Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Taking a WikiLeak

I am fed up with otherwise responsible blogs and Internet news sites making a hero out of WikiLeaks. They are nothing more than irresponsible gossipers. What they do is is unethical, perhaps even illegal.
Let’s get three points out of the way first. One, while I think of myself as a a moderate, others would disagree. Yes, I’ve been called the “L” word. That’s Liberal for those of you who watch too much Showtime. I am a firm believer in the freedoms ensconced in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. So, this is not some neo-con, constitutional revisionist screed. Second, I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility. This is a core ethical principle. If you take a moral stand on something you have to take the consequences of that stand. All the great moral leaders have done this (think Gandhi or Martin Luther King). Finally, if you plan to do something that might be harmful to people, there had better be a great good. Otherwise, it’s just harm.
These last two points are central if you are to be a protester or whistle-blower. You have to accept that some bad things will happen to you. You could lose your job. You might get arrested. You might get beaten up. You might get killed. These are the risks that an agent of social change takes. Just ask Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent a big chunk of her adult life under house arrest for protesting the military government of Myanmar (previously Burma).
The second major aspect of legitimate protest is that its goal is something more than money or even individual good. There needs to be a greater good involved. You protest to restore or establish democracy, stop government abuses, end an unjust war, or make sure that schools teach all children equally. The goal of embarrassing a government or corporation through protest is not simply to embarrass them. Getting Union Carbide to take responsibility for the Bhopal disaster is a valid reason to take them into the court of public opinion. Obtaining equal civil rights for all of our citizens is a reason to break the law and ride at the front of the bus. Tweaking the government or a company just because you can is not reason enough to put people (including yourself) in danger or to subject them to ridicule.
And there lies my problem with WikiLeaks. They have been transformed into folk heroes for releasing classified documents from U.S. Embassies around the world. Some of what was said was indeed embarrassing. They depict the honest (as opposed to public) opinions of diplomats throughout the world. That communication back to Washington is part of their jobs. They need to let the State Department, intelligence agencies, and the President know what is really going on even when to say so publicly would be bad for diplomacy.
Determining whether releasing these documents is illegal is something I’ll leave up to the lawyers. What I am certain of, is that it is unethical. There is no greater good here. Do they hope to create a change in US foreign policy by embarrassing the United States government? If so, what policy? By distributing a broad array of documents, as opposed to a targeted set, it is unclear what policy they would want different. That dilution of purpose alone makes this ineffectual as an method for change. So, I don’t believe policy change is the goal. What I do believe WikiLeaks’ goal to be is simple publicity. Grandstanding. Poke the government in the eye and prove that you are important and powerful.
Which brings me to back my first criteria for ethical protest – taking responsibility. Has the head of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, stood up and said “I’ll go to jail to protect our right to know?” Nope. All we hear is whining about how they have sustained DDOS attacks or how Amazon doesn’t want to sully their servers with their bile. He has even avoided the European Arrest Warrant issued in the wake of  accusations of rape and sexual harassment in Sweden. So much for taking responsibility.
What is sad is that WikiLeaks has done good in the past by acting in accordance with basic ethical principles. Yes, their releases on the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were damaging to the reputation of the U.S. military but they served a higher purpose. They exposed the types of abuses by our forces that can eat away at the heart of military units. It is okay to expose random killings of civilians, covered up friendly fire incidents, or other unethical conduct by military leaders. That’s how we keep our professional military from becoming brutal conquerors. That’s how we hold military leaders accountable to their own soldiers and the nation as whole. It’s what the military themselves should have done. In the end, it’s good for the military to have the bad apples exposed. It’s as if the folks at WikiLeaks have gotten so caught up in their own celebrity that they forgot what their original mission was.
And for those WikiLeaks apologists who talk about freedom of the press and speech, learn what that means. The founders of this great country knew that these were not absolute rights. They are meant to be exercised responsibly. That’s why we have valid defamation and libel laws. It’s why you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater. Again, even if what they did was legal, that doesn’t make it right.
This latest round of exposés doesn’t meet the most basic criteria for ethical protest. It only hurts but does not help. Embarrassment for the sake of itself is a vice not a virtue. This is nothing less than the worst form of internet-based tabloid journalism. So, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange should stop whining that people are angry with them. They should stop complaining that they might be in legal trouble. It’s what happens when you put money ahead of ethics. Take you medicine and learn from it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Novell Rides Off Into The Sunset

The curtain comes down for yet another 80’s era pioneer. Novell is finally throwing in the hat (not a Red Hat mind you) and selling itself off to Attachmate for the ungodly sum of US$2.2B. There are a couple of interesting questions about this acquisition but first a moment of silence for an historic old ship that has run up on the shoals of competition. At one point they were as hot as Google. But like Sun and other companies of my youth they didn’t keep up and will soon be no more.

Why sell now? Because Novell is obviously not going anywhere. At one time they had the number two PC server operating system, have the number two server Linux and generally were number two in a many things. You can’t be number two without eventually ending up on someone’s shoe. So, if someone offers you enough money to float a missile cruiser, you take it. That’s being responsible. Or maybe the rent’s too damn high. (Caution: Sound is too damn high in this web site).

Why US$2.2B? Got me. I mean that’s not that much of a premium over Novell’s market cap but it’s a lot of money for a company that is a shade of its former self. Part of why that number is so high is because Microsoft (through CPTN Holdings LLC) dropped US$450M into the pot. They have a lot of cash. For them, this is like buying a pack of gum. Still, I have a hard time seeing this pay off for Attachmate. Unless it’s not about paying off for Attachmate per se. (I love foreshadowing…)

Who? Attachmate? I know what you mean. Who the heck are these guys that they can go out and buy Novell. That’s like Meritline (a purveyor of cheap Chinese electronics) buying Best Buy. Seems backwards. Attachmate has a product portfolio that looks like a hodgepodge of data center management products. The deal makes sense from a product point of view in that Novell has their own hodgepodge of data center tools and technology. So, depending on what stays with Attachmate and what goes to Microsoft, you will have a company with a huge collection of somewhat related technology. Combine them into certain combinations and you have a bunch of companies. The funny thing is that Attachmate is nearly as old as Novell but you don’t think of them like Novell. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

Attachmate is owned by a group of private equity groups. That, plus it’s product portfolio mélange, makes it look like a rollup. Rollups keep going by rolling up more companies and selling them off in combinations. It’s like cooking – a little of this, and a little of that, a pinch of something else and Voila! you have a dish you can sell to investors. That might be where the pay off is.

Why should we care? Really we shouldn’t but we do. Whenever a company with a history like Novell’s gets absorbed and turns into little more than a brand it’s sad. We really should if something bad happens next like SUSE Linux goes away, reducing competition in the Linux market. But really, I doubt that will happen and if it does there’s still OpenSuse, right? If you’re a Novell customer of course you care. You don’t know what these guys at Attachmate (or Microsoft) might do and that has to mess with your head. Otherwise, it’s not a game changing acquisition.

So, what does happen next? My guess is that they package up SUSE Linux with some other stuff and spin it off to investors or another company.  If I’m the folks in Redmond I want the identity management IP. That would go along way to creating online services and backend software for trusted Internet environments. Attachmate absorbs the rest and moves on its merry way. Depending what it gets for the other pieces of Novell (like SUSE Linux and ZenWorks) and what it can combine with its own products and sell off, it might make money on this. This is not about product engineering. It’s about financial engineering. And in this type of financial engineering one plus one can equal three.

I wave my hat to Novell as it rides off into the sunset. We’ll miss you amigo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What! No Virtual Booth Models?

