Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Framehawk and UBS: my New Thing gets a name...and a big customer

For those who followed my chair-building exploits and my new unnamed stealthy cloud and mobility software start-up, sorry this has taken so long. I’ve been a bit busy. Mainly, it's because there's some pretty interesting stuff we’re working on at my New Thing.

We’re still officially in stealth mode, but today UBS Wealth Management Americas announced they are jumping into mobility with both feet. And we were named as a part of that effort. So I guess that means we’re in sort of “visible” stealth mode, given that we’re not talking about the details of what we’re doing or how we’re doing it. Yet.

But we do have a name now: Framehawk. (And, of course, a Twitter feed: @Framehawk). We’re working with a hand-picked set of name customers to bring existing applications to mobile devices like the iPad in a way that’s fast, secure, and doesn’t require you to rewrite those applications.

Framehawk is part of the UBS FA Mobile project

The mobility project at UBS is a big deal for their 6,000 Financial Advisors. As a start, they are bringing their proprietary wealth-management research and client materials to the iPad. “As our FAs engage with clients in an environments that compels 24/7 connectivity, we are thrilled to launch an innovative platform that gets us in front of this market change and gives us an edge,” said Anita Sands, chief operating officer for UBS Wealth Management Americas in the UBS press release about the efforts today.

In the release, UBS announced they’ve launched a 3-month pilot for a project called UBS FA Mobile in which groups of their Financial Advisors will be able to use their iPads to improve how they work with their wealth management customers.

And Framehawk is a key partner in this project. As UBS said in their press release, “This pilot phase follows a development process led by UBS's Technology group that included engaging with WMA’s FAs to provide feedback and input to the tool’s design, as well as technical development assistance, counsel, and mobility software from Silicon Valley-based Framehawk, Inc.”

How important is this project for UBS? In an interview with Registered Rep, Anita said, "We are going to consider mobile the platform of the future and place our strategic bets in that space. In the future, mobile will come first [at UBS], then the desktop second."

"UBS WMA has broken new ground," writes John Byrne of Registered Rep. He quoted Alois Pirker of Aite saying that he wasn't aware of any other firms who have a similar mobile offering like UBS. "I haven't heard of anything like the UBS application," said Pirker.

And for Framehawk: a different way to appear on the scene

This is probably the first most folks are hearing of Framehawk. And I think that's good. Usually, software start-ups make big, splashy announcements about how they’re going to change the world, then announce their product, and finally get around to talking about customers.

I like that we’re doing this all the other way around. It seems much more logical, if you think about it, to talk about customer value first. We intend to keep that up.

There’s a bit of information about Framehawk at our website, but not much detail yet. The company was bootstrapped for a few years by the founders, Peter Badger and Stephen Vilke (both with deep roots in the financial services industry), until they took an A Round of VC funding in 2010 from Alsop Louie Partners, Correlation Ventures, and Triangle Peak Partners.

I’ve previously worked with a number of the Framehawk folks on the sales and services side while at BEA and Cassatt, and the Framehawk team has an incredible technical pedigree, including some folks from NASA. Hey, if you can communicate with spacecraft, using an iPad to work with critical enterprise applications should be a breeze, right?

I also think the time is right for enterprises to tackle mobility. I’m noticing some similar themes from my recent cloud-filled past: we're talking to folks about an innovative, new capability with great promise that large organizations are trying to figure out how to make the most of. There are a lot of lessons (related both to specific technology and adoption) that we’ve learned from cloud computing that we are applying to what we’re doing at Framehawk. And best of all (from my point of view, anyway), all these things are a great fit for me personally.

More details to come on all of this. But for right now, UBS is focused on putting their pilot through its paces. And Framehawk is going to be pretty quiet and focused on working with UBS and our other early customers.

If you want to stay up to date, follow @Framehawk on Twitter for the latest and greatest. Feel free to drop me a line (jay.fry@framehawk.com) if you want more information under NDA.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In honor of Cloud Expo, 5 cloud computing predictions for 2012

Jeremy Geelan of Sys-Con asked me to pull out my cloud computing crystal ball a few months early this year. He had me join a bunch of other folks working in the cloud space to look ahead at what 2012 has in store.

Jeremy posted the 2012 cloud predictions article in the lead-up to Cloud Expo in Santa Clara (flashback: here’s my take on last year’s Silicon Valley event, timed well with a certain Bay Area baseball team's World Series victory). The cloud prognostication post featured thoughts from people like Peter Coffee of salesforce.com, Christian Reilly of Bechtel (yes, he’s back there by way of Cloud.com and Citrix), Krishnan Subramanian of Cloud Ave, Brian Gracely of Cisco, Ellen Rubin of CloudSwitch (now Verizon), and Randy Bias of Cloudscaling, many of whom are past or current speakers at the Cloud Expo event.

As for my portion of the list, it’s an amalgamation of what I’ve seen maturing in this space from my years at private cloud pioneer Cassatt Corp., the work I did building the cloud business at CA Technologies, plus new perspectives from my first few months at my still-stealthy New Thing. On that last front, you’ll notice the word “mobility” makes it into my list a lot more often than it might have a few months ago.

Here are my 2012 cloud computing predictions, excerpted from the longer list:

The consumer convinces the enterprise that cloud is cool. Things like iCloud and Amazon’s Cloud Drive help get your average consumer comfortable with cloud. Consumer acceptance goes a long way to convincing the enterprise that this model is worth investigating – and deploying to. “There might be something to this cloud thing after all….” This, of course, accelerates the adoption of cloud and causes a bunch of changes in the role of IT. It’s all about orchestrating services – and IT’s business cards, mission statements, and org charts change accordingly.

Enterprises start to think about “split processing” – doing your computing where you are and in the cloud. Pressure from mobile devices and the “split browser” idea from things like Amazon Silk lead people to consider doing heavyweight processing in locations other than where the user is interacting. It’s a great model for working with that myriad of mobile devices that have limited processing power (and battery life) that IT is working feverishly to figure out how to support. Somehow.

Using Big Data in the cloud becomes as common as, well, data. Given the rise of NoSQL databases and the ecosystem around Hadoop and related approaches, companies begin to understand that collecting and using massive amounts of data isn’t so hard any more. The cloud makes processing all this information possible without having to build the infrastructure permanently in your data center. And it’s pretty useful in making smart business choices.

The industry moves on from the “how is the infrastructure built and operated?” conversation and thinks instead about what you can do with cloud. This may sound like wishful thinking, but the nuts and bolts of how to use cloud computing are starting to coalesce sufficiently that fewer discussions need to pick apart the ways to deliver IaaS and the like. The small, smart service providers move up the stack and leave the commodity stuff to Amazon and Rackspace, finding niches for themselves in delivering new service capabilities. (Read profiles of some service providers doing this kind of thing in my most recent "interview" posts.) Finally, enterprises can have a more useful conversation -- not about how do we make this work, but about how our business can benefit. The question now becomes: what new business can come from the cloud model?

Applications become disposable. Enterprises will start to leverage the on-demand nature of cloud computing and take a page from the user experience of tablet and smartphone apps. The result: thinking about applications and their deployment less monolithically. The cloud will help enterprises make smarter decisions about how to handle their processing needs, and give them a way to do on-demand app distribution to both customers and employees. This will open up new options for access, even to older legacy applications. Enterprises will also start to evolve applications into smaller functional chunks -- like iPad or iPhone apps.

