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Entries in Cloud Computing (16)


Big Pain Equals Big Gain

Everyone in our solar system knows about the pain going on at HP.  I would not be surprised if even a few extra terrestrials know about HP’s roller coaster ride of CEOs, acquisitions, write downs, re-orgs, lay offs, and other painful stuff.

The tendency of course is to write off a company with this much trouble.  Why work for, work with, sell to, sell with, or even write blog posts about a company that seems to put its business plan in the blender before deciding what to do each morning?  

Well, because with this much pain there is enormous opportunity for gain.  In the fifteen years we have been helping big technology companies market through their partners we have been involved in many conversations with HP.  Most of those conversations have included a significant thread about how HP does things and about how there was no chance the way HP did things was ever going to change.  

Well, things are changing now!

On every measure except market capitalization, where even Facebook has a bigger valuation, HPQ is pretty big.  Seventy three years of history, over one hundred billion dollars in revenue, and 350,000 employees.  Add to this HP’s tens of thousands of business partners that sell their hardware, software, and services all over the world and I would not be surprised if the HP ecosystem was more than a million people strong.

No matter what experts say about the rapid pace of change inside technology companies, every company in every industry avoids change and HP and the technology industry are not immune.  Right now, the move to the cloud and BYOD is moving the pieces around the technology industry chess board and presenting a once in a decade opportunity to companies willing to change big.

So all of the planets are lined up and HP is Jupiter.  

If I were HP, this is what I would want to do with my influence:

  • Make it UNBELIEVABLY EASY to work with HP
  • Set a new TRANSPARENCY standard
  • Establish HP in the CENTER of the ecosystem
  • Make each change FOUNDATIONAL

Clearly these measures build on each other.  Each will have an impact on its own.  With a little luck the compound impact could change the whole industry.


The Cloud is Out of Our Control

Anyone familiar with network diagrams knows that the cloud symbol is used to refer to the things outside of the control of the network owner. In the old days it meant our network connects to the Internet here, or connects to the telephone network here.

Wait, that is still what it means!  By this definition we have had cloud computing since the 50s. What is the big deal about all of this “Cloud Computing” then?

True to the definition, we are shifting more computing from inside our networks to the part of the diagram depicted by the cloud – the part out of our control.

Web email (gMail, Hotmail…) was the first mainstream application of this, but network administrators know that the migration to the cloud started well before that with security services, enhanced phone services, distributed computing grids.  And everyone else is watching as we are now getting cool cloud apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, and Office 365.

So are we just back to timesharing the VAX? Well, no.

Yes MS Azure, AWS, Google App Engine, OpenStack, and the dozens of other offerings do look a lot like mainframe timesharing with one big exception – the new cloud services talk to things inside your network, and talk to each other.

All of this talking is done with Application Programming Interfaces (“APIs”).  These are instruction sets that enable people or computers to interact with systems, without being in the system. 

We will all be hearing a lot about APIs in the weeks ahead because how they are used and who owns them is the center of the currently front page lawsuit between Google and Oracle



Tale of Two Conferences

I was fortunate enough to attend two Cloud Computing conferences today.  They were right next door to each other in Seattle, one at the Sheraton (CloudFair2012) and the other at the Convention Center (Cloud Intelligence Conference).  It was an interesting study in the current state of tech marketing because the CloudFair was dominated by Google and the Could Intelligence Conference by Microsoft.  While it is not really fair to make a full comparison because I could only attend part of each (the CloudFair is in the workshop day of a three day conference and the Cloud Intelligence Conference was only a one day thing), it was a great way to see the contrast between how Google and Microsoft reach out to their markets differently.

The experience reminded me of the great exchange between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at the All Things D conference in 2007 where Walt Mossberg asked them what they appreciated most about each other and Steve said that he admired Bills ability to partner, and Bill said he wished he had Steve’s sense of style.  Two great companies, two completely different approaches.  The same can be said for Google and Microsoft.  Microsoft still knows partners and Google’s “style” is to turn as many of its engineers into marketers as possible.

