View From Above


March 2, 2012  11:43 AM

Your Company Could Benefit from Government’s Cloud Push



Posted by: Ron Miller
Cloud computing, FedRAMP, Security
When the federal government demands stringent security requirements from cloud vendors, you get them too.

When the federal government demands stringent security requirements from cloud vendors, you get them too.

The US government is looking to go the Cloud in a big way as a way to save money and consolidate data centers, but as part of that initiative, FedRAMP is a way to streamline federal security approval. If the cloud vendor can pass the US government’s security muster, chances are it can pass yours too.

FedRAMP is a set of federal guidelines, which define the minimum level of security required for a cloud vendor to do business with the federal government. As Dave Perera writes on FierceGovernmentIT, FedRAMP outlines 116 total controls for low-impact systems and 297 controls for moderate-impact systems under FedRAMP.

And when the cloud vendors are done doing that, your business is going to benefit too.

And that’s a big advantage of cloud computing for any down-stream businesses. Years ago I interviewed somebody from Salesforce.com who pointed out to me that when the company’s largest customers ask for certain features, everyone benefits, even a small business with just a few people.

That’s because there is usually only one system, not a tiered one, so when the biggest enterprise or government customers make feature requests you can get that same level of service no matter how big you are. This is a departure from the way traditional proprietary enterprise software usually works. If a small business wants the same level of security as an enterprise, it’s probably going to have to pay through the nose for it. The cloud offers these services at a much more reasonable entry point and you typically only pay for what you use.

Just this week, in fact, FierceGovernmentIT reports that there was a major update to FedRAMP guidelines that takes the security controls even further, providing a soup-to-nuts approach for privacy and security, mobile-specific controls and inside threat mitigation.

That’s an important package of controls for any government agency, but even better, if the cloud vendor is building out this kind of control for the government, it’s building it for you too.

Security and privacy concerns aren’t just the domain of the federal government. These are primary concerns for enterprise customers too and these controls should go a long way toward addressing some of the primal fears of letting go of control of information in the cloud.

As stringent as your security may be, I’m guessing in many cases, it probably hasn’t met the criteria outlined in these guidelines. In a post on dZone’s CloudZone, consultant JP Morgenthal called the cloud the great equalizer, giving big businesses a way to be more agile and flexible while giving small businesses the access to the same services as their larger counterparts.

As the cloud grows in popularity and moves from small to big business and into all aspects of the federal government, these advantages will only grow more apparent, as even the smallest business gets the same service as the federal government.

February 29, 2012  9:26 AM

Nokia and Microsoft Look for Success at Low End



Posted by: Ron Miller
Microsoft, mobile, Mobile Marketshare, Nokia, Windows Phone 7

Microsoft and Nokia hope to succeed with lower end phones like the Lumia 610.

Nokia and Microsoft have made a deal to succeed or fail together, and perhaps recognizing, they couldn’t compete with iOS and Android at the top of the market, they have decided to aim lower toward the bottom — and it might be a move that saves them both if Windows Phone 7 can truly run on lowered powered and therefore cheaper phones.

The strategy itself could be a sound one. Nokia has controlled the low end of the market for years — that is before it started being pushed aside by lower end Android phones. Android has the advantage over Apple of playing at both ends of the market with higher end phones to compete with the iPhone, and much cheaper phones to sell in places like India and China where many people can’t afford the high cost of the elite smart phones.

In fact, Reuters ran a report last month suggesting that Apple might have trouble making headway in Asia, precisely because of its higher price. Android phones have filled the gap at the low end of the market, a gap left by Nokia’s failure to evolve. Now Nokia and Microsoft are hoping to find salvation at the low end of the market.

One of those new phones announced this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the Nokia Lumia 610, a phone Nokia hopes to market to young people, but its low price could also appeal to parts of the world such as Asia and Africa where the cost of the phone is important.

To that end, Nokia reports that Microsoft has modified Windows Phone 7 to run on the lower powered phones, but it’s unclear at this point how well this will work or what impact it might have on the ability to run third-party apps (or even Microsoft native apps for that matter). And apps are a key part of the mobile success equation.

