Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS)

As I sit here this Tuesday before Thanksgiving, in seat 9C on a United flight flying west to east, I am crowded and agitated by the individual sitting in seat 8C who has been trying to get their seat to lay horizontal for the last two hours (hey buddy it’s a limited recline), but thankful for the time I am afforded to ponder what was, what is and what will be. Fueled by thoughts from a meeting I am returning from, some other recent conversations and encounters I’ve had over the past few weeks. This blog post is a digest of some of my thoughts and their genesis. I should note that there are a few thoughts conveyed on various topics in this post which I tweaked over a one month period. I apologize in advance for anything that may seem incoherent or disconnected.

With a National Sales Meeting (NSM) approaching and a short presentation slot to fill, I have been thinking about the best way to convey my thoughts, my vision and a call to action. I’ve started to crystallize my ideas over the last few weeks, as I have been critically thinking through the business, what once was, what is, what will be, why and most importantly my reasoning. I am also thinking about some of the thoughts conveyed in a book I recently read entitled “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon”.  In the book, the author (Brad Stone) discusses how Amazon (specifically Jeff Bezos) replaced the use of Powerpoint to convey ideas, instituting what has become known as the six-pager, a four-to-six-page memo/narrative. The reasoning is that Powerpoint-style presentations somehow provide permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas. I am a “narrative” sort of person, I enjoy thinking deeply and conveying not only my ideas but my reasoning, my inspirations, my thoughts on potential outcomes, etc… I enjoy context, and I believe context is a critical component when trying to convey intangibles like belief, passion and motivation. I like and respect how Amazon forces people to think deeply, far too often we assume people will not read memos, emails, etc… We live in a world where we seem to believe cognition is assisted by attempting to get our point across using pictures and captions of 140 characters or less (lousy spelling and grammar, with the all too familiar excuse of favoring velocity of response over coherency, are a bonus). What a sad state of affairs! I am both insulted and frightened by the trend, and I expect more, much more. The big question is, are these the people you want to consider leaders within your organization? We need to expect more! The six-pager represents, demands and tests everything that we should expect of leadership. My presentation at this year’s NSM will be delivered via a Jupyter Notebook and will highlight innovation and try to force people to think deeply about what is possible, to take the examples provided and visualize what could be rather than what is. I hope this will be an interactive 30 mins and my goal is to challenge and test the audience’s cognitive skills.

With all of the above said let’s move on. I believe that it is undeniable that the market is shifting in such a way that cognition may be the most critical skill for success. The ability to carry knowledge forward is diminishing; the market is moving too fast. Our ability to convert knowledge to wisdom which aids cognition is the difference maker. We all sell a widget of some sort; the key is how we will differentiate our widget, I believe more than ever that differentiation requires relevant intellectual property, something you possess that no one else possesses. This intellectual property needs to be translated into a dialect our customers can understand. The ability to articulate how our unique value adds value to our customers business is critical. In my business, this is services, but we all operate against objectives and within constraints, this next set of thoughts will focus on my perspective on services and required decision making.

This following attempts to outline my thoughts on service engagement types, markets,  challenges and required decisions.

 

 

 

 

Above the line

  • Large-scale enterprises where professional services workflow is programmatic and sustained. These engagements by default fall into the as-a-service model. Thes accounts understand the cost of program management; they understand opportunity cost, they value quality, on-time delivery in areas of their business which typically they would classify as context.

The potential sweet spot

  • Customers who have enterprise needs but unlike large-scale enterprises who organize areas of the business as core and context the sweet spot customer often classifies all areas of the business as core, but there are core areas of the business which are underfunded and underserved. The challenges in this space are as follow:
  1. Massive market segment.
  2. Lots of work to segment the market into those who understand that we run a “Professional Services Practice” and NOT “Professional Services Perfection”.
    • Those who grasp a professional services practice, understand and accept failure with the understanding that improvement is continuous and iterative.
    • Those who expect perfection will be disappointed. For this segment happiness only exists due to obfuscation and being blissfully unaware. Obfuscation is not a good strategy for developing an equitable business relationship and fostering iterative continuous improvement. The goal should always be continuous improvement, right?
  3. An incredible struggle to align ability with needs, desires, and expectations.