I’m “at” the Comdex Virtual event right now. It’s an unusual experience. This is not the first time I’ve participated in virtual trade shows as both an attendee and a speaker. It’s been awhile though and the experience is a bit different than it was in the past. It’s much more elaborate, more like a real conference. Unfortunately, some things are the same such as jumpy video.
I get virtual trade shows. Let’s face it, for a lot of attendees big trade shows are boondoggles. Expensive boondoggles. You have to pay to travel, pay for hotels and meals, and pay for the show. A lot of IT managers used to justify trade shows as part of employee education. That was true for some people but a lot of folks got too little “education” out of these industry confabs. Instead they got a lot of swag (the stuff they give away at booths). Marketing people even have a term for these folks. We call them trick-or-treaters. Besides junk to fill up their cubicles all that most attendees got were vendor pitches masquerading as seminars. Not a good use of limited budget dollars.
From the vendor point of view, you spend a big chunk of your marketing budget on booths and travel and came back with few qualified leads. Instead of customers with money, you waste your time on trick-or-treaters and folks too low on the totem pole to have any influence on spending. Trade shows in general have two business goals. First, spreading the word i.e. marketing. Branding, education, PR, positioning, and messaging are key activities at trade shows. In this regard, trade shows are generally successful. The press is at these events and people have little else to do but listen to your message. Unless the show is in Las Vegas. Then all bets are off. Get it? Bets? Okay we’ll move on.
The second big goal of trade shows, from a vendor perspective, is lead generation. No matter how you look at it, there are better ways to generate leads. Again, you have to pull some of your marketing and sales team out of the field so they can sift through lots of the trick-or-treater types to get a few decent leads. It’s not very efficient. To get anyone to talk to you at all, you have to sink a boatload of money into flashy booths, presentations, entertainment (magicians, comedians, etc.) and other diversions to cut through the white noise of the expo floor. That’s just to swipe the badge of someone unlikely to buy anything in the first place.
Virtual trade shows are intriguing because they are cheap for everyone. No flashy booths or expensive travel for vendors. For attendees it has the advantage of  allowing you to do other things while “attending” (like your job) and it doesn’t take a big divot out of your budget. I can see it for education and messaging. I still don’t see it for lead generation.
I’m fascinated by how much effort has gone into making Comdex Virtual mimic the experience of a real trade show. There are keynotes, breakout sessions, virtual booths and a lobby with flashing advertisements. There’s even hospitality suites that you’re not allowed into without an invite. You get to feel the same pang of of disappointment you would experience walking past a real hospitality suite that you’re not invited into. Ah, the memories.
Despite advances in show design there are still a bunch of annoying quirks. Video is jumpy and makes every speaker sound like Max Headroom. If Hulu and YouTube could figure this out you’d think Comdex Virtual could. The slides for the keynote don’t change. It’s probably a stupid technical problem but it effects the experience. Some of the virtual booths have tiny PowerPoint presentations running. It’s like business for Smurfs. And just like Smurf signs you can’t read the slides. Folks like Microsoft and EMC figured that out and had video presentations. You can hear just fine no matter how tiny the talking head is.
What Comdex Virtual can’t reproduce is, for me, the most important aspect of a real show – running into people I know. A lot of business gets done when you happen upon colleagues and old friends. They try to do this with the VAR Bar - group chat room - but it doesn’t work. It is overpopulated with vendors and the text scrolls so fast that you can’t really see anything interesting. It is tough to search for someone you know (the virtual equivalent of scanning the room) because the application had the annoying habit of suddenly jumping to the top of the list. Besides, looking around a physical room is much faster than scrolling through more than 200 names and icons.
Comdex Virtual goes a long way to making virtual trade shows more enjoyable and interesting. The structure of the event, made to appear like a live event, provides familiar context. It is certainly easier on the budget. Still, it doesn’t allow for one of the most crucial parts of a trade event – human contact.
At least the food is better than it was at live Comdex. And I don’t have to wait for a cab back to my hotel. That’s something the original event could never deliver on.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Apps are changing the way we use computing devices in a number of ways. One significant effect of Apps is a return to the “right tool for the job” mentality in computing. For the past 20 years or so, computing has been based on a single platform for all. There were big versions (servers), little versions (notebooks), and an in-between size (developer workstations). Still,  it basically was all same computer. For a brief while it looked like a specialty application platform might emerge (namely the PDA) but, alas, it stayed a relatively small market and merged into our phones.
The Cius, iPad, smartphones, and all things Android point to a different future for consumer and business computing. As these devices gain traction, the market will split into platforms that match the software they host. Tablets, smartphones, or hybrid devices like the Air will be the software platform of choice for mobile sales and marketing professionals. These users do not need, in fact have never needed, the full power of a PC. Most of their work consists of communications such as voice, email, video conferencing, and document sharing. Word processing needs are minimal. Most sales people do not right books on the road. They do need access to corporate applications such as CRM and ERP but only in a limited fashion. A bigger format device such as a tablet will give them better access to corporate applications and documents. A smartphone/pad device hybrid like Cius will provide what they need to get the job done.
Consumers will also like the tablet/smartphone device – one can argue they already do. Most home applications are pretty simple and, again, it’s about communication. Sharing pictures with Grandma, contacting the kids via SMS, and keeping up with Facebook. These are the typical uses for computer at home. That and entertainment like music, books, and movies. Except for hard core gamers people don’t need a full blown PC at home.
Where will the PC continue to dominate? Business for one. Web-enabled applications, even internally hosted ones, delivered via a PC device will be the most popular. This will do well for people in accounting, human resources, legal, and administration. It is likely to be a thin client but still more than a tablet running Apps. Developers for sure will need powerful workstations as will most technical folks. And we will only get the powerful Macs away from the graphic artists and video editing people by prying it from their cold dead hands.
The PC will not be going away anytime soon. It will have to share it’s space with a bunch of new devices. These devices will not just be smaller versions of the PC, like netbooks. They will be entirely new devices running different operating systems, using Apps instead of full applications and have very different purposes. The Internet and networking in general makes it possible to have a all sorts of devices work together. This, in turn, allows for devices tailors for different needs.
The era of the one-size-fits-all hardware and software is coming to a close.

Friday, October 22, 2010

There Is Something In The Air Tonight, Hold On.

