Feb 27, 2009

I broke up with my cell phone company and now they are stalking me!

I’ve decided that service providers are like co-dependant relationships. When you ask them for something, you know since you’ve been a very good customer for over 3 years, just a little something like upgrading to a smartphone (which will mean $50 more a month in data charges) and they tell you to take a hike. Cold. Yet, when I finally break up with them and move to a carrier that is half the price (with data) and has a phone I really like, I start getting letters every day begging me to come back, offering me the phone I wanted, promising to refund my termination fee, and discounted rates. And it’s not just cell phone carriers. I’m still getting one letter a week since I broke up with my satellite TV carrier last summer! Where’s the love? Or at least customer service?

Feb 26, 2009

7 Questions to Evaluate SaaS

Nicely put (emphasis added by me).
The key point, however, is that features on day one don’t matter as much as the efficiencies and cost savings you can squeeze out of the SaaS tool within 30 days of adoption — and how confident you are that those efficiencies and cost savings will endure.
7 Questions to Evaluate SaaS

Google Responds To ‘Gfail’ Outage With Apps Status Dashboard

Now in the more transparency department...much better then blog posts.

In response to its extended Gmail outage yesterday, Google has just launched the Google Apps Status Dashboard. The dashboard offers an at-a-glance look at the system health of most popular Google services, including Gmail, Google Calendar, and the company’s suite of web-based document editors. Google has been pretty good about responding to down time with blog posts alerting users with status updates, but having a dedicated page seems like a much better solution (especially for users who don’t follow Google’s blogs).

Google Responds To ‘Gfail’ Outage With Apps Status Dashboard:

Feb 24, 2009

When Gmail Fails, Users Adapt - NYTimes.com [UPDATED /25/09]

Two striking things in this article; 1) we're adaptable and thanks to free stuff we can be, 2) we put up with a lot of poor service, even when we're paying for it.

Thanks to free (but less reliable) web services, we can face a failure and move on to the next tool in our arsenal with only a few minutes of complaining. Yes, it’s a lowering of standards to accept nothing but the fabled “five nines” provided by the wireline phone business, but it’s a road we’ve been on for years. Think about what you will accept from a cell phone in terms of lost connections and dropped calls. Reliability is not keeping us tethered to our landlines by any stretch of the imagination.

Yes, we're all very clever and adaptable. Fortunately (is it fortunate?) there are other channels for communicating asynchronously in a store-and-forward fashion. This is yet another example of how email is so not dead.

But how expensive is it when you are paying for the service, even at $50 bucks a year*? What was the impact of this Gmail outage (~4 hours hours last night) on all the corporate customers who actually paid for the service? A one hour outage of e-mail for some companies can translate into large sums of lost dollars very quickly. That sort of "reliability" does not make a sound business case when it eats up the operational savings that the company chose Google for in the first place.

Given that, I do, in principle, agree with ZDNet blogger Sam Diaz, that customers should not discount the benefits of cloud-based services on a single outage. True (as one commenter points out) if you host your own email it would be you "staying up all night" trying to fix the problem. Yes, outages happen, but when outages translate to huge dollars, sometimes it feels good to have a "throat to strangle" or at least some control over the situation. In the case of last nights Gmail outage, the only control users had was to go somewhere else. In all cases the risks and value need to be weighed out when deciding on how to source a business critical system like email.

The sad but true fact is that we love our communications so much that we are willing to accept poor service even for something we pay for. "Think about what you will accept from a cell phone in terms of lost connections and dropped calls." Ouch, it hurts when you really do consider it. Although reliability is a "cost" for using free services, consumers should never expect it to be a "cost" when the service is paid for. Yet apparently we do.

Five nines is too expensive for most free, consumer-oriented web services to maintain, and realizing that, we seem to be building out our store of redundant communications. So now, when life offers us power outages, snowstorms and even Gmail failures, we’re able to pick right up and keep blogging, tweeting, texting and posting our thoughts into the ether.

My concern is that as customers, we're getting too comfortable with costly service outages. I hope that as Google, Microsoft, IBM and others push the cloud services model to the enterprise that enterprises push back and demand more "nines." Oh and there’s a bonus; us free riders benefit as well.

When Gmail Fails, Users Adapt - NYTimes.com

*The annual price for Google Apps that includes advert free Gmail and other Google tools)

UPDATE 2/25/09: According to Google the outage was for 2.5 hours beginning at 4:30 AM ET February 24, 2009.

Feb 18, 2009

Software Is the Attraction at Cellphone Show - NYTimes.com

The sabre rattling continues...

While dozens of new smartphones are being introduced at Mobile World Congress here this week, the industry’s biggest players — and the newcomers that have shaken it up — are less likely to be promoting their latest devices than what makes them run.

