Posts from 2010-03-11

Disaster-Proof Google Offers Free Recovery and Backup

Hey enterprise folk, how would you like a tool that relieves all concerns over backups or disaster recovery? Today Google announced such a feature (and it’s free).  

The Styles of Disaster

First, a bit about disasters.

Disaster recovery is usually measured in two terms:

  • Recovery Point Objective: RPO represents the amount of acceptable data loss in the event of an outage
  • Recovery Time Objective: RTO represents the acceptable amount of downtime before service is restored

Rajen Sheth, the senior product manager over at Google Apps says that for large companies running Storage Area Networks (SANs), RPO and RTO targets are generally an hour or less—and you best believe that kind of recovery costs some major dollars.

But for Google, that same target is zero, thanks to a little thing called synchronous replication.

Synchronous Replication

Sheth describes the feature like this:

“…every action you take in Gmail is simultaneously replicated in two data centers at once, so that if one data center fails, we nearly instantly transfer your data over to the other one that's also been reflecting your actions.”

Google hopes not to lose any data during the transfer from one center to another. Moreover, the goal is to transfer data so quickly that users won’t even notice when a data center experiences an interruption. And this feature doesn't only benefit Gmail accounts—users get the same level of data replication for Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Sites.

Free Really Means Something

The whole synchronous replication concept isn't actually new, but it is generally expensive. Google says that to backup 25GB of data with synchronous replication, a business could shell out anywhere between US$150 and US$ 500 (or more) in storage and maintenance costs per employee. That total doesn't include the cost of the applications, either. 

Google is able to offer this feature for free because they operate many large data centers simultaneously for millions of users. This results in low costs while increasing resiliency and redundancy. Secondly, they don't spend money on stand-by data centers; they utilize everything they've got at once by balancing loads between data centers as needed.

The feature is now available to marvel at (and use) within Google Apps. 

"Of course, no backup solution from us or anyone else is absolutely perfect," admitted Sheth. "But we've invested a lot of effort to help make it second to none."

Google Exec Says Desktops Irrelevant in Three Years Time

"Go mobile young man" is the cry as a top Googler (site) echoes his bosses sentiment on the smartphone being the way forward.

Search on the Move

The Digital Landscapes conference is an Irish event where emerging technologies are promoted to business and some blue-sky thinking gets writ large by the IT industry's bigwigs. At this year's event were directors from HP, Cisco, Facebook and John Herlihy, Vice President of Global Ad Operations for Google.

He made several interesting comments about mobile services and search during his speech, including the smartphone one grabbing all the headlines, "the desktop is doomed".

Ignoring the fact that most knowledge workers will still be sat at some sort of computer in five, even ten years time — you try writing multi-page documents or wrangling a spreadsheet on anything other than a keyboard and big screen — he made some potentially valid points.

Japan Leads the Way

Herlihy pointed out that more research is now done on phones than on computers in Japan. This may be true, and the eastern nation has indeed whole-heartedly grabbed the smartphone. However, cultural differences see the Japanese working insane hours with grim dedication to their company, on heroic commutes with vastly superior network services. Will westerners really follow that same pattern?

One thing he was spot on about is the need for fast and accurate results. With a mobile there's limited alt-tabbing to something else while you wait for an answer — or the room to display dozens of results. 

So Google's future aims are to sharpen up results to get the information people need first, because if they don't he is convinced that other companies will — and steal Google's market share.

You can find more detail, including video on the Digital Landscapes event from Ireland's own Silicon Republic site.

Mediaspectrum Automates Campaign Management for Web Publishers

It’s no secret that Mediaspectrum (site) helps web publishers manage editorial content and streamline workflows. But now they’re helping publishers make better, more well informed decisions about advertising sales.

With the development of Campaign Management, Mediaspectrum’s Ad Sales portal integrates multiple tasks, designed to help publishers manage the way their content interacts with advertisers, while also gaining valuable insight into how much revenue and success is associated with each sales and marketing campaign.

As well, a built-in business rules management system (BRMS) lets business managers create and assign new sales based upon how advertisers interact with the system.

This self-service advertising platform brings critical data points to life. Now, it’s not hard to know where advertisers come from, how they interact and react to messaging, allowing publishers the opportunity to adjust pricing and messaging for more personalized, follow-up campaigns.

As we all know, web publishing is more than just about content. A great deal of it relies on advertising and revenue. Mediaspectrum’s new approach to advertising gives companies the platform from which to manage it all.