Apple’s new Macbook Air might well be the next step in the evolution of consumer and productivity software. Not revolution but certainly evolution. And I said software not hardware. The Air has been described as the spawn of the Mac and iPad. It certainly has elements of both such as solid state storage and a touch screen. Most importantly, it runs the same Apps from the Apple App store that the iPad does. The big step is the new Lion operating system, a hybrid of Mac OS X and iOS.
Software began to change when telecommunications providers started selling small bits of software for your phone. The idea of small, rich,  clients with a big back-end has finally caught up to the wider software market. And this is not just an Apple thing. Google’s Chromium OS is slated to come out in the next few months and will have many similar characteristics. Even now there a lot of PC platform Apps, or at least software that fits the model. There is the bazillion widgets/gadgets made for the Microsoft Sidebar, Google Gadgets, and Yahoo’s Widgets1 engines. These are trifles compared to the Evernote and Sobee applications which fit an App model more closely in that they run on the native client platform and do something useful yet are lightweight and web synced. Windows Live Writer, which I’m using to write this blog, is more App than traditional software.
Apps are different than traditional software or web-based software (SaaS) in a number of ways. They are generally small, rely on an extensive back-end system (if they do anything useful), and are tailored for a specific client platform. Apps are lightweight applications the way web-enabled are yet have a rich user experience normally associated with more heavyweight PC applications. The Apps for the iPhone, Android, Palm, and other smartphone platforms took the phone application to a higher level of functionality, creating software that was much more sophisticated. Much of it is still little more than a toy for your phone but that’s changing. The iPad cranked up the volume even more with full featured and full screen apps.
What Apple has done is take the phone/pad App mentality and moved it to a personal computer (PC) platform. There are some interesting ramifications to this:
  1. Apps are smaller, originally designed to run on very low resourced devices. This puts more responsibility on the back-end to get things done. The positive aspect is that you can build PC type devices that are less expensive, faster, and have longer battery life.
  2. They are sold through the Apple App store. There is a back to the future situation. In the very far past of the computer industry (before my time) you only bought software from the hardware vendor. When my Dad2 wanted software for his IBM System 3, he bought it from IBM. Even if it was sold by a third party, IBM was involved in the purchase somehow. Microsoft and Intel screwed that up for the industry. With an open platform, anyone could make and sell software and you didn’t having to give a pound of flesh to the platform vendor. Apps return us (at least briefly) to the old model that was quite lucrative for platform vendors. Each mobile phone provider has it’s own store and likes it that way. It can’t stay that way but I’m sure the client platform providers3 will try.
  3. Apps are cheap. Partly because they are subsidized by subscriptions and ads and partly because they don’t do anything, Apps sell like webware – for little or no money. This also must change but I think they will stay relatively less expensive than traditional client applications.
  4. Most of the processing shifts to the bank-end infrastructure, cloud4 or internal, while user experience stays on the client platform. This sets it apart from webware and traditional client-based software.
  5. Apps won’t muscle enterprise applications off the corporate desktop. They will, however, become an adjunct to enterprise applications. Not everyone needs all the functionality of massive applications that SAP or Oracle puts out. An employee needs a limited view of their PeopleSoft applications and a salesmen on the road needs more limited CRM functionality. Both might prefer a lightweight App that works on his notebook and mobile phone platforms.
Apps represents challenges to software vendors dependent on the old PC model. There is no way they will be able to avoid license or distribution fees to one or more platform vendors. Don’t think so? Just ask anyone who develops iPhone apps. The fees might be in the form of traditional licenses for required software or in having to use special tools that you need to buy from the platform vendor (such as a Mac). Once the App honeymoon is over, charges for listing in the App stores will become a way of life. At the moment platform vendors want to spread their platform around by having lots of software support. Since they control the distribution, eventually they will want to start charging substantial fees for listing Apps.
For Apps to be better than simple toys, software vendors will have to offer sophisticated back-end services. When your App is a word processor, you won’t be able to jam that onto the equivalent of an iPad with a keyboard. It will be much more like Google Docs or Zoho Writer. To be in the software industry will require that you have a data center of some sort. This is bad news for someone who just wants to write code but good news for cloud services providers. They will be the data center for the smaller App makers. Those GPS Apps that are the favorites of smartphone users require a lot of behind the scenes support. So will anything of any worth.
In the end, Apps mean shrinking software margins. One of the great things about software as a business is the margins. Unlike electronics and other hard goods, the cost of goods sold for software is incredibly low because there are no material costs. As an industry, we’ve even done away with much of the packaging. As even lower cost software becomes more prevalent and license and distribution fees to platform vendors go up, margins will get tighter.
Development costs are also likely to rise. No one platform vendor controls enough of the market in the same way that Wintel dominates the PC market. To be competitive you will have no choice but to write Apps and pay fees to multiple vendors. At least until one comes to clearly outpace the others. Apps also means that traditional partners and resellers might be caught out in the cold. You don’t buy Apps at Best Buy or from Ingram Micro. The retail and distribution part of this business is probably doomed. Just ask retailers who predominantly sell or sold music. Time to adapt or die5.
The one bright area will be infrastructure software. That will probably grow more than it would have normally. The distribution and license model for that segment of the software business won’t change either. Oracle knows this and is making sure it controls enough of the back-end framework to capitalize on the new reality. However, a lot of infrastructure will be “rented” through cloud computing services. Small ISVs are not going to build data centers but data centers will be built by someone. Frameworks for App computing will become big business too. Hopefully something akin to Java will emerge, allowing for multiplatform App development. This will be important to App developers as a means of reducing development costs.
Apps, until recently, were little more than an amuse bouche on your phone. With Apple’s announcement of the latest Macbook Air and Google’s Chromium in the wings (not to mention Android and Windows pad devices), that is about to change. The traditional model for software will change much more than it did with webware. If you’re an ISV, hold on. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.
Disclaimer: I use Evernote, Sobee (sometimes), Zoho Apps (especially their excellent CRM system), Microsoft Live Writer, and Google Docs. Now, they’re free to anyone but still, I thought I’d mention it because I mentioned them. On the other hand, I don’t use anything from Apple not even iTunes. It’s just the way it is.

  1. Yahoo Widgets used be be Konfabulator. I liked the old name better. It was sort of steampunk. Now it’s just a generic name.
  2. Yes my Dad was a computer geek before he retired and my son is in school becoming a computer geek. We are thinking of starting a guild.
  3. I noticed I used the terms “client platform provider” and “client platform” a bunch of times with out defining it. In this case, a client platform is whatever device the software runs on (PC, Mac, Smartphone, pad device, shoe phone), The provider is who you get it from such as Microsoft, Apple, or Verizon. There is some overlap there I admit. Really, it’s who you will be forced to buy Apps from or through.
  4. Let’s not get into any “what is a cloud” arguments in the comments. When I say cloud here I mean an outside provider of virtualized computing resources. If it makes you happy to say IaaS be my guest.
  5. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin. Charlie really knew what he was talking about.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

vFlowers for Ferelli

Today I heard that long time technology journalist Mark Ferelli had passed away. I have known Mark for a long time (if 14 years is considered a long time) and always liked him. We didn’t always agree about technology but then again that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what type of person you are and on that we could agree. Mark was a great guy. When people leave us suddenly it often helps to tell those very personal stories that helps you remember what the person was like. So this is my “Mark” story.
At the time I met Mark I had just started to write publically. Public writing, such as articles, blogs, and books is different from private writing such as corporate white papers or datasheets. This type of writing has your name on it. People know that you do it and will draw conclusions about you from what you write. In other words, it’s scary as hell, especially in the beginning. That’s when you need encouragement and that’s what Mark gave me. He was that kind of guy.
He had seen something I wrote and thought it wasn’t horrible I guess. I think that because he told me to keep writing. He always found space in CTR for my articles and I doubt it was for a lack of material. Unlike a lot of editors I’ve worked with, he could give solid constructive feedback without making you feel like someone had just dropped an anvil on your head. He was that kind of guy.
When I wrote my book he was one of the outside editors. I found this type of writing incredibly stressful. You put a lot of effort into it and the editors tear it to shreds. They have to tear it apart if you want a good book but it’s not fun. So, when I got Mark’s feedback I dreaded looking at it. No need for dread. His comments were on target but gentle. I found myself nodding and saying to myself “Yeah. That makes sense. I should do that.” instead of having my blood pressure go through the roof. He was that kind of guy.
So if you didn’t have the pleasure of knowing or working with Mark, that’s too bad. You missed something. And now the whole industry will be missing one of the better people in it. Interestingly enough, it was computer technology that spread the word of Mark’s death. I heard it on Twitter of all places. I think Mark would have had a giggle about that. He was that kind of guy.
So Mark, here’s some virtual flowers for you from someone you encouraged along the way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You are… and you want what?

I’m Tom Petrocelli. I’m about to be an independent consultant (more on that in the future). If you want to know about me, my profile is available right here on-line. I write this blog because I like to write. I also admit that I like to pontificate and, on some level, hope it attracts some positive attention. There. Doesn’t that make things easier?
You would think it would be dogma by now that you owe any person you contact the courtesy of identifying yourself. Identify who you are, who you work for, and what you want to talk about. Yet, I’m constantly surprised how often this doesn’t happen. I can’t tell you how many times, in any given week, I’m contacted without any identification. Someone calls, asks for me (mangling my name of course), and starts talking. No “Hi, I’m Jim and I work for the League of Animal Lovers.” Not, “Hi, I’m Greg and I’m in sales at Acme Catapults. May I speak to Mr. Coyote please?” either.
Instead, they immediately ask for someone and start a pitch. Or even worse, they start asking questions. For example:
Caller: “Hi, is Tom there?”
Me: “Um. This is Tom. Can I help you?”
Caller: “Don’t you want to save money on your personal hygiene needs and help abused farm animals at the same time?”
Me: “What the ….?”
No introduction. No sense of context. Nothing. I’m supposed to sit and answer your questions when I don’t even know who you are? Doesn’t seem likely.
Now, if you think this is all the workings of some sleazy boiler room operation, think again. With the advent of the “Do Not Call” list, fewer and fewer of those type organizations are calling with high pressure pitches. Instead, these are not-for-profits, political organizations, and people who I might actually do business with and probably have already done business with. For example, I’ve gotten calls from various telecommunications companies that ask for me by name then start pounding out the questions. Just before writing this I had a call from my local political party. They forced me to ask three times who they were before they decided to tell me*. I almost hung up on them and I support them! I’ve even had some situations where I had to aggressively interrupt and demand that someone tell me who they were and what company they were from. In a few cases, the caller actually hung up rather then answer. Would I do business with these people? The answer is “Never!”
This type of behavior happens in a variety of contact situations, not just in cold calling. At trade shows and conferences, folks will practically leap out of the booth and ask questions or start pitching before they even say “hello”. You would think it would be harder with social media but a lot of people do the equivalent of it with blank profiles. In some cases it’s intentional (really bad) but a lot of the time it’s laziness. I summarily reject comments to my blog from people with blank profiles unless I know them personally. I can’t tell if they just forgot to fill it out or if it’s spam. Whether technique or lack of attention to detail, it has the same effect. No Id, no comment, no conversation, and no sale.
Sometimes, this is how the contact person is taught to behave. It seems counter productive to me. First off, if I don’t know who you are and what organization you are with, I have no context. That would seem important if you want to get good answers to your qualifying questions. The point of asking someone these questions is to qualify their need and see if they are someone you want to spend your time on. How can you do that if they don’t understand the questions they are answering? Worse than no data is bad data.
You also risk having the listener misunderstand your intentions. Let’s face it, it’s not the social norm to start a conversation without an introduction. To not identify who you are and what you want leads to a lack of trust. That works against the sale. Normally you won’t do things for people you don’t trust. And sales, politics, and charitable giving is about getting someone to do something for you. I don’t have to listen to your sales pitch. I don’t have to put your candidate’s sign on my lawn. And, I certainly don’t have to give you money unless I want to. Given all the people who are asking something from us, we tend to filter out those we don’t trust. Not saying who you are – and I mean right away – undermines your efforts to gain someone’s trust and get them to do what you want them to do.
Part of the reason some salespeople (and other callers/emailers/tweeters/etc.) do this is so that the person won’t say no or hang up. Get them talking and you’ll make the sale! That’s a load of … baloney. People are not stupid and will figure out pretty quickly that you are selling them something. They might be too polite to hang up or tell you to go pound salt, thereby wasting your time. That doesn’t help you accomplish your mission. Instead, build a bond, make them want to listen to what you have to say. That begins with them knowing who you are. And if they still don’t want to hear your pitch, so be it. Better that you move on to the next person than waste time on someone who will never buy or give or whatever you want them to do.
So identify yourself, your organizations, and your intentions first. Then we can talk. You might even get something from me that way.

