Monday, May 25, 2009

Understand the risks of cloud computing

Cloud service users need to be vigilant in understanding the risks of data breaches in this new environment.

At the heart of cloud infrastructure is this idea of multi-tenancy and decoupling between specific hardware resources and applications. In the jungle of multi-tenant data, you need to trust the cloud provider that your information will not be exposed.

For their part, companies need to be vigilant, for instance about how passwords are assigned, protected and changed. Cloud service providers typically work with a number of third parties, and customers are advised to gain information about those companies which could potentially access their data.

An important measure of security often overlooked by companies is how much downtime a cloud service provider experiences. He recommends that companies ask to see service providers' reliability reports to determine whether these meet the requirements of the business. Exception monitoring systems is another important area which companies should ask their service providers about.

An important consideration for cloud service customers, especially those responsible for highly sensitive data, is to find out about the hosting company used by the provider and if possible seek an independent audit of their security status.

Best practice for companies in the cloud
  • Inquire about exception monitoring systems

  • Be vigilant around updates and making sure that staff don't suddenly gain access privileges they're not supposed to.

  • Ask where the data is kept and inquire as to the details of data protection laws in the relevant jurisdictions.

  • Seek an independent security audit of the host.

  • Find out which third parties the company deals with and whether they are able to access your data.

  • Be careful to develop good policies around passwords; how they are created, protected and changed.

  • Look into availability guarantees and penalties.

  • Find out whether the cloud provider will accommodate your own security policies.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

20 Quick Tips for Surviving Change You Didn’t Ask For

1. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Because society rewards analytic thinking, we believe that identifying the cause of our troubles is the answer: Why is this happening? That’s a starting point, but don’t spend too much time there. What are you going to do about where you are?

2. Because feeling in control is so crucial to resilience, and unasked-for-change can leave us feeling very out of control, try asking yourself this question during the day: What am I free to choose right now?

3. What if you don’t believe you have the confidence or talent to find a solution? Pretend you do. Turns out that “fake it till you make it” has validity in brain science—the thoughts you hold and actions you take really do create new pathways in your brain. “As we act, so we become,” as Sharon Begley puts it in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

4. Find things to laugh about. People who thrive during change work their funny bones. Says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Thrivers’ happiness is not dependent on external factors or life circumstances alone. It derives from their chosen state of consciousness and ability to cheer themselves up when things are looking down.” Laughter has been shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and improve breathing as well as mood. Best of all is when we can laugh at ourselves for not being perfect or when we hit some road block in the direction we wanted to go. It helps us stay lighthearted and resourceful.

5. Celebrate success along the way, no matter how small: a new connection, a possible lead, a small savings. Give yourself credit for moving forward in a difficult situation. At the end of the day, look at what you’ve done and celebrate whatever accomplishment you can. Celebration creates positive energy and forward momentum.

6. When considering options, before you say something won’t work, consider how it might work. Try it on for a while.

7. Focus on a positive future. Ricki Lake put it this way: “When I went through challenges in my life…I told myself, `Focus on where you’ll be a year from now.’ It helps to know that, in time, the hard parts will be water under the bridge.” I’d modify that to, focus on where you want to be a year from now (otherwise you can scare yourself with all kinds of terrible futures). Then ask what actions you need to take today to make that positive future happen.

8. Breathe slowly and deeply. Shallow breathing is a sign that you are in fight or flight mode, where you are not in touch with all of your resources to handle this change. A few conscious slow and deep breaths, especially if you also relax your muscles as much as possible, tells the part of your brain responsible for fight or flight that you’re not in danger and so it calms down. Then you’re able to think more clearly, widely, and deeply. To test if you’re breathing deeply, put one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Take a breath in and out. Are both hands moving? If only the top one is, see if you can get the bottom one going as well.

9. Direct your complaints upward. Sometimes all we can do when faced with a challenging change is to cry out to the heavens, “Help me!” That’s what AA is all about—turning your problem over to a Higher Power, however you understand that to be, so that you aren’t so alone in the difficulty. Writes Carol Orsborn in her book The Art of Resilience, “You don’t have to believe that this works for it to be effective.” Give it a try.