Nokia is clearly taking aim at the Chinese market by including Chinese language and network support for the Lumia 610.

That’s not to say that Nokia is ceding the market for more sophisticated handsets to Apple and Android. As Wayne Rash reports on FierceMobileIT, the low-end strategy doesn’t mean that Nokia is giving up on the US market by any means, and in fact it also announced LTE phones for the US market for some time in the first half of this year.

Nokia and Microsoft are in a tough position. They are being squeezed by chief competitors iOS and Android at both ends of the market. In the US iOS and Android reportedly control close to 90 percent of the market. It’s going to be tough to break that control and these companies have to recognize that.

While they aren’t going to give up on the high end altogether — as they shouldn’t — it makes sense to play to Nokia’s strength, which has always been in the middle to lower ends of the markets where it dominated for years.

With their futures now linked, a strategy that tries to distinguish Nokia and Microsoft from its more dominant competitors is a smart approach, and by shooting for the lower end of the market in Asia, where there is a huge population hungry for an affordable smart phone, it just might pay off in a big way — so long as Windows Phone 7 and third-party apps don’t get sluggish on the lower powered phones.


February 28, 2012  11:15 AM

Rubin’s Android-Motorola Firewall Statement Could Haunt Him



Posted by: Ron Miller
Google, Motorola Mobility. Mobile

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Awry
~Steinbeck

The Verge reports that Andy Rubin, Android’s head honcho at Google bent over backwards at Mobile World Congress this week to convince reporters that he will have nothing to do with Motorola Mobility, going as far as saying that Google has “literally built a firewall” between the two companies. Do you believe him?

I’m not sure I do or if it’s even in Google’s best interest to make absolute statements of this sort. Google has gotten itself in hot water in the past by making similar blanket statements. Consider Exhibit A, ‘Don’t Be Evil.’

As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land points out in a post today, that whole ‘Don’t Be Evil’ declaration was a bad idea from Day One:

“The problem is, I think Google has failed to understand that along the way, it has become just another big company. It’s a big company that makes mistakes, like any big company will do. But unlike most big companies, the entire “Don’t Be Evil” mantra it created for itself years ago has given it farther to fall,” Sullivan wrote.

Yet here they go again making another one. And the fact is it doesn’t matter if there’s a firewall or not. Partners are always going to be concerned that Motorola phones have a leg up on theirs because it’s part of the Google corporate family. In fact, I wrote about these concerns in this space when the deal was announced last August.

Even if Rubin made the firewall statement  with the best of intentions, it doesn’t mean that this statement won’t come back to haunt Google at some point. Sullivan called the ‘Don’t Be Evil” proclamation “incredibly dumb” in his piece. I think Rubin’s statement could eventually be seen in a similar light.

As a publicly traded company under intense scrutiny from governments and consumer groups, Google should be treading very carefully when it comes to making any statements that suggest a fixed position, yet it seems to throw out them out there periodically with little thought to the possible consequences.

Let’s fast-forward two years from now:

In this purely fantasy view of what could happen, Motorola is struggling. The phones aren’t selling and stock holders are complaining about the $12 billion investment. The patent cache not withstanding because it was probably a significant reason for the buy, there might be some grumbling about giving Motorola more careful attention. After all, these are Android phones and Android is a Google platform.

An order could come down from the executive committee (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan), “Mr. Rubin, tear down this wall.” But he made this very public statement two years before, and some jilted Android handset makers get miffed and go to court and they use Rubin’s very words as evidence.

I’m not saying that it will happen this way, but why take a chance by making statements you could come to regret, or worse that could be used against you in a court of law. You would think Google would have learned that by now, but apparently not.

Photo by t3rmin4t0r on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.


February 22, 2012  11:03 AM

Microsoft’s Google Cloud FUD Could Come Back to Bite It



Posted by: Ron Miller
Cloud, Gmail, Google, Microsoft

You have to hand it to Microsoft. Their latest attacks on Google Apps are at least an attempt at comedy, but when you peel back the humor, what you have is just good old-fashioned Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), YouTube style.

