5 Enterprise Tech Trends to Watch in 2016

mainframe computerAlso posted to Sonian Blog.

Sonian’s archive, search and analytics platform exists at the intersection of cloud, big data and machine learning. Over the past 8 years we have pioneered many initiatives in order to harness the cloud to solve a hard problem: fast and reliable full-text search and analytics for tens of billions of emails and attachments.

Our greater mission is to help enterprise IT migrate their on-premises systems to the cloud, and we know that archiving and information governance workloads are the first to “move on up to the top.”

We have a knack for identifying enterprise tech trends that are at the beginning of the adoption curve and want to share five trends were monitoring in 2016.

1. IT Becomes the Department of “Yes”

IT’s influence has waned in many organizations because IT, by their own volition, became the “department of no.” Which is ironic since IT previously was the group that brought innovation to their respective businesses. Innovation that gave a competitive advantage. But even IT couldn’t keep up with the pace of innovation in the cloud era and fell victim to legacy thinking and line of business managers found IT obstructing progress. That’s why Salesforce.com, Workday, Hubspot, Intacct, etc. took off. In fact there are over 1,400 enterprise SaaS apps that can be procured without IT involvement. Business managers “pushed ” IT aside and implemented their own solutions. But IT is poised to come roaring back to being relevant.

This situation is about to change. IT will reinvent itself in 2016 and become the department of yes.

In fact, the CIO role will be redefined dramatically. CIO historically means Chief Information Officer, but in 2016 that will shift to Chief Innovation Officer. And a new role is emerging called Chief Data Officer. CIO and CDO responsibilities will merge together as part of ITs’ resurgence.

IT departments will be smaller and more efficient. They will focus on the more value-add services and let the “cloud” manage the undifferentiated heavy lifting. No longer is managing a on-premises Microsoft Exchange server a value add. The cloud can deliver commodity-priced email cheaper than self-managed. This means fewer people are needed and their skills need to be upgraded to focus more on the business needs and less on the mundane technical tasks.

It’s the end of “average IT.”

Read more…

The Story about Amazon’s “Bruising” Workplace and Young Goodman Brown

Through-The-Looking-GlassThoughts on the NYTimes story about Amazon’s alleged “bruising” workplace.

Do you know the story of Young Goodman Brown?

Nathaniel Hawthorne tells us the story of Young Goodman Brown in this fable set in 17th century Puritan New England.

“Young Goodman Brown journeys into the forest one evening to find his town folk cavorting with the devil. He wakes up the next morning and doesn’t know if he had a dream or a real life experience.

He can’t look at his family or friends the same ever again, suspecting good Christians of duplicitous behavior. And he dies a gloomy man.”

My take: Once you have witnessed an alternate reality, it is hard to look at someone the same again. That’s how I feel after learning of the issues at Amazon.com.

It’s soul-crushing to read a negative story about one of my “heroes”. Maybe “hero” is too strong of a word since I’m referring to web giant Amazon, but nonetheless, I felt deflated after reading the NYTimes article describing the “horrible bosses” environment over at “Day 1” central.

My Sunday morning check-Twitter, drink-espresso ritual got me mired in the original article. My network was buzzing about the story. Wow, NYTimes front page coverage. What’s going on?

“Could this really be true?”

I delved deeper, reading follow-up blog posts from current and former employees who verified the articles’ core truths and then counterpoints that refuted with a pro-Amazon point of view. Many commenters to the original article declared they would abandon Amazon because of this reveal. That seemed drastic. But what is the truth, and does it really matter?

From my exploration, the reality is there were probably examples of bad stuff happening, but I think that’s the exception and not the rule. It’s a company with nearly 100,000 people and operating at breakneck speed.

Amazon and AWS play big parts in my life. My company came to existence alongside AWS’ stellar growth. I wouldn’t be doing “this” if AWS never happened. My life has Amazon woven into almost every aspect: entertainment (most of my TV budget is either Prime Video or Netflix), shopping (Amazon is my “mall”) and now my household helper (Echo: “Alexa… remind me to buy milk.”)

I know many people at AWS who have been there for years and seem to thrive. But I also saw a revolving door of people cycle through various roles, only to leave for another gig “pretty quick.” But I never thought the environment was toxic. I still don’t think it is, but once an allegation is made, even baseless, it’s hard not to think “what if?”

