InnoTech Oklahoma 2014 Cloud Facts

Jumbled business and technology glyphs over ominous sky pretty much says it all. No one really knows when the cloud started. Microsoft introduced Hotmail as the free web mail service in 1996. By 1999, Google dominated with search. Those few building blocks have propelled us to the cloud world we have today.

In the 2014 comedy Sex Tape, Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz inadvertently have their escapades shared to the world with the memorable line “Nobody understands the cloud!”. However, we all innately know that cloud computing just means that we are connecting to a server somewhere on the Internet.

Legacy cloud of the early and mid 2000s was all about the facilities. We experienced heat waves, power outages, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, ice storms, and blizzards. Relocating servers to a hosting or cloud provider began to make sense. Most organizations didn’t have hardened facilities, emergency generators, or redundant Internet connections. The rub though is that legacy hosting is simply added cost for the illusion of safety. Customers must still deal with planned obsolescence in servers and the challenges of the waterfall effect for replacement hardware and upgraded software. Plus, questions start to arise about the ruffians who may work for the host, data replication, and even the feasibility of getting to the host facility in the event of a disaster.

Today, hosting at local or regional providers has been displaced by cloud computing of three major players: Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Amazon emerged as an early leader with a low cost strategy similar to Wal-Mart. Microsoft differentiates with security and productivity. While Google bills itself as a utility, leveraging the massive infrastructure required for search.

You might be thinking “What about Apple?”. Computer was dropped from the company name almost two decades ago and any cloud service will likely center around streaming music rather than business computing. The Mac has never had more than 6% market share versus PC. While dominant in the U.S., iPhone has only 14% of the worldwide market share. With recent security vulnerabilities in the consumer iCloud service and the raging battle with Android, Apple must decide if it wants to compete in cloud or continue with the existing consumer and music strategy.

In Cloud 2.0, there is a global perspective. For example, Microsoft Azure has 16 regions of geo-redundant datacenters around the world. Each region has enough capacity for more than 640,000 servers.

Modern data centers generally are not brick and mortar. They are placed in remote areas and not designed for public access. Modular design means preconfigured trailers of equipment are coupled together with power and network connections. This approach provides limited physical access with the ability to move or change the data center in large sections.

Despite the numerous acronyms for cloud computing, there are generally two categories: platform and productivity. You can have virtual servers at Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Compute Engine. Microsoft Office 365 leads the productivity space followed by Google Apps. Microsoft also has expanded to device security with Windows Intune and customer relationship management with Dynamics CRM Online.

Security is what separates major players in cloud computing. That starts with Federal Information Security Management Act compliance and down. Regional and national hosts stop at HIPAA and PCI. Small cloud providers often cannot achieve compliance much above ISO 27001 or SAS 70.

To date, there have been no iconic security breaches for major business services like Google Apps or Office 365. Consumer cloud security breaches have been prevalent and highly publicized. Target and Home Depot failed to patch know vulnerabilities in Point-of-Sale software. Apple iCloud and Sony PlayStation Network had poor password security. JP Morgan Chase was the likely victim of a phishing scam or Linux vulnerability.

Linux is now the most vulnerable platform as shown by recent examples like Heartbleed, Shellshock, and iWorm. The most popular web servers are Apache and Nginx. Android dominates smartphones, followed by Apple iOS. All of these solutions are variants of Linux. It’s a myth to continue claiming Linux security by obscurity or limited usage. Further, consolidated and automated security updates with malware protection is urgently needed.

Encryption will be one of the main strategies for preventing security breaches. Google leads the industry by encouraging websites to encrypt all traffic by default. This practice not only protects web browsers, but ensures reputable sites with verifiable owners and locations to even be able to obtain a website SSL certificate. As for e-mail, Pretty Good Protection (PGP) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) are no longer enough. If you’re not logging into a secure portal for encrypted e-mail, you might as well assume your private messages are exposed to the world.

Two form authentication is the other way to greatly lessen security vulnerabilities. Most cloud services offer the capability to require a password and a pin number that is texted to your phone in order to logon. With a password you know and a phone you must have, hackers have a much more difficult time accessing your account.

So what happens if someone steals your phone? Well, you should always make sure you use a pin to access your phone, but that’s where products like Microsoft Intune come into play. Intune has the ability to lock, disable services, and wipe Android, iOS, and Windows devices. The ability to control devices connected Internet is becoming a standard requirement.

Modern networks have morphed from layers of hardware and software infrastructure protected at headquarters to distributed applications at multiple cloud providers. This strategy allows for high business continuity in disaster recovery and limited downtime for any one particular application. The game has changed to ensuring Internet availability and secure access anywhere, rather than cost failover sites with the liability of employees traveling to the facility during emergent situations.

We’ve moved from physical servers housed on premise to virtual servers running in the cloud. That makes computer time like money because we must pay for the run time per hour and storage.

