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 data.com 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.

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

“Cloud” has become a FUD word

A LinkedIn post flagged me to a Forbes report about a spat between Mark Benioff (that’s salesforce.com 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

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

Categorising knowledge: beyond phone numbers.

Cody Burke, of Basex, blogged recently on “Overload Stories” about problems caused by the process I might call mechanisation of knowledge. Here’s his scenario:

Your cell phone runs out of battery power, and you need to make a call.  A friend graciously offers to let you use his phone, but as you attempt to make the call you realize that you have no idea what the actual number is of the person you are trying to reach.  Now flash back 15 years and try again.  Odds are you would have had much better luck, because you would have had to memorize that number, instead of relying on the contact list in your phone.

Well I’m not sure. Fifteen years ago you’d certainly have had a handful of numbers you remembered, but the rest of those you wanted to have handy would have been in your address book. If you left that behind, you’d have been in exactly the same trouble. And for wider contacts, I had shelf space for a whole row of phone books.

Burke refers to an academic study testing knowledge retention, discussing and updating the concept of “transactive memory”. If I’ve understood it correctly, this is the way that memory operates when the datum being remembered is connected to a working group or shared task (this isn’t quite the impression I got from Burke’s summary ; if the idea catches your attention, follow the link to the original paper).

ITasITis always goes back to the original sources. Sparrow, Liu and Wegner, writing in Science, define transactive memory thus:

In any long term relationship, a team work environment, or other ongoing group, people typically develop a group or transactive memory [my italics], a combination of memory stores held directly by individuals and the memory stores they can access because they know someone who knows that information.

It’s murderously difficult to accurately summarise academic research, but this isn’t quite the impression I got from reading Burke’s summary. What’s interesting is Sparrow et al‘s conclusion: they believe their careful statistically-based investigation provides

preliminary evidence that when people expect information to remain continuously available (such as we expect with Internet access), we are more likely to remember where to find it than we are to remember the details of the item. One could argue that this is an adaptive use of memory – to include the computer and online search engines as an external memory system that can be accessed at will.

Cody Burke is fighting against the concept that we’re becoming internet zombies – as if, somehow, the provision of vast online repository capability removes our human ability to recall. On the contrary, he says: we capitalise on it. There is “a natural (and uniquely) human tendency to learn where information resides and leverage that knowledge to be more effective”.

Or as Sparrow et al put it:

“people forget items they think will be available externally, and remember items they think will not be available … [They] seem better able to remember which computer folder an item has been stored in than the identity of the item itself … We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools … [We] remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found”.

Two comments. When I was a student (we had computers, but not databases) I had a tutor who used to point to a row of folders on his book-case and say “There’s knowledge I know; and knowledge I know where to find”. Raymond Dwek predated Sparrow et al by some 45 years! And there was always, and still is, a third category: knowledge I know how to find. In the manual age this was the difference between referring to a specific article in a learned journal, and working through a whole range of likely sources to check for relevant information. Today, it’s the difference between a categorised index and a relatively unstructured search. I used Google Scholar to find the Sparrow et al article, by the way – I didn’t know where to find it, but I knew how.

Certainly, these days, we shift the content of those categories. Categorisation, whether it’s a database structure, email folders, or keyword search, expands “knowledge I know where to find” by providing new access routes. Search is about “knowledge I know how to find”. We may now not retain so many actual phone numbers in our heads, and may not even recall our own mobile number (after all, we never call our own phone!) but  it’s probably in the address book on our Google account or in iCloud. Information no longer lives in just one place.

And secondly: I don’t speak to a phone number. I speak to a person (or sometimes, to a service). The phone number isn’t information; it’s meta-information (so also, sometimes, is an email address). It’s the means to get to the item you really want, which is the person. And phone numbers were always artificial constructs; we’re gradually doing away with them. On my desk phone, my really-most-frequent contacts are stored by name. On Skype, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, you contact people by their name or some hash of it, or by some identifier they’ve chosen to describe themselves. Not “unable to remember phone numbers”; moving beyond their use!