Microsoft Knows Partners

At the Cloud Intelligence Conference, the speakers were mostly talking about Microsoft Azure and Office 365, and most of the speakers were not from Microsoft, but partners of Microsoft that help Microsoft customers run their Microsoft products.  These partners are formidable companies in themselves, and some have products that integrate closely with Microsoft’s offerings.  The speakers were talented, had a great deal to contribute and were not just pitching their own services.  Since just about every company has Microsoft in its IT infrastructure somewhere, it is a given that the audience were already Microsoft customers.  The presenters took advantage of this fact and were helping Microsoft customers see what was on the way to them from the mothership.  The negative of this approach was that the audience did not feel that they were getting the inside view into Microsoft, and there was a bit of a theme of ‘yes we are keeping up with the cool kids’.  Neither of these is going to push customers off of a platform already through their organizations.

Google Is Not Evil and Engineers are Not Marketers

Google as a company defines itself by declaring what it is not (evil) and continues that method with Google engineers declaring they are engineers and not marketers.  These guys were great speakers, very knowledgeable, easy to listen to, and clearly passionate about Google products.  In addition, and in contrast to Microsoft, they did a good job of letting the audience get a sense for the inside Google perspective.  Developers do like that kind of thing a lot.  The talks were clearly aimed right at the users with no reference to partners or how a partner could use this technology to take better care of its clients.  It is very possible that there were partners in the audience that were going to do just that.  It was interesting that the Google guys were both published authors and took the opportunity to plug their books.  I suppose this could be a result of Google’s culture of academia (where college professors are always writing and plugging their books).  It was a bit ironic however, because they did say they were not going to try to sell the audience anything, well except their books.

Great change only happens when innovation makes things 10 times better.  Clearly the tools available to businesses through the cloud are at least 10 times better, so this is going to be a time of great change and it is hard not to be excited about it.  It will be interesting to continue to observe these two great companies build their tools and their markets.  Along the way Microsoft will surprise everyone and innovate, and Google may even surprise themselves and do some marketing.


The Third Wave of Partnering

Thirty years ago the PC revolution spawned a significant number of companies that today we call “the channel”.  These companies resold computers, parts and pieces, software, and expertise.  Since no company could reach the entire market with an internal sales staff, the millions of people in the channel built the big technology companies like Microsoft, Intel, HP, and Cisco.   These companies have experienced extraordinary change as the decades have passed. 

The first wave of the channel was driven by the mark up associated with selling retail, and it ended about fifteen years ago.  It was replaced by the opportunity to sell services.  This second wave started with simple network administration services and grew to the full complement of services we have today.  The big vendors then got into the game.  Lead by IBM as it recreated itself as a services company in the ‘90s and now generates over half of its revenue from services.  In the last few years, HP bought EDS for $14 billion in 2008, Dell bought Perot Systems for $4 billion in 2009, and Xerox bought ACS for $6 billion in 2010 making the services business – very big business indeed. 

The service offerings of these large firms include everything imaginable and are sometimes easy to visualize: Xerox for example sells document management services instead of copy machines.  And other times incredibly complex: like EMC’s high availability enterprise network attached storage in the cloud.  We are watching big iron make its comeback as each of these big companies builds monstrous data centers and offers a cloud solution for everything.  Wasted processor cycles and storage capacity are being wrung out of these systems and IT labor is being used more efficiently driving down the incremental cost of computing quite rapidly.  Enterprise computing budget line items that used to be over $1 million now seem to cost $50,000 and those that used to cost $10,000 now start at $15 per month per user.  All of this disruption will present many opportunities for add on services – which is the hallmark of the second wave – so the companies in the channel will thrive in the cloud.

