Gartner webinar: Cloud Strategies for Portals, Content, & Collaboration Projects

My second webinar report today features a free Gartner seminar from Jeffrey Mann, who I knew well in his META Group days as a great application analyst. The topic isn’t “what’s available” but “how do you make decisions”: potentially much more useful.

First, he’s talking about Cloud for absorbing capacity demand peaks: the right definition. But, as he points out: the high-end integration requirements of a portal don’t necessarily suit well to Cloud infrastructure. Security and confidentiality play as issues too.

Compared to my post last week, Gartner’s definition of Cloud matches in most elements but I included easy sign up without long term commitments. This matches the use case for absorbing capacity peaks, but for longer-term critical business functions (running your sales on, for example) most consumers will want some longer term assurance.

Gartner also add to the established model of System (or Infrastructure), Platform and Application as a Service: two further levels. Information (e.g. a Reuter’s feed), and Business Services. The shift in provision focus is from “capacity” to “capability”, and evaluation is outcomes based. I like that.

Jeff “gets nervous” if cost saving is the only reason clients are moving to cloud services; cost reduction may be part of the outcome, but there are hidden costs (e.g. increased network capacity) and many disappointments. “Disconnect price from cost … reconnect price to value.”

And, perhaps closer to the meat of the theme: “Portals … will follow … The greater portal opportunity [for Cloud] lies largely with B2B” – strikingly close to Mark Benioff’s Cloudforce message I was listening to earlier. More on that later.

Early Cloud deployment: look for something that will work with the vanilla service (“out of the box” requirement). And it’s easier to start greenfield than migrating from on-premises services. Complexity (e.g. customisations) mitigate against migration.

Jeff showed a self-assessment chart for issues such as data, compliance, policies and failure remediation – how complex is getting going again after a stop? Even with due diligence, it comes down to trust – usually lower for a pure-cloud solution. Users often prefer to be in control even of functions and processes they are not so good at.

What about best practices? Half a dozen use cases, for example capacity on demand (such as hiring lots of extra staff for a short time, I guess like Christmas postal deliveries) – Jeff calls this “Cloudbursting”. I’ve heard a presentation of this being done around a massive weekly sales promotion that, on its first outing, unexpectedly and grossly overloaded the company’s normal web servers. Cloud to the rescue!

Other use cases include: providing lower-end capabilities to segments of the staff population, such as floor staff in a store; secure extranets in an isolated environment (e.g. in M&A or restructuring when information needs to be kept confidential to a subset of staff but in more than one enterprise); or “splitting the stack”. Jeff proposes a small handful of hard-headed questions to help evaluate whether cost will really be saved (bearing in mind that he asserts that cost saving shouldn’t be the only target for a Cloud move). You must be able to identify where cost savings will come from, they’re not automatic!

And do, first, hold a mirror to your entire company and ask if – culturally – the enterprise is ready to make this kind of change (it’s trust, again, but legal issues such as e-discovery may be highly relevant here). Then be sure you understand why: examples might include flexibility, cost, being more easily current to latest software versions, reduced internal resource requirements, and so on. And you must have defined measures for a pilot to judge whether to move on.

In this, recognise the many constituencies in the business with different needs and expectations: not a new idea, but a useful categorisation of business interests on the chart. Think how to get them involved.

Gartner does expect that in the next few years all organisations will have some level of Cloud service: complete (few), or mixed (most).

In the brief Q&A, the issue of recent high profile outages (e.g. on Office 365 for some customers) was raised. Jeff’s view is to keep it in perspective: compare with internal capability, not with the ideal of zero outage.

I raised a question based on listening to Mark Benioff earlier. That presentation was put out via Facebook, and Benioff was strongly promoting “social technology” as the communication and collaboration platform of the future. As an analyst, Jeff sees very few innovations which totally replace what came before, and believes this will be a case in point. So social technologies are, indeed, very important; but the older platforms won’t go away.

