Michael Dell at the BCS

The British Computer Society’s Elite group gathered in London yesterday for a Q&A session with Michael Dell.

For the techies among us, Mr Dell described how a couple of years ago he saw the rise of Web Service as challenging their existing enterprise server business. The response: to change technical and commercial direction.

There was an enterprise trend to virtualisation and an emerging market for massively scaleable “cloud” services: and these pull the market in opposite directions. Virtualisation is about mapping multiple servers onto single hardware. Cloud providers, and customers such as China’s Tencent QQ instant messaging service (which has 650 million subscribers), develop infrastructure using large numbers of straightforward devices. The key principles in this environment are strict adherence to a common environment, and a collapse of the complex layered architectures which have grown up in conventional data centres. At the same time, virtualisation of both compute resources and storage creates an enabling opportunity for enterprise users, through development of “private clouds”.

Moreover: SaaS and other trends encourage the enterprise customer to procure solutions, rather than systems; and, in response, Dell is no longer simply a hardware supplier.

What emerges is a picture of an entrepreneur, and a company, unlikely to get stuck in any one business model when the world is moving on. Perhaps that was the biggest take-away from his introductory remarks.

The larger part of the meeting was given over to Q&A. Some of the topics were:

  • Green IT: Dell is now itself a carbon-neutral company, but intends to make a far larger contribution through energy efficiency of its products. The latest Dell noteboook, for example, uses $7 of electricity per year; not long ago that would have been $100.
  • Solid state devices: in response to my own question, Michael Dell outlined how SSD is encroaching fast where its two advantages of lightness and fast response are valuable: high performance PCs and servers. More interesting though was his account of how Dell has influenced the storage vendors to think of themselves as knowing about fast and efficient read/write operations on any device, and to see firmware (e.g. for massively reliable servers) as their primary expertise rather than hardware
  • Dell and Microsoft: Dell see their products as being customer driven, with both Red Hat Linux and VMWare being important platform partners

Asked where he would invest a thousand dollars if (heaven forbid!) Dell collapsed and that was all he had left, the answer was Shanghai. Dell has seen growth pick up again in their business in China and in Asia more generally. This should be a good sign.

• BCS Elite
• Dell Computers (UK) and Michael Dell
• TenCent (US English page)

Gartner’s titled blogs: Gartner responds to InformationSpan comment

Following through on the previous post, and the update to InformationSpan’s blog  index, I was pleased to note also that Gartner have updated their own index to their titled blogs. I couldn’t assert that my observations were the only reason, but I certainly passed comments to Gartner after I last reviewed their coverage. I only wish they’re read them all!

They’ve made the most important change: the omission of Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino’s Mastering the Hype Cycle has been repaired. But there are still active blogs listed under Archived, including their Office of the Ombudsman blog which you’d think would be important. In fact, the only two items now under Active are Mastering the Hype Cycle and a link to the analysts’ personal blogs.

And beware: some of the blogs are still not listed by the titles that they carry on their own front pages. Mastering the Hype Cycle is a case in point; it’s referenced as Hype Cycle Book.

We shall also keep an eye on High Performance Workplace. This blog last posted in February 2007, and is correctly included under Archived, but there’s a recent (March 2009) test message on it which probably should not have escaped. Maybe it’s going to be revived.

It would be really nice if Gartner could get this right. In the meantime, go to InformationSpan for an index which does what it says on the tin! There’s a link in the panel on this blog page.

More Gartner Blogs and some under-the-cover changes

Another ten Gartner analysts have joined the Gartner Blog Network and I’ve updated my blog index to include them. For the first time, a couple of the new names are also new analysts, and these are indicated in the index.

There are a couple of other changes on the Gartner side too. Their Investment Services and Banking vertical coverage has been amalgamated, so the sole blogger in this area, Kristin Moyer, now appears under “Banking & Investment Services”.

And one of the new analysts, Richard Fouts, is working within Gartner’s business management service Gartner for Business Leaders. Gartner describe this as “reinvigorated” rather than “new”: it provides “business strategy and marketing insight for technology and service provider organizations” covering analyst relations, sales, product management & marketing, and market & competitive intelligence. I’m going to need to revamp the approach a little to ensure these additional areas get reflected in the topic index; at the moment, they don’t.

