Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The case for the "Cafeteria" plan...

Remember the local hardware store? Your parents knew the checkout boy; there was a shelf of light bulbs rather than a big light department; and you lingered up front looking for quarters in the gumball machines….With the ice-cream counter selling root beer floats (OK, only if you are really old!)
Enter the Home Depot, WalMart and all the other gamechangers.

Well, it's that time again. It is time for ma and pa organizations to get out of the business of a different kind of "hardware". And I don’t mean light bulbs and hammers. I mean desktops and laptops.

Five+ years ago, the latest technology used to first appear at your organization, and many years later you got it for your home. The reason was that hardware was expensive. Very expensive. The place where you worked always had better technology than what you had at home. Organizational technology was more expensive, much more sophisticated, and provided a far better user experience than anything you and your kids used at home.

In recent years, with the advent of Apple's groundbreaking products (iPhone, iPad etc.) and the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets (which together now outsell all laptops and desktops combined) - the tables have finally turned. The newer, sleeker, better technology is well within reach of the average consumer.

The "consumerization" of technology now means that, in many instances, technology is coming into the enterprise after you the consumer have already bought it for your personal use.

The leading edge of the technology wave is now (literally) in the hands of the consumer and not the enterprise. The user now demands that the organization make resources for work available and accessible on these personal devices. And if the organization does not do this - in many instances, the users access the data on these devices anyway, because they can.

IT shops and technology decision makers have not reconciled themselves to this change.  They prefer the image of the elite provider (read: IT Shop) working with the specialty vendor to outfit the staff rather than acknowledge the Saturday afternoon shopping habits at <insert favorite retail conglomerate> of their staff who are busy adding to a pile of electronics already at home and better than what they find at their desks at work.

It is time for enterprises to cede this arena to the user and get out of the business of maintaining hardware once and for all. In fact it may be time for the organization to create a template where each user is given a fixed amount of money every few years and can buy the technology which they want to buy and which they use to access the enterprise resources and assets. They would buy such a device from a technology "Cafeteria Plan"  provided to them by the organization, and very similar to the cafeteria plan for their HR benefits.

You select what you need and you buy it and maintain it.

The organization offsets or subsidizes the cost of technology. And the support plan? You buy that too. IT cannot fix your iPad or iPhone anyway. Why not make it official? If you lose your device, you buy another one. Again, one of your own choice. The organization is not in the business of providing you hardware just like they are not in the business of providing you a car to come to work.

Perhaps IT can make recommendations on hardware which the users can purchase. Maybe they can even provide instructions on how to access the enterprise assets on such devices. They may even assist with some installation, or provide guidance on minimum requirements e.g. an anti-virus etc. But it is the user's personal device and the organization needs to be careful not to become liable for such devices (a topic for another day).

In most organizations, the cell phone is already a personal device. That handoff was completed a few years ago. It is now time for laptops and desktops to follow suit.

The cafeteria plan, which entitled you to select which dentist, 401(k) or other benefits, now includes your very own choice of hardware.....You can have any device you want, as long as it can connect you to the organizational resources and allow you to do your work.

And if you have a history of dropping your cell phone into the sink, buy the extra protection rider. It’s your call.  Because Ma and Pa are retiring from the hardware business.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Have you ever looked into the past?

Try this. Ask one of your young children (or your neighbors, if you don't have any of your own) "Can you see into the past?" The last time I asked this question I got a 12 year old doing facial contortions while trying to unravel the syntax of my 'trick' question.

The problem was: it was not a trick question. It was not from a Jules Verne novel or Isaac Asimov's scifi mind. It was not a question from a movie script. And it had nothing to do with time machines.

Can we see into the past?

The answer will surprise you. You see the past every day and every night, and more of it at night.

Here is how: When I get up, draw the drapes, look up into the sky and see our wonderful blazing sun - I am seeing the past.

In fact, I am looking at the sun as it was 8 minutes and 20 seconds ago! That is how long it takes sunlight to reach us on Earth. When I see the sun, in effect I am looking at the sun as it was over 8 minutes - not as it is now. It takes a moment to take this in and understand that we actually see the past all the time.

At night, when the sky is ablaze with the stars and the galaxies - we can see even further into the past. If you look for the nearest star which is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star, it is located at a distance of 4.2 light-years away from Earth.

A light year is the distance light travels in a single year – 9,460,528,000,000 kilometers. So the light we see coming from Proxima Centauri left the star 4.2 years ago! If you see it, you are looking over 4 years into the past.

The nearest Galaxy to our own is the Canis Major Dwarf galaxy, which was discovered only in 2003, and is located about 25,000 light years from our solar system. If you could see it, (it isn't very easy since it is a 'dwarf' galaxy on the other side of the Milky Way, which is our galaxy) - you would be looking 25,000 years into the past!

What if you had a telescope? A really powerful telescope. Could you see further back in time. Indeed you could.

Today, astronomers have spotted the most distant supernova ever seen. It is nicknamed "Mingus", and it was described at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in the US in January 2013.

It is ten billion light-years distant. Want to see 10 billion years into the past? Take a peek: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20968199. Mingus will help shed light on so-called dark energy, the force that appears to be speeding up cosmic expansion.

Time, as we know it, began about 13.75 billion years ago after what is commonly called the "Big Bang".

NASA believes it has found the most distant galaxy observed to date. MACS0647-JD is just a fraction of the size of the Milky Way and is believed to be 13.3 billion light years away. (http://www.tomshardware.com/news/space-nasa-galaxy,19149.html).

So if you had the right equipment, not only could you see into the distant past - you could see billions of years into the past. What you see, may not even be there anymore!

Not only can we see the past, but we can see almost to the beginning of time. In this moment, you can see all of elapsed time!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Which BYOD are you preparing for?

Only a few years ago, my school age son and his cousin showed me a neat trick. They each put their cell phones behind their backs and proceeded to text a conversation to each other without looking at the device while they typed. They made very few typos. When I asked them what made them learn to do this, the explanation was simple. They were not allowed to bring their devices into the classroom or use them at school at all. So, they improvised.
Boy, times have changed.  
Today, there is a race afoot, and it is filled with sharp turns and cliffs. If technology thought leaders don’t get ahead of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) curve, they will surely convert it into an organizational bring-your-own-disaster program. All indications are that in small and medium size organizations, and particularly in the non-profit and educational sectors, the rules of the road are lacking. BYOD policies aren’t defining the right-of-way at the intersections.

Here is the latest report from Forrester (12/27/12) and it seems to be indicating that not only is BYOD firmly in place for phones and tablets -but it now includes even PCs!

Today, more than 70 percent of organizations have some form of a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) program, where employees use personal devices for work-related tasks. BYOD has empowered the modern workforce, improved productivity and allowed companies to deliver better services to customers and partners. Forrester sees a continuation of this trend into 2013 and beyond. We also see that BYOD will gradually expand from smartphones/tablets to personal computers. (Forrester Research).

Did you get that? PCs too!

Which technology is now left for the organization to own? The copier, fax machine, the coffee maker? This is not a hypothetical question anymore. Nor is it a crazy question. The answer will likely pivot organizations and institutions to a brand new way of dealing with technology, with all of the change such redirection implies. In fact, in many places we are already referring to this phenomenon as the broader BYOT (Bring your own Technology).

Before you can solve the problems, you have to be able to ask the right questions.

What happens when the organization or institution does not buy the devices being used to connect to and access the resources of the organization? Is there now an IT budget? If so, for what?

Which devices are allowed to access organizational or school resources? How should they connect to the resources? Should they have any restrictions on what they can and cannot do? How would these be enforced? What security are we going to require and how will we monitor these devices and how will we know who is connecting to our resources and technology assets? What will all this cost us?

Who fixes these personal devices when they are broken? How many different types of devices should be allowed?

How will they be ‘managed’ by the organization or institution e.g. should we mandate that they have an anti-virus installed? If yes, who pays for that? How do you check for it?

How will such devices be wiped off when the user leaves the organization or school system? Should we even care? What are the legal ramifications of "wiping" off organizational data from the personal devices of users and students? What if the user simply restores the "wiped" data (from one of the free backup vendors), moments after it was destroyed by the organization?

The questions are endless.
Leadership is struggling with this change. Technology leaders are scratching their heads. On the one hand there is a potential for tremendous savings in costs (which are for the most part being transferred to users and even to students). At the same time, organizations and institutions are losing control over their proprietary digital assets. Where are the speed limits?

The greatest current threat to data is not just from nefarious outsiders. It is increasingly from the lack of clarity for well-intentioned insiders; those out for a Sunday drive – and who have not been informed about the rules of the road. When we talk about kids in school systems, the challenge of communicating these rules, can be even more daunting.

And while all this is being debated, more personal devices come into the organization and into every educational facility, with very few controls, policies and procedures in place.

Which BYOD or BYOT are you preparing for?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Where did you take my "drive"?

The email-cloud and the data file-cloud transitions would have very different depictions on the local weatherman's radar map. 

One has a rainbow already gleaming over it, with many companies finding the promised pot of gold after nary a gust of wind.  The other sends reams of input to the forecast models and generates results that leave technologists shaking their heads and wondering what is really going on? And how to prepare for this pending storm?

First, on email. The transition to cloud based email systems provides many options (Hosted Microsoft Exchange, Gmail etc.) and many advantages. After such a transition, the user experience is quite similar to that of an on-premises email systemand the 'pain-of-the-change' for the user community - is not very high. In other words - for the most part - such a transition is quite seamless. 

The resulting higher reliability, reduced costs, and scalability for storage - all make this a worthwhile strategic decision for most organizations. The cost benefits for non-profits are significantly higher because of the far lower per-user costs which vendors like Microsoft allow. The email transition to the cloud is therefore already a relatively mature model.

But what do we do with the "F Drive" - the data files - the files which users access via the infamous "drives" - my drive, your drive, the shared drive, the designated drive, the organization drive, Ms. Daisy's drive? Ahh that is another story altogether, and it is far from a mature model.

Many organizations who have moved to cloud based email solutions, still keep the rest of the data in house. When you ask - why? The sheer number of different answers will surprise you. 

--Our users complain of latency with cloud storage for files.
 --We have moved our own data file server to a data center - that's our cloud.
 --We can't find someone who will take our 'drives' and make them accessible to our users in the same way as before.
 --We are not sure that the cloud is secure for our files.
 --What if the connection to the internet is broken - what do we do then? How will get our files? How will we work?

....and so on.

Whereas, most if not all of these questions are relevant, I think the most important question really lies elsewhere.

Should the cloud based file storage be architected in the same way in which files have been accessed for decades?

Or, is it time to re-think the entire methodology for storage of files?

Should we perhaps be thinking of a new paradigm where file storage is based on ubiquitous access, advanced search functions, access from any device with any form factor, and finally - new ways to collaborate with multiple collaborators in real time?    

I suggest that we are moving from a static one dimensional model for file storage, to a multi-dimensional model for collaboration and access - and this requires us to make sure we are making considered good choices.

'Driving' data files to the cloud is not a mature model - yet. That rainbow is also out there somewhere.  It’s time we started figuring out how to find it. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Where have all the servers gone? Long time, no see...

The cloud is here to stay. It is cheaper. It is more reliable. It is scalable. The C-Suite has bought into it. Game over.

Now the rain starts....and you won't believe who is getting soaked!

The Cloud is disrupting IT departments more than anyone else. And many of them seem completely unprepared for that change.

Since 1982, technology has created some of the biggest changes for organizations in the last hundred years. The first change came with the PC and then with the internet itself. The landscape is littered with those who were unable to adapt to the technology juggernaut - companies, workers, governments etc. We went through two major tech cycles in which technologists were in high demand - salaries went through the roof - and demand was inexhaustible. More people got into the industry.

But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Change is now affecting the technologists. And in a big way. The paradigm has shifted.

For decades, the run of the mill IT shop has been primarily engaged in managing servers; installing and fixing desktops and printers; and installing software for users. Some went further, but most stayed home with just these main functions.

Fast forward to today. 

The servers are leaving the building (if they have not already). Desktops are being outsold by tablets and will surely become an endangered species in the very near future. Tablets are owned by the users (BYOD) - they don't need IT to fix them because Apple and Samsung do that now. Printers last forever.  80% of all software built in 2012 - was for the cloud model.

So what will IT do now? 

When I have conversations with  IT staffers and ask them this question, I get blank looks that seem to say, "You can't be serious?" Some will tell me that they will go and work in a datacenter (where all the servers are going). When I tell them that one of the Microsoft Datacenter (which manages their entire Cloud and Azure deployments) has less than 100 technicians working there and so datacenters may not be the panacea that they are looking for - I start seeing panic in their eyes.

IBM is now looking to sell its server division to Lenovo. They got out of desktops just before the tablet era hit with a vengeance. Now servers? The canary may have spoken.

Change is in the air. It's getting cloudy. It smells like rain. IT is going to be soaked.