Even so, cloud offerings like Office 365 are a 34% savings over 10 years versus on premise servers, software, and maintenance. Cash outlay is relatively flat and business disruption is much less by escaping planned obsolescence and challenging upgrade every 4 years.

For $240 per user per year, an organization can now provide complete productivity with access to communications, files, and applications on up to 5 devices per user. For another $72 per user per year, that same organization can control and protect 5 devices for that user. People can now use their own device while companies can control access to data.

Such flexibility comes with greater personal responsibility. If you wouldn’t say it in church or to your mother, then you should be just as respectful in e-mail, instant messaging, or social media posts. Just like there is no excuse for not knowing the rules of the road, you must take extra effort to learn and understand the technology you use. Being trustworthy and capable requires more discipline in the virtual world than the real one.

It’s likely the height of hypocrisy to rail about privacy, while we willingly share many aspects of our personal lives in social media. The truth is that every keystroke is recorded on your device for diagnostics and files are not truly deleted. Cameras, microphones, and wireless connections are everywhere. You need to assume that your actions are generally being recorded.

It’s not Skynet, but machine learning will soon change our world. We now have self-driving cars and software that automatically scales servers and provisions new processes based upon forecast usage. If you think you’ll just get off the grid, social media is already discovering your likely profile by family and friends that are on the service.

With over 90% of the world’s data generated in the last few years, successful people of the future will focus on making sense of the overload of information using dashboards. Power Business Intelligence is just one of the early tools to do things like converting a series of spreadsheets into key performance dashboards with no programming.

Similarly, if you’re going to compete and be found in a sea of data, you’re content and approach must be different. Use a TED format for presentations, so you have interesting visuals for a story or concept, rather than mind-numbing bullet points. Make sure your titles are unique in Google. Repurpose your presentations and link together for a blog post, podcast, or video.

Above all, push anything about you or your organization to the background and give answers or inspiration. Frank Sinatra begins to sing “My Way”, as we see a moving backdrop of New York City from Derek Jeter’s view inside the limo. You see the newspaper stand with the headline “Goodbye, Captain!” and Derek decides to get out and walk the rest of the way to the stadium. He talks to fans, wanders through a local pub, and signs lots of autographs. At the stadium he stops to reflect, gets dressed, and goes up the steps touching the sign reading “I want to thank God for making me a Yankee” one more time. Derek then turns back toward the camera and you see the Gatorade cooler stand. Then he’s up the stairs and on the field waving his hat to the fans as Sinatra ends the song.

Someday maybe we’ll all market as well as Gatorade. I hope that you picked up a few facts about cloud and maybe you’re inspired to get into Orbit and try the cloud now.

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Technology Writers on Notice in 2014

2014 LogoIf you’re a journalist in the technology industry, then one of your resolutions should be to get your act together. Let’s start with Christopher Mims’ 2013 Was a Lost Year for Tech. In a word PATHETIC.

Mims doesn’t work in the industry, but had a deadline and went to a tired formula of: negative, salute to the favorites for advertising, trivialize the new, bash Microsoft for fun, and tell the industry it’s arrogant.

For the record, technology has been the main industry that has brought the U.S. economy back. Like in most years, it’s really the software that was the story and not the stray gadgets like wearables. Why pay homage to Apple, while giving back-handed comments about Google and Microsoft?

The tired “Microsoft is evil and the PC industry is dead mantra” just screams out of touch. Microsoft wrote off $900 Million for Surface RT, but that pales greatly to the $29 Billion in iPhones unsold in the channel by Sprint and Verizon. Smartphones and tablets proliferate, but maybe since Microsoft supports popular products like XP for over a decade people are simply keeping their computers longer? Microsoft killed the stack rating nearly 2 months before the Mims bashing comments.

Yes, there were acquisitions and mergers that are usually lauded in other industries. Instead of discussing how Silicon Valley has hurt manufacturing and jobs, why not talk about 3D printing that will make us competitive again? Mims redeems himself somewhat with insight on social media and the NSA, but the damage was already done.

Go write for the tabloids if you just want to cause controversy. Your job is to report the facts and give something helpful for your audience. Cut the crap with the tired old formula, as my resolution this year is to regularly expose such drivel.

Back to Facebook

Social Media Image
OK, I was wrong. I really didn’t think Facebook would survive. It was a fad that would fade away like Myspace. So, just another lesson to learn about people and in turn business.

Facebook was a curiosity I signed up for long ago just to understand the buzz. Technology is the broadest field of any, but you can’t really claim to be a technology expert and not know the basics of something hitting mainstream consciousness almost daily.

Search Engine Optimization was the craze at the time, so obviously it was my place to be for backlinks and a company page. Reading a lot growing up, I was always amazed about Asian culture and how over crowded and lacking in any privacy for the average person. Facebook felt like it could be that way. Then the rules changed and that funky little Facebook language for company pages changed decimating a two weeks worth of effort. Matrixforce serves organizations and not consumers, so the company page was abandoned. My Facebook presence was on auto-pilot while I went on to WordPress, Expert Articles, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Squidoo, Google Plus, and HubPages.

In the mean time, Facebook had the IPO, made numerous changes including vanity URLs for users and organizations, and has even managed to make money. Time flies and you’re there. Plus, unfortunately you do have to get the experience to have the wisdom of how all these services should be used.

Since Facebook is not going away, I used our trademark status to wrestle our Facebook URL from some security guard company in India and we’ll begin filling in the timeline, as we do a pretty fair job providing content for clients. Personally, my Facebook page will be … well … personal.

That’s the thing you learn: unlink your accounts because you should have a different persona on different services. Like probably a lot of people, I linked my Twitter account to everything. It was lazy, simple, and easy. However, that approach just spams the other services with the same stuff and what is appropriate for Facebook, may not be good fit for something like LinkedIn.

For my Facebook friends (which truly is a pretty small set of family, friends, classmates, etc.) don’t be alarmed when my account is largely decimated and changed. There may be the weekly post from my blog, but everything else will be personal. Go to the Matrixforce Facebook page if you want the business and technology stuff and you’ll just have to see how I use the other services.

Personal Use Office 365

Office 365 LogoI often hear the same complaints:

  • My ISP e-mail sucks.
  • Maybe I should do that Carbonite thing to backup my files.
  • A new copy of Microsoft Office costs how much?

So let me give you an idea. Use Office 365 for your personal account. How many of you want to write a book or have a hobby or simply want a personalized e-mail address? Maybe you’ve already registered that domain name. If so, for $20 per month you can have:

  1. Enterprise grade e-mail with 25GB of storage and unlimited archive storage.
  2. 10GB of document storage AND disaster recovery that you can access from anywhere.
  3. An always current copy of Office Professional that can be installed on up to 5 devices.

Basically for less than the cost of HBO that you rarely watch, you can have better technology and peace of mind. Try Office 365 free for 30 days.

Improve Your Worth in 2013

Improve WorthIn mid January, James Altucher wrote a post for TechCrunch titled “10 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be the Year You Quit Your Job“. It was a tug at the hearts of technologists during a motivational time of the year and ingeniously designed to keep readers coming back for inspiration. Altucher is one of those unsuspecting souls from high school that went on to become quite successful as a writer for the Wall Street Journal and lucrative investment entrepreneur – all launched from a stint with HBO as a computer programmer in the mid 90’s.

While there is a radical school of thought that you should start a business in a down economy, quitting your job with the current economic turmoil to start a new venture is just plain crazy. In the late 80’s, I traveled the nation implementing bar coding and scores of data entry personnel went on to do more meaningful, better paying jobs like inventory analysts. Even at that time, much of the Northeast was littered with massive, empty buildings. It’s more than ironic that someone from Wall Street would just now notice causal vacancies. Not to mention that failed, huge government, welfare states like New York have forced the average person to work multiple jobs for the last 30 years to stay in the middle class.

Today, I help business owners and their management escape broken legacy thoughts about technology in order to improve profitability. Smart IT people don’t lose their jobs to managed services. They are happier doing brain work moving their organization forward, rather than worrying about mundane updates and backup. The rank and file employees also embrace cloud computing and other new technology, knowing their worth only improves. Any lost counterparts that throw up their hands in resistance and confusion quickly land in unemployment.

Improvement is the harsh reality of the world and has been forever. Live every day, improve your skills, learn new things, and follow your dreams. However, I’d be wary of Altucher’s message to choose yourself for success and escape the job prison. I envy him because he’s made it to the show. Unfortunately, it’s not from self-publishing books as most books sell less than 250 copies per year and 3,000 copies in a lifetime. Once you start with that fact, I wonder how Altucher was able to quit his job and don’t you then question the rest of the article?

IT Firms Make Less on Cloud

Reality ImageMany of my peers often ask if they should get into cloud computing. I generally tell them a flat “no” with an explanation that they’ll make less money, a totally different sales/marketing approach is required, and technical competencies change drastically. The next question is usually something like, “OK, Kevin, then how are you so successful at it?”.

This is the fourth year in a row Matrixforce has achieved the elite Microsoft Cloud Accelerate Partner accreditation, with over 50 new customers and 2,000 users annually. We started three years beforehand when most people thought of cloud computing as something about the weather.  Today, we offer deployment and support services for Office 365 and Google Apps, Windows Intune, CRM Online, and Quickbooks Online – not to mention current training on Azure and competing cloud platforms. The sales and marketing team provide thousands of social media updates, hundreds of web pages and blog posts, and dozens of videos and podcasts. The technical folks are now all about productivity and usage of services and only a tiny bit of specialized old-school technology infrastructure. It’s been a long-term approach to grow a practice to compliment our other services that our firm took nearly 7 years ago. For certain, providers must have at least 5,000 to 10,000 individual subscribers, before the recurring revenue is enough to be significant and still can’t stand alone as a separate business. Most providers don’t survive longer than 5-7 years, much less have the resources and bussiness savvy to make the investment to try to get to those numbers of subscribers in that period of time.

Many prospects and customers have gotten the message loud and clear from the competition, that they need to stay on-premise with their technology infrastructure. “Why cloud computing is not reliable or secure.” Or you get the picture. Then the pitch is “You should just move all those servers into our data center. It’s not any cheaper, but we take care of all the hassle for you”. Hosting or rack space is definitely not cloud computing and brings forth questions of significant risk with the facility and provider’s long-term viability. Cloud computing uses knowledgeable experts backed by multi-billion dollar facilities provided by major manufacturers like Microsoft and Google. Further, the whole value proposition is reduced cost for significant improvements in productivity, reliability, and security.

I can’t blame the competition as the motivation is self-preservation, because switching to cloud computing eliminates 70% of product revenues and 30% of maintenance services. In hard dollars, that $50,000 annually in revenue for a few servers with associated software GONE – $250,000 loss in 5 years per customer. To add insult to injury, that $20,000 annual project and $10,000 in maintenance and support evaporates too, for another $150,000 loss over 5 years. So, the traditional legacy provider takes s $400,000 hit over 5 years in a moderate customer environment of 6-10 servers. Less product revenue equates to smaller discounts with distributors, coupled with more bench time for idle system engineers. Legacy providers face a grim business disruption problem of slowly dwindling cash and relevance.

Plus, the slick smile and dial, NASCAR like logos and product of the day – or selling a body for staffing or a project don’t really apply anymore. For sure, prospects and customers don’t like it. Today, customers want to find out who you are and expect tons of information to research and have informed opinions before they even talk to you.

A few competitors are trying to change, but face a huge uphill battle with existing staff and any cloud wins are tiny infusions of cash even less than shrinkage currently experienced on legacy on-premise infrastructure. Some competitors have doubled-down and gone the niche high-end hardware route. Many have got in the way-back machine for circa 1989 and are pitching hourly rates with no means to provide availability or quality service on a regular basis. Finally, the overwhelming majority are obfuscating reality and bilking the unsuspected into moving servers to a data center at little savings in cost and no escape from the product obsolescence hamster wheel.

Meanwhile, prospects and customers love our offerings. They appreciate straight technology advice not motivated by product or selling them a body. Already knowing quite a bit before we even speak, we prove our capabilities by telling about all the stuff they need to know that is not on the web. Having prospered over 35 years while surviving virtually every war or challenge for a technology firm, customers know we are stable and practice strong business and operational skill. When you are serious about the cloud and online services, give me a call (918) 622-1167  x25.

Disaster Drills

How often do you try out your disaster plan? If you’re a small or medium business, the default answer is “what plan?” or “we’ll find out when it happens”. The reason is cost, complexity, and apathy. CFO’s balk at the cost of most technology. Technology folks struggle with where to start and how to justify, as not all disasters are equal or require the same response. Finally, the norm for most management is that even when knowing the first 2 facts, they do business as usual because “it’s never happened before because we have smart people and redundancy” (or whatever helps them sleep at night).

Rather than bore you with steps to take to recover from a disaster, the following are some current and nominal cost approaches of how we run our business (and of course help clients do the same):

  1. Recently, a key employee’s spouse was badly injured in a car accident. We were able to advance some additional salary for a short period during the spouse’s recovery. Cash is king in business. You don’t want to have too much as it signals possible operations problems to potential buyers and excess dollars should go to shareholders, but you must have enough on-hand or readily available to cover such situations.
  2. After another summer storm, our main domain controller died. As best practice, this server shared no data or ran any key applications. The second domain controller took over ready and able to service the whole network, using DHCP failover strategy. While operations ran normally, our team was able to seize critical roles and manually remove the domain controller from Active Directory.
  3. Major storage for a client failed. Fortunately, our online backup had a full copy of the data, including databases and server system states. We managed to keep the storage running in a degraded state and minimized customer downtime, by moving data and virtual servers to other locations. Online backup continued to run regularly and after the hardware problem was resolved, the data moved back and synchronized with the off-site backup.
  4. A contractor blew the transformer for our building. Fortunately, we run our business using cloud computing with services like Office 365. Our personnel were able to easily and securely work from home for a day with no loss of operations for customers.

Now the scary part – all of these things happened in the same month. We survived because of business acumen with little additional cost. Our Virtual CIO services can help you identify how to run operations that are disaster ready. If you were the average business, would you still be in business without your key employee, main server, critical data, and a power outage?