Topics worth watching

So, those are some things I think are worth watching for in 2012. Feel free to clip this list and save it on your fridge for a comparison at the end of next year. I’d also advise taking a look at what the other cloud folks that Jeremy rounded up thought were in need of a mention, too.

Even if any one of us is way off on what is actually going to happen in 2012, the overall list is a good guide to some really key issues for the next 12 months. And it will be a pretty good list of cloud computing buzz topics both onstage and on the floor at Cloud Expo. And, I'd bet, for several cloud events to come.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The cloud is falling, says Gartner: tablets and mobility should top IT's list instead

Just when you thought cloud computing was receiving an unending supply of positive hype, the Gartner Group pulls a fast one on us.

Gartner rolled out their list of strategic technology trends for IT to pay attention to for 2012 at their annual Symposium this week in Orlando. And, instead of Gartner piling on with more publicity for cloud, it seems they pulled a bit of a switcheroo.

Cloud computing, which reigned supreme atop their 2011 list, dropped all the way down to No. 10 this time around. Which might cause a cloudwashing vendor or two to worry that the sky (or at least the fluffy white parts of it) is falling.

Cloud drops

David Cearly, the analyst who presented the list in Orlando, gave a number of reasons for cloud coming down to earth this time around. “We could see the failure of the cloud to live up to the hype…The luster could wear off.”

But that’s been a distinct possibility for a few years now. In fact, most of us expect it. Gartner themselves placed cloud just over the peak of inflated expectations and starting to slide into the trough of disillusionment on their hype curve released earlier this year.

However, according to Jason Hiner of Tech Republic, Cearly also noted that cloud is not necessarily seeing a big drop in interest; in fact, it’s actually getting incorporated into lots of other various IT operational areas.

That leads to two potentially opposing conclusions. Either cloud computing is on its way to disappointing its many ardent (and often fanatic) supporters…or it’s gathering sufficient understanding and adoption, that it’s becoming a de facto part of the way IT runs itself in multiple areas.

I think I agree with Hiner’s assessment: neither of those diametrically opposed reasons is likely to be the true reason that Gartner knocked cloud computing down a few pegs. Hiner suggests that they might actually have done it for the shock value. Sounds entirely plausible to me. And if that was the reason, it worked. It got me (and many other more reputable writers) to write a post on the topic, didn’t it?

The new champs: tablets & mobile apps

So cloud is down and out…what took its place?

The new leaders at the top of the list are two topics that are the subject of a bit of a frenzy by enterprises – at least in the enterprises that I’ve been watching as part of my New Thing: tablets & mobile.

In fact, Larry Dignan of ZDNet wrote that “simply put, the analysts and the CIOs in attendance [at the Gartner Symposium] are a bit tablet happy.” Gartner analyst Nick Jones even started his early morning mobility-themed session on Tuesday welcoming the “smart people that realize mobile is more important than breakfast” [thanks, @mattfusf].

For “media tablets and beyond,” as Cearly put it, “the implications for IT is that the era of PC dominance with Windows as the single platform will be replaced with a post-PC era where Windows is one of a variety of environments IT will need to support.”

And as I’ve noted a couple times recently, tablets open up all sorts of interesting possibilities, alongside some pretty strategic development, support, and operations choices. The native interface for tablets like the iPad is very compelling and enterprises want to make use of it. Somehow.

The No. 2 item that Hiner reported Cearly mentioning onstage was “mobile-centric applications and interfaces.” If an enterprise is going to play in the mobile space, new types of tools are needed to take the data feeds from applications and transform them so they are usable on the target device.” This, Cearly notes, takes legitimate “engineering skills,” given all the screen sizes, operating systems, and applications themselves.

Mobility projects will have many follow-on effects, too

The mobility efforts that enterprises have underway or are considering will also likely have much broader and more profound effects, cascading into some of the other items mentioned on Gartner’s list, like context-aware computing and the rise of app stores and marketplaces.

In fact, once enterprises get past the initial roll-out efforts of mobile-enabling their applications and working on tablet support, that’s when a whole set of second-order effects would start to get attention. What will all this mean to application design? "Big" and "monolithic" are not ideal for small and frequently disconnected devices. There’s an opportunity to look at things differently, to re-evaluate how capabilities and services are surfaced to a user.

So, as Dignan noted, much of Gartner’s list comes down to the single concept of mobility. “The list makes distinctions between technologies, but in a nutshell you have mobility on the front end and back end that will keep companies busy for the next two years,” Dignan writes.

Quibbling over the order

The order of Gartner’s 10 strategic technologies for 2012 may seem like it had a bit of meddling from the PR department, but, in the end, I think the list feels about right.

Why? Cloud computing has users and providers that are working to make it standard operating procedure in many situations. It’s on its way. Meanwhile, tablets and other mobile devices have jumped into such prominence and have such sway over our personal life that making them enterprise-connected seems like a no-brainer. And something that needs immediate attention.

Besides, if you don’t like the order of Gartner’s list, just wait until next year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steve Jobs' not-so-accidental role in the consumerization of enterprise IT

There was a wistful feeling that hit me (and from the sounds of it, many of us in Silicon Valley) last Wednesday when I heard about the loss of Steve Jobs.

After pausing for a moment or two to take in his career as a whole, that melancholy quickly turned to something close to amazement. It is hard not to be amazed at all Steve had been able to accomplish. He somehow brought a simple beauty to
technology that had previously been complex and, well, stodgy at best.

However, in the flood of tributes and “what I learned from Steve” articles that came after, the ones about Steve’s impact on enterprise IT were some of the ones that I found more controversial.

How Steve put consumer pressure on enterprise IT

Lisa Schmeiser’s InfoWorld article, for example, caught my eye because it underscored many of the points I thought were so amazing about Steve in the first place. Under his direction, Apple created devices that were so great, you wanted to use them. First for personal tasks. Then for everything. In this way,Apple and Jobs went from “always being an outside force” (as Joe McKendrick of ZDNet put it) to turning up the consumerization pressure on enterprise IT in a big way.

How did he do it? Like Lisa, I think the consumerization of IT push owes a lot of its strength to the iPod. I certainly fell for it. For me, that innocent iPod Shuffle I got as a Christmas present was the gateway drug for me to buy my way up the chain. Next came a Nano, a full-sized iPod, another Shuffle, an iPhone for the wife, 2 more Shuffles for the kids, at last an iPad, and most recently a MacBook Air.

And while I didn’t use the iPods at work (much), the iPad and the Air instantly became part of my work life, given how they helped me get my work done better (and despite some reservations about the iPad by the IT department at my company at the time).

Was his impact on enterprise IT accidental?

“Steve Jobs's disregard for enterprise IT was not a secret,” writes Lisa in her article. “Yet without him, there would be no consumerization of IT. He entirely changed the nature of enterprise computing -- accidentally.”

This is where I have a hard time with Lisa’s article. I agree with a tweet I saw by @robhof: Lisa’s premise that all this was accidental on the part of Steve Jobs misses the point. I think part of his genius was to make it seem accidental, but it to be part of a bigger plan. Or at least part of a logical evolution.

Mixing “insanely great” with enterprise IT

My feeling is this: when you design things to be “insanely great” and to delight the human beings that are supposed to be using your product, it isn’t that odd that they want to use those very same products in all parts of their lives. Personal and work. And enterprise IT would be a bit foolish not to figure out how to embrace what these devices can do eventually. That pressure on large company IT orgs is very real (from what I’ve seen) and today is coming from all sides. That’s an opportunity for both IT and the vendors in this space to help make this possible.