Success is measured by how quickly and engagement sitting in the “potential sweet spot” queue can be assessed and either pushed above or below the line. Engagements which are pushed above the line are often the most successful and value-added engagements.


Below the line

  • Pretty self-explanatory. Our job is to determine if there is a way to move above the line. If not today, maybe tomorrow, but given objectives and constraints playing below the line is not an option.

Those who know me know that I like anecdotal stories. Simple stories (narratives) which dramatize a situation with the goal creating a compelling reason to think deeply. So in this post, I will share a story which is compelling enough to have me think deeply about the idea of Everything-as-a-Service. What I will share in this post is all real, real information, real data, real anecdotes which I have used and most importantly a real market shift.

First, let me start by outlining some business objectives:

  1. Linear growth
    • Not all that exciting because 1+1=2 which means there is not much efficiency or elegance being injected into the business.
  2. Exponential growth
    • A desirable outcome which is more interesting and likely more efficient, but not the objective.
  3. Combinatorial growth
    • This is where we want to be. A focus on efficiency and elegance in our approach creates the ability to do far more with far less.

While exponential growth is an acceptable trajectory, combinatorial growth remains the objective. Our desire for combinatorial growth is what will allow exponential growth to persist.

A few weeks ago (update: a couple of months ago) I was engaged in an opportunity. I was asked by an account executive to have a call with a prospect to talk about a fairly complex consulting engagement. After spending about an hour on the phone with the prospect, explaining our approach, answering questions, etc… the feedback was positive, the customer was considering moving forward, with us on this consulting engagement. As always my next step was to begin to think about execution, how would we execute? Realizing that placing myself on the project is not possible, I crafted an engagement model, identified the resources, engagement cadence, timeframe, etc… and started the wheels in motion to align these things to reduce risk and increase the probability of a successful engagement. This engagement had a finite scope, a reasonably clear set of requirements, a finite timeframe, etc… Fast forward a few weeks (update: a couple of months), and we are many revisions of a proposal later, and it has become a deal which is questionable, distracting and probably not worth doing. Why?

  1. Unbalanced engagement model.
    • The carrot is being oversold.
    • While future opportunity should be considered, an engagement needs to stand on its own merits. If not, the probability of success is dramatically lowered, the quid pro quo is easily escaped due to lack of quality delivery, all the while this was the system that was created from the onset.
  2. Scope creep.
    • What starts as a well defined and finite scope begins to shift to a Maytag repairman model with what is essentially an open-ended T&M scope.
  3. The facade of a commitment and the expectation created.
    • A purchase order creates an implied commitment, but in reality, there’s no commitment by any of the parties involved.
  4. Misalignment of expectations becoming increasingly apparent.
    • A feeling of ownership rather than partnership permeates the air.

I believe Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) has become the trend. When I say trend, I’m implying trending towards the standard, if not already there.

Let me share some anecdotes across a variety of markets (outside tech) which I believe support my belief:

Landscape professionals.  My lawn care company shows up for a mow and leaf cleanup every Friday. They require a contract, they require that the contract is for the entire season, they are rigid on the day of the week they provide (e.g. – I get a coveted Friday mow which took me years to get). If I want something different, there are no hard feelings; my landscaper is just the wrong guy.

Pool service.  I have a pool service, they provide chemicals, clean my pool weekly, etc… The pool service requires a contract for the season, they visit each week, often the pool is clean, but the billing remains the same.

 

 

 

OK let’s move up the stack a bit:

About ten years ago I had pneumonia, I was walking around with it for a year or so, and it was pretty bad, in both my lungs. I was hit so hard that I passed out in Penn Station, made it home on the train and landed in the hospital for over a week while they figured out what was wrong with me. The internal medicine doctor who finally diagnosed me was an excellent doctor and remained my primary care physician for the following three or four years. One day I get a letter that they are shifting the practice to a membership required practice. For $2,500 a year (that was then) you could buy into the practice, if you did not want to pay the $2,500 a year that was OK and they wished you luck in your search for new primary care physician. With managed healthcare erosion impacting service quality this doctor wanted patients that valued high-quality care and wasn’t afraid put faith in his value, to expose what was occurring in the industry and the constraints he needed to work within, he went as far as to hold seminars for patients so they could understand the why.  Sure he lost some patients, but in the end, he moved upstream to service patients (customers) with a higher quality of service.

