Sneak Peek of the Under The Radar Conference

The Under The Radar (UTR) Conference (http://www.undertheradarblog.com/) is tomorrow, April 26, 2012. UTR is the intersection of hot up-and-coming startups, investors and judging. If the reception tonight was any indication, the conference and presentations should be very interesting. Here’s a sneak peak of my take of the hot areas and companies to watch:

Application Development Solutions

A few companies are presenting their solutions in the mobile and security space. In the era of cloud computing, these are two hot buttons that enterprises and service providers alike need to be keenly aware of. The move of the information worker from a stationary device to a mobile device is in process. CoIT and BYOD are both serious factors to the movement. Likewise, using traditional security paradigms in the new model run into serious complications. Tools are needed to help organizations make this move while managing and securing environments.

Companies: BitzerMobile, Cabana, Duo Security, Fabric Engine, Framehawk, StackMob

Platforms and Infrastructure

Building applications on top of infrastructure is nothing new. In the cloud era, the architecture…and options open up quite a bit. The cloud market is starting to mature and value is moving from core infrastructure to platforms and on to applications. Leveraging hosted platforms does require a different paradigm to succeed. In addition, when considering apps at scale, automation and orchestration become even more important. This is a very broad area with quite a bit of specialization. Moving forward, integration in the space will be the key to success…along with some consolidation.

Companies: Appfog, AppHarbor, CloudBees, CloudScaling, Drawn to Scale, ionGrid, Iron.io, MemSQL, MongoLab, Nodejitsu, NuoDB, Piston Cloud, Puppet Labs, Sauce Labs, ScaleArc, Zadara Storage

Monitoring and Analytics

One of the most interesting areas is how data is used and analyzed. And then taking action based on the information gleaned from the data. Players in this space range from aggregating data to understanding and analyzing it. Value increases as the data is moved into analytics and ultimately business actions taken based on the intelligence. While there is quite a bit of specialization in this area at different levels (application monitoring/ performance management to analytics and intelligence), added value will come when these can be tied together to drive business decisions.

Companies: Chart.io, Cloudability, Cloudyn, Datadog, DataSift, Infochimps, Metamarkets, Nodeable, Sumo Logic, Tracelytics

Interesting Areas to Watch

In today’s marketplace, there are the future-state solutions and concepts. And then there are the real-world solutions that solve today’s problems. Both states need to be understood and the ball needs to be moved forward…and fast! The increased amplitude of mobile devices along with cloud computing bring applications at scale into the forefront. Orchestration and automation becoming hallmarks to success to up-level the conversation and value IT brings to organizations. Ultimately, the play will be with data and analytics. But today, there are more fundamental issues on the table.

Of course, that’s just a cursory review of the upcoming presentations from the UTR conference. Look for more details in the UTR Twitter stream (#UTRconf) and posts after the conference.

Gaining Entry to the Enterprise via the Consumer Trojan Horse

Ok, so you’re selling technology products, solutions or services. You’re looking for the largest buyers and typically look to the enterprise market. You develop the strategy and start going to work. You setup a sales team, check. You setup a channel and partner program, check. Then you start leveraging the relationships, check. But how do you cover the consumer angle? Huh? Yes. Using consumers as a sort of ‘Trojan Horse’ into the enterprise space.

In just the past few years, we’ve seen an uptick in the impact of Consumerization of IT (CoIT) in the enterprise space. The movement shifts the power pendulum away from IT and toward users. BYOD is also making an impact on the movement too. For more info on BYOD vs. CoIT:

http://timcrawford.org/2012/02/10/the-difference-between-coit-and-byod-and-the-impact-for-it/

In the case of Apple, they’ve attempted entry into the enterprise market a few times. Each time, they’ve been unsuccessful in creating a beachhead and establishing momentum. In the past two years, their attempt to enter the enterprise has largely succeeded. According to Apple’s latest quarterly earnings call, “94% of the Fortune 500 and 75% of the global 500 are testing or deploying iPads”. Others are also in the testing phase (see link below). And that doesn’t take into account the number of devices already in play via the consumer angle. So, is Apple changing their strategy to enter the enterprise environment? Regardless of the specific answer, they are progressing. The move gives Apple an interesting beachhead into the enterprise space…whether they intended to or not.

Interestingly, if consumers are used to using a given technology, they’re more supportive of using it in their professional life too. And that is a good thing for IT organizations from an adoption standpoint. The question is how providers can help enable this process. Apple is a good use-case of a different approach.

The point is: If you’re a provider looking to make a beachhead, there are options to sell into enterprises beyond the traditional approaches. Consumers is one way…but doesn’t fit every company’s solution. If your solution does fit, it might be an interesting model to consider. And this doesn’t cover the other targets open to most providers. But more on that later…

Additional Links:

CIO Magazine – Is Apple changing Its Enterprise Tune?

http://blogs.cio.com/leadershipmanagement/17022/apple-changing-its-enterprise-tune

The Future Data Center Is…

Many folks want to look in a crystal ball and magically profess what the future looks like. In the land of technology, it’s not that easy. Or is it? Sure, we do have the ability to control our destiny. We are limited by our own boundaries…artificially set or not. This may seem fairly straight forward, but it’s not. Businesses are looking for technology organizations to evolve and change. Even if that means they shift how they use services and applications on their own. Hence shadow IT.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen many data centers in various countries. Even today, the level of sophistication varies greatly with Switch’s primary Las Vegas data center at one end of the spectrum and a 20-year old data center from a top data center/ cloud provider at the other end. I’ll leave them unnamed to avoid any potential embarrassment. To contrast, I’ve toured newer data centers in their portfolio that are much more innovative.

The advent of cloud computing has flipped the way computing resources are used on it’s head. How data centers are used is changing quickly. And what’s inside is becoming more relevant to those that manage data centers, but less relevant to those who use them. Let me explain.

Operating a data center is complex. It is no longer just four walls with additional power and cooling requirements. To add complexity, the line between facilities and IT has blurred greatly. How does an organization deal with this growing complexity on top of what they’re already dealing with? Furthermore, as the complexity of the applications and services increases, so do the expertise requirements within the organization. How is every company that currently operates a data center expected to meet these growing requirements? In reality, they can’t.

Only those that are able to bring the scale of their applications and services will warrant the continued operation of their facility. General purpose IT services (core applications, custom applications and the like) will move to alternative solutions. Sure, cloud is one option. Co-location is another. There are many clever solutions to this growing challenge. Are there exception cases? Yes. However, it is important to take an unbiased view at the maturing marketplace and how to best leverage the limited resources available internally.

In summary, unless you are 1) operating applications or services at scale or 2) have a specific use-case, possibly due to regulatory or compliance requirements, or 3) do not, realistically, have a viable alternative… then you should consider moving away from operating your own data center. The future data center for many is an empty one.

So Which Is It? Airplane Mode or Turn Devices Completely Off?

I’ve written about the Consumerization of IT (CoIT) in past missives. It seems that today, everyone flying on an airplane has some form of technology gadget. And the range varies from a cell phone to an iPod, to a tablet to a laptop.

Anyone who has been on an airplane in the past couple of decades has heard the warning to turn off their devices during takeoff and landing. “The main cabin door is closing, please turn off any device with an on-off switch. Airplane Mode is not acceptable.” Really? I mean, I understand ‘why’ they are saying to fully turn off and not just to airplane mode. But what happens at altitude? People just turn their devices back on…cellular radios and all! The bottom line is that while folks generally knew how to operate technology, the nuances still escape them.

In fact, on a recent flight from LAX to DFW, I flew on a United CRJ-700. The flight attendant comes on with the normal warning as the door closes. Everyone turns off their devices like they’re told and we’re off! 18,000 feet later, the double-chime alerts the cabin it is ok to turn on “approved” devices. But that’s where things go awry.

On this particular flight I was walking back from the restroom at the back of the plane. Which, I might say, was roomier than most narrow-body jets. But enough about the size of the bathroom. As I walked down the aisle back toward my seat, I always take note of the number and type of devices that people use. On this flight, there were an ample number of iPads in use. Nothing new there. What was a surprise was seeing “No Service” displayed in the upper left hand corner of the screen. And not just on one iPad. But I casually counted at least six of them in this state…and that was just the folks in aisle seats.

