Tech Trends Archives

Anything as a Cloud Service

Environmental PCStartups are vacuuming up every conceivable IT function and service and putting them in the cloud, all in the service of lower cost and simplicity. Since those are prime requirements for small to medium businesses, it’s no accident the startup lineup at the recent SpiceWorld was full of new cloud-based services. Among them:

Authentic8:  Web-based apps have an inherent security problem:  The browser(s), running on a variety of devices and networks, are “inherently insecure, and IT can’t do anything about it.  says CEO Scott Petry. His answer: “Run the browser(s) in the cloud, in a secure sandbox,” converting the browser session into a secure remote display protocol that displays only the interface on the mobile device.

Think of Authentic8’s SILO  like VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure used to display application interfaces on PCs) but for browsers. While not designed for streaming video applications like Hulu or YouTube, its built-in compression can deliver up to twice the performance of traditional HTTP for text- and form-based content, says Petry.

This approach also eliminates the need to “containerize” corporate apps or data on the devices employees bring from home, he says, as the mobile device is not receiving HTTP data and stores no data, cookies or other “state” information.

There’s even an ease-of-use play. Once an administrator has set up the proper user profiles, an organization can create a single-sign-on portal that lets employees, customers or partners provide or revoke access to all their authorized applications and data. There’s even provision for multi-factor authentication and policies to control functionality such as device access or file download.

Target markets include finance departments that delegate sensitive financial transactions to outside accounts or business process outsourcers, or organizations that maintain distributed DevOps teams, says co-founder Ramesh Rajagopal.

Authentic8’s downloadable client now works only with iPads and traditional computing platforms, but not Android, and pricing starts at $15/user/month.

Exablox: For years, vendors have been trying to hide the complexity of storage from users and applications, making it easier to grow, shrink or change the storage infrastructure without having to reconfigure servers or rewrite applications.

Exablox, founded in 2010 and backed by $22.5 million in VC funding, claims to radically simplify storage with cloud-based management of on-premise disks with an object-based file system. Its 2U appliance comes with four Gbit Ethernet connections and eight drive bays, which the customer fills with any capacity SATA/SAS drives purchased at retail for as little as four cents a Gbyte. Its cloud-based management service automatically configures the drives with enterprise features such as inline deduplication; continuous data protection, real time drag and drop replication and encryption. It eliminates the entire concept of RAID and LUNs, says Senior Director, Products, Sean Derrington. The object-based file system “lets you place information anywhere you want, without being tied to any particular volume or RAID group. If there’s a site failure, the users see the same global name space but can be redirected to a different IP address.”

Keeping all the storage on site eases security concerns about the cloud, and eliminates the expense of transporting data to and from the cloud. Exablox is focused now on the unstructured, file-based market, presenting its storage as SMB (server message block) or its CIFS (Common Internet File System) dialect. It is currently scalable to about 200Tbytes of raw storage in a single file system with near-liner performance scalability. Pricing starts at $9,995.

Pertino: VPNs (virtual private networks) are one way to securely “tunnel” information over the Internet. However, expensive hardware and complex IT and licensing management make VPNs a poor fit for many SMBs. Pertino aims to solve this problem with cloud-based networks that run on  infrastructure-as-a service cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Rackspace. Its Cloud Network Engine service and downloadable client software allows customers to create networks in minutes “as easily as setting up a Dropbox account,” says Vice President of Marketing Todd Krautkremer. There’s no need to enter IP addresses, configure firewall rules or manage security certificates. Removing users (such as departing employees) and devices and managing network access can be done with a single click, without the need to change access control lists, he says.

The Cloud Network Engine automatically re-provisions a customer’s network on another virtual machine or even another data center if a failure is detected, he says, and because the IaaS vendors are located on or near the Internet backbone, performance is better than with a conventional VPN.

Pertino, which relied on extensive feedback from the Spiceworks community when shaping the product, is focused on organizations of up to 500 employees. It recently announced a new management console that makes it easier to monitor and manage users, devices and policies, unveiled an app store and plans support for Android devices early next year. Pricing starts at $29 a month for ten devices.

