CIO Symmetry

October 14, 2011  2:43 PM

Is your data center disaster recovery plan ready for a zombie attack?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

As any CIO knows, you must be prepared for just about anything. Hurricanes in Vermont? Sure. Earthquakes in Virginia? You bet. But many CIOs forget about one very obvious hole in their disaster mitigation strategies: an uprising of the undead. In the spirit of Halloween, let’s think about how your data center disaster recovery plan will stand up to the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse.

Now that the CDC has updated its Zombie Apocalypse guidelines, CIOs are beholden to take the burgeoning waves of undead very seriously. (OK, maybe not that seriously.) Can you imagine trying to explain to your shareholders why your data center disaster recovery plan was foiled by the scourge from the grave? Or how your IT admin attacked and ate your user base? That’s a black mark on just about anyone’s resumé.

As all viewers of AMC’s The Walking Dead know, when zombies come into town, you almost certainly will lose electricity. Of course, because you’re a smart CIO, you’ve already installed an uninterruptible power supply that’s able to handle the load of keeping everything up and working. Your generator has been recently tested and is strong enough to power the data center. And if you’re really clever, you’ve had the forethought to make sure that the generator can start up automatically, since no one is going to want to brave the random zombies milling around in the office’s back parking lot (or wherever the generator is stored) just to get the servers moving. If anything, the undead event will be a great test of just how power hungry your data center really is. In fact, hindsight is always 20/20, and this just might be the push to move toward solar-power generation and green data center cooling techniques, like the oil-submerged servers we covered last month.

Assuming that your employees are hiding in their basements and attics, waiting out the ghoulish invasion, it would be nice if they could brave the hours by checking their email with their mobile devices or even get some work done by accessing their virtual remote desktops or with a thin client on their iPad. This, of course, will be possible because you’ve already taken the precaution of diligent remote data backups in case the invaders have already made it into the corporate offices (Probably through that door by the cafeteria. It never closes right.)  Of course, everyone who has ever watched a zombie movie knows that you can only count on the elements within your own control, so if you bank on cloud service providers, you also have a cloud backup and recovery plan for when their headquarters are overrun by creatures searching for braaaaaaains.

All fun aside, there’s still time in 2011 to test your disaster recovery plans and make sure that you’re shipshape and can withstand anything.  Whether it’s a disaster of movie monsters or something as natural as a flood or an earthquake, George A. Romero taught us an important lesson: it’s that only the lucky and the prepared truly come out of a disaster unscathed.

October 11, 2011  4:19 PM

What can we learn from the Steve Jobs Way?

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

There have been many timelines, retrospectives and other examinations of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ career, aka the Steve Jobs Way, and it would be a waste if we don’t learn lessons from him about how to run businesses going forward.

Jobs’ legacies include the company itself, its products and its loyal user base. Along the way, Jobs and Apple also developed a strong hater community. One of my friends, a devout PC user and administrator, had a simple reason why he didn’t like Apple: “They tell you how you’re supposed to work with your computer,” he said.

That’s true. The closed paradigm of the Mac shut out three quarters of Apple’s potential users, developers and other partners. No one will get through business school if they espouse the idea of not giving customers what they want.

Yet, the Steve Jobs Way embodied that philosophy and built it into one of the most successful and influential companies in history. He avoided market research, saying, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Jobs took risks and trusted his gut more than anything else, then saw his vision through to completion.

This worked because the user community built around Apple wanted what Steve Jobs wanted them to have, and trusted him to deliver (yes, there have been misses, but many more hits, especially in the past decade). Still, what are we to learn from this?

It would be dangerous to try to emulate Jobs to the letter, because the one thing that really separated Jobs from the rest was unique to him: his intuition. Yet, true innovators will have to try in their own way, or else, without taking risks, disruptive innovation will never happen.

October 10, 2011  9:58 PM

Be more effective by increasing your business storytelling

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

It’s been a busy week around the Web, and chances are you missed some things. Between the news of the iPhone 4S and Steve Jobs’ death, it seems like the Web was absolutely sticky with Apple juice — so you might have missed the latest RAMCloud buzz and a handy-dandy little crib sheet to help you increase your business storytelling. It’s all right here, for quick and easy surfing in those few moments of downtime.

• We’ve all heard that the most important component for communicating to the business is finding a way to tell them a story. CEO Patrick Hanlon arms you with the eight primary strategies for business storytelling and creating a compelling narrative.

• Storage blogger Robin Harris predicts that RAMCloud is the new Flash. Is it really? We’re not convinced.

• Does your management team complain about spending too much time “fighting fires?” Maybe you should point out that real firefighters actually spend most of their time in prevention.

• In what must be the shortest product lifecycle ever, Netflix has now abandoned Qwikster. Hey guys, thanks for being a great example in how not to manage a corporate reputation.