Congratulations for Jeff for going beyond the technology of Cloud, and the (perhaps hyped) potential. This was a good counterbalance to Mark Benioff’s evangelistic case, and confirms that Jeff has lost none of his edge since last time I had the chance to interact with him!

• Cloud Strategies for Portals, Content, & Collaboration Projects, Gartner webinar, 14 Sep 2011, replay (link to be added when available) – in the meantime see Gartner Webinars
• Mark Benioff at Cloudforce London, ITasITis, 14 Sep 2011

Mark Benioff at Cloudforce London

I’ve joined the online Cloudforce webcast to view Mark Benioff’s keynote. I’m not able to stay online for the whole two hours, but this is notes as far as I can go.

Benioff has pitched that a new revolution has happened: the role that social technology plays and the depth of its integration into society as a whole has changed in the last year. Interestingly, the broadcast is via Facebook, not one of the established Web Meeting platforms. No registration. Just “Like” the page to join the broadcast. And Twitter feeds for the speakers linked on the page at the time they’re on stage (not when they’re off). We’ll come back to that point.

In the preliminaries at the point I joined, a key point from the JP Ramaswami: businesses need to value relationships not just customers. And now there is an enormous quantity of real data, cheap to collect, to back up research into online interactions. The emphasis being on learning and understanding what makes relationships really work.

A black screen while the broadcast switches to “Cloudforce London”. And a marketing video, pushing Salesforce Chatter but showcasing (at a headline level) how Salesforce is supporting a host of responsive apps to provide customers of banks, cars, coffee shops and more with immediate useful information. Where’s my nearest ATM? What’s my car’s engine temperature? And so on.

Here’s Benioff. A paean of praise to Thomas Watson, Ken Olson and Michael Dell – guess which one is billed as a speaker? – also Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. But the theme is a new area of innovation, and the mix and impact of social technology into society is (he believes) new.

He cited the Arab Spring, which is certainly the current high profile example: not “hard power” or “soft power” but “social power”. And he asks: is there going to be a “Corporate Spring” with the end of in-enterprise dictatorships in a similar paradigm?

People have to respond. There are now more social network users than email, and very nearly Facebook (and Twiter) *is* the Web. And people use mobile apps (smartphones, iPad) more than web browsers; the laptop is out of date for on-the-move information access. The current Forbes cover headlines: Social Power and the coming Corporate Revolution.

Moving into the message for business, he asks for (1) next generation social profiling for customers: they are, after all, on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else. Then (2) create an employee social network and enable staff to use this information. Returning to this, Benioff talks about creating (a few years back) an internal Facebook-alike which, crucially, is integrated with their main platform. Salesforce Chatter is now available to customers, and is going through a major upgrade, sue in a couple of weeks: presence added to IM, connection to other networks, filters, workflow (approvals).  Customer groups (sounds a bit like Google Plus circles) extend the concept to external customers, including file sharing and all sorts of other things; it sounds like some major education will be needed to establish who can share what, and who can commit the company to what.

(3) I intially missed as I had to step out of the room: develop the next generation sales cloud. Benioff highlighted Groupon as a fast growing company; I’m not yet clear whether this means Salesforce is integrating Groupon. And then helping keep up to date as people change their facebook profiles, Twitter handles and so on.

I’d comment, though, that on my first business flight to California – twenty years ago – they were clearly already thinking that way although the information available was less. On my return flight there were some of the same crew as I’d had outbound. I’d swear I was remembered. And although the practical guess is that they’d “just” checked the database, the point is that they had done so. It’s not “just”.

I hade to drop off the broadcast. On return, the webcast is towards the end of an extended case study of Toyota’s new Toyota Friend network which provides easy information about a car’s status, problems, service schedule, and so on – with the dealer able to schedule an appointment and communicate through the network. Not that any of this information hasn’t been available before; what’s added is the integration into a social framework (and, of course, driven by Salesforce).