And it won’t stop with hardware. I think we’ll find that the App Store/iTunes metaphor will become the dominant way that software gets purchased going forward. It may have started with Amazon-style on-line stores, but Apple perfected it with music and quickly pivoted to applications, too. The software and mobile industries have learned from this and will never look back. Things like the Android marketplace and even the Cloud Commons effort I helped get underway at CA Technologies (my previous employer) were driven or at least inspired by this approach.

I think seeing all this as accidental on the part of Steve Jobs is probably not right. Jobs had his focus on the only thing that matters, whether the initial target is consumers or enterprise IT – human beings.

Dave Ohara’s Green Data Center Blog pointed me toward a Jobs quote that underscores this. “One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” He may not have been plotting to take over every aspect of IT, but Jobs certainly picked the best way to do it: whatever you create, create it well so human beings want to use it.

Thankfully, enough time to reflect

The news of Steve’s death leaves a hole, for sure. The way it played out, I thought, was actually kind of fitting. By stepping down from his role as Apple’s CEO in August, Steve gave people a rare chance for reflection (I collected and posted some of my favorite Steve Jobs stories published at the time). Whether he meant to or not, he afforded the industry a chance to say good-bye while he was still alive.

Hopefully he also had the chance to see how much of a difference he made. And how much that difference was appreciated.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bridging the mobility (and fashion) divide: can enterprise IT think more like the consumer world?

GigaOm’s Mobilize 2011 conference last week seemed to be a tale of two worlds – the enterprise world and the consumer world – and how they can effectively incorporate mobility into their day-to-day business. And in some cases, how they are failing to do that.

I could feel that some of the speakers (like Steve Herrod of VMware and Tom Gillis of Cisco) were approaching some of the mobility issues on the table with their traditional big, complex, enterprise-focused world firmly in view. Of course, that approach also values robustness, reliability, and incremental improvements. It’s what enterprises and their IT departments reward, and rightly so.

But there was another group of speakers at Mobilize, too: those who come at things with the consumer world front and center. Mobility was certainly not optional for these guys. Another telling difference: the first thing on the mind of these folks was user experience. This included the speakers from Pandora, Twitter, and Instagram, among others.

Even fashion was a dead give-away

In what seemed like an incidental observation at first, I’d swear you could tell what side of this enterprise/consumer divide someone would fall on based on how Mobilize speakers and attendees were dressed. The enterprise-trained people in the room (and I have no choice but to begrudgingly put myself in this category) were sporting dress shirts, slacks, and shiny shoes. Those that were instead part of the mobile generation were much more casual, in a simplistically chic sort of way. Jeans, definitely. Plus a comfortable shirt that looked a bit hipper. And most definitely not tucked in.

This latter group talked about getting to the consumer, with very cool ideas and cooler company names, putting a premium on the user experience. Of course, many of these were also still in search of a real, sustainable business model.

So, GigaOm did a good job of bringing these two camps together, and giving them a place to talk through the issues. The trick now? Make sure the two contingents don’t talk past each other and instead learn what the other has to offer to bridge this divide.

Impatience with the enterprise IT approach?

In conversations with blogger and newly minted GigaOm contributor Dave O’Hara (@greenm3) and others at the event, I got a feeling that some of the folks immersed in the mobile side of the equation don’t have a good feel for the true extent of what enterprise adoption of a lot of these still-nascent technologies can mean, revenue-wise especially. Nor do they have a good understanding of all the steps required to make it happen in IT big organizations.

Getting enterprises to truly embrace what mobility can mean for them faces many of the same hurdles I’ve seen over the past few years with cloud computing. Even if the concepts seem good, enterprise adoption is not always as simple as it seems like it should be. Or as fast as those with consumer experience would expect or want.

That’s where maybe folks with an enterprise bent, I think (selfishly, probably) can have a useful role. If you can get enterprise IT past the initial knee-jerk “no way are you bringing that device into my world” reaction, there are some great places that these new, smart, even beautiful mobile devices could make a difference.

Getting the enterprises to listen

The mobile trends being identified at Mobilize 2011 were on target in many cases, but in some cases even the lingo could have rubbed those with enterprise backgrounds the wrong way – or seemed slightly tone-deaf to what enterprises have to deal with.

Olof Schybergson (@Olof_S), CEO of Fjord, made some really intriguing points, for example, about key mobile service trends: digital is becoming physical. The economy of mash-up services needs orchestrators. Privacy is now a kind of currency. And, the user is the new operating system when it comes to thinking about mobile services.

There were many good thoughts there that IT guys in a large organization would probably take as logical, or even a given. But that last point, the bit about the user being an OS, just doesn’t ring true, and would probably get a few of the enterprise IT guys to scratch their heads.

The user isn’t the OS; he or she is the design point and the most important entity – the one calling the shots. Instead, the user is really the focal point of the design for integrating mobile devices into the existing environment.

Consumerization is pressuring enterprise mobility

But many of the right issues came up in Philippe Winthrop’s panel on mobility in the enterprise.

Bob Tinker from MobileIron believed that this is indeed all coming together nicely and we’ll look back and see that “2011 was the year that mobile IT was born. It was the year that the IT industry figured out mobile. It’s the year the mobile industry figured out IT.” Why? For no other reason than there is no other option. And, people are themselves becoming more tech savvy, something he called the “ITization of the consumer.”

Chuck Goldman from Apperian noted that there is considerable pressure on the C-suite in large enterprises not just to begin to figure out how to incorporate a broad array of mobile devices, but to “build apps that are not clunky.”

Tinker agreed that the IT consumerization effect is significant. “Users are expecting the same level of mobility they have in their consumer world in their workplace. And I think the ramifications for this are fairly profound.” That seems to be the underlying set-up for much of what’s happening in the enterprise around mobility, for sure.

Mobility is causing disruption…and opportunity

Which begs the question: who is looking at the integration of consumer and enterprise approaches in the right way to bridge this gap? At Mobilize, Cisco and VMware certainly were talking about doing so. I saw tweets from the Citrix analyst symposium from the week before about some of the efforts they are doing to try to connect the dots here.

But mobile will turn IT on its head, said Tinker in the panel. And it will rearrange the winners and losers in the vendor space along the way. “Look at the traditional IT industry and ask how will they adapt to mobile. Many of them will not,” said Tinker.

To me, this signals a market with a lot of opportunity. Especially to innovate in a way or at a speed that makes it hard for some of these larger companies to deliver on. Frankly, it’s one of the opportunity areas that my New Thing is definitely immersed in. And I expect other start-ups to do the same.

Another golden chance for IT to lead

Apperian’s Goldman believes that this is a great chance for IT, in much same way that I’ve argued cloud computing can be. The move to adopt mobility as part of a company’s mainstream way of delivering IT means that “IT has an opportunity here that is golden,” said Goldman. “It gives them the opportunity to be thought leaders. Once you start doing that, your employees start loving IT and that love translates into good will” and impacts your organization’s top and bottom lines.

Loving IT? To most, that sounds like crazy talk.

It certainly won’t be easy. Getting ahead of the curve on IT consumerization and mobility requires a bit of imagination on the side of the enterprises, and a bit of patience and process-orientation by the folks who understand mobile. It will require people who have been steeped in enterprise IT, but are willing to buck the trend and try something new. It will require people with mobility chops who can sit still long enough to crack into a serious enterprise.