Ballmer: 70% of Microsoft Employees are working on Cloud-based Projects

For a company that is known primarily for the desktop, new comments by CEO Steve Ballmer that 70% of Microsoft's employees are doing something "cloud-based or cloud-inspired" seems an odd shift in focus. But then, everyone is in a rush to the cloud these days. Why would Microsoft (site) be any different.

Spreading the Word on Cloud Computing

On March 4, Ballmer spoke at the University of Washington on the topic of cloud computing. He talked about how Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, wrote a memo five years ago talking about the importance of the cloud, and how they were all "stimulated" by it. But, as he points out, Microsoft is really only scratching the surface of what they could be doing.

That being said, Ballmer went on to say that Microsoft, like many other tech companies out there, are "betting on the cloud". Which explains why 70% of the company is "doing something that is designed exclusively for the cloud, or is inspired to serve the five dimensions." And what 5 dimensions are these?

5 Key Dimensions of the Cloud

If you want to know where Microsoft's focus is, Ballmer offered five key opportunities, "five key dimensions in the cloud, five key opportunities, five key things that I think need your best ideas, your best thoughts, your best invention, commercial inventions, academic inventions, product inventions to really drive forward."

  1. The cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities
  2. The cloud learns and helps you learn, decide and take action
  3. The cloud enhances your social and professional interactions
  4. The cloud wants smarter devices
  5. The cloud drives server advances that, in turn, drive the cloud

We already know what cloud-based opportunities Microsoft has been working on: Office Web Apps, Microsoft Azure, SQL Azure, LiveID, SharePoint and Exchange. And it's pretty sure there are some other things happening in Redmond that we don't know about.

A year from now, Ballmer says that 70% of employees working on cloud-based projects will be 90%.

You can read the entire transcript from his speech, or if that's just a little too long a read (because it kind of is).


The Cloud Creates Opportunity

To quote Ballmer,

this cloud thing is just another big step that the world is buzzing about, and thinking about, that will create the opportunities for all the folks in this room to do important research, to build important products, to drive forward, and do fantastic things."

 There isn't a day that goes by that we aren't talking about cloud computing in some way, whether it's a new service, new infrastructure or research on organizations today are thinking about or doing with the cloud. Ballmer is right, the cloud does create opportunity. How is your organization taking advantage of it?

Is Cloud-Based SharePoint 2010 a Viable Enterprise Option?

A recent paper released by Forrester Research (site) entitled SharePoint 2010: A More Viable Cloud Option argues that if you are looking at deploying SharePoint off the premises, with the introduction of SharePoint 2010 (site),  now is a good time to do it.

The problem with SharePoint Online until now, report author Rob Koplowitz says, is that cloud-based SharePoint, either standalone or as part of Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), demonstrates a number of limitations compared to an on-premise version. However, SharePoint 2010 closes the gap in functionality between the deployment options and opens up SharePoint Online to a wider range of applications.

And while there may be still some differences between SharePoint 2010 Online and the on-premise version, the report foresees Microsoft continuing to revisit the viability of including those missing features over time.

SharePoint Environment Improvements

In January, when we talked about SharePoint 2010 and the version of SharePoint Online that would run with it , we noted that the principal improvements would be the result of the multi-tenancy features that would see the online version coming a lot closer to the on-premise version  than the online version based on SharePoint 2007 did.

While the new version is unlikely to reach parity with this release, Koplowitz says, there are key improvements to the environment that will make SharePoint Online more viable for more organizations.

These include:

  • SharePoint Online Dedicated: Microsoft is to introduce a review process that will make code customization far more straightforward and accessible. Additionally, customizations that fall within the new “sandbox” definition will not require review at all.
  • SharePoint Online Standard: This edition will better align with the new server offering. The result is that users will be able to benefit from new capabilities including: My Sites, tagging, tag clouds, activity feeds, Office Web Apps, business intelligence, records management, forms amongst others.

Some functionality will continue to require an on-premise implementation. Microsoft (site)  has said it will be looking this over time. Also, easier integration with other internal applications often requires on-premise deployment.

SharePoint Online Deployment?

In light of the improvements, and because of remaining short-comings, the report has four recommendations for companies that might be considering taking advantage of the relatively low cost of online deployment.