Human beings are tool-users. In my first IT job I used to teach programming to postgraduate students (and others) and I always emphasised that the computer is a tool; it extends the power of the human brain in the same way that a crane, for example, extends the power of the human arm. We take advantage of new tools and concepts as they arrive; and our modern array of electronic tools are no different. But this research is a good reminder to be aware of how we are developing in our use of these tools, so that those whose responsibility is to develop the tools themselves can effectively support knowledge workers and facilitate their activities.

Links:
• Memory in the Age of the Internet – The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same? Cody Burke, Overload Stories, 21 Jul 2011
• Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D.M., Science, 14 July 2011: 1207745; published online [DOI:10.1126/science.1207745]
Google Effects on Memory: Interview with Betsy Sparrow: Science podcast, 15 Jul 2011
• How sweet to be iCloud, ITasITis, 16 Jun 2011

Total Economic Impact: a full case study

Forrester’s Total Economic Impact methodology has been around for some time now; Chip Gliedman and his colleagues must have trained many IT executives in its application, its models, and its succinct elevator business case (“We are doing X to make Y better, as measured by Z, which is worth $N to the company”).

But training, and the examples within the training course, only go so far. A note in one of my regular alerts led me to a full case study, commissioned from Forrester Consulting by Cisco. It’s a valuable read. It’s a fictitious case, of course (“Company A” style), but it goes right through the whole analysis, as well as including a summary of the methodology itself

Cisco wanted to illustrate the case for their “Borderless Networks” technology. I’ve long been a believer in this methodology, not least because it captures opportunity costs and benefits, and puts cash value on risk. So it’s interesting that Cisco chose TEI as the vehicle to make this case.

Read it if:
• you want to know more about TEI than is available in Forrester’s summaries; you have to pay for the training course (or get access through a subscription)
• you know about TEI and want to see how a full evaluation works
• you’re looking at facilitating what Cisco describe as “secure, reliable, and seamless connectivity to any device, [to] any person, and in any location”

You’d need to research the Borderless Networks concept separately; this document is about the business case, and might well be useful independent of Cisco’s own technology.

Links:
• Total Economic Impact of Cisco Borderless Networks, Forrester Consulting, November 2010, available through Cisco website (no registration required)
• The Total Economic Impact Methodology: A Foundation For Sound Technology Investments, Chip Gliedman, Forrester Research, 4 Aug 2008 (subscriber access or purchase)
• Borderless Networks, Cisco overview

PS – forward reference, Google’s makeover

Following on from my posting about Google+ (which I’m now subscribed to, thanks to Zachary Reiss-Davies of Forrester, so watch this space …) – you’ve probably also noticed that your personal Google pages have had a makeover.

Read this informative article from TechRepublic for a bit about the whys and wherefores, where Google is going with its apps, and what the connection is to the Google+ development.

• Gmail’s new look: Why did they do it and what’s next? Susan Cline, Tech Republic, 6 Jul 2011

How sweet to be iCloud

HApple iCloud logoow sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the blue!
It makes him very proud
To be a little Cloud.
How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the blue!

Thus sang Winnie-the-Pooh, when he was devising his strategy for getting access to essential resources – the honey in the bees’ nest in the tree. But it could have been Steve Jobs’s theme tune last week.

I finally sat down to watch the keynote session led by Steve Jobs from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference this week: the one with the much-trailed announcement about iCloud. And to write: with a background of plasterers and plumbers in the house, and a digger reconstructing the drive outside!

In a keynote lasting nearly 2 hours, and viewable online, there was a lot of other stuff first. I’ll skip over it briefly: you can watch for yourselves or read other more detailed reports, but it provided context. Gartner’s Brian Prentice has said that “Apple’s vision of personal computing has unleashed a massive, pent up demand amongst people … But they are just one of many companies having success in reaching out directly to the user …”. It’s interesting to see Gartner finally and fully embracing the message that some of us have been preaching for years. Think King Canute: he knew he couldn’t hold back the tide but he had to go to the beach and demonstrate it to his sycophantic wise men. But this has been the other way round: the kings have been trying to hold back the tide, but even Gartner’s analysts now see that it’s not a winnable battle.