10. Get out and help someone else. As Studs Terkel put it in one of his last interviews, “Once you become active helping others, you feel alive. You don’t feel, ‘it’s my fault.’ You become a different person. And others are changed too.” When we focus on someone else’s problems, we put our own in perspective. Plus we take a break from worrying about ourselves, which is always a good thing. A friend who was in a California fire zone last summer emailed me during the time it wasn’t clear whether she lost her house, saying, “If we focus on helping others, panic diminishes.” Absolutely!

11. Find someone in the same situation to help and pay attention to what you suggest they do. One of your best resources is the advice you give others. Be sure to follow your own suggestions.

12. With apologies to those of us who shun it, thirty minutes of aerobic activity daily is still the best way, experts say, to counteract the stress of change.

13. Encourage yourself along the way as you would a child running a race—“You can do it! You’re doing well!” This positive self talk has been found to increase what psychologists call agency—the belief you can get where you want to go.

14. If you find yourself worrying all the time, set aside a fifteen-minute worry time, say 5 p.m. every day. Then when your mind starts worrying at other times, tell yourself it’s not worry time and distract yourself—read a good book, do a puzzle, something that occupies your mind.

15. If you find yourself having to do things you’d rather not, make sure that you also do things you love on a regular basis: my friend Annette traces her family tree ’cause she loves genealogy, Andy plays the piano, I read novels. Passionate interests give zest to life during change. They don’t have to be expensive.

16. Be sure to thank those who help along the way. Gratefulness is good for your mind, body, and spirit, and it increases the possibility that you will continue to receive assistance.

17. What really matters here? That’s a question that will help you keep the change in proportion. A woman who lost her house was told by her minister that what she needed was a home, not a house. It helped her move to a rental with greater peace and perspective.

18. Hang out with happy people. A large new twenty-year study by Harvard medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis shows that happiness is contagious, spreading from one person to nearby family members, neighbors, and friends. One happy person can increase the happiness of others he or she comes into contact with by 8 to 36 percent, and the effect can last up to a year. Ride on the uplift of others. It will give you the energy to keep on.

19. Quakers are taught to look for “way open” to know if they should pursue something and “way closed” to give up. That means they look for the open door to indicate which way to go and if they encounter too many obstacles, they conclude it wasn’t meant to be. That’s a good strategy for all of us coping with change. Yes, you should be focused on what you want, but if all pathways to a goal are blocked, perhaps that’s a message to give up and pursue something else entirely. As Anthony D’Angelo says, “Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance.”

20. Focus on the positive qualities you have to face this change. I recently got my town newsletter and in it, an administrator named Audrey Lee wrote, “The year ahead may be lean in fiscal resources, but I know we are rich in energy, talent, commitment and momentum.” I instantly knew the town was in good hands. The more we pay attention to the resources we have to cope, the better we will do, particularly when we ask ourselves how we can use our energy, talent, commitment, and momentum to succeed.

Excerpted from Adaptability: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why we don’t need to reinvent books for the internet age

ibooks are the very opposite of what publishers need to be thinking about. The very concept of a book as a simple compilation of URLs and bullet points appears quite misleading; perhaps, this model works in tech publishing, where there is a huge demand for “tell me how?” kind of questions. But books that change history rarely answer the “who and where?” type of questions; they are, instead, about the “how and why?” - and this knowledge is hardly searchable, not to mention linkable. Even with such a widely-covered subject as Twitter, there is still a lot to be said about its impact on the information flows, authority, trust, and cognition that may not yet be widely discussed anywhere in the “Twittersphere”. This is why we have traditionally prized original and fresh thinking; what makes it original is precisely the fact that these points haven ‘t yet been addressed before.

This may also explain why sales of serious books haven’t plummeted in the age of free and ubiquitous content. With so many free resource materials available on the Web, it does seem strange that anyone would still want to pay 20 bucks for “a compilation of links” that most non-fiction books are (at least, according to O’Reilly). But the likely explanation here is quite simple: compiling links in meaningful and readable ways is exactly the kind of premium value that we are willing to pay for when we buy a book. It’s becoming obvious that in the age of information abundance the value of curation rises dramatically. As the number of available resources that writers and readers could consult rises, it’s actually quite normal that we would place more and more value on the process of synthesizing rather than simply aggregating information. From this perspective, if I want to read a book on a subject that is slightly more complex than the world of Twitter, I expect that authors would actually read all the available resources (rather than just a sampling of a few hundred 140 “best” Twitter status updates), take a principled stand, and actually try to compress the very boring 30,000 pages they read while researching the book to much more readable 300 pages – precisely “so that I don’t have to”.