These are:

  • Security and Compliance: Work with you legal and HR departments to determine if it is feasible to store data outside the enterprises on-site information store as there may be issues with compliance or security. However, even if the event that there are such issues, SP Online Dedicated may still be possible, while multi-tenant probably won’t.
  • SharePoint 2010 Online functionality: If you have not already deployed an on-premise version but considering SharePoint, then the costs for an online version might be worth looking at, including the costs of hiring or retracing staff as SharePoint particularly as functionality with SP 2010 is greatly enhanced.
  • SharePoint On-Premise and Online: Companies that already have SharePoint may take advantage of cloud-based services to augment an existing on-premise deployment (if only for reasons of cost). Common scenarios would include storing sensitive data on-premise while less sensitive business content could be stored in the cloud.
  • Partial Deployment: Another scenario is deploying a small on-premise SharePoint implementation to take advantage of advanced capabilities, while the majority of more commoditized capabilities like workspaces and portal content could be provisioned in the cloud.

If the principal reasons for not opting for SharePoint Online have been its limitations, then now is the time to rethink your options. While SharePoint Online based on SP 2010 is not the equivalent of its on-premise relative, it is close and Microsoft promise to keep looking at it.

If you are interested in reading more on this the report is available to buy from Forrester for US US$ 499.

Atex Acquires Kaango, Reclaims Online Classified Marketplace

For some time now, web publishers have been concerned about advertising. Yet, finding new sources from which to advertise and engage consumers often leaves them paralyzed. Atex (site) is here to help.

Atex, a media supplier well known for designing and developing solutions that help customers create new revenue sources, reduce operating costs and engage younger audiences, has acquired Kaango.

Kaango, which employs an advanced web-based software platform that syndicates and publishes print and online classified ads, will let publishers reclaim the online classified marketplace. For too long classified sales have suffered from dramatic drops in revenues, once vital to newspapers’ livelihood.

Kaango adds a key ingredient to the publishing recipe so that publishers can “exploit the digital marketplace”, increasing ad presence and hopefully revenue.

There are many self-service advertising platforms making headlines, but Atex and Kaango are combining forces to leverage and integrate their solutions in order to meet the growing needs of their customers and the industry.

Having just announced that their Web CMS offers direct publishing to a variety of tablet devices, like the iPad and the Kindle, Atex is positioning itself at the forefront of web publishing innovations.

A New ASP.NET Security Framework Comes with Bitrix Site Manager 4.6

With all websites increasingly under attack, Bitrix (site) ups the defences with a new security system for its users.

Fighting off the Attack

The number of sites being corrupted and having data stolen, or being used to infect the PCs of visitors with malware is rocketing. To help protect the sites of its many users, Bitrix has come up with a Protective Protection (PRO + PRO) platform for its ASP.NET Web CMS product.

With proactive protection, it locks down sites by monitoring incoming data (working as a firewall) and detecting common attack vectors such as cross-site scripting attacks and SQL injections.

To test the product, it was let loose at the a recent Russian hacking event, Chaos Construction 9, where it staved off thousands of attempted attacks. Naturally, defense can never stand still and already promised for the next update are more security features. These will include one-time passwords, an integrity checker, abnormal activity detector to sniff out suspicious behavior that might indicate a new type of attack and IP-based authentication.

Defense, Defense

Suspicious activity is logged for later inspection, or for evidence. The framework has been certified by Positive Technologies and complies with Web Application Firewall Evaluation Criteria established by the Web Application Security Consortium.

Going Social

The update also has some additional features for social networking including improved blog and forum support, searchable content and management of video and images. Articles can be posted directly from Word or other sources.

Site Manager ASP.NET is available today, there is a 30-day free trial and it can be purchased at the Bitrix store which currently offers a 30% discount at US$ 690. The price includes a one year subscription to technical support, updates and upgrades. Existing users can upgrade live online and the update happens in real-time, automatically using the SiteUpdate module.

Web Economy: The Shift to Service

Cloud computing and virtualization reflect a general movement driven by the Web: a shift towards a more service-driven economy.

There are two major trends that are now coming together to reshape our economies and societies. One is the continuing replacement of humans by computers in the workplace. Computers are essential in manufacturing and in the office. They continuously replace human effort and boost productivity.

Consider this: most of the products we design today could not be designed without computers. A new computer from Dell, for example, can only be designed by using computers from a previous generation. In other words, an older model of a computer is helping in the creation of a newer one.

So in which areas are computers not likely to replace humans (at least in the short term)? Service. The caring industries. People like being cared for by other people. A genuine smile and a friendly voice have a powerful affect on us. The computers will look after the hard space, humans will look after the soft space.

The Web thrives on interconnections; cloud computing and virtualization live on the Web. If you are not connected-if you live on a remote island with no outside connections-then to live you must physically have everything you need beside you. But if you live on the Web, it doesn't matter where what you need resides, once you can make use of it. It's not the owning or the physical proximity that matters-it's the use. And what are the implications of all this? Service.