As for my part in this, it probably also means I’ll have to learn to wear jeans more often. Or at least leave my shirt untucked. And, frankly, I’m OK with that. I’ll keep you posted on both my take on this evolving market and my fashion sense.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nagging questions from VMworld 2011: balancing bias versus cloud vision

For those of us who attend VMworld each year that don’t work for VMware, it’s always a bit of a spectator sport. What will they announce, what will they say-but-not-really-say, what ends up being the synthesis that the audience (and the pundits) take away at the end of the whole thing?

VMworld 2011 was no exception. Now that it has been a couple weeks and the news has sunken in a bit, there are still a few things that are nagging me, mainly from the keynotes that VMware CEO Paul Maritz and CTO Steve Herrod gave. The primary question? How does an IT shop carefully balance the various pieces of visionary cloud computing direction that VMware laid out with the inherent bias that comes with any vendor show of this nature.

Any tightrope walkers out there? I ask because there was certainly a lot of both from what I picked up.

Somebody Told Me VMware has cloud fever

There were a bunch of comments, especially from the keynotes, that I thought were spot on at VMworld. First and foremost, Maritz acknowledged that VMware isn’t immune to “cloud fever.” In fact, he admitted that they “tend to use this word a lot.” An understatement, for sure, for VMware and nearly everyone else for that matter. In Maritz’s estimation, cloud computing “will re-define IT over the coming decade.” Given the possibilities that cloud opens up, and many of the topics I’ve written about here before, I heartily agree.

However, for someone who grew up debugging the print controller for some of the first ATMs, Maritz has a pretty negative view of some technologies that actually make up the IT infrastructure for many of today’s big enterprises. And most of the biases I heard during his keynote ignored many of the issues IT has to deal with to the benefit of Maritz’s current employer (no surprise there).

Out with the old?

Maritz described a future in which the recommended path forward is to “ring-fence” (and eventually replace) the mainframe and mini-computer legacy environments. He then talked about the “client-server legacy” environment as one that was “too big to walk away from.” I’m betting folks from the biggest IT shops globally that heard that chuckled a bit. Many of their pre-client-server systems certainly qualify as “too big to walk away from,” too. (I know my former employer, CA Technologies, would certainly agree with that.)

Instead, Maritz’s guidance focused on ways to modernize client/server infrastructure and operations to help figure out how to bring those newer apps forward. And he suggested investing in cloud-based environments for those new and renewed apps.

I think this approach pretty obviously spins the focus onto the pieces of the IT environment that VMware can deal with most effectively at the moment. It calls those out as most important and actionable and gives short shrift to things VMware’s not good at. Unfortunately, this spin sacrifices the way a customer would realistically evaluate their heterogeneous IT environments. I believe there’s much more of a balance in value among the apps and infrastructures from different computing eras in large organizations than VMware leads you to believe. Sure, many shops would love to dump some of their old stuff and trade it in for something new and with fewer strings attached, but there are some golden rules of IT that really recommend you not do that. At least not all at once.

Cloud enables IT consumers into the driver’s seat

While I may argue with Maritz’s views in some areas, there are other areas where he is dead on. I think he is right to point out the impact of the IT consumers on everything that IT ops is doing. The cloud, he said, “represents the next major interaction between enterprise IT and consumer-driven change.”

One of the biggest stats Martiz dropped on us underscored the staggering impact of the mobility that IT consumers are demanding in particular. Three years ago, 95% of the devices connected to the Internet were PCs. Three years from now Maritz expected that number to drop to just 20%. That’s a big endorsement of the “post-PC world” that Steve Jobs has been evangelizing.

Herrod’s technology keynote was very focused on ways to enable IT to deal with increasing demands for mobility and a new set of devices, like my iPad and other tablets and smart phones. Herrod and Vittorio Viarengo did a great job of showing a few scenarios in a way that was direct, easy to understand, and got the audience laughing a bit (Herrod knows his somewhat-quirky audience very well). The fact that the demos showed some of VMware’s cooler end user computing initiatives like Horizon, Project Octopus, AppBlast and a few others, didn’t hurt.

But, this, too, was presented through the lens of VMware’s take on the world. Not everyone was convinced, of course. Kurt Marko called the mobile efforts “theoretically promising, but realistically perplexing” in his Information Week article. GigaOm's Derrick Harris wondered in a post why consumers wouldn't just, in the end, prefer the consumer brand versions of everything that they already know from their personal lives for things like DropBox instead of a VMware-flavored version.

Filling in the pieces

Finally, the other thing that VMware accomplished at VMworld this year was to make it clear that in order to help customers pursue application renewal efforts and support the trends toward mobility and IT consumerization, they are working hard to fill in all the gaps. Themselves. Or at least, that’s the impression they are giving.

I found it sort of fitting that they had the Killers playing their party this year. Many of the messages that they seemed to be giving off (consciously or unconsciously) were that they were working to be killers themselves – of much of their own ecosystem.

How? They announced (or had previously announced) that they were:

• Going directly at the management and operations space
• Going after databases
• Aiming at the storage space (a logical fit, given their EMC ownership), building a sort of Dropbox for the enterprise.
• Providing a platform (Cloud Foundry) for developers to easily get started
• Going after the virtual desktop
• Going after mobility and a common experience that is not device-based
• Continuing to work on security, e-mail, collaboration, social media efforts

And even if this isn’t an exhaustive (or sufficiently precise) list, you get my drift. The other thing that struck me: they mentioned very few of their partners in their main keynotes.

A new Day and Age?

In the end, in addition to realizing their view of what’s possible for customers with virtualization and cloud, VMware has a very specific goal. VMware is hoping for a world in which IT doesn't need to go anywhere else. Or at least not many other places. Of course, what big vendor doesn't, especially as the cloud threatens to be disruptive to the business they currently have going?

But not many IT orgs want to give VMware permission to take a Joy Ride through their procurement department, saying “trust me, Everything Will Be Alright.”

Mr. Brightside...or Losing Touch?

So, this brought up a few nagging questions for me. Are they trying to do too much themselves, threatening to push their customers to be much more adversarial? And, in taking on all of these things themselves at the expense of some of their partners, are they creating a Hot Fuss and turning friends into enemies unnecessarily? There's a lot of data and market reality that make it very hard to fault how they are acting. A Sand Hill Research report I saw on Cloud Commons cites VMware as the most likely “go to” vendor for private cloud projects. By a long shot.

So why not? There’s no reason VMware shouldn't head down the path they are on (in fact, there a lot of strategic reasons why the definitely should). But customers need to be careful. They need to make sure they understand the preconceptions that VMware buries in their vision for IT’s future. It doesn’t always match the way a big customer views IT. Sometimes that’s because they are looking into a future that the customers can’t see yet. And sometimes that’s because they are coloring the future in a shade that best suits them.

One place we tried to have a reality-based discussion at VMworld was in the “Cloud Computing Realities” panel that Brian Gracely of Cisco, Mathew Lodge of VMware, and I (then with CA Technologies) did with Stu Miniman of Wikibon. Here are 3 other good VMworld write-ups that I can recommend if you want a dose of the real world: Andi Mann’s, Bruce Milne's (both from CA), and Chris Wolf’s (from Gartner). And for a dose of humor, check out Microsoft's humorous poke at VMware for being "stuck in the IT past."

And get ready…this happens all over again in mid-October in Copenhagen. Though, I’ll be watching VMworld Europe 2011 from the comfort of my new desk and the usually-reliable-and-often-amusing #vmworld Twitter feed.

Extra credit goes to those who found all the Killers song and album titles buried in this post (though I made it pretty easy). It's getting to be a little tradition around here. Check out my VMworld 2009 and 2010 wrap-ups -- you'll see I'm no Foreigner to these sort of (in)Excess puns.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

File under 'inspiration': a collection of Steve Jobs stories

Sure, I spent some time mulling over my own resignation letter over the past few weeks, but someone else had one around the same time that was much more impactful and far-reaching (and, honestly, was much better written). Timing is about the only thing that connects my workplace good-bye with the one that had the most impact on high tech in 2011: the resignation of Steve Jobs.

In the days following Steve Jobs’ departure as CEO of Apple, many folks in the industry who had felt his influence – as a manager, a visionary, or news maker – took pen to paper. Actually, many took fingers to backlit keyboard or glass touchscreen, thanks to Steve. And they wrote some interesting stories.

As these stories flew by on Twitter, I found that they were speaking not only about Steve Jobs, but about a whole lot more. I started grabbing links and stashing them to digest later. (Hey, I was busy.) I really didn’t have time and breathing room to process what they meant until now, a few weeks later.

Today’s Chronicle story about the new proposed Apple HQ in Cupertino (the big, donut-like “iCon” that the urban design critic called “refreshing” and “a sci-fi fantasy best viewed from a helicopter”) reminded me about all the stories I’d been collecting. I decided I should post a bunch that had relevance (and were even a bit poignant) here.

I figure that they are good for reference and useful for a little reflection on what kind of impact Steve Jobs had on cynical and/or fanboy journalists, employees, competitors, and the industry in general. They talk about an amazing figure in our industry in particular, but also get to important points about how to be a leader, how to build a company, how to be an entrepreneur, and the impact all those can have on individuals and even on Silicon Valley as a whole. I’m filing them under “inspiration.” Perfect timing for me, actually.

What folks learned spending time with Steve Jobs

Many stories were essentially quirky anecdotes from many of the people that had worked with or crossed paths with Jobs. And what they learned. For example: “CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.” Read Google’s Vic Gundotra’s story about his phone call from Steve for details. Steve’s interest in design and attention to detail resonated in Glenn Rossman’s story about his day pitching the media about NeXT and IBM with Steve Jobs as well.

Robert Scoble gives a good account of the impact of Steve and Apple had through nearly his entire life, ending with his decision to watch Steve’s iPad 2 announcement up close (and without his camera). “It’s one of the few times when I was forced to just soak in a performance, and not try to capture the event I was viewing,” Scoble writes. And in the age of Twitter and Facebook, that’s a rarity. “Jobs didn’t disappoint.”

What was Jobs like? I’ve never met him, though was in a presentation he gave with Larry Ellison to some of us then-Oracle employees way-back-when showing off the NeXT machine. I know some folks from the NeXT era who all have great stories.

Om Malik likens him to Howard Hughes. Saul Hansell at Tech Crunch called him the patron saint of perfectionists: “Steve Jobs was an impresario, in the tradition, more than anything, of a classic Hollywood studio boss (which he also was in his spare time).”

This impresario approach, of course, didn’t (and still doesn’t) make Apple a “pleasant company to deal with or work at,” noted Hansell. “Everyone at Apple worked with the anxiety that they must meet the impossible demands of Jobs or endure his anger.” Hansell compared Apple to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: “no one went in and no one ever came out.”

The bigger picture: what Steve Jobs meant to innovation and Silicon Valley

Those negatives quickly melt away when talking about all Steve has accomplished, however.

Om Malik wrote a wistful piece that outlined some of the best things to be learned from watching Steve Jobs in action. “If you want to change something, you have to be patient and take the long view. …When you are right and the world doesn’t see it that way, you just have to be patient and wait for the world to change its mind.” Plus, Om highlighted one incredibly difficult piece of advice, especially for big companies: cannibalize yourself.

Chris O’Brien from the Merc noted 3 things that Steve Jobs meant to Silicon Valley as a whole: inspiration, innovation, and revolution. “It wasn’t just the way he bootstrapped an idea from nothing, but the anti-establishment flair with which he pursued his singular vision,” said O’Brien. He believes Jobs showed that even though it is the “harder, riskier road,” innovation can be the key for a company to reinvent itself.

O’Brien also noted that Jobs “saved his best for last” – the iPhone. It and the iPad are helping to end the era of the PC, a comment Paul Maritz underscored onstage in his keynote at VMworld last week.

Intersection of technology & liberal arts

Mark Sigal (@netgarden) talked about Jobs finding a way to be the point where technology and liberal arts intersect. “The realization that one man sits at the junction of cataclysmic disruptions in personal computing, music, mobile computing, movies and post-PC computing is breathtaking in its majesty. A legacy with no equal.”

Sigal notes that Jobs has been about “bringing humanity back to the center of the ring,” not speeds and feeds. He was willing to “think different” and make it look “ridiculously, deceptively simple.”

As someone who was late to the party on iPads (though my family and I have had our fair share of iPods and iPhones), I have to agree. My iPad is easy, elegant, and really useful. My expectations were exceeded so completely, it’s almost embarrassing. Our challenge now is to fit that simplicity into the way the rest of the world (and IT) works.

What do people see for the future of Steve and Apple?

So what does the future hold? As David Pogue’s New York Times article mentioned, most of the reactions to Job’s resignation “read like obituaries – for Steve Jobs, if not for Apple.” It’s one of the reasons I was always leery about investing in Apple stock (though I thankfully gave in). Once Steve left, for whatever reason, would there be any possible way to keep things going, while living up to the standards he had set?

“There’s one heck of a huge elephant in the room,” writes Pogue, “one unavoidable reason why it’s hard to imagine Apple without Mr. Jobs steering the ship: personality.” Pogue thinks Apple will do well for now, but will have a hard time knowing “where the puck will come to rest” once the Jobs-influenced “pipeline is no longer full, and when his difficult, brilliant, charismatic, future-shaping personality is no longer the face of Apple.”

However, Harvard Business School fellows James Allworth, Max Wessel, and Rob Wheeler point out that the “Steve-infused culture” that he is leaving behind is, in fact, the point. When Jobs returned to Apple for his 2nd stint, “he wasn’t just interested in building great products himself. He was interested in making sure everyone else within Apple was able to build great products, too – to be able to think like he did.”

These guys are so confident, they created a Twitter hashtag to follow the mantra they believe Apple will continue to leverage to success for a long time to come: #wwsd. As in: “What would Steve do?”

How would you like to remember Steve’s departure?

Before any of this had come to a head, Fritz Nelson of Information Week had been creating his own script for what a Steve Jobs departure would – or in his view, should – look like. It has a geeky element of fantasy to it, but is an interesting read about how Steve Jobs could have ended his tenure. Cool ideas, though the white turtle neck is a bit over the top.

The one thing I liked best, I think, is the Stanford commencement speech that Jobs did in 2005 (thanks to John Millea of CA Technologies and Jean Bozman of IDC for pointing it my direction again recently). As a Bay Area local, I remember being tempted to go. I wish I had, but the magic of YouTube at least ensures that I didn’t miss what he said. The graduates aren’t quite in sync with Jobs at the start, laughing at weird times, assuming that his speech is about, well, them. They eventually figure out that it’s not about them. At least, not only about them.

The speech has some great insights about how doing what you have a passion for is the most important thing. He talked about serendipity: how a calligraphy class he took (because he loved it) saved the world from ugly PC fonts. He talked about getting fired. He talked about being diagnosed with cancer.

If you can find a way to wrap all those things into one life and build great things from them, you’re liable to make a huge difference for yourself. And for a whole lot of other people, too.

So, I’ll hereby submit my comments to the mix of everything that’s already been said and end with something pretty simple.

Thanks, Steve.

Monday, September 5, 2011

For me, it's that time again: start-up life -- and chair building -- beckon

After over 2 years at CA Technologies and almost 6 years with a vendor focused on what is (or would become) the cloud computing space, it’s “that time” for me again.

It’s time for me to jump back into a start-up.

CA has been a welcome change of pace and a rich set of experiences for me. I came into CA from the Cassatt acquisition back in the summer of 2009 -- shifting from Cassatt’s 50-person approach to problems to one in which we could bring the resources of a $4-billion and 12,000-person company to bear.

I like to think that I've helped move things forward at CA and for customers thinking about cloud computing. I joined the team that laid the groundwork for and built CA’s cloud business from the ground up. Following some very impactful strategy discussions, we pulled in a bunch of key acquisitions, including Oblicore, 3Tera, and Nimsoft, and have been building businesses on it since. (See here for what some of luminaries in the cloud market working with CA are doing and here for the company’s most recent cloud-related moves.)

The importance of building…chairs

But, deep down in my DNA, I like doing start-ups. I'm about to join my fourth. Sometimes they work out great, sometimes not, but the connection between the work you do and the results is fresh, visceral, and immediate. They give you a feeling of belonging that is hard to replicate.

I remember Alfred Chuang, one of the founders of BEA, telling over and over again how he had actually put together the chairs for the company’s first conference room in our rental space in East Palo Alto back in ’95 (I was with BEA from those early days until I joined Cassatt in ’05). I remember looking forward to when Ed Scott (my boss at the time) would be on the road with Bill Coleman or his sales team, since I was sharing an unassuming corner of Ed’s office. The office frankly seemed a lot bigger when only one of us was trying to use it at a time.

The New Thing

So what’s the New Thing that I’m going to?

I’m joining a small, stealthy cloud computing /mobility start-up in the Bay Area as VP of marketing. I will share details, the name, and world domination plans as soon as I can.

I start this coming Friday (and I’ll be on a plane with my new CEO twice that day, amusingly enough for those that follow my too-frequent Twitter flight exploits). I’ve worked with several of these folks before – a *really* important prerequisite in my book – and the others come highly recommended.

In one of my meetings with the CEO, I helped folks lug a few boxes out of the conference room so we could meet. While we were talking, a few team members were just outside the door putting together what was in those boxes. Yep, you guessed it: office chairs.

Now, many of the market signs that I’m seeing are pointing in the right direction for my new company and its space. But, when they started putting chairs together, I think that sealed the deal for me.

Getting started

So, this week I’ve been taking a little R&R, playing House Dad a bit, catching up on some blog posts, and buying a few gadgets to get me started.

Going forward, I’ll continue to write here at Data Center Dialog on most of the topics I’ve already been covering, plus expanding into a few more at the cross-section of cloud, mobility, and IT consumerization. I also intend to continue to contribute to Cloud Commons (and will re-subscribe to This Week in Cloud as a non-CA person).

And, when we’re ready, I’m also expecting to have the relevant posts show up on my new company’s site as well.

Thanks to everyone for reading the blog so far. I'm excited about what's next and see it as a great extension of what you've been reading here. I hope to continue to make this a worthwhile dialog for all of us.

At the very least, I should be an expert if you ever need your office chair adjusted.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why cloud computing hype isn't bad for IT after all

A week or two back, ReadWriteWeb ran and published the results of a reader poll of the “most over-hyped cloud technologies.” Amusingly, the results (aside from a NoSQL mention) read like the basic NIST definition of the key components of cloud computing. Software as a Service, private clouds, Infrastructure as a Service, and Platform as a Service all made the top 5.

Wow, I thought. That barely scratches the surface. Plenty more cloud computing terms were enjoying their moment of irrational exuberance, but were being left out in the cold by this particular survey. A few Twitter conversations unearthed some very deserving nominations. Not to be forgotten:

Hybrid clouds. Apparently hybrid clouds didn’t have quite enough hype-y-ness to make the list. Weird, considering that term tends to be the punch line to nearly every cloud strategy and direction conversation that I hear. Better luck at next year’s awards ceremony, I guess.

Cloud bursting (nominated by @reillyusa and @AaronMotsinger). Some folks have been arguing back and forth about whether it is really a legitimate (or even possible) use case. @pdowning1077 noted he much preferred the term “capacity on demand,” but that doesn’t help settle the argument.

Cloud brokers. Forrester has been posting some interesting research for its subscribers on this new role (also defined by NIST in the July 5 version of its standards roadmap, if you want a standards org to weigh in for legitimacy). I’d say this conversation is still very early. The hype wagon train for this term has just set off down the road.

But probably the most impactful comment was another by @pdowning1077. “How about just the term ‘cloud’ [in general]?” he asked. How could they forget to include the mother of all hype-worthy terms in their polling?

So much hype that “cloud computing” becomes meaningless?

The same week of all this discussion, David Linthicum reported that cloud computing (the term) had now become essentially “meaningless.” That comment came on the heels of Gartner’s annual publication of their hype cycles. A quick scan notes that cloud computing is still close to where it was last year, just nosing over the (hype-laden) peak of inflated expectations. Private cloud computing is rapidly moving to join it, perched perilously over the trough of disillusionment, ready to take the leap.

OK, no one would argue with the extreme levels of marketing attention from everyone from start-ups to 30-year-old software companies (who, us?) to service providers. But just because a bunch of marketing people are in a frenzy doesn’t mean we should write off the trend they are talking about as a bunch of meaningless fluff.

The hype has caused IT to pay attention to cloud computing

In fact, if I’m reading the market right, I’d say that there are actually some really good things that have come out of the hype around cloud (and continue to do so).

We suddenly had something to call this good idea. There were a bunch of technologies and entrepreneurs out there struggling for several years to put a palatable name to what they were working on. Some started off calling this grid computing, some utility computing, and others more obscure terms than those. But, the early hype around cloud computing a few years back gave a name to the idea. We pulled several of these companies into CA (Cassatt and 3Tera, to name two), but many others were struggling with this same issue. One of my early posts on this blog was about how the term private cloud may not have been precise or perfect, but it enabled us to have the right conversation. I think the same thing goes for the overall cloud computing concept.

It created a way to catch the attention and imagination of enterprise IT. By talking about a Big Vision of IT infrastructure that matched compute supply with compute demands at any given time (and matched costs accordingly), ears perked up. It was the next logical topic to discuss with the IT guys who were fresh from thinking about how virtualization could free them up from particular pieces of hardware. In a world in which IT is fighting for every budget dollar, mostly just to keep treading water, an idea about how to get off this downhill hamster wheel is at least appealing to consider. That’s step one. (Ken Oestreich, by the way, has a great blog from a few months back on the brief history of the vision of cloud computing.)

The hype extended the discussion past the technologists to the business people. All the hubbub over cloud computing got the business users excited at a time when the economy was giving them little to be excited about. “So, you mean I might have a way to turn some of these business ideas into reality, despite the drubbing that the sour economy has given us and the measly budget that my IT partners say we have at our disposal?” This has been important – the business guys are the ones, in the end, pushing when IT starts to get nervous and pulls back from the visionary edge that cloud puts them on.

The hype has pressured big vendors into some self-reflection that will be beneficial for their customers. Many of the larger vendors jumped on the cloud bandwagon through new offerings, blatant rebranding of old offerings (shame on you), acquisitions, and the like. To make any of these moves, vendors have had to take stock and rethink what they can and should be providing given what their customers want. In some cases (like here at CA with Nimsoft), it causes the vendors to broaden the set of customers they are actually serving.

The intense amount of discussion has started an intense amount of scrutiny, revealing how useful cloud can actually be. One thing that happens when the hype levels reach fever pitch is that people start pushing back. The recent demand for real-world examples and exasperation over cloud outages has been the natural backlash from being force-fed lots and lots of best-case scenarios, rainbows, and unicorns. Journalists and analysts have often helped push for these kind of reality checks, though they also tend to pile on as technologies or ideas drop into the “trough of disillusionment” that Gartner is so fond of describing. Enterprise IT, business users, and the vendors themselves all eventually do a fair bit of policing, sometimes too late for their own good, but we seem to be headed in this (positive) direction right now.

So while a lot of the hype can seem like so much wasted energy from all parties, when the trend or shift being hyped actually has merit, something useful comes out the other end. Now, would

most of us (advertising agencies and ad reps excluded) prefer some way to skip the aggravation of this process and jump right to the end? I’d bet so. However, consider this all a bit of a trial by fire. The only way for something to be proven strong enough to pass through the fire is, well, to actually do it.

So, hold your nose and smile. Hype is good – with a few important caveats. Be critical. Be well-armed with the right questions to ask in order to discern the valuable from the merely fancifully over-marketed. Be ready to see the value in approaching something a new way, even if it’s something you’ve done the same way for decades. Be pragmatic enough to know it won’t happen overnight or with the wave of a magic wand.

If it makes you feel any better, cloud computing isn’t the only term getting the Gartner Hype Curve treatment this year. Added to the list, according to this ReadWriteWeb article, were big data, gamification, Internet of Things, and consumerization. Misery loves company, I guess.

And, in the meantime, it may be time to come up with your own term to start campaigning for next year’s Cloud Hype Awards. I think the hype is here to stay for a while longer.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wallace and Bird Hosting soar: how they save on hardware while delivering more complex apps

Many of the cloud service providers that we are working with here at CA Technologies are small, but aggressive. These are the guys that know their business really, really well and are the ones who are targeting their niches pretty successfully. The ability to focus and be nimble are some of the key indicators of success in the service provider space.

We’ve been calling folks like these “Cloud Accelerators” – given how instrumental these service providers are being in the adoption of cloud computing -- and we have been profiling some of the more interesting ones.

Bird Hosting strikes me as a great example of one of these “accelerators.” They may not be on your radar screen yet, but Bird Hosting is a cloud service provider that’s nimble and all about the personal touch. They not only deliver cloud hosting and other key services to customers, you can find them answering questions on WebHostingTalk.com. They post reviews talking through the pros and cons of the newest rev of their cloud platform. They even run a hardware review site. (After all, there are benefits for a service provider to know this stuff.)

They do all this with 10 employees, 3 locations…and they have 3,600 customers.

Bird Hosting’s CEO, Michael Wallace, answered a few questions about their operations, what’s key for a service provider’s cloud platform, and even what’s up with their name. Read on:

Jay Fry, Data Center Dialog: You’re a relatively small service provider. How many data centers do you need to effectively serve a nationwide customer base? What else is important?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: We started in Seattle. When you have a data center in Seattle and customers in New York, the content isn’t delivered as quickly as you’d like – content delivery speed is important. We saw a need for something more central in the U.S., and so we went to Dallas. We now have 3 data centers (Seattle, Dallas, Washington, D.C.) and can cover the whole United States effectively.

In fact, we have customers across the world. We have customers that range from small shared-hosting accounts to large corporations. For example, we support a travel organization in New York, a food chain also in New York, as well as Costco. We host and produce videos that have 360-degree views of sheds and playgrounds that Costco sells.

DCD: How did you get started in the service provider business?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: We originally started in 2005. My father was one of the pioneers of the Internet; he started an ISP in 1991. I started out doing web hosting with some big corporate website hosters. I found that they were subpar, both from how they presented themselves to the services they offered. So I decided to do my own. I had the knowledge to do it. And I had just returned from a lengthy tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and was ready to take a bold move and launch my own business.

DCD: A recent article in SearchITChannel by Carl Brooks talked about the fact that the market is starting to realize that enterprises who are building private clouds and service providers that are selling public cloud services have some very different needs. Can you talk a bit about what you think is important to have in a cloud platform for service providers like yourself?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: Two things that are very important are cost savings and flexibility. With CA AppLogic [what Bird Hosting uses], I’m not limited. It’s a platform that allows me to offer a full range of services. Before I had to have separate machines for each individual task. We had to have a box for Windows, a box for Linux, and when we added customers, we had to add more dedicated boxes. With AppLogic, you don’t have to be limited to a certain OS. You have a cluster of servers and it allows us to run all of our applications on top; it’s neutral. So that helps us save money – we are able to standardize hardware and we can even save power.

DCD: Speaking of saving power, I’ve heard you talk about how much you’ve reduced your environmental impact. Can you quantify what you’ve been able to do?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting:
When we first started our business, we sold a lot of dedicated servers. Each would have a power draw even when idle. CA AppLogic allowed us to take those boxes and cram them into a virtual environment. Customers on dedicated servers were able to run as virtual dedicated servers instead. Customers were paying for a given amount of resources; we would give them the resources and they would run their environment. We cut back from 6 full cabinets to just one cabinet in one data center.

We were able to take 200 boxes and put that into 10 boxes. In our Dallas facility, for each of our cabinets we have two power drops, which costs $960 per cabinet – just for power. We were able to cut back 10 power drops, saving us about $10,000 per month.

DCD: Service providers are all looking for ways to define a niche that they can own, build up new revenue opportunities, and grow their margins. What has your cloud platform decision and approach meant competitively?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: It allowed us to broaden our market. We could have stayed where we were and offered shared hosting and dedicated servers. But using AppLogic has allowed us to venture into more complex application hosting. It allows us to create more complex environments with ease. Those environments usually would have taken us a long time to set up if we were going to do it in a physical environment—running cables from an end gateway or a firewall to a hardware load balancer to machines. That’s what AppLogic does in software.

We can support more complex applications. We wouldn’t be able to offer as many value-added services without AppLogic. We can do so quickly and efficiently, scaling things up or down as much as they need. And then we can charge per resource.

DCD: Do you see IaaS providers like Amazon as competitors?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: I don’t consider Amazon a direct competitor – they can’t do what we can do. We have a running joke – customers come in and say “our uptime is 70% with Amazon Web Services.” We can give them close to 100%.

DCD: You also do a lot of stress testing with your hardware. What has that meant for customers? What have you found?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: CA AppLogic is designed to take a bunch of small systems and merge them into a cloud. With more cores and more memory on each machine, you can get more out of each machine without adding more hardware footprint. We decided to start a little testing to find out what are our limits, what can we do? We tested different types of hard drives and configurations, different controllers, to see what worked best.