Quorum: Testing backups is like flossing: Not enough people do it, and even fewer do it right. Quorum’s cloud-based backup service not only captures incremental, deduplicated backups in the cloud, but  automatically tests them every day, said President and CEO Larry Lang. Each snapshot is a “recovery node, which is a virtual clone of every machine we’re protecting,” he said. Quorum allows users to do file- and message-level restores, and goes up against mainstream products such as Symantec Backup Exec, he says. The typical deployment cost for several hundred servers is $20-30,000. (Quorum just announced $10 million in Series C funding, and that Walter Angerer will step in as interim CEO.)

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

The Only IT Hardware Still Made in the U.S.?

Made in Boulder: Thad Corlette, Spectra Logic's director of operations in their assembly facility.

Made in Boulder: Thad Corlette, Spectra Logic’s director of operations in their assembly facility.

Driving up to Spectra Logic’s headquarters on Foothill Drive in Boulder, I saw their name on a manufacturing facility. Couldn’t be, I thought. The assembly of anything as commoditized as tape libraries must long ago have been outsourced to Asia.

Within an hour I had learned better. About 60 Spectra Logic employees assemble and test all its tape and disk libraries on site, although it buys everything from the cases to the drive motors and the tape drives from outside. But even some of those piece parts get an extra polish:  Lowly tape cartridges go through a “CarbideClean” process to ensure they are debris-free. Then (as I learned in a recent press and analyst event hosted by Spectra Logic) each tape is tracked for 40 health metrics over their lifetime and given a lifetime warranty before becoming Spectra Certified Media.

It was all a lesson in how a supposedly commoditized, obsolete product can be refined to drive enough volume and prices to support domestic manufacturing and innovation. OK, this isn’t like resuscitating a huge domestic manufacturing industry like TVs or textiles. But it shows what can be done with a seemingly ho-hum product, if those behind the technology truly understand its strengths and weaknesses, and have a passion for exploiting its unmet potential.

The folks at Spectra Logic, for example, can talk convincingly of how barium ferrite tape will let media manufacturers stuff far more bits into each inch of media than their competitors in the disk world – and how tape based on this compound will not degrade over time, keeping seismic, legal or video data safe for generations.

It’s the Software, Stupid

As in most parts of the IT industry, such behind-the-scenes advances in hardware feed the real innovation, which happens in software. While it’s known, along with IBM and Oracle as one of the survivors in the tape market, Spectra Logic stubbornly calls itself a software company and devotes of its R&D budget to software.  (Overall, it devotes 10-20% of revenue to R&D, about double that of the larger players, says CEO and Founder Nathan Thompson, and the company says more than 80% of its engineers are software rather than hardware folks.)

The entire operation had a decidedly start-up feel, from the dedicated room for pinball machines to the fat-tired bicycles workers use to ride among buildings. Execs from units that would be fiefdoms in larger company, such as development, sales and marketing, exchanged hugs and encouraging pats on the back as they moved through the complex, multi-day rollout of their strategy.

Of course, the Denver-area storage industry is still a far cry from its former glory days, and a chummy corporate culture will only take you so far. But it was surprising and encouraging to see a North American company innovating in hardware, and shipping the finished product out the door from our own shores.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Is Tape the Next Big Thing for Web Apps?

tape meets Web

This is NOT “Deep Storage,” says Spectra Logic…

It’s easy to find hot-heads who argue that tape is dead. It’s old, slow and unreliable, they argue, and for a little more money you can get vastly better performance with SATA disk.

Besides, tape is so…so…old, reminding today’s hipsters of the cassette tapes that provided storage for their Grandpa’s TRS-80.

But someone forgot to tell Spectra Logic. The privately-held backup, recovery and archive vendor just announced record revenue and profits for fiscal year 2013. Much of the credit goes to products like its flagship T-Finity tape library, which can store more than three Exabytes of data.  Yes, disk storage is getting denser and cheaper all the time, Spectra Logic says, but tape is making even faster progress, making it the go-to technology for long-term storage of very large data sets.

To expand tape’s long-term storage role Spectra Logic has used some of those profits to gin up a whole new market for tape it calls Deep Storage. This will let customers not only store huge quantities of unstructured data such as documents, images and video on tape virtually forever, but access it through the same REST (Representational State Transfer) interfaces used by many of today’s Web-centric applications and users.