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, said in March 2010 that Microsoft was "betting our company" on the cloud. I hear the same sort of statements in other big companies I deal with. There's a shift to the cloud; a shift to service.

Part of this shift is of course technical. But there's an equally large cultural part . A service-driven economy will be different from a product-driven economy. Why? Because the most important thing will be the service. You pay 10 dollars a month, not 400 dollars as a once-off payment. That changes how you think about what you're getting.

Most organizations are structured around a launch and leave project-based culture of products, marketing and communication campaigns. The reward is for producing things (products, websites, brochures, videos, advertising campaigns). In a service-driven economy, the reward-structure will be based on how happy the customer is with your service.

How does a service-based brand thrive? By showing customers that you care about meeting their needs, month-in, month-out. These customers have not bought your product; they've bought your service. And that means they judge you on your service and can leave you more easily if your service declines. In service-driven economies people are locked in by trust and satisfaction, not by the fact that they have made a major investment in a product and must stick with it.

Are you ready for service? Because that's where the Web is at. Great websites are run by service professionals. People who want to help their customers succeed. People who care more about whether the customers are happy than whether the organization is. If you focus too much on the organization — the internal politics — you invariably lose focus on the customer.


About the Author

Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.

TEDxNYED Examines Media and Technology in Education

When we talk about the digital media consumption of teens and young adults, from social media to the mobile web, we often wonder how the future of online media will evolve. Rarely, however, do we consider what it means for the future of education.

On Saturday, March 6, educators and technologists alike gathered for TEDxNYED, an all-day conference, examining the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education.

Independently Organized, Wholly Engaged

Organized independently by New York educators, the forum combined TED Talk videos and speakers. Conversations among attendees indented to spark insights, deep discussion and connections about the future of education.

Following five themes: participation, openness, media, networks and action, speakers included Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist for National Public Radio’s Social Media Desk; Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?; Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy; and Jay Rosen, NYU journalism professor and author of PressThink, among others.

Tradition v. Innovation 

Schools, public and private, are at a crossroads between preserving traditions and embracing innovations, all in an effort to stay relevant, cultivate patient problem solvers and provide a safe space in which to collaborate and learn. However, ten years into the twenty-first century, many of us are still just talking about technology and innovation, instead of actually implementing them.

The barriers and challenges faced are both philosophical and conceptual, and not unlike the ones being faced by other industries. But when they can be overcome, thanks to supportive and forward-thinking administrators, faculty and staff, the results are astounding.

Whether it’s creating a digital library, where each student is equipped with a Kindle from which to access their English literature homework; or a science class that builds a bio-diesel reactor, which ends up fueling a small town in South America; or connecting students from around the world via video casts to better understand world history, technology and media are not just tools for innovation, but skills that empower young adults to be global contributors.

Exploring the Unknown

If we were to compare the trials and tribulations of the online publishing world to that of the education industry, it’s apparent that they are both paralyzed by their own self-importance. Instead of focusing on and investing in the user, be it the student or reader, they are too concerned about reputations, revenue and rank.

The merit of digital and social media is transparency. With it comes the freedom and responsibility of standing up and declaring that though we may not know how exactly to solve the problem, we are committed to exploring, experimenting and evolving the experience.

In education, not knowing can lead to great discovery. In publishing, it can lead to experimental initiatives like citizen journalism. Events like TEDxNYED help to bring together educators, technologists and innovators so that experiences online, in the classroom and in the community can be adapted, evolved and improved.

TEDxNYED reminded us that it’s not about the diploma or test scores, but rather about the portfolio built, knowledge gained and students reached. Likewise, web publishing needs to look beyond metrics and advertisers, as best they can, and focus on the content and user interfaces. Active learners and online readers want to be engaged — so what better reason to engage them.

Document Management Roll-up: Office in the Cloud, Business Process Management to Follow

The release date for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 is out and about, but not everyone is happy with some of the details. Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the company has ambitions with this release for a fully functioning Office in the cloud.

Microsoft Aims For Office In The Cloud

The big news this week is, of course, is the announcement of definitive dates for the release of SharePoint  2010 (site)  and Microsoft Office (site). It’s on May 12 (for businesses) and June for home users, if you haven’t been paying attention.

You may also have come across Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s speech at the University of Washington where he outlined the company’s plan for its products and the cloud.

In his outline of Microsoft’s vision of the cloud, he described Office 2010 and the company’s ambition to run it from the cloud as the “most mainstream” effort Microsoft would be doing in cloud computing.

We're really taking Microsoft Office to the cloud, letting it run in the cloud, letting it run from the cloud, helping it let people connect and communicate and express themselves … That's one of the core kind of technical ambitions behind the next release of our Office product …” he said.

And already, 90% of the companies Microsoft is working with are happy to go with the elements of Office that are already in the cloud with “lot of good work … still going on for the consumer”.

Microsoft also plans to give its corporate customers the option of hosting the Web-based version of Office 2010 on their own servers in order to give them more control of the product.

Office 2010 Tech Guarantee Outlined

Speaking of Microsoft Office, details of the Technology Guarantee that will accompany the release of Office 2010 were finally explained by Jevon Fark, Sr. Marketing Manager for Microsoft Office on the Office 2010 Engineering blog.

And not everyone is happy. The Guarantee goes like this: consumers who have purchased and activated Office 2007 since March 5 and who purchase it up until September 30 will be able to download Office 2010 at no additional cost when it becomes available in June 2010.

To be eligible you need to:

  • Purchase Office 2007, or a new PC with Office 2007, and activate it between March 5, 2010 and September 30, 2010.
  • Have, or create a Windows Live ID.
  • Redeem your Tech Guarantee before October 31

You will not be eligible for it if if you have Office 2007 through a volume license (typically business owners with five computers or more), promotional or not-for-resale copies, or bought Office 2007 through the Home Use Rights or Student Select programs.

However, some users say they feel “snubbed” by the fact that only those who purchased it after March 5 will be covered by the guarantee. Many of the comments on Fark’s post are from users in that situation and they’re just not happy.

Office 2010 will be available online and on retail shelves in June. Until then, you can can always use the Office 2010 beta.

SaaS BPM Is Finding Friends

New market research from Datamonitor (site) is showing that many business process management vendors will have to look at their application in the cloud because of the success of the SaaS model.

The strategic focus entitled SaaS BPM: Silencing the Skeptics says that now is the right time for BPM vendors to make their SaaS strategy mainstream.

While demand in the on-premises BPM market continues unabated, SaaS BPM is slowly finding acceptance in certain pockets of the BPM market. The research indicates that lower entry costs, broader reach and faster time to deployment could endear SaaS BPM offerings to customers that are comfortable with the cloud computing application delivery model.

Another reason it is becoming attractive is that many business processes are carried-out using resources outside an organization, such as BPO, SaaS customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM) and cloud infrastructure.

The result is that as the number of external influences in a process grow, it will become imperative for BPM to be able to customize the external services it consumes.

However, the effect of SaaS BPM offerings on the BPM market will be complementary rather than negative. The SaaS model will boost the proliferation of BPM and help BPM reach a larger user base. Interested in more?

Healthcare Mistrusts The Cloud

BridgeHead Software (site), a developer of healthcare data management software, unveiled partial preliminary results of its Data Management Healthcheck 2010 survey, which shows that only 6.5% of respondents would use cloud storage for archived data.

Furthermore, only 33% noted their organization plans to adopt a cloud storage strategy for any data over the next 12-24 months. The online survey, launched on February 9, is designed to assess healthcare's preparedness for the massive volume of data generated by the industry's reliance upon information.

More than 80% say that the most significant factor influencing decisions about utilizing cloud storage is concern about security and availability of data. Respondents also cited cost and a lack of conviction that cloud storage offers significant benefits when compared to local media.

The Data Management Healthcheck 2010 survey, will remain open during the WoHIT conference in Barcelona, Spain, between March 15 - 18, 2010. If you want to take part in the survey you can access it online.

Recession Cuts European Printer Market by 17%

The combined printer, copier and multifunctional product (MFP) market in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) totalled 39.6 million shipments in 2009, a decline of 17.8 per cent from 2008, according to Gartner (site).

Overall end-user spending also declined by 21 per cent from €14.4 billion in 2008 to €11.3 billion in 2009, as a result of tighter credit controls by banks and cuts in IT spending by businesses as well as consumers.

Many organizations are still delaying the purchase of new products as cost containment policies remain intact with a focus on cost reduction. However, colour devices registered a 5 per cent growth.

Each of the top five vendors saw a decline in 2009. HP remained the market leader in the EMEA printer, copier and MFP market, but registered the worst decline at 21 per cent year-on-year. Canon, ranked No. 2, continued to perform well in the A4 segment.

Samsung Electronics posted the lowest market decline at 2 per cent in 2009, which helped it maintain its No. 2 position in the page market, led by HP.

If you’re interested in more you can log on to the Gartner website.