Archive for September 2008
One thing that I’ve been delaying is finding a good solution to keep my contacts and calendars synced across my home Mac, work Mac, MS Outlook (in my work VMware Windows VM), Palm Treo, and Blackberry. Admittedly I haven’t done a great deal of research on the best way to do this but I decided to go out on a limb and sign up for a Tungle account today. I’m hoping it will do at least some of what I’m asking. The big win would be if it could somehow get my Palm Treo back in the loop with regards to the address book. A few months ago the Treo dropped the address book and I can’t for the life of me get it to sync again with my Palm Desktop on the home Mac. Expect a review of the service once I get it up and running.
Amazon has been making a variety of moves to make their AWS platform more palatable for enterprise hosting deployments. New features like Oracle support and block level filesystems will cause enterprises to consider Amazon’s cloud in their list of potential vendors, but I think it will be hard for Amazon to get on the enterprise ‘short list’ of hosting vendors any time soon. This is because it takes enterprise customers a long time to get comfortable enough to try a new technology, and still longer to move from pilots and proof-of-concept exercises to full-blown production deployment.
While at VMware, I often discussed customer concerns related to migrating to our technology platform. These concerns typically boiled down to three key questions. I believe these are the same questions that enterprise customers will ask before going into the cloud…
1. “Will my current and future applications function, perform well, and scale in the cloud?”
Applications must be 100% guaranteed to work in the cloud, and to perform just as well as they would in a traditional datacenter environment. Regardless of the amount of savings or additional efficiencies gained due to usage of cloud services, it is a non-starter if a customers’ applications lose functionality or do not perform as well in the cloud vs in the data center. No amount of business case development or ROI/TCO analysis will get past this objection.
2. “Which applications should I move to the cloud?”
Enterprises will need to identify which systems and process can be safely moved to the cloud. They will likely take a phased approach where non-critical apps will be moved first, and then after a trial period, more important business applications will be migrated. A proper assessment process will be needed so enterprise customers don’t stumble in their move to the cloud. Just as server consolidation initiatives can grind to a halt if critical systems are migrated without proper planning, enterprises won’t move to cloud services if they encounter problems with early deployments. New technology always gets blamed first, even if the technology wasn’t the root cause of a problem. So, if you’re championing cloud hosting at your company, make sure you plan meticulously and minimize any business impact.
There are software tools like CIRBA and VMware Capacity Planner that help customers figure out which applications will play nicely in virtualized environments, but to my knowledge nothing of the sort exists in the cloud world. This seems like an area that a startup might be able to address since the aforementioned vendors are focused squarely on virtualization as a software component within an infrastructure versus an outsourced cloud service.
3. “Who can help me get my people, processes, and technologies to be ‘cloud ready’ ?”
Any time a new, disruptive technology comes on the market, there is huge disparity between the supply of skilled technologists with expertise in that technology and the demand for those technologists. To fill the gap, enterprises tend to hire subject matter experts (in the form of consultants). Although cloud computing certainly makes aspects of managing IT infrastructure easier, there is still no substitute for experts who can smoothly guide an enterprise through the migration process. It will be interesting to see if the major consulting shops start to build practices around outsourced cloud services to address this need.
There is also an issue of “operational readiness”, a term coined by VMware to describe the challenges inherent in forcing traditionally siloed IT departments to work together in the management of a shared infrastructure where responsibilities overlap. For example, is there a separate ‘cloud team’ or center of excellence within an IT department that is responsible for the performance of the cloud environment, or does that responsibility fall to the server team? What about storage? Are the SAN guys going to be expected to debug problems that might be related to Amazon S3? And don’t get me (or Hoff) started on security…
These questions were often asked by my customers at VMware, and I think the cloud providers are going to face the same queries as they push furthur into the enterprise.
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Yahoo Pipes is a neat service that allows you to create RSS feeds that are mashups of other RSS feeds. I used Pipes to create an RSS feed that shows me most (all?) of the recent venture financing and M&A announcements that show up on a variety of venture capital and tech industry blogs. I realize VentureSource and services like it provide a daily emailed update with some of this stuff, but I prefer getting it from the blogosphere since there tends to be more analysis.
The filtering I’m using right now is pretty crude. I look for words like ‘acquired’, ‘million’, and ‘Series’ to determine if a given post in any of the feeds being monitored is relvant to funding or M&A. I put the Pipe together pretty quickly so I do get dupes, but it is still a great way for me to check on the latest and greatest without having to dig into individual blogs. I have the Pipe on my iGoogle homepage so I see it every morning when I get in.
Here is the Pipe. Feel free to use it, share it, hack it, and let me know what you think. And if you can tell me how to get the dupes out (or copy the pipe and do it for me) I’ll buy you lunch :)
By the way, does anyone know of any sites or services that are heavily relying on Yahoo Pipes?
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Last night I attended a deal sourcing presentation by Evaluserve, a private equity services firm. The Columbia Business School alumni club of NYC sponsored the event as well as Cresa Partners.
I was one of (I think) two VCs in the room, so the rest of the folks must have been bankers, PE, hedge fund folks, etc. The presenter discussed some interesting deal sourcing/origination strategies and focused quite a bit on the use of websites, web services, and groups to find new deals.
What was particularly interesting for me was when the presenter asked the room full of (I’m guessing 50 people) who had ever attended a meetup.
My hand went up and when I looked around the room, there were no other hands raised!
Meetup.com certainly has more awareness among the tech and VC communities, but I wanted to see if there were some groups that looked like they might be appealing for PE folks to source deals. Here are the ones that looked interesting to me…
- New York Real Estate Investors Meetup (Real Estate PE)
- China Outsourcing (Emerging Markets PE)
- Dynamic Dubai (Emerging Markets PE)
Now, I only spent about 10 minutes looking for these Meetup groups, but with some more effort I am sure I could have dredged up some other interesting ones.
What’s the bottom line?
Outside of the tech community, business social networking has penetrated a tiny fraction of the addressable market. LinkedIn, Spoke, Doostang, Xing, and various other social networking sites are only the beginning. New tools are needed to make these sites more accessible to a non-technical audience, and integrations are needed between the social networking platforms and common IT productivity tools. Even with the slew of social networking utility sites and plugins, there is still a huge opportunity here. Identifying the winners in the space will be difficult, and for me, that means there’s alot of room for new companies to make an impact.
I spent the last couple of days between the Web 2.0 Expo and the Interop conference here in NYC. Here are some of my thoughts and observations:
- There were very few storage vendors present. There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in the storage space (e.g. FCoE, cloud storage) and so I was a little disappointed not to see a better showing. Plenty of security companies though…
- Many companies exhibiting at Web 2.0 Expo were providing solutions for enterprises versus cool consumer-facing stuff. This dovetailed nicely with Tim O’ Reilly‘s thoughts on ‘web meets world’ and the need to build things that are solving real problems. The big money is in the enterprise and its good to see that the web companies are starting to move in that direction.
- Clay Shirky’s talk really opened my eyes to the impact of living in a more connected world, and specifically the need for smarter filters for all of the lifestream information that is getting produced on the web everyday. Gotta think there will be some investment opportunities there…
- UnConferencing is great! I really love the idea of spontaneously creating sessions democratically as a mini-conference within the conference. I was in a session about startups and innovation which also meandered into a discussion of VC financing (good or bad, bootstrap or not, etc) so it was nice to be able to contribute. Now I will need to check out a BarCamp or two…
- Amazon Web Services has arrived in a big way. I attended a session they hosted offsite during the conference which really cemented my belief that what they are doing is (buzzword alert) game-changing. I can now see very few reasons why any non-enterprise customer wouldn’t consider it as a serious hosting option. The growth they are having is tremendous and to my knowledge they are the only game in town when it comes to affordable, truly (infinitely) scalable hosting. They just announced a CDN solution as well.