Let’s look at another medical example. My wife needed Mohs surgery years ago; she went to a doctor who took no insurance, who was very expensive, who was backlogged for months yet this doctor is thriving.

Let’s look at a so-called T&M business model. How about the auto repair industry.

For anyone who knows how this industry works they know that auto mechanics use what are called Chilton rates to quote jobs. E.g. – Front breaks on a 1979 Pinto is four hours of labor at N rate. What’s important here is that the average mechanic can perform these jobs in 1/4th the time.

 

I went a step further, racking my brain to think about time and material (T&M) business that is viable.

Some might say that software developers work on a T&M basis. I would say the T&M, in this case, protects the developer from scope creep and the reality that in an Agile model scope will change. The scope and timeframe are understood and defined, dollars are allocated to each sprint/milestone, and yes this maps back to complexity (story points) and/or required level-of-effort, but the goal is to execute against the milestone and track burndown against the estimations.

As a parent, babysitting popped into my head.

Even my babysitter metrics opportunity cost and maintains an expectation of an equitable supplier and buyer relationship. What sort of person rounds down to the nearest hour when paying their babysitter?

 

 

Now, how about that Maytag repairman? They are not even T&M any longer. The Maytag repairman is associated with appliance repair. Let’s look at how people do appliance repair:

 

 

  1. Manufacturer warranty
    • Fixed cost baked into the price of the new purchase for some period. Highly predictable model.
  2. Extended warranty services, like an American Home Shield (AHS).
    • Large-scale break-fix operations which require an insurance plan with a premium, a deductible for each service incident.

My point here is you can’t even get the Maytag repairman in the Maytag repairman model anymore.

Finally, let’s explore an anecdote about implied commitment and expectations:

I live and work in the New York metro area; there is a common practice of street vendors who sell umbrellas when it rains at exponentially higher prices, simple supply and demand economics. Imagine that the cost of these cheap umbrellas on a sunny day is $2, but when it rains, New Yorkers are willing to pay $10. Now imagine me walking out to the street vendor with an IOU for $100 bucks and telling the vendor that I am committed to them. In this case, I am providing nothing more than an IOU with an expectation that my intent to buy an umbrella from them in the future (at the height of demand BTW) entitles me to be able to buy the umbrella for $2 (50 umbrellas @ $2). In return, my carrot is I will tell my friends that this vendor has quality umbrellas. What response do you think I would receive? Probably very similar to my response to many deals I look at: “WTF are you talking about?”

None of these services model or anecdotes should be challenging to grasp. To deliver quality services, predictability is required, costs are predictable thus revenue streams need to be predictable. To provide quality service delivery you have to staff using a predictable revenue stream, you have to harden schedules, resource allocation, etc… If you can’t; service delivery problems, unhappy customers, etc… are a foregone conclusion. Accommodation is not a strategy for quality delivery or survival.

Everything-as-a-Service is real and powered by Humans-as-a-Service (HuaaS).  Given the finite nature of the human species we’ve begun leveraging automation (call it ML/DL/AI or just old-fashioned automation) to create value beyond viewing HuaaS as just another widget.  To accomplish value creation, finite resources need to be applied to high yield investments.  This will always mean that decisions will continuously need to be made on where to focus, and these decisions may differ from day-to-day as conditions change.  Doing things faster, with greater accuracy, less risk, etc… requires intellect.  The shift from a 100:1 time to value (TtV) ratio to a 1:100 TtV ratios is at the heart of the knowledge economy.  The economic principals of an industrial economy cannot be applied to a knowledge economy.

I’m a skeptic, satiated by large raw data sets, analysis & inference

Speak to anyone who knows me, and they will likely characterize me as a skeptical, pessimistic, anxious, intense, and persistent individual.

If someone sends me a spreadsheet and then calls me to walk me through the numbers my immediate assumption is that the purpose of the follow-up call is to shape my perception. If someone provides me a composite of the figures without the raw data, visible formulas and documented data sources, I also assume manipulation. With this said I am a realist, and I am willing to accept manipulation, but I am honest about acceptance rather than convincing myself otherwise. I am just wired to be vigilant.

