Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Clouds. What Clouds?

When you live in Vancouver, talking about clouds means you are talking about the likelihood that "liquid sunshine" is forecast or actually happening. On last Sunday - Monday we had during 24 hours more than half of the average rainfall of November, together with December the wettest month in the year. But I digress. This is about clouds in the IT world.

Today someone asked me "Do you have Mobile Me from Mac giving you a cloud? If so, how do you like it? I think it sounds fantastic." Knowing the person is curious about technology concepts I focused on answering the second part of the first question (there are actually three questions here). My answer was:

Yes, we IT people use real world terms for concepts we create in technology. Including "cloud".
Recently people started to wonder if the word "cloud" is a good term, in particular considering the marketing impact on people less familiar with IT concepts.

The concept is that you are provided a service, but you can't really tell which physical equipment is actually being used for the service, as it changes dynamically based a whole bunch of factors that aren't of concern to the end user. At least that is what the provider(s) envisions like the utility providing you electricity. You also are not concerned which power plant produced it. Now some end-users (in particular enterprises) feel it is a concern, because of the data involved. They want to know where it is, if it is properly protected and so on.

Well, I didn't answer her question. She wanted to know if I thought Mobile Me is great. Silly me!!

To be honest: I don't know. While I am a convinced Apple user, the description of Mobile Me is too cloudy for me. What do you get for your annual subscription fee? Synchronisation between your Macs and iPhones? Disk space on the internet? I find the information on to much marketing and not enough service description. I would think most service buyers in enterprises want to know what they are getting into when buying cloud services.

To find an answer to what "clouds" bring for the enterprise I tried to find out who coined the term "cloud", and what is the generally understood and accepted definition of the term "cloud" in the IT world. I am not having much success, so if someone can enlighten me, feel free to comment. My friend with the Mobile Me question is also reading this. Be warned.

For many people not familiar with networking or internet working, clouds seems to be the "stuff" you buy from your network services providers. And there is a good reason why these providers want to maintain this cloud as what you are buying is really cloudy. I can't count the number of times I asked providers to supply me with the physical diagrams of the solution proposed to my clients. The providers are not prepared to answer the question. Some push back includes: do you ask your electricity provider for the diagrams of the nuclear power plant? No, but in modern countries independent bodies have been established to guarantee that you will get your electricity at the specified voltage, amperage and frequency whenever you want it. Having worked for such a utility I can promise you this is not easy to accomplish.

Lately more service providers want to provide you the ability to run your applications and to host your data. They often also use the term cloud. Smart move? Considering there is still a lot debate on how reliable and secure the internet service is, I would say not. Some providers realize that and prefer SaaS (Software as a Service). Business wise this makes a lot of sense as you can now demand to pay for actual usage instead of making upfront investments for hardware and software licenses. And let us not forget the often hefty annual maintenance.

So far we are still stuck with the cloud. Some pundits claim it is the future and a nail in the coffin of the personal computer. Microsoft would be in trouble. But those folks in Redmond are familiar dealing with rain. I mean real rain, just like in Vancouver. Like the weather, the future cannot be forecasted.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Can IT solve the storage needs for business?

For business leaders in many organizations IT still is a facility and treated as such. This puts data storage system purchases at the same level as buying office chairs. Storage vendors often try to sell their products on feeds and speeds, features and functions, and at best on new capabilities for the IT shop. The actual dilemma, optimization between efficient capacity and performance utilization against a business effective cost structure is carefully avoided. This modus operandi can continue until organizations are forced to bring costs in line with revenue or in a worse scenario, when storage needs explodes. The cost per revenue issue is now abundant in almost any organization given the new economic situation.

Conventional wisdom tells us that once data storage capacity has been provisioned, it can’t be claimed back. However, businesses are not always growing at the same rate, so economics dictate that cost per unit need to go down. It looks like network and server capacity have been able to provide lower cost per unit. Keeping storage demands in sync so far hasn’t been possible without increasing the complexity and therefor not really contributing to solve the challenge.

The most predominant enterprise business solution in the past decade was to outsource (part of) IT to the experienced solution providers. However, many organizations have discovered that outsourcing doesn’t solve fundamental problems; it just makes the problem go out of sight and usually only for a short period. Lately this phenomenon is getting a new name: cloud computing. Whether an organization outsources IT or not, uses cloud computing or not, storage architecture has to undergo a fundamental shift. The new architecture has to fulfill the actual need: cost in line with storage capacity and performance independent of storage capacity and technology.

