Users Bypassing IT to Adopt Cloud Services

Another interesting read on this morning: IT departments struggle to control cloud adoption.  In it is says that:

  1. 20% of those responding said they had gone around their IT department to provision cloud services
  2. 61% said it was easier to provision the services themselves
  3. 50% said it takes too long to go through IT
  4. 60% reported that they have corporate policies in place that prohibit such actions, those policies aren’t real deterrents

I cannot say that I am surprised.  I know that in the past I have hosted and managed the infrastructure for users in some very large organisations.  They found it too difficult to get what they needed from their IT departments/divisions and they looked to someone who could give them what they needed, when they needed it.

This problem is typically in the medium to large organisation.  The smaller organisation usually only has a couple of IT people who pretty much do everything IT for the company.  The larger organisation features divisions, branch offices, and departments that purchase and deploy applications and typically rely on some central IT to deploy the infrastructure that they need.  Sometimes it’s a case of they go to a central applications/MIS department/division to get an application that they need.  And we all know this: the bigger the organisation, the longer it takes for simple things to happen.  For example, I know of a bank with its headquarters in Munich, where former employees claimed that it could take up to 6 weeks for the helpdesk to respond to a non-critical ticket.  How hopeless is that?

IT is a service.  It has a customer and that customer is the user *I’m choking just a little bit as I type this*.  Any business person, even those on The Apprentice, will tell you that if you are slow to respond to a customer’s service request then you lose the customer.  In this case, every IT employee’s worst dream is coming true: their reason for being employed (the users) are going to an external service provider because IT is too slow.

One of the big complaints you’ll get from users about IT is that anything they do come up with isn’t quite what was asked for and it isn’t flexible.  That’s why the consumerisation of IT started: users are buying devices and apps independent of IT because, for example, their iPad is better for consuming information on the move than a laptop might be.  Public cloud computing is similar.  All the user needs is a credit card and some idea of what they need.  They’ll demo a few things, find something they like, and cough up the money to get it active.  They may well get approval from some departmental or divisional budget to cover the costs, completely independently of the IT budget.  Uh-oh, now the organisation has a reason to start reassessing (downwards) the IT budget, not to mention the headcount.

So IT is bypassed.  That causes hurt feelings and threatens their jobs.  The user is happy because they finally got the services they wanted in a timely manner.  End of story?  Let’s think bigger for a moment.

What about compliance?  Say this is a European company storing sensitive personal information: Does the user know anything about the Data Protection Act or the Patriot Act?  What if they are handling online payments?  Have they assessed a data centre or SaaS solution for ISO 27001 and PCI compliance?  I bet you these things don’t even cross their minds!  Things such as governance and regulatory compliance rarely do.  Businesses can put in policies to ban the independent adoption of public cloud computing services, but we all know that budget holders will do whatever they think will alleviate their pain.  One only has to look at the news to see how rules are regularly tossed aside with no repercussions in the business world.  Anyone who has worked in the corporate world knows that there’s one set of rules for “everyone”, and a different set of rules for certain people.

You cannot stop the user from seeking out alternatives.  Already over 60% of UK CIOs reckon that consumer devices have become essential tools in the business.  Banning those has worked real nice, eh?  The solution isn’t to ban things, it’s to adapt and provide internal & managed services that have the traits of those alternative that the users have started to turn to.

The private cloud brings that elasticity, self-service provisioning, rapid deployment, and flexibility into the internal network from the external service provider.  From the compliance and governance perspective, this brings back a lot of control.  From the IT worker’s perspective, it saves their job.  From the user’s perspective, this can be much better than the public cloud.  Think of the public cloud as a phone company: there’s a remote service desk that is pretty similar, and how many of us like the “customer care” that we get from our phone service providers?  When your service is deployed internally, then you at least have some leverage to apply pressure when things inevitably go wrong.

You now control where your data is, and who can see it.  IT switches from a deployment role to a role where templates are shared, services are monitored, workloads are backed up, and data is secured.  Users help themselves as consumers of this service that IT provides.  In other words, the “user is the customer” relationship is reinforced.

