Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big fish eating little fish

Much has been told of the massive amount of value that is lost in the ever changing world of mergers and acquisitions - 75% failure is what I have seen reported. But when it happens to a supplier of your technology it can be quite devastating.

A story was released today in The Register that demonstrates the ugly side of the coin. A month ago Oracle purchased a company called "Virtual Iron" who were a lean and mean competitor to the VMware juggernaut and whose products were available in New Zealand. The usual fanfare was pushed out through the PR channels - "With the addition of Virtual Iron, Oracle expects to enable customers to more dynamically manage their server capacity and optimize their power consumption."

I can just see the warm and fuzzy messages going out through the channel ensuring that customers' investments were safe......and then Oracle pull the plug. OK so there are promises to consolidate the customers into their virtualisation solutions in the future but that'll take time and no doubt require a really scary upgrade.

Another set of IT users left high and dry on the sand bank of M&A!

This tale has a bigger impact on the industry than we think because if you are the person making the decision you have to consider the risk of committing to a smaller player in the market and their ability to support you in the future.

Sadly, if you follow this through to it's eventual conclusion you end back at....."Nobody got fired for buying IBM."....again!

Now let me just check has Oracle acquired another company recently........?

Friday, June 19, 2009

One of my favourite words....

Ah yes hubris. I discovered this word while I was working for the world's largest silicon chip manufacturer - funny that. The freedictionary describes it as: "Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance" but it is usually assigned to the view of the world taken by corporations. And what better demonstrators of this than companies in the IT world.

A really good example of hubris is the "new and exciting" launch of Telecom's XT network here in New Zealand. This product has hit the streets here with a fabulously expensive advertising campaign using a rather weird looking Hamster from Top Gear.

What I love about these campaigns is their outright assumption that the services they are delivering with their "new" product are unique.

We've been roaming around the world seamlessly with one phone for a number of years, we've been using high speed networks for a few, in fact TC's early CDMA network was pretty fast anyway. We've been able to choose the latest phones from all the manufacturers in the world and, more importantly, we haven't had to add our contacts in every time we get a new handset.

So why all the fanfare for something we already have.....because their arrogance presumes that we have never seen it before.

Makes you wonder eh?

This is why you should never trust brochures, the reason somebody is telling you that they have a unique service is because you are the only person listening. If you're looking for something new it is your duty to challenge that statement and look beyond - you may be pleasantly surprised.

If you want a shock start looking around at open source software software or cloud computing services - a wild and wonderful world!

Now where was I?

Well I'm back...the mission was nowhere near accomplished "House of Cards" is a big book but such a good read I bought a copy. Who said libraries were bad for book sales?


Thursday, June 4, 2009

It might get quiet around here for the next four weeks!

Just a quick apology to all my smiling readers, that my blogging may come to a temporary halt.

Auckland library have just delivered me a brand new copy of "House of Cards - How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism" by William D. Cohan. It's 450 pages of close typed wonderment describing the recent collapse of society as we know it.

Putting the link in I noticed that the American tag line is "A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street" I assume a less anarchic version for our friends on the other side of the Pacific. Hubris is one of my favourite words and seems to be a watchword for the corporations that we deal with in our industry.

Anyway it is very interesting reading so I'm storing up things to write about and will be back soon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bandwidth's poor relation

On the day Telecom NZ announces it's "brand new network" - doesn't look too new to me to be honest - I thought I might touch on the subject of mobile applications and one reason why they don't work!

Most IT solutions struggle to perform when delivered on an internal corporate network where the servers that the application run on are two floors away from the users that are using it. The connectivity issues that arise in this scenario are pretty slim and usually completely discarded in the risk register of a project. The project has far worse things to worry about. 

However when you start pushing that interaction across another kind of network it can all start getting a bit difficult. For solutions to work well they need to function from end to end and if one of those ends is a lot further away than normal things can get nasty.

The problem tends to stem from the poor relation of Mr Bandwidth. Mr Bandwidth is the guy who is the shining star and gets all the press coverage. He is constantly seen as our salvation in the shiny new world of broadband nirvana. But he has a poor relation - Ms Latency. Few people have heard of her and even fewer understand what she's about.

Let me explain, when you look at the performance of systems the easiest analogy to explain what is going is a comparison with roads. 

Bandwidth is the number of lanes on the highway, that's easy eh? The more lanes you have the more cars that can travel down the road so bandwidth is really simple to manage...isn't it? Well it is if we all drive Ferrari's at 240kph. But what happens if we only have clapped out old Morris Minors? 

There's the highway laid out before us and all we can do is 30kph. When we're stood at the other end of the road the same number of vehicles are going by but they've taken 8 times longer to get here (30/240 for those mathematically challenged of you!).

That difference in speed is latency. The real problem, that's kept quiet (especially by the mobile networks) is that bandwidth is generally really easy, and cheap to increase, but latency is really expensive and very costly to reduce. And when it comes to mobile networks that problem just gets worse.

Now if your application, that has been developed for you on your network, is not aware of that change in latency there's a good chance it will never work. Not unless you can "change the laws of physics".

So be careful, just because you can drive to the dairy doesn't mean that you can get to Sydney in your car! :-)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reading about complexity

Last year I read a very interesting book by Nick Davies called Flat Earth News that described in gory detail the demise of the journalistic profession. 

Sadly technology was one of the major reasons for this loss of integrity. The relentless need for speed has been caused by the pressures of the Internet. We see evidence of this constantly in our daily doses of media.
What Nick explains is why we have arrived at this place. Publications still have an insatiable desire for copy (and the attendant advertising) but this is massively outweighed by a total lack of time for journalists to prepare anything. The only option is to turn to the complexity generators who are churning out the copy by the train load.