I’ll see if I can catch up later, and tidy up some of this information – with a link to the recording if possible, but otherwise have a look at the US Dreamforce keynote. Perhaps the key point, if you take Benioff’s point about the rapid and revolutionary integration of social technologies, is that Salesforce is not only preaching the “social enterprise”; it’s becoming one, and the use of Facebook and Twitter explicitly to support this event is part of it.

• Salesforce Chatter
• Keynote from Dreamforce in the US
• Groupon
• Toyota Friend: and Toyota Form Strategic Alliance to Build ‘Toyota Friend’ …, Toyota US Press Release, 23 May 2011; and Twitter feed (protected for approved members only)

Oops, no title! Social media outside WENA

An excerpt from a recent IDC Financial Insights blog posts a useful summary of the social media focus outside WENA (Western Europe/North America). Though the focus of the whole post is banking, this bit is particularly general:

It Is Not Just Facebook. It is easy to be dazzled by the current leading light of social media — Facebook. Indeed, many executives have disregarded the promise of social media by thinking, “how can Facebook really be useful to my bank?” The truth, of course, is social media is not just Facebook.

Across the Asia/Pacific region, there are dominant Facebook alternatives: Weibo in China, Wretch in Taiwan,Orkut in India, and mixi in Japan; these have developed different trajectories and propositions vis-à-vis Facebook. Furthermore, there are market-specific Web boards that provide a wealth of feedback on how banks stack up against each other (e.g., Product Review in Australia and Thai Visa in Thailand). In our recent IDC Financial Insights forums, other social media sites have been cited as useful: YouTube (product training and knowledge sharing made more effective because of video), Twitter (Australian banks dealing with crises such as bank outages), Yammer (internal Q&A and knowledge sharing), and LinkedIn (hiring of staff).

For more, see Eight Principles for Social Media in Banking, IDC Financial Insights, 13 Sep 2011

Other links:
• Weibo: The Chinese Twitter that dwarfs Twitter, Guardian blog (undated). The site is in Chinese
• Wretch (also in Chinese)
• Orkut (which is part of Google)
• Mixi article in Wikipedia; the site is in Japanese but there is a company overview in English

Interestingly, the Chinese and Japanese language sites feature menu headings in English.

Retrospective: culture and technology after 9/11

Ten years ago I was in Philadelphia, on a week’s visit to company offices there. A routine visit, about to become anything but. Before nine in the morning, I went down to briefly visit a friend in another group: the company’s Communications function. Naturally they kept a continuous eye on the news; and so I near enough saw the events in New York as they occurred. With colleagues in another office in Pittsburgh, we were anxious as news came in from there. And in a city itself iconic in American history, we were anxious for what might happen where we were.

Those events had consequences in business, and changes followed which the technology was just becoming able to support. Of course, top of the issues were the security implications for travelling staff. But it wasn’t just that.

The company was and still is multinational: managers with international and strategic responsibilities travelled as a matter of course. That September, the company’s most senior managers had to get involved with getting people home. There were a lot of staff out of place; and the numbers involved represented a significant and ongoing cost. Well, ITC support for remote collaboration was at a point where it could make much of that travel un-necessary. Travel decreased. And we discovered that we really didn’t need videoconferencing for most remote meetings: almost from then on, the normal method of working was by telephone conference, facilitated by good and increasingly well-structured shared databases. We had online asynchronous discussion, meeting and agenda management, and a culture where information shared beforehand didn’t need to be gone over in meetings. The technology got a kick forward, and the culture changed.

The other immediate learning was that the Internet lived up to its design specification. A big part of the transatlantic telecomms capability passed through the basement of the World Trade Center, apparently; and it was wiped out. Telephoning home was a real problem. But the Internet was designed to cope with major outage; it “anticipates damage and routes round it”. My email home may have gone three quarters of the way backwards round the world: but it got there.