Mobile Device War – It’s Like the 1980s All Over Again

I was a Commodore 64 boy.  I had friends who had the Amstrad 464 machine (the one with the tape drive built in).  I also knew people with a Spectrum 48.  Those were some bitter rivalries.  But it was nothing like the next generation of machines.  Atari ST owners (like me) gloated about our faster 3D graphics over the Commodore Amiga folks.  The Commodore machine had that built in MIDI interface (making it the darling of the music crowd) but that maths coprocessor was seen as a bottleneck in the gaming magazines.  We both looked on at the amazing Acorn Archimedes hardware specs but it cost a fortune and had only a few games available.  You can forget Linux VS Windows or VMware VS Hyper-V!

And it’s all starting again.  iPhone VS Andriod with WP7 trying to get involved, and Blackberry clinging onto its government/corporate market.  Android seems to be taking the lead in device sales, but Apple still has the best quality ecosystem.  Amazon could have a big say in the Android world with their App Market (note Apple are suing them over the use of that term, even though Steve Jobs used to throw “App Store” around like an insult).  The IDC talk about 2-3 years down the road is doubted by the stock markets: they’re critical of corporate leadership and are shying away from Microsoft/Nokia stock.  Check their stock prices over the last few years.

Where things are really interesting is the tablet.  Apple cannot make the iPad2 fast enough to meet demand.  The only reason their sales this year of those devices is “disappointing” is because there is a huge order backlog.  Apple are making money as if they were printing it.  Android powered devices are popping up all over.  Samsung make some interesting machines and the Motorola Xoom is a hot device for geeks right now.  Microsoft are a non-factor with Windows 7, despite what some employees have to say.  Windows 8 on ARM processor tablets could be a whole other story.  If Microsoft can get the interface right (and they have a foundation in WP7) then they can bring compatibility, integration, and manageability to the tablet in the business market.  Amazon are another one to watch.  It’s known that they are building an Android tablet.  Maybe it’s a new Kindle and maybe not.  But they could suddenly rival Apple in no time at all.  Look at how many people own Kindles.  You see them on the bus/train/plane as often as you see an iPad.  Imagine if they ran Android.  And now throw in Amazon’s App Store and their unrivalled access to content and delivery … do they suddenly become the best ecosystem out there?

So who will be the Commodore 64 of the tablet wars, offering the best package?  Who will be the just as popular but less capable Spectrum 48?  And who will be the red-headed stepchild Amstrad 464 that you were disappointed to find when you opened your Christmas present wrapping?

61% of U.S. Corporations Say Employees are Already Using Tablets for Work

I’ve previously talked about Millenials, and how the consumerisation of IT will force IT to adapt to managing non enterprise devices.  This week I read reports where the majority of USA corporations report that users are bringing in tablets, such as the iPad, and using them for work.

“A report from research firm Strategy Analytics shows that 61% of U.S. corporation have found that their employees are already using tablets for work purposes”.

Clearly, we’re seeing an extension of what we saw back in 2003-2005 when executives came back from conferences, demanding that they have email capable phones that were a match for or better than their golfing/yachting buddy’s phone.  Then it happened again when the iPhone was launched.

The convenient nature and the long battery life of the tablet (not the slate PC) makes it a fine device for taking notes, using as a data consumer, and as something that is stylish.  Style counts with a lot of people in positions of authority; try giving a non-Microsoft executive some clunky looking Dell slate instead of an iPad2 if that’s what they originally asked for.

We IT infrastructure and systems management folks have to adapt.  Are we ready?  No.  The requirement of stuff like iTunes, Zune, or Google/Amazon market/app stores don’t help our cause.  The new OS to manage isn’t helpful.  If we’re lucky, we’re able to control PC/laptop specs to minimise hardware variation.  What about Android devices or Windows Phone 7 handsets?  There’s a huge variety of Android devices already, from the $100 dumb tablet to the $800 Xoom.  One can’t expect equal capabilities.  And Windows Phone 7 sets aren’t so standardised either – just ask Samsung handset owners if the first update bricked them or not.

The flood gates have opened.  Maybe they can be closed by some.  Maybe not.  In the end, businesses demand that their needs be dealt with.  It’s up to us to adapt.  The business is not there to service our desire to make things easy for us, unfortunately.

One of the System Center Configuration Manager 2012 videos that I watched offered some promise, when combined with the news that it would manage devices such as the iPad and iPhone.  The application delivery model is capable of detecting what the target device is, and deciding what software to install.  Maybe this will include these cross-platforms.  It appeared like it would; I saw some mention of Nokia in a dropdown box.