I would have expected to see the all to familiar airplane icon that notes the device is in “airplane mode”. Airplane mode, for those not familiar, is where the device turns off the transmitting radios (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth). Isn’t that what the announcements are intended to address?

This all got me thinking that the announcements really are not doing what they intended. Supposedly (and that’s a big supposedly), electronic devices can interfere with the navigation of an aircraft. Ok. So, which is worse? Finding out that a device onboard interferes with navigational equipment while you’re on the ground? Or finding out when you’re at altitude? Personally, I’d prefer the former.

Just last month, the NY Times learned that the FAA is going to take a “fresh look” at electronic devices on flights.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/disruptions-time-to-review-f-a-a-policy-on-gadgets/

I’m not going to hold my breath. It will probably take quite a long time before we see a list of approved devices …let alone a broader context of what is approved. What makes this all bizarre is that the FAA has already approved the use of iPads in the cockpit to replace the bulky flight manuals.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/f-a-a-approves-ipads-in-cockpits-but-not-for-passengers/

If we assume that folks other than the ones I observed are equally confused by the difference between airplane mode and turning off the device, then what are we really fighting against? Bureaucracy? I would bet good money that more devices are turned on and transmitting at altitude. As for when the FAA might lift the ban on using devices on landing and takeoff? My bet is that it’s right behind lifting the ban on liquids in carry on luggage. Again, I’m not holding my breath.

Regardless of the FAA regulations, my recommendation is to enable airplane mode while in-flight. Why? It saves on the battery life of the device. Plus, it just won’t connect to a cell tower.

The average cell tower covers an area of approximately 10 square miles (or a radius of approximately five miles). Five miles translates to 26,400 feet. And most commercial aircraft fly from 30,000 to 40,000 feet. That translates back to between 5.68 and 7.58 miles…well outside of the distance needed to connect. And because cell radios in devices are smart, they vary the power needed to connect to a cell tower. In flight, this means the cell radio is using full-power to attempt the connection…therefore draining precious battery power.

So, the next time you’re in the air, save yourself some headaches…and battery power. Just switch your device to airplane mode and then turn it off for takeoff and landing. When you’re back on the ground, switch it back to regular mode.

And let’s hope that the FAA does heed the sheer magnitude of growing user base that are using these devices by changing their rules.

A Workload is Not a Workload, is Not a Workload

Over the past year, I’ve observed a concerning trend about workloads. It seems that with the advent of cloud computing, the idea of a workload has been confused a bit. The fundamental concern is a misguided view that all workloads are the same or similar. Specifically, I’ve heard general IT professionals making decisions around cloud computing by following those of Netflix, Zynga, Facebook and Google. This makes some very large and flawed assumptions that are fundamentally based in a misunderstanding of the business drivers and workload requirements.

What is a Workload?

First, let’s start with what a workload is. A workload is a characterization of the work that applications perform. This includes the applications, systems, storage and network infrastructure. It’s a holistic view of the type of “work” being performed with the entire system. The nature of the work is the load being placed on the infrastructure systems. The work being performed is governed by the application, systems, configurations and specific use of the applications or services. At a macro level, this is fairly unique to each company. There are exceptions, which I will discuss in a minute…read on.

Workload Modeling

For well over 20 years, organizations have modeled their workloads to better understand performance characteristics of systems. Others may refer to it as Web Testing, Software Testing, Load Testing and the like. When I was at InfoWorld in the early 90’s, I participated with BAPCO to model performance of systems based on the 10 most popular applications at the time. At the time, we used scripts to perform functions in each app similar to popular actions taken by typical users. It was very cool for the time. The idea was to create a “typical” load by characterizing typical application use on systems, storage and networking devices. Today, the level of sophistication of workload modeling has increased significantly. And many tools like TPC target a specific application or service. I’ve listed a number of more popular ones in the references section.