* I’m aware that political parties are often required to make sure of who they are calling. But would it hurt to say “I’m Ted from the local <Name of Political Party> party. May I speak with Mr. Petrocelli?”

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sales and Promotions Mistakes – It Could Be An Opportunity…

Two things happened this week that made me think about customer service and lost opportunities. The first event had to do with paper. I find the best customer service stories in the most mundane situations. Anyway, I was at OfficeMax and saw a wonderful deal. There was a stack of five ream cases of inkjet paper. On top of them was  a sign that said that the paper was $8.99. $8.99 for five reams of inkjet paper is a great price. The ten ream case was something like $35. Wow! While it was a great price, it wasn’t an outlandish one. Not too good to be true just pretty darn good. When I got to the counter, it rang up $30. Wait. What? Turns out it was $8.99 a ream not a case. Someone was supposed to have taken out the individual reams and stacked them outside the cases. Perhaps it said $8.99 a ream but I’m not so sure. Even if this was the case the type was so small as to not be obvious. Taking them out of the cases and stacking them up was supposed to be the obvious part. I declined to buy it and found a good deal elsewhere.
The second event was the arrival of a $15 Best Buy gift card from Napster. Napster had run a promotion on Facebook wherein you friend them and posted something (favorite song or album maybe) and they would send you a 1GB portable music player. Apparently, the response was so huge to the promotion that they ran out of music players and sent gift cards instead.
Both of these situations have two things in common. First, the company appeared to advertise something they could not deliver on. Second, they could not deliver because of a mistake or miscalculation. Now, I don’t have a problem with mistakes. Stuff happens. A lot of folks want to hold a company’s feet to the fire over honest mistakes. Super travel columnist and ombudsmen Christopher Elliott has written a boatload (pun intended) of columns about airlines or hotels that accidently post the wrong price and have angry customers who want a ridiculous rate. His advice is often summed up as “don’t expect something that is so ridiculously cheap it can’t be right.” Reading his blog I always get the feeling that these folks aren’t just looking for a bargain. They know it’s a wrong price and want to take advantage of the company. Whatever the legalities of the situation are you don’t take advantage of someone, even an airline, that way.
What I found most intriguing was the different reactions from OfficeMax and Napster. In the first case, OfficeMax missed out on a great opportunity with a long time customer. When it was obvious that this was a mistake, I no longer had the expectation that they would honor the price on the stack. I know some people who would demand the $8.99 price, even going so far as accusing the store of a bait and switch. That’s not right. Honest mistakes happen and we need to accept that. What OfficeMax could have – should have - done was offer me something, anything. If they had offered, say, a 10% discount on the case I may have bought the paper. Even if I hadn’t, I would have felt that they made an effort to own my business. It’s about showing the love, not what you get. It’s very likely that the store manager and clerk didn’t have the authority to do more than say “Sorry”. Too bad. OfficeMax lost a chance to sell me something and gain a bunch of goodwill. They lost twice.
Napster on the other hand could have just said “Sorry, we ran out.” The promotion’s fine print likely said something akin to “while supplies last”. They clearly know something about goodwill though. Sure, the player was worth more than $15 retail. However, I really don’t need another one and most people signing up probably don’t either. I only wanted it because it was free. By sending me something, anything, for nothing, they sent the message that they really did want my business and I was more to them than a social media marketing opportunity. A perusal through the comments on the Napster Facebook page shows that this worked. While there were a few grumblers, most said “Thanks for the free gift card!” Napster turned a potential marketing mess into an opportunity to connect with potential customers and say “I care about how you feel about Napster! You matter to us. Sorry about the screw up.”
All too often, companies just want to assuage the feelings of upset customers by tossing out a false apology. For them, it’s about making the problem child go away. I had that happen at Best Buy recently. By the time I left the store I was furious at the obviously fake “we’re sorry” that the customer service representative kept spewing mechanically. Instead, mistakes can be a chance to tell customers that you value them. By proactively doing something positive when you make a mistake, you can signal that your customers matter to you.  That builds a bond that is worth much more than the cost of doing something for the customer.
More than anything, just saying “sorry” is meaningless and annoying. You have to do something to demonstrate that you want to make things right. When you make a mistake, do more, say less, and have happier customers.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hurd The News About HP? What Does The Oracle Tell Us?

So, first Michael Hurd resigns as HP CEO because of minor accounting snafus related to his totally not sexually harassing a B-movie actress (snicker!). Then, Oracle hires him “allowing” one of the co-Presidents, Charles Phillips, to leave.  Phillips apparently had his own public problems with a woman (snicker!) .  Now, HP is suing Hurd because – now get this – they have a non-disclosure. Not a non-compete. An NDA. So HP is suing Hurd after they effectively forced him to resign over something he didn’t do with a woman because of something he has yet to do.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. The mind reels with questions here. Let’s choose a few major ones.
  • Are technology executives of such low moral fiber that they keep getting into trouble with women other than their wives?
  • Is Hurd just so good that Oracle is willing to deal with the inevitable lawsuits?
  • If so, was HP just that stupid for letting him go?
  • Can you really sue someone for something they might do but haven’t yet done?
Let’s tackle these in order. First off, I know a lot of technology executives. While some are ethically and morally challenged, as a class they don’t seem any worse than anyone else. I don’t mean no worse than other business executives. I mean no worse than the guy who delivers my mail or teaches my kids in school. Really, they are about the same as everyone else. Except politicians. Those folks don’t seem to know what ethics are at all. Oh, and Wall Street. Don’t get me started on Wall Street…
Next question - is Hurd just that good that he’s worth the trouble? Well, it’s possible that Oracle didn’t think he would be this much trouble. He didn’t, after all, have a non-compete. That still blows my mind but we’ll come back to that later. More likely, Larry Ellison just didn’t care. You see, Hurd has done some pretty remarkable things at HP. Mr. Ellison clearly thinks so, going so far as to send an email to the New York Times calling the HP board “idiots” for letting him go. That kind of tells me that he thinks Hurd is special.
The next question sort of answers itself. Given the mess HP made of Hurd’s departure it doesn’t look like they were doing the smart things. Really, didn’t they think they could deal with one aging actress who got hit on by an executive (if that even happened)? On the surface, it at least seems like cowardice. I’m willing to accept that there may be more to the story than is generally known. Maybe. Still, guys with Hurd’s track record are not exactly sitting around waiting for “The Call”. It does seem at least a little stupid.
Look at it this way: If they had tossed a tiny fraction of what they are going to spend on 3Par at the B-movie actress, this all could have gone away in an instant.
Finally, can they sue Hurd for not adhering to a non-disclosure when it hasn’t happened yet? A non-compete is different. The minute he took the job at Oracle he would have violated a non-compete. But he didn’t have a non-compete! I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. If you sell a bagel restaurant you sign a non-compete. This guy was CEO of a huge corporation. How did that one get through? But I digress (and rant a bit admittedly).
Hurd can’t violate the non-disclosure until he actually disclosures something and HP finds out about it. What would a court say here? “Mr Hurd is ordered not disclose trade secrets like he has already agreed to and has so far complied with”? Huh? He has to do something to harm them then they can go after him. What it looks like here is that the HP Board wanted but didn’t get a non-compete. I can’t believe they just forgot. Since they didn’t get the non-compete they want to make one out of the non-disclosure. It’s like legal alchemy. Take a base agreement and turn it into a golden one. The contract is what it is. It is not something else just because you want it to be.
Maybe the argument is that he can’t be an Oracle President and not disclose sensitive information. That’s a scary argument mostly because it assumes guilt. This suit assumes the inevitability of wrongdoing. Even if HP feels that Mr. Hurd has such low moral character that it’s likely he will disclosure something (see above) he still has to do the bad thing first. It’s not enough to say “we feel he might.”
This is not a trivial matter. Technology businesses cannot exist without confidentially. Everyone signs confidentiality agreements. Who will now if they can be turned into non-competes and other types of agreements by fiat. If you can be sued because you might do something but haven’t then would you sign an NDA? Will you enter into a confidentially agreement that is a non-compete in disguise? This has far reaching consequences in all aspects of business. Everyone signs non-disclosures when they go to work for a company, enter into partnerships, work with customers and vendors, etc. What if all of those magically turned into non-competes too? If you except the argument that you can’t work for someone else without disclosing trade secrets then you effectively do that and bind everyone to their current company. Like indentured servants only with cubicles.
So, the answer to the last question is “Yes. You can sue someone for something they haven’t yet done.” It doesn't mean you will win though. Hopefully HP won’t prevail. That would be devastating to all business.
And guys, stay away from the booth babes. You shouldn’t have them in the first place. They are insulting to men and women alike but clearly a minefield for the C-level executives. Protect your CEO. Don’t use booth babes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What the…?