Good books – unlike buggy early releases of software – are meant to be finite intellectual products; good books are not supposed to be never-ending and self-updating streams of consciousness. Nor are they supposed to be interrupted by a constant flow of references to other books; if you cannot move to the next page without having to consult a reference work cited in a footnote, the author has probably failed at synthesizing. Granted: everyone is building on someone else’s shoulders. But this is is exactly the point of a talented author: to synthesize by compressing millions of links, facts, and opinions into a readable guide to the subject. The reason why we often turn to the best book in a field that we do not yet know well is exactly to avoid reading twenty books instead. Do not get me wrong: I do have an ereader and I am an avid consumer of ebooks; yes, I do like the ability to navigate from the index page to any page I want. But - and this is a big “but” - I don’t really feel any need to compress the text even further; nor do I feel any need to extend it beyond what it is; most good books I’ve read are good precisely because offer “just enough” information and arguments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

8 characteristics of successful SOA implementations

The SOA Consortium and CIO magazine recently announced the winners of the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Case Study Competition. All of the winners successfully delivered business or mission value using an SOA approach.

Mike Kavis, Chief Architect, Catalina Marketing, identified eight characteristics of successful SOA implementations. If your have been following SOA, you probably won't be surprised by his findings. But, for the rest of the world, it's a really great resource that nicely addresses a lot of the ongoing debate about how to approach SOA.

In fact, this list of eight characteristics really is a sort of Cliff Notes summarizing the past three years of discussion about implementing SOA.

SOA, has been a hotly debated notion, but I think most people now know SOA isn't just an IT initiative. You've got to talk to the business about SOA.

Now, that's not to say you should be selling SOA per se -- education is not the same thing as marketing. As Kavis points out, you don't even have to use the words "service-oriented architecture" if you don't want to -- although, personally, I think business leaders can handle it. But you do have to get across the message that you're doing something new that will deliver long-term benefits to the business:
"Instead the business needs to understand the key business drivers that are being addressed (quicker access to information, integration with customers and partners, eliminating wasteful business processes, etc.) on how IT has some 'new methods' for helping to deliver these drivers. The business doesn't necessarily need to know how IT will do it; they need to understand which of their problems SOA solves and what is required from the business to help IT solve them."
People tend to think of SOA as something that's good for IT, because it will cut development time or make IT efficient in other ways. Hey, if it's good for IT, it's good for business right? Uhm, sorry -- thanks for playing, but that's not enough. Kavis found that these SOA success stories all delivered more value to the business itself than IT:
"These may have been some side effects, but the value of the IT benefits are minuscule as compared to the business benefits which in some cases were in the billions of dollars over a given time period."
Just as SOA brings unique testing challenges, it changes your quality assurance requirements. ROI is difficult to achieve and takes time. Gartner contends that ROI is the wrong question for SOA, but some of these companies did achieve a substantial, measurable ROI. Others did not, at least in the short term. The point here is, this is not a technology investment -- it's an architectural shift. Promising an immediate ROI is just not practical with SOA.

Strong Executive Level Sponsorship and SOA Evangelist

Each project had strong sponsorship from high ranking individuals from the business and/or IT. This is critical for driving change throughout the organization and removing roadblocks. Without top-level support, many SOA initiatives never get the momentum, the resources and the drive required to allow IT to deliver the promise of SOA to the business. It was also noted that a strong SOA evangelist was highly critical for each of these award-winning case studies. In fact, research shows that in instances where SOA evangelists leave a company, the company has a risk of failing with future projects or regressing back to the previous methods of delivering software.

Educating the Business of the Value of SOA

Each one of the case studies provided an enormous amount of value to the business. In some cases, the return on investment was several billions of dollars over the course of a few years. In order to find these extraordinary opportunities and to build a business case around them, it is critical that the business becomes educated on the promise of SOA.The key to educating the business, however, is not talking to the business about the technology or even mentioning the term service-oriented architecture. Instead the business needs to understand the key business drivers that are being addressed (quicker access to information, integration with customers and partners, eliminating wasteful business processes, etc.) on how IT has some "new methods" for helping to deliver these drivers. The business doesn't necessarily need to know how IT will do it; they need to understand which of their problems SOA solves and what is required from the business to help IT solve them.

Established a Center of Excellence (CoE)

Every winning case study had some form of CoE established. It may have been called something else, such as a Configuration Control Board, but all had some formal body that was responsible for governing the SOA initiative. Some of these companies already had in place an established Enterprise Architecture complete with IT governance and simply needed to make adjustments for SOA. Others did not have a formal governance plan and had to create one with enough controls in place to deliver the desired business results. The level of control and the scope of each company's governance model were unique, but every successful project sited governance as a key success factor.

Start With Well-defined Business Processes and Scale Up

In each case, candidate services were identified after well-defined business processes were established. In some cases, the business processes were already in place; in others some business processing re-engineering was required prior to creating any services. In each case, the goal was to start with some subset of business processes as opposed to trying to do it all at once. Each case study had a well-defined scope and a vision of what the future state looked like.

Define Completeness of Work within Services

A lot of thought was put into which services were critical to the key business drivers. Business services provided a complete business function.

For example, let's say a core business service identified was a shopping cart function. The goal would be to build in all of the functionality required to make the shopping cart service functional, not just a checkout service. In this example, the complete business service would also need to accept payment, communicate with shipping partners, handle discounts, etc.

Most successful SOA implementations do not have a huge number of business services. This is where a lot of SOA projects run into trouble. They try to make everything into a service, whether it provides business value or not. There is a considerable amount of overhead and costs involved with building, governing, and maintaining services. Successful SOA implementations focus on a small number of core business services that provide real business value and don't waste precious time and money on services that don't have the payback.

Quality Assurance Is Key

As I mentioned in a previous article. SOA creates all sorts of new challenges for the QA department. Successful SOA implementations require that proper QA best practices, such as load testing of each service, is performed. Performance, security and governance testing should be a part of your overall testing plan to ensure that both the business and technical requirements are met.

ROI Is Difficult to Achieve Initially and Is Realized Over Time

SOA is not a technology; it is an architecture. Like any other architecture, value is earned over time as the architecture expands and matures. Some of these companies were on their second or third SOA project and were realizing substantial ROI. Others were in their first iteration and did not see immediate ROI but instead were laying down the foundation for future SOA projects to maximize their ROI.

Deliver Substantial Business Value

In all cases, these award winning case studies delivered substantial business value. None of these case studies were focused on fixing IT infrastructure or based solely on reducing development costs through reuse. These may have been some side effects, but the value of the IT benefits are minuscule as compared to the business benefits which in some cases were in the billions of dollars over a given time period.

So for all of the pundits out there who claim that you should never talk to the business about SOA or that SOA is an IT initiative not a business initiative-look at the huge ROIs of these projects and the business transformations that occurred and reconsider those stances. I rest my case!

To summarize, make sure that your SOA initiative shares some if not all of the eight characteristics of successful SOA implementations. There has been so much chatter about SOA failures as of late. Now that we have six great examples of SOA successes, we should take the best practices that these companies used and put them to use in our projects so we can get shot at next year's prize.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Programming magic: Rituals and habits of effective programmers

"Programmers may not think that their rituals are unusual, but if you swear that your code is less buggy if you recite it aloud or you prepare for coding by listening to certain music, don't be surprised if you get a couple sideways glances. In a recent ITworld article, Issac Kelly, Lead Developer at, explains his routine and why it works: 'To me, programming is really the 'last mile' to getting something done. When I do the planning and specifications, I go on lots of walks, take lots of time with my wife, and really do as little work in front of the computer as possible. The more I plan (in my head, on paper, on a whiteboard) the less I program; and all of my rituals are to that end.' His ritual goes like this: 'Before sitting down to a coding session, he gets a big glass of water, takes everything off of his desk, and closes out all programs and e-mail, keeping open only his code editor. The office door is shut, and some sort of music is playing ('typically an instrumental only, like my 'Explosions in the Sky' pandora station,' says Kelly).'"

