At some point in your career, there is a very good chance that you’ll be asked to present an idea or concept or argument or business plan to a group of people. This might be a small group, such as your team, or it could eventually be a keynote to a large room full of 1000s of people. While the difference between a small group and a keynote can be large in some aspects, there are certain basics that every speaker should consider. Having done this for over 20 years, I thought it might be valuable to pass along some tips and tricks to make your technical talk successful.
Tell a Story – Whether you’re trying to educate somebody or you’re trying to communicate a new idea, it can often be valuable to frame it in the concept of a story. It doesn’t have to be an epic tale, but having a beginning (problem), middle (data &/or introduction of new ideas) and an end (conclusions or next steps or recommendations) can be a good framework to keep the talk bounded.
Make it Visual and Shareable – There’s a reason the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has continued to be used for so long. Many people learn and remember visually. It can be a picture you create (diagram, etc.) or an image from the Internet (just be sure to give proper attribution). A picture engages their brain unless a bunch of text on the screen. A picture can be abstract and encourage brainstorming and ideas. And while many technical people dread the idea of using a Slide-tool like Powerpoint or Google Slides (“that’s for those marketing people’), slides are a great way to have your idea easy shared and copied (allowing it to spread virally) by other people.
Practice Ahead of Time – If you’re going to ask people to give you some of their time to listen to your ideas, you owe them the respect to be prepared. This not only means that you’ve reviewed the content for accuracy, but you’re practiced the talk a few times. In addition to practicing the talk, it can be very valuable to think about some of the discussions that could come from your talk – objections to your ideas, demands for supporting data, plans for next-steps, etc.
NOTE: It’s never a bad idea to record yourself giving a talk, both in audio and video. You’ll be surprised at how many speech “ticks” you have (all the “umms” and “uhhs” and “you know” and other strange phrases you throw into your talks.). If you think you’ll be speaking frequently, I’d highly suggest that you look into some practice techniques (such as TED Tips or online sessions or Toastmasters) to reduce those issues.
Tips for Specific Types of Talks
Now that you have the basics, let’s talk about some strategies for various types of talks you might give.
The Small Room Talk (Team Meeting):
These usually fall into two categories:
- Introduction of New Ideas
- Status Updates
For introducing new ideas, there are a few tips and tricks:
- Be sure to have socialized the idea prior to the presentation. You should generally know the reaction from the team (and decision-makers) prior to making the presentation. In fact, you want to have recruited the influencers and decision-makers to be on your side, so they can help mitigate the pushback that you’ll get from some people in the room.
- Have some pictures or slides ready to present, so the idea can be visualized and discussed, as well as being easily shared after the meeting.
- While you should be prepared with a decent amount information (whatever is possible), be aware that there types of meeting often stall within the first 3 slides – so put the important information up front! Don’t get sidetracked before you get to the new ideas.
The Internal (Multi-Group) Talk:
Similar to the Team Meeting, you want to have socialized your ideas across the groups prior to the meeting, especially with team leadership. When you start including more groups, you want to be more prepared for the unexpected – territorial behavior, concerns about personal projects vs. bigger company goals, etc.
- Keep in mind that most teams have their own way of viewing things, include specific language (acronyms, important metrics, etc.). Be familiar with these and try to avoid being ambiguous on important items that could be confusing.
- Highlight how much pre-collaboration has already occurred. People like to know that these aren’t one-sided.
- State the problems and opportunities in the context of all groups in the room. People like to know they will be able to impact the problems vs. being excluded.
- Realize that some things will be newer to some groups than others. Be prepared to go slow at first, to get them up to speed on things that are well known to another group. Also, be prepared to correct or educate them on any misconceptions they may have (e.g. learned from news outlets) about the new opportunities.
The Meetup Talk:
For the most part, meetups are self-organizing groups that have an interest in a specific topic area. But depending on how frequently the group meets, the organizers may allow quite a bit of flexibility of topics. Meetups are a great place to get some practice giving talks to public groups, since people are often there to network as much as they are to learn, so they are more accepting of different levels of talks. These types of talks usually tend to fall into a few different buckets:
- Talks about a specific technology – sometimes generic, sometimes about a vendor offering.
- Talks about specific experiences – things you’ve learned from a task at work or on a side project
- Talks about something new – these are often trying to create interest in getting others to participate
For these types of talks, it’s good to have some visuals (maybe less than 10 slides) and maybe a way to show some live technology (a demo if possible). Meetup groups are really flexible about presentation formats, so just use something that you’re comfortable speaking to.