There is no better example of this than the IT press. Almost all information we receive is based on the result of some company's press release about their new product. Most commentators column inches are the result of either a product launch or visit to....

Those words Dave Smith's trip to....were paid for by.....are always a bit of a give away.

Added to this the quality of journalism has been plummeting, a fact that is pretty obvious when you first sit down with one and try and explain your message. And let's face it how can we expect anybody to have a full working knowledge of the labyrinthine number of technologies that fall beneath the IT banner. 

All we end up with is endless "gadget reviews" and needless to say they are all "so simple to use"!

The lack of informed comment in the IT press adds to the desire to "keep up with the latest technology" and contributes to the ever expanding complexity we experience in our daily lives.

The really hard thing to do is ignore all this rhetoric and focus on what are the real issues affecting the delivery of IT services.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Picture for the week...

That week went by with few words of wisdom added - sorry.

But here's a picture to leave the week with...

...I thought the title should be "NO!"

The irony stretches further in that this was taken right outside Tower Insurance's head office in Auckland - where better to do it I guess? No need to take a picture, just tell them to look out the window. :-)

It also raises another issue that irks me. All that spray painting over the pavement to tell the guys with diggers where everything is - why? Surely we have got to the stage where our huge investment in GIS systems has allowed us to ensure our sub-terranian real estate is mapped out to a level that precludes the need for this hideous graffiti? I know the answer to that one - don't call me Shirley!

The demon in me wants to run around with a can of paint and add spurious confusing additions to these marks just to really confuse them! I'd love to see the fall-out from that little piece of contributory vandalism!

Anyway have a good weekend all and next week I'll have another go at my ever growing list of technology gripes! See ya....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ironic eh?

Hope you got the irony of the typos in my post on understanding detail? ;-)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"A suite of products fully integrated... the brochure level"

Here’s another one of my favourite sayings....and is a reflection of the way software companies sell their portfolio of products. I think this one came from a very sensible man in the storage and security world Jon William Toigo.

Software companies start with a product and, if successful, usually one of two things happen:

  • They get bought by a company that likes the look of their product and see it as a complimentary offering.
  • They start buying companies that sell products that they see as complimentary offerings.

Both strategies obviously have exactly the same outcome - a set of products that may look like they are similar but in fact are far from that.

To solve the problem the parent company deconstructs the purchased product and then redevelops the solution into its enterprise application framework and quickly delivers a solution that is fully integrated at all levels.

Oh hang on a minute....that’s wrong....what they actually do is.....

Get the marketing guys in to re-brand the product and ensure that all collateral is consistent with the other products they own. “Thus integrating at the brochure level.”

Once engineering have a good look at the product they usually decide to leave it alone and you then start hearing about consolidation and integration being available in the next version....whenever that might be....

There have been some great stories of products being purchased, and once their design is understood they are then completely re-developed, from the ground up, in order for them to continue providing value for their new owners. 

One example that springs to mind would undermine the kudos of a famous kiwi tech entrepreneur so I better not mention him. Especially as I own shares in his company!

Some of the giants of our industry have made millions out of their customers by selling brochure integration, Tivoli and Unicentre are two of the greatest but no area of software is spared from this scourge.

The counter to this is companies who develop fully integrated products from the start and architect them with this in mind. Obviously the problem with this strategy is the need for that rare commodity – strategic vision! There are a few who have done this and they always struggle to sell against the brochure-warers, they become the victims of feature ticking solution selections – not easy!

So when you’re faced with a solution purchase - check out the history of the product and please dig a bit deeper than the brochure!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Architects fly with angels but the devil is in the detail!

I’m not sure where I got this quote from (Google tells me to take the parentheses off so I now have a unique entry in Google!) but it so impressed me I put it in my CV. Fat help that was.....but you don’t care about that do you?

I think this sentence goes a long way to summing up why we go wrong so often with the delivery of solutions and it is one of the cornerstones of IT project failure. I’m going to follow this thread in the next few posts.

Architecture is one of the those words that is overused and under defined (top of my list is SIMPLE) and the thing that really gets my goat is that many people who profess to be architects rarely have any interest in the real implications of their decisions. 

This happens because there is generally too much detail to understand. And if you want to maintain your kudos in our world of technology the last thing you want to do is call on others to help you understand the detail.

So we ignore it. We hatch grandiose plans designed to ensure “executive buy-in” and “business approval” and toss them over the wall for the projects to deliver.

I was involved with a project a few years ago. It kicked off with a meeting which included all the technology providers. The Architect of the solution walked in and proudly stated that $5 million dollars worth of hardware was on its way and it was our job to build it into a functioning system. When asked exactly what was required of the solution he stated sternly the two primary objectives. As he said this there were furtive glances around the room from those who understood the technology and I gingerly spoke up and said “You realise that those two requirements are mutually exclusive for the platform you have chosen?” He looked startled, replied with “That’s not my problem it’s up to you guys to sort it out!” and promptly left the room.....

From that point on the “solution” compromises began and what they ended up with provided nowhere near the resilience they had required at the start. 

I really worry that there are not many people in the world who can take a high level view of complex IT systems and yet also have the skill and fortitude to  drill down into a level of detail that can preclude failure. When this happens in a project one of two things:
  1. Plans are hatched at a high level and then when they are delivered they expose layers and layers of unthought-of implications. Outcome – under resourced projects failing to deliver.
  2. Plans are hatched at a low level and when delivered they expose layers and layers of unthought-of implications. Outcome – under resourced projects failing to deliver.
Oh hang on......