Okay, the 3Par bidding has hit the $2B level. That’s nearly twice the opening bid of $1.1.5B. The first bid seemed high but the offers have now gone into the exosphere. For those who don’t remember their 8th grade science, that perilously close to being in orbit. It’s a place where there is practically no air. Get that? No air to breathe.
Considering that 3Par had revenue of US$168M in fiscal 2010 (resulting in a net loss by the way), HP is bidding almost 12 times last year’s revenue! That’s insanely high. Even at an accelerated growth rate, HP won’t make that back before I’m a grandfather. Trust me, that is a long time from now (or better be – you kids listening?). This bidding war has generated a lot of analysis, including mine. Theories range from Dell and HP vying for the number 2 spot in storage behind EMC ( I like that one) to HP’s Dave Donatello being on a mission from god. Okay, not a mission from god per se but the storage business equivalent. At these numbers, none of the theories including mine make any sense.
Look, 3Par is a great company with a lot going for it. It is also a company that would have eventually topped out like Brocade. It might have hit the $500M level but not much more. Selling out is the best thing that they can do for their stockholders. David Scott, 3Par’s CEO, has really done his job.
As it stands, it is hard to imagine HP or Dell seeing much return on this investment. The number’s are just too high. Here’s my theory: like at an auction, these companies are now just into the bidding. The original reasons for doing the deal are now tangential. It’s about winning. It’s about the emotion.
My advice to Dell, let HP take it. Let them spend huge amounts of money that could otherwise have gone into a new storage product. Use the money you have set aside for this purchase to buy someone else. It’s not like there aren’t a bunch of companies out there. Isilon, Compellent, Xiotech, they’re all independent right now. Heck, buy Data Robotics. They’re private and everyone seems to love their stuff. I know it’s not “enterprise” but you could probably sell a boatload of those Drobo arrays to the SOHO market and walk them up to the mid-range. You would certainly see your way to a ROI much faster.
These numbers just don’t make sense anymore.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Computer Industry Goes Zoom Zoom

You would think that last week’s announcement that Dell was acquiring 3Par for US$1.15B was news enough. Ha! Intel then raised eyebrows by announcing the acquisition of McAfee for US$7.6B. Now, comes Monday morning and HP raises the stakes against Dell by sending in their own and bigger bid for 3Par. It’s nice to be loved. Somewhere in all this, Hitachi Data Systems announced that they had acquired the Intellectual Property and core engineering team of Parascale, a cloud software company. Too bad for them. What should have been a sweet announcement was lost in all the noise.
So, what the heck is going on here? On the one hand, this is actually not that surprising. Computer tech companies tend to throw off lots of cash so they have a lot sitting around for acquisitions. Most of these big companies can thus afford to buy expertise or market share. This is especially true when you are coming out from the bottom of the market. Best to build up the arsenal before the economy really picks up.
This is an industry with a tradition of letting smaller companies trail blaze new technology and markets then get their payoff from a big company. In the long run this is cheaper and less risky for big companies but profitable for small ones. More unusual are the Googles and Microsofts who start in a garage and end up a behemoth. That’s the myth of computer tech but not the reality. What is not a myth is that deal making gives folks like me something to talk about. So here’s the talking about part.
Intel-McAfee Makes for Secure Communications
The Intel-McAfee deal has a lot of pundits scratching their heads. It’s a lot of money for a company with a big consumer business. McAfee’s revenue would barely be a rounding error for Intel. In 2009 Intel’s revenue was 18.5 times McAfee’s (~US$35B vs. US$1.9B). $1.9B is nothing to sneeze at but it will be a long time before a McAfee revenue stream makes up for the money Intel paid for it. What McAfee has going for it is lots of core security technology. More importantly, it’s spread across all aspects of the digital world – web, mobile, desktop, and server. Combined with Intel hardware and chips and you have a much higher revenue generating business than McAfee alone. It’s like having your cereal with fruit and milk. It’s part of a complete breakfast. It also well positions Intel for the long term. This is an example of the Gestalt principle – the whole is way better than the sum of the parts.  Besides, people said similar things about EMC’s RSA acquisition and that has worked out well for them, right?
3Par Bid Up by HP
I wasn’t that thrilled about Dell’s acquisition of 3Par, except insofar as it worked well for the 3Par folks (nice folks). I’m both more and less thrilled about the HP bid along the same lines. It’s better for 3Par financially, so I’m more thrilled. It’s makes less sense for HP though. Unlike Dell they have a coherent storage story, reputation and brand going back decades, as well as an extensive product line. Do they need 3Par? At least with Dell, 3Par would be a prominent part of the line up. They might have even kept their name, like Equalogic did. With HP, they will be absorbed. It’s hard to see what this deal adds to the HP product mix that they can’t get or build more cheaply. I doubt they need 3Par’s customer base really. Perhaps it’s just a way to keep Dell from becoming a serious competitor in storage. Perhaps. Generally, I don’t like this for HP but do for 3Par investors. It will be interesting to see how high this one gets bid up. There could be crazy amounts of money tossed around here.
HDS Goes Parascaling Up In The Clouds
The cloud is about software. It sells hardware but doesn’t exist without software.  Parascale provides software that makes storage and servers into clouds. I don’t know enough about Parascale to say if it worked or was particularly good software. Assuming it worked just fine, then this is the kind of technology play that I like. It adds immediate value, helps move hardware, has broad, future potential in an emerging market, and is a deal that is easy to do. It’s kind of conservative but conservative often pays the bills.
Bye Bye to OpenSolaris
There were also a bunch of other, smaller announcements too. One that is significant was that Oracle will be dropping support for the OpenSolaris project. This is sad since there was a vibrant community around OpenSolaris. It was not, however, unexpected. Oracle has nothing to gain by supporting an open Unix product. In the end, this will be good for the Open Source community. There are already too many Linux and Unix projects and variants diluting the talent pool. Do we really need OpenSolaris and FreeBSD and OpenBSD and NetBSD and Darwin and so on and so on. Not really. So, while I understand how this bothers some people and generates a lot of “what else will Oracle kill?” questions (Don’t worry it won’t be Java or MySql. They generate revenue) it’s really for the better. Time to move on.
I must admit, all this activity is exciting. It’s rare that this industry gets a week like this. Deals are usually more evenly spaced out. It’s like NASCAR for computer geeks.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Piling on the Dell/3Par News