For me the glass being half-full represents a lack of fear of it being half-empty, I am motivated to refill the glass by the reality that it is half-empty and what is likely an unhealthy fear of dying from dehydration, but it works for me. From my perspective, the half-empty glass is not depressing or a demotivator it is a potential reality. Now don’t get me wrong, I know there is water in the glass and death is not imminent, but I am incredibly aware and grateful for the opportunity to find a water source to refill my glass.

I spend my days listening to dozens of pitches, where I need to focus, why I need to do x or y, what I am missing out on by not doing x or y, etc… The pitches almost always start with a half-full perspective, selling the positive but it’s amazing how when it doesn’t go the way the pitchman expects the approach shifts to the half-empty perspective, relying on FOMO (fear of missing out) as a last ditch attempt at motivation.

Now let’s face it, no one likes to miss out, but as a realist, I recognize that I can’t do everything, so decisions are required. Forks in the road appear every minute of every hour of every day, and I am greeted at each fork by a host espousing the merits of their righteous path. For someone like me, these decisions need to be my own, driven by raw data (as raw as it can be), analysis and inference. I try to check the near-term outcomes at the door and focus on and visualizing the long-term strategic outcomes, the vision. In my mind tactical activities require little to no thought, they just happen. For example, a visionary looking for a more sustainable model for garbage disposal doesn’t stop taking their garbage to the curb every Monday and Thursday. Accepting what is and executing without much thought IMO avoids paralyzation and makes room in your life and brain for what will be.

So now we arrive at the origin of this blog. I have to make personal and professional bets on where the market is going, what is most relevant and where I should focus my time. Of course, I have a subjective opinion on where I believe the market is going but I like to validate my opinions with some data and with so many people, organizations and news outlets selling their version of the future the question becomes, how do I validate my opinions objectively. Social chatter is meaningful to me as is sentiment analysis. The great news is with a little Python, the use of some APIs and the ELK stack it’s pretty easy to collect data from social media platforms, store it, analyze it and draw some conclusions. One such question that is very relevant to me is what technologies and what OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have mindshare? I’ve been pulling social media data for a few weeks using #hashtags to see what techs and OEMs have the most buzz; I have also been doing sentiment analysis to see if the buzz is good or bad.

Here is my view of the market using social media buzz to determine mindshare (it actually feels pretty on the money):

The world has changed, are you paying attention?

This blog is the result of a restless night where I pondered a recent event where the idea (or existence) of NOC (Network Operations Center) was conveyed as a key component of the ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) paradigm. I find this to be an uber interesting topic and position given that the world has moved (and continues to move) in every way from a centralized to a disaggregated and distributed model. I believe this is true in computing (think cloud, microservices, twelve-factor apps, etc…) and it’s true in the area of human capital management and service delivery.

I thought I would share some of my opinions on the topic, my position as well as some anecdotes that I believe support my thoughts.

First, let me start by saying that we are engaged in a war, a war for human capital, a war where the best knowledge workers don’t look anything like what they looked like twenty years ago, they live in the shadows, digital nomads inhabiting a digital universe.

When I think NOC, here is what I envision:

The above is a picture of the NOC from the movie WarGames which was released in 1983, this was cool and impressed the audience, but it was 35 years ago! It’s probably obvious from looking at my blog header that I am a big WarGames fan. Let’s stay with the Hollywood portrayal of tech for a moment because I think it’s relevant.

Fast forward from 1983 to 2001, 18 years later, and the NOC has given way to the lone hacker, with umteen monitors (quite a setup) working alone to High Voltage by The Frank Popp Ensemble.

Disaggregation and decentralization have become a pervasive theme, message and a way of life. Nowhere is this more evident in than in the Open Source community. Disaggregation and decentralization coupled with a shifting culture that has shifted the motivation of the knowledge worker has given way to an unprecedented pace of innovation which would otherwise be impossible.

The Open Source statistics are truly staggering: https://octoverse.github.com/

Couple what the Open Source movement has taught us about the power of disaggregated and decentralized teams with “the surprising truth about what motivates us” and you’ll realize that the disaggregated and decentralized cultures being built are unlike anything we could have dreamed. The passion, commitment, engagement, communication, execution, and velocity are astounding.

Ask yourself where people (yourself included) go for help, how they build communities, what are trusted sources of information, etc…
Where do developers look for help? StackOverflow, Slack, IRC, Quora, etc…?
Where does the average person look for help? Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc…?