On the other hand, looked at from a corporate perspective: what iCloud will do is to bring to the consumer market the benefits that corporate infrastructure has provided its users for decades. Lotus Notes, with its replication and synchronisation capabilities, meant that I could access the same resources from anywhere, my own machine or not. I could read and reply to email, without having to copy stuff manually from one machine to another. I could update a meeting agenda, or modify a document, or publish a new application, ditto. It all just worked. But, to date, there’s been no consumer equivalent of maintaining multiple copies of data in sync across multiple devices. Even if you use a purely web-based email, you’ll still download documents or want to send one you’ve prepared earlier. And it’s not on your phone: it’s on the desktop Mac back at base.

Enabling that, it seems to me, is the vision of iCloud.

Phil Schiller said that the PC market shrank by 1% last quarter, while the Mac market grew 28%. OS X is now 10 years old; the next version, Lion, is due soon and there was a review of new features. The iPhone experience is feeding back into OS X: pinch, swipe and touch will arrive on Mac trackpads and in consequence the scrollbar will be much less in evidence. So will the menu bar, which has been fixed at the top of the Mac screen since time immemorial! Another iPhone idea that’s now (since January) on the Mac is theApp Store; Lion has it built in. Spaces (the multiple virtual screen feature, for Windows users who don’t have it) has the ability to move application windows from one Space to another or, even, to a new one. A new Resume feature means you can restart the machine just as you last left it: no need to restart everything separately. New visual paradigms and built-in search for handling mail. And more: take a look at the video, at around 6 minutes in. Oh, and you’ll go to the App Store for Lion. In July.

Then, there was a focus on the iPad, iOS, and the iPhone. But I skipped over that. At about 80 minutes in, Steve Jobs is back on stage to talk about iCloud (about 30 minutes’ worth). The primary rationale: the recent proliferation of types of device, and the complexities which arise if you create, buy or download digital material on one of them and need to maintain sync with the others. Even without media, it’s complex enough; I sync my address book and calendar between my main Mac and my phone (not an iPhone), but I draw the line at trying to keep these, and email, in sync between these two devices and my Macbook. What is Jobs offering? All the devices have comms built in. If the “centre of the universe” is the cloud rather than my iMac hard disk, then automatic sync can be enabled.

iCloud “stores your content in the cloud, and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices”. And it’s “integrated with your apps” so it’s all automatic. “It just works”. Jobs did take the hit of the failure of MobileMe; “not our finest hour”, he said; but, while MobileMe has been canned with immediate effect, the new service harnesses the hard learnings. There are new features such as calendar sharing: familiar in the enterprise, but now brought to the consumer market. Cloud-based replicated mail – with no ads. Integration of AppStore purchases across your devices: one purchase automatically available to all your devices, including the ones you haven’t bought yet. iBooks: again integrated, and where you’ve got to is kept in step between devices. Time Machine becomes cloud backup, and makes it easy to initiate a new device.

I got confused about Documents in the Cloud (90 minutes in). There’s automatic replication of documents, and updates, between devices using the same principles. Not needing to keep versions in step manually when working away from base on another device does sound good. It wasn’t clear whether this is limited to Apple’s iWork office suite (now available for the iPhone too); but then it appears that the Documents feature integrates PCs as well as Apple stuff. The story is to “let the app manage its documents”, but that’s where we started. When I have a project I may have text documents, and spreadsheets, and presentations, and PDFs, and other stuff all related to the project. And I want to keep them together. I want to go to one place and see the stuff that relates to that project. That’s what a folder is for.

And finally, iTunes in the iCloud; no additional charge to re-download to additional devices for historic purchases; new purchases will “appear” on all of them. A new subscription feature, iTunes Match, will match from the iTunes library any music you’ve legitimately purchased (on CD) and make this available to your other devices too.