What do you think is the right solution for the enterprise? How do you envision that business finally gets a handle on fulfilling their storage needs?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Facebook: user experience nightmare?

Dear Facebook,

This is an unusual attempt to communicate with you. A decision I made after getting the above mentioned message quite frequently while working with Facebook. I see no other way to communicate then blogging about it as I don't know your email address or phone number. So here it goes and I will limit it to three points.

Users want consistency in working with an application. Now I do understand that you provide users with some options to customize their view of the Facebook world. However it is fairly annoying that user interface consistency does not have a high priority in your view of how Facebook should look like. For example, tabs come and go when using them to navigate and this makes me feel very uncomfortable. As if something unintentionally gets lost.

Please provide some help if something that should be intuitive isn't available on the main page or menus. It is embarrassing that a person with more then two decades of experience on all kind of applications and platforms has to see a non-IT buddy to find out how to create a group in Facebook. Like a doctor who feels sick and doesn't know what to do.
After lots of communication with my buddy and some serious user interface testing, I discovered that the button to create a group shows up AFTER you typed "groups" in the search function and ONLY if you run Internet Explorer. Those who use Firefox or Safari get a completely different screen presented as a result of the search. Are those users not entitled to create a group? Oh wait a minute: groups is an application! That makes sense. At least when you are an IT engineer. How come this took me two days to find out?
By the way: googling with "how to get help on facebook" tells me that "Get Help" on Facebook is a music band in New York. And why is "Facebook Help" located in Turkey? Don't you have somebody on your staff in Palo Alto to write help pages? Or is this an outdated concept?

We, users, aren't dumb or ignorant with occasional brain farts. When something goes bad while working with Facebook, please provide us with a meaningful feedback. Here again, I realize that it is not straight forward to design and write good consistent exception handlers. If the "Oops message" (see above) is all you can do, you might as well just quit the session. At least then I will feel that it was my fault.

Kind regards,

PS The above open letter is a rant. However, I do want to use Facebook and encourage others to create a meaningful online presence of communities.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Twitter, Google Wave, what is next?

The desire for humans to communicate remotely in real time is very old. I guess it started with smoke signals. More recent inventions like the telephone were initially not seen as a solution to the need. It was believed that it would only be useful for telegraph operators to notify about transmitted telegraphs. They were so wrong!

A similar thing is now happening with a technology called Twitter. In case you haven't heard about Twitter, don't worry, you are not missing a life changing phenomena. In essence Twitter is just a protocol, which allows you to send a message, not longer then 140 characters long, to actually nobody. Those who follow you on Twitter will receive your message instantly (no guarantee they read it), others may find your message through a search. To make this happen, software on the server side is necessary. It runs on the servers owned by Twitter. Again, there are people who believe it is absolutely useless, others swear that this is a breakthrough. My observations are that only celebrities (of all kind) use it to spread their words, without intermediaries (read journalists) to change the content. The communication concept is based on the systems used for dispatchers to inform taxis, police patrol cars, ambulances, etc. Some people just love to listen what is being said. Time will tell what will happen with Twitter.

Meanwhile in the past years, Google engineers have been working on a concept now called Google Wave. The Rasmussen brothers from down under Australia (Lars and Jens, the guys who brought us Google Maps) have created a concept where they finally got rid of the notion that in IT we have to mimic some communication form in the physical world. While it is still in development, Lars, together with product manager Stephanie, presented and demonstrated working code at the Google I/O developers conference last week in San Francisco. There was a reason for them to announce it before it becomes available later this year: they want developers to create cool applications with Wave. In that way when Wave as a product AND platform & protocol becomes available, it will have many useful applications. In the end, the user only cares about the application.

To give you an idea how powerful the Wave protocols and platforms are, here are a few points that put Wave on my permanent radar screen:

  • The protocol is open and media agnostic.
  • The platform will be open source, so you can host your own Wave system.
  • The user interface will run inside a standard browser.
  • The platform and protocol is extensible without the need to run your own system.

Now if you take the time to sit through the video below with many demos of Wave, you will be amazed.  It is remarkable what you can do if software also lives on the server side and can do some remarkable things in real time. One of them is collaborating on document creation and maintenance, a real pain with current solutions. The most amazing thing I saw (almost at the end of the keynote) is a real-time translation of human languages. If this turns into a scalable application, I predict that we can make with IT "one small step for a men, one giant leap for mankind".