This is an example of an increasingly common occurrence these days. The “masses” learn about the messiness behind the curtain when a popular brand with great luster is tarnished by a big negative reveal, and all is not as it seemed (or we had hoped.) Apple had a PR problem with stories about iPhone factories and horrible working conditions. The public scrutiny seems to have helped the workers in the factories. iPhone prices didn’t skyrocket, and we assume workers are treated better. Another example is Lance Armstrong, a “brand” built on the themes of strength and perseverance. Now we know the real truth and it

Consumers want quality and innovation AND low prices. But we don’t want to know all the inconvenient details about how low prices are achieved.




The Best Books I Read in 2014

It’s that time of the year to “nominate” last year’s education and entertainment reading standouts.

I reviewed my 2014 reading (and listening) library and found these terrific books I still think about months later.

the-martianBest Fiction: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian is Andy Weir’s first novel and a fantastic story about an astronaut’s survival on Mars after a sand storm surprises him and his fellow explorers. It’s science fiction and drama, believable for today, while seeming to take place in the near future when Mars exploration becomes an eventual destiny for mankind. The technical detail is mesmerizing and very thoughtful. How would someone stranded on Mars figure out a way to survive with the supplies at hand? Communicate with Earth? The Martian is great storytelling.



Runner-up: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Donna Tartt treats us to a visually rich and engrossing story  about Theo, a teenager growing into manhood, and an intricate, riveting plot that carries him from New York City around the world in self-exploratory odyssey.


hard-thingsBest Business Book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

I have read The Hard Thing About Hard Things three times. The book is so appealing to me because I have started 3 software companies since 1995,  and the startup challenges Ben Horowitz describes are real-world scenarios about succeeding, failing, pivoting, and enduring the emotional roller coaster that is a startup. Ben has been at the origin of great companies and their impact on the modern Internet era. Starting with Netscape and Loudcloud, to Opsware and the influential Andreessen Horowitz venture firm, Ben offers practical, relatable advice on how to grow a company.



Runner-up: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt

I’m always curious how (my perception of) innovative organizations like Google work. Last year I read The Everything Store and got my Amazon fix. This year was Google. This is not a “tell all” type of book, but rather a collection of best practices presented in anecdotal narrative format on how Google works as a company and a thriving organization. Topics range from best practices on product management, innovation, hiring and firing, running team meetings and in general being a company that wants to do good.


benjamin -franklinBest Biography: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Shame on me for not knowing the strategic role Benjamin Franklin played in the founding of America. I had a cursory understanding of Mr. Franklin’s importance as a founding father, but after reading Walter Isaacson’s detailed accounting of his life, I now see Franklin’s hand in shaping the America we know today. Franklin believed a nation of thrifty, hard-working, “merchant” class people was the best formula for long-term success.

We all know the stories of discovering electricity with lightning rods and quotes such as “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” but what I did not know was the significant role Franklin played crafting the founding principles of America, negotiating treaties with France to aid the colonies against the British, and the intricacies of his unconventional hybrid-family structures.



10-happierBest Self-improvement: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% Happier changed my life. I discovered the positive benefits of meditation. This book opened my eyes to mindfulness and gave me a way to approach daily meditation that I know is reducing stress and increasing my personal happiness.


Why I am excited about AWS Lambda

For me, learning about AWS Lambda was the most exciting AWS re:Invent announcement in 2014. Lambda is the back-end compliment to the front-end AWS Javascript API SDK released a year ago. During the 2013 AWS re:Invent Werner Vogles said onstage the AWS JS API SDK was one of the more exciting announcements in 2013 because it made possible single page web apps to run directly on S3 (and DynamoDB, etc.) without the need for EC2. Lambda completes the big picture.

What is AWS Lambda?

AWS Lambda is a new cloud service from AWS that completely abstracts the infrastructure needed to run your code. It’s the further manifestation of “let someone else handle the undifferentiated heavy lifting”. You write your code (Javascript for now) and AWS Lambda runs it in a dedicated virtual language runtime. You do not have to think about provisioning, sizing & monitoring EC2 nodes. 7 years ago the introduction of EC2 was revolutionary because it abstracted application stacks from data center provisioning & operations, and now Lambda leaps forward to offer “infrastructure-less” environments (sure… there are servers running “somewhere,” its just you don’t have to think about them!)

You only pay for execution time. Right now $0.00001667 for every GB-second used and $0.20 per 1 million requests thereafter ($0.0000002 per request). In typical AWS fashion the pricing model is multi-dimensional. You pay for requests to run your Lambda function and duration. Duration is a price based on time and GB memory allocated. Memory allocations range from 128 MB to 1 GB.

Why is AWS Lambda so exciting?

Lambda is in essence a return to massive shared compute environments, but with a modern twist. I learned to program on a CDC Control Data mainframe and IBM System/36. Each of these environments supported the concept of multiple jobs running at the same time, with a “human” scheduler coordinating start, stop, error recovery, duration and resource allocation. As a student, I had to “schedule” my homework assignments with the CDC controller, which often meant late nights in the computer lab. AWS Lambda is all this, but via API and you get to be the controller.

AWS Lambda turns EC2, S3, SNS, DynamoDB & Kinesis (and soon all AWS services) into a collection of shared resources you harness to both trigger your application or be the recipient of your application’s computational output. A classic example is an image file is uploaded to S3 that needs to be resized. With Lambda, upon the POST, you can have S3 trigger Lambda to run your Javascript resize functions. The input is the original image upload and the output are the resized image objects, stored back to S3. The output can also be further triggers to other AWS services, like updating DynamoDB or sending an SNS alert.

Virtual machines leapfrogged bare hardware
EC2 leapfrogged virtual machines
Containers leapfrogged EC2
Lambda leapfrogs VM, EC2 and containers

Each progression was toward ever more efficient utilization of the underlying physical resource (i.e. a host computer.) At the end of the day all these virtual services consume physical resources (metal, electricity, real estate) and Lambda is the next step toward extreme efficiency on the backend.

Read more…

AWS re:Invent Keynote Summaries

aws-reinventKeynote 1 – Andy Jassy

TL;DR summary:

Andy Jassy announced 8 new services in the opening keynote. The AWS SVP said “the new normal is that security and compliance are becoming reasons customers are moving to the cloud.” It used to be security and compliance were reasons to stay out of the cloud. Complete 180 in prior 5 years.

Theme: AWS has already won the hearts and minds of startups and ISVs

New focus… What does the “enterprise” need to embrace the cloud?

Day 1 Keynote revealed these 8 new enterprise focused features

  • Amazon Aurora

    • Super fast, resilient SQL as a service. $.29 cents an hour. This is an attack on Oracle. 11’9s reliable, 5x faster than existing MySQL on AWS.

  • AWS Key Management Service

    • Multi-faceted fully managed encryption key service with automatic key rotation, auditing, and compliance certifications.

  • AWS Config

    • Track and “scenarioize” config changes before implementing. Very important for enterprises which are accustomed to on-premises ITIL tools and need cloud equivalents.

  • AWS CodeDeploy, CodeCommit and CodePipelines & Apollo

    • A suite of internal tools AWS has been using for 19 years now available for free to help enterprise developers more efficiently adopt new innovation practices and increase agility. “Agility” was a theme mentioned over and over. Cloud is more than low cost, it’s an agility amplifier.

  • AWS ServiceCatalog

    • Enterprises want to publish internal catalogs of approved IT cloud services and want internal groups to be self-sufficient. This service helps in that area.

    • Think of this as the “corporate portal to cloud.”

  • Amazon / AWS  Core Values (a couple of the dozen) cited in keynote:

    • Work backward from customer… and really mean it… don’t pay lip service to this mantra

      • This also means basically ignore competitors, unless customers tell you they need something a competitor is already doing.

    • Pioneer & Invent new technologies for the long-term

      • Legacy IT vendors have lost their innovation gene… AWS fills the void.

Read more…

Is it time for “Installed” Software as a Service?


A 3 minute read.

“Installed Software as a Service” sounds like an oxymoron. But it’s actually starting to happen and will accelerate even more.

Most enterprises embrace Software as a Service as their preferred method to solve an IT problem. Whether archiving (Sonian), CRM (sf.com), marketing (Hubspot), customer service (Zendesk) or accounting (Netsuite) there is a SaaS offering for nearly every need. It seems only the largest or most security sensitive organizations are not using SaaS. “Installed” SaaS is a delivery method that will make everyone happy about SaaS.

