Archive for the ‘Commentary FWIW’ Category

Put Your Thinking Cap On

Recently the Sonian management team held a one day offsite meeting to consider “strategic direction.” We self-imposed limited outside distractions (email, phone, web) and at the end of 8 hours felt good about our progress and next steps.

After the meeting we enjoyed each others company over a meal at the local steakhouse. All five of us commented how the day “flew by” and attributed some of that feeling to the fact we had a chance to put our thinking caps on and step out of the constant inbound barrage of email, phone, tweets and other stimuli. Think back on any recent gathering of high tech executives and a consistent conversation theme you probably heard was “lack of quality time for deep thinking.” For me, an airplane trip without WiFi is an example of the last time I disconnected from the technology, cleared my head, and tuned my inner signal to noise ratio filter to allow the big ideas to come forth through the chatter.

As an industry we are our own worst enemy. There is a stigma associated with “disconnecting.” Colleagues expect an instant reply because our technology is fast and reliable. Real-time instant communication has us all camping out in our various inboxes (we have many: email, IM, SMS, voicemail, feeds) with trigger fingers on the reply button. We’re fearful of being the one cog gear in the “works” that slows progress.

So what to do? We each need to realize the value of “deep thinking.” We need a physical and mental space to step into for  valuable focus time. I vision a virtual thinking cap. Place the cap on your head and the noise, distractions, and stimuli fade to the background. Each of us will have a different type of virtual thinking cap, based on how our brain’s are wired. And when we are successful, something wonderful happens: a light bulb moment occurs when a great thought comes forward. That’s a sweet reward for donning your thinking cap.

Update: 5/30/12 – I stumbled upon this dialog between Matt Mullenweg and PandoDaily discussing the increasing “distraction problem” and how the great technology we’re creating might eventually stifle our collective creativity. We need to support each other to find more eureka! moments.

A comment to the PandoDaily article reminds us how Marc Benioff got the epiphany to start Salesforce.com; while swimming with dolphins. That’s an awesome thinking cap activity.

 

Cloud Servers Are Not Our Pets

This post is inspired by a recent conversation with a fellow cloud computing enthusiast from the West coast.

We were engaged in a spirited discussion comparing IT trends pre and post cloud adoption. My friend jogged a memory about “naming servers.” Strangely I remembered most of the names for the “important” servers in my life. Every company I was involved with had a server naming scheme. Planets, cartoon characters, cities, sometimes funny names and sometimes purely functional.

Before the cloud we treated servers like pets. In the cloud we treat servers like cattle.

Before “the cloud” we treated our servers like pets. We named them, cared for them, upgraded them with kit gloves, and “fixed” them when they broke. We projected personalities onto the machines that served files, email, firewall and other crucial enterprise IT services.  Some servers always seemed to be troublesome, and others problem-free. An impromptu midnight scramble coaxing a failed email server back to life was always drama filled. Would the server past POST? Would the SCSI RAID subsystem mount? Fingers-crossed and sighs of relief  when clients could finally log back in.

In “the cloud” we treat our servers like cattle.  Numbers instead of names. When cloud servers get sick, we “kill them” (no offense to PETA). We don’t fix or upgrade. We bootstrap new and replace. There is no sentimental bond between us humans and our inanimate cloud servers. Instead we experience transference  by naming and projecting personalities onto our software components and the clusters of cloud servers that run the software. Indeed our software contains developer DNA, so why shouldn’t a server cluster exude the personalities of the principle contributors? Or morph into something totally unexpected because our genes intermingle with cloud DNA.

What were some of your favorite server names?

 

My Blogging Process

I’m achieving a personal milestone with this blog. Until recently, I have alternated hot and cold, creative sprints followed by weeks or months of posting neglect. But now I am entering a period of sustained writing cadence. Re-reading the past year’s written material I see my posts are mostly medium-length essay style, about 800 to 1,200 words per post. The occasional expansive pontification as well as a short burst here and there. Basically whatever I am thinking about at the moment.

I am pleasantly surprised to see a correlation between blogging and presentation quality. Maybe I should have realized this before, but I have noticed when I give a presentation on a theme that I had previously blogged about, the presentation feels more successful (speak more passionately & authoritatively, better audience engagement, “at one with my topic”). But of course this should make sense, since the blogging effort forces my brain to get a full 360 comprehension, and the physical act of typing out a thought stream organically cements the concepts for easier recall at the podium.

Content Creation Mechanics

My writing workflow starts with a text file containing a list of potential topics or post titles that sound compelling to me. Before an item gets on the list it may be scratched out in a small Circa notebook that I carry around. For some reason I have not gravitated toward writing notes on my smart phone. Probably because most ideas pop into my head while I am driving, and writing the idea on paper  is safer than typing at 70 MPH.

Ninety percent of my writing is in a Google Doc. It’s best for how I work. If I am on an airplane I’ll write the text in Textmate. And rarely, in a “We’re doing this live, folks” manner, I’ll write a post directly into WordPress.

Google Docs allows me to start a post and then continue to edit from any computer or my iPad. Most writing is at the shared computer in the kitchen in the early morning or on my Macbook later at night. With GDocs, I never have to worry about losing work. I have been burned a few times by composing directly into WordPress and losing the session and the text.

Read more…

The Cloud Storage Wars, Part… ? (I have lost count)

GDrive is coming… GDrive is coming… GDrive is coming!

Wait… wait… wait… we’ve heard this before, right? GDrive is eminent because tantalizing mysterious screen shots and hints of the phantom service observed in source code & robots.txt files tell us so. But when GDrive does finally arrive (no one doubts it will eventually) will it be a yawn or a yelp of applause?

I love Google Docs, so anything Google does to blur the lines between GDoc content and file-system data will be appreciated. I already have a workflow that would make any Rube Goldberg fan beam with pride. My little Frankenstein is a combination of Dropbox, Cyberduck/Amazon S3, Arc 2, all syncing cloud, Macbook and iPad. GDrive will surely create more options.

When GDrive launches, the “cloud storage” landscape will look roughly like this (pardon me for missing a vendor in my quick search):

Primarily Consumer & SMB Focused

  • Dropbox
  • Microsoft Skydrive
  • LogMeIn Cubby
  • SugarSync
  • Sharefile
  • OxygenCloud
  • Pogo Plug
  • iCloud
  • MokaFive

Primarily Enterprise Focused

  • Egnyte
  • Nasuni
  • TwinStrata
  • Accellion
  • SpiderOak
  • VMware Octopus
  • AWS Storage Gateway

Serves both Consumer and Enterprise with dedicated focus

  • GDrive (If Google Apps integration is available)
  • Box.com
  • JungleDisk

Wow… this space is getting more crowded every Techcrunch news cycle. There are plenty of folks pontificating who ultimately “wins” this war. My guess: There will be less than a handful of major providers and less than a dozen minor players.

[Aside: Being a minor (niche) player doesn’t have to be a negative. Many a successful startup serve niche audiences.]

The majors will be Microsoft, Google, Apple and two others. Maybe Amazon, but not sure if AWS is a “major” on it’s own or because it will be supporting all the minors behind the scenes. The majors may buy a startup like Box or Dropbox. Otherwise Box and Dropbox both become large minors, distinguishing themselves with super sweet user experiences. The majors all have big eco-system-platforms that feed customers to their cloud storage aspiration appetites.

Read more…

Top Of My [TODO] List

Inspired by Paul Grahams Todo List post

  • Pursue your dreams & Live in the  moment
  • Work smart
  • Focus on the positive thought = happy
  • Say (or write) what I think

Genuine Windows (dis)Advantage

This weekend I configured a three-tiered backup system to protect the three Macs in my home. Throughout the research and implementation process I kept thinking “Gee… If I were trying to do the same three layered approach for three Windows PCs it wouldn’t be this easy.”

Now I have found another difference between Mac and Windows…. Microsoft’s draconian Windows Advantage.

First the back-story:

I use Quicken to manage personal finances, and Intuit can’t seem to get Quicken Mac right, so I run the Windows version on a Mac using VMWare Fusion. This has worked great for years. A 30 Gb VMWare partition manages the Windows XP install and I have never had a problem with stability, upgrades or security.

Current problem:

The latest Quicken release requires 1 Gb RAM, so I bumped up the RAM setting for the Windows XP virtual instance, and now Windows Genuine Advantage thinks this perfectly legal copy of Windows is not licensed. All because the OS detected a RAM “upgrade.” After a wasted hour of research, it appears the only way to “license” this copy of Windows is to input the CD key, of which I do not have anymore, since this setup has worked great “for years.”

Lessons Learned:

  • Make a photo copy, or snap a photo, or otherwise find a place to store a copy of the Windows activation key.
  • The Mac’s unified approach to hardware and software doesn’t require Apple to have to resort to excessive OS copy protection.

 

 

“Cloud Killed the (SaaS) Rock Star”

“Cloud Killed the (SaaS) Rock Star”…

… well, not literally, but definitely in a figurative sense.

The press release below is the all-points-bulletin heralding the cloud has “won.” Why do I say this? Because LiveOffice, a non-cloud SaaS start-up, couldn’t compete against the new generation of SaaS start-ups powered by true public cloud computing like Sonian.

 

 

LiveOffice was the rock star of SaaS archiving. Ten years in business and they deserve the credit as one of the pioneers to legitimize the SaaS market. When LiveOffice launched a decade ago, they had to operate their own data centers. (This is called “Co-located Powered SaaS.”) But during the past five years, the world changed underneath them. Usually, market dynamics cause this kind of disruption, but the SaaS archiving market size didn’t get smaller, rather it’s bigger than ever. What changed starting in 2007? The advent of the public cloud. Suddenly, any SaaS company running their own data center became vulnerable to competitors able to harness the cloud. This is the beginning of the cloud-powered SaaS era.

Seriously, I wish all the best to the LiveOffice team. Sonian and LiveOffice competed vigorously from 2008 to 2011. Symantec acquired a great team, and the fit between LiveOffice and Symantec makes a ton of sense, and it’s understandable why Symantec made the acquisition.

Although LiveOffice called themselves a “cloud archiving” company, that was stretching the truth. The cloud moniker is so overused at this point, the public is deceived into believing they are using a cloud service, when in fact, it’s really just re-packaging the same old SaaS with a new label.

Why did this Happen?

Operating a SaaS infrastructure on a pure cloud environment is vastly different compared to a co-located system; it’s the reason we’re going to see more of old-world SaaS companies change control or fade away. It will be exceedingly difficult to re-tool a co-located hosted SaaS business to use the cloud. Not impossible, but very difficult. The whole architecture would need to change. I say this having lived in both worlds — with the cloud battle-scars to prove it.

Read more…

What do GitHUB and GrabCAD Have in Common?

During our last board meeting one of our directors mentioned a start-up he thought was interesting: GrabCAD. Awhile ago I had read about this company on Techcrunch, but since the company was in the CAD/CAM space I filed a note in a brain cell memory register “interesting company, but not something I need to follow closely.”

But a different thought took hold; Hmmm… GrabCAD is to the CAD/CAM professional the same way GitHUB is to the software professional. We’re witnessing the rise of start-ups that cater to “niche” audiences who create a certain kind of content as their prime means of professional affiliation. Don’t take offense to the term niche audience applied to software or CAD professionals. It’s just a way to say “not a mass audience” that is served by a general purpose content creation site like Tumblr, WordPress.com, etc.

GrabCAD targets the CAD/CAM professional with a CAD-specific sharing space augmented with a thin “social network layer.” Create a drawing, upload to GrabCAD, post a link “hey look what I created” and share, trade, and sell your work product. It’s not a place to generate generalized content (like Google Docs, ZoHo, or Office 365), but rather a sharing space for affiliated professionals that want to showcase “their wares.”

GitHUB is a content sharing system that targets the software professional. In this case, “content equals source code.” It’s really “social source code management” with a bunch of other goodies like wikis and pasties mixed in. Source code management has been around forever, but GitHUB makes it really easy to share and integrate code from various projects. Developers don’t actually write their code in GitHUB, they do that in their own developer environments, just like CAD professionals don’t use GrabCAD to create drawings.

In the software world, it is now common for developers to tout their GitHUB account URL as a living resume. You can imagine the CAD/CAM professional one day sharing links to their GrabCAD creativity just like software developers share their GitHUB awesomeness.

Catering to a large niche audience with a custom experience is a successful end-run around mass appeal social networks like Facebook. The core required features, such as file upload, link sharing, and comment curation exist in many platforms, from WordPress to Drupal, to Facebook. But a generic user experience will not suffice. GrabCAD speaks the language of the CAD industry. GitHUB does the same for the software industry.

There are other examples of this trend, although none as focused as GrabCAD or GitHUB:

  • Prezi and Slideshare for presentations, although not specifically targeted toward a specific profession.
  • Scribd for documents. But not targeted to a specific industry.
  • Disqus for comments? Would it be a stretch to cite Disqus for the professional commenter? Probably, but an interesting idea.
  • Basecamp for project managers.
  • Sortfolio for web designers.

I can imagine other industries ripe for this niche audience approach: legal (specialized documents), chemical (formulas), teachers (lesson plans), music (lyrics). Easy and clear content owner attribution will need to be resolved for some of these ideas to be successful.

I’m excited to see the next GrabCAD come to life. If you know any vertically aligned professions where content creation is the core work-product, scratch your entrepreneurial itch and create a niche audience user experience now.

 

Apps as Entertainment and Other TV Paradigm Shifts

I was at dinner the other night with a business partner and the Sonian Customer Development team. The conversation turned to sharing our observations about how the commercial entertainment business struggles to embrace new technologies they view threatening to their “status quo.” Seems anytime a bunch of us technophiles congregate, this conversation theme comes up.

It’s because we see what’s technically possible and tantalizingly just around the corner. It’s because we are tired of being forced to pay for content we do not want. And it’s because the studios, and the providers (Comcast, TimeWarner, etc.) are fighting like hell to defer the inevitable.

It’s the beginning of a great battle brewing between old Hollywood & old infrastructures, versus Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Roku, Boxee, etc.

[Sidebar: I was part of the first act in this play: On the forefront 10 years ago with Tivo, ReplayTV, and the like as these pioneering companies took the first step to change the way  consumers watched the provider's content. Now Act 2 is a different set of vendors still fighting the same battle.]

At the dinner several of us have either already “cut the cord” or were about to do it. At the dinner several of us remarked that the iPad or Kindle Fire was the place where they consumed more content than ever before.

Read more…

The Joy of a Mobile Phone Free Agent

Hooray… starting this month I am a “mobile free agent!”. My two year lock in with Verizon Wireless is over. And boy are they trying harder than ever to keep me from straying.

So far Verizon Wireless has offered me a $50 cash gift card if I re-commit to another two years. (Wow… they must think I’m an easy mark!), or a new deluxe handset like an iPhone for $199, or a Droid at $149 or couple other offers that promptly went to the recycle bin.

Now I can re-think my mobile needs without incurring an early termination fee.

A quick calculation shows that over the past two years I spent $199 for an Android handset, and $125 a month for voice, data, text and tethering. That’s $3200 for two years of cell phone service. Pretty staggering when I look at that number with some perspective.

But what I *think* I get from Verizon, such as a supposedly superior network, makes me re-question my assumptions for why I should continue as a Verizon customer. The “strength of their network” was my primary appeal to VZW.

I’m in a good position to change carriers. Line number portability and Google Voice make the process really easy compared to just a few years ago. I can keep my number, and use Google Voice as a continuity bridge between the old and the new.

I investigated my options and found Ting. I like their whole approach to buying a mobile phone. Choose a handset, choose an al-a-cart voice/data/text plan, and no termination fees. But what gives me concern is that Ting is a MVNO for Sprint. An MVNO is basically a marketing and provisioning layer on-top of a second-tier wireless provider. I’m now confronted with whether I want to leave Verizon for another CDMA carrier, but one that may not have as an extensive network as Verizon.

This is an example of my inner-reasoning focusing on an extreme edge case, (what if I were driving in remote mountains where only VZW had towers?) instead of the majority situation condition (It’s very rare I am driving in remote mountains.) Why should the 99% suffer for the 1% fringe?

Ting will save me about $500 a year on a two-year contract compared to a comparable VZW suite of services. If I traded down from a smart-phone to a feature phone then the savings are even more dramatic; $1,300 a year.

I’m not ready to give up a smart-phone for a feature-phone, but I may be able to get over the fact that a second-tier mobile provider may be just fine.

I’ll post back here when I make my decision.