Meet Deep Storage

Deep Storage, according to the Boulder, Colo. Firm, is “is extremely low cost, power efficient and dense storage for data that does not need immediate access.” Among its attributes are that it is persistent, lasts for decades or more without corruption, cost-effective (which Spectra Logic defines as between 1/5th and 1/50th the cost of traditional disk) and easier to deploy and access than block-based storage protocols such as Fibre Channel.

At its recent press and analyst event, to which it graciously hosted me, Spectra Logic began delivering on the strategy with an API, a software development kit, and even a hardware emulator so developers can test how client devices and apps will write to Spectra Logic hardware.

It also delivered enhancements to the widely-used API for Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that support key tape attributes, such as sequential access rather than the

tape meets Web

…but this T-Finity is.

random access provided by disk or flash drives. It also planted a stake in the fast-growing Big Data market with client software that allows “Big Data” Hadoop clusters to move data to Spectra Logic tape libraries.

Then there is a data management appliance called BlackPearl that will (among other things) aggregate data from client apps , verify and cleanse it before caching it on solid state drives for transmission to tape libraries. BlackPearl will also create object “buckets” that will help customers to find the object they need (such as the cake at your cousin’s wedding) from among billion without navigating file systems.

 Yahoo Leans In

Kevin Graham, principal storage architect at Yahoo, is already beta-testing Spectra Logic’s Deep Storage offerings and actually pushed Spectra Logic to develop them. He says it’s only a matter of time before they go into production at the search and media giant. Two possible uses: Making it easier to assure back-ups of the millions of photos users upload to its Flickr photo sharing service, and allowing “Big Data” analysis of the data now sitting unused on its backup systems.

Sam Bogoch, CEO of video editing tools vendor axle Video, sees Deep Storage as a particularly good fit for video, where ever-higher resolutions and increased use of video is creating a largely-untapped market for “Media Asset Management.” BlackPearl could be a cost-effective alternative to third-party tape access middleware for customers, and a natural fit for the systems integrators who serve them. At least one video-editing customer at the event liked the idea of using less-expensive tape rather than disk to store their ever-growing video archives.

 Now, to Execute

Spectra Logic did a convincing job of combining tape’s historic strengths (low cost,) future capabilities (higher density and the use of new materials for longer life) with established cloud standards into a Web-friendly future for tape.  Another advantage for Spectra Logic: This is not a “save the company” leap out of a dying market, but a growth opportunity atop what seems to be a healthy business.

Next up, of course, is delivering on these product and feature promises. So is wooing application and service providers to help them move beyond their core markets such as media and entertainment and high-performance computing. Also, for now Deep Storage works only with Spectra Logic’s offerings, which maximize its revenue but could slow acceptance.

Finally, there is the need to do something bold to get the current generation of developers, weaned on open-source technologies, to think of tape without sniggering. Maybe a “Never Die” viral video or online game? Anyway, if tape turns into the Next Cool Thing, you heard it from Spectra Logic first.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

marketing mobile app development toolsWriting and supporting custom applications is the last thing a Fortune 500 retailer, pharmaceutical company or bank wants to do. They’d rather be tweaking inventory and store layouts (the retailer), unclogging their drug development pipeline (the pharma company) or figuring out how to make money in a low-interest rate world (the bank.)

But employees, customers and business partners want snazzy mobile apps and they want them now. How to best deliver these apps poses challenges, but also opportunities, for IT marketers.

Customize This

The mobile craze is forcing enterprises back into custom app development, according to Dimitri Sirota, senior vice president, security at CA Technologies FCN. (Note: CA Technologies is a client, but did not solicit or reimburse me for this post.) He argues organizations need custom apps because each has different products or services to sell, different markets to serve and different messages to convey.

The customization these apps require go beyond easily-tweaked user interfaces. They involve harder-to-solve issues, like drawing data from repositories or formats not easily accessible by mobile devices. Sirota co-founded Layer 7, which provides API management software to ease such access, and which CA acquired earlier this year. Among other things, he says, such API management can help developers solve mobile-specific challenges such as compression and caching to improve performance and battery life.