Read the full story here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why Small Business Needs a Web Solution Not a Website

Just a few years ago, small companies flocked to the web in droves, rushing to post their first website, anxious at the prospect of low-cost instant exposure. The web was going to be the great equalizer, putting small business on par with the big brand names, dangling the promise of visitors flocking to a company’s site to purchase its wares or partake in its services. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, for most small businesses and organizations, the promise fell short and company sales did not skyrocket from an unending march of site visitors.

So, what happened? For one, the web quickly became ultra competitive. Millions of sites sprang up in every business category making it virtually impossible to be found in the search engines. What little bit of traffic the businesses may have enjoyed when the site was first launched began to dry up. Also, as the web evolved to become a more interactive user experience, it became more technologically complex and many small business websites did not keep up. The other part of the problem was in the approach; not understanding that just putting together a website, even a pretty one, and finding some faceless company offering cheap web hosting services is not likely to make you the next great success story. A large hurdle that many small business owners and managers face is the tendency to compartmentalize the web into a few oversimplified tasks: grab a cheap domain name, find a budget small business website design and development person, look for some impossibly low-priced website hosting, and then expect their website to magically appear on page one of Google. Unfortunately, this ends up being a waste of time and money.

A Solutions-Based Approach with Professional Guidance

To create an effective web presence requires a solutions-based approach with clear ideas about what you want to accomplish and who the audience is you are targeting. The right elements have to be present; a well orchestrated website design with cohesive branding, solid technical acumen, clearly defined objectives for the organization, reliable small business web hosting services and some method of marketing your site and tracking the results. The web is constantly evolving and search engine competition is fierce. Being successful on the web requires consistently evaluating the site’s effectiveness based on your objectives, understanding the latest technologies and trends, having a dynamic website marketing plan and constantly fine tuning.

While you don’t have to spend a fortune to create real value on the web, you should also be realistic. Understand that being successful will require an investment that you should plan for and a clear vision of how your website fits into the goals and objectives of the organization. If you don’t have the experience and technical resources in-house, working with a professional web solutions provider, preferably one specializing in small business web design and development can provide great benefits. A good starting point in the process is to have an understanding of the core elements that are part of a successful website strategy and how they fit together.

The Elements of a Web Solution

  1. Domain names – Choosing the right domain name is an important branding decision which impacts how your organization is perceived and also how it is found in the search engines. Purchasing from a cheap bulk registrar or choosing can spell trouble.

  2. Website Design & Development Services – Find a provider that specializes in small business web design and development. An organization that offers a solutions-based approach can assist your company in doing thorough needs analysis and in designing all of the elements to work well together. First impressions count!

  3. E-mail Management – E-mail is a key communication tool for your business. The right system will help you maximize communications within the company, on the road and with your customers.

  4. Social Media – Social media such as blogging, Podcasting and other web 2.0 tools can greatly enhance customer communications. Your web services company should be able to help you evaluate how social media tools can best benefit your web presence and business objects.

  5. Small Business Website Hosting Services – All web hosting is NOT created equal. There are many nuances and technical consideration involved with hosting solutions. It is best to stay away from budget hosting companies. Look for a managed hosting provider who can help you select the right plan for your web solution goals, get your website up and running and support you as it grows and evolves.

  6. Website Maintenance – How will your site be maintained and updated? Having both small business web development and managed web site hosting as a package is immensely helpful for maximizing web server resources, identifying problems and keeping the site maintained and updated.

  7. E-Commerce – Will you be actually selling on your site or using it for lead generation or information dissemination? If you are selling products, who will create and maintain your product database. How will transactions be handled? What about web server requirements? Working with a professional can help ensure you make the right choices for your e-commerce site.

  8. Business Process Interaction (database development, customer relationship management, integration with your business management systems) – A website needs to be more than just an ad on the Internet to be effective as a business tool. There are many ways the web can be used to improve your business processes and integrate with your existing systems such as accounting or contact management.

