may be wise to repeat this strategy. We like Surface Pro 3’s 12-inch diagonal size and 3:2 aspect ratio, because it approximates the dimensions of an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheet (though just a bit smaller). To continue making the Surface appeal to the business market, the Surface Pro 4 should have a screen that’s perhaps a little bit larger to match the size of a standard business letter.
Processors that run cooler.
The Surface Pro 3 is available running an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor, but there have been reports of the i7 model running too hot and therefore glitching out. Fortunately, it’s likely that the Surface Pro 4 will use the new Intel Core M line — powerful processors which were designed for slim, mobile devices, and they don’t use fans.
Continued compatibility with Windows desktop apps
The first two generations of Surfaces were available in two varieties: with processors that could run standard Windows desktop applications (the Surface Pro), and ones that could only run only Windows Store apps (Surface.) This was certainly confusing to customers, so Microsoft wisely didn’t release a “Surface 3.” This made the Surface Pro 3 a unique item onto itself, lessened brand confusion, and met buyers’ expectations. So the fourth generation Surface should not include a “Surface 4.”
More software for the digital pen
The Surface Pen is great; sketching and writing with it on the Surface Pro 3’s display conveys a close sensation of using an ink pen on paper. The tablet doesn’t include much software specially designed for it, except for the OneNote app which implements a UI to make using it with the Surface Pen easier. So we’d like to see more applications for the Surface Pen, such as a tool that can take your PDFs or Word documents and let them be signed by someone using the Surface Pen.
Finally, don’t mess with its good looks.
We really like the Surface Pro 3’s case — its smooth flat surfaces machined from magnesium feel cool to the touch, and even the hinge mechanism of its kickstand gives a sense of solid mechanical design when you pop it out to prop up the tablet. Perhaps the Surface Pro 4 will be slightly thinner and lighter (the Surface Pro 3 is 0.36 inches thin and weighs 1.76 pounds), but overall we see little that needs to be improved.
With the Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, users can view virtual 3D images within the everyday real world.
A unified sensor interface will allow Windows 10 devices to support a slew of new environmental, biometric, proximity and motion sensors
Windows 10 devices in the future could be measuring temperature, environmental pressure and carbon dioxide levels, as Microsoft provides an interface to support a wide range of sensors.
Microsoft is building a unified sensor interface and universal driver for Windows 10 that will support a slew of environmental, biometric, proximity, health and motion sensors, the company said last week at the WinHEC trade show in Shenzhen. Microsoft is also providing the building blocks for Windows 10 to support sensors that haven’t yet been released.
With support for more sensors, Microsoft hopes to bring “new functionality” to PCs, smartphones, tablets, gadgets and electronics running Windows 10, according to a slide from a presentation.
Microsoft is putting Windows 10 — which is due for release later this year — in PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart devices, wearables, gadgets and Internet of things devices. The company has also shown the future-looking HoloLens holographic headset working with Windows 10; together, the OS and the headset could act as a launchpad for new sensor applications.
Device makers could add barometer, pollution, ultraviolet, temperature, altitude and other sensors to Windows 10 devices. Also through the drivers, motion detection sensors will be able to track activities such as the number of steps users take in a day, and exchange data easily with other Windows 10 devices. The motion detection sensors will also take into account where devices are — on pockets, in hand or in bag — to ensure accurate measurements.
Microsoft is also using sensors to improve the way users interact with Windows 10 devices.
For example, a major attraction of Windows 10 is its ability to automatically switch between tablet and PC modes, which is made possible by sensors in hinges that detect the position of a laptop. Through a feature called Windows Hello, Microsoft is also using sensors to bring biometric authentication to Windows 10 PCs and tablets.
Windows 10 is friendlier to sensors than predecessor operating systems, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard officials said at a press gathering last month.
But sensors need to be identified and supported by the OS, much like other hardware components. The universal driver is designed to let device makers could plug a variety of sensors into Windows 10 devices and not worry about driver development. Microsoft will also provide a separate development kit for those who want to develop independent sensor drivers to expand the functionality of hardware.
Sensors are ubiquitous across devices, and a unified driver interface could aid Microsoft’s effort to put Windows 10 in more gadgets, appliances and other data-collecting instruments, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
Supporting more sensors in Windows 10 is also a key part of Microsoft’s plans to expand into the Internet of Things market, which revolves around data-collecting instruments feeding telemetry to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, McGregor said.