Customers get 5GB storage in iCloud: and purchases, music and photos don’t count towards it. All this does make me wonder how much local storage is going to be needed on all these devices as content is pushed equitably to all of them. I guess storage is still getting cheaper and more compact, so perhaps that’s not an issue. Though iCloud won’t keep your Photo Stream for ever, even in their new enormous data centres. That’s too much, even for the cloud.

How sweet to be a cloud … Now some reactions.

In the ten days since the WWDC keynote, there’s been time for comment to gather. And as I’ve already hinted, Gartner no longer ignore all things Apple, nor counsel clients to avoid them like the plague. Read Brian Prentice’s blog: I think he sees iCloud as finally being the tipping point to get the personal device denialists in enterprise IT to realise the need to think creatively about the possibilities. He calls it DTTU (“Direct To The User”) and says “… enterprise IT organizations are some of the most resistant departments to change. Conversely, when change becomes absolutely unavoidable they display an amazing ability to craft intelligent, finely-tuned governance controls to deal with the new reality.” iCloud won’t go away, and can’t be legislated against in the enterprise. It’s time to start adapting, he says. And it’s a free service: how’s that for taking cost out of the bottom line?

There is an outline of some of the standard issues, quite succinctly put, at CIO.com; and we’ve covered them in depth – and the plus side too – in workshops at the Corporate IT Forum. CIO.com also link a slideshow (from PC World) about iCloud, but I’d recommend taking the time to watch Steve Jobs because this is a bowdlerized and very limited summary.

Presumably not by coincidence, Forrester on the same day as Jobs’s keynote released a report called “The Personal Cloud: Transforming Personal Computing, Mobile, And Web Markets”. I can only see the summary. But I rather suspect that Frank Gilett didn’t foresee Apple making iCloud a free service built into the OS. In a report aimed at vendors, this report “forecast[s] the number of users and paying subscribers to personal cloud services through 2016”. Jobs himself had a go at both Amazon and Google, in the context of the music download business (Mike McGuire of Gartner deals with that one too). There’s little in the Forrester Community.

CIO.com rehearses some of the standard enterprise concerns about consumerised services; they’re real ones, and the summary is good. But follow Brian Prentice in your approach, if you’re in enterprise IT. It would be good to know if Gartner are starting to do some of that thinking. The CIO.com article links to a short slideshow, originally from PC World, which outlines what iCloud is about. But its coverage is very selective and limited. You’ll do much better to take the half hour to watch Steve Jobs directly!

But I was surprised at how little real analysis there is in my regular sources. Looks like the industry – vendors, users and enterprises – is holding its breath for the official launch, to see what happens. You will do better searching Twitter; there are some links there to useful comments.

But for me, it finally begins to make sense. Lion’s integration with iCloud is a single, coherent picture; nothing’s merely an “add on”. And it’s free, so what’s to lose?

Links:
• Apple WWDC Special Event, video, 6 Jun 2011, from apple.com (iCloud starts around 80 minutes in)
• iCloud on apple.com
• Welcome iCloud – Now Prepare To Meet Your Enterprise IT Detractors, Brian Prentice, Gartner blogs, 9 Jun 2011
• The Personal Cloud: Transforming Personal Computing, Mobile, And Web Markets, Frank Gillett, Forrester Research, 6 Jun 2011 (subscription or purchase required for full report)
• Apple iCloud Draws CIO Concerns, CIO.com, 14 Jun 2011
iTunes in the Clouds, Mike McGuire, Gartner blog, 7 Jun 2011
• Corporate IT Forum event: Deploying iPads and other post-PC devices, 27 Jan  2011 (subscription required)
• Twitter feeds: http://twitter.com/#!/search/iCloud

 

ChromeBook reinvents the Thin Client

Google’s Android is probably the mobile platform that, in the popular perception, is coming closest to the iPhone. Now there’s the ChromeBook. It’s a couple of weeks since the announcement, so there’s been chance for reactions to hit the web. Time for a round-up, then.

First, a recap. Sundar Pichai presented the Day 2 keynote at Google I/O from the Chrome team. The Chromebook presentation occupied the second half of this. The case for Chromebook is that, these days, most users spend most of their time on the Web (as I’m doing now, creating this post). That’s whether they’re private individuals or corporate users. Individuals upload pictures to Facebook, and communicate with friends either there or on Twitter (or possibly e-mail).

Corporates are adopting cloud services for collaboration, ordering, sales management, and all the services which used to need large servers. Given a wide range of online apps, there’s almost no need for the historic baggage of disc storage, system checking, backup, antivirus and so on. So Chrome, and the Chromebook, throw all this away. The Chromebook is what we used to call a Thin Client: no processing power, no local storage, just apps and data. in the cloud. It’s an always-on, always-connected world (of course, so long as your provider – Google – doesn’t go down; it’s been known, but then so do corporate centres).

What’s neat is the ability to register online apps as file handlers; and these are integrated into the context menus. So, for example, images might be handled by Facebook, by a screen viewer, or by an image editor app: all these show up as right-click options.

Where the hand-waving comes is when Google admit that devices are sometimes actually disconnected: so that some apps (Gmail and Google Docs, for early starters) are now available for offline use. We didn’t hear what that means in terms of a return to local storage, local processing and so on … But the I/O presentation rounds off with some interesting enterprise use cases, which would certainly be easily predictable to anyone whose memory goes back to the old thin client days or to Sun’s web client machine for that matter. Netbook technologies never made the mainstream somehow. Will it be different this time?

Well, with a little time to consider, who thinks what? TechRepublic’s Jason Hiner thinks that corporate IT will get on board. Eventually. Just as with cloud services, perhaps, the suggestion is that it will take a while, but the business case will eventually compel attention. Not impossible, I’d say, that Chromebooks will appear by the back door – brought in by business users, like the iPad in many companies. Especially when they go on sale on Amazon at compelling prices.

But for the corporate heavyweights, George Colony, CEO of Forrester, has given Chromebook his personal attention and he is not convinced. He’s looked for the business agenda at Google as well as the technology: they gain leverage (advertising) from increasing use of online services. Processing power gets more powerful and cheaper faster than networks, so the Chromebook’s 8-second bootup time and fast response may be less of an advantage than Google aver. And, of course, no senior executive is going to do symposium demonstrations with large files so the demos, as you can see from the video, were indeed impressively fast.

No take (blog or mainstream) from Gartner. There’s an interesting broader comment from Andrew Frank about Google’s branding strategy, particularly with regard to Chrome. Otherwise, there seems to be remarkably little in the mainstream analyst community. In Tier 2, Red Monk comments particularly on the “Tablet as a Service” aspect of Google’s announcement: the idea that users will lease a Chromebook, getting a new one every three years just like a leased car. This went along with the push that, unlike most personal machines, a Chromebook won’t deteriorate over time. No locally stored stuff, so no hard disk fragmentation, crashes or issues. No software clashes. No malware protection, to slow things down. Just continual updates as Google improves the ChromeOS experience, so in fact (so the pitch went) this computer actually gets better, not worse, over time.

The lease option is also picked up in another short Forrester blog, for sourcing professionals: this cautions potential leasers to consider the possible unstated negatives (and positives), such as support costs in the enterprise, and inability to run the existing software portfolio – against which, in the long run, the downloadable app model might work out cheaper. Might. One feature, though, which will attract: the online model (nothing on the local device) clearly will ease enterprise management.

So the most authoritative comment so far is Forrester’s. Forrester believes in a synergy between web services and powerful local processing, and George Colony is sceptical about the Chromebook’s ability to steal mindshare from the iPad.

Time will tell.