• Steve Jobs was a master of business storytelling and his untimely passing was hard to miss and hard to take. The outpouring of sympathy and grief even created a measurable surge on Twitter.

October 7, 2011  1:59 PM

How employees’ perceptions make the difference

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nontangible things that drive employee perceptions of a company and how they connect to job satisfaction. For instance, I have a friend who stayed at a low-paying, high-stress tech job because his boss took him out to lunch every Friday at a wood-paneled fancy restaurant and filled him in on all the corporate gossip. That lunch couldn’t have cost more than $30 a week, but it was enough to keep my friend content and pulling 65-hour workweeks for peanuts.

It’s not just my friend. Once, I was interviewing for a job that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to take. It was one of those situations where you kind of owe it to someone in your personal network to go to the interview, even though you know that you don’t want the position. What’s more, they couldn’t afford me — they knew it and I knew it. But the thing that gave me true anguish about turning them down? They had these great chairs. They were perfect: They contoured and supported, and made you want to be creative. Man, it’s been four years and I still think about those chairs!

On the flip side, I have another friend who quit a job because of Facebook, of all things. You see, her company’s network was aggressively locked down and she had put up with it for years (not to mention finding elaborate and innovative ways to get around its blockades). But then the company blocked Facebook at the API. It might have had valuable reasons for blocking the social media site, but that was the straw that broke this apathetic employee’s back: She felt that if she couldn’t be trusted to maintain her virus protection; not click on stupid, obvious Trojans; and maintain her Facebook usage to breaks and lunchtimes — well, it was clear that her company no longer respected her as a thinking adult.

As we face a possible double-dip recession, the greatest fear for many CIOs is that they have apathetic employees who are simply biding their time, waiting to leave. No one wants a dead-weight employee. You know what the guy with the steak lunch and the lady with the banned Facebook had in common with my coveted chairs? They’re all examples of employee perceptions of how much they are valued by the company. Whether justified or not, sometimes tangible gestures get translated into employee job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction).

Sometimes, when times are tight and we can’t reward our employees with salary increases and are asking them to put up with five-year-old hoopty laptops, it’s up to the leadership team to keep thinking of employee retention strategies and ways to make it magical.

Arm those crappy laptop users with some cheap SSD drives so your IT workers aren’t constantly running out of storage space. Pillage those leftover monitors sitting in the empty cubicles from the last workforce reduction, and give your employees two or three if they want. It seems silly, but it really is the little things that keep your employees pleased with their decision to partner with your company. And it’s the little things that make them decide to break that partnership, either by leaving completely or by simply checking out while still gathering a paycheck.

The fabled dot-com boom days weren’t entirely off-base. We don’t have to buy everyone an Aeron chair, but concern for workers’ creature comforts can go a long way toward keeping them happy, without necessarily tapping a salary budget item. It all comes down to being creative about how you razzle-dazzle your workers and manage employee perceptions.

Speaking of salaries, we want to hear from you! How’s your personal bottom line this year? We’re conducting a salary and job satisfaction survey of CIOs and IT professionals. Your responses are completely confidential and will be only part of an accumulation of responses in the reporting. Not only will we send you a copy of our survey results, but you’ll also be able to download a copy of our latest research report on the changing role of the CIO. And as if that’s not enough, you can also enter to win our prize giveaway.

Take the survey!

October 4, 2011  5:44 PM

Strong passwords are more important than ever

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

I recently asked one of my sons for passwords to his online accounts, for gaming, email, etc. Not because I’m nosy but because I’m trying to be a responsible parent and home IT administrator, and having strong passwords is a good thing. One I got back was “QWERTY1234.” I made him change it.

It may not matter, though. Passwords are getting even easier to crack, thanks to dedicated graphics card processing, according to our U.K. affiliate, ComputerWeekly. But you already know it: The vast majority of passwords in the enterprise are easily guessable, and many companies still do not require strong passwords, or even new passwords every month or quarter or so.

Cloud computing, big data and consumerization are hot topics now, but the bottom line is that none of it matters without good security policies. But that does not seem to be the priority.

ComputerWeekly also reported on a Xantus survey of CIOs on cloud computing that ranked security fifth on a list of cloud computing concerns. The national SIM organization’s recent survey on the future of IT had security ranked eighth out of 10 on top management concerns this year.

This needs to change. Watch for’s IT priorities survey later this fall, and for a virtual seminar on cloud computing security, produced with and ISACA, in December.

October 3, 2011  7:24 PM

Whatever happened to last year’s promising iPad clones?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Things getting hectic as you enter Q4? It seems like no matter what you do, you still just keep feeling like you’re two steps behind. We know how it feels, and we’re here to make it better. We’ve chased down the best commentary and news tidbits from all around the Web to provide you with optimized reading material during your few snippets of free time. We’ve got the scoop on the Amazon Kindle Fire, why the smart grid has failed to come to fruition and the sad story behind so many promised 2010 iPad clones, all in tasty, bite-sized morsels.

• Is Jeff Bezos the new Steve Jobs? While we’re not as lavish with the praise as some bloggers, there is some credence to this prediction. Barnes & Noble stock fell a whopping 9% immediately after Amazon announced its contribution to the host of iPad clones. Perhaps Bezos is onto something?

• With green technology being the hottest trend of the 2010s, why has the concept of the smart grid failed to thrive in the U.S.? Boyd Cohen thinks it all points back to the shareholders.

• Juggling a desktop and a laptop computer along with your host of mobile gadgets? Here’s how to share a mouse and a keyboard across multiple computers. There’s a catch, though — it only works with Windows. Now if only it worked for tablets, too.

• What’s the sweet spot for optimal productivity with multiple monitors? Is two enough? Do you prefer five for a Mission Control spread, or nine for the full NORAD experience? Scott Hanselman makes the case for three monitors on a workstation.

• You’ve banged out a contract with your managed service provider, but how do you erase those nagging feelings that you missed something? Tam Harbert has a list of seven vendor contract imperatives that may surprise you.

• Remember the heady days of 2010, when you couldn’t swing a bat without hitting the news of yet another promised round of iPad clones? The brilliant Harry McCracken plays “whatever happened to” with a host of promising tablet devices, and guess what? Many of them never saw the light of day.

September 29, 2011  6:11 PM

What does the Amazon tablet PC mean for midmarket CIOs?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Amazon has announced the newest player in tablet devices, the Kindle Fire. The most amazing thing about the Amazon tablet PC isn’t its screen resolution, the Android guts or the partnerships with various content providers for instantaneous streaming via Amazon Prime. It also isn’t its feather-weight 14.8 ounces, despite a Gorilla Glass screen. It’s the price point — $199. It’s enough to make a CIO salivate, isn’t it?

Amazon’s Kindle Fire promises to destroy the small margin of the market left of non-iPad tablet devices. Before the news dropped on Wednesday, the most optimistic of the IT pundits guessed the price point for the new Amazon tablet PC would be $250 at the lowest. From a strategic vantage, it makes sense. Amazon dominates the e-reader market, so it has the luxury of making a wide profit margin. My Kindle was $189, and it’s got a black and white screen. Trying to navigate with the cursor reminds me of playing Pong in someone’s basement in 1984. Supposedly, Amazon will lose $50 per tablet with this pricing structure, so it’s pretty serious about knocking back everyone else.

While iPads in the enterprise are old news, midmarket companies have reserved shiny and fancy tablets for their top brass and star employees in key roles. With the bargain point of entry, the Amazon Fire sets itself up to become the tablet for every budget. In theory, we now have a tablet that is worthy of being deployed to every user in the midmarket company, possibly as a viable alternative to a Palm or BlackBerry. While the Amazon tablet PC will ship with a native email client, don’t assume that since its Android-based, you’ll be able to apply Android salty goodness to your Kindle Fire — Amazon is going to “curate” its app store. You’ll be dealing with a subset of Android business apps that will be at the whim of the mother ship. Even so, the bargain price could be just enough to persuade tablet-wary CIOs to finally take the plunge.

When discussing the Kindle Fire with a midmarket IT manager, he said, “The security holes are terrifying from a business perspective.” Another caveat: The proprietary Silk browser will route all Web traffic through a proxy server. Amazon will already know the users’ Amazon account, so you better believe that it’s going to harvest some of that behavior pattern information for business intelligence purposes. Given how much Amazon already demonstrates that it knows about my buying habits, I’m kind of creeped out.

What do you think? Have tablet devices finally dropped to the point where you’ll consider them for your second- and third-tier staff? What does the Amazon tablet PC mean for your mobility strategy? The comments are ready to start the discussion on cheap and easy tablet devices in the midmarket.

September 27, 2011  4:12 PM

HP management’s latest mistakes have ship foundering

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

By my reckoning, HP management hasn’t made a good decision since about 1999. After Lew Platt, HP did the following: hired Carly Fiorina, bought Compaq (which hadn’t yet digested Digital Equipment Corp.), fired Fiorina, hired and fired Mark Hurd, and hired and fired Leo Apotheker in less than a year (and made tons of other acquisitions). How long do you think former eBay chief Meg Whitman — named HP CEO last week — will last?

The HP Way,” it seems, is in some dire need of the stimulus dollars being spent on the rest of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The innovation culture has given way to a culture of pervasive corporate restructuring, refocusing and repositioning, the latest being the muddled message about divesting the PC and WebOS businesses. Meanwhile, the person probably best suited to guide HP since Platt all along, Ann Livermore, was sidestepped at least twice for the top job at HP and this year booted up to a board role.

In the midst of all that, Mark Hurd said, “Everything we do must be for the customer. If it’s not, then we need to reconsider why we’re doing it.” Customer focus certainly would be the best and most obvious purpose of the CEO, but too often the reality is that his or her main purpose is satisfying the shareholders, most of whom are not HP customers.

This is not exactly the “Innovator’s Dilemma,” but it does help explain how a company that rose to power on flat innovative management has become a giant ship drifting around, trying to find its way in the ever-changing currents of the post-dot-com seas. If Whitman is to succeed, she needs to simplify the message to shareholders, customers and employees alike. That may be difficult, when it’s hard to tell if there is a message left to tell.

September 26, 2011  6:09 PM

Easy and not-so-obvious ways to improve people skills

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Fall has fallen, and that sound you hear is the end of the year starting to whirr out of control. Stay on top of the latest blogerati posts with our handy little smorgasbord of IT-centric tidbits. We’ve got some insider scoop on a possible iPhone 5 release date and also loads of tips to improve people skills, as well as a discussion on whether it’s worth your time and money to chase down data reduction.

• Can you bank on your handshake? That’s one of 15 not-so-obvious tips that Kate Nasser lists to improve people skills and get ahead in an IT leadership role.

• Is corporate IT as we know it dead? The news that users are circumventing IT support when purchasing phones has Forrester analyst Matthew Brown defending the future of corporate IT.

• Is data reduction technology a wasted effort? Stephen Foskett takes a closer look at the ROI on data reduction technologies in the face of free compression and deduplication already present in many SSDs.

• Firms of all stripes wrestle with version management, but check out these practical tips for simplifying hardware and software registration.

• A little Zen for your work week: A fascinating look at how the stories heard time and again become the underpinning of our technological advancement, including a look at what Galileo has to do with the economy.

• A new key to the release of iPhone 5 and iOS 5 launch: Apple is forbidding its employees to take vacation during the second week of October. Could this really be it?

• If you think your job is tough, you don’t know the half of it. Survey respondents listed “director of information technology” as the most hated job of all time. Guess the survey respondents really worked with some CIOs who needed to improve people skills.

September 23, 2011  1:38 PM

What the new Facebook changes mean for IT consumerization

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Two months ago, I predicted “a huge exodus of Facebook users over to G+,” but Facebook isn’t going out without a fight. It continues to chase some of the innovations of Google+. Earlier this week, Facebook revealed a completely new methodology and user interface, much to the dismay of its users. Then on Thursday at the Facebook f8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced another upcoming series of new Facebook changes, including a massive redesign of the interface. Brace yourself for a flurry of unending complaints that will undoubtedly clog up your status stream. The Open Graph protocol and new Timeline will hit Facebook in the next few weeks — or if you’ve got a developer account, you can start using it right now.

Of course, if you are using any form of social media, you’ve already rolled your eyes over the moans of change from the other people in your social stream. It’s getting a little tired: Netflix changed its pricing tiers three weeks ago, and many of those customers lit up social media networks with their complaints, too. Netflix is now expecting to lose a million customers based on this change. That translates to more than $15 million in lost revenue per month due to an internal structure change with a lousy name. (Come on … Qwikster? Really?)

An interesting distinction is that few people are saying that they are going to leave over the new Facebook changes. Why? Well, Facebook doesn’t hit your wallet. I was going to say “it’s free,” but we all know that there are intangible costs associated with social media. Interestingly, the CEO of Netflix has announced a partnership at Facebook F8 as well, hitching his own horse to the Facebook wagon, perhaps in attempt to regain some of that lost market share.

Back in the day, a company’s IT department was a benevolent overlord. The IT guy got your email set up, reset your passwords and, if you were lucky, gave you an upgraded monitor when you brought him cookies (not that I’ve ever successfully bribed an IT person — cough). Users were just that: USERS. They took what they got, and while they might grumble in the cafeteria about their locked-down access, they certainly never dreamed that they could affect change within the IT department.

Contrast that with today’s environment: Between the BYOD madness and the consumerization of IT, we’ve empowered our users to think for themselves — whether we like it or not.  On Tuesday, Scot Petersen asked what IT consumerization means to different people. He suggests buying cycles or the way that IT manages consumer products in the business, but I suggest that IT consumerization has another facet: The consumer now feels empowered to not only influence but also push back at the decisions made by the technological trendsetters. This grumbling about the new Facebook changes from Facebook f8 on the very same platform is fairly meta but certainly not a blip. Expect the consumer to become more vocal about questioning decisions and actions taken by IT, both inside and outside your company.

While the consumerization of IT has led to some amazing things (iPads in the workplace, anyone?), it’s a double-edged sword that the savvy CIO will consider when transitioning change to her user base.

What do you think? The comments are ready to get down and dirty with the new Facebook changes revealed at Facebook f8 as well as the question of user empowerment.

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