Two Fundamental Types of Workloads

At a high level, when you consider the different types of workloads, there are two fundamental categories. One is the monolithic application/ service while the other is more generalized. These are very different.

Monolithic Applications

The monolithic application is often a single-purpose custom-built application (or application suite) and runs at scale. In addition, it’s commonly a dedicated application separate from general business IT functions. Examples would be Zynga’s gaming platform or Google’s search platform. Both Zynga and Google’s environments also run at an extreme scale. Because of the scale, it’s even more important to understand nuances around workload characterization that are less critical (and harder to pin down) with mixed workloads. For example, Google can fine-tune the different aspects of their search platform to decrease the time to present results. In addition, they can create custom infrastructure components, architectures and configurations. Why? Because they clearly understand the myriad of possible tweaks to the application and their impact. In addition, applications at scale bring a whole host of unique challenges on their own. This is a very different environment from their internal core business applications that run their business. It is also very uncommon for most businesses to have this type of workload with the exception being the aforementioned or possibly a Line of Business (LOB) application. Arguably, one might consider Google, Facebook, Netflix or Zynga’s apps the company’s LOB application.

Mixed Workloads

The second type of workload is a mixed workload that combines a variety of core business applications. Internal core business applications are great examples of a mixed workload (email, ERP, HR, Financials, custom applications, etc). Each company will have a different combination of applications. They may also be a combination of off the shelf and custom applications. And each application does not typically run at a very large scale. These are classic IT workloads and found in just about every organization. The amount of effort to characterize and tweak this workload at a granular level vs. the value gained is often hard to justify.

Comparing Apples and Oranges

It’s important to clearly understand the type of workload you are comparing. Comparing what Zynga does with your own decisions is not the wisest of choices. Meaning, the demands and specifics of a monolithic workload are very different from a mixed workload. In addition, this does not taken into account the business factors that each type of workload brings to the forefront. All of these should be considered in the decision making process.

Following, Learning and Thinking

So, simply following Zynga, Google or Facebook’s decisions with cloud computing should not be happening without further consideration. Unfortunately, it is. Yet even Netflix and Zynga have taken very different paths for their applications/ services. Can we all learn from these industry leaders in the cloud computing space? Absolutely! But we need to consider what factors and aspects compare with our own needs. Getting to the answer is more complex than simply saying “Facebook went right, we should go right too!”. It means we need to think more and understand our own needs.

And as if understanding your own workload is not complex enough, comparing workloads across companies is very challenging. There are so many variables to consider that the value may not be worth the effort. For most it will still be an apples to oranges comparison. The best advice is to understand the factors that go into your decision-making process and compare common attributes across workloads. That way, you can learn from others while making good decisions about understanding your own workload.

Leveraging the appropriate tools can also assist in the decision making process.

 

References:

TPC Benchmarks: Transaction Processing Performance Council (http://www.tpc.org/)

SYSmark/ MobileMark/ WebMark Benchmarks: BAPCO (http://www.bapco.com/)

Cloud Testing: SOASTA (http://www.soasta.com/)

HP LoadRunner (http://www8.hp.com/us/en/software/software-product.html?compURI=tcm:245-935779)

My Top 5 Most Used Business Apps for iPad

As a frequent flyer that booked over 150,000 actual flown miles last year, I like to travel light. In that vein, I prefer to travel with only an iPad and no laptop. Sure, I do have a MacBook Air that I could bring. These days, I find that flying with the iPad solo fits the bill.

As a diehard iPad user, I’m often asked about the applications I use and why. That brings me to this list. There are many different applications that I (and others) have used and find useful. However, I find that I come back to these applications more than others. As a bonus, I’ve added a few honorable mentions to the end.

