Network, Security

Cisco becomes its own innovation VC

31 Oct , 2007  

Cisco announced the I-Prize competition, funding of up to $10 million for the team submitting the winning idea that could make Cisco $1 billion in a five to seven year period. The announcement was made at the opening of their Globalization Center East in Bangalore, India.

It’s a new approach for Cisco who has proven time and again they are an acquisition juggernaut. If this generates good enough ideas it could represent yet another avenue for acquiring innovation created outside Cisco. Interesting enough is that it will also expose Cisco to ideas that don’t win the prize, offering multiple options for gaining external innovation.

$10 million though is not much when it comes to creating products, especially if they are going to be subsumed back into a large company like Cisco at what could prove to be too early a stage. Cisco risks bringing the new technologies in house too soon rather than let them incubate and prove out more fully as the startups they acquire typically do.

Either way, it’s a novel approach for Cisco and will be interesting to see what shakes out of the competition. 


Where is virtualization headed? Hear what Diane Greene / VMware CEO says

30 Oct , 2007  

Diane_greene_vmware_ceoEd Scannell, Editor at Redmond Magazine, has a fantastic interview with VMware’s CEO Diane Greene. One of the things I enjoy about Redmond Magazine is they take a pretty broad view of things rather than just asking the obvious Microsoft-oriented questions. Ed follows through on this and gives a very complete interview.

Vmware’s the darling of virtualization right now and Diane is certainly to be applauded for leading the successful charge, but virtualization is still a relatively new game in town. While Citrix’s acquisition of XenSource became official today, the shoe hasn’t really dropped on how CitriXen will become a formidable player beyond Citrix’s core business. Of course, then there’s the question of Microsoft’s virtualization capabilities in Windows Server 2008.For my money, two key questions are in play around virtualization and I have my own ideas about what the answers will be.

First – Where does virtualization and the hypervisor belong; at the hardware level or in the OS? At least that’s how Diane contrasts VMware’s strategy against Microsoft’s Viridian. And I think that comparison makes a lot of sense. MS’s virtualization is likely to carry with it overhead that could lead to slower performance, system utilization and compatibility issues. But the virtualization embedded in hardware is still early to know for sure whether that’s a killer strategy we all think it will be, but my bets are that it will be successful.

Second – Is virtualization ready for some standards? Despite the goodwill of the DTMF efforts to define the Open Virtual Machine Format (OVF), that merely allows vm vendors to understand the virtual environments through XML data. It’s not interoperability between products – and that’s a long ways off. Right now we are too early in the adoption curve for consortium or standards efforts to be of much importance to the vendors competing for mind share and market share. We’ll have to be much deeper into virtualization before any effective standards or collaboration efforts bring much value to the end customer.

But I digress… Bottom line, Ed’s interview with Diane Greene is an excellent one and I’d consider it a must read. Go check it out.

Product Mgmt

A Tale of Two Customer Experiences

29 Oct , 2007  

Tonight I had the pleasure of interviewing Byron Acohido, USAToday reporter and co-author of the upcoming book, Zero Day Threat. Usually Alan and I do our podcast interviews together but Alan’s traveling and not available so I went solo. Alan also likes to play sound engineer and run the recording software so I haven’t had to record an interview in some time. Before Byron and I talked I had to set up my computer to record. I had two very different experiences in the process.

Prettymay_notPreviously, I’ve used PrettyMay recording software for recording Skype calls and voicemail, etc. I remember one thing I never liked about PrettyMay is it didn’t show you a level meter while you were recording so I always crossed my fingers that interviews were being recorded but didn’t know for sure until afterwards. The trial version of PrettyMay only records up to 30 minutes and then stops, so I purchased PrettyMay online. After completing all the purchase screens, the PrettyMay site told me I’d have an activation code within 12 hours. 12 HOURS!!@. That’s a lifetime in Internet time. No where on the site did it say I’d be delayed getting to use the purchased software (removing the 30 minute recording limit is what I needed, and fast.) The time before my interview with Byron was getting short.

PamelaI then remembered that Alan changed to another Skype recording program called Pamela. I went through the very same process of downloading, installing, and purchasing the upgrade. This time, the activation code for Pamela followed immediately in my inbox behind the email telling me my purchase when through. I was fully activated in seconds. Not only that, Pamela has a recording level meter and a timer right on the front screen. All in all, a much better purchase and product experience.