These are all platforms which enable the construction of disaggregated and decentralized communities which create cultures, subcultures, increase engagement, provide better time to value, etc… Are there no lessons to be learned here? There are lessons to be learned, and many are learning these lessons and adapting their engagement models.

I am a techie, and I believe that substance will always prevail over style and the question I continually ask myself as I adjust to keep up with a market which is innovating and changing at an unprecedented pace is how to define the culture? Is what we are doing relevant today and does it put us on a trajectory to where we’ll need to be in 24 months?

And now we have arrived at my thoughts regarding the NOC.

JetBlue made a bold move (which others followed) shifting from reservation call centers to hiring booking agents who work virtually, and their customer service is consistently rated the highest in the industry.

Relevant business models do NOT focus on resource colocation; they focus on resource capability, availability, and collaboration. I would go as far as to say that colocation favors style over substance.

The cultures we build need to focus on leveraging technology to deliver a great total customer experience (TCE). I believe that a 5.3” screen in the hands of hundreds of engineers, elegant engagement processes, procedures, and tools deliver a better TCE than a 60” monitors on the wall in a room with ten engineers with landline phones. Cultural agility over environmental rigidity.

The focus and value here is NOT a finite set of L1, L2 and L3 shift workers in a NOC. Big screen TV’s on the wall, the Bat Phone and people sitting at a desk are style decisions which have no direct correlation to the ability to deliver substance. Our focus needs to be on how to engage and nurture the best knowledge workers the market can offer. Our mission needs to be the creation and cultivation of a culture which fosters engagement. Our ability to engage and escalate to a subject-matter expert (SME) at any time, to improve the TCE by building equitable partnerships which deliver distinct value, with a meaningful escalation path that focuses on MTTW (Mean-Time-to-Workaround) while in parallel determining a root cause and resolution lies in our culture.

We must understand that the world has changed.  We live in a world where seemingly forward-thinking paradigms are obsolete before they are implemented.  The path to success relies on agility and accountability, not rigidity and responsibility.

Reflecting on my inner nerd

Technology has become the modern day version of the ’57 Chevy – at least that is what I keep telling my wife. People are crawling out of the woodwork as self proclaimed technologist – It’s been a long road of abuse to nerdom and I think that far to many people are catching an episode of StarTek 2.0 on G4TV (BTW – if you have not seen StarTrek Cribs on YouTube you have to check it out) and laying stake to the techie guru throne. As I articulated this week to a colleague the road to nerdom is paved with 8th grade wedgies and significant weight loss in the 9th and 10th grade. But that got me thinking, was the cream puff ’57 Chevy the real winner in late 50s or was it the brush painted sleeper that disillusioned the crowd – that’s what the 9th and 10th grade nerds have become, that brush painted nova that cleaned the clock of cherry street rod. The key to the kingdom is learning how to stay true to your inner geek while polishing the external geek. This is one of the first weeks that I have not traveled in the past two months so I have been spending some time knocking some projects off the list, one of those project is a Virtual Appliance – While building the appliance – I do my best work between 8 PM and 3PM a true nerd quality, I realized that I really am a nerd. The proof is in the pictures so lets get started:

Pictures of the Mindstorm robot that guards the door to my home office:

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As if it is not enough that I still play with Legos – BTW these are not normal legos the big box in the middle is an onboard computer – of course I have to spend countless hours writing perl and java code to make my robot do cool stuff like follow my dog around the house – My daughter thinks it is the funniest thing. If you think legos are for kids google “lego mindstorm rcx” or check out this site http://graphics.stanford.edu/~kekoa/rcx/.

Next I found some pictures that I sent to colleagues when my daughter was born – she is 6 days old in these pictures.

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It’s never to early to start educating 🙂

Lastly I have amassed a ridiculous amount of compute power in my house. I think the total number of systems stands at approx 15 not including a few laptops – 1 quad proc and 3 dual proc systems. Virtual machines in the 20+ realm with most major open systems Operating Systems up and running from Windows XP, 2K, 2K3, Linux (Debian and RedHat based distros – my favorites are Ubuntu on the desktop and CentOS on the server), FreeBSD, HP-UX, Solaris and others.