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Startups often obtain patents to attempt to protect their intellectual property. From what I have seen, obtaining patents on core IP is considered “good housekeeping” by most VCs and startup lawyers. However, I recently saw an instance where a company decided not to file a patent on a specific piece of technology because they viewed it as a trade secret. In other words, had they filed the patent, the information could have allowed others to duplicate the functionality through alternative methods. So, they decided not to file a patent. I realize this is only one datapoint, but I wonder how often this sort of thing comes up.
Hoff from Rational Survivability just posted about the contents of his VMworld goodie bag. Aside from whatever SWAG the VMware folks stuffed in there, it sounds like there was some marketing material in the bag touting support of Cisco switches within VMware ESX!
This is very big news and something that will be sure to increase adoption of VMware in production environments. After all, the network guys will now have a) more visibility into the VMware environment and b) should be able to leverage their standard Cisco management toolkits to control the virtual switches running on ESX.
I’m very curious to see the details on how this is implemented. There are going to be a wide variety of implications to how datacenters are operated, secured, and managed. I’ll post again with analysis on this topic once more details become available.
Admittedly, things have not been going that well at VMware over the last few months. The stock price is taking a beating, Diane was forced out (and Mendel followed), and the Microsoft machine has kicked into high gear with the full release of Hyper-V.
In talking to folks who still work at VMware it sounds like there is a general sense of optimism, at least in the field. Having spent 3+ years of my career there, I still look on my time there fondly. I had a great opportunity to evangelize some really cool technology and learn how enterprise IT was managed across a huge swath of verticals and geographies. And our engineering and product teams made my job alot easier given that the product lived up to the promises made in the marketing materials.
But that was then, and this is now. There are some major hurdles VMware will need to overcome in order to get back on track after this recent set of stumbles.
Here’s what I think VMware needs to do:
- Play nice with Citrix – VMware and Citrix have been fiercely competing and it is very clear that both companies are trying to gain a beachhead into the core market of their competitor. VMware is looking to extend into application virtualization while Citrix acquired XenSource for their hypervisor. This competition will be great for customers, but not good for the shareholders of these two companies. The virtualization market, broadly defined, is so large that these companies could both have very healthy growth rates in the coming years without stepping into one another’s turf. Note that I don’t think that Citrix and VMware will actually play nice, but it’s nice to dream… :)
- Keep innovating – VMware’s higher end functionality (VMotion, HA, Site Recovery Manager, etc) and the stuff they’re building for the future (power management across the infrastructure, hot failover of VMs, and whatever other cool stuff they announce next week at VMworld) is still years ahead of the competition. The hypervisor is a commodity, but management of the hypervisors and everything on top of them is a high value activity – and an activity at which VMware continues to excel.
- Engage more directly in the cloud computing market – The major clouds (Amazon, Google, etc) are built on Xen or Linux based technologies. VMware is certainly used by hosting providers, but they need to find a way to get the technology into the big clouds. Releasing ESXi (free hypervisor) is a start, but now they need to find a way to get cloud builders to use it in their infrastructures. The cloud providers have their own management systems which I’m guessing they could fairly easily modify to manage ESXi hypervisors as well as Xen, and whatever else they want to run. I have heard rumblings that VMware is planning to play in this space in a big way, but still haven’t seen what that play is going to be.
What do you think VMware needs to do to stay relevant (and dominant) in the coming years?
Kudos to Google on the new version of the GMail Blackberry client. The old version would hang, require re-logins every 30 minutes or so, and was basically a huge pain. The new one is fast and works well (including offline reading) although for some reason it holds on to outbound emails for a while before sending. Annoying but not a showstopper.
Feature request: It would be nice if they had a mobile Google Reader client, for example. For an RSS junkie like myself, a locally running client would be pretty nice.
Any suggestions for an RSS reader for Blackberry?