TIP: If a demo is a major part of your talk, consider making a screen-capture recording of the demo, as event WiFi can be sketchy. Nothing worse than getting people excited about your demo and having it not work because of bad WiFi. At least with a backup video, you can talk to it (and pause) while it plays.
The Conference Talk:
There are really two parts to a conference talk:
- Getting your talk accepted at the conference.
- Giving the conference talk.
Until you’re well known in the industry, or have a really unique presentation topic, getting a talk accepted can be difficult. Too many conferences accept talks from people they know (no matter how much “blind draws” they claim to have), so you really have to have a unique/creative angle to your talk – some good tips here and here.
Once your talk is accepted, it’s time to make it awesome. Every conference has a slightly different (or significantly different) audience, so it’s good to do some research ahead of time. Many conferences have their previous year’s agenda online, so see if you can find any of the talks (slides or videos) online. Try and get a feel for what works at that conference. Usually you can reach out to the conference organizers to get a feel for the audience, or ask them to share their experience on what’s worked well or failed badly in the past.
The simplest (and maybe best) advice is to create a talk that you’d enjoy listening to, and then make it your own. Find your style of presenting, and then work to improve that with each new talk.
The Keynote Talk:
This is the most difficult talk, because the expectations are much higher from the audience. Keynotes are usually intended to inspire people, or make them think (broadly) about new ideas or trends. They are usually less technical, which means that you need to find a way to capture the attention of both business-level people and technical-level people.
Keynotes tend to have:
- Much more story-telling.
- Much more visual slides. The visuals convey part of the story-telling.
- Less immediate action (e.g. “go out and try this now!”) and more focus on getting people to think longer-term.
- Some concepts that will rally people around an idea, and hopefully help spread your idea(s).
- Data to help backup any claims you’re making (financial analysis, market data, etc.), or identifying where a trend is going.
- A little big of ego and a large amount of confidence, because you’re trying to convince a large room of people to stay focused on your and ideas.
TIP: If you ever get the opportunity to give a keynote, PLEASE make sure you have SEVERAL people proof-read all the slides MULTIPLE TIMES. Lots of people will take pictures, and the last thing you want to happen is a TYPO or GRAMMAR ERROR that could have been easily caught.
Hopefully some of these tips are useful. There are lots of different ways to give talks.
- Know your audience
- Practice ahead of time
- Prepare for the worst (something fails – slides, WiFi, demo) and have a backup plan
- Project confidence
- Use something visual and shareable. Don’t be the anchor of an idea, allow it to be shared and retold.
Good luck on your next talk!
No matter how much the tech industry ebbs and flows between encouraging working in the office or allowing work from home policies, the one constant in the industry is that people ultimately make buying and usage decisions, and the majority of those people still like to interact with other people in person. That could be for a business meeting, a casual meetup for coffee or a meal, or conference-style event. This means that for many people in the tech industry, travel is a part of life. And while modern-day travel is much better than a decade ago or a century ago, it can still be an unpleasant experience to be crammed into a metal tube for hours at a time with hundreds of other strangers, or randomly jumping in the back of a car with someone doing part-time work and being 100% dependent on Waze or Google Maps.
But if travel is part of your technology industry experience, here are some tips and tricks to make it more manageable and more rewarding.
[NOTE: I travelled on over 100 flights the past few years, so I’d be classified as a frequent traveler. But I’ll also try and pass along tips for more infrequent travelers.
A couple good starting points are suggestions from my friends:
- Datanauts Podcast – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to IT Travel
- The Geek Whisperers – Engineering Your Time at Conferences
The Points Guy is another great website for getting tips on the best way to maximize how you can earn points and rewards through airlines, hotels and rental cars.
Many of the things that frequent (work) travelers tell you are all dependent on who they work for and the allowed travel policies of that company. Some are much more flexible than others.
- Airlines – Choosing the best airline is very dependent on your home city, as not all airlines will fly out of all airports. If your company allows flexibility on picking an airline, then investigate which one at your airport will go to the places you need to visit the most frequently.
- Credit Cards – Many companies will provide you a credit card for work expenses (e.g. Corporate AMEX card). See if you’re able to associate the card with any airline or hotel reward programs, as it’s a great way to rack up points/miles. If you’re allowed to use a personal card, consider getting one from your preferred airline, as they often provide extra miles for booking with the card, or allow you to defer costs (e.g. baggage fees) if you have the card.
- Hotels – Most companies align to either the Hilton or Marriott chains (at various price points). Both are fairly equal in terms of earning points. Just like with airline cards, most hotel chains have their own cards as well. These are also valuable, as they often give bonus miles if you pay for hotel stays with that card.