Device makers could put sensors in mobile devices, but some sensors such as temperature and pollution monitors are more likely to go in street lamps or traffic lights. As part of Microsoft’s “mobile-first, cloud-first” strategy, data from such sources could be fed to Azure for further analysis, McGregor said.
“You have to be able to support the broadest array of applications, and the sensor data is critical,” McGregor said.
Microsoft is trying to unite disparate mobile, PC and embedded Windows operating systems under the Windows 10 umbrella. The company is encouraging the development of Windows-based devices via boards like Raspberry Pi 2 and Qualcomm’s DragonBoard 410c, which will be able to run a custom version of Windows 10 called Athens. Makers — do-it-yourselfers — have developed sensor-packed robots, drone, health monitors, gadgets and wearables with those boards.
In a separate presentation at WinHEC, Microsoft said it would also bring Windows 10 to its own Sharks Cove and Intel’s MinnowBoard Max board, which are used to prototype electronics, appliances and devices with sensors. The devices have low-power ports such as GPIO, SPI, I2C, and UART to which a variety of motion, imaging and other sensors can be attached.
It’s prudent for IT pros to cultivate skills that are in high demand. Even better are skills that will stay in demand. Here are eight key technology areas that show no signs of falling out of favor.
Wanted: Programmers, security experts, cloud capacity managers
More than 90% of U.S. companies are using some form of cloud computing, according to CompTIA’s most recent Trends in Cloud Computing study. Moreover, the November 2014 report found that companies are moving infrastructure or applications between private and public clouds. IT leaders predict that movement will accelerate in the future, which will generate a host of cloud-centric jobs, including cloud security.
A related position will be dedicated to cloud capacity management. “We expect many [organizations] will operate in a hybrid environment, a mix of private and public cloud, so the question becomes how to dynamically switch demand for compute and storage from private and public clouds,” says Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive for Accenture Digital. “That’s going to require new techniques and disciplines that many IT organizations don’t have in place today.”
Wanted: Data architects, integration experts, Hadoop pros
Cliff Justice, leader of KPMG’s Shared Services and Outsourcing Advisory practice, says organizational needs around analytics will be huge, driven partly by the sheer volume of data collected but also by the increasing number of applications (such as robotics) fueled by analytical output. As a result, companies are adding and creating IT positions to handle the work.
According to Barry Brunsman, principal in KPMG’s CIO Advisory Management Consulting practice (pdf), you’ll see roles like these: Data architects, who design the structure to support emerging needs; data integration engineers, who ensure that data solutions and analytics from any number of sources can be integrated; and IT planning analysts, who aggregate and analyze data from many internal and external sources to help IT know what its business partners are likely to need in the future.
Technical titles that are and will remain hot include Hadoop developer, data engineer, big data software architect and enterprise data architect, says Christian P. Hagen, a partner with the Strategic IT Practice at management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.
At the same time, organizational demands around analytics will create a new batch of leadership positions tasked with understanding how to use analytics to achieve goals and objectives. “Analytics won’t mean just working with tools. Companies will need someone out in front, someone who can get at how analytics will transform the company and IT as well,” Hagen says.
Hagen says leadership positions emerging in this field are chief analytics officer, chief data officer, chief digital officer, head of business analytics and vice president of enterprise data.
Wanted: “Digital artisans”
The pressure to be more than a pure technologist will continue in the upcoming years – and that means more than adding one or two business skills to your resume. Tech pros who successfully navigate the changes roiling the industry will be able to demonstrate business acumen across the spectrum, says R “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst with Constellation Research Inc. He calls these new specialists “digital artisans,” explaining that they’re “those who can balance right brain and left brain skills.”
Middle-of-the-road products, services and solutions aren’t enough to sustain companies in an increasingly competitive landscape, Wang says. To thrive in the next five to 10 years, organizations need to seek out talent “that can think outside of the box but execute within the system,” he says. To deliver that kind of strategic value, IT pros need to be authentic, relevant, transformation-minded, intelligent, speedy, artistic and non-conformist. (Get it? A-R-T-I-S-A-N.)
Wanted: Hardware, software, analytics experts
The 2014 PwC report The Wearable Future (pdf) sees a world where wearable devices will be used to train new employees, speed up the sales process, improve customer service, create hands-free guidance for workers and improve the accuracy of information collected to serve the growing analytics movement at companies everywhere.
Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing firm Modis, predicts the move to wearables could spur as much, if not more, new development as did the move to smartphones. “By the time 2020 rolls around, wearable devices could be as common as the iPhone today, and that creates all new opportunities,” Cullen says.
Cullen expects that organizations of all kinds will identify workers and processes that could benefit from wearables, which it turn means IT departments will seek out technologists with the ability to deploy, manage and maintain hardware as well as experts who can develop, customize and support the applications and analytics programs that will make wearables useful within their specific organizations.
Wanted: In-the-weeds tinkerers and big-picture thinkers
Research firm IDC predicts in its Worldwide and Regional Internet of Things 2014-2020 Forecast that the global IoT market will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020.
“Technology is being built into almost everything we have,” says David Dodd, vice president of IT and CIO at Stevens Institute of Technology. That means a bright future for technologists who understand the underpinnings of this kind of connectivity. Indeed, IoT could breed a new specialist who can combine skills in hardware, engineering, programming, analytics, privacy and security.
Dodd, though, believes the IoT skill most in demand will be in understanding what value comes from all this connectivity. Organizations are realizing it’s not enough to simply connect items and gather data, they need to know how those connections and the data they generate can solve problems or advance organizational goals. Companies “want people who can understand and formulate the future of IoT,” he says.
Position yourself for long-term growth
Smart companies have a corporate roadmap that spells out where they’d like to be three, five and 10 years out, how they’re going to get there, and how technology fits into that vision. As a smart IT professional, can you say how your skills and position figure into your company’s plans — or the industry’s as a whole?
Sure, organizations will still need programmers and developers, but they’ll want (and pay better salaries to) programmers who know how to work with robots and developers who know how to apply their craft to wearable devices. So, yes, while labor market experts expect that IT as a whole will continue to add good jobs through 2020 and beyond, savvy tech pros are taking pains to ensure their personal roadmap is steering them towards concentrations with maximum longevity.
What follows are some specialties worth pursuing to future-proof your tech career.
Wanted: Tech experts to lay the groundwork for enterprise AI/robotics
Artificial intelligence and robotics have already moved from science fiction to reality, and soon they’ll be coming to a business near you. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report (pdf), these technologies “will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as healthcare, transportation and logistics, customer service and home maintenance.”
Not surprisingly, technologists skilled in this area will be in high demand, says KPMG’s Justice. He notes that IT professionals will have roles to play in programming, integrating and building out the infrastructure for organizational applications of AI and robotics.
Wanted: Programmers to tap internal, external power of APIs
There’s already plenty of buzz around application program interfaces (APIs) — the sets of routines, protocols and tools that specify how software components should interact and facilitate access to Web-based applications.
Software vendors have been providing API for years, and now companies of all disciplines are making theirs public so other developers can design applications that interact with their original software. For that reason, the importance of APIs is about to explode. Companies will require more and more APIs to tap the power of emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as maximize value for existing tech-driven trends such as mobile connectivity.
IT shops will need professionals to actively develop and manage APIs for use within the organization and to connect with outside users, Accenture’s Sutcliff says. These technologists need to have strong development skills as well as an understanding of data sources, data structures and the organization’s applications portfolios. Sutcliff notes that this position won’t be about one specific language or API, but more about assembling pieces together.
Wanted: Broad and deep security chops
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 37% growth in information security analyst positions between 2012 and 2022 for good reason — all these emerging technologies are requiring, and will continue to demand, even more attention from an organization’s security program.
“For all the great opportunities that social and mobile and cloud and analytics and the Internet of Things are going to bring, any economic gains that will be realized by all these new technologies can be undercut significantly if there aren’t really robust security programs and protocols in place,” says Matt Aiello, a partner in the Washington office of Heidrick & Struggles, which specializes in recruiting CIOs and senior-level technology, engineering and operations executives. Aiello and others say the security expert of the future will need to ensure that security is embedded in all levels.
The big question rises how to become the Microsoft certified , All Microsoft certifications are acquired by simply taking a series of exams. If you can self-study for said exams, and then pass them, then you can acquire the certification for the mere cost of the exam (and maybe whatever self-study materials you purchase).
You’ll also need, at minimum (in addition to the MCTS), the CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+ certs; as well as the Cisco CCNA cert.
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) – This is the basic entry point of Microsoft Certifications. You only need to pass a single certification test to be considered an MCTS and there are numerous different courses and certifications that would grant you this after passing one. If you are shooting for some of the higher certifications that will be discussed below, then you’ll get this on your way there.
Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) – This certification was Microsoft’s previous “Developer Certification” meaning that this was the highest certification that was offered that consisted strictly of development-related material. Receiving it involved passing four exams within specific areas (based on the focus of your certification). You can find the complete list of courses and paths required for the MCPD here.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) – This is Microsoft’s most recent “Developer Certification” which will replace the MCPD Certification (which is being deprecated / retired in July of 2013). The MCSD focuses within three major areas of very recent Microsoft development technologies and would likely be the best to persue if you wanted to focus on current and emerging skills that will be relevant in the coming years. You can find the complete list of courses and paths required for the MCSD here.
The Microsoft Certifications that you listed are basically all of the major ones within the realm of development. I’ll cover each of the major ones and what they are :
Most people, however, take some kind of course. Some colleges — especially career and some community colleges — offer such courses (though usually they’re non-credit). Other providers of such courses are private… some of them Microsoft Certified vendors of one type or another, who offer the courses in such settings as sitting around a conference table in their offices. Still others specialize in Microsoft certification training, and so have nice classrooms set up in their offices.
There are also some online (and other forms of distance learning) courses to help prepare for the exams.
The cost of taking classes to prepare can vary wildly. Some are actually free (or very nearly so), while others can cost hundreds of dollars. It all just depends on the provider.
And here’s a Google search of MCTS training resources (which can be mind-numbing in their sheer numbers and types, so be careful what you choose):
There are some pretty good, yet relatively inexpensive, ways to get vendor certificate training. Be careful not to sign-up for something expensive and involved when something cheaper — like subscribing to an “all the certificates you care to study for one flat rate” web site — would, in addition to purchasing a study guide or two at a bookstore, likely be better.
If you want a career in IT, then you need to have both an accredited degree in same (preferably a bachelors over an associates), and also a variety of IT certifications. The MCTS is but one that you will need.
You should probably also get the Microsoft MCSE and/or MCSA. The ICS CISSP. And the ITIL.
There are others, but if you have those, you’ll be evidencing a broad range of IT expertise that will be useful, generally. Then, in addition, if the particular IT job in which you end-up requires additional specialist certification, then you can get that, too (hopefully at the expense of your employer who requires it of you).
Then, whenever (if ever) you’re interested in a masters in IT, here’s something really cool of which you should be aware…
There’s a big (and fully-accredited, fully-legitimate) university in Australia which has partnered with Microsoft and several other vendors to structure distance learning degrees which include various certifications; and in which degrees, considerable amounts of credit may be earned simply by acquiring said certifications. It’s WAY cool.
One can, for example, get up to half of the credit toward a Masters degree in information technology by simply getting an MCSE (though the exams which make it up must be certain ones which correspond with the university’s courses). I’ve always said that if one were going to get an MCSE, first consult the web site of this university and make sure that one takes the specific MCSE exams that this school requires so that if ever one later decided to enter said school’s masters program, one will have already earned up to half its degree’s credits by simply having the MCSE under his/her belt. Is that cool, or what?
I wouldn’t rely on them over experience (which is far and away the most valuable asset out there) but they are worth pursuing especially if you don’t feel like you have enough experience and need to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills to land a position as a developer.
If you are going to pursue a certification, I would recommend going after the MCSD (Web Applications Track) as it is a very recent certification that focuses on several emerging technologies that will still be very relevant (if not more-so) in the coming years. You’ll pick up the MCTS along the way and then you’ll have both of those under your belt. MCPD would be very difficult to achieve based on the short time constraints (passing four quite difficult tests within just a few months is feasible, but I don’t believe that it is worth it since it will be “retired” soon after).
No job experience at all is necessary for any of the Microsoft Certifications, you can take them at any time as long as you feel confident enough with the materials of the specific exam you should be fine. The tests are quite difficult by most standards and typically cover large amounts of material, but with what it sounds like a good bit of time to study and prepare you should be fine.
Certifications, in addition to degrees, are so important in the IT field, now, that one may almost no longer get a job in that field without both. The certifications, though, are so important that one who has a little IT experience can get a pretty good job even without a degree as long as he has all the right certs. But don’t do that. Definitely get the degree… and not merely an associates. Get the bachelors in IT; and make sure it’s from a “regionally” accredited school.
Then get the certs I mentioned (being mindful, if you think you’ll ever get an IT masters, to take the specific exams that that Strut masters program requires so that you’ll have already earned up to half the credit just from the certs).
If you already have two years of experience in working in the .NET environment, a certification isn’t going to guarantee that you will get employed, a salary increase or any other bonuses for achieving the honor. However, it can help supplement your resume by indicating that you are familiar with specific technologies enough to apply them in real-world applications to solve problems.
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Find out which tech jobs offer the most job satisfaction, average salaries and growth opportunity, according to data from Glassdoor.