Top 5 Most Used Business Apps

1. Pages/ Keynote: Pages is Apple’s version of a word processing application. It lacks more complex features like reviewing found in Microsoft’s Word. But it is great to for taking notes and creating documents. And you’re able to export to PDF and Word formats. Keynote is Apple’s version of a presentation application. I do find creating presentations in Keynote cumbersome. So, I create the presentations in PowerPoint on my laptop then transfer them into Keynote. Using the iPad video adapter, I am able to present right off the iPad. One tip: make sure to test your presentations after conversation to Keynote. Some of the more complex features don’t translate cleanly. But with trial and error, I have found what works and doesn’t work.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pages/id361309726?mt=8

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/keynote/id361285480?mt=8

2. iThoughtsHD: A stellar mindmapping tool which is a great way to collect thoughts, move them around and organize them. Using the iPad Video Adapter, your mindmap is displayed on a projector which is a great way to collaborate with others. And there are plenty of ways to export your mindmap…or just email it to folks.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ithoughtshd-mindmapping/id369020033?mt=8

3. Penultimate: The toolset would not be complete without a freehand drawing tool. It is a great tool for drawing charts and pictures of your thoughts. While you can use your finger to draw, I find a stylus more functional and precise. And again, like iThoughtsHD, you can display to an external projector using the iPad Video Adapter. In addition, you can export or email diagrams around too.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/penultimate/id354098826?mt=8

4. Box: I’ve used iDisk, DropBox, Box and iCloud. iCloud is great for sharing between Apple applications and devices. However, I found that Box provided better usability between platforms and applications. In addition, Box gives you the ability to select “favorites” of files or folders to access offline. That’s great for use on an airplane. In addition, a increasing number of apps support the WebDAV standard allowing files to be saved directly to Box. Conversely, files can be opened by specific applications instead of simply using the Box file viewer.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/box-for-iphone-and-ipad/id290853822?mt=8

5. Kayak: This is a new entry to my list. I used to be a TripIt Pro user. However, I have found that Kayak now provides updates to trip (flight changes, gate changes, etc)…but without the subscription feel that TripIt Pro requires. Don’t get me wrong. TripIt Pro is a great application. The only reason I dropped them for Kayak was the fee. And I was already using Kayak for other purposes too.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kayak-mobile/id305204535?mt=8

Honorable Mentions:

1. Twitter: Call me a purist, but I fancy the classic application. There are others that work well too.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/twitter/id333903271?mt=8

2. Skype: Calls from overseas can be pricey. So, I tend to rely more on Skype. I also use Skype if I’m in a location with spotty cell coverage…but good Wi-Fi. Convention centers and hotels come to mind.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/skype-for-ipad/id442012681?mt=8

3. United Airlines: The new(er) United app is really an app for iPhone. Aside from the graphics, it works well on the iPad for looking up details about your trip and alternative flights.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/united-airlines/id449945214?mt=8

4. WordPress: It’s a decent way to make posts to your blog, change pages and check stats.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpress/id335703880?mt=8

5. LinkedIn: Similar to the United app, this one is designed for the iPhone too. But I still find it more useful than pulling up a browser to search, make connections and send notes.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/linkedin/id288429040?mt=8

Necessary Hardware:

1. Apple VGA Adapter: This is one of the most used cables in the bag. It connects between the iPad’s 30-pin connector and a VGA port. Sure, there is an HDMI version. But I have yet to find a place that has a projector or display with HDMI over VGA.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC552ZM/B?fnode=MTc0MjU4NjE

2. Apple Wireless Keyboard: Over time, I’ve become very proficient with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard. But there are times when the external Bluetooth keyboard is called for. And it’s a very light addition to the bag.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC184LL/B?fnode=MTc0MjU4OTY

3. Incase Origami Workstation: This is a great case for the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. Before getting it, I kept having trouble with the keyboard constantly turning on when I threw it in my bag. Then it would drain the batteries in the keyboard and the iPad. The Origami case provides enough protection for the power button on the side. In addition, it serves as a great stand for your iPad making it into a pseudo laptop.

http://goincase.com/products/detail/origami-workstation-cl57934

4. iPad 10w Power Adapter: The power adapter that comes with the iPad is great. But you never know when you will need a bit more extension to the cable. Or run into a plug that won’t fit the iPad’s power brick. That’s where this cable comes in handy. And it works for your iPhone too.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC359LL/A?fnode=MTc0MjU4NjA

 

I hope you find this list useful. Enjoy!