Whenever some news comes out about an acquisition, everyone chimes in. It’s like kids playing little league football. Someone tackles the kid with the ball and all the other kids pile on.  I promised myself I wouldn’t do that. I lied. Hey, if you can’t lie to yourself, who can you lie to?
But really, I follow the storage segment but don’t claim in-depth technical knowledge anymore. I’m too interested in technology and business strategy to dive into the deep technical details. I can make a thin provisioning joke but that doesn’t mean I have the kind of encyclopedic knowledge of the segment that folks like Marc Farley (of 3Par – ready to buy that boat?) or Chuck Hollis of EMC have. Sticking to what I know here are some thoughts.
Why it’s a good thing (in list form):
  1. 3Par would have eventually hit the wall. The hardware industry is a game of numbers. Big volume plus low cost equals great margins. You need market share and manufacturing prowess for that. A company the size of 3Par would have eventually gotten eaten alive by the big boys.Or faded into irrelevance. That would have been the slow death.
  2. The deal provides a nice Return on Investment for 3Par investors. I like it when people make money in startups. It provides fuel for more startups and gives hope to the rest of us entrepreneurs. Now, if you all want to swing some of that cash my way…
  3. I bet Dell really wants 3Par. 3Par could have gotten bought up by someone who just wanted them out of the way.  That would have been sad for the industry. There is a better chance that some of what makes 3Par unique will continue to live on at Dell. It’s nice to be loved.
  4. 3Par employees can get great deals on Alienware computers. I’m just speculating but wouldn’t that be cool. Those babies are hot! If that’s not in the term sheet then amend that puppy now.
Why it’s not a good thing (also in list form):
  1. US$1.15B is a lot of money. Dell is going to have to sell a lot of storage to make that back. That’s especially hard to do when the 3Par message has often been how you could buy less storage at a cheaper price to get the same functionality. I get the “less is more” messaging for a startup but you all have to make back a big pile of money now.
  2. Dell’s bought a lot of storage companies but still doesn’t have a cohesive storage message. This is actually a good-not good thing. On the one hand, you don’t think of Dell as being in storage the way you do, say, HP or EMC. They’ve bought up a boatload of storage companies but it’s like Yatzee - all tossed in an incomprehensible pile. On the other hand the scrappy 3Par people are really good at new marketing. If they stick around (and Dell should make it worth their while to stick around) they could have a positive effect on Dell’s overall storage marketing. If they’re allowed to which brings us to…
  3. They can’t use what makes 3Par special. People think that companies like 3Par are about technology. Not really. They are about ideas. The simple audacity of 3Par is part of what makes it successful. That rarely translates well in a big company. Just because Dell wants 3Par doesn’t mean they know what to do with them.  The impact of the creative folks that have been driving the company will be diluted once they are just a cog in the Dell machinery. 
  4. On some level, this has to annoy EMC, Dell’s big storage partner. The more meat Dell adds to the storage stew, the less tasty it is for EMC. I keep wondering how long EMC will put up with this. Dell clearly wants to create a business that competes with EMC. An ugly breakup would be bad for Dell since EMC could probably crush them in the enterprise storage segment. My guess is that the only reason this has yet to happen is that Dell has not gotten it’s act together enough to really get in EMC’s way. Maybe this is what EMC needs to go buy a server company and finally become the full service provider that they should. Some of those Taiwanese computer companies have good SOHO servers that would fit in well with Iomega and Mozy. Just sayin’…
Ultimately, this is very good for 3Par, it’s investors, and many of it’s employees. Making honest money always is. Whether Dell gets it’s $1.15B out of the deal remains to be seen.  They need to develop a simplified but cohesive product line. Better storage marketing would also help. 3Par people can help but will they be allowed to? Wish i knew.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Magic of Magic Hat

Magic Hat, for those who don’t know but should, makes beer. Really good beer. Beer lovers’ beer. Hoppy, complex, flavorful, and often wonderfully bitter. Not your garden variety swill here. Magic Hat is very good at making beer. They are also incredibly good at marketing and brand management. They have built their brand based on magic, Halloween, and Mardi Gras imagery with a hippy aesthetic. They carry that brand throughout everything they do. Cartons, labels, product names (such as the new Hex). Even the factory reflects their image of whimsical scariness.
The Sticker Licker.
The Sticker Licker!
On the factory tour (which is actually called the Artifactory) in South Burlington Vermont, they have massive signs that explain what all the machines and process steps are. They are not your typical bland signs though. For example, the labeling machine has been given the moniker “Sticker Licker”. All the signs, of course, reflect the corporate color palette. The tasting room is like none I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in … a few). Ambient light is kind of orange and dim but not too dim to read. It’s weird and edgy without being threatening. The soundtrack is decidedly hippy with lots of Grateful Dead and Cream. The signage is, like their labels and cartons, in keeping with the overall look and feel of the product.
Yours truly in the tasting room. Check out the lighting.
Everything about the tasting room screams the Magic Hat brand. 
You might be asking yourself “What has this to do with technology?” That’s okay. Go ahead, I’m not insulted. I’ve not gone off the rails. In fact, it has everything to do with technology. Technology folks forget that technology is usually realized as a product. Products are bought and sold and how we manage to do that is important. The type of tight brand and product management that you see at Magic Hat is the same that you see at companies like Apple. Everything connects. They have a playbook and stick to it. Deviation from form is not a good thing. It confuses consumers and makes it hard for them to connect to your products.

I can still hear you out there saying “Well, we don’t make consumer products so this doesn’t apply.” What?! You have consumers too, no matter who you are. You might call them customers, clients, or fellow employees but someone is consuming  the stuff you make. Branding matters to them for these reasons:
  1. It provides a point of reference. When you see an HP computer you know it’s an HP because of it’s design elements. This is why monkeying around with your logo is a dangerous thing. Not just the logo either but colors, shapes, packaging, the whole tragedy.
  2. It attracts people. Consumers need to know about what you have to offer. Branding helps cut through the white noise of the marketplace. It doesn’t matter if it’s the whimsy of a beer company or the messaging of an OEM tech company. Folks need a reason to listen to you. Your being there isn’t enough.
  3. If coupled with great product, it builds loyalty. The ultimate goal of branding is to associate your product with some set of emotions that makes them want to keep in touch and consume more. And to tell all their friends too.
So much technology marketing is bland and gyrating, changing with every new model. Shifting branding causes confusion. Again, the technology master here is Apple. You can instantly recognize their products, logo, even color schemes. It changes over time but always in line with the overall branding. Their brand changes incrementally not radically.

Now, there are reasons for radical brand transformation. If the brand has gotten so stale it sends the wrong message, it may need a facelift. If something very bad has gotten connected with your current brand, then a reboot may be in order. Radical restarts of a brand without real need are usually disastrous. New Coke anyone? Didn’t think so. As the Magic Hat (and Apple) example shows, brand is not just a logo. It’s everything from the box it ships in to the design of the product to social media. It all has to come from the same source, from the same core.

So, tech companies have a lot to learn from how a small company like Magic Hat makes it’s presence known in a very competitive field. Take marketing beyond just a graphics manual and encompass all aspects of the company and products. At Magic Hat, even the guy pouring beer in the tasting room exuded the Magic Hat brand. That is the only way to attract and keep customers. That and awesome product. Don’t forget that. Magic Hat would be nothing if the beer was lousy. And their beer is anything but lousy.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Storm Clouds Approaching

IT shops have gotten to the point where they have a good handle on managing servers, networks, and storage. Headway is being made toward managing their virtual equivalents. Now, we have to add cloud computing to the mix. Cloud management may be the next great pain in the neck for IT shops. At the moment, not enough folks are seriously deploying in the cloud for it to be a crisis. That will change as more IT professionals accept cloud computing as something they can use to manage that tricky balance between cost and performance.
There are two paths we can go down (but in the long run) there’s still time to screw things up1. First, if cloud systems management is too difficult and the tools too primitive for too long, deployment to the cloud will be much slower and might even reverse. If, however, the benefits of the cloud are enough that deployment continues apace, sysadmins and programmers alike will find themselves wishing for someone to put them out of their misery. The sheer lack of tools will drive them to drink.
Cloud management is unlike other systems administration. Usually big chunks of an application, such as a service, are deployed to servers. With clouds, little bits of application, including individual and transient objects can be anywhere. Worse yet, individual objects might be parceled out to different clouds depending on their resource or security needs. It is possible to have different objects instantiated on different cloud services, public and private, which in turn execute them on different physical resources. Distribution on this scale can be very tough to deal with on conventional systems. No one is really sure how that will play out in a cloud.
The other big difference between clouds and other infrastructure, at least public clouds, is that you don’t necessarily have much visibility into the infrastructure. Managing applications that are not only distributed in a cloud but hidden behind a vendor’s veil of secrecy is like driving in a blinding snow storm. I don’t recommend it. There’s too much trust in the unseen and unknown.
How do you manage this type of environment? One approach is to build monitoring into the individual application objects. Daesin, an open source cloud API written for Java, allows this. Problem is that you have to build monitoring into your application objects and may be language dependant.
Standards will make a difference. The DMTF just announced an initiative for cloud monitoring called the Open Cloud Standards. DMTF management standards have spurred vendors to develop management products in the past.  Open cloud interfaces such as Open Stack will also help since it will provide an open and standard platform for accessing clouds. These type of standards make it easier to develop software to manage cloud services. Right now, folks who develop cloud infrastructure software such as TwinStrata have to interact with nearly a dozen APIs from many different vendors. It’s basically a Tower of Babel which makes software development much more difficult. Development will become easier when there is a single or limited number of APIs to deal with. When development is easier more tools will become available.
So, if you truly be believe that clouds are the next big thing, the next SAN/NAS or the next J2EE or .Net, then you need to start worrying about how to manage them. Now. 

1. My apologies to Led Zeppelin. Stairway to Heaven does not deserve that kind of abuse.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I’ve Seen An Elephant Fly

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, Apple proves that they are more clueless than even I imagined. In fact, I thought that since they had handled the crisis regarding their new product - the iPhone 4 - so poorly that they had already reached the depths of crisis management.

I admit it. I was wrong.

They have shown that they can go further, faster than anyone could have imagined. Only in the wrong direction. I’m impressed but not in a good way. Apple made three mistakes, real obvious ones at that. First, they used the term “Antennagate” during their press conference  and then said they wouldn’t say it anymore. Too late! Not only is it out there now but it will be linked with Apple forever. It sounds petulant to say “Antennagate” then declare it off limits. Does Steve Jobs really think he has the ability to order the world not to use the term anymore? Instead, he validated a concise label, something easy to remember. If Apple wanted the word to go away, they should not have acknowledged it. It would have died out on it’s own. Now it will forever be linked to Apple.

Second, they offered their customers a sop. Instead of vowing to fix every iPhone with the problem, they are giving away a free case. Wow! How generous. The case will actually help reception but it’s clearly a cheap gesture not a grand one. That has not been lost on Apple fans. The company clearly isn’t showing them the love.

Finally, they went on to say this is a problem that all of their competitors have too. The reaction from the other smartphone manufacturers is what you’d expect. They laughed at Apple for trying to make this their issue. Besides, customers don’t buy  the “they suck too” defense from a company that talks about the superiority of its products. When your kids come home from school with a bad grade and say “lots of other kids did bad too”, do you take that? No! Instead they get the well known parental refrain of “I don’t care what other kids did. I only care what you did.” Pointing out flaws in others, even if it’s true, does not relieve you of your responsibility. Apple customers know this. It’s time to drop the excuses and fix their relationship with their customers.

So, it only gets better. Apple keeps setting new lows for crisis management. Someone needs to get over there and pull them out of this infinite loop.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Swift Kick In The Apple

I’m not a great believer in schadenfreude. Finding joy in other people’s misery does not say something positive about me so I try not to engage in it. However, with some companies, it’s too tempting to ignore.  Apple is one of those companies. In my opinion, they sell a lot of style over substance. Pretty much anyone who has developed for Apple environments such as the iPhone or Mac will attest to them being control freaks. They are the epitome of a closed system. Apple, and Apple alone, decides if your App gets to be in the App Store. They are not exactly forthcoming with the criteria for rejection either. At times it has appeared that they were rejecting apps from competitors for all the wrong reasons. They make Microsoft seem like Open Source.

So, it was with a bit of guilty glee that I have followed the latest iPhone 4 debacle. Why, because Apple approached it with their usual arrogance. Even though it was obvious to a first year Electrical Engineering major that there was a problem with the antenna, they denied it. It wasn’t the signal that was wrong, they said, it was how the software measured it. The first thought that came to mind was “So, it’s always had a lousy signal. Silly us. Thanks for pointing that out.”

Now, they are suggesting but not really admitting that they may have an antenna problem. Still, the reaction is slow. Everyone has to wait for a press conference starring Steve God… I mean Jobs. This is classic Apple. They think they can fix this with a marketing event. The arrogance is astounding.

Here's a quick lesson in Crisis Management 101. First, you admit that you may well have a problem, that your customers are not stupid rubes who don’t know how to hold a phone. You don’t blame partners and faceless engineers. Second, you investigate quickly and offer to replace the product if there is indeed a hardware problem. You let anyone return the product whether you can prove there is a problem or not. Most people won’t but it’s the kind of gesture customers appreciate. Finally, you fix or replace all the problem devices for free. Even if you take it on the chin financially in the short term, you will have built long term value and enhanced your brand. For a company dependant on brand, like Apple, this was an opportunity to build long term loyalty.

What you don’t do is deny that there is a problem before you’ve even investigated it. You don’t act like your customers are morons. Most importantly, you don’t tell everyone to shut and up and take what you give them. This type of attitude takes an opportunity to connect with customers and turns it into a lot fewer customers.

More than anything else, you check your ego at the door. You act humble, sorry for the pain that you caused your loyal and beloved customers. This seems to be something that Apple is genetically incapable of doing. You think they would have learned from the recent Toyota debacle. Silence is deadly here. Arrogance is even worse.

At one point in my career, I was on both sides of this type situation at once. Network boards that we had been shipping were failing. Most were caught by our manufacturing QA engineers. Those that weren’t we offered to take back from customers even if they hadn’t seen problems yet. The contract manufacturer tried to deny that there were problems at all. Then they tried to deny that they had anything to do with it even when we showed them the defects. Finally, we had to threaten to pull all of our business from them. Suddenly, they were willing to admit and rework all the boards. Needless to say, we weren’t looking to send them any new business. We no longer trusted them.

This is classic Apple. Too bad. They had an interesting opportunity to make their customers trust them, to grow loyalty, and turn a bad situation into a positive one. They’ve done the opposite. In the long term, this will haunt them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Make ‘Em Laugh! But Be Careful…

One of the best ways to gain attention is through humor. Comedy sticks in your brain. It releases endorphins which put you in a good mood triggered by what you are watching. Personally, I think Geico is the Master here. Besides the Gecko and Cave Men, they also have what I call “serious guy”. He tells you that Geico will save you 15% or more on your car insurance. To prove he’s not lying he asks “Was Abe Lincoln Honest?” This is followed by a hilarious fake film clip designed to look like it was from the Civil War. The one with the little piggy crying “wee wee wee” all the way home is equally memorable. Geico has a whole channel of these on YouTube. They are really entertaining and might save you 15% or more on your car insurance.
These ads work because the message is simple (save money on your insurance), are linked to iconic characters, and are genuinely funny. We are talking classic comedy here. The kind your kids and mom can appreciate. It helps you to link Geico to positive emotions. Ask anyone about Geico and they start to chuckle. The simple message sticks in you head. Even if you don’t know how much they claim to save you,  you will recall that they save you money because it is linked to a positive emotional response.