I have to keep the window open in my office in the winter to keep the temperature regulated and in the summer I have a portable air conditioner that runs 24×7. You can see the AC unit in the third picture just to the left of the window – 10K BTU unit does a nice job, this year I put a drain line through the floor and into the basement sink so I do not have to empty the water every day, that was a real pain.

Lots of other equipment including RAID arrays, a Cisco IOS switch, FC Switches, a SCSI bus analyzer, and a SCSI-to-FC bridge to name a few.

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DCP 0526

It’s tough work staying atop the nerd mountain but it sure is fun, and it keeps the house warm in the winter. I also like having enough compute power to do almost anything I need to at home – It’s a huge advantage when you can work a week straight without sleep or a shower 🙂

The Compelling Event

After writing a couple of recent blogs I started thinking about opportunity creation.  I awoke this morning at 4:15 AM with the thought that successful opportunity creation lies in the ability to create a compelling event.  The best sales people I have worked with have an incredible and uncanny ability to create these events.  I believe that while customers are excited by strategy and vision ultimately purchasing patterns are tactical in nature.  Broad compelling events are often created created by industry requirements such as regulatory compliance requirements (i.e. – Sarbanes-Oxley, 17a-4, HIPAA, etc..).  Technology innovators typically create compelling events in the form of game changing technology (i.e. – data de-duplication, content addressable storage, continuous data protections, etc…) these technologies typically address a broader industry compelling event and they aim to provide a unique technological solution to a broader problem.  Lastly individuals have the ability to create a compelling events, orchestration and articulation of a solution that encompasses the problem, the technological solutions and the business process and benefit.

This idea popped into my head after reading through a one of my previous blog posts in which I spoke about VMware and partition offsets.  I was prompted following a link back to the original blog from the VMTN (VMware Technology Network) and comments such such as the following on the VMTN:

“Umm… let’s just say you need to do a better job educating. No idea what any of this means, and I’ve installed dozens of ESX farms.”

“…nobody has kept track of real geometries on drives for 10 or 15 years”

These are frightening comments.  Think of all the ESX users experiencing sub-optimal performance based on the fact that I believe this represents the rule rather than the exception.

Hence this got me to thinking about the term “Trusted Advisor” once again.  It is obvious that “Trusted Advisors” across the world are chasing the ubiquitous technology opportunities such as Microsoft, Cisco IP networking, etc… To me these advisors are analogous to the doctor you goto when you need some penicillin – you know your sick, you just can’t write the script so you goto a doctor and pay the $5 co-pay for a broad spectrum antibiotic.  At one point the diagnosis and treatment of influenza was a specialty but this train has left the station.  These advisors deal in volume and while they may harbor discrete expertise unfortunately not only are the problems ubiquitous but the solution and the expert knowledge is as well.  On the other hand there is the doctor who sees 10 patients a year who deals in a specialized field that seems to be outside the grasp of the masses, he is expensive but worth the money to those who capable of affording him or her.  BTW – Nothing precludes the specialist from playing in the volume business if he or she so chooses, it begs the question of why they don’t?

With this all said, value is measured by ones ability to comprehend and quickly cross-reference symptomatic  information with expert knowledge in an area where others are incapable of comprehending the complexity.  If anyone watches the TV show “House“, this is the advisor I am describing.  Back to my example of VMware and partition offsets, VMware two years ago was perceived as a fairly complex, the certification pass rates were far lower than they are today.  VMware made a conscious effort to remove the need for command line expertise realizing that most users were coming from the Windows world and that pervasive adoption would require simplicity, today 99% of the operational management of VMware happens from the Virtual Center console.  Most users are unaware or just don’t care that the CLI is far more efficient, simplicity has become a primary feature.  It is no wonder that most users disregard aligning partition offsets, after all this would require the command line.

“ILM for the SMB”

ILM or Information Lifecycle Management has been in full swing now for about 3 years and I am going to go out on a limb and state that most organizations have not yet implemented an “ILM” strategy. I believe the reason this is the case is because “ILM” is in fact a vision that has been interpreted and evangelized by many vendors as a strategy.