I won’t discuss the irony of Microsoft going off on Google services using Google’s own YouTube channel. That’s fairly rich in itself, but as we shall see, Google has opened itself up to these attacks with its own behavior.

Let’s start with the videos. One is a take-off on the 1980s TV series Moonlighting. This is the same company that tried to save flagging Vista sales in 2008 using 90s TV star Jerry Seinfeld. Now they are digging back a little deeper into TV history, so far back most people under 30 probably won’t get it, but they can’t help but get the message. Google is “experimenting” with its customers, while Microsoft is the “safe choice” for business. Blah blah.

In a second video, Microsoft goes after GMail trying to make the case that Google is reading your email and that you can’t conduct business on there because big, bad Google is invading your privacy by basing ads on keywords in the email. It’s worth noting that Google Apps for Business lets businesses hide ads.

It’s all very cute, but at its core, it’s still FUD of the worst kind and takes Microsoft back to the bad old days of trying to take down the opposition by scratching at the itch of doubt many companies still feel toward cloud computing.

Google hasn’t exactly helped itself recently, playing right into the hands of critics and competitors with its privacy policy changes, which generated a huge controversy when they were announced last month. More recently a story surfaced on iPhone Safari user tracking that could lead to government action and lawsuits.

Microsoft is just jumping in and kicking them while they are down and the doubt is simmering in the minds of many users. Just good business, right?

Microsoft even jumped into the fray directly by making the claim that Google was messing with Internet Explorer privacy settings, although Google responded with a firm denial. And the game continues.

But when all is said and done, while Google is hardly an innocent victim in all of this, Microsoft is playing dangerous games by knocking a fellow cloud-computing vendor in this fashion.

That’s because it could be sending the message that the cloud isn’t safe (even if it’s not trying to make that claim), and could be even undermining its own cloud business in the process.

It’s always drag when your own FUD comes back to bite you in the behind, but that could be the case here when Microsoft tries to send a negative cloud message and plays into the fear of cloud doubters — the same people it wants for customers.


February 17, 2012  1:04 PM

The Next Mobile Development Frontier: The Car



Posted by: Ron Miller
Car Computer, mobile, OpenXC

You’ve been dealing with a ton of mobile issues over the last several years. If it’s not Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7 or some other phone OS, it’s tablets. But all of the challenges you’ve faced over mobile could pale in comparison when you have to start supporting car computers.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a few executives haven’t asked you about this already.

And just this morning, Ford announced a new open source platform called OpenXC, an open platform designed to create apps in the car. Yes, that’s right in-car apps with a whole set of unique requirements you won’t find when developing for the phone or tablet.

According to OpenXC’s About statement, it’s a combination of hardware and software designed to open up the car computer system into a series of plug-in modules, which the end user can control. So as the information page indicates, if one user wanted Bluetooth and another want 3G connectivity, they could choose those and only those modules that they wanted.

In another words, it doesn’t assume one size fits all.

For now, Ford appears to be the only car maker involved in this project, but that could change if it catches on.

One thing is clear, if you’ve been shopping for a new car lately, the on-board computer is a big selling feature and Ford in particular has been positioning its Ford Focus as a very cool and hip car for young people–and the on-board computer is a big part of that.

But your executives, have probably been seeing this for some time in the Lexus, BMW, Audi and other high end luxury cars — and the car computers are growing increasingly sophisticated.

At some point, it’s natural to assume if users can get texts and emails, they will be able to read documents too (or have the car read for them while they drive), but this raises some interesting security issues.

Such as authenticating the person who is driving or making the request is actually the authorized individual because lots of people could have access to the vehicle. What’s more, you might have to warn the authorized person that if there are other people in the car who aren’t authorized to hear the document, he or she should wait until he is alone to listen to or read it.

There are lots of issues when it comes to providing information via a car computer including how secure it is and how vulnerable it could be to outside hacking.

And as much as many organizations  are still in the early stages of learning about all mobile development, this just adds another level of complexity.

The fact is you might not have to develop for the car right away, but chances are at some point, and probably faster than you think, it’s going to happen. And you may want to least have it on your mobile development road map.