You knew there was a gotcha here though. There are a lot of ways to take that positive feeling, turn it around 180 degrees, and trash your product message. Here’s my hit list of ways to turn funny into lost opportunity:
  1. Use mean stereotypes. A recent Storwize video portrays a a storage administrator -  an IT professional and presumably a customer - as an overweight, sweaty guy dressed in a white short sleeve shirt and tiny black tie. In other words, he’s Dilbert. He even gets abused by his data storage. A true loser. This has just got to insult IT people. And overweight people too. Lovely, a twofer. I did check with some sysadmins/IT pros I know about this. They were not amused.
  2. Being ironic. As in hipster ironic not real irony. Advertising that is full of snarky, insider jokes never works. Inevitably, someone doesn’t get the joke. Tech advertising can be like this. You try to be funny but it comes across as geeky. It’s all the internal references and acronyms folks. It doesn’t play well with the people who have to write the checks or the end users. Now, reduce it to a twitter Tweet and you get a lot of “Huh?” reactions. If your ad is making a play on the word iSCSI, it will have a small audience.
  3. Complex messages. Geico’s ads work (just like the Budweiser frogs) because the message is straightforward. Technology advertising tends to be a tad more complex. As in incomprehensible. How can you be funny when you jam  several technical and business messages into 3 minutes? You can’t. Even if you start out funny, you are soon mired in Dullsville. Keep It Simple! When Dell ran a serious of ads full of colorful laptops being created to the song lollipop, it was cute, delightful, and humorous. It also got the message across that a laptop was a treat, something you enjoy and not just a tool. You ruin funny when you add complexity.
  4. No message at all or no connection to the product. Lots of these abound, especially in print. No pictures or mention of a product. Something cute and funny that grabs our attention and then… nothing. You have to connect the good feelings that the humor gives you to something. Otherwise the arousal is lost in space.
  5. Overdo it. One of the few places Geico blew it was when they overexposed the Cave Men. A whole TV show devoted to them was quite over the top. When you see or hear something repeatedly, you start to like it more. After a certain point, however, it gets overexposed and you begin to like it less. Psychologists have known about this behavior (called the Familiarity Principle) since the early 1960’s.
I like funny advertising. I love funny blogs, Tweets, songs and jingles, websites, Facebook posts, and videos. It gives me a good feeling which I then transfer to whatever it is someone is trying to sell. It might not close a sale but it puts the company on the list of “products to look at”.

A local company called Mighty Taco (awesome fast food by the way) has humorous placemats that often feature something local like the Queen City Roller Girls roller derby league. They also have a bunch of weird, quirky commercials that you only see late at night when it’s cheap. Even their website is funny. The message is simple - “Eat our food!” If you live anywhere near Buffalo, NY, the very mention of the name Mighty Taco makes you smile. That’s perfect advertising.

Only, now I’m hungry. Perhaps it worked too well.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Let’s Get Something Clear About Transparency

I have noticed a lot of bloggers coming clean about how their blogs are influenced by who they work for. One of my favorite bloggers, Marc Farley (aka 3PARFarley) recently published his statement. To say I was not in the least surprised to find that 3PARFarley worked for 3PAR is a bit of an understatement. His tongue and cheek blog can be found at

Never to let an opportunity go by to get some traction from the work of others, I wish to add my own transparency statement. Here it goes:

Unlike so many other bloggers, I can honestly say that my blog is not influenced by any company. That’s because I am not part of any company. It’s not what I would choose but it gives me the opportunity to say “No one tells me what to do (other than my wife)!” For the right money I’m willing to change all that. Not the part about the wife. I would never change that. Love ya honey.

I write what I write because I think it’s right. Or maybe because I’m a blowhard who likes to hear himself talk. Perhaps it’s so that I don’t have to find meaningful employment and can call myself a blogger instead. It could be a mental illness such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Who knows. Or it could be that the aliens tell me to write. Good thing they don’t tell me what to write because then this would be one big horrible lie. I couldn’t live with that.

I don’t like to admit this but this has not always been the case. Not the part about aliens silly. They’ve always been there. No, the company part. I have blogged for companies that I worked for and it surely influenced my personal blog. Not in the form of shilling for the company (that’s what corporate blogs are for) but in staying away from certain topics or companies so as not to offend someone who contributed to my livelihood. The unfortunate accident of my current situation frees me from that worry. I am now truly free to annoy anyone I choose… unless I’m interviewing with them. Then I have to wait until they stop calling back to use them as a piñata. Just kidding about the piñata part. No really. No worries. But next time get a non-disclosure…

My problem with transparency statements (mine and Marc’s excluded of course) is that they assume that we are all too stupid to figure out that most blogs are sponsored, paid for, or otherwise influenced by a corporation. Come on folks! What ISN’T manipulated by a company these days? Please don’t act like anyone is hiding something. Gosh, what was the giveaway? The corporate logo on the top of the page? How about the bio that starts with “I work for (insert company name here)”? I’m not cynical, just realistic. Even most of the so-called private blogs say things like “These views do not reflect the views of my company.” The heck they don’t. Let’s have someone lambast the CEO and see if the disclaimer saves his job. Of course it won’t so you stay away from certain topics. That’s influence. See the advertising on the blog? Do you think that comes without strings? Sorry but no. The first time you lose an advertiser because of what you write you learn quickly not to write that again. It might not even be conscience but it’s there all the same.

To the folks who cry about transparency and journalistic integrity I have this to say: This is not journalism. It’s commerce. Most blogs that don’t come out of a new agency are a form of advertising. I would make a Fox News joke now but I hear they have mean lawyers. Just kidding. I love you legal guys.

Most people get that. It doesn’t mean there isn’t value in what the blogger writes but it is, at least partly, marketing. If you can’t tell if someone is selling you something then assume they are. Even me. I’m not but it’s better that you assume I am if you aren’t sure. Trust me on that.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this pledge:

I’m not selling you anything but truth. I’ll NEVER sell you anything but truth. Remember that when I go to work for a big company. I’ll never change. Not even then. I’m just like that. You can take that to the bank.

At least for now.

Author’s Note: Ask about our convenient sponsorships. You too can reach a targeted audience of high worth individuals through blog ads. Inquire with the author. Reasonable rates.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Quick Comments on Comments

For quite some time, a great number of people have told me that I should turn commenting back on for this blog. Some made it sound like I needed to turn commenting on. That the world would be destroyed in 2012 and it would be my fault for not turning on commenting. And the Mayans. Don't forget the Mayans and their stupid calendar.

But seriously, I listened and I responded. I turned the comments back on and guess what happened?


That’s right. Almost no comments. Talk about feeling unloved. Worse yet, many people didn’t even realize they were back on. What’s horrible about that is that I wrote a blog entry on it. That probably means that no one is reading my blog. Sigh…

It’s like having to come to terms with your mortality. It leaves you with a sense of your insignificance in the universe. This is the problem I see with commenting. You either are inundated with flaming chaff or deadening silence. The great democratic community of rational thought that Internet commenting was supposed to create has never really materialized. It didn’t happen when the action was on forums and news lists. It didn’t happen in AOL chat rooms. Other action happened in AOL chat rooms but we don’t need to go there.

I have a theory as to why this is. It has three parts.

  1. People only want to have in depth conversations with people in person. Over the phone or even through IM, but not in an anonymous forum or comment page. It’s too impersonal.
  2. Humans are social creatures who need real interactions with people they know. You want to know the people you interact with. We want to talk with Joe Smith not weirdtechguy25. A Twitter feed or a blog is a form of publishing. The one talking to the many. When it’s one to one or a small group like commenting is supposed to emulate, you want to know the people you are dealing with. Otherwise how can you judge what they are saying. The context is wrong.
  3. The jerks, flamers, spammers, and other social misfits do not follow the rules of polite society. They are the Internet equivalent of the guy standing in the middle of Times Square shouting gibberish at his hand. We instinctively move away. When this happens in comment pages and forums, the rest of the population moves away from them and they are all that’s left. Yelling gibberish at their virtual hand. Not pretty. The meek may inherit the Earth but the weird will inherit the comment page.

This, by the way, shows the genius of Facebook. Whether Zuckerman and crew realized it at the time they had hit upon the real way we want to interact with people in cyberspace – just like we do in real life. We only want to converse and share pictures with people that we know and like. Not anonymous strangers but folks we know on some level. In that environment, not unlike in person, social pressures keep people from acting like asses. We don’t mind inviting a friend of a friend either. But someone has to vouch for them and their behavior.

So there you have the problem with comments and forums. Once you remove the need to adhere to social norms, once you eliminate the need to act like a civilized person, some number of people will revert back to animals. It’s like pulling the control rods out of the reactor. Soon or later, things get out of control and BOOM!

Here’s my solution (listening Blogger?) – let bloggers have to “friend” people before they can comment. Let us toss them if they act out of line. Don’t moderate the comments, moderate the people. Only let people into the party if they have an invitation.

With that in place, comments will be something worth having. Of course, that assumes that anyone is reading the blog in the first place. I can dream.

One quick note to my international readers. If you want to post comments, please do it in English. I know that is terribly provincial of me but if I can’t read something it is summarily dismissed. Sorry, but that’s the way it has to be. Thanks for understanding.