The Best Tech Jobs in America
Glassdoor recently released its list of the best jobs in America and 10 of the top 25 jobs listed are in the technology sector. When you combine that with the fact that technology-related careers continue to have unemployment rates lower than national average and, according to BLS statistics, tech jobs are expected to grow 21.5 percent between now and 2022, it’s easy to see that the demand for highly skilled technology workers is exploding. It is one of the few areas in the job market that the BLS predicts double-digit growth. So whether you’re just entering the tech market or you’re looking to make a change, the jobs on this list highlight some of the best that this industry has to offer.
Methodology: The Glassdoor Best Jobs report identifies 25 jobs with the highest overall job score rating. They base this on a 5-point scale, where 5 equals the highest score. Glassdoor uses its data to determine the weight of the following three factors:
Earning potential (average annual base salary)
Career opportunities rating
Number of open job listings
The results in this list that follows represent job titles that rate highly among all three categories:
“For a job title to be considered, it must receive at least 75 salary reports and at least 75 career opportunity ratings shared by U.S.-based employees over the past year (from January 1, 2014 to January 9, 2015). The number of openings per job title represents the total number posted on Glassdoor over the past three months (October 21, 2014 to January 1, 2015): Note, this report takes into account job title normalization that groups similar job titles, according to Glassdoor representative, MaryJo Fitzgerald.
So here it is — the list of best tech jobs in America.
10. Sales Engineer
“A sales engineer has a technological and scientific understanding of the product being sold, “says Fitzgerald. These salespeople specialize, selling complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They need to take these multifaceted products and be able to explain to potential clients/customers the business value. Sales engineers need to be able to adjust their level of tech jargon and complexity to suit their audience; know their products/services inside and out, as well as the underlying technologies that support them and know the problems facing organizations that use their product or service.
9. Mobile Developer
If you’re a mobile developer, it’s your time to shine. The proliferation of responsive design, the explosion of new mobile devices and the apps that power them have sent competition for mobile development skills skyrocketing.
8. IT Project Manager
The project manager is a special breed; these individuals need to be steeped in technology with great time-management and communication skills. They ensure the project stays within guidelines, that deadlines are met and that everything stays within budget. To do that they have to allocate resources, know who is good at what and be able to talk to people from all walks of the business, i.e., customer, developer, accountant, etc.
7. Network Engineer
If your network goes down, your business comes to a halt. Network engineers work to make sure that doesn’t happen. These IT pros deal with all of the organization’s hardware and the computer networks that live within. Unlike network admins, network engineers focus mainly on top level design and planning as opposed to the daily operations and support of the network. Responsibilities range depending on the company size. In smaller companies network engineers might work with a small team or alone, wearing many different hats, like sysadmins, for example. Larger organizations may have an entire staff of network engineers, installing new hardware and wiring, adding hubs and switches and more.
6. QA Engineer
Whether your company offers products, services or both, QA engineers are a necessary part of technology execution. QA engineers oversee the entire development process from concept to final product/service ensuring whatever it is your organization creates is built to a standard with customer experience in mind. That customer might be someone who buys a piece of software or a product or a worker using a tool supplied by IT.
5. Solutions Architect
These tech workers are accountable for designing and organizing computer systems and custom applications used by their organization. While similar to an IT consultant, this role is more focused on the development and implementation of an interface that any employee can use to make their job easier and more efficient, according to MaryJo Fitzgerald, a public relations representative from Glassdoor.
From a technology standpoint, these workers must define current problems along with future goals to build a roadmap to get the business from point A to point B. This role has evolved over the years to become more of a technical role than it was originally.
4. Data Scientist
These IT workers delve into some of businesses most complex issues. Using often-times disparate sources of data, data scientists work to find insight and actionable data. Math, communication, business and statistics skills are all part of the data scientists skillset.
Josh Willis, a data scientist for Cloudera said a data scientist is a, “person who is better at statistics than any software engineer and better at software engineering than any statistician.”
3. Product Manager
Timing is everything in this role. These IT professionals work closely with engineering, sales and marketing teams to ensure a product meets the business’ overall strategy and goals. They take a product from concept to reality. In between they take input from stakeholders and customers and ensure that the product aligns with business objectives and work on things like maximizing business value and user experience.
Although it’s listed in the tech jobs category, the right person for this role needs a strategic mind and a strong understanding of the business needs.
2. Database Administrator
Organizations have lots of data and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. In fact, IDC reports that in 2012 the amount of data stored globally reached 2.8 zettabytes and they now forecast that organizations will generate 40 zettabytes (ZB) by the year 2020. That’s an astounding number.