Links:
• Google Chrome: Day 2 Keynote from Google I/O, Google I/O, 11 May 2011: video replay, for Chromebook pick up at around 38 minutes
• While IT pros scoff, Google Chromebooks will likely seduce businesses, Jason Hiner, Tech Republic, 12 May 2011
• Google Chromebook: Business Model By Ideology, Counterintuitive CEO (George Colony), 16 May 2011
• The Embattled Google Brand, Andrew Frank, Gartner blog, 13 May 2011
• Chromebook/Notebook/Tablet As A Service. On Google Competing With IBM Global Finance, James Governor, Red Monk, undated but probably 13 May 2011
• Do $28/Month Laptops Really Exist?, Clarence Villanueva, Forrester blog, 13 May 2011

Microsoft and Skype: (2)

With a little more time, here are a few connected thoughts after yesterday’s note. And a sideline on the response from the analyst community.

It’s fair to say that opinions are many and varied about Microsoft’s acquisition. There are some along the lines of “Why would they do that?” of course – mostly from commentators who’ve looked at the multiplier between Skype’s income stream and Microsoft’s bid, or at eBay’s failure to integrate Skype into their business model. But the positive comments are broadly in three groups.

1 – the purely business commentary. Skype’s business (and remember they were on their third owner already) is in person-to-person communications. Skype was developing its IPO to go public. Microsoft are way behind in this space, losing ground to both Apple and Google (think iPhone and Android), and Cisco would also be a contender. In these terms, Microsoft’s bid is a necessary pre-emptive strike and the price reflects the potential impact to Microsoft’s business of Skype in someone else’s portfolio.

2 – the consumer space commentary. Following on from the above: Skype is a well known and widely used consumer brand; it’s a verb, like Google. Microsoft struggles here, even with Windows Live and Office 365 up and running. It has no significant presence in the realtime person-to-person space. Skype can give it that presence, and link Skype’s massive consumer base into that space. On the other side of the coin, Skype doesn’t make money; its brand image is as a free service and its income stream is via breakouts to the public phone networks and on some business-side services. Microsoft’s marketing capabilities stand a chance of creating profitable business streams there. There’s also speculation (supported by the press announcement) about developing Skype channels over Microsoft’s XBox and Kinect gaming.

3 – the enterprise user commentary. Skype is used for business but often only (as Forrester’s Ted Schadler puts it) if “IT looks the other way”. Microsoft’s business footprint could change that, either directly or through gateways to Microsoft’s existing in-enterprise Lync service. Also, Microsoft gains access to the some leading technologies which could significantly enhance its enterprise offerings.

It’s well worth reading the press release to see where Microsoft believes the link-up can lead. It’s clearly big, in their estimation, because Skype will become a business division in Microsoft.

Commentary on this announcement is developing and maturing. There’s nothing on Gartner’s blogs yet, but Forrester have pitched in with different (and sometimes contradictory) blogs from several analysts and for different sections of their readership. Horizon Watching has linked to an Economist article. The Guardian (Technology section) collects some brief comments from the senior analyst community (Gartner, Ovum and others).

Links:
• Microsoft to acquire Skype, Skype press release, 10 May 2011; also available from Microsoft Press Pass
• Ballmer’s Masterstroke In Buying Skype, Mike Galtieri, Forrester blog (for application professionals), 11 May 2011
• What Microsoft’s Skype Deal Means, Ted Schadler, Forrester blog (content and collaboration), 10 May 2011
• Microsoft Acquires Skype – What Is It Really Worth? Henry Dewing, Forrester blog (vendor strategy), 10 May 2011
• Skype-Microsoft deal: the experts’ view, Guardian Technology, 10 May 2011

Link added later: some useful commentary from Tech Republic
Does the Skype acquisition signal a new risk-taking market-making Microsoft?, Debra Littlejohn Shinder, Tech Republic, 17 May 2011

Mendele’ev’s Google (or vice versa)

Mendele’ev published the Periodic Table of the Elements in 1869. As a chemistry graduate, I once knew this intimately. It’s not just a classification; it’s a tool for understanding, and for prediction. And the underlying principles were good enough to cope with the discovery of elements Mendele’ev himself had never heard of: radium and uranium for a start (the work of Pierre and Marie Curie), and then all the trans-uranic elements which, on earth at least, have only been created artificially.