  9. Website Marketing – How will people find you on the web? Will you optimize your site for organic search or employ paid marketing techniques or a combination? What directories should you list your site in? Search engine marketing has evolved to be a complex specialty. It’s critical that you understand the tools available for driving traffic to your site and if needed, know how to evaluate and engage a web marketing specialist.

  10. Website Analytics and Conversion – Having a great site isn’t enough if your visitors aren’t doing what you intended; buying something, contacting your company or using your site for an information source. Does your site have usability issues? What kind of reporting will you use to track site visitors? What do you need to know and do to convert your visitors into action-takers?
It’s a Process and a Work in Progress

While there is certainly a lot to think about, creating the best possible website solution for your business doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Your website can and should be a work in progress, evolving as your business grows. Because most small businesses do not have an internal IT staff to handle the technical elements of web development and planning, working with a web solutions provider that specializes in small business website hosting services and small business web design and development is a good start. Such an organization can help you identify your goals, manage the technical aspects of your site and guide you in your marketing efforts. They can also help you work within your budget to develop a plan that combines all the elements into a cohesive whole for creating and maintaining a successful web presence.


The web has grown up to be a terrific marketing medium for small businesses and organizations. Done right, it can be the most cost effective and powerful marketing and communication tool in your arsenal. The promise is still there. However, to truly leverage the power of the web, it is important to take a good, hard look at the website you currently have or the one you are thinking about creating. The elements of a successful web presence: small business web hosting, website design and development and web marketing are only the framework for a well thought-out web solution designed to reach your customers and truly benefit your business.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Best Practices in Lifecycle Management

Lifecycle management involves a number of key disciplines, aimed at achieving efficiency, productivity, and cost reduction within IT and across the business. Key disciplines when considering a solution for lifecycle management include:

  1. Asset Management – Automatic discovery of hardware and software assets allows organizations to accurately identify the types and locations of devices and software connected to the network. This helps in cost accounting, and feeds accurate planning for provisioning, security, compliance, and more.

  2. Inventory Management – Keeping up-to-date inventory allows businesses to reuse existing systems instead of buying new ones, reduce their hardware inventory software upgrades and license costs, and avoid fines and other penalties by ensuring license compliance.

  3. Bare Metal Installation – Provisioning new software into a system that has no operating system or boot agents installed reduces on-site visits and gets new users and systems up and running faster. Our research shows that lack of bare metal installation can double or triple the time taken to get users productive.

  4. Software Distribution and Provisioning – Installing software from a central location allows new employees to contribute faster, and ensures existing employees can do their job by having the software they need, when they need it. Our research has found that centralized management halves the time it takes to provision new applications.

  5. Endpoint Virtualization – virtualization capabilities to support client-side computing provide flexible access to desktop and application software, often with much lower costs of both hardware and administration. Relevant virtualization technologies include application and desktop virtualization, application isolation, application and OS streaming, and remote control facilities for support.

  6. Configuration Compliance and Remediation – Centralized maintenance of software versions, settings, patches, etc. helps compliance by detecting, preventing, and removing unauthorized software, malware, pirate software, exposures, and other malicious changes. Our research shows that it also halves the amount of time it takes to deploy patches, and reduces virus and spyware management by an average of 80%.

  7. Process Automation – Automating and connecting IT management processes saves time and money. Our research has shown, for example, that process automation can reduce software deployment time on average by two-thirds, and halve the time taken for patch management.

  8. Reporting – Reporting on status and activity allows businesses to identify and avoid potential problems, provides the ‘audit and control’ required for compliance to regulations as well as to best practices like ITIL and COBIT.

  9. Security – Detecting and protecting against security risks at the edge of the network is critical to protecting the network as a whole. Centralized management can prevent potential vulnerabilities such as private FTP or Web servers, unauthorized software, or unauthorized configurations, and detect and quarantine insecure systems out of the network.

  10. Alerting and Messaging – It is important for administrators to detect and respond quickly to problems, to reduce exposure, cost, and downtime. Our research shows that it takes an hour on average before an administrator finds out about a critical problem. Automated alerting reduces this delay, and allows administrators to correct problems before end users and customers are even aware of the problem.