Click through to the blog index, and take it from there.

Oracle acquires Sun: what do the analysts say?

As the comments begin to settle down around Oracle’s latest blockbuster acquisition, let’s have a look at who reacted how quickly, and the quality of their comments.

There’s plenty of discussion of the basics: that Oracle is to acquire (“rescue”, according to some coverage) Sun Microsystems. The crown jewels are:

  • the Solaris version of Unix, which Larry Ellison talked up and which is perhaps the most important platform for Oracle’s proprietary software portfolio. Relevant past acquisitions here include PeopleSoft/J D Edwards (Dec 2004) and Siebel (Sep 2005), both hard-fought battles
  • Java, the basis for Oracle’s growing middleware business. BEA Systems was acquired in January last year.
  • Sun hardware … it will be interesting to see what Oracle does with this, as an indicator of the company’s future direction
  • Star Office and Open Office – there’s not much comment about these. But Ellison may well encourage them, the better to compete with Microsoft
  • MySQL open source database, widely used by start-ups and web companies
  • Definitively stopping a link-up of IBM and Sun

When I looked at coverage of the Satyam scandal, the questions were: who reacted first? Who has the most incisive coverage for the enterprise user? Who had the best accessible coverage?

But things have moved on, not least with Gartner’s entry to the blog movement. The major analysts had blog postings up pretty much on the day, and so did a range of other commentators. Some postings are very short and don’t do much more than register that the analyst had seen the news. But some have significant analysis, and I’d commend Darryl Plummer from Gartner, James Kobelius and Ray Wang from Forrester, and Bruce Richardson of AMR who all quickly began to explore the implications. Stefan Ried of Forrester waited a couple of days and then, after a call with Oracle, brought together some of his colleagues’ earlier comments so that’s a useful link.

And at this stage there is not much early stage formal research reporting. There are a couple of reports from the big two (Forrester and Gartner). Forrester haven’t disappointed as they did last time: the quality of accessible coverage in the blogs is high. Gartner’s blog coverage is more random; perhaps this is where Forrester’s approach to blogging, with topic-related rather than personal blogs, pays off. Then there were rapid initial research notes from Forrester and Gartner but not a great deal more.

As with Satyam, there’s no consensus about the future direction of this integration. The main disagreements are:

  • will Oracle divest the hardware business, or leverage it? Significantly, the Oracle press resource talks about delivering “an integrated system—applications to disk”, not “applications to CPU”.
  • will MySQL be used as a route to migrate more customers for Oracle’s database and then killed off? will it be actively supported? or will it be cut loose for the open source community to work with?

So perhaps the main conclusion for insight service users is that the pace and quality of fast-response comment to major events has significantly picked up. And that there were no real surprises about coverage – except that I discovered a new source (GigaOM) which had an incisive article – matching Forrester’s Kobelius for early considered analysis. That’s a source I’ll be watching in future.

• Oracle and Sun, Oracle press and information website
• Forrester: Oracle’s Sun Acquisition Is A Game Changer, 22 April, client research targetted at vendor strategy professionals (i.e. the IT supply side) but relevant to users too
• Gartner: Oracle/Sun Deal Will Change Competitive Landscape in IT, 22 April, client research, short but publicly available
Our Full Analysis of the $7.4B Oracle-Sun Deal, GigaOM, 20 April

To see more of the coverage identified for this survey, click for items tagged in del.icio.us.

Those “private” (sm)e(ar)mails

This isn’t a political blog and anyway there’s been plenty of comment about the invented-smears emails, their origin and their target.

But just one IT point keeps being ignored and it appears to have been perpetuated from the very top in Gordon Brown’s letter. It is the assertion that these emails were somehow “private”. Brown’s letter, as reproduced in full by the BBC, says

“I am assured that no minister and no political adviser other than the person involved had any knowledge of or involvement in these private emails.”

Hang on. We’re also told that they were sent “from an official account”. So absolutely no way are they private. Gordon Brown, his staff, and the media are confusing “private” with “confidential”.