My next email was to the makers of PrettyMay requesting my refund. I did receive the PrettyMay activation code – but an hour after my podcast recording finished. Too late, PrettyMay.

Business today is transacted in seconds, and so are customer experiences. I was literally able to replace a bad experience with a good one in a matter of a few minutes. And they say "don’t sweat the small stuff", but when it comes to customer experience it’s all about the small stuff.


What virtualization means for the desktop

28 Oct , 2007  

VirtualizationWe all know and see the huge impact virtualization is having in the data center. Dell will start shipping servers with XenSource in the BIOS. VMware is rocking the planet with their financial performance and leading the virtualization charge. But the focus has been and still is on the server. I’ve shared my views about virtualization within the network, how virtualization and general purpose hardware breaks the long standing lock between hardware appliances and the network services delivered on them. But what does virtualization mean to the desktop of today and the future?

Desktop environments are a different animal than computers housed and managed within the server room. IT organizations still struggle today to standardize, lock down and manage desktops, laptops and mobile PDAs. And to a large degree the problem will get worse rather than get better.

The whole idea of having a personal computer is to personalize it for the user or owner’s individual use. That causes lots of stability and reliability issues because of software from various manufactures that don’t play well together, don’t follow the rules, over time leave foot prints in registries and files that slow down the system, or make the system unstable. And users are constantly adding and changing the software installed on their computer, adding the latest widget, music program, game, "productive" app (though playing with them all may be counter-productive, lol), etc. Users like to tinker, customize and be their own sys admin for their computer. It’s a bit like having the remote control in your hands for the TV. You can adjust everything you want until it’s comfortable for right now.

Productive Virtual Environments for Technicians

Today, technical staff are using virtualization to run multiple operating system and their respective applications on one desktop or laptop computer. Imagine yourself a network admin, a sales engineer, or a developer who might want to run Mac OS, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 200x, and any number of Linux variants on one computer as part of their job. In addition to the OSs, virtual networks can be set up between instances to simulate or test different network configurations or routing environments all within the virtualized environment running on one computer. Today and increasingly in the future, virtualization enables technical staff to run full virtualized data centers, networks and their respective applications within one or a small handful of computers. This means reduced lab time, readily available environments to work in, and a virtual world of networks and computers for technicians to work and create in. Virtualization the digital equivalent of what Silicon Graphics workstations brought to hand drawn graphics and art creation.

Delivery of Virtualized Micro Apps

Today we install heavy weight apps and thick clients on the native operating system of desktops. Web browsers have changed that, delivering apps via web-based applications and plugins for browsers, but not every application can or makes sense to deliver over the web. Rather than natively installing every application, applications can be delivered in smaller, pre-packaged, virtualized operating systems which can run on the desktop or on servers across the network. Imagine that your native operating system is really a loader for other virtualized OSs, applications, and combinations of both, that can be loaded and used when needed. Upgrades? Download or push out a new virtual instance with upgraded software and OS. Will the desktop become just a virtualization platform where everything that’s run is a virtual instance instead of a native app? Not likely for some time but this concept could easily dwarf the thin client workstations we all thought would take over the desktop but hasn’t. Though I don’t believe Citrix has yet communicated this kind of a vision, I believe it has to be one of the key reasons for acquiring XenSource.


Windows Mobile 6 making its way into customers’hands

27 Oct , 2007  

Wm6_phonesSeveral colleagues of mine have either upgraded their existing PDA/phones to Windows Mobile 6 or have purchased new WM6 based devices. It seems when trends like this start, several people quickly follow suit and get the latest gadget. It only happened with just a couple people I know for the Apple iPhone. WM6 devices though seem to be making a bigger impact than the iPhone though, at least with the crowd I run with.

I’m not at all surprised that people in technical jobs like IT or technical support find WM6 powerful for their jobs. But I am surprise that quite a few business people have moved to WM6, folks in a sales or management roles. Again, I think Wm6 speaks more to the gadget crowd (which I definitely fall into) and technies (same) but I’m curious to see how WM6 will play with the management and executive crowds. WM6 integrates seamlessly with Exchange for email and I suspect this will make it an obvious choice for those who have not gone the way of the BlackBerry already. That’s been a major barrier for the iPhone and their Exchange support that’s coming may be too little too late, at least in the short run. IT will certainly help the push for WM6 so it may have a serious chance at displacing some BlackBerries, a lot of Palm OS Treos, and opt out the move to iPhones.

Cell phone carriers like Verizon are gearing up for the Christmas crowd with lots of music and a strong push for PDA and navigation equipped phones.Two new strong entrants, the Samsung-made SCH-i760 and UTStarcom-made XV6800, run WM6 Pro along with the WM6 Standard SmartPhone UTStarcom SMT5800. November and December 07 will give us a good picture about whether WM6 makes significant inroads into the consumer and business markets or if it remains a platform for IT techies. Verizon is currently out-of-stock of the Samsung i760 WM6 phones. At this point, the results look favorable for Windows Mobile 6 making some great progress gaining customers.


Importance of making a good last impression

26 Oct , 2007  

Carol_rossI had lunch with Carol Ross today who I hadn’t talked with much since we worked together over fourteen years ago. When I knew Carol last, she was a very talented engineer. I remember she really had a special knack for understanding situations in ways that brought new light and insights to the problem. Carol Ross is now a world renowned team building expert and personal coach, specializing in working with boundary-crossers (check out this site to learn more about boundary-crossers.) We had a great lunch reconnecting and discussing how boundary-crossers interact, mix, think and contribute in many situations. I found it hugely insightful and a discussion I walked away from feeling like I learn a lot more than what I imparted to the dialog.

One of the "ah-ha" moments I had was when Carol recalled a last conversation we had working together. Carol was considering going part time back then and I’m guessing she was concerned I would probably object to making that situation work (I’m guessing here.) As Carol recalled I told her; "I would rather have you work part time than someone else full time." Honestly (and no offense to Carol) I don’t exactly remember the situation or conversation, just what an exceptional team member she was. But hearing this during our lunch reminded me how important things you say and do can be, even when it may not impress you as particularly significant.

Ray_charles I’ve learned this same lesson playing my guitar and singing music. When someone feels moved to come up and say something after a performance, you never know what will prompt it. It might be the choice of music, how you played it, or how the message in the music touched them. The connection could also be for an entirely unexpected reason. It might be that you remind them of a friend or family member, the tone or style you sing and play connected with some time during their life, it might be your smile or some item of clothing you are wearing, how much you internalize what you play or sing about, or just your stage presence. You really never know, it could be anything.

The important lesson for me is that you connect with people in ways that you may never know. For each person who comes up to say something, many others may never make that move to step forward. I guess what I’m trying to say is that connections with people can be intentional and very unintentional.

Of all the things Carol and I might have discussed or worked on together, the thing that stuck for Carol was that one comment. The conversation prompted me to bring up something with a colleague over coffee this afternoon. Something I had sensed and wanted to bring out and talk about. I’m glad I did because it gave us a chance to talk about a lot of shared experiences we’ve had working together. I can tell now, that conversation will be with me for quite a while.

We are always emphasizing the importance of first impressions, and they are very important. But it may be that last impression that we make which really holds the greatest impact. And you may never know or realize when that impression is made. That’s why it so important to value every connection you make, and as they say, be "in the moment".

Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Make time to raise the periscope

26 Oct , 2007  

Product_bistro_lunch_bagI had a very enjoyable conversation with a colleague about the topic of managing the day-to-day and the struggles of "getting to" the other important and strategic stuff. I’m sure everyone whether you’re a manager or an individual contributor has had to face this dilemma. There’s a analog I like to use; the submarine periscope. I recently talked about this concept in my post about Quality Training.

I’ve been asked many times how I’d describe various roles within product development, and recently contrasted the vp engineering and CTO jobs. But I also have another way to look at any type of leadership or management job; the submarine periscope analog.  Lets look at running a product or software development team as an example. Half the job is teaching, coaching, and leading the team to build "the factory", where everyone in the factory knows how the team delivers product, processes are defined, and this can be performed on a relatively consistent basis. You want to reach an internalized level of team learning, sometimes called organization or institutionalized knowledge, where much of this seems to happen "naturally" because it’s part of what the team has learned about working to together and producing the results they do.

PeriscopeThen the other half of the job is to the man the periscope. Someone has to raise periscope, check bearings to verify you are on track, look ahead for potential dangers and obstacles that might not show up on your everyday instruments. You also look ahead and plot some course changes to avoid hazards you know from your experience could be coming. Some of those changes are preparing the organization to reach of new level of capability or competency. You usually can’t do that all at once, it takes preparation that may involve several steps, new learnings, new processes and most importantly, creation of shared goals. Many times the team may not even know or see the need yet so you are laying the ground work for that to happen. You are also taking in all the information, ideas, suggestions, identified problems that team members have brought to you, and are plotting a course that could help shape new changes to implement those ideas and improvements.

That’s the periscope part of the job; improving what the team does and how it does it, thinking independently of current systems to think out ahead and help the organization continue to improve and grow to support the business. If you don’t have enough, or any, time to do this then there’s more work to do to get the day-to-day factory running smoothly. But then again, you may never achieve that and must force yourself to make time to raise the periscope. We’ve used a development team in this example but that really could be any type of leadership or management role. Using the periscope to take a step above managing the day-to-day, is an important part of not just managing, but also leading.


Can XenSource bring it on and put the smackdown on VMware?

25 Oct , 2007  

Smackdown_2XenSource has some new bravado with their backing as part of Citrix. XenSource believes that customers also want choice. Maybe, but I think it’s going to take more than being an alternative, to really win or even displace VMware’s dominance.

VMware has some key strategic partnerships, the most significant I believe is with Cisco. But XenSource isn’t giving up, no not at all. They partnered with Dell to embed XenSource in the BIOS of Dell hardware. That’s more than choice, it’s convenience. Will that convenience be enough to stop someone from taking the next step to download and install VMware? Maybe. A lot depends on how easy it is to take advantage of in the bios. Others have partners with computer manufactures too.

The real question, as it is with any acqusition, is how will the acquisition by Citrix help or hinder XenSource? Citrix is a company that’s got it together. I think they’ll be wise about nurturing XenSource rather than squashing it. But the proof’s in the pudding as they say. In the mean time, I’ll look forward to working with XenSource in the BIOS of Dell boxes.


IT and HR really can impact the bottom line

25 Oct , 2007  

In big companies it’s very easy to feel pretty far removed from business impacts like revenue numbers and stock price. Level 3 proved this quarter that the connection between IT, HR and Finance is very real. Just ask Level 3’s CFO who isn’t Level 3’s CFO anymore.

Ike Elliott, Telecosm blogger and industry expert, has his own very in depth analysis of the causes of Level 3’s woes. Ike has a much deeper understanding of Level 3’s business than I do (so, check out his blog.) The claim for this quarter’s miss is L3’s inability to process customer orders, a.k.a., receive, process, provision and bill, due to lagging systems integration and early cost cutting of key personnel from acquisitions.

I thought this situation a good one to point out, not to make any more bad about Level 3’s problems, but to show there is a very strong and direct link to business operations, that might be considered a "cost of doing business, and the bottom line – revenues and the public’s valuation of a company’s worth. Bridging this link are the business decisions that affect staffing, time lines, and commitments, all of which can lead to great successes, business as usual, or serious business failures.

I’m sure Level 3 will be doing some soul searching as well as looking for a new CFO. They’re a good Colorado company and I do wish them the best in correcting the situation and coming out of this in a positive way.


VMware success forcing Microsoft to be open

25 Oct , 2007  

Would you ever have expected anything Microsoft says to including "any individual or organization is free to implement, commercialize and modify Microsoft’s virtualization format technology for free, now and forever"? That’s part of Microsoft Open Specification Promise which applies to the new hypercall API added to Viridian virtualization server in Windows Server 2008. The hypcall API extensions were announced at this week’s Citrix iForum (InfoWorld article), with public support from Citrix (Xen acquirer) and Novell.

The issue here is companies don’t want Microsoft to make claims against software developed on other platforms which may run or operate under Viridian. Why such flexibility from Microsoft? One reason; VMware. VMware’s dominance is forcing Microsoft to take the high road and work much more closely with other partners and competitors. Citrix isn’t new to the Microsoft game and neither is Novell for that matter, but XenSource virtualization software is new to all of this. Though everyone fears Microsoft dominating markets they enter, here is a great example where competition works. REG Developer sees the VMware influence on Microsoft similarly.

Cisco has to eying this very closely given their "data center fabric" of the future which is all about virtualizing the network cloud. When will Cisco feel the "cooperative vibes" needed to bring the network, computing and software elements together to create the data center of the future? Cooperation like this between Microsoft, Citrix and Novell may not be enough to help Cisco to see the light because they’re betting on VMware as the key partner. But Cisco shouldn’t forget about the software that’s going to run inside those VMware instances from companies like… Microsoft, Novell, Citrix, etc.