- Cars – Rental cars don’t have nearly as good a reward programs as hotels and airlines, but that’s OK, as more people are using ride sharing services like Lyft/Uber. Both Lyft and Uber now have rewards programs, but not necessarily for the same types of purchases (e.g. rides vs. meal delivery, etc.)
- Frequent Traveler Points – Most companies allow you to keep all your frequent traveler points, but make sure to ask. Don’t spend all that time away from your family and not get some of the rewards to use on your own personal travel and vacations.
For me, the most important thing about travel is trying to achieve consistency and predictability, because I need to try and replicate my job in each city that I travel. For these reasons, I do a number of things every time I travel.
- I have 2 sets of toiletry kits, so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting things between the house and the road. It’s very inexpensive to have an extra set of toothbrushes, deodorant, contact lens solution, etc.
- When I get to the airport, I always park in the same parking structure and on the same floor. There is nothing worse than getting back from a week long trip and not remembering where you parked.
- I spend the $85 to get TSA-Pre approved. It’s not a very simple process, and while it’s not perfect, it gives me a much better sense of how it will take to get to the gate at any airport. I also have access to the CLEAR, which costs about $100/yr, but it’s incredibly valuable in the busiest airports. The fee pays for itself by not missing a flight that you’re cutting it too close.
- I always carry 2 bags – 1 backpack and 1 roller suitcase. People have all sort of opinions on bags, but here’s my rationale. While shoulder bags can look more stylish, they will eventually wear on your back (uneven distribution of weight) and they can be awkward if you end up running through an airport when you’re late. This is why I use a nicer backpack. It looks good enough to take into business meetings, have enough space to store stuff (computer, cables, snacks, etc.), and it is much easier on your back and legs. And I use a soft-sided Eddie Bauer rolling suitcase, which is great for a number of reasons.  It isn’t too expensive,  It’s fairly lightweight,  It’s flexible on the top and durable on the bottom, so it survives all sorts of scenarios. It fits into all sorts of planes.
- Pack some extra computer cables in the bag. You’ll inevitably lose a USB stick, iPhone headphones, or a USB charging cable. Buy an extra of each one, as it’s much cheaper than not being able to charge something important during a business meeting. Also, consider buying an extra laptop battery, so you can leave one at home and keep one in the bag.
- I never check a bag. Not only does this force me to pack efficiently, and save costs on baggage fees (see how to avoid these above based on the airline or credit card), but it guarantees that I won’t be stuck without clothes when I arrive.
- Drink more water than you than is necessary. Flight travel will dehydrate you, so spend the $2-4 on a large bottle of water before you get on the plane.
- Pack workout clothes. People have all sort of different approaches to maintaining their health on the road, and each person has to figure out what works best for them. For me, I assume that I won’t know what sort of equipment will be in any hotel, so I plan for the least possible. I bring workout shoes, shorts and a shirt. My routine involves either running or riding a stationary bike, depending on the hotel. If those aren’t available, I just do pushups and sit-ups in the room. If you’re able to do more, that’s great! But be careful having an elaborate routing at home and then being disappointed when you’re on the road.
- Figure out a way to keep track of your expenses, and get your expense reports done as quickly as possible. Get a receipt for everything you do. Each night (if possible), write something on the back so you remember what it was for. And as soon as you get home, carve out an hour to submit your expenses. I’ve seen too many people get into credit-card debt by turning them in too late, or having the claims rejected by their company by turning them in after the quarter has ended.
- Connect with your family at least once a day, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a text or a picture. It helps everybody know you’re OK.
The fastest way to have a better travel experience is to collect points and reward levels. This is why, if at all possible within your work guidelines, try and fly on the same airline and stay within the same hotel chain. And here’s a few extra tips:
- Once you achieve higher level status on Delta, they will automatically move you to Comfort+ seats (more legroom). So you can just buy the “Main” tickets (lower costs) and then automatically get the better seats. Buy your tickets with the Delta credit card, as it adds multipliers to your points.
- When staying at Hilton hotels, they offer an option for extra-points or breakfast. Select the extra points, as lots of business meetings will have food.
- When staying at Hilton hotels, they have a 2x the Point option. This usually costs $10-20/night more, but it will help you collect points very rapidly. You can offset this cost by staying at a Hampton Inn instead of the Hilton, and they are usually close to each other, and the rooms are basically the same. Buy your rooms with the Hilton credit card, as it adds multipliers to your points.
- Like your Lyft account to your Delta account.