Photo of Ford Focus on-board computer by Robert Couse-Baker. Used under Creative Commons License.


February 16, 2012  10:23 AM

FBI Cloud Security Requirements Could be Daunting



Posted by: Ron Miller
CJIS, Cloud, FBI, FISM, government, Security

Computerworld reported that last week, the FBI has reaffirmed that cloud computing vendors must comply with its strict criminal database access and sharing rules to do business with them or any US law enforcement entity. These rules are known as Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) security requirements.

When it comes to sharing data online, the FBI most definitely did not just fall off the turnup truck. In fact, according to its web site, The FBI established the CJIS division all the way back in 1992 and the security requirements are a precise set of rules developed over the years to help law enforcement agencies share criminal database information in a secure fashion.

The FBI is now insisting that any company that wants to sell the FBI (or any US law enforcement entity) cloud services has to comply with these regulations, which involves ensuring that *anyone* who has access to the criminal justice information has been fully vetted including a finger print background check.

The situation has become even more confusing because other federal agencies have been content to hold cloud vendors to the the FISMA Guidelines up to now. David Perera, who is editor at FierceGovernmentIT says trying to sort out the different Federal Government security guidelines can be confusing.

“FISMA requires that all IT systems undergo a security risk assessment, have adequate controls and be expressly authorized to operate on the network. The controls, correlated to risk (roughly, low- moderate- and high-), are kept in NIST Special Publication 800-53,” Perera explained.

He adds that the cloud only adds to this overall puzzle. “So cloud systems are just like any other system operating on a federal network, in that sense – except that the Obama administration wants individual agencies to start accepting cloud authorizations to operate on a government-wide basis, rather than having each agency go through the FISMA process each time a cloud provider sells them a service,” he said.

And of course, Perera added, if you’re involved in national security, that’s something entirely different and these departments can depart from FISMA guidelines to layer on their requirements, as the FBI has done in this case.

But is the FBI being completely fair here? While it’s clearly their right to protect the databases and the information in it, should these same strict guidelines apply to any cloud service the FBI uses?

The FBI and Justice Department may have very sound reasons for this because some of this data may end up in a Google Docs document, for example, and perhaps it’s too hard to have more than one set of rules for different situations. Instead, they decide to apply the most stringent policies to everyone to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Regardless of why or whether it’s fair or not fair, the FBI has made it clear its cloud vendors need to comply, and if they can’t, they won’t be able to do business with US law enforcement.


February 10, 2012  12:59 PM

A Modest Proposal: RIM Meet Nokia



Posted by: Ron Miller
Mergers, mobile, Mobile Mar, Nokia, RIM

Regular readers of this space have probably seen a couple of posts in which I suggested RIM and Microsoft would make a good team, but the other day as I was perusing market share statistics from IDC, I had an epiphany. What if RIM and Nokia got together?

Now hold on a second, before you dismiss the idea out of hand, let’s consider a few data points.

Earlier this week I wrote a post about the battle for the smart phone market share lead and cited a couple of different studies. Buried in the piece, which focused on market leaders Apple and Android, I cited figures from IDC about RIM and Nokia and I left it that, but the numbers stuck in my head.

Let me quote that line for you:

“In case you’re wondering Nokia came in third with 12.4 percent, followed by RIM with 8.2 percent.”

If you want me to do the math for you if you combined the two companies, that’s 20.6 percent, which would put it right behind Apple’s 23.5 percent and Samsung’s 22.8 percent and into very respectable territory.

Now if you believe–and it’s by no means a given–that Nokia will improve its market share position as Symbian phones fall away and people start buying Nokia phones equipped with Windows Phone 7, those numbers could be even better.

And in fact, All Things Digital cites figures from Morgan Stanley predicting that Nokia could sell 37 million Windows phones this year.

Now, I hear you asking, “What about RIM?” Well, it’s true their market share has been plunging since 2009 and there is little reason to believe it can stop the bleeding now, but perhaps with a new team in place and a new mission, it could at least stay even.

But even if a combined RIM-Nokia Finnish-Canadian, business-consumer, one-two punch were to hold its ground at that 20.6 percent figure, that’s pretty significant market share.

And it would be a unique company, one which offers phones and services for businesses, as well as consumers letting the combined NoRIM (RIMKia?) cover all aspects of a competitive market.

One thing is certain, Apple and Android are going to continue to dominate the top of the market. As separate companies, Nokia and RIM can hope to fight for a mediocre third and a worse fourth, or they can join forces and suddenly have a serious presence in the market share game.

It’s at least worth considering don’t you think?

What do you think? Is a RIM-Nokia combined company a good idea for both of them or a disaster in the making? Leave a comment and let me know.


February 7, 2012  1:08 PM

iPhone 4S Launch Catapults Apple in Mobile Phone Battle



Posted by: Ron Miller
Android, Apple, Google, iPhone, market share, mobile, smart phones
While I’ve always detested the iOS versus Android numbers game, I couldn’t help but notice that the iPhone 4s launch catapulted Apple past Android according to numbers from two analyst firms.

Let’s start with NPD, which had good news for both companies, depending on how you looked at the numbers. NPD looked at US market figures only.

For starters, iOS and Android accounted for an astonishing 90 percent of the market, according to NPD, but how that breaks down depends whether you look at handsets versus operating system.

If it was purely phones sold, Apple held the top 3 spots for last quarter driven for the most part by the iPhone 4S, which was also offered by Sprint for the first time last quarter. If it was by OS, it’s much tighter than it once was, but Android held a 5 point lead 48 percent to 43 percent. When it came to first-time buyers, however, Android lead by a much wider margin, 57 percent to 34 percent.

Ross Rubin, executive director for Connected Intelligence at The NPD Group attributed this to users who wanted access to the faster LTE network on Verizon and only Android phones were LTE compatible.

IDC measured strictly by phones shipped by manufacturer, but they measured worldwide numbers, not just the US. In this case, Apple bested Samsung by a slim margin with 37 million shipped for a 23.5 percent market share. Samsung was hot on Apple’s heals though with 36 million units shipped for a 22.8 percent market share. In case you’re wondering Nokia came in third with 12.4 percent, followed by RIM with 8.2 percent.

And if you’re wondering how this compares to the fourth quarter in 2010, the big winner was Nokia with 27.6 percent. Last year Apple had 15.9 percent and Samsung had just 9.4 percent, so it shows you how quickly and dramatically the market has shifted

So what does it all mean?

It’s clear iPhone and the Android handset makers, particularly Samsung, are slugging it out for the worldwide lead as RIM and Nokia fade, but Nokia in particular has a make or break year ahead of it as it releases a new line of phones running Windows Phone 7.

Apple is going to continually ebb and flow with each new release. The iPhone 5, which could be out later this year, will likely give Apple another huge boost, but as fancy new Android smart phones (combined with cheaper alternatives) come out from every manufacturer you are probably going to see the numbers shift accordingly.

The cheaper Android phones in particular could have a big impact on the market. Even though all smart phones might not be equal, the cheaper ones could tip the market share numbers in favor of Android and could account for the growing gap between Android and iPhone for the first-time buyer (Verizon’s LTE offerings not withstanding).

In fact,  Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker program saw this as a big factor in Android’s growth. “But a growing number of sub-$250 device offerings, based on the Android operating system, have allowed Google’s hardware partners to grow smartphone volumes and expand the market concurrently.”

However you choose to measure the market, it’s clearly all Android and iPhone, but what surprises me is that in spite of the number and variety of Android smart phone offerings, Apple continues to lead or stay very close.

Photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.


February 3, 2012  12:52 PM

Microsoft Loses US Smart Phone Market Share — Again



Posted by: Ron Miller
Microsoft, mobile, Mobile Marketshare, Nokia, RIM, Windows Phone 7

The latest comScore US mobile market share numbers came out the other day and it’s not painting a pretty picture for Microsoft, which once again lost ground.

comScore looked at the period from September 11th to December 11th and found that Microsoft dropped 0.9 percent from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent of US smart phone market share for the period. I’m guessing this is not the trend Microsoft was hoping for.

Windows Phone 7 has had time to mature and find a market, yet it has completely failed to do so to this point. Let’s repeat. It didn’t gain a bit or break even. It actually lost market share. Meanwhile, the guys at the top Google and Apple gained 2.5 percent and 2.2 percent respectively.

Microsoft is still hoping for some lift from Nokia as it releases its Windows phones, but so far it has yet to materialize. If we don’t see some positive movement in the next set of numbers, you have to wonder if Microsoft is ever going to gain any significant market share in the US.

This can’t be making CEO Steve Ballmer and his team very happy as they continue to throw large sums of money at the problem with little to show for it, except continuing to lose ground.

As I mentioned last week in my post, Rim Could Do Worse Than Microsoft, Microsoft may want to rethink its consumer-oriented phone strategy and shoot for the enterprise, which in many instances still screams for a more secure smart phone alternative to iOS and Android.

As badly as Microsoft did in this report, RIM did worse dropping yet another 2 percent of US market share. It’s just plain ugly for that company and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Yet RIM still has the strength it’s always had — it’s secure server business.

As I wrote before, by bringing RIM’s struggling enterprise business together with Microsoft and its overall strong enterprise business, it could shift the focus from consumer to business and give business and government customers a secure, relatively reliable alternative– and I’m willing to bet there would be a market for that kind of service if it were done well.

Microsoft and RIM haven’t been able to get out of their own way in the US mobile market for some time. Maybe by bringing the two companies together, it would play to each one’s core strengths and give Microsoft a decent market share through its enterprise business.

For now, these latest numbers show how badly these two companies are floundering in the lucrative US smart phone space. Maybe bringing them together would produce something productive. It couldn’t be much worse than how they’ve been doing apart, that’s for sure.


January 31, 2012  12:50 PM

RIM Could do Worse Than Microsoft



Posted by: Ron Miller
Blackberry, Microsoft, mobile, RIM, Windows Phone 7
Mary-Jo Foley who has been doing an outstanding job covering all things Microsoft for a long time over at ZDNet reports that Microsoft and RIM have joined forces for a cloud-based solution for Office 365 users who also use Blackberry smart phones.

Never mind Nokia, Microsoft, especially its enterprise business, and RIM, could each gain a lot from a partnership.

Even as Blackberry has lost market share in disturbingly large chunks in the US (and increasingly Europe), dropping from a market leader to an also ran in just a couple of years, one thing has remained constant. People see RIM as a secure alternative.

They may not love Blackberry phones compared to iPhones and Android offerings, but if you ask anyone who is serious about security, there’s a good chance they are still using Blackberries whether their users like it or not. It might not be sexy, but the outage  last year not withstanding, it has for the most part been a reliable enterprise offering.

That’s why connecting with enterprise service providers who have a solid footing in the enterprise as Microsoft does is a good bet for RIM. For the most part to this point, even though Microsoft is offering its own phone OS–Windows Phone 7–it seems to be aimed squarely at the consumer market.

Microsoft and RIM together create a secure, enterprise mobile powerhouse. Microsoft could even buy RIM and just fold its mobile server technology directly into the Microsoft family. Given the partnership like the one the two companies have now it makes so much sense. And it could continue to sell handsets for as long as the market demanded it, while offering the same services on Windows phones, making them all the more enterprise friendly.

I wrote a post last summer, how my sister-in-law who works for the Australian government carries two phones. She has an iPhone for personal use, but all work correspondence gets done on the Blackberry. When I asked her why, she said it was because it was so much more secure and people were trying to hack the government servers on a regular basis (much as they are likely trying to hack your company’s servers).

As we’ve learned, no system is fool-proof, and RIM is no exception, but in a world where users are increasingly bringing their own devices, if you have a facility that requires more secure access, RIM is still a great bet.

RIM has a new CEO, which is a step in the right direction, but it still needs to pull off a dramatic turn-around to come back and be a player in the market. Perhaps its servers are the key to its survival, much more than the phones and tablets it has produced in recent years, and maybe it needs more enterprise partnerships like the one it just announced with Microsoft — or even better, become Redmond’s Canadian mobile enterprise affiliate and be done with it.


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