Gil Bouhnick, vice president of mobility at mobile workforce platform vendor ClickSoftware has a different take. He sees most of his customers turning to the cloud for quick, easy-to-deploy mobile apps so they can reach the market quickly and learn what works. Whatever customization they are doing tends to be done with offerings from their own app store that provide, for example, specific types of forms or data access without the need for custom coding.

Market Messaging    

Whether customers build their own mobile apps or pull them from the cloud, they don’t want to code.  Whatever brainstorming they do must be around streamlining workflows or reaching new customers with mobile, not the plumbing required for it. Just as with security, business managers want mobile apps delivered in consistent, proven and measurable ways.

If you’re selling to folks who need such industrial-strength mobile app development, some suggestions:

  • Provide examples of repeatable, proven policies, templates or frameworks you’ve provided customers. Consider sharing appropriate examples in an open-source model or creating an app store like ClickSoftware’s. That makes life easier for your customers, enhances your reputation as a “go-to” source for knowledge and tools, and lets customers and partners do some of the hard work of developing new mobile tools. Tracking such community-based development also gives you insights into what customers need but aren’t getting in tools like yours.
  • Push your customers to discuss the specific cost savings or revenue gains they’ve experienced by doing mobile app dev in a repeatable, measurable way. Yes, getting folks to agree to case studies is harder than ever. But proving they have solid mobile development processes is not only a great competitive advantage, but can help recruit top development talent.
  • Get your internal experts talking, blogging and sharing about best practices in app dev, security or any other IT discipline. This move to “industrialized IT” is still in its early stages, and there’s a wealth of market education to do and challenges to discuss.

How do you see mobility changing corporate app development, and how is mobile changing your marketing message?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Killer App for SaaS: Clear Security Rules

bigstock-Senior-Woman-Using-Tablet-Comp-43726603 (2)

In the cloud, as in so many other areas of IT, customers want results they can quantify and measure. Vendors that can provide “industrialized” services that are not only lower-cost, but more measurable, will have a significant leg up over their competitors.

The most recent evidence comes from recent research from Gartner, which reports that software as a service contracts “often have ambiguous terms regarding the maintenance of data confidentiality, data integrity and recovery after a data loss incident. This leads to dissatisfaction among cloud services users.” It also, the analyst firm says, “makes it harder for service providers to manage risk and defend their risk position to auditors and regulators.”

This lack of clarity around security is particularly dangerous for cloud vendors, since (whether justified or not) security continues to be one of the – if not the – main reason some organizations avoid the cloud. But that also makes clarify around cloud security a competitive differentiator, if the SaaS provider can deliver it and marketers can explain it.

Needed: Audits and Penalties

For starters, Gartner said customers “need to ensure that SaaS contracts allow for an annual security audit and certification by a third party, with an option to terminate the agreement in the event of a security breach if the provider fails on any material measure. In addition, it is reasonable for cloud service buyers to ask a provider to respond to the findings of assessment tools.”

Gartner also recommended customers get very specific in their contracts about what constitute adequate service levels for security and recovery of data in case of an attack.  “We recommend they also include recovery time and recovery point objectives and data integrity measures in the SLAs, with meaningful penalties if these are missed, wrote Alexa Bona, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

In short, maybe it’s time we all – cloud providers especially – start treating security as a  measurable, verifiable deliverable subject to rewards and punishments much less uptime or performance. That assumes, of course, the provider themselves have strong enough internal processes to deliver what they promise and measure what they’re delivering.

Next: Explain Clearly

And it requires cloud marketers to explain, in equally clear terms, the benefits of this measurable, accountable approach to security, and how it’s a differentiator from the sloppier practices of their competitors.

You may be tempted, as Gardner did, to use the “T” word – transparency – to describe this new approach. Don’t. “Transparency” is exactly the kind of vague buzzword that gets SaaS (and other) vendors in trouble. Transparency can mean either “visibility” into how strong a vendor’s security is, or “accountability” in which the vendor pays a penalty if they mess up. (Gartner has also noted that  transformation is a vague buzzword that can mess up outsourcing contracts.)