That’s just software deployment.  We have to figure out lock down policies, network access, antivirus, encryption (internal/removable storage), ownership, browser standardisation for web based/cloud business apps, and a whole lot more.  If I do have a solution, you’ll hear about it on Dragons Den.

Some News Isn’t News; It’s Marketing

I am a cynic and the world made me that way.  I’ve gotten used to not believing the news when it comes to politics, the economy, and so on.

Now I take my technology news with a large lump of salt.  I recently saw just about every Irish tech news source publish a press release about “Ireland’s largest Hyper-V cluster”.  The first thing that struck me was that not a single Microsoft rep was quoted.  The second thing was that I knew it was definitely not the largest Hyper-V cluster in Ireland.

It was just marketing by the organisation that sold the solution that was discussed in the press release.  I’ve been on the dark side press releases and there is a certain level of “fact stretching” that goes on to get the editors to publish them.

With a little knowledge you can start to pick stories apart, finding what is news, fact, and what is marketing fluff.  I’ve fallen victim to this in the past and I will again in the future.  I’m getting to the point where I am able to identify more and more fluff.  I try to not mindlessly retweet or blog it because I’m not someone’s paid-for marketing person and I make zero cents from licensing or hardware sales – though that might change soon Winking smile

So when you do read some announcement, try read between the lines.  Don’t take it at face value.  Does that number of 3,000,000 really mean what people are interpreting it as.  Does largest really mean that or is it hyperbole?  Has the editor just printed the press release as a story, or has the blogger just retweeted?

Average Age of a Work Computer in the UK is Five Years and Two Months

This comes from another survey and news story, this time from Silicon Republic.  The story reports on a survey done for Mozy (the EMC owned online [cloud or SaaS] backup service).

In it they report:

“… the average age of a work computer in the UK is five years and two months … In fact, the average PC is now more than a year and half past the date it was planned to be scrapped”.

I have had the “pleasure” of working in environments where the PC was 5-7 years old.  Damn, I still need therapy from that.

The report makes some very valid points.  PC’s are not only old, but they are costing the business in many indirect ways.  Operating systems aren’t refreshed.  Applications are unmanaged – often being old, unpatched, and of various different versions.  Features are breaking – trying assessing such an old PC infrastructure using WMI-powered MAP and you’ll soon see what I mean.  End users have to deal with slow boot/login times, freezes and blue screens.  IT have a lot of fire fighting to do that could otherwise be avoided.  And let’s not forget the time and money required to go fishing for spare parts if a PC breaks and the business expects it to be repaired instead of replaced. 

What the business has is a tool (the PC) that is not fit for purpose because it is costing the user (the revenue generator/enabler) time.

Consider a Windows 7 upgrade.  Company A might have a a policy to upgrade 20-33% of their PCs every year to current business recommended specifications.  Running MAP in that environment will probably determine that only a tiny percentage of machines might require either an upgrade or replacement.  On the other hand, Company B clings onto PCs like Charlton Heston’s cold dead hands are holding onto his rifle.  Running an assessment in there will take longer because the machines are a mess and WMI is broken all over the place.  Once a result eventually comes in, the business will get the nasty report that says 90% of hardware needs to be replaced.  Ouch!

Or consider a software development house where the programmers are charged out at €1,000 per day on fixed price contracts.  PCs are old and crash once every two days.  Reboots take time, logons are slow, and work is lost from time to time.  Every developer loses 1 hour every two days.  Over time that builds up.  It’s fixed price work, so the company has to redo a lot of work, either pays out overtime or misses deadlines, and no one pays except for the company.

Or do they?  What you end up with is annoyed users.  Their work experience flat-out sucks.  The tool they need to use doesn’t work and they cannot do their job.  They find themselves redoing work, working later, dealing with stress from the boss, and never getting a badly needed replacement machine.

In my opinion, the age and often decrepit state of these PCs are a symptom of how a business values the function of IT. And that isn’t an IT mistake; it’s a business strategy mistake.