Well … a tweet from Frank Zimper (nice to tweet you, Frank, danke!) alerted me to this Periodic Table of the Google elements. I really like it as a chemist as well as an IT practitioner. It doesn’t just categorise; it observes many features of the “real” periodic table, like the groupings (alkali/alkaline earth elements, transition metals, and so on) and even follows the boundary between non-metals and metals in the B group on the right hand side.

Great piece of work! Enjoy it at http://code.google.com/intl/de-DE/more/table/.

Microsoft update in London

I spent most of today at a briefing at Microsoft’s London Customer Centre, hosted by one of their development partners: a mix of Microsoft and partner presentations, covering Microsoft’s office (small ‘o’), collaboration and enterprise management tools. It’s rare to have this kind of opportunity since I left enterprise IT. But it’s important, because topics like Sharepoint and Microsoft’s cloud office services (Office 365 for example) come up regularly in conversations, and in technical events that I facilitate.

Leading off the event was James Askrigg, of Microsoft. He ran through some of Microsoft’s visionary directions: Natural User Interface (which largely means gesture), with reference to the Xbox Kinect; the future of real telepresence, meaning fully animated avatars re-creating a full representation of a teleconference participant by close monitoring of the movement of the real individual. Is this cheaper/more effective than full high definition video? Don’t know; but we saw that, too, when Polycom took the stage.

Askrigg took the discussion towards the variety of form factors and “Post PC devices” which are coming through, and the need to work generically with these categories. As was commented in an event I was working with yesterday: you can’t enumerate the possibilities, and deal with them individually, any longer. The approach has to be more generic. And he sees the move to cloud services as very much part of the solution to this problem. If services, and data, and authentication, and management are mediated through the cloud then provisioning unconventional devices becomes simpler. Bill Gates’s original vision of “A PC in every home and on every desk” has become “Continuous cloud services for every person and every business”. Cloud Power is a paradigm, not for provisioning boxes, but for delivering services.

And there was a considerable focus on Lync 2011: communication, collaboration and technology platforms brought together and integrated under the one marketing banner. As we saw these services demonstrated later, the story is a strong one. Windows Live (free for home users) and the new IE9 with HTML5 and features which increase the integration between the browser and the rest of the desktop experience: both are crucial parts of the overall picture. There was a lot on Sharepoint too, difficult to reflect in these notes particularly as the online demo suffered from loss of network connectivity (or something) and had no Plan B.

We had two other presentations from Eurodata, the hosts of the event. The first focussed on Microsoft’s Forefront unified access gateway (UAG) and Direct Access technologies giving users seamless (ish, as a later presentation showed) access to their enterprise network and services without the intrusion of a VPN connection. It depends crucially on IPv6; IPv4 can be integrated, but the feature set is less complete. Polycom then shared a joint presentation with Microsoft: if I have it right, Microsoft give Polycom the lead on “phones and TVs”. Polycom on their own have a strong Unified Communications and presence story, but the integration with other office functionality, essentially through Lync, offers a lot of user options and flexibility. Perhaps too many options? but the live interaction which was demonstrated moved smoothly between IM chat, voice, video and screen sharing; and the ability to see who’s online and available saves a lot of wasted calls. These concepts have been around for a long time. Perhaps they’re now coming to fruition. I need to look up the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum. “Presence is king”, as another Microsoft speaker commented.

Eurodata’s second presentation took us through many of the management tools in Microsoft’s new management suite: not something I’d ever been familiar with (or needed to) and, if I gathered correctly, something of a rebranding exercise as well as a redevelopment. Good capabilities, and quite a strong plug for the Hyper-V virtualisation service.

Finished with a client case study and a few Q&A. And in the lunch break I got interviewed for their video capture of attendee feedback. If it turns up on the Eurodata website, I’ll let you know!

Links:
• Microsoft Lync currently showing the 2011 launch with a Bill Gates video
• Microsoft Cloud Power (this is where you get by searching for Office 365)
• Microsoft Sharepoint 2010
• Microsoft Forefront
• Xbox Kinect
UC everywhere, by Polycom
• All you need to know about Microsoft in 2011: event page, 28 Jan 2011, from Eurodata Systems