Instead, describe in your marketing material exactly what you’re providing (such as visibility through reports or portals) or accountability (through penalties or refunds) to show you understand and are avoiding the perils of ambiguity. If customers are demanding more clarity and specifics in security contracts, why not show them you get it by being clear and specific in your marketing material?

Let me know how you’re clarifying cloud and SaaS security, and whether muddied security rules – or muddied marketing – are doing more harm.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Open Source: Going Mainstream, Fast

open source software vendors tackle enterprise markets

Don’t be fooled by their casual appearance.

 Everyone from old-line IT vendors to scrappy start-ups converged on Boston for the Red Hat Summit the other week to spread the message that open source software is maturing – quickly.

Major vendors such as IBM and Intel promoted the use of open source and their own contributions to community-led development efforts. Well-known customers such as OfficeMax and Motorola trumpeted their use of open source software. The message from the open source software and services provider and its partners was that open-source technology is tackling every IT-related challenge.

The four-day event had a decidedly geeky flavor. Jogging suits, shorts and ponytails were as common as khakis and blazers among attendees. Booth giveaways included remote control helicopters, and a developer’s lounge on the show floor featured pillows and the requisite foosball game. The CTO of one vendor had on a pair of Google Glasses. While the “camera on” light was kind of creepy, the fact he was having trouble linking the gadget to his tablet (much less the Web) eased my privacy fears.

But rather than fighting corporate America, Red Hat and its partners were pitching to it, pushing the story that the breadth and depth of open source offerings is growing every day, with some of the biggest names in the industry behind it.

Red Hat announced two new offerings based on the OpenStack cloud platform designed to make it easier for commercial customers to move into the cloud. The Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform combines Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux with the OpenStack cloud platform to deliver a “scalable and secure foundation” for private or public clouds. Red Hat Cloud Infrastructure helps organizations create an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform for both traditional applications as well as emerging cloud-aware applications, with a single management platform for both.

Red Hat also announced Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.2, aimed right at “enterprise users and global organizations” who want hybrid (mixed public and private) cloud environments. Among other new features, it allows virtual machine images to be moved among storage domains without disrupting service, as well as enhancements in storage, networking and power management.

Broadening the channels through which its software reaches the market, Red Hat also announced general availability of the Red Hat PaaS (Platform as a Service.) And with the OpenShift Online public cloud application development and hosting platform, Red Hat is hoping to move beyond its historic core of Java developers to enthusiasts of other language such as Ruby, Perl, PHP and Python, said Ashesh Badani, General Manager of Red Hat’s Cloud Business Unit and OpenShift PaaS.

IBM and HP were on the show floor with their heavy-duty server hardware, and Intel weighed in on the software side with its distribution of the Hadoop distributed computing platform, “Built from the silicon up to deliver balanced performance,” among other Hadoop related offerings.

The Next Big Thing?

Startup midokura hopes to make it easier to automate the provisioning of network services  such as distributed switching, server isolation, load balancing and access control lists with its MidoNet “overlay-based network virtualization.” Aimed at customers operating in an infrastructure as a service environment, it replaces hardware such as firewalls and routers with a layer of software (running on commodity hardware) that routes packets to their destinations.

According to Ben Cherian, Chief Strategy Officer at Midokura, the software would handle chores that can’t easily be delivered at the high-churn and scale that cloud environments require. It also eliminates single points of failure, he said, and can isolate tenants on a network to provide secure environments for more users, or customers, than is possible with virtual LANs.

Network switches are still required, he said, as they’re still the best way to quickly route packets around a network). So is a “border node” (running on commodity hardware) and Zookeeper and Cassandra data base clusters to store information about the network.

Azul Systems prevents “out of memory errors” that can stall Java Virtual Machines (JVMs), causing revenue-interrupting outages in response-time sensitive applications. Its “self-correcting” Zing JVM is unique, the company says, in its ability to elastically grow its application memory heap to eliminate such runtime errors.

