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Predictions for 2011: getting ready to compete in real time

December 1, 2010 3 comments

2010 was a transition year for the tech sector. It was the year when cloud suddenly began to look realistic to the large companies that had scorned it. It was the year when social media suddenly became serious business. And it was the year when hardware and software were being united as a platform – something like in the old mainframe days – but different because of high-level interfaces and modularity. There were also important trends starting to emerge like the important of managing information across both the enterprise and among partners and suppliers. Competition for ownership of the enterprise software ecosystem headed up as did the leadership of the emerging cloud computing ecosystem.

So, what do I predict for this coming year? While at the outset it might look like 2011 will be a continuation of what has been happening this year, I think there will be some important changes that will impact the world of enterprise software for the rest of the decade.

First, I think it is going to be a very big year for acquisitions. Now I have said that before and I will say it again. The software market is consolidating around major players that need to fill out their software infrastructure in order to compete. It will come as no surprise if HP begins to purchase software companies if it intends to compete with IBM and Oracle on the software front.  But IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft will not sit still either.  All these companies will purchase the incremental technology companies they need to compete and expand their share of wallet with their customers.

This will be a transitional year for the up and coming players like Google, Amazon, Netflix, Salesforce.com, and others that haven’t hit the radar yet.  These companies are plotting their own strategies to gain leadership. These companies will continue to push the boundaries in search of dominance.  As they push up market as they grab market share, they will face the familiar problem of being able to support customers who will expect them to act like adults.

Customer support, in fact, will bubble to the top of the issues for emerging as well as established companies in the enterprise space – especially as cloud computing becomes a well-established distribution and delivery platform for computing.  All these companies, whether well established or startups will have to balance the requirements to provide sophisticated customer support with the need to make profit.  This will impact everything from license and maintenance revenue to how companies will charge for consulting and support services.

But what are customers be looking for in 2011? Customers are always looking to reduce their IT expenses – that is a given. However, the major change in 2011 will be the need to innovative based on customer facing initiatives.  Of course, the idea of focusing on customer facing software itself isn’t new there are some subtle changes.  The new initiatives are based on leveraging social networking from a secure perspective to both drive business traffic, anticipate customer needs and issues before they become issues.  Companies will spend money innovating on customer relationships.

Cloud Computing is the other issue in 2011. While it was clearly a major differentiator in 2010, the cloud will take an important leap forward in 2011.  While companies were testing the water this year, next year, companies will be looking at best practices in cloud computing.  2011 will be there year where customers are going to focus on three key issues: data integration across public, private, and data centers, manageability both in terms of workload optimization, security, and overall performance.  The vendors that can demonstrate that they can provide the right level of service across cloud-based services will win significant business. These vendors will increasingly focus on expanding their partner ecosystem as a way to lock in customers to their cloud platform.

Most importantly, 2011 will be the year of analytics.  The technology industry continues to provide data at an accelerated pace never seen before. But what can we do with this data? What does it mean in organizations’ ability to make better business decisions and to prepare for an unpredictable future?  The traditional warehouse simply is too slow to be effective. 2011 will be the year where predictive analytics and information management overall will emerge as among the hottest and most important initiatives.

Now I know that we all like lists, so I will take what I’ve just said and put them into my top ten predictions:

1. Both today’s market leaders and upstarts are going to continue to acquire assets to become more competitive.  Many emerging startups will be scooped up before they see the light of day. At the same time, there will be almost as many startups emerge as we saw in the dot-com era.

2. Hardware will continue to evolve in a new way. The market will move away from hardware as a commodity. The hardware platform in 2010 will be differentiated based on software and packaging. 2010 will be the year of smart hardware packaged with enterprise software, often as appliances.

3. Cloud computing models will put extreme pressure on everything from software license and maintenance pricing to customer support. Integration between different cloud computing models will be front and center. The cloud model is moving out of risk adverse pilots to serious deployments. Best practices will emerge as a major issue for customers that see the cloud as a way to boost innovation and the rate of change.

4. Managing highly distributed services in a compliant and predictable manner will take center stage. Service management and service level agreements across cloud and on-premises environments will become a prerequisite for buyers.