If they were private, they should have been sent from a private email account. Sure, if they’d been sent from dmcbride@googlemail there would still have been a fuss if they’d been uncovered; but it would have been much less of an embarrassment for McBride’s employers.

If they were sent from an official email address, that’s the equivalent of being on 10 Downing Street headed notepaper. If they were confidential, but official, they could have been encrypted. Confidential messages have been being sent in code since writing was invented.

This is an object lesson about information risk and information security. Sending personal (= “private”) messages from your business email is very poor practice and highly unprofessional. Not making it clear to your employees that personal mail should be sent personally is equally poor practice and puts both the employee and the employer in jeopardy. And not encrypting information which is truly highly sensitive and business confidential is, quite separately, stupid – although all of us, I suspect, neglect this one most of the time.

As any decent risk management practitioner will tell you!

• Brown’s smear row letters in full, BBC News, 15 Apr 2009
• No 10 official quits over e-mails, BBC News, 11 Apr 2009

Have you seen … Forrester’s Inquiry Spotlight reports

Catching up on a Forrester First Look email, my attention was drawn to their (fairly) new report family: Inquiry Spotlight. These focus on topics which garner a large number of inquiries. Even without reading the reports (or summaries, if you’re not a client) it’s interesting to see what these topics are.

Inquiry Spotlight was launched without fanfare, so far as I can see; the first report appears to have covered Server Virtualization and was published last September. The most recent half dozen are E-Signatures; Organizing Architecture Teams; Master Data Management; and Disaster Recovery.

It’s not entirely clear how many inquiries make a topic hot. For example: Organizing Architecture Teams is one topic among around 120 inquiries about the practice of enterprise architecture, these in turn contributing to some 2,000 inquiries in 2008 from architecture professionals. So there may have been only a small handful on this specific topic. But this particular report is stated to be the first in a series of Inquiry Spotlights on EA Practices; we look forward to the rest!

What do you get from this? Not just Forrester’s usual level of insight, but also a benchmark of key issues in enterprise IT. Are your issues the same?

Go to Forrester’s website and just put “Inquiry Spotlight” into their search bar.

UK’s new flexible working entitlements: check the hype

Last week the UK brought into effect a change to the rules regarding statutory eligibility to request flexible working. From some of the discussion, you’d think corporate IT was going to be overwhelmed as ninety percent of the workforce suddenly starts working from home!

Computing, for example, has an article with some good discussion (including comments from Ollie Ross at the Corporate IT Forum) but with two major flaws. First, it mostly assumes that flexible working automatically means being home based (it doesn’t); and second, it anticipates huge IT changes for companies in supporting flexible working staff (there won’t be).

Let’s get it into perspective.

First: the regulations are not new. They apply only to staff who care for young dependents (for the majority it remains, as it always was, entirely a matter of company culture and policy). And they don’t entitle staff with these carer responsibilities to have flexible working. They entitle them to request it, and require the employer to consider it. The request can be turned down, but it must be with reasons and there are appeal lines set out.

And second: the numbers are not huge. The new rules extend eligibility to staff who have dependent children older than six and under 17. There are estimated to be 4.5 million of these; and three cheers for them! But six million parents of six-year-olds and under, or of disabled children under 18, were already covered. So for every four people already on this specific “statutory” subset of flexible working there may potentially be another three.

Some industries do have significant numbers of employees in these categories. But the total UK workforce is about 30 million people and many of the new 4.5 million will be already on flexible working, or not working, or will choose not to make a request. It doesn’t feel like there’s a massive change coming. And in any case not all the people covered by either the previous criteria or the expanded eligibility are likely to be professionals requiring the kind of enterprise IT support discussed in the article.

Flexible working and remote working are not the same thing. It may just be a case of adjusting on-site hours. Flexible working, as the UK Government says, describes “any working pattern adapted to suit your needs. It includes things like part-time working, flexitime and homeworking”.

It would be good if this relatively small change causes a change in culture and a general opening-up in some companies’ attitudes. But it ain’t likely. The extended eligbility isn’t of itself likely to generate enough numbers to require wholesale changes to company services and infrastructure.

Many firms already have staff who regularly have to be supported remotely and/or outside “normal” work hours. Consultants regularly operate from client sites, and managers move between multiple company locations perhaps in different countries. Large sales forces are predominantly home based. And people who work either side of their on-site time can be seen (or, too often, heard!) on any commuter train.