Of course, security has influenced a whole lot of other technology considerations too. Today’s mobile phones (the technology barely existed ten years ago) have an “aeroplane mode” because designers need to avoid even the possibility of interference with increasingly wire-driven aircraft control systems. We have to take laptops out of our hand luggage at airport security – for as much longer as we still carry laptops, that is. People are aware of the potential of online community media (Facebook and so on) for coordinating both malign action and the public responses to it.

And – to spread this note away from technology – we have become more aware of each other in the global community. Donald Rumsfeld, in an early TV response to the disasters, asked “What have we done to make people hate us so much?” and my impression, then, was that it was a serious question. Of course, it rapidly became rhetorical with the implied answer “Nothing, of course.” But we do indeed need to understand where destructive actions like these come from. In the words of a much wiser man: “You can’t redeem what you don’t understand”. We need to listen and learn: from our colleagues, if we are fortunate to work with people from backgrounds not like our own. It’s too easy to create resentment unintentionally.

Technology, particularly today’s exploding social media environment, has the potential to bring people together. As tech people, we can be more aware of this than most. The insight is ours to share.

No links for this post. Purely a personal column. Being in the USA ten years ago was a moving experience and one I don’t regret; my thoughts today have been with many friends and colleagues with whom I was privileged to share the experience.

“Cloud” has become a FUD word

A LinkedIn post flagged me to a Forbes report about a spat between Mark Benioff (that’s to you and me) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). About the definition, or the understanding, of Cloud.

Well, the first interesting thing about the report is that it’s not in some tech geek publication. It’s in Forbes, which rich people read. If ever there was a candidate for airline management’s key publication, it could be this one. It does rather confirm, doesn’t it, that Cloud (we used to say Cloud Computing) is mainstream business news.

And the second thing is that it confirms, as we already knew, that Cloud has become one of those Humpty Dumpty words. You know: When I use a word (said Humpty Dumpty to Lewis Carroll’s Alice) it means exactly what I tell it to mean, neither more nor less. It’s happened in every IT generation. Working backwards, we certainly include Grid, we include “e” (as a prefix, such as “eServerFarms”), and we probably include client-server. And more, I’m sure.

As an adviser, facilitator and consultant I need to understand what people are thinking when they say “Cloud”, and it can be a lot of things these days. It’s my perception (and I’m by no means alone) that a lot of what’s marketed as Cloud today is one of:
• old-fashioned hardware-based outsourcing to a remote data centre
• web services
• some newer form of outsourcing
always with long term contracts, fixed prices, security, and and and …

We can do better. But first, there are a couple of things Cloud doesn’t need to be.

It doesn’t have to be “cheap”. This is a benefit in many cases, but not a fundamental. And in any case it’s relative: a service used for a short period may be expensive per unit, but still cheaper overall than provisioning your own “stuff” which you have to lay in for the long term. A comparison: taxi fares aren’t “cheap”, but if you don’t need permanent access to your own car then occasional taxis have the edge over the long term capital and recurrent costs of running one. But the key point is: no payment in advance, no commitment to spend levels, no true-up.

And it needn’t be “public”. I’m perfectly happy to include what are called “private cloud” services in the definition, so long as they are still true Cloud by the criteria below. But the key point here is: Cloud is not just a new word for a conventionally provisioned in-house data centre.

Many, many service vendors are rebranding their outsourced or managed services as “Cloud” to cash in on the hype. There’s a massive overlap between what we consider “virtualised” and what we consider “Cloud”. And service buyers are adding to this by insisting that cloud services must be as secure, stable and long-term an investment as any other outsourcing deal. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt ride again.

Some (many) years ago, I was part of the team operating a then-new ICL 2980 for London University. The “V” in “VME/B” stood for “Virtual” and we had to learn (and explain to the users) the differences of a virtualised system and the advantages it could offer in the way they approached its use. Yes, this was the totally modern 1980s. Other operating systems were “going virtual” too, and one of the trade papers (I think it was Computer Weekly) ran a definition I’ve always remembered:
If it’s there, and you can see it: it’s REAL
If it’s there, and you CAN’T see it: it’s TRANSPARENT
If it’s NOT there, and you CAN see it: it’s VIRTUAL
If it’s NOT there, and you CAN’T see it: it’s GONE.
I think we add one more:
If it’s NOT there until you WANT it: it’s CLOUD.