Testing the efficiency of servers brought me into a whole new area. I now run a hardware review site on the side. The stress-test work helps us figure out what machines can handle without impacting performance.

[Note: you can contact Michael directly to talk about any of his results if you’re interested in more details.]

DCD: Do your customers know anything about cloud computing? Does it matter to them?

Michael Wallace, Bird Hosting: There has been a lot of confusion and debate with the cloud. When I started out, we heard concerns about sharing data. We see less concern about that now. They do see the power of cloud computing and interact with it if they are using our virtual private data center offering. We dedicate a given group of machines to a customer and they get access to the CA AppLogic portal so they can build applications the way they see fit. They use CA AppLogic to virtually build their infrastructure.

Thanks for the time, Michael.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the name, you’ll be happy to hear that I (of course) didn’t let that go. Here’s what Michael said about the name: “When we started looking for names, I was also looking for a mascot. That’s where Bird Hosting came from.” Did he try other more, er, ferocious names? “HostGator was taken,” said Michael. “And Dog Hosting was too gangster for me.”

The resulting mascot has an uncanny resemblance to Twitter’s feathered friend, if I do say so myself. Or the stars of a certain iPad game I’ve gotten myself hooked on.

But no Angry Birds here. Just a set of happy customers benefiting from Bird Hosting’s personal focus on delivering what experience dictates is required for service providers to soar: performance, reliability, and value.

You can read the Cloud Accelerator profile of Michael and Bird Hosting on the CA Technologies site. The site also features other luminaries who are setting the pace for cloud computing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Boy, my new iPad and I are demanding a lot from IT -- and we're not alone

I caved and joined the revolution this weekend. I bought an iPad.

And while it was very fun to do all the things that a newly minted Apple fan boy does (like downloading the app that turns the iPad into ones like they had on Star Trek: The Next Generation), that was just the beginning. I had yet to try to torment my internal IT department with my demands.

First and foremost: I wanted to use my iPad as part of my normal work day. I'm certainly not the first to want this. The appearance of consumer-purchased devices that employees would like to have (must be!) supported by internal IT is getting an amazing amount of attention. Though not always from IT departments, if they can help it. In addition, it’s not just 1 or 2 folks who want to start using tablets, smartphones, and the like. It’s everyone.

What does “not supported” mean for my iPad?

So, first thing Monday, I tried my luck linking into our IT systems. It started off innocently enough: I easily connected to the in-office wireless network. The first real test was going to be whether I could get my corporate email and calendar.


IT had obviously been through this before; there is a document in place on our help system that explains how to do everything. Unfortunately, it starts like this: "Please check if this iPad was purchased for business purposes or if it was a personal purchase. Note: personal machines are not supported."

Hmmm. That sounded ominous. But, despite being “not supported,” it was really simple to enable email and calendar access. I had to add some security precautions, as you might expect, but it worked. My fingers are crossed that it continues to work, given the help I’m not going to get. And, of course, there are a multitude of our enterprise apps I’m not getting access to.

But I’m satisfied. For now. But not everyone is. And corporations certainly shouldn’t be.

Cloud computing, intriguing mobile devices (and what you can do with them) are ganging up on IT

My process of tormenting IT with my iPad started Monday, but it’s guaranteed to last for a long time. And, as I said, the key issue is that I’m not alone.

People – and, yes, it’s about the people and what they (er, I) want to do – have devices that they love that give them easy, constant access. That should be good. There’s a blurring of the boundary between business and personal that businesses stand to gain from.

Cloud-based resources give organizations a fighting chance to scale sufficiently to keep up with the volume driven by these more-and-more-ubiquitous tablets and smartphones. But management and security are often thought of way too late.

In a piece posted at Forbes.com, Dan Woods, CTO and editor of CITO Research, noted that “the IT monopoly has ended but the need to ensure security, reliability, compliance, and integration has not. Most consumerization efforts are long on choice and short on ways to actually address that fact that IT’s responsibilities to manage the issues have not disappeared.”

Shirking management and security – or leaving it as an afterthought – will not cut it this time around, especially since users don’t think twice about going around the official IT channels, something that those official IT channels really can’t afford to have happen if they are going to get their jobs done.

The train is moving faster than you thought

In a study called “IT Consumers Transform the Enterprise: Are You Ready?” that IDC published a few weeks back (free copy without registration here; CA Technologies was a sponsor), they mention these needs – and the speed they need to be dealt with. “The train is moving faster than you thought. Adoption of public cloud, mobile, and social technologies in business operations has already reached high levels, often driven by ‘stealth IT.’”

IDC noted a “surprisingly high” (and concerning) level of personal and confidential information sharing. While the “consumerization of IT” introduces a bunch of new, innovative services and approaches into the enterprise, it also exposes the org to “business risk, compliance gaps, and security challenges if they are not managed.”

An InfoWorld article by Nancy Gohring noted another IDC study that found that even as more and more people are bringing their own tablets and smartphones to work, IT departments have been “slow to support them and may not even be aware of the trend.” Slow, I understand (given I just bought my first iPad a few days ago); not aware, however, is a recipe for big headaches ahead.

What are those ahead of the train doing to stay ahead?

Not everyone, however, is behind the curve. Part of the IDC survey I mentioned earlier highlighted the top characteristics of leaders in this area – as in, what behaviors are they showing. The leaders are more likely to be those using IaaS, PaaS, and Saas; those who are interacting with customers using their smart mobile devices; those who are concerned about data protection, back-up, and end-to-end user experience. “Businesses that are being proactive about consumer-driven IT are more likely to realize greater benefits from investments made to address the consumerization of IT,” said IDC’s Liam Lahey in a recent blog that summarized their survey findings.

In addition, in Woods’ Forbes article, he pointed out some questions that need asking, many at an application level: “Supporting mobile workers adds a new dimension to every application in a company. Which applications should be supported on mobile devices? How much of each application should be available? When does it make sense to craft custom mobile solutions? How can consumer apps become part of the picture? What is [the] ROI for mobility? How much should be invested[?] None of these questions have obvious answers.” Another post of his has some good suggested approaches for IT.

My CA Technologies colleague Andi Mann did a good job of netting this all out in another recent post: “While a minority of leading organizations already ‘get it’, there is still a massive latent opportunity to establish new game-changing technologies, drive disruptive innovations, build exponential revenues, and beat your competitors.” In other words, having IT bury its head in the sand is going to mean missing some opportunities that don’t come along very often to reshape the competitive landscape.

Especially when you couple the support of these tablets and other mobile devices with the changes coming about with the rise of cloud computing.

Look in the mirror

In the end, says Andi, “it’s all about you! ...The bottom line is that you — as an individual, as a consumer, as an employee, as an IT professional — are responsible for a radical change affecting business, government, and IT. You are both driving this change as a consumer of social, mobile, and cloud applications; and being driven by this change as an IT professional adapting to these new customer behaviors.”

Maybe TIME Magazine wasn’t wrong a few years back when they named You as their Person of the Year (congrats, by the way) with a big mirror-like thing on their front cover. It’s just that the revolution always takes longer than people think, and the results are never quite evenly distributed.

I’m a perfect example. I've been involved in cloud computing for many years, but didn’t join this particular part of the revolution -- the part where I expect flicking my fingers on a piece of glass will get me access to what I want -- until this past weekend.

But I’ll probably be confounding IT departments left and right from now on. Make it so.