Along with all that data comes job security for those skilled in the art of storing and organizing data. These individuals work to maintain the integrity of their respective data and make sure its deliverable to analysts when necessary. They maintain and create new database systems as well as make sure things like back-ups are performed, plan security and ensuring that data comes from reliable sources.
1. Software Engineer
Computer science, engineering and math skills are what it takes to rise to the top of the software engineer talent pool. These professionals design, develop, test, debug and evaluate the software and systems required to keep businesses both big and small moving forward.
These IT pros must be familiar with different OSes and middleware to make sure that when push comes to shove, the software “just works.” The process begins by evaluating user needs, then developing software and algorithms to support business needs.
Some of these industries, such as paper and home phones, you can guess. But some will surprise you.
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Metropolitan Taxi Systems
The dual driving force of decentralized apps (Uber, Lyft) and self-driving technologies will cause the centralized taxi industry to disintegrate. In just a few short years, Uber has already made a sizable dent in their business and will continue to do so. On the other hand, automated taxis will spread like wildfire once viable. As an NYC resident, all I have to say is good riddance, yellow cabs!
2. The USPS
Almost all of the processes that used to require a mail response are completely online now, and the USPS today is essentially one big junk mail courier for companies wanting to advertise at a 1.4 percent conversion rate on average. The only spectacular aspect of the USPS is their Media Mail rate, but if the industry was privatized, the price would be just as competitive via the nature of private industry, e.g. UPS (UPS) and Fed-Ex (FDX) .
3. The Paper Industry
The paper industry won’t ever disappear completely, but it will be almost obsolete by 2020 as everything is digitized.
4. Home Phones
I believe home telephones will be obsolete by 2020, if not sooner. Smartphones have outpaced landlines as a far more convenient and necessary form of communication. It’s already very rare to meet someone without a cell phone. We even contemplated this year switching all our office phones to cell phones. (T, VZ, S, TMUS).
5. Mobile Phones
Years ago, mobile phones became portable computers; we just insisted on thinking of them as mobile phones. The industry dedicated to making and supporting phones is already in rapid decline in the U.S. Over the next five years, that will spread globally. All data will just be data, and no distinction will be made between phone data and Internet data. Companies caught on the wrong side will be gone.
6. Credit Cards
Just like music CDs and VCRs, the plastic card that we walk around with in our wallets could very well disappear. Sooner or later, they will be replaced with mobile payments. It’s awkward each time we have to type 16 numbers into a web page, swipe an overused card repeatedly, or have to wait for the machine to spit out that receipt. Even worse, having to sign it. Smartphones will disrupt this. Bad news for MasterCard (MA), Visa (V), American Express (AXP) and Discover (DFS).
7. Movie Theaters
Sales have been declining steadily and with good reason: for the price, seeing a movie in theaters just doesn’t deliver good value. The only benefit used to be the huge screen and great sound system, but with HDTV and a small investment at home, you can create an experience that’s much superior. As more movies become available for streaming and download, movie theaters will slowly fade away.
8. Storage Media
CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray Discs, External Hard Drives, Memory Cards, etc. With the increasing presence of cloud storage, the desire to remain connected to the digital world and the increasing presence of streaming media services, many forms of physical storage will become obsolete.
9. Retail Health Insurance Agencies
The Affordable Care Act has created marketplaces for individuals to purchase health insurance. The brokerage incentives to provide individual insurance coverage will continue to evaporate and health policies will no longer be promoted by your neighborhood insurance broker.
10. Cable TV
The Internet is changing the way we consume video. Millions have already ditched their cable subscriptions in favor of Netflix accounts. As high-speed Internet reaches more places, there will be less of a need to keep paying for your old cable service. You can already get almost everything you want on demand except live sports. When that fully switches to live streaming, it’s game over. (TWC, VZ).
Mobile payment apps like LevelUp, Venmo, Google Wallet (GOOGL) and ApplePay (AAPL) make it fast, easy and convenient to pay for anything. As more retailers adopt alternative payment methods and new technologies, there will soon be no need to fish out the old leather wallet from the back pocket or pay a visit to the ATM for cash.
12. Fast Food Workers
Pay attention McDonald’s (MCD) and Burger King (BKW): in a restaurant atmosphere that’s all about low price and fast service, the workers themselves will quickly become expendable. This is because customers don’t care so much about service, but rather that they can get the right order in the same amount of time or less. With the push for higher wages, this could become reality sooner rather than later.