5. Security software will be redefined based on challenges of customer facing initiatives and the need to more aggressively open the corporate environment to support a constantly morphing relationship with customers, partners, and suppliers.

6. The fear of lock in will reach a fever pitch in 2011. SaaS vendors will increasingly add functionality to tighten their grip on customers.  Traditional vendors will purchase more of the components to support the lifecycle needs of customers.  How can everything be integrated from a business process and data integration standpoint and still allow for portability? Today, the answers are not there.

7. The definition of an application is changing. The traditional view that the packaged application is hermetically sealed is going away. More of the new packaged applications will be based on service orientation based on best practices. These applications will be parameter-driven so that they can be changed in real time. And yes, Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) didn’t die after all.

8. Social networking grows up and will be become business social networks. These initiatives will be driven by line of business executives as a way to engage with customers and employees, gain insights into trends, to fix problems before they become widespread. Companies will leverage social networking to enhance agility and new business models.

9. Managing end points will be one of the key technology drivers in 2011. Smart phones, sensors, and tablet computers are refining what computing means. It will drive the requirement for a new approach to role and process based security.

10. Data management and predictive analytics will explode based on both the need to understand traditional information and the need to manage data coming from new sales and communications channels.

The bottom line is that 2011 will be the year where the seeds that have been planted over the last few years are now ready to become the drivers of a new generation of innovation and business change. Put together everything from the flexibility of service orientation, business process management innovation, the wide-spread impact of social and collaborative networks, the new delivery and deployment models of the cloud. Now apply tools to harness these environments like service management, new security platforms, and analytics. From my view, innovative companies are grabbing the threads of technology and focusing on outcomes. 2011 is going to be an important transition year. The corporations that get this right and transform themselves so that they are ready to change on a dime can win – even if they are smaller than their competitors.

What will it take to achieve great quality of service in the cloud?

November 9, 2010 1 comment

You know that a market is about to transition from an early fantasy market when IT architects begin talking about traditional IT requirements. Why do I bring this up as an issue? I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with a leading architect in charge of the cloud strategy for an important company that is typically on the bleeding edge of technology. Naturally, I am not allowed to name the company or the person. But let me just say that individuals and companies like this are the first to grapple with issues such as the need for a registry for web services or the complexity of creating business services that are both reusable and include business best practices. They are the first companies to try out artificial intelligence to see if it could automate complex tasks that require complex reasoning.

These innovators tend to get blank stares from their cohorts in other traditional IT departments who are grappling with mundane issues such as keeping systems running efficiently. Leading edge companies have the luxury to push the bounds of what is possible to do.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned from their experiments with technology. In fact, there is often more to be learned from their failures than from their successes because they are pushing the boundary about what is possible with current technology.

So, what did I take away from my conversation? From my colleague’s view, the cloud today is about “how many virtual machines you need, how big they are, and linking those VMs to storage. “ Not a very compelling picture but it is his perception of the reality of the cloud today.  His view of the future requirements is quite intriguing.

I took away six key issues that this advanced planner would like to see in the evolution of cloud computing:

One.  Automation of placement of assets is critical.  Where you actually put capability is critical. For example, there are certain workloads that should never leave the physical data center because of regulatory requirements.  If an organization were dealing with huge amounts of data it would not be efficient to place elements of that data on different cloud environments. What about performance issues? What if a task needs to be completed in 10 seconds or what if it needs to be completed in 5 milliseconds? There are many decisions that need to be made based on corporate requirements. Should this decision on placement of workloads be something that is done programmatically? The answer is no. There should be an automated process based on business rules that determines the actual placement of cloud services.

Two. Avoiding concentration of risk. How do you actually place core assets into a hypervisor? If, for example, you have a highly valuable set of services that are critical to decision makers you might want to ensure that they are run within different hypervisors based on automated management processes and rules.

Three. Quality of Service needs a control fabric.  If you are a customer of hybrid cloud computing services you might need access to the code that tells you what tasks the tool is actually doing. What does that tool actually touch in the cloud environment? What do the error messages mean and what is the implication? Today many of the cloud services are black boxes; there is no way for the customer to really understand what is happening behind the scenes. If companies are deploying truly hybrid environments that support a mixed workload, this type of access to the workings of the various tools that is monitoring and managing quality of service will be critical.  From a quality of service perspective, some applications will require dedicated bandwidth to meet requirements. Other applications will not need any special treatment.

Four.  Cloud Service Providers building shared services need an architectural plan to control them as a unit of work. These services will be shared across departments as well as across customers.  How do you connect these services? While it might seem simple at the 50,000-foot level, it is actually quite complex because we are talking about linking a set of services together to build a coherent platform. Therefore, as with building any system there is a requirement to model the “system of services”, then deploy that model, and finally to reconcile and tune the results.

Five. Standard APIs protect customers.  Should APIs for all cloud services be published and accessible? If companies are to have the freedom to move easily and efficiently between and among cloud services then APIs need to be well understood. For example, a company may be using a vendor’s cloud service and discover a tool that addresses a specific problem.  What if that vendor doesn’t support that tool? In essence, the customer is locked out from using this tool. This becomes a problem immediately for innovators.  However, it is also an issue for traditional companies that begin to work with cloud computing services and over time realize that they need more service management and more oversight.

Six. Managing containers may be key to the service management of the cloud. A well-designed cloud service has to be service oriented. It needs to be placed in a container without dependencies since customers will use services in different ways. Therefore, each service needs to have a set of parameter driven configurators so that the rules of usage and management are clear. What version of what cloud service should be used under what circumstance? What if the service is designed to execute backup? Can that backup happen across the globe or should it be done in proximity to those data assets?  These management issues will become the most important issues for cloud providers in the future.

The best thing about talking to people like this architect is that it begins to make you think about issues that aren’t part of today’s cloud discussions.  These are difficult issues to solve. However, many of these issues have been addressed for decades in other iterations of technology architectures. Yes, the cloud is a different delivery and deployment model for computing but it will evolve as many other architectures do. The idea of putting quality of service, service management, configuration and policy rules at the forefront will help to transform cloud computing into a mature and effective platform.



The lock-in risks of Software as a Service

May 3, 2010 3 comments

I started thinking a lot about software as a service environments and what this really means to customers.  I was talking to a CIO of a medium sized company the other day. His company is a customer of a major SaaS vendor (he didn’t want me to name the company). In the beginning things were quite good. The application is relatively easy to navigate and sales people were satisfied with the functionality. However, there was a problem. The use of this SaaS application was actually getting more complicated than the CIO had anticipated.  First, the company had discovered that they were locked into a three-year contract to support 450 sales people.  In addition, over the first several years of use, the company had hired a consultant to customize the workflow within the application.

So, what was the problem?  The CIO was increasingly alarmed about three issues:

  • The lack of elasticity. If the company suddenly had a bad quarter and wanted to reduce the number of licenses supported, they would be out of luck. One of the key promises of cloud computing and SaaS just went out the window.
  • High costs of the services model. It occurred to the CIO that the company was paying a lot more to support the SaaS application than it would have cost to buy an on premise CRM application. While there were many benefits to the reduced hardware and support requirements, the CIO was starting to wonder if the costs were justified.  Did the company really do the analysis to determine the long-term cost/benefit of cloud?  How would he be able to explain the long- term ramifications of budget increases that he expects will come to the CFO? It is not a conversation that he is looking forward to having.
  • No exit strategy. Given the amount of customization that the company has invested in, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no easy answer – and no free lunch. One of the reasons that the company had decided to implement SaaS was the assumption that it would be possible to migrate from one SaaS application to another.  However, while it might be possible to migrate basic data from a SaaS application, it is almost impossible to migrate the process information. Shouldn’t there be a different approach to integration in clouds than for on premise?

The bottom line is that Software as a Service has many benefits in terms of more rapid deployment, initial savings in hardware and support services, and ease of access for a highly distributed workforce.  However, there are complications that are important to take into account.  Many SaaS vendors, like their counterparts in the on-premise world, are looking for long-term agreements and lock-in with customers.  These vendors expect and even encourage customers to customize their implication based on their specific business processes.  There is nothing wrong with this – to make applications like CRM and HR productive they need to reflect a company’s own methods of doing business. However, companies need to understand what they are getting into. It is easy to get caught in the hype of the magic land of SaaS.  As more and more SaaS companies are funded by venture capitalists, it is clear that they will not all survive. What happens to your customized processes and data if the company goes out of business?

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that we need a different approach to integration in the cloud than for on premise. It needs to leverage looser coupling, configurations rather than programmatic integration. We have the opportunity to rethink integration altogether – even for on premise applications.

There is no simple answer to the quandary.  Companies looking to deploy a SaaS application need to do their homework before barreling in.  Understand the risks and rewards. Can you separate out the business process from the basic SaaS application? Do you really want to lock yourself into a vendor you don’t know well? It may not be so easy to free your company, your processes, or your data.

Can Informatica earn a place at the head table?

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Informatica might be thought of as the last independent data management company standing. In fact, that used to be Informatica’s main positioning in the market. That has begun to change over the last few years as Informatica can continued to make strategic acquisitions. Over the past two years Informatica has purchased five companies  — the most recent was Siperian, a significant player in Master Data Management solutions. These acquisitions have paid off. Today Informatica has past the $500 million revenue mark with about 4,000 customers. It has deepened its strategic partnerships with HP, Ascenture, Salesforce.com, and MicroStrategies,  In a nutshell, Informatica has made the transition from a focus on ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) tools to support data warehouses to a company focused broadly on managing information. Merv Adrian did a great job of providing context for Informatica’s strategy and acquisitions. To transition itself in the market, Informatica has set its sights on data service management — a culmination of data integration, master data management and data transformation, predictive analytics in a holistic manner across departments, divisions, and business partners.

In essence, Informatica is trying to position itself as a leading manager of data across its customers’ ecosystem. This requires a way to have consistent data definitions across silos (Master Data Management), ways to trust the integrity of that data (data cleansing), event processing, predictive analytics, integration tools to move and transform data, and the ability to prove that governance can be verified (data governance). Through its acquisitions, Informatica is working to put these pieces together. However, as a relatively small player living in a tough neighborhood (Oracle, IBM, SAS Institute,etc. it will be a difficult journey. This is one of the reasons that Informatica is putting so much emphasis on its new partner marketplace. A partner network can really help a smaller player appear and act bigger.

This Marketplace will include all of Informatica’s products. It will enable developers to develop within Informatica’s development cloud and deploy either in the cloud or on premise. Like its new partner marketplace, the cloud is offering another important opportunity for Informatica to compete. Informatica was an early partner with Salesforce.com. It has been offerings complementary information management products that can be used as options with Salesforce.com.  This has provided Informatica access to customers who might not have ever thought about Informatica in the past. In addition, it taught Informatica about the value of cloud computing as a platform for the future. Therefore, I expect that with Informatica’s strong cloud-based offerings will help the company maintain its industry position. In addition, I expect that the company’s newly strengthened partnership with HP will be very important in the company’s growth.

What is Informatica’s roadmap? It intends to continue to deliver new releases every six months including new data services and new data integration services. It will including develop these services with a self-service interfaces. In the end, its goal is to be a great data steward to its customers. This is an admirable goal. Informatica has made very good acquisitions that support its strategic goals. It is making the right bets on cloud and on a partner ecosystem. The question that remains is whether Informatica can truly scale to the size where it can sustain the competitive threats.  Companies like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and SAS Institute are not standing still.  Each of these companies have built and will continue to expand their information management strategies and portfolios of offerings. If Informatica can break the mold on ease of implementation on complex data service management it will have earned a place at the head table.

Predictions for 2010: clouds, mergers, social networks and analytics

December 15, 2009 7 comments

Yes, it is predictions time. Let me start by saying that no market change happens in a single year. Therefore, what is important is to look at the nuance of a market or a technology change in the context of its evolution. So, it is in this spirit that I will make a few predictions. I’ve decided to just list my top six predictions (I don’t like odd numbers). Next week I will add another five or six predictions.

  1. Cloud computing will move out of the fear, uncertainty and doubt phase to the reality phase for many customers. This means that large corporations will begin to move segments of their infrastructure and applications to the cloud. It will be a slow but steady movement. The biggest impact on the market is that customers will begin putting pressure on vendors to guarantee predictability and reliability and portability.
  2. Service Management will become mainstream. Over the past five years the focus of service management has been around ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) processes and certification. There is a subtle change happening as corporations are starting to take a more holistic view of how they can effectively manage how everything that has a sensor, an actuator, or a computer interface is managed. Cloud computing will have a major impact on the growing importance of service management.
  3. Cloud service providers will begin to drop their prices dramatically as competition intensifies. This will be one of the primary drivers of growth of the use of cloud services. It will put a lot of pressure on smaller niche cloud providers as the larger companies try to gain control of this emerging market.
  4. It is not a stretch to state that the pace of technology acquisitions will accelerate in 2010.  I expect that HP, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, Google, and CA will be extremely active. While it would be foolhardy to pick a single area, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that security, data center management, service management, and information management will be the focus of many of the acquisitions.
  5. Social Networking will become much more mainstream than it was in 2009. Marketers will finally realize that blatant sales pitches on Twitter or Facebook just won’t cut it.  We will begin to see markets learn how to integrate social networking into the fabric of marketing programs. As this happens there will be hundreds of new start ups focused on analyzing the effectiveness of these marketing efforts.
  6. Information management is at the cusp of a major change. While the individual database remains important, the issue for customers is focus on the need to manage information holistically so that they can anticipate change. As markets grow increasingly complex and competitive, the hottest products in 2010 will those that help companies anticipate what will happen next.  So expect that anything with the term predictive analytics to be hot, hot, hot.

Tectonic shifts: HP Plus 3Com versus Cisco Plus EMC

November 18, 2009 4 comments

Just when it looked clear where the markets were lining up around data center automation and cloud computing, things change. I guess that is what makes this industry so very interesting.  The proposed acquisition by HP of 3Com is a direct challenge to Cisco’s network management franchise. However, the implications of this move go further than what meets the eye.  It also pits HP in a direct path against EMC with its Cisco partnership. And to make things even more interesting, it also puts these two companies in a competitive three way race against IBM and its cloud/data center automation strategy. And of course, it doesn’t stop there. A myriad of emerging companies like Google and Amazon want a larger share of the enterprise market for cloud services. Companies like Unisys and CSC that has focused on the outsourced secure data centers are getting into the act.

I don’t think that we will see a single winner — no matter what any one of these companies will tell you.  The winners in this market shift will be those companies can build a compelling platform and a compelling value proposition for a partner ecosystem.  The truth about the cloud is that it is not simply a network or a data center. It is a new way of providing services of all sorts that can support changing customer workloads in a secure and predictable manner.

In light of this, what does this say for HP’s plans to acquire 3Com? If we assume that the network infrastructure is a key component of an emerging cloud and data center strategy, HP is making a calculated risk in acquiring more assets in this market.  The company that has found that its ProCurve networking division has begun gaining traction. HP ProCurve Networking is the networking division of HP.  The division includes network switches, wireless access points, WAN routers, and Access Control servers and software.   ProCurve competes directly with Cisco in the networking switch market. When HP had a tight partnership with Cisco, the company de-emphasized the networking. However, once Cisco started to move into the server market, the handcuffs came off. The 3Com acquisition takes the competitive play to a new level. 3Com has a variety of good pieces of technology that HP could leverage within ProCurve. Even more significantly, it picks up a strong security product called TippingPoint, a 3Com acquisition. TippingPoint fills a critical hole in HP’s security offering. TippingPoint, offers network security offerings including intrusion prevention and a product that inspects network packets.  The former 3Com subsidiary has also established a database of security threats based a network of external researchers.

But I think that one of the most important reasons that HP bought 3Com is its strong relationships in the Chinese market. In fiscal year 2008 half of 3Com’s revenue came from its H3C joint venture with Chinese vendor, Huawei Technology. Therefore, it is not surprising that HP would have paid a premium to gain a foothold in this lucrative market. If HP is smart, it will do a good job leveraging the many software assets to build out both its networking assets as well as beefing up its software organization. In reality, HP is much more comfortable in the hardware market. Therefore, adding networking as a core competency makes sense. It will also bolster its position as a player in the high end data center market and in the private cloud space.

Cisco, on the other hand, is coming from the network and moving agressively into the cloud and the data center market.  The company has purchased a position with VMWare and has established a tight partnership with EMC as a go to market strategy.  For Cisco, it gives the company credibility and access to customers outside of its traditional markets. For EMC, the Cisco relationship strengthens its networking play.  But an even bigger value for the relationship is to present a bigger footprint to customers as they move to take on HP, IBM, and the assortment of other players who all want to win.  The Cisco/EMC/VMware play is to focus on the private cloud.  In their view a private cloud is very similar to a private, preconfigured data center.  It can be a compelling value proposition to a customer that needs a data center fast without having to deal with a lot of moving parts.  The real question from a cloud computing perspective is the key question: is this really a cloud?

It was inevitable that this quiet market dominated by Google and Amazon would heat up as the cloud becomes a real market force.  But I don’t expect that HP or Cisco/EMC will have a free run. They are being joined by IBM and Microsoft — among others. The impact could be better options for customers and prices that invariably will fall. The key to success for all of these players will be how well they manage what will be an increasingly heterogeneous, federated, and highly distributed hardware and software world. Management comes in many flavors: management of these highly distributed services and management of the workloads.

Is cloud security really different than data center security?

October 30, 2009 7 comments

Almost every conversation I have had over the past year or so always comes back to security in the cloud.  Is it really secure? Or we are thinking about implementing the cloud but we are worried about security.  There are, of course, good reasons to plan a cloud security strategy. But in a sense, it is no different than planning a security strategy for your company. But it is the big scary cloud! Well, before I list the top then issues I would like to say one thing: if you think you need an entirely different security strategy for the cloud, you may not have a comprehensive security strategy to start with.  Yes, you have to make sure that you cloud provider has a sophisticated approach to security. However, what about your Internet service provider? What about the level of security within your own IT department? Can you throw stones if you live in a glass house (yes, that is a pun…sorry)?  So, before you start fretting about security in the cloud, get your own house in order.  Do you have an identity management plan? Do you ensure that one individual within the data center can’t control all of the data within a single environment to minimize risks? If you don’t have a well executed internal security plan, you aren’t ready for the cloud.  But let’s say that you have fixed that problem and you are ready to really plan your cloud security strategy. So, here five of the issues to consider. If you have others, let’s start a conversation.

security police

1. You need to start at the beginning with understanding the characteristics of your cloud provider. Is the company well funded? Is its data center designed with security at the center? Your level of scrutiny will also depend on how you are using the cloud. If you are using Infrastructure as a Service for a short term project there is less risk than if you are planning to use a cloud to store important customer data.

2. How is your cloud provider implementing security in a multi-tenant environment? How do they ensure that one customer’s data doesn’t impact another customer’s data?

3. Does your cloud provider give you the ability to monitor security of your data in the cloud? This will be important both for compliance and to keep track of your own security policies.

4. Does your cloud provider encrypt your critical data? If not, why not?

5. Does your cloud provider give you the ability to control who is allowed to access your information based on roles and authorization? Does the cloud provider support federated identity management? This is basic security best practices.

Now you are probably saying to yourself that this isn’t rocket science. These are fundamental security approaches that any data center should follow. I recommend that you take a look at a great document published by the Cloud Security Alliance that details many of the key issues surrounding security in the cloud. So, I guess my principle message is that cloud security is not different than security in any data center.  But the market does not seem to understand this because the perception is that a cloud is somehow not a data center that can be secured with regular old security. I think that we will see something interesting happen because of this perception: cloud vendors will begin to charge a premium for really good security.  In fact, this is already happening.  Vendors like Amazon and Salesforce are offering segregated implementations of their environments to customers who don’t trust their ordinary security approaches.  This will work in the short term primarily because during this early phase of the cloud there is not enough focus on security. Long term, as the market matures, cloud vendors will have to demonstrate their ability to provide a secure environment based on basic security best practices. In the meantime, cloud vendors will rake in the cash for premium secure cloud services.