  11. Help Desk/Portal – An integrated mechanism to report problems and service requests improves response to end users and reduces administrative roadblocks. An easy-to-use portal interface to such a system reduces telephone calls, manual intervention, help desk staff costs, and errors, and allows automation to add more value to the process.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is VMware The New is more than simply the market leader for software-as-a-service (SaaS). While others (notably NetSuite) came to market sooner, was the first company to successfully sell the idea of hosting software in its own data centers and delivering it as a service via the Internet on any kind of scale.

It did this by becoming the most vocal proponent of SaaS, and in so doing became arguably the biggest pole around which other SaaS vendors organized themselves.

VMware is in a similar position to where found itself three or four years ago. It is the most recognized name in the industry, enjoys the largest market share, and has taken it upon itself to vaunt the virtues of the technology, which promises to lower customers’ power and hardware costs by replacing physical servers with virtual ones.

Like with Salesforce in those early days of SaaS, there is very little difference between talking up the virtues of virtualization and talking up the virtues of VMware. In the process, it is also helping niche vendors like Parallels, which specializes in virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI).

There is a critical distinction, however, between the respective standard-bearers. Marc Benioff, CEO of, tilted against the very idea of traditional on-premise software (even proclaiming the “death of software“), but didn’t have to worry about a huge rival breathing down his neck.

His enemies were either established software vendors like Microsoft, which tried to deride the idea of SaaS, or the likes of SAP and Oracle, which offered hybrid versions but were years behind in terms of producing code that could support reliable cloud-based services.

VMware, on the other hand, has long been aware that Microsoft was looming, despite Redmond’s setbacks with bringing Hyper-V to market on time.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Microsoft will become a significant player soon, and market research firm Gartner suggests it may even overcome VMware’s lead within five years.

VMware is using its head start by extending the use of virtualization all the way up the hardware stack, in many cases using partners to add expertise it doesn’t own.

Also like, which created a business platform called the AppExchange to provide a venue for companies to sell complementary software service offerings, VMware is creating an ecosystem through alliances with the likes of Cisco and Intel that allow it round out its offering.

There is one important difference between them, however.

Companies that want to integrate their applications seamlessly with’s platform have to develop programs using the company’s proprietary Apex programming language. Salesforce claims it needed to create Apex in order to improve its customers’ ability to customize their applications, but another consequence–whether intended or not–is that once customers build applications using Apex, they are less likely to defect to rival SaaS vendors where Apex is useless.

VMware, on the other hand, has committed to using standards-based technology to make it easier for potential partners to work with it.

This past week has seen rivalries in the space intensify, as VMware announced deals with Cisco and Intel, which Microsoft ally Citrix made news of its own by announcing that it would make its XenServer virtualization technology free of charge.

As the two companies start to lock horns in earnest, it remains to be seen whether VMware continues along a path of openness or succumbs to the temptation of circling the wagons by developing proprietary technology to lock in its customers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beyond economics: Factoring politics into investment strategies

In this video interview, Ian Bremmer discusses the value of developing business strategies that help companies and investors limit their risk exposure to these shocks. He also shares political risk–management lessons from his new book, The Fat Tail: The Power of Political Knowledge for Strategic Investing, cowritten with colleague Preston Keat. Bremmer, the president and founder of political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group, spoke with McKinsey’s director of publishing, Rik Kirkland, in Eurasia Group’s New York office in March 2009.

Open Source as a Business Model

Bringing Open Source to the Data Warehouse.

By wrapping MySQL around its software, Miriam Tuerk (CEO InfoBright), says, Infobright was able to take open source beyond the LAMP stack and make data warehousing simple, fast and easy.

In order to be competitive in whatever market or business you're in, companies need to be very smart and use analytics to run their businesses. You have to have the leanest, meanest logistics supply chain. You have to know that the market's going to turn so that you don't have too much inventory. If you don't do that very well, you won't survive very long. "We've seen a lot of Tier 1 companies go bankrupt in the last little while because of that" says Tuerk.

The reason business intelligence and analytics has grown so much is because the volume of data, the pervasiveness of electronic services, is exploding. So now, instead of just having a CEO run a report and look at metrics, every single employee in the company is doing that.

All kinds of data warehousing technology already existed out there. But, the problem was the technology was extremely complicated. It took weeks and months to set up systems and configure them. I remember someone saying once that there's a standard rule for a data warehouse: two, two and 50. It takes $2 million and two years to build a data warehouse, and you have a 50 percent chance of success. So there was an opportunity for Infobright to be a very disruptive force.

Think of Google as your analytic tool. If you want to know any piece of information today, you just go to Google and ask the question. You don't build the data set in Excel and sort through it and organize it before you ask the question. You just ask the question. So we set out a business plan to build something that was simple, fast and easy. "As we went to market, we learned you want all aspects of your business to be like that. The simplest, fastest and easiest way for a business to implement new technology is open source" says Tuerk.

Why open source?

You can just go to the Web site, you can download it, and you can get it up and running. You haven't had to go through procurement; you haven't had to have legal review a contract. You haven't had to go through the architectural review board. If you're a database administrator in a bank whose vice president of risk management comes to you and says, "I've got all these mortgage CDOs and all of a sudden they're not worth anything. I need you to run some analysis." You need to be able to do it fast without having to deal with your own bureaucracy.

So in 2006, Infobright took two steps toward open source. The first step was, we decided we needed to be part of a community that knew how to talk to our software. It's one thing to have this really great technology under the covers, but if it's a new technology that's too complicated to learn, you're not going to get adoption.

We were the first storage engine partner of MySQL. What we did was we took our software and wrapped MySQL around it... So the hundreds of millions of people who know MySQL and are certified on it ... they know how to use our software because on the outside, we look like and run like MySQL. Anything that works with MySQL works with us.

The second step was to launch the company open source in September of last year. And that has truly delivered a hockey stick for us. Up until September, we had eight customers. We finished last quarter with more than 50 customers. And that doesn't count the number of community users.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A proposal to the developer community

A few of us have been talking about putting together a centre that trains people (as blank slated as freshers) on the common technologies that people use while building products - the usual PHP, Java, Ruby, JSON, AJAX, MySQL, etc etc and getting them upto speed on mashups, APIs, documentation, and moving forward. That is the level of skill that most of the startup community folks are looking for it seems.

Here’s the thought. What if in one of the startup companies, especially the folks who can code and code really well, commit that they will run a two month training program for people in these languages? It is going to take a bit of time and commitment, but there are a lot of resources already on the web, and with a couple of screencasts, and proper documentation, you could essentially also use it as training material for the next batch of people that you hire in your company later on.

What I am proposing is that a batch of technology entrepreneurs, each taking a week to cover different aspects of the course, could put their hands together to collaboratively solve an issue which is haunting a great many of them.

So if you could fix one of the startups offices as the centre for this activity, Put up a wiki where people can sign up for this course, and these startup entrepreneurs/programmers get a chance to do a round of questioning and if they think that the candidate would be able to perform with some guidance, then the community as a whole comes together to train these few candidates and at the end of it, can assimilate them into the company.

There are a couple of reasons why I think this can be made to work:

1. Most freshers are scared of working for startups. The first question I face all the time is “Will they train us?”

2. People who do undergo any sort of training, usually go for some MS Certification and those courses are expensive. Its not like you can afford to get the developmental licenses anyways, and since they have themselves invested in getting trained, the salary expectations are going to be higher from you.

3. At the moment there are very few people who can talk about these technologies for the mass community to learn from. Perhaps contributing to the general knowledge of the masses to improve their skill level, if reached critical mass, will start churning on its own.

4. More people trained on OpenSource Technologies (that’s really what enables Startups), might also slightly increase the chances of people contributing back to Opensource. *fingers crossed*

5. I also think that most startup founders struggle to explain what they have in their head to others. And teaching concepts to others gets you to that level where tomorrow when you need to grow a community around your product, you can converse in a manner that the people can comprehend.

And ofcourse, none of this has to be done for free. I’d strongly suggest that the teams charge the candidate 3000 - 4000Rs a month for this. That is also additional revenue, so its not technically charity either.

So, there is only one question that lingers. Worth giving it a try? What do you think?