Still Needed: Auditing, Management, Security

As always, the open source world astounds with the dynamism and sheer inventiveness of its worldwide, grass-roots development community. As even its strongest defenders noted at the show, open source still needs better management, especially of hybrid clouds and applications that “burst” into the public cloud to meet peak processing needs. Auditing and security, while not show-stoppers, are still also areas of concern open source vendors need to address, and that legacy vendors can exploit.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
Open source software marketing

Get the message? Open source is about control…

In my last post I described the threat open-source and internally-developed software poses to traditional, proprietary software vendors. This week, based on what customers tell me about open source, I’ll suggest some themes mainline vendors should hit in their messaging (and in their product development) to compete.

Open Source: Not Just for Free Anymore

First, some definitions, to clarify terms and emphasize the nature and scale of the change traditional vendors are facing.

Proprietary software is typically developed, owned, sold and maintained by a for-profit company. Think Microsoft Office, Oracle databases, or systems management software from HP, CA, or BMC. The customer buys a license and usually pays a yearly maintenance fee of 15-20% of the purchase price for enhancements, support, and upgrades. Also – and this is important – the vendor owns the underlying source code, and only it can make changes to it.

Open source software such as the Linux operating system, the Hadoop software library for “Big Data” analytics, and tens of thousands of other examples, is not “owned” by any one entity. It is offered free, or at minimal cost, by its developer. Just as importantly, its source code is available for modification by any user. The more useful and popular the software, the most users develop enhancements and bug fixes for it.

It is also sold and supported by vendors, some of whom also (or only) provide services. But the community drives its ongoing development.

...and Mirantis helps provide it.

…and Mirantis helps provide it.

This leads directly to some of the pressing pain points that are drawing the youngest and most innovative IT types to open source and away from proprietary software. Here are seven of these pain points more traditional software vendor need to hit in their messaging.

Hot Buttons

Speed: It’s long been an annoyance that corporate IT can’t meet user’s needs. With today’s shrinking product cycles and pace of change, the internal IT group – and often the company it serves – are toast if they can’t change adapt their services quickly to meet new market needs.

Messaging suggestion: Stress product features and case study examples of how your software speeds DevOps– style development, deployment, and enhancement of applications or services. Describe your ease of use, the number and range of supporting software libraries, and any “frameworks” or best practices you offer.

Cost: Maybe you can’t match the pricing of a start-up with offices in a third-tier office park (or no offices at all). But you should at least be in the same ballpark. If not, be prepared to explain why you’re worth more.

Messaging suggestions: Highlight flexible licensing terms, or your SaaS offerings that can help match open-source  cost and flexibility. If you can justify a higher price with your scalability, manageability, security, etc., explain it clearly. If you lack such advantages, go back to the development drawing board. If you require less in-house skills and tuning than open source alternatives, stress this as its a legitimate cost factor.

Collaboration: The day of the solitary coder sitting in their cube doing what they’re told may not be over, but it’s not where the market-changing innovation is coming from. One consultant told me of a very mundane trouble ticket application that turned into an enjoyable, “Is it already five o’clock?” project because he was paired with a business user in the development process.

Marketing messages: Stress any of the ways in which you support collaborative development, both within the organization and in the open source community. Have you open-sourced any or all of your components, or support open-source frameworks? Do you support or host some of your work in progress, in on-line repositories such as GitHub? Do you support, or encourage, the use of in-house collaborative techniques such as pair programming in which developers work as teams?

Excitement:  Your customers are struggling with small, exciting startups for talent. They can’t match the salaries at a Google or Amazon, or the potential stock payout at a startup. But they can get and keep good talent by giving them the chance to develop something important and game-changing.

Marketing messages: If your product was ever used to develop anything game-changing, highlight it as an example of how an internal team can accomplish great, and even fun, things. If you can include (good luck!) the name and photo of the developer(s) who did wonders at a customer, all the better. Make it personal and real. 

 Scale: Can your technology scale from zero users to thousands or millions in a week? If so, explain how; if not, maybe another opportunity to go back to the drawing board.

Marketing messages: What fundamentally new technology, processes or skills do you bring to the table that allows massive, very inexpensive, dynamic scaling up and down as needs change? What about your technology allows is to scale out to infinite amounts of data, transactions, users, data types or protocols?

Security: Most observers agree open source software can be as safe or safer than proprietary software. But that doesn’t guarantee that the right processes are in place to ensure the most critical vulnerabilities are found and corrected.

Marketing message: If your software or service has the chops to consistently outdo the open source development process in finding and remediating vulnerabilities, flaunt it. If you specifically play in the open-source security space, play that up, too.

Fun: Do you sound open-source, or old and tired?

Marketing message: Get a hipster to give your product an edgy name. Would BMC, Cisco, IBM, or EMC name a product  MongoDB, Cucumber-Chef or Voldemort?

Again, cost isn’t the main driver behind open source adoption — it’s top-line benefits such as speed, scalability and flexibility. Drop me a line if you need marketing collateral to help fight – or ride – the open source wave.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Will open source software kill proprietary vendors?Talk to any CIO or IT analyst and it’s likely they won’t be talking about the latest database from Oracle or development platform from Microsoft. There’s even less excitement about hardware like the latest network switch from Cisco, storage gear from EMC or server from HP.

In fact, they’re probably not talking about any proprietary hardware or software at all. Today’s buzz is around cloud-oriented provisioning, management and integration tools such as Puppet, Chef and Jenkins and big data repositories such as Hadoop. They are only the tip of the iceberg of a veritable zoo of tools developed by the open-source community (or built in-house using open source tools).

Open source software is usually low-cost or free. But the biggest draw, according to many customers I’ve spoken with recently, is that anyone can enhance the software and share their improvements through open source code repositories such as GitHub. That allows organizations to develop, scale and improve innovative digital products at warp speed, in the DevOps model of near-continuous development, tweaking and deployment.

The New Normal

For example, business networking site LinkedIn conducts more than 100 experiments on its site per day to see which features its 175 million users like best. It stores 450Tbytes of data on storage from established vendors Oracle and Teradata, but another whopping five Pbytes (with another ten available) in Hadoop.

Much of LinkedIn’s heavy lifting is done by the Sensei distributed real-time database, the Azkaban job scheduler for Hadoop, the Bobo search platform and Zoie real-time indexing system for “elastic, faceted real-time search,” Norbert to manage clusters and workload distribution, and Kafka for messaging. Not only are all these open source, but LinkedIn built Sensei, Azkaban, Kafka and Voldemort in-house.

Or consider the Instagram photo-sharing site, which scaled from 25,000 members the first day to more than 30 million  in under two years. All this was done with only two engineers in 2010, three in 2011 and five in 2012, the year Facebook bought the site for $1 billion. Their infrastructure included the Nginx HTTP server and reverse proxy), the Redis keyvalue store database, the PostgreSQL object-relational database and the Django Web framework for Website creation – again, all open source.

That’s a pretty high-profile business, which earned a fortune for its founders, that didn’t generate many purchase orders for Fortune 500 software or services companies.

Need for Speed

This combination of speed, flexibility, scalability and low cost makes open source a huge challenge to the business model of mainstream software vendors. The mantra used to be that “Big companies like to buy from big companies.” But at a recent conference a CIO quipped that these days, you can indeed be fired buying IBM if open source could have delivered more capabilities for less money.

Some skeptics say the old-line vendors aren’t in close enough touch with the latest market requirements in areas like social, big data, Web 2.0 and mobile. In a big company, after all, requirements must be filtered through marketing committees and big development organizations before they reach the market. In open source, someone sees a need, codes it, and shares it. Even if legacy software providers survive, what (and how far) will they have to cut to meet open source price points?

Most proprietary software vendors are scrambling to respond. IBM was among the first, choosing not to fight the open-source Linux operating system but to embrace it as a way to sell other software, as well as hardware and services.

“I’m not sure there’s anything like a traditional proprietary software company left,” Ashesh Badani, General Manager of the Cloud Business Unit and OpenShift PaaS at Red Hat told me at the recent Red Hat Summit in Boston. Companies ranging from Intel to Microsoft are major contributors to open source efforts, he said. And even vendors who are not going the total open source route are approaching Red Hat for help developing user communities and using its partners to distribute their products.

Whatever software companies do on the technology front, they’ll need to tailor their marketing to play in the open source world. Once they’ve chosen a cute name and mascot for their offerings, there are some key messages they need to hit. Look for those in Part II of this series later this week.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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