This is by no means a perfect set of tips, as nothing can prevent travel delays or bad weather or someone sitting next to you that talks too much or snores. But I will say that after 20+ years of traveling for work, they have helped create a model that is reasonable repeatable and manageable.
It’s been a few months since I posted anything on this blog, and especially anything having to do with Kubernetes. Part of that had to do with work projects and other technology projects, but it also had to do with moving (and updating) all of the content for the weekly Kubernetes-centric podcast that I host – PodCTL.
[Note: If you’re new to Kubernetes and wonder why I’d choose such an odd name, it’s a play on the CLI tool that’s used by Kubernetes, called “kubectl“. btw – there is an interesting debate around how to pronounce this tool (here, here) and then of course the CNCF had to weigh in on an “official” pronunciation so the entire community wouldn’t diverge into chaos or Game of Thrones. I mention this because we go out of our way on PodCTL to cater to all potential pronunciations of the show’s title.
If you’re interested in Kubernetes, I’d suggest subscribing to the show. It’s available via RSS Feeds, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn and all your favorite podcast players. The show focuses on Containers, Kubernetes, technologies around the CNCF communities, Cloud-native application development and a number of associated technologies.
With the move to the dedicated website, we’ve made it easier to:
- Search for shows or topics
- Have a more flexible player via the web (change speeds, skip forward/back)
- View all the past shows (all the way back to 2017)
If you’re interested in Kubernetes, the show is a mix of technology basics and more advanced design considerations. It includes technology discussions from across a broad spectrum, with guests that are actively involved in writing the actual code that is enabling Kubernetes.
2018 was a big year for Cloud Computing in terms of industry growth, major acquisitions and mergers, and shifting trends in software usage.
There is no easy way to summarize all the announcements and activities that take place in an entire year, let alone the entire Cloud Computing industry. So I’ll try and narrow it down to a few of the biggest trends and events that not only impacted 2018, but will have long-term impacts into 2019 and beyond.
Gartner IaaS MQ is down to 6 companies (AWS, Azure, GCP, Alibaba, IBM, Oracle)
For years, we’ve watched the largest cloud providers invest billions of dollars (per quarter) in data centers and infrastructures around the world. Those investments are beginning to be payoff in a big way, as the Big 6 cloud providers are distancing themselves from the rest of the industry.
The Big 2 (AWS, Azure) are growing really fast
I wrote about the growth of AWS and Azure just a couple months ago. While Q3 was slightly “bumpy” for both companies, they both continue to grow at an astounding rate. This is the direct result of years of investments, as well as a willingness to not be bound to a specific set of technologies.
Big acquisitions around Open Source (Red Hat, GitHub, Hortonworks)
The biggest acquisitions and mergers in 2018 were all open source centric. IBM acquired Red Hat for $34B, Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5B, and Hortonworks merged with Cloudera. By themselves, each of the acquisitions addressed critical needs for each company. In addition, they made a bold statement about the importance of open source software, developer ecosystems, and the need to consolidate in order to effectively compete in a market with some very large cloud providers.
Is Open Source licensing at a cross-roads?
While the center of technology innovation has heavily shifted towards open source communities, the economics of cloud computing has been shifting more and more towards public clouds. This is leading some companies (Redis, Confluent) that lead popular open source projects to re-evaluate how they license their project (known as “Common Clause“) in a way that doesn’t allow public cloud providers to use the software, offer a managed service and not contribute back to the project in a meaningful way. This is a change to the more traditional open source licenses, and feedback on the change has been mixed. It will be interesting to see if this is an anomaly, or more projects adopt this competitive approach.
Can a new CEO improve the Google Cloud Platform?
With the departure of Diane Greene and the replacement by Thomas Kurian (formerly of Oracle), GCP will go into 2019 with a new leader and a potential culture change. Everyone will be watching to see if GCP can figure out how to break through into the Enterprise, and how much change Kurian will need to create in order to move GCP out of 3rd-place.
Kubernetes continues to dominate containers and cloud-native (see: @PodCTL podcast)
As we saw with the growth of the 2018 Seattle KubeCon event, and several major acquisitions (CoreOS, Heptio, Red Hat) that involved Kubernetes, the Kubernetes market is preparing for significant growth in 2019, as well as greater levels of competition.
A few weeks back, the Kubernetes community gathered in Seattle for their annual KubeCon conference. The event is the centerpiece of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), in conjunction with the CloudNativeCon event.
Growth and Breadth of the Community
When KubeCon was held in Seattle in 2016, there were just over 1,000 attendees. In Austin in 2017, the number had grown to 4,500, and by 2018 the attendee list had expanded to over 8,000 people (with a waiting list). The growth was not only seen in the number of attendees, but in the number of pre-show events to train attendees, as well as the number of sponsors and companies displaying their Kubernetes technologies and services.
Kubernetes is trying to balance stability and expandability
At a high level, the Kubernetes project is trying to balance two parallel paths:
- How to make the core as stable (and scalable) as possible?
- How to build expandability around the core, without destabilizing the core and also allowing a broad set of use-cases?
This creates a challenging set of decisions for the architects of the project, as they want to make sure the technology is stable enough for production use-cases, but also build in enough flexibility to allow for many types of applications to run on Kubernetes. Extensibility has been built around capabilities such as CRDs, CSI, and CNI. These models allow pluggability for both storage and networking, as well as add-on projects such as Istio, Knative and others.
One area that is critical to this balance is the Operator Framework, which builds upon the extensibility of CRDs, while bringing automated operations and application lifecycle management to a broad set of applications that can run on Kubernetes.
Kubernetes will be less of the focus of KubeCon / CloudNativeCon
For the first four years of the show (KubeCon), Kubernetes has been at the core of every discussion. But as more and more add-on projects begin to make their way into greater levels of maturity within the CNCF (e.g. Istio, Envoy, Knative, Prometheus, etc.), the focus will shift up the stack and onto projects that are closer to the application. We’re already seeing expanded focus on CI/CD tools, Service Mesh, Developer frameworks, Serverless and Registry/Security integrations. While there will always be a focus on the infrastructure and automated operations for Kubernetes, I would expect to see increased focus on improved ways to enable cloud-native applications on Kubernetes.
Cloud-native Application Development is still an evolving space
While the container and orchestrator (Kubernetes) has become standardized, the development model for applications running on Kubernetes is still evolving. While there are many efforts to make it easier to embed tools in IDEs and create new languages and frameworks (Knative, Draft, Brigade, Ballerina, CNAB, s2i, Buildpacks, ODO, etc.), there has yet to be a consensus around what is best or be more widely used by developers. The good news is that many projects are currently exploring this space, as well as many vendor offerings that are emerging.
Enterprise Usage of Kubernetes in Production is expected to grow
Since Kubernetes first started shipping (as OSS, Commercial Software and Cloud Services) almost 4 years ago, we seen it be adopted by companies around the world and in nearly every industry. As the market moves from early adopters to cross the chasm, mainstream adopters want to hear about the challenges and successes of the early adopters. For the last couple of KubeCon events, the number of companies speaking publicly (example) about their adoption has been growing. This means that concerns about adoption will be reduced, as companies now have references that they can reach out to directly.
While Google Cloud Platform has been around for many years (going back to the Google App Engine days in 2008), I’ve been attending Google Cloud events since 2016. Throughout that timeframe, it has often been difficult to understand the messaging, differentiation and overall direction of Google Cloud. On one hand, Google has always been recognized for their technology strengths and ability to scale applications at a global level. On the other hand, Google has never been known to be skilled in person-to-person communication or collaboration, as the core of their business has been automating transactions and person-to-machine (or machine-to-machine) interactions. This person-to-person communication is often considered to be at the core of successful “Enterprise IT” companies, of which Google Cloud Platform is making some progress, but still struggling to master in relation to other public cloud providers (AWS, Azure, Alibaba, Salesforce, Twilio, etc.) or even growing software companies (VMware, Red Hat, ServiceNow, etc.).
So with that backdrop, Google Cloud decided to bring in a new CEO to run the business. Former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian will be replacing Diane Greene as CEO, beginning in January 2019. Before Kurian begins his tenure, here are a few tips and suggestions to address some of the challenges that have kept Google Cloud from succeeding in the past.
- Define the Relationship between Google and Google Cloud. In the past, Google Cloud has highlighted that its DNA and much of its technology comes from the parent company Google. When Google Cloud engineers talk about this relationship, they often blur the lines. Many of the Google Cloud engineers came from Google, so they love to highlight all the great technologies they internally had in their past roles. But not all of this “greatness” is available to Google Cloud customers. And not all potential Google Cloud customers have a “Googley” culture, so many “Googley” things (technology, culture, etc.) aren’t available to potential customers. Customers care about what’s available to them, not what’s behind the curtain.
- “Beta” and “Enterprise” don’t mean the same thing. Google (or Alphabet) and Google Cloud share the same brand name. Millions (or Billions) of consumers have interacted with Google services. Some of those Google services, which were beloved, got cancelled with little to no notice. Technologist remember this stuff. And as much as the folks at Google Cloud like to say, “that’s not us!”, potential customers have that concern or doubt in the back of their minds. The new CEO really needs to make it clear, maybe with some form of financial guarantee, that Google Cloud services won’t be killed off. It’s a perception problem that Google Cloud needs to address.
- Figure out how to change the rules of the game. When looking at the basic services, GCP does a reasonably good job matching up with AWS (or Azure). In some cases, GCP technology is faster (booting VMs, network latency, etc.). In some cases, GCP pricing is better (e.g. preemptive credits). But none of those advantages were so significant that (most) customers would choose GCP over AWS. But GCP is still recognized as being significantly better at AI/ML, and at globally scaling applications. And Google/GCP is very good at making those technologies relatively easy to use, because there is so much AI/ML brainpower behind the scenes at Google. This is the type of technology that might allow a retain company to compete with Amazon. Or a smaller company to compete with a large bank. So how could GCP help companies leapfrog to using more AI/ML/BigData services? Maybe it means they need to make the cash cow of AWS (compute & storage) essentially free. Google has so much compute & storage capacity in their data centers, the margin costs for any additional server or storage must be very close to zero. And data gravity is everything in cloud computing. If the amount of friction to on-board the data, compute and store the data is so low that getting to the AI/ML goodness is considerably faster, then maybe the rules of the game are changed for a segment of nearly every potential customers business.
- Consider big partnerships. Given how far behind GCP is in Enterprise sales, it might be time to consider a partnership with Microsoft/Azure or Oracle. GCP is way ahead of Azure in AI/ML capabilities, and Oracle just can’t seem to figure out how to build a modern cloud. So maybe GCP considers a partnership where they either OEM their AI/ML to Azure, or OEM their entire cloud to Oracle. Both of them have massive Enterprise installed bases that AWS is actively recruiting, and AWS has already locked up a strong partnership with VMware.
Just a few things for the new CEO to consider as he begins to figure out how to improve GCP’s current standing as the 3rd or 4th largest public cloud.
AWS re:Invent is happening this week in Las Vegas, so that means long bus lines for attendees, and dozens of blog posts about new features/services from AWS’ Jeff Barr.
As AWS has grown their portfolio of services from basic infrastructure (compute, storage, networking), to application-services (database, load-balancing, caching & queuing) to data-services (data-warehouse, Hadoop, AI/ML, streaming analytics, etc.), it can be very difficult to keep up with all the trends, announcements and features.
Is Azure catching up to AWS?
As we saw from the recent earning announcements from both Amazon and Microsoft, the gap between AWS and Azure is closing. Which one is leading at this point depends on what services you count in the “cloud” totals – Azure spreads it’s “cloud” revenues across a couple buckets. Given how competitive the two Seattle giants are with each other (many ex-Microsoft people work for AWS), it will be interesting to see if AWS goes after Microsoft/Azure strengths in their keynote or announcements.
From recent research from Citi, AWS has 6224 open reqs.
Do AWS customers care about Amazon’s business ventures?
If you’re UPS or FedEx or DHL, announcements like this might be concerning. If you’re ADT or Brinks, announcements like this might be concerning. If you’re one of the giant insurance companies, announcements like this might be concerning. If you’re one of the giant healthcare companies, announcements like this might be concerning. If you’re in the grocery industry, announcements like this might be concerning. If you’re in any aspect of retail, announcements like this might be concerning. If you’re ESPN or FOXSports, announcements like this might be concerning.
AWS’ parent company Amazon obviously have very big ambitions to get into many diverse industries. Do these ambitions concern existing or potential AWS customers, who may find themselves competing directly or indirectly with their IT-vendor?
AWS is a long-tail business, dominated by data-gravity
If you haven’t already read the “Cloudability – 2018 State of the Cloud” report, I highly recommend it from a company that has a tremendous about of insight into actual AWS customer usage. At the core of the report is “out of hundreds of cloud services, only four account for the majority (85% of spend)”. Compute (EC2) is obviously a huge portion of revenue, but the more important service is data storage. As more data flows into AWS services (S3, RDS, etc.), the more sticky those applications become to other AWS services. And since AWS doesn’t charge for inbound data/traffic, but does charge for outbound traffic, the cost of moving out of AWS is significantly more than moving into AWS.
Is serverless a strategy or a feature?
