21
Oct

SaaS offers running in the cloud, with full featured client side apps, hit some marketing head winds

As of mid October, 2014, two recent well publicized online security events — one related to Dropbox, the other to SnapChat and an app named SnapSaved — illustrate cloud hosts attempting to distance themselves from app developers providing the SaaS offer in the wake of a public online security event. If they succeed, app developers look likely to hit some marketing head winds.

The odds of this outcome went up when the ISV responsible for SnapSaved.com came forward and disclosed its intentional effort to compromise online security and privacy for consumers of its app. The details can be found in an article written by Mike Isaac, titled A Look Behind the SnapChat Photo Leak Claims, which was published on October 17, 2014. Consumers will not likely be reassured as the result of this admission of culpability.

Whether the intentions of the unnamed management team at SnapSaved.com were honorable, or not, has no material importance. But their admission to intentional malicious activity, together with their ability to execute on their objective with an app conforming to SnapChat’s specific requirements for interoperability is of critical importance. Leaving aside the question of how this admission will likely impact on individual consumers of the app, and of SnapChat, itself, let’s focus on likely reaction from larger organizations and the IT teams supporting them to this event. It’s likely larger organizations will take a harder look at their BYOD policies and procedures in the aftermath of these both of these events. Larger organizations do not want to work with lots of technology providers. So the tactics implemented by DropBox and SnapChat to distance themselves from culpability will not help either of these cloud offers to add further momentum to the pace at which consumers from enterprise business sign on and start using services. In fact the opposite is likely to be the case.

One glimmer of opportunity from these otherwise glum and business-depressing events amounts to whether or not EMM solutions like Microsoft InTune can be configured to manage just how consumers interact with an otherwise limitless list of apps, from an equally limitless list of ISVs, within the confines of specific corporate networks. If these EMM solutions can be set up to manage app consumption, independent of the cloud hosting the apps, themselves, perhaps enterprise IT organizations will have more of the stamina to brush off these events as anomalies likely to vanish in the future.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

16
Oct

Pluses and minuses of the app model on cloud, SaaS computing

Early versions of SaaS served from the Internet cloud looked a lot like time sharing applications. In other words, each and every web visitor looked like just another terminal on a remote server. The use of small form factor computing devices had not yet occurred, and the browser options for clients to consume services were all working in pretty much the same manner.

But with the advent of the app model, the client side of these solutions is a lot more complex, and, potentially, more difficult for organizations to manage. There are a few very important positives motivating cloud, SaaS ISVs to promote, and even require the use of apps:

  • Apps are a promising method of attracting the interest of developers. App stores exist for every prominent cloud SaaS offer. Developers sell their apps, and ISVs can charge a premium for clearing transactions through their app stores
  • As long as secure development procedures are followed, there is no limit on the range of new functionality developers can add to SaaS platforms. ISVs benefit from zero capital expense for the creation of new functionality. End customers benefit from a wider range of possible applications
  • By transitioning processes from the server to the community of clients consuming a SaaS solution, it can be argued processes are more secure. Server maintenance costs are also likely to be substantially reduced

But there are minuses anyone studying cloud, SaaS product marketing must, in this writer’s opinion, keep in mind. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how one looks at it) most of these minuses are specific to apps:

  • Transitioning potentially harmful processes off the server and over to client side apps shifts the security burden over to individual consumers, and groups of consumers. Since it is not likely to be possible to estimate just who will opt to consume SaaS and, therefore, purchase and implement apps, the task of ensuring a uniform quality of service (and basic data communications security) is very difficult to manage. Neither ISVs, nor enterprise organizations can claim complete responsibility for this job.
  • Opportunities for malicious activity geometrically increase as the number of SaaS consumers grows. There is no way ISVs can ensure the security of computing devices enabled with apps. So the potential for hacks should be assumed to be high. As of the time of the writing of this post, Dropbox, the latest SaaS to notify the public of a security breach, actually blamed app developers for the security hole used for the exploit
  • Enterprise businesses with a formal BYOD policies may see a dramatic increase in the need to support users. When apps are running on a set of dissimilar computing devices (Android, and/or Apple smart phones, tablets, etc) the need for expertise on multiple platforms arises. It can be costly for enterprise IT to provision the support required to ensure SaaS consumers can get the services they need

Given the factors just presented, we think it likely Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions like Windows Intune will become very popular across enterprise business customers.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

10
Oct

In 2014, is “responsive and accomodating” the new recommended posture for Enterprise IT?

In the Keynote presentation for day one of Microsoft’s Office 365 Summit event in New York City, Michael Atalla, Microsoft’s “Office Guy”, described what he portrayed as a very new world of enterprise computing, where the pace at which innovation is introduced is managed by users, rather than the enterprise IT organizations tasked with supporting them. This relationship, and the posture it requires enterprise IT organizations to assume, contrasts, vividly, with how this relationship played out a mere 10 years ago, when, Atalla contends, all of the innovation emanated out from enterprise IT to users. The net effect on Enterprise IT organizations, Atalla contends, is to transform their activity into much more a process of accommodation as new devices appear on the consumer tech market, than has ever been the case in the past.

What enterprise IT is accommodating, Atalla explained, is innovation in the form of new devices and processes entering the enterprise as the result of formal BYOD policies, and personnel taking advantage of them. Boiled down to simple terms, this process amounts to the latest Smart Phone, tablet (or even PC) magnetizing interest from the community of computing users at the organization. People start to purchase these devices, which may result in unsupported processes showing up on enterprise IT’s radar. So it falls on enterprise IT to quickly regroup around this phenomenon to provide the support and structure required for personnel to safely consume the new processes across the internal network.

Atalla’s presentation took up at least a third of the Keynote for this event. Perhaps it would have been helpful for the audience attending this presentation to hear a bit about how a cloud SaaS like Office 365 can provide enterprise IT with a tool they can leverage to get ahead of users as this BYOD phenomenon continues to unfold.

With Office 365, or Google at Work, or any other similar competitive service, the actual processing of tasks, and “housing” the computing activity produced by them, takes place in, ostensibly, a much more “static” environment than one might otherwise expect to be the case. Regardless of the device, cloud SaaS solutions require a type of functionality referred to in the past as terminal processing. Or do they?

In 2014, there are important, and challenging, issues with client devices functioning as terminals talking to servers located in the public Internet, or cloud. The app model (which Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon have all embraced) requires a lot more intelligence on the consumer device end of the data conversation. Therefore, even Office 365 computing is not as simple as it may otherwise appear to be.

Regardless, Microsoft is subtly presenting a new message in its effort to hasten the pace at which larger organizations come to accept cloud, SaaS offers as legitimate opportunities to reduce costs and increase user benefits. Many of the attendees of this event likely came away from Atalla’s presentation with this notion about Office 365, as a method of smoothing out an otherwise uncomfortable relationship between IT and users at larger organizations.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

22
Sep

Cloud IaaS Becomes Accessible to SMBs with Limited In House Technical Expertise

An earlier post to this blog remarked on what then appeared to be a set of considerable technical hurdles facing small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) in the US considering a migration to cloud, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offers. But this writer recently identified technical communications pieces, published by Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2, which may serve to lessen the challenge of these same hurdles.

WordPress is, arguably, the most popular blog platform available to consumers in the US. SMBs looking to launch an online content promotional effort can, and do implement new instances of WordPress every day. But while acquiring WordPress is a free-of-charge process, hosting one’s blog is not. One can argue hosting is also available, free-of-charge, on WordPress’ corporate (.com) site. But there is a cost to everything, so most SMBs will look to find a hosting partner, rather than give up the SEO equity in repayment for a tenancy on this corporate site. Conventional hosting isn’t cheap. So many SMBs consider partnering with a cloud, IaaS like Azure, or Amazon EC2 on the promise of substantial cost savings, as compared to conventional hosting resources.

In an online presentation titled How to host a Scalable and Optimized WordPress for Azure in minutes, Sunitha Muthukrishna, Program Manager, Azure Websites, provides a step-by-step procedure SMBs should be likely to easily follow. The short presentation includes a lot of imagery, which should make the process easier.

Amazon EC2 also offers documentation on the same task, titled Tutorial: Hosting a WordPress Blog with Amazon EC2, but the presentation is geared more for the technical user. Nevertheless, the objective is still the same, to encourage SMBs, and any other sized organization contemplating a move to cloud, IaaS for its blog, to overcome some of the technical intimidation of the process.

The Microsoft Azure piece is of particular interest as it is an example of Microsoft’s movement away from a parochial view of just which pieces of software ought to be supported on a Microsoft cloud. If this new, welcoming and expansive approach reverberates over a wider set of possible applications to be hosted on Azure, Microsoft should accelerate the sales pace for Azure.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

18
Sep

When Enterprise Business Chooses Amazon AWS, or Google Compute, Microsoft Often Wins, as Well

Anyone following Microsoft should develop an understanding of how a decision by a prominent enterprise IT organization to purchase IaaS from Amazon, AWS, or Google Compute,, more often than not, is a win for Microsoft, as well.

Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft, and head of Cloud and Enterprise Business, made this point during the Citi Global Technology Conference, on September 3, 2014. Guthrie observed ” . . . in the Azure world, or even in the AWS world, we still will make money from that Windows Server license”.

One can argue most of the needs for desktop computing for enterprise businesses, and their peers in the public, and not for profit sectors, remains all about the Microsoft Office suite, so when a Microsoft competitor, either Amazon AWS, or Google Compute, lands a big deal (for example, the US CIA decision to award a contract for a private cloud to Amazon, rather than IBM), Microsoft wins, as well.

If one keeps this understanding in mind, then the question of who actually dominates the market for cloud IaaS becomes less pressing. Additional details provided by Guthrie in his presentation, and his answers to questions posed by Walter Pritchard of Citigroup portray a different picture of this market than, perhaps, would otherwise be the case based on media pronouncements about it.

The commingling of ISVs throughout the whole process is much more extensive than one would otherwise expect. Pritchard focuses on instances where Microsoft Azure provides the IaaS for enterprise customers running higher value services (like analytics, CRM, ERP, etc) from other ISVs, and asks Guthrie: “How do you ultimately think about monetizing that type of an offering, where it is a premium service, but it’s not your IP and it might be something that either others get paid on, like Oracle, or is an open source no IP technology running on top of that?” Guthrie’s answer speaks to, perhaps, a new willingness, on Microsoft’s part, to embrace an extensively different enterprise computing world, where services from many ISVs are consumed by the same organization: ” . . . [t]here’s an analogy I’ve used within the team, which is keep your old friends and make new friends.” In other words, Micorosoft has transformed itself into something of a “platform agnostic” business, with much more confidence in its ability to make money either way. This should be good news for anyone following Microsoft.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

15
Sep

Microsoft Magnetizes a Large Turn Out for an Online Q&A About Delve, a New Feature of Office 365

On September 10, 2014, Microsoft’s Delve and Office 365 teams hosted an online question and answer session on Yammer. The session was very well attended by what appeared to be technical representatives from a cross section of corporate tenants of the Office 365 service. The question topics were all specific to Delve, a new feature of Office 365, which addresses data search from a new angle. Delve first serves results from the most frequently used content sources (prioritized in “trending” order). It can even push information out to Office 365 users from any content repository for which “signals” have been configured.

The Delve question and answer session took the form of a Yammer “yamjam”, which is, presumably, Yammer’s version of Twitter’s “tweetjam”. This writer noted well in excess of 100 posted questions on a wide range of topics. Of particular interest were several on the question of the controls available for corporate tenants to selectively expose content for search use to this new feature. The answers posted from Microsoft personnel indicated a lot of forethought had been undertaken by the Delve and Office 365 teams on the question of information privacy in advance of this public forum. So it should be safe to assume a comparatively smooth rollout for the feature.

On the topic of just how quickly Office 365 tenants can add the feature to their subscriptions, it appears the right answer is “very quickly”, indeed. With merely one changed settings to our Office 365 Enterprise plan subscription, we were able to set up our tenant for Delve. We were happy to find a new tab in our Office 365 ribbon within less than 2 hours of changing the setting. The feature is not yet operational, but we expect it to “wake up” overnight, or very soon, thereafter.

What kind of impact can the availability of a feature like Delve create for Office 365 consumers? Given the importance of search, as a persistent, daily activity for most Internet consumers, and the unique requirement of corporate online consumers for a type of search capable of sifting through a very wide range of content repositories, the short answer is likely to be “big and positive”. This likely reaction should be even more likely for corporate Office 365 consumers in heavily regulated industries.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

5
Sep

As Cyber Attacks Grow in Volume and Intensity, The Long Term Viability of an Internet of Things Should be Reconsidered

Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) in the U.S. are starting to directly feel the pain of the increased daily volume of cyber attacks, not to mention the malicious intent of the payloads they often include. Whether this pain amounts to persistent, annoying junk email, or the mess resulting from a mistaken click on a link in one of these junk email messages, or worse, the end result is the same — SMBs are growing more aware of the risks inherent to what this writer refers to as our consumerized, mono protocol data communications world.

Anyone with an interest in the Internet of Things marketing communications theme, which has been echoed by a number of participants, from Cisco, to Microsoft and beyond, should take note of what impact, if any, a more skeptical SMB market will have on the success of this effort. Perhaps it is worth taking a sentence or two to explain why the Internet of Things is actually little more than a marketing communications theme.

“Things” have been connected for data communications purposes long before the Internet became the average consumer’s notion of data communications between computing devices over a wide area network. Whether the protocol was one of the buses (MODBUS, PROFIBUS, FIELDBUS, etc), or a serial, RS-232 hardwire connection between a computer running a Human Machine Interface (HMI) application and a remote process, or just a sensor, smart machines have been connected to computers since the mid 1970s.

With many protocols in use for data communications the threat of malicious individuals manipulating data communications sessions was generally limited to someone physically rearranging some wires on a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) peg board.

So the Internet of Things, for anyone familiar with industrial automation, and process control, is little more than simply a marketing theme promoted by some of the “also ran” players who did not participate in the birth of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, SCADA, etc.

But what makes this trendy image particularly scary, and what, in this writer’s opinion may amount to a strangely disinterested market should this cycle of hacking go on and accelerate further, is the reluctance of the businesses with a commitment to it to look into diversifying the number of data communications protocols in use, so as to patch the near defenselessness represented by data communications over TCP/IP and web pages called the Internet.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

19
Aug

Microsoft Provides Incentives for iOS and Android App Developers to Implement Xamarin with Visual Studio as their Platform

iOS and Android App Developers comfortable building solutions with C# should consider adopting Xamarin with Visual Studio as their coding platform. Microsoft is offering some financial incentives for these early stage ISVs to adopt Xamarin. Additional information about these incentives can be found on a page of the Xamarin site, titled “MSDN”, which publicizes the Microsoft offers.

Xamarin is one of a number of cross platform development offers. The biggest difference between Xamarin and its competitors, in this writer’s opinion, is the role C# plays for the Xamarin solution. C# sits at the center of the Microsoft application development paradigm. But from the promotional content on Xamarin’s site, one would also think C# is the best method App Developers can implement to maximize the value of App architecture by reducing the time required to implement the same App functionality for iOS, Android, and Windows.

The Mono Open Source implementation of Microsoft’s .NET framework is also sponsored by Xamarain, so the role Xamarin can play for Microsoft, should they magnetize critical mass across the App developer community, should be very clear. Without developers it is not likely Microsoft will successfully capture more of the mobile App market than it currently has (generally acknowledged as somewhere under 5% of the global market).

Xamarin appears to be winning over some important adopters. A quick glance at the corporate icons on the bottom of the first page of the Xamarin site attests to adoption from some very large enterprises, including Dow Jones, Kimberly Clark, McKesson, Bosch Siemens, and NBC Universal. Quick adoption on the part of enterprise business and comparably sized organizations in the public sector would make sense given the dominance of the “Microsoft stack” across these organizations.

Of course, magnetizing significant numbers of App developers from IT, and their partners servicing Line of Business (LoB) units within the same enterprises with Xamarin may ultimately prove to be good news for Microsoft’s latest product with a claim to a fast launch — the Enterprise Mobility Suite.

At a minimum, anyone harboring deep skepticism about Microsoft’s chances of establishing a legitimate position in the mobile App market may want to re-think his/her position.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

12
Aug

Simpler Branding May Drive Higher Levels of User Adoption for Microsoft’s Office 365 Business Productivity Cloud SaaS

For most business users, Microsoft’s Office suite is a familiar set of computer tools. But some of this familiarity is associated with a hybrid “feature rich” and “hard to use” brand. Simplifying this branding, by turning down the “hard to use” component may help Microsoft’s efforts to persuade more of its business customers to migrate to its Office 365 cloud, SaaS offer.

Tom Petrocelli touches on some of this problem in an article posted to CMS Wire on August 7, 2014. In The Barriers to Working like a Network in Office 365. Petrocelli focuses, specifically, on the collaboration features of Office 365, which makes sense given his reference to “work like a network”, which is a concept Jared Spataro (Microsoft’s General Manager of Enterprise Social) presented in a post to the Office Blog back on March 3, 2014.

This writer has first hand experience with the Office 365 conundrum resulting from a combination of “two many features” and “too many ways to get it down”. It took weeks for him to figure out OneDrive for Business, and how it interacts with SharePoint Online (another component of the Office 365 suite).

The aversion instilled from this confusion was further exacerbated by what he could only assume to be a poorly coordinated offer, by Microsoft, for its Office 365 business customers: each subscriber to Office 365 for business would receive 1 TB of cloud storage for its OneDrive for Business service, but only 25 GBs of storage for SharePoint Online. This made little sense as, on the surface (no pun intended), SharePoint Online appears to have all of the components required to provide business consumers with a fast and accurate method of finding just the content they need, should they opt to use enterprise search. In contrast, OneDrive for Business did not appear to have the same capabilities. The fog only cleared when he discovered OneDrive for Business is actually a SharePoint Online Document Library, with some added features.

Petrocelli’s article, and the personal example, above, both talk about too many ways to get things done when business consumers need to collaborate. But this post purports to talk about too many components of a product branding message. Where’s the connection? The connection can be found in the market messaging Microsoft is presently creating and articulating around its efforts in the enterprise search market. In this writer’s opinion, there are too many components to this message, which, ultimately will likely only confuse business consumers.

If Microsoft can renovate its product branding strategy around some simpler themes, the process of persuading business consumers to migrate to Office 365 can only get easier. The related costs may be less, as well, helping the profitability of the product.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

11
Aug

Twitter and Other Cloud Businesses Benefit from Investor Enthusiasm

Twitter and its Cloud business peers are benefiting from highly enthusiastic investor sentiment. Investors appear disinterested in a widening distance between GAAP and non GAAP earnings results for these businesses.

Sandra Ward illustrated some of this disconnect last Saturday, in an article published in Barron’s Online titled Twitter’s Results: Less Than Meets the Eye. She writes: “Using generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, Twitter (ticker: TWTR) lost 24 cents a share in the second quarter, but it played up a non-GAAP measure that showed a two-cent profit, versus the consensus of a penny loss.”

As of the date of this blog post, August 6, 2014, a loss of $.24 per share for Twitter, amounts to $141.585 Million, USDs. This loss is actually 45.38% of all of the revenue ($312 Million, USDs) Twitter generated for the quarter. One would think investors would care about a company losing almost a dollar of every two it brought in for the quarter, but they appear not to have cared. By the time trading resumed on Monday, August 4, Twitter closed at $43.45, a mere 1% below its closing price on Friday, August 1, 2014.

While the primary driver of investor appetite for Twitter still alludes this writer, it is, perhaps, safe to assume a lot of momentum can be attributed to investor satisfaction with the non GAAP presentation of the same quarter’s results, namely the mirage of the 2 cent profit Ward notes in her article. Perhaps investors are now convinced management has “gotten the message” and subsequent quarters will continue to show profits, albeit on a non GAAP basis. Hasn’t this been the case with Facebook, which is often characterized as a direct competitor to Twitter? After all, quarter after quarter, Facebook has reported profits over the last couple of years.

What is likely to be of greater concern than this excessive investor enthusiasm in this social media business bleeding cash, (which has now opted to highlight its results, as expressed according to non GAAP) is their complacency. Maintaining confidence this business “will eventually get it right”, simply as the result of throwing cash at its problems, doesn’t make sense to this writer. When one looks at the overall market for these types of publicly traded businesses, one likely will conclude the whole sector is simply too inflated, at least at present.

Disclaimer: I am neither invested in Twitter, Facebook, nor any other social media cloud business at this time.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved