Tech Trends Archives

Bob Returns From the Cloud

Where’s Bob? For those of you kind enough to notice, I’ve been off-line for several months under a happy barrage of corporate marketing work, along with some travel to Guadalajara, Mexico (interviewing a cloud consultant, left) as part of an ongoing IT outsourcing project.

Much of my work has involved deep dives into cloud computing, including a Computerworld piece outlining cloud security requirements, a white paper for a vendor about traditional ISVs moving their offerings to the SaaS channel, and another upcoming Computerworld story about how to achieve “agility” in the cloud.

Some thoughts from my time in the cloud:

  • First, security remains the big bug-a-boo supposedly scaring the biggest enterprises from the cloud, but the customers I talk to say it’s not a deal killer. Yes, you need to know where your data is, yes, you need auditability and, yes, if you work in geographies with strict rules (like the European Union) you need special controls. Cloud providers understand that, and the good ones will help you do the necessary work to stay secure in the cloud.
  • Second, the cloud is a mega-trend transforming everything, but it’s not instant magic for every application or service. There’s a reason why some of the biggest names in “cloud” (like Google, Amazon and Salesforce) run their own data centers rather than rely on someone like…well, like themselves. For really high performance, really tight controls over operations, and running your own proprietary hardware or software, sometimes your own data center is still the best.
  • The same goes, many say, for predictable workloads running on in-house gear you’ve already amortized. Running such apps in your own data center can deliver not only better performance, but lower-costs. Another note: The per-seat licensing plans used by many SaaS vendors also tend to favor smaller customers.
  • On the strategic front, customers are demanding (and vendors are delivering) more “productized” cloud services that can be rolled out in a predictable, consistent way. This often takes the form of templated servers and services (such as those produced by Puppet and Chef) that are pre-tested, pre-integrated and pre-priced. All this makes for yet more choices for customers, who have to decide where a “canned” service is adequate, and when it pays to customize it to reflect their own best practices. It also raises the specter of commoditization for some Web services (how many different Exchange server configurations does the market need, for example?)
  • Speaking of which, there are now “appstores” for cloud-based business intelligence platforms, application and database servers and middleware, such as those from RightScale and its ISV partners. Another interesting example of how the Web allows anyone, anywhere (with enough smarts) to sell to a worldwide audience.
  • Finally, it was interesting to hear what some enterprise-level customers want, but aren’t getting, from current cloud offerings. These include better, and bundled, support for “enterprise-level” requirements such as load balancers rather than forcing customers to find one themselves. They’re also looking for true, enterprise-level public cloud services rather than the likes of Google and Microsoft that actually (can you believe it?) suffer outages. Then there’s the need for highly verticalized SaaS applications for specific industries such as banking. As the CTO of one major bank told me, does every bank need it own application for handling online payments? While the user interface makes a big difference, it would seem the back end should be standard and, thus, SaaS-able. (New term I just coined.)

In short, there’s still a lot of opportunity for differentiation and innovation as the cloud matures. There’s also huge confusion between public cloud, private cloud, shared services, IaaS, PaaS, etc. Drop a line if you’d like some help clarifying where you fit into all this.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Seven and a half years after virtualization went “mainstream” with EMC’s purchase of VMware, you would think it would be pretty mature  – at least on the server side, where it hit first before moving on to storage and networks.

But many customers (especially smaller ones) are still having trouble getting the cost and scalability benefits they hoped to get from server virtualization. And performance tuning, security, and assuring cost savings are continuing concerns for all customers as they move beyond servers to virtualizing storage as well as applications such as databases, email and ERP in the next year.

Those are among the main findings of the 2011 Virtualization and Evolution to the Cloud Survey done by Symantec, which of course has a dog in this fight as a provider of virtualization, storage and security management tools. Nearly 60% of the 3,700 tactical, strategic and C-level respondents it surveyed worldwide are still using outside providers “quite a bit” or “completely” for help with server virtualization. When it comes to newer areas such as hybrid public/private clouds or private storage as a service, the figures rises closer to 70%.

Service providers are in demand because virtualization often isn’t delivering the benefits customers expected. Customers with less mature server virtualization skills still need third-party help with sever virtualization, while those with higher levels of skills need help providing functions such as disaster recovery and high availability, said John Magee, vice president of visualization and cloud solutions for the storage and security software vendor.

Respondents were most pleased with server virtualization, pegging the gap between expectations and reality at only four percent, and the greatest shortfalls in delivering reduced capital and operational costs, and greater scalability.

They cited a 33% gap between expectation and reality for storage virtualization, with the biggest disappointments in the scalability of virtualized storage, its agility and the operational expense savings.

Private/hybrid cloud computing, in which companies seamlessly move applications and data between their own virtual environments and those of outside providers such as Amazon, was another problem area. Respondents saw an average 32% gap between expectations and reality, with the time to provision new resources, scalability and security the main shortfalls. Nearly three-quarters of organizations that had hybrid/private clouds cited performance as a significant or extreme challenge.

Storage as a service (providing provide virtualized storage to users and applications on demand) was the most severe underperformer, with a 37% gap between expectation and reality. The biggest shortfalls were its failure to reduce complexity (40%), its efficiency (37%) and its scalability (34%.)

Slightly more than half of respondents said storage costs had “somewhat or significantly increased with server virtualization.” One reason, said Magee, is the complexity of virtual environments, and the fact that unused space can be “orphaned” as the virtual server to which it was originally assigned is moved or decommissioned. Some customers also quickly buy a large amount of expensive SAN storage to support a virtual environment, he said, while they could save money with a “tiered” environment in which less critical information is stored on less expensive storage.

Just over six out of ten listed security as a “significant/extreme,” a concern Magee said is increasing as organizations virtualize more mission-critical applications. As they do so, he is seeing more concern around compliance and configuration tracking, and a focus on securing not just physical servers but the  virtual machines running on them.

Despite the disappointments, interest in virtualization remains strong, with about 80% of all respondents at least discussing cloud adoption. Among organizations planning to virtualize servers for business-critical applications in the next 12 months, focus areas included database applications (59%), email (47%) and ERP applications (41%.)

So virtualization isn’t a bust, and customers still trust its potential. But, like a lot of ballyhooed new technologies, getting to paradise isn’t as easy as promised.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Will Cisco Pay For Murdering Flip?

If there’s one thing corporate IT customers hate, it’s a vendor they can’t trust. The Fortune 500 make big bets on the products and vendors that run core parts of their businesses like their networks and don’t like sudden slips and swerves n product direction.

That’s why Cisco’s sudden announcement it is killing its Flip portable camcorder could send a chill – even just a little chill – into the corporate buyers. Sure, a consumer product always seemed an odd fit for an enterprise-focused company like Cisco and,  yes, Flip sales were being hurt as more smart-phones get the high definition video that once made the Flip necessary.

But if an IT manager bought a Flip to records baby’s first steps, and then used it in the office to try his first marketing Webcast, didn’t it become just a little more strategic for him? Didn’t the Cisco name make him a little more comfortable buying it than a no-name competitor? And doesn’t its sudden death send make him wonder, just as bit, whether a Cisco product more important to his business – say, the Linksys wireless access point in a field office or Cisco’s umi telepresence line — might also suddenly get it in the neck someday?

Cisco, like a lot of other IT vendors, has made a lot of noise about the consumerization of IT – how technology first adopted by consumers, like smartphones and iPads, make their way into the enterprise and affect how people do their jobs. But consumerization goes both ways. Consumer will remember how a Cisco or a Dell or an HP treated them as a lowly consumer when they make the bigger purchases for their business. Cisco could have bought a lot of good will cheap by finding a buyer for Flip or at least laying out a support or product roadmap before axing it in the night.

And one other point: Cisco spent close to $600 million on Pure Digital Technology Inc., which developed the Flip, because Pure Digital did such an amazing job making a commoditized product (camcorders) much less expensive and much easier to use. That, of course, is what Apple just did with tablet computers, which are now giving it yet another wedge into the corporate IT market. Imagine you’re a former Pure Digital person now working for the big bad corporate parent that unceremoniously killed your baby. Would you take your next great idea to your boss in Cisco or shop it around outside?

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Corporate Journalism Done Right, by a PR Firm

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether reporters hired to generate “journalism-style” content for companies are really journalists or just paid shills. In some ways, it’s an old argument because there have always been upright reporters and editors and those who push a certain cause, regardless of where their stuff appears. For the current debate, I’d offer a real journalist is someone 1) whose focus is on educating the reader rather than selling them, and 2) who goes further up the value chain from just reporting events to trying to make sense of them.

Text 100, a well-established PR firm with clients such as IBM, Nokia, Facebook and Skype, showed how to do it with their recent reporting from the Mobile World Congress. They began by describing how Twitter and other social media affected the distribution and pickup of news from vendors at the show, with specific advice for how future exhibitors should change their PR strategies at future shows. The reporter, Jonas Rugaard, then delivered a roundup of news and trends worthy of a first-tier trade publication, such as the emergence of dual-core processors and multitasking, and screen shots and video of hot devices.

Finally, he summed it all up: “I guess we all remember the famous tag-line; anything on any device at any time. This should now be replaced with the right content, to the right person at the right place. And so the Mobile World Congress turns to be less about the new products and phones itself, but much more on the entire ecosystem – connecting everything with the phone at the center.”

And at no time could I tell which of the vendors he mentioned, if any, were Text100 clients. If I were in the mobile space, or a mobile vendor looking for PR firm (even more to the point) I would start following their blog religiously because it leads with valuable information, not hype about what their clients announced at the show. And when I needed PR counsel, Text 100 would have to be near or at the top of the list.

That’s how corporate journalism should work, for the good of both the reader and the vendor.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.
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