SaaS architectures are designed around massive multi-tenant services with appropriate per tenant (i.e. a customer) security. Multi-tenancy is for economies of scale (we all love SaaS’ low pricing, right?), but less desirable for the customer since data is commingled. Customers desire the managed aspect of of SaaS, but also want to control their own data. Managed by others with data control was a feat too hard or too expensive to accomplish, until now. Technology and market demand are aligning to give customers what they want.

The next wave of SaaS will provide the cost efficiencies of multi-tenancy with the security posture of single tenant. SaaS vendors will offer customers to “install” the service into the customer’s own cloud account. The SaaS vendor will still manage the software, but the customer will have ultimate control over the data structures. Costs will be higher for this type of offering, but customers are willing to pay more for their own control, and will still cost less than traditional on-premises self-managed.

How is “Installed SaaS” possible?

Three emerging technology trends make installed SaaS possible.

The first is the significant amount of devops automation that has matured over the prior seven years. Small teams are using mature tools and processes to fully automate cloud provisioning and software installation to manage massive multi-tenant stacks. This same tooling can manage many single tenant stacks with similar efficiency. Not as efficient as fully multi-tenant, but pretty close.

The second is technologies such as Docker (and containers in general) as well as new cloud capabilities from Amazon Web Services (and others following quickly) such as VPC, Encryption Key Management, Identity and Access Manager & Cloud Native Directory Services. These are all the ingredients SaaS vendors need to “install” into a customer’s cloud account. And now with well documented information security boundaries. With this configuration customers can have a “master” kill switch to cut off external access to their data files. CIOs love this idea.

The third is a new breed of third-party services that can independently “audit” a cloud environment for compliance, security and access. Projects such as Conjur are working on this. Another innovative project is CloudHealth which can monitor cost efficiencies for many single tenant installations and provide automatic cloud infrastructure optimization.

SaaS vendors will need to modify their stack architectures to deliver “installed” SaaS, so there needs to be customer demand to justify the expense. Customers are just now starting to ask for this operating mode.

Read more…

When to Pay Attention to Competitors

Startups get conflicting advice about how to deal with competitors. Well known advisors recommend “use your competitor’s products every day” and others mandate “define your point of view, chart your course, and ignore the competition.” The best approach is a balanced implementation of both schools of thought. The key is to know when to shift from the first strategy to the second.

As a startup founder I know all too well the “push / pull” competition tracking can have on staying to true to a vision, versus realizing that another team might have figured something out before your team did. And all the distraction that ensues reacting to every competitor’s market moves. I realized I was falling into the trap of paying too much attention to what the competition is doing and losing focus on our core ethos.

hypecycle-competitorsAn “easy” rule of thumb is to correlate competition tracking efforts to the stage of the business. The Gartner Hype Cycle is a visual way to correlate when to track competition as your project matures from the “Innovation Trigger” to the “Plateau of Productivity.”

Read more…

Meditation Experiment 30/30 – 30 mins for 30 days

meditation-zenLast week I completed a goal to meditate 30 minutes for 30 days. My interest in meditation began after reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier. The book opened my eyes to meditation and mindful thinking and presented simple meditation practices that seemed approachable and easy to adopt.

My “30/30” introduction was a trial to figure out if I could sustain a daily cadence. The process of adopting a mediation regimen is similar to easing into daily exercise or diet changes. Start gradual, make a personal pact to follow through for 30 days, and gradually embed into a daily (positive) habit.

With my 30/30 mediation success I have now increased to one hour a day. Going for 60 minutes for 60 days. So far so good. Finding an hour in a busy schedule has challenges, and I’m also not letting exercise slip. For this next phase I am scheduling the meditation hour and blocking the time on the calendar.

I do not have a specific time of day for meditation, but I seem to gravitate toward mid-morning or late afternoon time slots. Increasing to an hour will cause this to fluctuate. I tried mediating right after waking up, but had trouble “getting into the zone.” Same thing at the end of the day; I didn’t feel as good meditating right before bedtime. Meditating earlier in the day has a “pay it forward” quality the same way exercising early in the day burns calories more efficiently for the rest of the day. The meditation mental “bump” is noticeable and desirable.

30/30 Meditation Results – 30 Minutes for 30 Days

I jotted down a few notes from the previous 30 days.

  • Meditating makes me cognizant of my thoughts and how they affect mood and body. In the past I would gnash on a subject without realizing I was spiraling into a negative mood or inducing a stomach ache. Meditation is rewiring my brain to be more calm.
  • Meditating clears my mind of background chatter, allowing great ideas to come forth.
  • Meditating gives me an internal “pause” ability to respond instead of reacting in stressful situations. Responding is thoughtful and measured, reacting is knee jerk and not productive.


5 Benefits of Adopting a Daily Meditation Practice


A 5 minute read.

I recently read Dan Harris’ new book 10% Happier and came away with a new understanding how adopting a daily meditation practice doesn’t have to be hard, nor the pastime of only monks, buddhas and New Age-y hippies, and can help improve health (mental and physical) and overall well being. A daily meditation practice became very accessible to me after reading his own experience.

Dan is an ABC News reporter and he shares his personal journey to realizing the positive benefits of regular meditation and “mindful” thinking. The backdrop is his return to New York after covering the Iraq War and dealing with post traumatic stress situations while pursuing a high-pressure network television career. My backstory isn’t as stress challenged or interesting as a war correspondent, but I found inspiration in his writing.

In the high-tech startup world in which I and my colleagues are immersed in, email, texts, tweets, and blog posts blare at us across all our devices. We’re overloading our brains with a constant stream of sensory input and the problem of disconnecting is becoming epidemic. True epiphanies only emerge when we disconnect and clear our minds. And the world needs more epiphanies.

It used to be that a six hour cross country flight without WiFi was agony, but now I kinda enjoy the opportunity for deep thinking when WiFi isn’t available and I’m not tempted to “check in.” Being connected and available to the team is a problem of our own making. So the collective “we” needs to find a happy medium between always being available and purposeful disconnection. For me mediation is a way to achieve healthy balance.

I approached mediation the same way I integrated a regular exercise routine over the past years. Started with simple goals, didn’t beat myself up if I missed a day, and just gradually eased into a cadence.

Here are my five benefits of daily 30 minute meditation:

Read more…

5 Key Takeaways about Amazon Zocalo

zocalo “Zocalo,” what a strange name for a document and file sharing service targeted toward enterprises. My first thought upon hearing the name (while viewing the AWS NYC Summit live stream) was that Amazon had acquired Zoho.com, a competent but not well-known document and collaboration service. But Zocalo looks like organic AWS development and I’m excited to test drive the service.

The name Zocalo sounds exotic compared to the standard AWS naming scheme… We’re used to services with three letter acronyms like “SDS – Simple Document Sharing,” but more recently Amazon’s naming scheme is embracing whole words to define a business service as opposed to a three letter acronym for a developer-focused service. “EC2” is for techies, “Redshift” is for data analysts, and now “Zocalo” is for business knowledge workers.

A Google search reveals “Zocalo” is the name of the big public square in Mexico City. I guess “public square” and document sharing are kindred themes in a holistic way.

1. The Big Picture about Zocalo and who gets disrupted

Zocalo shows AWS is interested in expanding into general “bread and butter” IT services. It’s a natural progression from the original IaaS building blocks, and many pundits have speculated AWS will eventually move into the application space. Ok… so now they have in a big way and they are solving a very horizontal problem; file share, sync and collaboration for the masses.

Zocalo requires an AWS account and is managed from the AWS Console. An IT person deploying Zocalo will be exposed to all the AWS services and this will drive growth in their other cloud offerings. “What’s Workspaces… take the remote desktop for a test drive. Easy”

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think Zocalo will me marketed on the main Amazon.com e-commerce  site, alongside boxed Microsoft Office and other information management software.

2. Pricing model

Pricing is simple and predictable. Two themes enterprise IT are demanding from their vendors. The base fee is $5 per employee per month which includes 200 GB of storage per employee. The customer can add additional storage for a very reasonable fee. Starting at 3 cents per gigabyte for up to 1 TB and as more storage is consumed the unit price decreases just like with S3.

Customers using AWS Workspaces receive a discount on Zocalo. Workspaces and Zocalo look to be great complimentary offerings. Each alone are a great value, and I can see how Workspaces will be easier to use with Zocalo integration.

Read more…