Are you an IT admin trapped in this nightmare?  I sympathise with you.  It would be easy for me to get on my high horse and tell you that you need to market internally, to deploy WDS/MDT/ConfigMgr to take control of the desktop, enable rapid standard OS image deployment, and provide self-service software deployment.  But the truth is that all that requires some level of investment by the organisation.  If that will isn’t there then making that PO request is pointless.  What might be possible is to record what the ancient hardware is costing the business in hidden losses.  How much time/revenue is lost when PCs crash?  How much time do you spend fire fighting instead of doing business enabling projects?  The reason the business doesn’t value IT is because they see it as a cost centre.  They’re focused on money and controlling spending.  If you can make an argument based on saving money then you might have some luck.  All I can suggest is that you present a very quick summary – the relevant decision makers will likely be “too busy” to be distracted by IT “geek talk”. 

I wish you luck if you are in this situation – I have not been able to change the situation when I was there in the past.

Amazon Might be the Ones to Watch

Forget Windows Phone 7, iPhone/iPad, and Android; Amazon just stepped up and became players.  We all know Amazon as the killer of bricks’n’mortar book and music stores, and they’ve pretty much started down the same road for the paper book.  The Kindle reader is pretty damned impressive … but Amazon aren’t a device company; they’re a web service and content sales company.

Amazon have been selling Kindle .mobi books to Kindle device owners and to kindle apps on pretty much any platform worth mentioning.  I’m a happy customer on iPhone and iPad, as are many millions. 

Up to now, that was what they were known for on those platforms.  If you wanted an app, you went to the store owned by publisher of your device OS.  But now Amazon has launched an app store for Android.  Ouch!  That’s gotta be a cold bucket of water to the face to Google.  Android is open source.  Google don’t make it for the good of the planet; it exists to sell something: content and SaaS.  Amazon, also in the content market, have just started competing with Google on their open (I guess) platform.  Good for the consumer; maybe not so good for Google.

Given Amazon’s cross-platform solution for Kindle, will it be long before they start selling apps for iDevices and WP7?  And couldn’t this be great for the consumer?  Today you might buy and app for an iPhone.  You might replace that with an Android phone next year and just get the alternative version of the app … that could be possible if Amazon decide to go cross platform and app publishers adopt that sales model.

My gut tells me that we could see legal anti-competition complaints if blocking actions continue.  An open cross-platform app solution could be fantastic for us consumers.  Heck, it might even lead to interesting cloud management solutions to complexity issues for corporations trying to manage these devices.

Rumour (from Paul Thurrot podcast) is that Amazon are working on an Android powered Kindle.  That makes sense, and might explain the Android app store.  I really hope that doesn’t draw a boundary around the supported platforms.  Unfortunately there is news that Apple will/are allegedly upset with apps (like Kindle) bypassing Apple’s sales model by selling directly.  That could cause issues.  And we also know that Apple might not like another vendor sticking stuff onto their iDevices outside of iTunes.

The news doesn’t stop there.  Apple launched Cloud Drive, an online storage system.  It sounds like it’s a bit crude right now.  You get 5 GB free storage.  You can buy more and you get 20 GB for every MP3 album that you buy from Amazon (allegedly cheaper than iTunes).  Google provide something similar, and MS has SkyDrive at a fixed 25 GB.  I’d love to see a clean interface between my computer and these storage solutions.  I’d also love to see a simple & reliable backup tool so I can backup My Documents (or whatever).  It’s been quite a while and we’ve not seen anything like that from MS.  I guess they have no interest.  We’ve seen how Amazon has innovated their cloud IaaS products and maybe they’ll do the same with their retail products.

It’s all early days.  This stuff is going to shake up much more over the coming years.  Content and services will be the king-maker, and maybe Amazon can be that king?  History suggests that they should not be underestimated.

Bye Bye IPv4

Mark Minasi posted on Facebook last night that the very last IPv4 address blocks were distributed to regional IP managers.  That’s it; the last of the IPv4 addresses are now in the control of your local IP managers.

Now is the time to run to the supermarket, stock up on water and canned foods, get as much petrol/diesel as you can, and attend that crash-course survivalist training camp!!!!!!

Oh hold on a sec; Any decent ISP will have a certain allocation to keep them going for a while.  Your internal network is probably NAT’d so you’ve no internal IP issues there.  But where we do have an issue is IPv6.  I can only speak for Ireland but I’m guessing (other than China) most of us are totally unprepared for IPv6.  ISPs have not even started work on it – I’m told by those in the know that they have not taken the problem seriously.  And many network admins (including us server admins) don’t understand IPv6.  It is quite different.  It has different terminology and it works very differently.  For example, asking an end user to ping an IPv6 address will be … different.

My advice is, if you do have an external presence, do your best to stock up on IPv4 addresses now to meet short and medium term requirements.  They may not be there later on, and your local ISPs may not have the alternative IPv6 deployed.  Make sure your network appliances are IPv6 ready.  Start learning.  And put pressure on your ISP.

Thinking About iDevices

I was talking to a friend on the phone last night and the topic of where end user computing is going came up.  He said something that I found interesting.  He’s using his PC less and less.  In fact, he only uses it now because it does two things that his iPad cannot: virtualisation (for labs) and handling of RAW files (from a DSLR camera) for processing in Adobe Lightroom.  All the web stuff, email, and so on, are handled nicely on his iPad. 

Hmm, I’m finding the same thing.  I use my iPhone more and more, instead of using a laptop/netbook.  When I’m lazing on the couch, the phone works well for Facebook or Twitter.  When I’m travelling, I use it for music, and watching videos and podcasts.  When waiting, I can surf the net or use carious apps for getting the news or weather.  The PC is becoming less of a factor in my life.  In fact, if I had an iPad (which I won’t pay for) I think I would only use a PC for work.

But then my friend mentioned something that I’ve also wondered about.  iDevices don’t have a concept of storage like in a PC.  There is no C: drive so to speak.  Storage of user data like music, videos, and so on, is handled by the apps in question.  Many people seem to consider Dropbox to be a mandatory add-on to iDevices.  It appears to me that Apple has taken the view that everything is centred on the app.  I’d argue that everything is centred on information.

Maybe this is the stumbling block right now for the iPad being a true end user, business appliance for the masses.  Sure, some apps can live in the cloud, with data warehouses in the back end, out of sight from the end user.  Maybe Office can live in the cloud with online SharePoint and an app-managed local replica.  But there are times when that isn’t enough.  Maybe we need a complete rethink of how we use data.  But then I come back to one scenario that I’m familiar with … a day of wildlife photography could generate 12 GB of RAW photos to upload, and then I’ll process some of those into 100+ MB PSD files.  That’s a lot of data going up to the cloud.

I’ll be sure to patent the solution when I think of it 🙂

Meanwhile … out on the farm …

Rumblings about Windows Phone 7 continue.  We’re still waiting to see the copy-paste patch that was promised back at the underwhelming launch.  And Paul Thurrot (and commentators on his blog) have been reporting that WP7 handsets are eating up data allowances for no apparent reason.  I listen to a Thurrot podcast this morning and he reckons that WP7 handsets are sometimes using 3G instead of an available and joined wifi connection, e.g. you start a download on wifi, “hibernate” the phone, wifi is powered down, and the phone continues the download over 3G.  Ouch!  And there are also grumbles that Zune is still quite region limited so even podcast distribution is restricted.  Not good … but that’s always been a big issue for Zune.  It killed the Zune device from day zero.  For example, in Ireland, we could not even access the Zune website without using a USA-based proxy.

A beta for Apple iOS 4.3 has emerged for developers to test.  It’s going to add mifi functionality.  That’s where you use your phone are a wireless access point, put it somewhere with a strong signal, and wirelessly access it’s Net access from your laptop/tablet.  Nice!  I’m told Android already has this.

74% Of Workers Plug Personal Devices Into Work Network

I’ve just read a story on that discusses a Virgin Media (UK-based ISP) report.  It says that 74% of company employees are bringing personal devices into work and plugging them into the company network.  This is the sort of thing I was talking about in my previous millenials post.  It’s also the sort of thing that has impacted decision making by corporates: personal preferences for a better appliance or utility can improve the working experience, and the corporate decision making process.  We have to decide how we respond?

Do we try to block everything?  We can try.  Group Policy and utilities like DeviceLock can lock down what is plugged into PCs.  Network Access Protection (Windows)/Network Access Control (Cisco) can control what is allowed to connect to the network.  I’ve taken the device lock approach before.  But a valid business case always overrules global policy, and you might be surprised how many people come up with “valid” business cases.  Soon the policy resembles swiss cheese, only affecting the minority of users.  The result is that IT is disliked – it’s a blocking force once again.

The user-centric approach that we’re seeing with private cloud, App-V, and System Configuration Manager 2012 is an example of how we need to think.  My millenials post also suggests a way forward.  Maybe we need to allow personal appliances, but use those policy tools like Network Access Control to place the appliances into networks that are not central, kind of like the guest network that is often used.  Or maybe we need to change how we think about the PC altogether and treat the entire PC network as a guest network. 

The latter approach might work very well with the user-centric approach.  If end users are using their own PCs, tablets, and phones, then we cannot apply corporate policy to them.  Maybe we just provide user-centric self-service mechanisms and let them help themselves.  Or maybe things like VDI and/or RemoteApp are the way forward for LOB client delivery.  If everythign was cloud (public/provate) and web-client based then application delivery would be irrelevant.  Maybe it’s a little bit from column A and a little from column B?

It’s a big topic and would require a complete shift in thinking … and a complete re-deployment of the client network, including LOB application interfaces.

Asus Windows 7 Slate at CES 2011

Once again, this is nothing personal.  It’s just looking at the facts and replaying them.  For those who might get upset: you win some, you lose some.  Trying the same approach when you’re losing leads to more losing.  You can only start winning by taking what works and applying it in different ways to win.

I saw on Mark Wilson’s twitter feed (virtualisation MVP and blogger) today that ASUS announced a range of slate PC’s, one of which runs Windows 7.

As a laptop alternative it sounds like a nice machine.  It’s got an Intel i5 CPU, 4 GB RAM, and USB sockets.  You can use your fingers, a pen, or a Bluetooth keyboard to interact with it.  But there are a couple of problems.

Mark has been saying for months now that MS needs to focus on battery life.  The big players are the Apple iPad and Samsung/Google Android tablets.  They’ve had huge sales numbers by selling mobile devices.  Unfortunately the Asus machine is running a non-optimised OS in Windows 7, with the required traditional laptop hardware.  That means battery life is around 3.5 hours, which compares poorly with the reported 10-12 hours of alternative OS appliances.  The Windows 7 Asus machines is also over twice the price of the Android alternatives from Asus because of the higher h/w requirements.

If Microsoft wants to be a real player in the tablet market then they need to supply an OS that is optimised for mobile devices, not PCs and laptops.  As I’ve said before, they have an OS now that could be tweaked for a tablet, in the form of Windows Phone 7.  It meets the requirements in having light hardware requirements and being designed for a touch interface.  Mark recently commented about how he found Windows 7 to be not as good at touch as designed-for-touch OSs because of the approach it takes (accuracy versus close enough). 

Unfortunately, it seems that the decision makers in Microsoft don’t agree.  We’re hearing loads of rumours that a Windows 8 edition will add support for ARM chips.  That will allow a lighter weight appliance with lower costs and better battery life, comparable to the competition.  The problem with this is that I wouldn’t expect to see Windows 8 until at least 12-18 months after any initial public demonstration.  That means we’re already waiting for 2012.  That gives Apple/Samsung/Google a lot more time to build up their appliance sales and to further develop their online services and application portfolios.  In the meantime, we have Windows 7 driven slates at twice the price and an almost zero 3rd party application portfolio from Microsoft.

This sounds awful like what happened with Windows driven phones.  Apple and Google were years ahead of Windows Phone 7.  They captured the market.  Microsoft came in too late with an incomplete product, and a tiny app portfolio.  We got some claim of big sales of Windows Phone handsets.  The truth is, the number was really the number of handsets shipped by manufacturers.  How many Windows phones do you see on the bus or train, versus Android or iPhone handsets?  The ratio around here is 0/100.

I saw another article (retweeted by Mark) that really drives the stake in.  The strategy from Microsoft regarding mobile devices (phones and tablets) is wrong.  The market has decided that.  Maybe I was right about Steve Ballmer’s future?

By the way, Steve Ballmer is doing the keynote at CES later today (18:30 PST) in Las Vegas.  It’s rumoured (strongly) that he’ll be talking about slate PCs (Windows 7) and (grasping at straws) that he’ll have Windows 8 on show in public for the first time.  Windows 8 (based on leaks last year) may look very different with a new approach to user interaction.