My biggest take away after watching this keynote is that there is hope that we, humans, will find a pleasant way to communicate remotely, synchronous and asynchronous. With pleasant I mean a single user experience and not a shopping bag full of gadgets beeping at a frantically rate.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cut costs with or without the IT architect?

When revenue goes down, managers tend to cut on the fixed costs. Too often the IT architecture role is perceived as such a cost. IT architects are not the front-line staff. While having a limited visual benefit to business generation, IT architects are vital to generate business in this information age. Solid systems and processes for information handling is a major requisite.

Cutting back on the IT architecture role is not only a false cost saving on a short term, it also cuts off long term cost effective growth.

What is overlooked is that convoluted platforms supporting the information function are build without clear guidance. Guidance derived from the business needs. It can look like a city built without any planning and design. 

Cities which take themselves seriously, operate with the help of a wide range of architects to assure the end result is economically a place to be. While esthetically pleasing buildings, open spaces, roads and parks attract admiration, they also attract people who want to live and work there. And be part of that economy.

Businesses can learn a great deal from an architectural approach when dealing with their applications and IT infrastructure. 
  • Do your web sites create a pleasant experience and therefore attract customers? 
  • Does your staff work with effective information and processes? 
  • Is your IT department not constantly going after the latest fad pushed by the vendors? 
  • Have you done everything to prevent yourself from any lock-in, so you can dynamically adjust to business needs?
People are critical of awkward design, knowing they have to deal with the negatives for the years to come. Successful building architects demonstrate they have considered all stakeholders to produce results. There is every reason that architects in the information space can achieve the same.

Now it is the time to keep IT architects, not lose them. In the current climate contracting IT architects can help you make sure that the systems you need are in shape. In that way your business will survive and start growing again.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Future of Windows 7 in danger?

Today people inside Microsoft leaked a rumor that Microsoft will abandon the release of Windows 7 just 2 months before the announced release date. Considering the economy and the fact that in a virtualized world no one has a preference for a flagship Operating System, analysts agree that it doesn't make sense to waste any more money on a new code with the potential of more meltdowns.

As a result, the support for all existing Microsoft Operating Systems will continue forever. Even those who still employ PCs with applications made for MS-DOS, will be guaranteed lifetime support. It was demonstrated many times that this operating system was the most successful code that ever came out of Redmond.

It is obvious that traders on Wall Street - who are usually very well informed - missed this one completely. Everybody was focused on the news that Microsoft is going to file substantially fewer H-1B visa applications and thus providing more opportunities for US citizens to work at the software giant. During the course of the day the stock price of Microsoft rose, but most of the profits have already been taken. A Microsoft spokesman was unavailable for comment.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


If you are puzzled about what the title stands for - read on. If not, you may as well read on.

The use of acronyms is now everywhere in written language. It gets to a point that you have a hard time understanding what is being told. If you eager to find out you will try to look them up, but in most situations you will feel left out and so you leave.

We all understand that acronyms in systems makes sense. Why use lengthy words or descriptions if you can express it in few characters. Back in the fifties when IBM was building the handful mainframes the world needed, it made perfect sense to use a maximum of 6 characters for a variable, procedure, function, macro, subsystem, part, mascot. At some point that phase was over and a committee designed COBOL (COBOL = Common Business Oriented Language). COBOL was set up that if you want to add 1 to a variable you had to write something like "ADD 1 TO COUNTER". Apparently that is Business Language. I always wonder why this language became so popular with programmers. Maybe their managers could now read what they were writing?

Having said that, what does this mean for an IT architect? It means that use of acronyms causes your most important stakeholders to leave you. And I mean the stakeholder that pays for your contribution. The stakeholder that realizes your solution, who will not be able to understand the essence of your views. 

What should the IT architect do? Use plain language as much as possible when communicating with your stakeholders. The use of visuals is powerful, but they can also tell the wrong thousand words. All visuals should be supported with language. Don't be so afraid that your text is to lengthy, even if business people seem to have so little time to read. Write down what has to be said. Put the essence in the beginning of your story, if you feel that your audience won't read it all. If they are really interested they will read it. And last but not least, don't use any acronyms.

DAHWCTM = Do Acronyms Help With Communicating The Message?

Oh, I will improve here as well....

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved