Cloud

This Week – SaaS Summit

25 Feb , 2008  

I’ll be participating in the SaaS Summit this week in San Francisco. If you follow my blog you know that I recently joined up as the CTO at Absolute Performance, a performance management On Demand software company in Boulder, CO. I’m looking forward to the conference, especially some of the networking opportunities including meeting up again with Jeff Kaplan of THINKstrategies who recently appeared on my Network World Converging On Microsoft podcast, the Living In A SaaS World episode.

On Demand is fascinating because it encompasses product and software development, security, virtualization, and web applications — all the things I really enjoy working on. I’m fortunately to work with some very talented people including those who take care of the operations side of our On Demand software business, allowing me to focus on helping create great products. There are so many technologies available now to create robust, dynamic  web-based applications and my company has a very scalable and deep instrumentation architecture for SaaS delivered applications. That’s a great technology base and platform to build upon as the company moves forward.

If you are in the San Francisco Union Square area this week and would like to stop by or get together, feel free to drop me a line.

General

Unleash the Blu-ray Hounds!

20 Feb , 2008  

Sonybdps300blurayplayerI only managed to keep my consumer electronics hormones in check for so long. I’m proud of myself for at least holding out for Blu-ray to win the high-definition format wars, rather than getting the dual format player I really wanted to talk myself into. I picked up a Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray player. To solve the problem of no HDMI port, I found that Best Buy has HDMI-to-DVI cables and also DVI adapter plugs to place on the end of a HDMI-HDMI cable. Problem solved!

I’m happy to report the picture looks magnificent. Wow, what a difference. I tried both the composite cables at 1080i (interlaced) and the HDMI-DVI cables at 1080i (progressive scan) and there is a very noticeable difference. Now, I’m not going to rush out and replace movies I already have in DVD format, unless they are truly one of my very favorites, but that’s not an immediate issue as Blu-ray movies are still rolling out.

General

Format wars over: Blu-ray Wins!

19 Feb , 2008  

BluraylogoIt’s all over but the shouting, as the saying goes and I’m not sure there’s much shouting left to do. I’ve been holding out buying an HD-DVD or Blu-ray player until one format wins. No VHS / Betamax entanglements for me – let the best format win, and I’ll just buy that one.

Five things say Blu-ray has won; Toshiba announced it is done making HD-DVD players, Wal-Mart will only carry the Blu-ray format, Disney’s movies use the Blu-ray format, Netflix is only sending Blu-ray disks, and Blueray owns the shelf space at Best Buy by at least 200%. That means a green light to moving to a Blu-ray player.

Now for my next problem. My HD TV doesn’t have an HDMI interface. Arg. Is there a HDMI to DVI (which I have) option? If not, the next best option is using composite video connects but that only gives an interlaced signal rather than progressive HD.

If anyone knows of a good solution short of buying a new flat screen (now, there’s an idea), please let me know.

Podcasts, Security

In Eon Security Top 10 Podcasts

18 Feb , 2008  

Alan sent me an email earlier today that our SSAATY podcast episode #47 with Jeremiah Grossman and Robert Hansen (Rsnake) is listed in the Eon Security blog as one of the top 10 podcast picks.

Given the knowledge and talent of our guests on that podcast episode I have to say I’m not entirely surprised. If you haven’t heard the podcast with Jeremiah and Rsnake, check it out.

Blog

Spiffing up the blog a bit

18 Feb , 2008  

Over the last week I’ve been making a few design and house cleaning changes to The Converging Network blog. I would appreciate any and all comments or suggestions about the changes so let me know any feedback you have.

Tweaked Layout. First, the most obvious change is the layout which I changed to two columns on the right and the site is now fixed width. I did this because I like to know what a blog post looks like when a reader hits the site so this way it looks consistent no matter what size the browser window is. It also stops my own internal debate about what should be in the LH and RH columns of the blog — now everything’s on the RH side, though there’s still two columns so it’s not fully resolved. I also collapsed a few of the widgets to try an make then smaller or use less space when it’s not needed.

Ads. Next, I added a spot for two small ads. Let me know what you think of adding these ads. I thought I’d try them out and see if anyone picks up the space.

Intense_debate_betaComment System. Brad and Alan are using Intense Debate for their comment system. I like the idea a lot. It lets me claim my own comments that I leave on their sites. Hopefully it will catch on since anyone can leave a comment on a blog with whatever name they chose. This at least lets you know it’s really them, or least a better chance of it.

MyBlogLog. Ya, I know. MyBlogLog has been around for ever and I never added it to my blog. So I thought I’d try it out and see what it does. They have a better looking widget now that I like too. I don’t like slow load times on blog sites so if it slows things down at all then we’ll have to see if it stays or not.

Fewer Books. I cut down the Previous Reads section to just the last five books on my list. That again is to help make sure load times are satisfactory.

Twitter Updates. I’ve been using Twitter for the past couple of months and really enjoy it. It’s amazing how it connects you with others who you may not normally talk to that often. I find it fascinating. I may look for a better looking widget but what’s up there will do for now. You can follow me on Twitter if you like at http://www.twitter.com/mitchellashley. I don’t tweet about every little heartbeat of a thing but usually put up 4 or more per day when something’s going on.

Product Mgmt

Fail Early, Fail Often

18 Feb , 2008  

Success is 99% Failure – Soichiro Honda

failed high jump attemptSeth Levine’s blog post about failure inspired me to write some thoughts on the subject.Most of my career experience has been as an entrepreneur in contrast to Seth’sexperiences as a VC. I really appreciated Seth’s views. He’s right; the failurepart happens pretty fast. It’s the process leading up to failure that takes along time.

One of the most difficult challenges as a leader is knowing whether to cutyour losses and move on, or be persistent and see it through. There’s all kindsof folklore about those who had an idea and despite repeated failures and naysayers telling them it wasn’t possible, they see it through to success. ButI’ll bet even most of those cases, the results produced in the end evolvedpretty drastically until a successful outcome was achieved.

I’m always best at something when I really believe in it. And I’m most loyalto a team objective when I believe in the mission and believe in the leadershipin charge. When either of those aren’t true, it feels like I’m in the"uncommitted" category. I suspect most people feel much the same way.

One of the things I enjoy about the early stages of a start up is yourability to try lots of things, test them, do it, get feedback, adjust,assess the results, and repeat the process. You can’t be all over the map, butthe cycle for getting feedback and then reacting to it is pretty short. That’strue for product ideas, marketing ideas, target customers, and to some extent,even business models.

As you grow, build a customer base, and then start to build brand in market,it becomes more important to choose a market, product and business focus.Flexibility, healthy self skepticism, and constantly testing your assumptionsare critical to taking measure of your decisions and execution. You have to justuse your best judgment about taking opportunities that come your way, or thatyou create, vs. staying on course.

Failure is good, just as long as it isn’t the kind of failure that takes thecompany down. And even in those catastrophic cases, it’s likely there was toomuch commitment to "the plan" and not enough recognition that it’s time to claimfailure, change and move on. Failures along the way are a sign of progress.

I was working with a product development team this week. and we are movinginto the full QA phase of the release cycle. A really good, talented group ofpeople. First thing to pop up was a severity 1, or "blocker" bug. Notmuch further could get done until this was fixed.

Being a new member of the team, I’m guessing the team members wereprobably wondering how I would react to the bad news. I think my wordsupon hearing about the sev 1 were something like, "That’s great. I’m glad tohear we’re running into problems." I said it with a smile on my face, and apositive tone. My audience probably thought I was goofy or something. Managersare supposed to get pissed off when they get bad news, right?

Nope. If you’ve ever been around product or software development, it seemslike you’re always hearing about problems. Software is very much a systemic anda refinement process. Creating software by its nature means it’s likely to becomplex. Writing one little piece of code is easy. Making the whole thing workand work reliably is the challenge, or at least on of them anyway. Bugs, minorand catastrophic, are just a part of the process. 

It’s when you don’t have problems, then you’re really headed for trouble.That’s why finding the sev 1 bug was a good sign. I hope we find more, as earlyas possible. I know from experience that if we don’t see bugs early in theprocess, and more of them for really new software and features, then it’s likelywe’re building up to a really rough period at the end of the release. Better tofail early and often. Finding problems, especially big problems, are great theearlier you find them.

Two of the easiest metrics to capture in software QA are tracking the testcases that have been performed and how may bugs of different severities you arefinding. If you aren’t finding them early, you’re probably in trouble. There aremany other things of course that go into managing a software process, but overtime you see some pretty common curves that tell you how things are going. I’malways encouraged the sooner we find problems and the more of them we find. Youjust want to see progress as you work through the test cases, automatedpreferably, that you’re working toward a successful release.

I’ve taken and applied this same philosophy to research, product management,marketing and business. You don’t want all of your ideas to fail of course, butif you aren’t seeing some failures along the way, it’s a pretty good idea you’renot stretching, challenging and really going for it. You’re probably believingin your own assumptions and plans too much. Again, fail early and fail oftenapplies the same as it does in software.

General

Another tragic campus shooting

15 Feb , 2008  

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are dealing with the tragedyand trauma of school shootings. Yesterday, Northern Illinois University becamethe latest campus to experience this growing violent act. As of this morning,seven NIU students have died. My heart goes out to the victims, families, the injured,all the students, campus and city.

People — there are much better ways to express and deal with anger and otherissues, than mass shootings and murder. Talk to a parent, a friend. Seek professional help via your doctor, a school health professional or adviser. Talk to someone at a church, synagogue.

I just hope that we’ll figure outsomeway to curb this desperation and stupidity. 

Podcasts, Security

Security Pros Stage Podcast Takeover (Podcast #53)

14 Feb , 2008  

Microphone

I guess the security guys have been reading all about the Microsoft acquisition attempt of Yahoo because this week, Martin McKeayand Rich Mogull staged their own hostile takeover by hijacking the recording ofour SSAATY podcast! 

BustSeriously, Rich and Martin join Alan and me to do our first East-meets-West,Network Security Podcast -plus- SSAATY Podcast. We had a blastrecording the podcast together.

Our discussions center around the impact of all the personal informationdisclosed on blogs, podcasts, comments, social networking sites, Twitter, etc.,etc.

How do and how will employers use the information available about you on theInternet? Will all the teenager pranks and foibles poured out on socialnetworking sites come back to bite workers later their careers or in life? Can apresidential candidate get elected if they have an online past that can easilybe dug up and used against them?

It’s an interesting topic that was spurned byan article Martin found, "Off The Clock: Should Your Personal Online Chronicles JeopardizeYour Career? ".

Enjoy the podcast and please drop us any suggestions or questions at podcast@stillsecure.com.

Icon_enclosure_music_7mp3 file

Microsoft, Security

Can Contests End the OS Security Debate?

8 Feb , 2008  

It looks like CanSecWest is starting a trend. After last year’s "PWN to Own"contest netting in a "owned" MacBook, now the 2008 conference is pitting WindowsVista, Mac Leopard OS X and Linux against each other. Next thing you know, we’llbe having a winner take all cage match for the championship.

cage matchFirst, let me say that I love the idea of this contest. It’s the securityequivalent of watching those side-impact car crash videos we see on the NBC newsmagazine shows. This OS hack-a-thon contest is sure to draw a crowd, and debatefollowing the results. But I like the idea of contests like this, where devicesand software are tested out in the open by real people. I think we’ll learn alot and possibly debunk some of the OS security myths and claims along theway.

Speaking of contests, my friend Ross Carlson is cooking a contest idea to pitsimilarly configured Mac, Windows and Linux systems along with power users ofthe respective operating system, performing a series of common and not so commontasks. I don’t know if Ross will end up pulling it together or not, but if hedoes, I’d go to watch. More than the results, I’d like to see the reactions ofthe participants and audience when the results are tallied.

Microsoft, Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Software Updates – At user’s or vendor’s peril?

6 Feb , 2008  

Product_bistro_fortune_cookieDuring the January 2008 "Microsoft Tuesday" monthly updates, my Windows Vistamachine suffered problems immediately following the automatic updates. I camedownstairs Wednesday morning to see my computer rebooting as the updatefinished. From that point forward, Microsoft Word began crashing and wouldnot stay up or run under any circumstances.

I spent all morning trying to figure out the problem, and eventuallyuninstalled the updates, reinstalled Microsoft Office, and then reapplied theprevious day’s updates. Six hours later, the second time was a charm. Afterblogging about the experience, a Microsoft support engineer contacted me and Ihelped him instrument the problem by retracing the events and supplyingtechnical data. Turns out the problem was a previously know issue.

Today, Microsoft released the Vista Service Pack 1 update to manufacturing.It will be available for download beginning in mid-March. But this update toohas a know software bug, with some device drivers in this case. Microsofthas chosen to deal with the situation entirely differently. Windows Update willfirst detect if your system has any of the incompatible drivers, and only offersthe update if the machine won’t have problems. More technically savvy users candownload the update directly and work through the driver issues if they sochoose.

Bravo. That’s the way tricky situations with software updates should behandled. I hope that Microsoft’s Customer Experience program has helpedthem understand how to deal with such situations during upgrades and updates. The other factor at play is I’m sure Microsoft would like to avoid additionalnegative publicity about Vista. Whatever the reason, in the case of Vista SP1, it’s a good decision. Microsoft is still learning how to deal with automatic upgrades, as demonstrated by plans to automatically push Internet Explore 7 via Windows Update, risking breaking web-based applications that could experience browser compatibility problems.

Software upgrades and installations are one of the biggest challenges forsoftware product teams. Upgrade code and testing is often left until the lastpart of the schedule. It’s often given to someone outside of the coredevelopment team (such as a configuration manager or system administrator) whomight not have intimate knowledge of the software and changes to designs andcode.

We usually thing of a product’s user interface with talking about customerexperience, but installation and upgrade code are two of the most importantelements of a product which directly impact the end user’s experience. Adifficult or messy software installation can mean a potential customer mightnever get to the point of using your software product. Frustration could drivethem away first. A bad upgrade can leave existing customers dead in the water,with a system that’s unrepairable or that might require heroics by a productsupport team to get the user back up and running.

There are certain processes that a product team must "learn" throughmultiple, repeated experiences over time. The installation or upgrade code mayvary little or could change drastically depending on the software release. Butyou can be assured that every software release and update will need some type ofinstallation or upgrade code. It’s extremely important that product teams learnhow to do this well and do it consistently. One bad upgrade experience can losea customer for life. When an upgrade goes well, no one thinks twice about it.When an upgrade is problematic and requires calling in the cavalry, it likelywill be considered a major quality ding against your product.

As you put together your software release process, the installation andupgrade development and testing must be an integral part of this process. QAneeds to know exactly what’s changed, what product versions can be upgraded, andthen put plans in place to test various scenarios customers will experience.This takes planning, technical specs and information, and time on the scheduleto perform. Over time, after multiple repetitions, the product team learns howto perform upgrades successfully, reducing problems customers mightexperience.

Make plans now for installation and upgrade development and testing. You’llknow you’re doing a good job when your customers and product support team don’tthink to complement you on how smooth the last upgrade went, because they all gosmoothly.

Related article: Drivers Problems Hold Up Vista SP1 Upgrades