I presented a session at Storage Networking World in Orlando last week entitled “ILM for the SMB”. This is a scary proposition, most enterprise class organizations have leveraged “ILM” to implement tiered storage strategies and transparent data movement through the use of software to migrate data based on simple taxonomy like last access date, file type, owner, etch… Is there any value in an “ILM” strategy for the the average SMB (Small and Medium Business) who can store their entire data requirements, including overhead for protection on on 3 to 5 disk drives? I think the answer is pretty clear as I stated during the presentation “put all of your data on tier 1 storage and call it a day. you can always add a drive when you run out of space”. Because I was honestly at a loss on how to confidently articulate the value of “ILM” for the SMB I offered up a new definition for the SMB where the “I” in “ILM” changes from “Information” to “Infrastructure”. Many SMBs suffer from what I call the eBusiness syndrome, an epidemic feed by the likes of CDW and Dell . These users buy technology from distributors who offer little or no coaching on the applicability of the technologies or how to extract value from the technology, thus many SMBs find themselves replacing technology or purchasing point solutions and building infrastructures held together for scotch tape and chewing gum. A “Total Solutions” approach where the entire infrastructure is addressed is where SMBs will find the most value when amortized over a reasonable period of time. The ability to cost effectively address enterprise class problems on an SMB budget requires coaching and often a partner who can function less as technology salesman and more as an analyst, helping SMB customer avoid disposable technology, extending the lifespan of the infrastructure and add enterprise class functionality where appropriate.

Below I have paraphrased an example that I gave during my SNW session:

How many SMBs are still running Microsoft Exchange 5.5 even though support is EOL? Why? Cost prohibitive to migrate? Customers running Exchange 2000 or 2003 are probably running on 32bit x86 architecture. Microsoft will release Exchange 2007 on 64bit x86 architecture only, what does this mean? It means that the SMB going from 5.5, 2000 and 2003 will be spending significant dollars to facilitate a painful upgrade process to 2007, potentially investing in new hardware, new OS licensing, new storage capacity, directory services work and finally the Exchange migration work. This is not so bad for the customer who has been running Exchange 5.5 on a Pentium II and NT 4.0 for 8 years (they have gotten their monies worth) but how about the guy who bought a new 32bit server from CDW 2 months ago because Exchange 2000 was running slow, well bad news, support for Exchange 2000 will be EOL and Exchange 2007 requires 64bit architecture. That is the definition of disposable technology.

Reality is that the SMB needs help with “Infrastructure Lifecycle Management”. The ability to predict and extend a solutions life cycle while balancing budget with quality and functionality adds tangible value today, this is not a vision but a strategy which can be applied in a tactical manner.

While today there are few compelling reasons for the SMB to determine how to apply the “ILM” vision to their corporate information infrastructure that may be changing. See my follow-up post entitled “ILM and eRisk”.

Censorship in the blogsphere…

With blogs now being used as a pervasive guerilla marketing tactic we are all to aware that many of the blogs entering the blogsphere are doing so as corporate marketing machines (wolves in sheep’s clothing). The corporate undertones of many blogs is forcing bloggers to take harsher positions to ward of the stigma of corporate influence. I myself have had corporate lobbyists solicit me to change my tone or more closely tow the corporate line. Will corporate executives every really grasp the concept of a blog and what makes it valuable? The unbridled peer-to-peer communication with no censorship is what makes this medium valuable. Unadulterated opinions from real people with a real voice, a written journal of their thoughts and opinions, not corporate propaganda. Sometimes a bloggers opinions will parallel the popular opinion and other times it is going to ruffle feathers, this is what makes blogging so great. It is the “Naked Truth”.

Interested in your thoughts.

-RJB

The flattening continues… Is the paradigm shifting? — Vacation Reading – Part 3

So on my last night of my “official” vacation I thought I would conclude the series with a post that refers back to my inaugural post from July 5th as well as pose some questions about what it could mean from a broader perspective. I just finished an article in the September 18th issue of BusinessWeek outlining how DuPount outsourced legal services to OfficeTiger a Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) recently acquired by R.R. Donnely & Sons Co.

According to the article DuPont aims to save 40% to 60% on document related work and cut $6 million from is $200 million dollar legal budget. Of course there is some associated risk but on the outskirts of Manila DuPont now has 30 Filipino attorneys, including three who have passed the U.S. bar exam. The attorneys sit elbow-to-elbow with 50 staff employees, working three shifts seven days a week they read, analyze, and annotate digital images of memos, payroll and medical records, old engineering specifications, and other documents that might be used as evidence in DuPont legal cases.

As a technologist working in the storage sector I spend a significant amount of time talking with customers about compliance and the need to facilitate e-discovery. We leverage software technologies like enterprise content management applications, Email archiving applications and full-text indexing to facilitate this. As software and hardware vendors we have a major hurdle to overcome, we have a fundamental inability to create meaningful metadata. Is it possible to automate the creation of meaningful metadata that eclipses the simple taxonomy we are capable of today? Does a BPOs ability to read, analyze, annotate, index and retrieve eliminate or decrease the need for such software products? With Asia also being a software development hotbed how long will it be before a BPO like OfficeTiger teams up with or organically grows a software development business to automate their processes hence lowering consumer cost? Where does this leave the software only vendor? Will they be at a disadvantage, with only the ability to offer a component of the total solution.

The obvious goal of outsoucing/offshoring is to cut cost but DuPont also hopes to reduce the evidence collection and processing time from 18 months to 3 months. This will be enabled by leveraging a global legal team operating 24/7. Office tiger will convert millions of archived paper records to digital format, code and index them; dramatically reducing the effort required to analyze the evidently data. It is not hard to see the cost benefits when the average salary for an attorney with five years experience in the Philippines, who has a very similar legal system to the U.S. is ~$30,000 including benefits. To put this in perspective that is about half what a veteran U.S. corporate paralegal earns and one-fifth what a first-year attorney can earn in in New York.

OfficeTiger believes that corporations are looking at more cost effective ways to buy legal services so cost does not become a variable when deciding to whether or not to defend a case. The need for alternative legal service could push OfficeTiger to ~1000 employees and hundreds of lawyers by the end of 2007. It looks to me like the paradigm is shifting in many of the markets where software vendors have focused, globalization will continue to morph the marketplace and the nimble will be best positioned to take advantage of the changes.

Read the full BusinessWeek article here .

-RJB

Netscape? Who?

Microsoft has opened up the Netscape playbook! Virtual PC 2004 is now free and can be downloaded from here. If history teaches us anything the desktop attack is the first move in a campaign focused on world domination. It was the goal in the with the Internet Explorer campaign that Microsoft ran against Netscape, why should we believe this will be any different? I remember back in the day running Netscape on the desktop and server (Netscape Communications Server). First the switch came on the desktop (after all it did save corporations a ton of money), next the server switched to either Microsoft IIS or Apache. Will the world once again end up with two alternatives Open Source (XenSource) and Microsoft?

Should be interesting to watch!

-RJB

The Code (Linux)

Just arrived at my hotel in Boston an I am preparing to deliver “The Evolution of? Disaster Recovery” seminar in our sixth city tomorrow morning.? I put my new video iPod (that Cisco so graciously awarded me after passing a certification exam) to good use on the way up from Newark.? I watched the “The Code (Linux)” a Swedish Linux documentary.? As a long time Linux hacker and a technology history buff I was already familiar with most of the content that was presented in the film but there were a couple of concepts that got me excited, so excited I needed to blog on them.? The first was a statement by Linus Torvalds, for those of you who don’t know who Linus is, he is generally recognized creator of the Linux kernel.? Linus has arguably directed one of the most complex collaborative software development initiatives in the history of computing.? We can learn a lot from him and the Linux development effort on how to motivate and extract the most from people.? Linus discusses how the management of Linux kernel development project morphed from a hierarchical management structure to a what he describes today as a “web of trust” where developers are empowered to act.? Eric Raymond the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and all around open source czar also has some phenomenal words of wisdom.? Eric talks about what motivates open source engineers outside of monetary gain.

  • Artistic pride, the satisfaction derived from good craftsman like work
  • An idealistic feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself
  • A general desire to help and deliver good solutions
  • Increasing ones reputation and statue within the community

I found these points to be interesting because I have always embraced the philosophy of empowerment and mentoring over dictating policy and managing to that policy.? In my opinion the difference between a good organization and an insanely great organization is the ability to apply concepts such as the ones discussed above, so everyone participates in a culture where free thinking, innovation, empowerment, reputation, recognition, and responsibility are allowed to flourish.? The concept of totalitarian rule is ignorant and stifles innovation.? Empowerment is the key to innovation and ultimately greatness!

-RJB