Software Is the Attraction at Cellphone Show - NYTimes.com

Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use - NYTimes.com

Kudos to Facebook for reconsidering (albeit under huge pressure from it's users) it's TOS changes and and shame on them for trying to slip in significant licensing changes with little notification to it's users. As much fun as it is, I was ready to leave the social network had they not reconsidered.
After a wave of protests from its users, the Facebook social networking site said on Wednesday that it would withdraw changes to its so-called terms of service concerning the data supplied by the tens of millions of people who use it.
Hooray for he Consumerist for letting us all know what was under foot.

The blog post by Consumerist, part of the advocacy group Consumers Union, received more than 300,000 views. Users created Facebook groups to oppose the changes. To some of the thousands who commented online, the changes meant: “Facebook owns you.”
It's a sign of times and power of the social networking that brought such a rapid reaction and retraction. Great work by Facebook users who leveraged the social network to organize, make their case known, and announce their dissatisfaction to the Facebook management.

Feb 17, 2009

Cloud formations

Lots is being said about Cloud Computing these days. How it can cut down overhead, make costs more predictable, and is attractive to many customers. All of this is true, whether it's a sign of the economic times, the overwhelming noise of hosting vendor marketing and sales drives, or back-to-basics common sense of network-based computing that is now more accessible due to lowered barriers to entry. Whatever it is, Cloud Computing, SaaS, hosting, you name it is a popular topic.

Like Web 2.0 - who's demise was touted on TechCrunch this last week - Cloud Computing is another term for doing something that we've been doing a lot of all along. New technologies like Ajax and XML have made easier to provide improved user experiences in the browser. But in reality Cloud Computing - or at least Cloud Computing concepts - isn't so new (anyone remember ASPs*?), just that it's reaching into areas that were previously considered but never taken seriously enough by enterprises. IBM has been doing hosted data and application services for enterprises for many years using IBM equipment in data centers all over the world.

The difference now is that the hoster to hostee relationship is changing. No longer is it strictly one-to-one where the customer feels that their service is unique (even if its on shared servers) but literally the hoster is going big time with a commercial twist when selling services to customers. Again, nothing really new here, as a long time customer of a hosted, shared service provider I've enjoyed a love/hate relationship with the vendor mostly out of necessity since I'm a small business and needed something I could rely on other than my own self-managed solution.

Essentially we're seeing a convergence of the commercial and enterprise hosted services. When the search providers (i.e., Google) or on-line shopping pioneers (i.e., Amazon) are first in line to offer their vast data centers up for hosting productivity applications and data storage then something is going on. Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, and Zimbra legitimize these ventures signifying that this is a market that is likely to attract significant business dollars.

Needless to say, it boils down to costs these days. There are two important factors that I've found customers need to be mindful of when considering Cloud Computing; user and service segmentation. Knowing what services users need - depending on their jobs and the business needs - will help save more money than just going blanket hosted solutions for everyone. Hosted cost models are different than in-house costing. Pricing is usually based on a per user per month/year price for a specific service or service bundle. It's up to the customer to know before buying which hosted services they really can use otherwise they may end up paying more in hidden costs or overpaying for services they don't use. Economies of scale do not work with hosted pricing models like they do when the service is deployed in-house, it's a buyer beware situation. And when we're talking about mission critical applications or platforms of service (such as data centers or communications) a well defined strategy is key to making the best decision.

Which takes me to the second important factor, deciding which services to host and which not to. I recently completed an e-mail strategy analysis for a large financial firm. The assumption going into the study was that hosted e-mail was cheaper. What we found out, through a series of vendor interviews and cost analyses, was that although hosted mailbox costs may be cheaper, when we looked into entire messaging services framework - archiving, DR/HA, compliance, faxing, network security, staffing, IM, fax, and mobile - hosting costs would be more expensive than staying in-house and cleaning up the existing e-mail messes. The study was unique to this company but the story illustrates how important it is to know the technical and business requirements before going into Cloud Computing strategy.

The results may be different in 2 or 3 years when hosting providers get better at manging service options and competition drives down costs, but today, there are many show stoppers that are likely to be costly in the long run for businesses. By looking at the user needs and the required services it was much easier for us to compare costs between in-house and hosted services. We also found out was that some services could go to the cloud sooner rather than later, such as perimeter security or archiving.

I am certain that things will continue to heat up competitively as cost is a huge concern these days and promises of 80- 90% savings has got to turn CIO's heads. I also believe the companies can get some decent savings through economies of scale with in-house services if they clean up their messes and look to "greener" data center designs. Still, Cloud Computing services are likely to continue to grow in popularity especially at the "edge" of the organization where predictable costs are needed. It's not cut and dry and Cloud Computing providers will need to be nimble enough to support the range of requirements needed to support small, medium, and large business alike.

*No, not Active Server Pages but Application Service Providers.

Feb 11, 2009


Elizabeth Gilbert on developing a relationship with your creative genius. Worth listening to the whole ~20 mins.