And here are my criteria for a service to be called Cloud:

• accessed over the network using Internet protocols
• available immediately on demand
• de-provisioned immediately after use
• easy sign-up
• no long term commitment to the service provider …
• … nor by the provider to the customer
• payment strictly by usage metering
• payment after the fact, not in advance
• as near infinitely flexible capacity as can be

• Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff Just Can’t Agree: What Is the Cloud? Forbes, 6 Sep 2011
• ICL VME, Wikipedia

Licence Management in a virtual estate

I have been researching for an event discussing licence management for virtualised and cloud-based services. For those involved in these issues, here are some links I uncovered.

Platform virtualisation vendors include the market leaders (VMWare and Microsoft), Citrix, Oracle, Parallels and Red Hat, as well as SUSE whose status in the marketplace is uncertain following parent Novell’s acquisition by Attachmate. The Xen and KVM Open Source projects in this area are the basis of some products, particularly those from Oracle, SUSE, Citrix and Red Hat. Where licence management is required across a virtual estate, it’s important to know which virtualisation infrastructures are supported.

Both Gartner (Magic Quadrant) and Forrester (TechRadar) have recent reports, accessible to clients, on the infrastructure virtualization marketplace.

Links: infrastructure
Microsoft Server and Cloud Platform
Oracle Virtualization
• Citrix Application and Desktop Virtualization and Server Virtualization and Cloud Infrastructure
• Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization
• Parallels Server Virtualization (note, Parallels desktop virtualisation is aimed at running multiple environments on a single desktop machine, rather than towards machine-room virtualisation of desktops)

Links: licence management vendors
• Flexera Software: Manage Virtual Software Licenses states that FlexNet Manager Suite for Enterprises includes VMware discovery and inventory capabilities but does not mention other hypervisors, and there is no obvious mention of virtualisation discovery in the product description
• ExpressMetrix: Going Virtual? Stay True to Licensing Rules, white paper originally published in June 2008; Express Software Manager has virtual environment capabilities
FrontRange Discovery and FrontRange License Manager, from FrontRange Solutions, will address VMWare and Microsoft virtualised platforms. License Manager can import bulk data from Discovery or from other discovery suites. Centennial Software, the originator of these suites, was acquired by FrontRange in 2008 and the Centennial branding is now being discontinued. Web searches for Centennial products will link to Centennial pages on the FrontRange site but not all onward links work correctly.
ComplianceConsole from Concorde Solutions (a UK company) claims to work across a virtual estate but does not mention specific virtualisation vendors
Snow Software‘s License Manager includes support for most (but not all) virtualisation platforms: App-V, hyper-v, VMware and Citrix

Links: white papers
• Managing License Compliance in Virtualized Environments,  Steve Butler, Virtual Strategy Magazine, 8 Apr 2009
• Microsoft vs. VMware Battle Clouded By Licensing Claims, Kurt Mackie, Redmond Mag, 29 Aug 2011, includes some useful comments on licensing
• Forrester TechRadar: Infrastructure Virtualization, Q2 2011, 11 May 2011
• Gartner: Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure, 30 Jun 2011, Gartner ID G00213635. This document is currently accessible only to Gartner clients. The 2010 Quadrant is available from VMWare and I’d anticipate that the 2011 update will appear accessibly in due course
• Gartner: Cool Vendors in IT Asset Management, 2011, 7 April 2011, Gartner ID G00211342. Gartner suggest in the preamble to this document that “Despite a continued focus on tools, Gartner finds that clients derive more value from the professional services expertise of IT asset management vendors. ITAM professionals should look beyond big names in ITAM software and services for this innovation”. So far as can be determined, this report is not provided online by any vendor.