When AWS announced Lambda in November 2014, it was considered an unusual service. But it created the concept of “serverless” as a distinct service – “distinct” in that earlier public cloud “PaaS” services (e.g. Heroku, Google App Engine) had previously abstracted the underlying infrastructure from developers, but with different pricing and scaling models. Since 2017 re:Invent, AWS has been pushing “serverless” more and more, beyond just Lambda. Now they are pushing the concept into things like Databases and other scalable services. Now in 2018, there are numerous serverless conferences around the world, and there are many advocates who will tell you that any new applications should be build with serverless (or FaaS) technologies. This approach (whether correct or not) is more in the strategic camp.
Others will argue that serverless (or FaaS) is a feature or service-pattern of a broader application platform. This is where many in the Kubernetes camp are leaning with technologies like Knative.
Will AWS double-down on an on-premises offering?
Last week we asked our Cloudcast audience what they thought AWS would do to address on-premises applications. Almost 2/3rd thought they would make a bigger push. If this happens, does AWS create an offering like AzureStack or Google’s GKE On-Prem, or create a hybrid-cloud offering like Red Hat OpenShift, or do they create a more robust offering that tries to significantly change the rules of on-premises IT?
How will “the Edge” evolve?
When AWS announced both “Greengrass” and enhancements to “Snowball Edge“, they signaled that they wanted to be a significant player as more computing moved to the edge. The use-cases for IoT, edge analytics, video monitoring and many others can benefit from a combination of edge computing and centralized cloud services. But it’s still very early in Edge architectures, so many vendors and cloud providers are all trying to put their stamp on these use-cases.
Which AWS partners should be worried after the keynote?
Unfortunately, this is a running joke every year. During the keynotes, there is always a subset of the vendors on the trade show floor, that were previously “partners”, that quickly move into the competitor category because AWS announces a native service that competes with their current SaaS offering. So who will be on the list this year?
About 4 years, I wrote about taking this weird job working on open source software (OSS) at EMC, back before OSS became a thing that every enterprise software company thought it needed to do and VC and M&A started throwing $Billions of dollars at it.
One of the details that I didn’t share in that story was how I prepared for the presentation I had to make to the EMC executive staff in order to finalize the funding. At the time, EMC was a pretty stodgy old company, where all the executives wore suits (and often ties) every day, in every meeting. They were asking me to focus on open source software, which isn’t a very suit and tie friendly environment. There was a part of me that was excited about the opportunity, and part of me was seriously concerned that they would quickly allow the suit & tie culture to smother this new thing that went counter to everything in their culture. So while I spent a good bit of time preparing my presentation, it was a different litmus test that I used to determine if this program would have a change of succeeding.
I wore jeans and a t-shirt to the presentation. In room full of suits and ties, I stood out like a sore thumb. I almost didn’t get into the board room, because the admin at the desk thought I was lost. But I needed a way to gauge if they would focus more on my appearance or my story. I needed to see how comfortable they would be with being uncomfortable. Ultimately they listened to the entire presentation and agreed to fund the program, which lasted about 3yrs.
As I watched the initial media tour after IBM announced that it intended to acquired Red Hat, I noticed that Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst worn jeans in the interviews along side IBM CEO Ginni Rometti.
[Disclosure: I am employed by Red Hat, so I’ve seen this as the day-to-day “uniform” that is always worn by Whitehurst. Also, this commentary is only on the jeans worn in the interviews, not on any financial, technical or strategic aspect of the IBM acquisition.]
While Red Hat’s CEO didn’t consult with me about his wardrobe for the interviews, I suspect that he went through a somewhat similar thought process about conveying what he represented in this new context. It was an important signal to both Red Hat employees and the market at large that he would be representing who Red Hat was in the market. They are a company that represents open source communities, and they represent a more engineering-centric approach than IBM’s more executive and sales-centric approach to the market.
There are lots of different approaches to job interviews.
- Dress for the job you want
- Dress for success
- How you dress doesn’t matter, it’s more about your knowledge and experience personality
All of those might be relevant to a specific situation. But for a situation in which you’re asked to be part of a significant change, and you’re not sure if the change will be accepted, maybe it’s a good idea to wear jeans.
This week both Amazon and Microsoft announced quarterly earnings for Q3CY2018. At the corporate level, Amazon’s revenues fell below expectations, while Microsoft’s beat by a significant amount. Looking one layer deeper, AWS’ revenues slightly missed expectations (but still grew 46% QoQ) and Azure continues to grow, but at a slightly lower rate than the previous quarter (76%, from 89% last quarter).
What can we take away from these announcements? Well, lots of things, depending on how you look at the numbers.
- AWS is still growing very fast (+40%), especially for division with already large revenues ($25B+).
- Amazon now completely breaks out the AWS revenues (from the “Other” category thru early 2015). This is because AWS has become a $20B+/yr business, and it drives significant profits for Amazon. This is important, as it’s different from how Microsoft breaks out “Azure” revenues, which are spread across multiple buckets (Office 365 Cloud and Intelligent Cloud). We’ll explain more about that later.
- AWS’ Operating Margins grew to over 30% for the quarter, the highest levels in more than 4 years. This means that while revenues aren’t growing as faster as previous quarters, they are more profitable revenues.
- Azure’s revenues are not explicitly broken out (still under “Intelligent Cloud”), but they are assumed to be in the $7.5-7.75B range, which would make it larger than AWS. That would be a bold claim, especially without exact numbers, so let’s just say that the two Seattle cloud giants are playing the game in the same ballpark.
- Operating Margins for Azure aren’t specially broken out, so we don’t have any real picture of profitability of the Microsoft Cloud, the same way we do for AWS. Granted (see below), how costs are allocated to usage of the data-center and cloud resources could varying significantly across different companies.
Anytime you look at the public cloud revenues or margins, it’s also important to consider the levels of capital spending they are doing to continue the growth. To compete at the highest levels, this required more than a $1B per quarter investment. Granted, these investments can be leveraged for many activities, not just public-cloud facing customer resources (e.g. search, retail websites, autonomous vehicle telemetry, gaming, etc.), which allows for broader economies of scale for all areas of the business.
Looking at the past two Gartner IaaS Magic Quadrants (2018 and 2017), it’s clear that the market for the largest public cloud providers is shaking out to a small number, and it is becoming much more competitive.
Google Cloud is beginning to figure out how to talk to Enterprise customers, whether it’s about core technologies like Machine Learning and AI, or exploring ways to get into customer’s data-centers with early offerings like GKE On-Prem.
IBM will be making an expanded push around open source and Hybrid Cloud with it’s recent acquisition of Red Hat.
And Alibaba Cloud has the footprint and cultural understanding to grow in Asian markets and potentially beyond.
What was once considered by some to be a single horse race in the public cloud is beginning to turn into a multi-horse race, between some very large and fast moving alternatives. It’ll be interesting to watch the significant moves being made by each company to see how they navigate the competitive waters, and appeal to customers that will be making architectural decisions that will impact their next 5-10 years of business survival.
Back in the day, when technologies like server virtualization were starting to change the landscape of IT (like back in 2007), it would not be unusual for someone to build out a home lab to test out new technologies. This mean buying a few servers, some SAN or NAS storage, a network switch, and likely a bunch of software licenses to make it all work. It wouldn’t be unusual for people to spent $5000 to $10,000 on these home labs, as well as the on-going electrical costs and maintenance of the system.
But as more cloud-native technologies emerged, both in the open source communities and via public cloud services, a new trend is emerging in how people are able to learn and test. As would be expected, the trend is moving the testing environments to the public cloud, and with a set of online services that don’t require anything except a web browser.
All of the major public clouds, AWS and Azure and Google Cloud Platform, all have a “free tier” that allows user to try any service up to a certain capacity. These free tiers are a great way to test our new services, or potentially run some lightweight applications. The free tiers have all the same features as the paid tiers, just with lesser available resources.
In addition to accessing free cloud resource, the public cloud providers are also providing various levels of training resources – AWS, Azure, GCP. Some of these courses are tutorials, while others are quick-starts to get basic functionality working in a live environment.
Public Cloud Certifications
Another popular service that is targeting certifications for the public cloud services is A Cloud Guru. We learned how they build their service on serverless technologies on The Cloudcast. Initially targeting training for basic AWS services and AWS certifications, it has expanded it’s offerings to include other cloud services (Azure and Google Cloud), as well as starter courses to learn things like Alexa Skills or Serverless application programming.
Learning Open Source Cloud-Native Skills
Yet another platform that is gaining popularity is Katacoda. We recently spoke with their creator, Ben Hall, on The Cloudcast. Katacoda provides interactive tutorials for emerging technologies such as Kubernetes, Docker, Prometheus, Istio, OpenShift, Jenkins and GitHub. Each technology The platform allows the user to use their browser to emulate being directly on a machine, via directly CLI access. One of the highlights of Katacoda is that users can directly follow the step-by-step tutorials, or be flexible in how they use the platform. This makes is easy to learn, but also make mistakes with having to completely start over a module.
All of these new platforms are making it much easier, and less expensive for both beginners and experts to learn and trial all of these emerging technologies.