If that is not enough excitement for you, the third wave is forming.  At the risk of using another already overused word, let’s call this the platform wave.  There may or may not be a better word, but at least we are not calling it the “Cloud Wave”. To review, in the first wave channel partners marked up hardware or software products, in the second wave channel partners charged for their time/expertise (still a big business), and in the third wave channel partners are part of a platform ecosystem.  Sure, this has been part of the Microsoft strategy for 30 years. Microsoft pioneered the transition from big proprietary platform systems offered by IBM, HP, and DEC in mainframes, to their own small proprietary platform system:  Windows.  Along the way, Microsoft has grown its partner ecosystem to over 600,000 partner companies that have millions of employees worldwide implementing, customizing and maintaining solutions built on the Microsoft platform.  So it is tempting to say that there is nothing new here.  However, one dominant platform is one thing, a dozen is something different all together.

The new platform builders look different because their consumer focus can obscure the view.  Is Google search or a platform, is Facebook social or a platform, is Apple a shiny device maker or a platform, is Amazon a giant online department store or a platform?  They are all of the above, and even if there is a small chance search, social, devices, and shopping could coexist; there is no chance all of these platforms can.  Both Facebook and Amazon made significant announcements last week with the Open Compute Project and Amazon Cloud Drive respectively.  Google, with Docs and Gmail have been in this space for a while, as has Apple with Mobile me, and Microsoft with their rebranded Office Live services and Azure., Oracle, SAP, HP, and Dell are also developing cloud solutions.    

As stated above, the second wave (services) is likely to get bigger as these platforms deploy because companies are going to need more help than ever to take advantage of all of the new offerings.  So what exactly is the third "platform" wave? 

Wikipedia defines a computing platform as:  some sort of hardware architecture and software framework (including application frameworks) that allows software to run.

The third wave is the new products built on top of the platforms. There have always been products built on platforms (think MS Office on Windows, or Garage Band on OS X), but this era is different because the platforms are not machine dependent (i.e. are accessed by devices ranging from smart phones to set top boxes), and there are so many products.  If you still think this is the same old thing, consider Dropbox, Evernote, Zotero, or SpotCloud, or even a Wordpress server running on Amazon’s EC2. These new applications run on the platforms, and also enable other new applications – Zotero can be made more portable by storing files in Dropbox. 

At present there are over 380,000 active apps in the Apple App Store and over 250,000 in the Android Market.  Amazon does not publish numbers, but the growth of its EC2 and other cloud offerings is pervasive.  The opportunity to carve off a small specialized piece of this new marketplace is attracting many new entrants to the channel – and converting a sizable number of existing channel partners.

In the months ahead, channel partners will be spending considerable energy evaluating the merits of the platforms offered by these and other companies and success or failure will ride where they choose to make their investments.  


Not What it Seems

I read a study once that said if you want to change the culture of a company it will take 7 years -- unless you replace 50% of the employees.  Have you ever watched a company move its headquarters more than a few hundred miles and wondered -- why are they doing that?  It must be an incredible distraction!  And think of all the people that would quit..... Ahhhhh.... I get it.

A similar thing happens when a company decides to buy an enterprise level business application.  The reasons are not always what they seem.  Senior decision makers buy because they want their salespeople to sell.  Selling is hard work and many salespeople would rather stay in the office and work on reports than go out and do the heavy lifting.  Standardized reports from can fix that in a minute.  When someone else is producing the reports -- salespeople have nothing else to do but sell. does not even have to be good.  It just has to take away all of the excuses for not selling.

The proliferation of cloud based business applications that just work, and enable knowledge workers to focus 100% of their effort on their actual jobs, will produce the next 10x jump in knowledge worker productivity.  (see my post yesterday for more on this thought).



Part Time Computer Operator  

For the past 25 years every knowledge worker has needed a certain amount of technical skill in order to work.  Knowledge of operating systems, general business applications, and job specific tools have been required in order for a knowledge worker to add value and justify getting paid.  So work has been a combination of operating the computer and doing the actual work.  

