CIO Symmetry

October 21, 2010  7:06 PM

Where’s the love for Microsoft technologies?

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Remember when Microsoft’s marketing machine could make up a word like goodness to describe a new software feature, and people would eat it up like, well, chocolate? The ooohs and aaahs at shows — and not just Microsoft-sponsored ones — when the vendor demonstrated products, were a bit cult-like.

And let’s not forget the famous video of CEO Steve Ballmer pumping up his sales team about the latest Microsoft technologies. The unveiling of a new Microsoft operating system was a major event that couldn’t be missed. Where’s that enthusiasm now?

Google, Apple, Amazon. Those were the vendors that kept coming up at a recent Society for Information Management event. Cloud, virtualization and mobility were the topics at every turn. Microsoft technologies on those fronts weren’t brought up too often.

One CIO said Microsoft’s smartphones blew away the competition when it came to email functionality, yet he used an Android. I saw many attendees carrying around iPhones, Androids, iPads and other netbooks.

Attendees also talked about replacing traditional mobile devices like laptops with end-user devices of choice, on hardware- and operating system-agnostic devices. The cloud and virtualization are allowing companies to build this hardware-agnostic platform, so why not let users buy their own devices, and play in their own OS-of-choice sandbox? One that maybe isn’t Windows.

Some people are questioning Microsoft’s ability to shift its strategy beyond OS licenses and the four walls of an office and the PC. Others are cheering on Microsoft’s efforts, particularly in the cloud, for just the opposite — its ability to create a community with no borders.

Microsoft is making some cloud counterattacks of late, with Microsoft Office 365, a direct shot at Google Apps. And competitors are trying to make their products more like Microsoft technologies, as seen by new features in Google Docs.

Windows visionary Mark Russinovich was also transplanted to the Azure team this year.

But while one Microsoft visionary joins the cloud team, another visionary, Ray Ozzie, was lost to it this week, as editorial director Scot Petersen blogged about. Ozzie invented Lotus Notes and founded Groove Networks, a company ahead of its time with its anytime, anywhere “virtual” collaboration software.

We’ve seen Microsoft fall behind before, and come back in a big way — where is Netscape today? Microsoft has lost considerable ground on the virtualization and cloud front with its late-to-the-game technologies. But again, it has made up ground with a familiar tactic, making its hypervisor free, and bundling virtualization technology with software already in place in businesses and managed by devout Microsoft shops.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

October 19, 2010  6:05 PM

Ozzie’s leaving the latest sign to break up Microsoft?

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

It’s been years since the talk to break up Microsoft. When the company was on trial for antitrust violations in 2000, many experts felt that a breakup was just punishment.

But as time went on, many others, from a purely technological or financial standpoint, felt that breaking up was the right thing to do for the Redmond behemoth. Its stock has languished in recent years despite constant growth, and investors worry that as Microsoft cedes more control of your computing environment to Google, Apple and Facebook, its future growth prospects look dim.

They are right, and the future may be now as users in the mobile workforce start demanding more flexible and efficient computing alternatives.

The announcement this week that Ray Ozzie is leaving his post as Microsoft’s chief software architect, plus some illuminating comments by IDC analyst Al Hilwa, makes me think that it’s time to revisit this theory once again.

Microsoft has gotten too big to maneuver with the likes of the Big Three. “Microsoft’s business is probably too diversified to really depend on a single visionary or software architect,” Hilwa told The Microsoft Blog. “And besides, it is hard to operate when almost each division has a president with his own vision for the group.”

The day is certainly past when Microsoft should go the way of Standard Oil or AT&T, and the new power structure in the industry perhaps vindicates the company’s defense of its earlier business practices. It’s also way too late to recapture, for some, the days when the company didn’t have to work hard to attract and keep the best employees, some of whom are saying goodbye in interesting ways.

But it’s not too late for Microsoft to start taking some bold steps and start creating a future in which it can serve its customers and its investors with equal assurance. That includes breaking up or spinning out segments of the company that can flourish with less corporate overhead and more focus.

October 14, 2010  6:03 PM

Virtual data center: A panacea for governance

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Virtualization, to me, is in many ways like vitamin supplements: Whether you want to save money, pool resources or make employees more productive, there’s a virtualization pill for that.

What I hadn’t considered was how developing a virtual data center — from apps and desktop through servers, storage and networks — could be somewhat of a cure-all for governance.

Your employees want to use an iPhone, but the approved smartphone is a BlackBerry? No problem. Your business managers want to use iPads, but you offer only Dell laptops? A virtual data center has you covered.

Take for instance Joe Surber, vice president and CIO of Atlanta-based natural gas distributor AGL Resources. Surber sees the virtual PC infrastructure that his company is building as a “real game changer” that will allow IT to let employees choose their own devices.

This may not be a cure-all for device management, but it’s a step in the right direction. CIOs are struggling with lockdown, versus a governance policy that allows for exceptions as cloud services and mobile devices creep in under the radar.

Virtualization lets IT govern, but behind the scenes. In the case of desktop virtualization, IT still controls what data those devices of choice can access. It’s what marketing people like to call a “win, win” for IT and users.

AGL was a BlackBerry shop, but iPhones and Androids were popping up everywhere. Surber’s IT team created an application that allows just about any mobile device to access the company’s application servers — that reside in its virtual data center. “So we can say ‘Yes, you can use that device, but we’re not going to pay for it,’” Surber said.

This leads to another virtualization pill: the ability for IT to say yes more often, while offloading some costs on the business.

I’m sure I’m missing ways virtualization is — and is not — a cure all, but I think virtualization is getting IT closer to staying ahead of the curve, as far as accommodating users’ needs.

October 12, 2010  1:00 PM

Mobile workforce will soon demand iPad-type tablets

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

If ever there was a no-brainer reason to get an iPad, or some kind of equivalent thin tablet computer that will be coming soon from HP or Dell, it’s as a journalist covering a remote assignment.

Laptops just don’t make sense anymore for the mobile workforce, or any on-the-go professional who needs the ability to take notes, send and receive email and look up information anytime, anywhere. Laptops weigh too much, they don’t have enough battery life, and connectivity is always a struggle (my experience with broadband access cards is that they are buggy and not reliable).

This is an old story, and I’ve been covering the technology for many years, but this revelation dawned on me like one of those narcissists in the Windows 7 “is my idea” commercials.

I was in Phoenix last week for the CHIME Fall CIO Forum and typing session notes into my laptop, but after about two hours the battery was critically low, and I was forced to find a new spot and plug in. When the time came to send in some copy, there was no Wi-Fi in the conference area of the hotel (events rarely treat their attendees to wireless because of extortionist fees charged by most hotel chains).

I had to go into the hotel lobby to find open Wi-Fi, but then couldn’t find an outlet to plug in my laptop. I had to lug everything back to my room, which had an outlet and a hard line — for $12.95 a day.

See what I mean?

A 3G-equipped iPad is light, long-lasting and can connect anywhere. This should be standard equipment, but everyone I spoke to at the conference about the iPad said they had to buy one themselves.

I realize I’m a little late to the party here, since more than 4 million iPads have already been sold. But considering the pace of business and the growth of the mobile workforce, the standard laptop is beginning to look like the desktop of yesteryear. Consider that when planning for your mobile workforce. Not in the future, but now.

October 11, 2010  8:29 PM

CIOs feverishly working on mobile strategy

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

It seemed no matter how a conversation started out with IT executives at this year’s Society of Information Management national event in Atlanta this week, it somehow wound its way back to developing a mobile strategy.

One session summed it up: A perfect storm is brewing in mobility, as bandwidth, intelligent mobile devices and social networking proliferate. The result? Companies are developing new ways of communicating with their customers and within their organizations, and IT is smack dab in the middle of figuring out what the organization’s mobile strategy should be.

The argument is moving beyond whether or not they should standardize on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphones, to the process of developing mobile applications useful to the business and customers, on device-agnostic platforms.

For now, Joe Surber, CIO of natural gas distributor AGL Resources Inc., said his company is choosing some standard mobile devices for employees out in the field. Eventually, though, he expects that employees will pick and choose the device they want to use to communicate because the cloud and virtualization allows IT to provide a virtual PC infrastructure that is device-agnostic.

This was during a session on enabling IT change through the cloud — yet, once again, the conversation went back to mobility:

  • How do we harness mobile devices for our business?
  • What mobile apps should we be developing?
  • How can the cloud and virtualization help or hinder mobility?
  • How can IT help or hinder the use of mobile devices and applications?

And the million dollar question: How do we handle the fact that consumers are ultimately deciding the feature sets and applications that corporate business users get on their mobile devices?

Case in point, using his Android, Chuck Musciano, vice president and CIO of construction material supplier Martin Marietta Materials Inc., can’t move emails into his folders. He has 450 folders that he “neurotically” maintains, and that capability does not exist when he’s mobile. And he suspects that such a feature is at the bottom of the list of those developing applications for iPhones or Androids, given that consumers are more interested in Facebook and Twitter interfaces for their mobile devices.

“We, as enterprise architects of our organizations, have to understand that feature sets are going to be driven by consumer demand, not by what we in the business would like to see,” he said.

And something like folders in email may be a moot point anyway, given that newer generations consider email, well, old, said Paul Miller, senior vice president of technology infrastructure and broadcast transmission for Turner Broadcasting System.

“There has to be recognition that some of the ways that many of us are used to working and thinking, are in fact evolving and changing with new generations. Folders are a perfect example of that … new evolutions of search should in fact make folders obsolete. I find that, personally, children could care less about folders. They say email is how you communicate with old people,” Miller said.

Email is only one example. If Millenials don’t care about the ability to read reports or spreadsheets, or maybe tap into an analytics application, which I doubt they do, and they are the ones driving what feature sets end up on mobile devices, will that mean that the main focus of IT departments becomes mobile application development?

If you read some of the recent stories we’ve run, the answer is yes. Not only are organizations developing applications for mobile devices to conduct business in new ways, but they are turning to offshore and onshore providers because they don’t have the talent in-house to make it happen.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email: Christina Torode, News Director

October 5, 2010  4:14 PM

Social media may not be a revolution, but it’s in your enterprise

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

The social media multiverse is all a Twitter about the fact that one of today’s most popular intellectuals has written an article saying that the revolution will not be tweeted.

You should read his account, but Malcolm Gladwell’s case in The New Yorker essentially argues that today’s technology-based social media ties are not as strong nor as influential as the ones that galvanized the civil rights movement of the 1960s. On its face I would have to believe that, but nothing in today’s world of social networking is that cut and dried.

On the other site, blogger David Helfenbein is in a huff about Gladwell’s thesis, saying he misses the mark, and that he’s insulted by the notion that today’s generation can’t get spurred to action.

What do CIOs think? Somewhere in between. “Social media, in the small sense, is about marketing and recruiting talent. In the large sense, it represents the transformation of capitalism as we know it,” said keynote speaker John Sviokla, vice chairman at Chicago-based Diamond Management & Technology Consultants Inc., at a meeting last month of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management.

Sviokla’s “third wave of capitalism,” as Senior News Writer Linda Tucci reported, is in my opinion a bit over the top when in reality CIOs are concerned about things like social media usage policies and corporate reputation. In addition, around 30% of respondents to a recent SIM survey said their organizations block social media use.

Kevin M. More, Boston SIM’s vice president and incoming president, just wants to be sure social media is executed correctly. “We don’t want to just throw something up,” he said. “We understand that Facebook has a lot of potential. But for every success, there are probably 30 to 40 failures.”

What is often missing in the discussion about corporate IT and social media is that there are two kinds: one that is used to reach out to your customers, and the other to empower your own employees. These are two different things completely, and technology plans around them should take that into consideration.

Whether your opinion of social media is pro or con, or whether it’s too powerful or not powerful enough, the fact is it’s in your company now, and it’s better to embrace it rather than fight it.

September 30, 2010  8:55 PM

A list of to-dos before taking the email hosting plunge

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Whether you call it email hosting services, cloud or SaaS email, or just plain email hosting, there are capabilities that you will need to have in place before offloading email.

This month, our experts are going to explore the different options for email outsourcing and put forth a checklist for you to follow if you take the hosting plunge:

  • Can your organization’s current bandwidth support what could be a massive increase as a critical, continually used service is moved off-site? asks Scot Lowe, CIO of Westminster College, in an upcoming column.
  • Did you make sure that your email hosting provider is running the latest version of email software? You’d be surprised that some may not be.
  • Is there data that can be archived before you make the move, so costs are lower?

The latter two questions are posed by Nelson and Danielle Ruest, founders of IT consulting firm Resolutions Enterprises, in an upcoming tip.

The benefits of moving to the cloud will also be touched on by these experts, but Erik Dubovik, vice president of information technology at Audax Group LP, a Boston-based private equity firm, sums up the benefits of email hosting like this: “If you are a smaller business, there is no need today to run your own infrastructure for email. You can get email archiving, email hosting, spam and even mobile device capabilities in the cloud. In the next two to three years, you will see midmarket companies move en masse to the cloud for email and email archiving.”

With all these benefits, there has to be some risks. After all, 75% of businesses’ intellectual property is stored in email. Whether an email hosting provider is better at protecting your IP, or not, is up for debate.

September 28, 2010  4:39 PM

A smart business intelligence strategy

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

My campaign to forever rid my home of snail mail is coming along, except for two areas: Clothing catalogs and Sierra Club membership appeals. The clothing catalogs I can understand. They might be the last thing that disappears from U.S. Postal Service mail bags.

The Sierra Club, on the other hand, mystifies me. Every other month or so I get a fat envelope stuffed with different pieces of paper — letters, brochures, maps, return envelopes, etc. — enticing me to join and support the cause. That much paper from an environmental group would be truly revolting if all of it didn’t say that it was 100% recycled. But still, what are they smoking?

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is not exactly a competitor, but the nonprofit organization does solicit funds from many of the same people. The WWF does have a different way of going about it, however.

I met recently with Phil Redmond, director of e-business information technology at the WWF, who explained how his organization has a business intelligence strategy that keeps its member and donor recruitment process streamlined.

The WWF uses SAS Institute’s DataFlux Data Management Studio to manage, clean and keep up to date its rolls of members and donors, and the intelligence gathered from the software can help determine who gets what kind of solicitation.

For instance, he said, donors can get an email soliciting funds, but, depending on their profiles and other data, select people could get a more personal treatment. “Using SAS doesn’t replace the handwritten note they send out to the big donors.” If the Sierra Club did this, I would be free of the recurring fat envelope.

The WWF is using BI not only for member management, but for creating data on wildlife itself, and has set up a business intelligence strategy around tracking migration patterns and populations of endangered species.

One result of this effort is a text for Tigers campaign. Now that’s an intelligent use of business software.

September 24, 2010  1:10 PM

Bandwidth and compliance are key to strong disaster recovery solutions


By Laura Smith, Features Writer

As more midmarket firms explore virtualization to achieve cost savings and other benefits, they’re discovering that adequate bandwidth and compliance with regulations as part of their disaster recovery solutions are drivers for success.

“You never know when a disaster is going to hit,” says Ray Lucchesi, president of Silverton Consulting Inc. in Broomfield, Colo., and a 30-year industry veteran with early patents on tape and disk storage devices. Lucchesi now counsels clients on issues such as bandwidth and regulatory requirements when setting up disaster recovery solutions in virtualized environments.

When transferring data from a virtualized production environment to a hot site, having enough bandwidth is critical — and that means planning and budgeting for it ahead of time. “Bandwidth issues can be expensive,” Lucchesi says. “If you’re going to support disaster recovery, you need to support the bandwidth requirements. In the end, you have to transfer the data. Bandwidth is the key governor to that.”

Sun National Bank learned that lesson the hard way — but then, that happens when you’re ahead of the curve. Three years ago — a generation in virtualization terms –the Vineland, N.J., bank embarked on a project that was slightly delayed due to bandwidth issues during failover from the production environment to the hot site. On the positive side, Sun National made good use of its displaced servers, setting up its own business continuity and disaster recovery site and pocketing the monthly fee it had been spending on third-party services. More importantly, the bank, now in charge of its own disaster recovery architecture, can comfortably guarantee it will deliver on user requests within 24 hours.

But this isn’t the brand of home-grown disaster recovery solutions we’re talking about. CIOs are dealing with disaster recovery requirements that are sometimes specified by financial or health regulations that require them to be operational within a certain time frame. “In some environments, such as a bank, being down for an hour can mean the loss of millions of dollars that you can’t retrieve, to a large extent,” Lucchesi says. And when one bank fails, another may follow, given the complex web we live in.

Surprisingly, European companies have been more actively involved in establishing failproof disaster recovery solutions than Americans — perhaps due to terrorist activity on the continent or more governmental regulations requiring it, Lucchesi suggests. After 9/11, the U.S. government initiated similar regulations, recently urging financial organizations to create plans for surviving a regional disaster. Some of these regulations require industries in the critical infrastructure — health care and power — to audit their disaster recovery solutions.

September 16, 2010  6:30 PM

Supporting cloud services is a quandary for IT

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

A CIO was recently approached by a business line manager about a problem with a cloud service. The manager asked if the CIO could help resolve the issue, and the CIO gave him a flat-out “No.”

It is a sign of the struggle going on in many IT organizations: If users bypass IT to buy cloud services, is IT in turn responsible for that service and the support problems that come up?

This CIO, who was one of the attendees of a roundtable on cloud services sponsored by the trade and investment arm of the British Consulate-General in Boston, felt that he needed to make a point. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to help the manager, but in the future, he wanted the business to come to him before signing a deal with an external service provider. In the end, he felt that IT should be involved in selecting the provider and negotiating the contract.

Several of the attendees, a mix of CIOs, cloud providers and consultants, voiced their concerns about the growing demand for IT to support external services.

What they wanted to see was a service provider, or software vendor, that could develop an integrated services management layer for a mix of internal and external services, or several public cloud services. This layer has yet to appear, they said, yet many companies are moving in this hybrid direction. Of 500 IT executives surveyed, 43% said they plan to have a hybrid cloud services strategy (a mix of private and public cloud services) within the next three years, according to consulting firm Sand Hill Group. Read about the study in this blog post by Sand Hill’s head of cloud research, Kamesh Pemmaraju.

This sounds like a great opportunity for vendors, cloud providers or perhaps a new breed of startups to step in, but for now the attendees said they are developing their own standards and management layer for hybrid clouds.

Let us know what you think about managing cloud services. Email me at

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