Then there’s the issue of trust. This one surfaces with every new technology. In the 1990s, managers worried that company information would leak away by email, and that employees would spend all their time surfing the then-new Web. The controls that were introduced, including use of the X.400 standard, have melted away and email and the Web have become essential business tools. Now repeat that, but for 1990s substitute 1920s and for email and the Web substitute the telephone. Yes, it’s true.

There have always been ways to spend time not working, and there always will be: but why would a company hire people it believes it can’t trust to work? If staff are meeting their objectives then that should normally be enough.

And, yes, security of proprietary or confidential information is a valid concern. But when I used to commute I would regularly see lawyers heading for a nearby Crown Court reading their briefs on the train. Narry a computer in sight; but their clients’ names, addresses and misdemeanours were well open to public gaze. This isn’t a technology issue either, except in so far as technology makes it possible to lose larger quantities of information much more quickly!

The chance and potential impact of a loss can be estimated. The costs and disbenefits of excessive control can be measured, with a little trouble: slower response, potentially lost business, employee evasion of controls perceived as over-intrusive. That’s to say, a risk assessment needs to be done. The mitigation strategies include employee education (staff don’t learn about these issues from setting up a home network) and appropriate technology solutions (such as DRM and highly secure gateways) to reduce the likelihood of the most significant adverse events.

So there’s some good discussion in the Computing article. But the hype, and the confusion of several issues, makes it less valuable than it could be. “On Monday 6 April, an estimated 4.5 million extra requests for flexible working could, theoretically, swamp UK firms“? I don’t think so.

• How to gear up for a surge in remote working, Computing, 2 Apr 2009
• Flexible working rights extended, UK Directgov newsroom, 3 Apr 2009
• Demographic Trends – The U.K. Workforce…..Brewing Risks Eric Seubert, Talent Readiness, 23 Jun 2008
• Flexibility – Resources for New Ways of Working Flexibility is an online journal which has been covering and advocating flexible working since 1993. It looks like a most useful resource

Couple of recommendations

In the course of my research for the Technology Tracking report (see last month’s post) I explored in more depth O’Reilly Radar which tracks developments in the field of IT. The blog intersperses regular items with “Four Short Links” postings, giving short reasons for recommending a variety of sources and specific news articles. They have a significant focus on Web 2.0, including a currently running open conference thread at a San Francisco expo.

And one of the recent Short Links is to a blog called definition by a New Zealander called Alan Moore who explores developing frustrations with “our modern technological world”. Worth reading, so that we keep a sense of proportion!

• O’Reilly Radar
• definition
New coverage report: Technology Tracking, ITasITis, 20 Feb 2009

Nice news today …

It’s April 1st. The Guardian newspaper in the UK always plants at least one news item appropriate to the Feast of Fools.

Today’s edition carried a detailed report heralding a complete move of the paper to Twitter. It gave some examples of how the paper’s archives (back to 1821) are being converted to 140-character tweets.If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen my tweet already on this. True to convention, the article was off the web page at mid-day.

Well, it’s fun to read of course. But for the social media mafiosi, the interest is that Twitter is now sufficiently well established that this kind of spoof is viable!

See the original: Twitter switch for Guardian, after 188 years of ink, The Guardian, 1 April 2009

My Forrester blog index catches up

A quick alert. I’ve finally caught up with my target of updating my index to Forrester’s analyst blogs. Not as urgent a job as keeping on top of Gartner’s because Forrester’s own index is structured by topic – they aren’t, mostly, individual analysts’ blogs – and the list is up to date on their own site.

The list is a little longer than it was in January, when I first put the page up. So I’ve moved to a two-page structure. When you go to the index you’ll see first the blogs which are relevant to enterprise IT; this does include some of the consumer and marketing oriented blogs, because there’s a strong IT interest in these areas. A second page links you to the marketing strategy blogs and those for the technology industry (that’s vendors, to you and me). But IT people should have a look there too; for example, there’s currently some discussion on Cloud issues.

• InformationSpan index to analyst blogs
• Forrester’s blog index