Initially, the increases in productivity were astounding.  Moving from a hand written ledger to a spreadsheet application was at least a 10x increase in worker productivity.  I am no productivity expert, but my own personal experience would lead me to conclude that over the past 10 years this trend has flattened.   Once computers got sufficiently powerful to do the work normal knowledge workers needed done, the tool makers just added complexity -- which may have even reversed some of the productivity gains.

The last big improvement in knowledge worker productivity was probably the widespread adoption of email with attachments.  this would have been in the mid to late 90's.  Since then computers have gotten smaller, faster, and cheaper -- but they have not given us a 10x improvement in productivity.  We can stay in touch with our friends using social media, and watch movies anywhere anytime, but these have not been leaps forward in worker productivity.  We are overdue for the next big step forward.

I bet there was a time when drivers of automobiles could drive without having know anything mechanical.  They just got in and turned the key.  Soon the knowledge worker will not have to know anything about computers in order to add value and justify getting paid.  Computers will just work and knowledge workers will be able to spend 100% of their energy on their jobs.  

One could argue that the time spent now on keeping a laptop running is less than 10% of a knowledge worker's effort.  So removing this would not produce a 10x productivity improvement.  I propose that many workers confuse the time they spend serving as computer operators as a value added activity.  Building spreadsheets is work -- right?  Once a knowledge worker can dedicate all effort towards the actual job -- big gains in productivity will occur.

I can give my daughter an iPad and she just knows what to do.  No time spent being a computer operator.  Soon we will be able to do the same thing at work.  A new person to the team could contribute value on day 1 -- 100% of the time.



Intuit and the Tyranny of the Uptime Clock

Those of you following my Twittering and blog posts must think I have become obsessed with the Intuit outage.  At CSG we operate a hosted enterprise software service and face the tyranny of the uptime clock -- just like Intuit.  As the technology industry moves to adopt cloud computing, we all suffer a credibility loss when a major player like Intuit has a long term outage like this one.  The lack of an explanation, and generally poor levels of communication by Intuit during this episode does not help.  Sure they could not post on their own websites while down, but they have official blogs outside of their control that were up and so they did have the ability to communicate.  Here is a short list of the communications:

Intuit on Twitter @Intuit: First post was 11.5 hours into the outage, at this writing 8 posts, including a gap of 16 hours before the latest post saying they are now on the way back up.   The posts pointed to their community page with 4 undated or time stamped updates, and 2 references to the small business blog, where they posted an update 12 hours into the outage.

Quicken on Twitter @Quicken: First post was 13 hours into the outage, at this writing only 4 posts -- saying they are working on it.

Official Quicken Blog:  No posts, last post was April 26th.

Quickbooks on Twitter @Quickbooks: No posts, last post was May 21st.

The main site just now came back online -- making the outage approximately 34 hours in duration.  Current explanation: 

Our preliminary investigation indicates the outage occurred during a routine maintenance procedure Tuesday night. An accidental power failure during that procedure affected both our primary and backup systems, taking a number of Intuit websites and services offline. While power was quickly restored, we're working diligently to validate our systems and bring them back into full operation.

Intuit reported 300,000 online customers in May of this year -- many of whom use accounting and merchant services applications that require near universal uptime.  In the industry this is often referred to and "four nines" or "five nines" uptime for 99.99% and 99.999% uptime.

A few basics about uptime:  Scheduled outages are usually not included in the calculation, so the .001% downtime permitted in five nines uptime buys only 5.26 minutes of unscheduled downtime in a year.  Three nines gets you almost an hour, and two nines gets you almost a day.  Fortunately nobody died in this outage, so even a 34 hour outage is not a catastrophe on the BP scale.  But it will take 388 years of perfect uptime before Intiut can claim five nines of uptime.

All of us are relieved that they are back online.  This event will undoubtedly slow migrations to the cloud, and should give all of us reason to check and recheck our redundancy and uptime plans.  In addition, we should be checking and rechecking our communication plans associated with any downtime.  We are certainly capable of turning a bad situation worse by failing to communicate well with customers.



Intuit's Cloud Outage

When I saw some traffic in Twitter last night about Intuit's web site going down I first thought it would be back up in a minute and would be no big deal.  An hour later I checked back -- still down.  I checked @intuit, @quicken, and @quickbooks on Twitter thinking they would post an update -- none.  I searched for Intuit related blogs -- no posts in over a month!

Knowing that millions of people use intuit's accounting, payroll, tax preparation, and merchant services, and thinking that these activities are almost always time sensitive, I naturally thought that this was going to be a big story. Next I thought that since small businesses are a big deal for technology companies, and technology companies want small businesses to adopt cloud computing, this would be a big deal in the technology industry.  A major vendor like Intuit going down for hours without any communication to its users is enough to set back cloud adoption a few years -- right?

So I searched the news on Google about a story.  Top search result: Intuit press release about low cost Payment Solutions, next was CEO Brad Smith being profiled by "Inspiring West Virginians", and the next four were all about stock performance upgrades due to good recent financial results.  No stories about the outage.

Back to Twitter, a real time search for Intuit Down:  just a few tweets.  Nothing like I expected.

When a $3 Billion company with millions of customers goes down for over 12 hours without a mention in the press, without an update to its customers, and without any public outcry to speak of I can only conclude one of three things:


  1. I fell down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole and never came back, or 
  2. Not communicating during a crisis works -- no communication = no crisis, or
  3. Not that many people are using Intuit's Cloud Services.


I did watch the movie and even with the 3D I don't think I am chasing the Jabberwoky -- so #1 is out, BP and others will tell you that #2 is not true, so logic tells us that #3 could be the most rational conclusion.

Intuit's recent acquisition, Mint, has stayed up the whole time.  No mention on any of Mint's blogs either.



HP Announces Printing in the Cloud

HP rolled out its web printing capability, ePrintCenter, at Internet Week NY yesterday.  Here is a pretty good article in PC Mag about it.  

I don't ordinarily write about individual technology announcements, so why would I write about this?

Well, yesterday I wrote about two things that could really change the way small businesses buy technology: Google's Cloud Printing and's web based scheduling service.  Google's thing is still just a plan and HP has promised to deliver cloud printing this summer.  

Here is how it will work (from the PC Mag article):

The print-through-the Internet feature (which won't work with the older generation printers, unfortunately) lets you simply e-mail a file to the ePrintCenter's email address, which rasterizes the image and sends the print job to the printer. According to HP, the ePrintCenter can handle files in most common formats, including PDF, JPG, and Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 versions of Word and Excel. Each printer gets a unique e-mail address.

I stopped buying HP printers for home a couple of years ago because they break so much and the software on the PC was gigantic.  Why printing would require software in the hundreds of MBs just never made any sense to me.  Add to that the fact that the software was telling me to download updates every other day -- and I was reminded early and often that HP was not the printer to buy.  All I wanted to do was print!

Anyone who has ever done tech support will tell you that printing is still a giant pain in the neck.  If HP does this right -- it could be a game changer.

This may not seem like a big deal -- but I bet the Microsoft Small Business Server team is thinking about the implications.




Could Small Business Go Without Networks?

Lately I have noticed two very interesting developments that don't seem like much at first but could have bigger implications down the road.  

First is Google's Cloud Printing Initiative

This yet to be released product is intended to let you connect printers to the web and print to them from anywhere.  I for one would appreciate this very much because my side job as tech support guy for my kids would get much easier.  Our network printers at home are a pain in the neck.

Second is's Web Based Scheduling System

This new service enables anyone to coordinate scheduling across multiple calendar platforms.  Exchange has done this forever inside companies -- but such functionality has not been available between companies before.

If you put these two things together, small businesses can delay building their own networks much longer than before.  Add to this cloud based file storage, databases, and collaboration tools and small businesses may not need their own networks.  Just a router and a connection to the internet.

That would change things a bit.