Starting with the end in mind: IT Management Heat vs Light

A very good place to startOne source of constant bemusement to me is the habit of intelligent people to pee in the industry market research bathwater, and then to pay handsomely to drink a hybrid mix of the result collected across their peers.

Perhaps betrayed by an early experience of one research company coming in to present to the management of the vendor I was working at, and finding in the rehearsal their conjecture that sales of specific machine sizes had badly dipped in the preceding quarter. Except they hadn’t; we’d had the biggest growth in sales of the highlighted machines in our history in that timeframe. When I mentioned my concern, the appropriate slides were corrected in short order, and no doubt the receiving audience impressed with the skill in their analysis that built a forecast starting with an amazingly accurate, perceptive (and otherwise publicly unreported) recent history.

I’ve been doubly nervous ever since – always relating back to the old “Deep Throat” hints given in “All the Presidents Men” – that of, in every case, “to follow the money”.

Earlier today, I was having some banter on one of the boards of “The Motley Fool” which referenced the ways certain institutions were imposing measures on staff – well away from a useful business use that positively supported better results for their customers. Well, except of providing sound bites to politicians. I can sense that in Education, in some elements of Health provision, and rather fundamentally in the Police service. I’ve even done a drains-up some time ago that reflected on the way UK Police are measured, and tried trace the rationale back to source – which was a senior politician imploring them to reduce crime; blog post here. The subtlety of this was rather lost; the only control placed in their hands was that of compiling the associated statistics, and to make their behaviours on the ground align supporting that data collection, rather than going back to core principles of why they were there, and what their customers wanted of them.

Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) has the right idea; everything they do aligns with the ultimate end customer, and everything else works back from there. Competition is something to be conscious of, but only to the extent of understanding how you can serve your own customers better. Something that’s also the central model that W. Edwards Deming used to help transform Japanese Industry, and in being disciplined to methodically improve “the system” without unnecessary distractions. Distractions which are extremely apparent to anyone who’s been subjected to his “Red Beads” experiment. But the central task is always “To start with the end in mind”.

With that, I saw a post by Simon Wardley today where Gartner released the results of a survey on “Top 10 Challenges for I&O Leaders”, which I guess is some analogue of what used to be referred to as “CIOs”. Most of which felt to me like a herd mentality – and divorced from the sort of issues i’d have expected to be present. In fact a complete reenactment of this sort of dialogue Simon had mentioned before.

Simon then cited the first 5 things he thought they should be focussed on (around Corrective Action), leaving the remainder “Positive Action” points to be mapped based on that appeared upon that foundation. This in the assumption that those actions would likely be unique to each organisation performing the initial framing exercise.

Simon’s excellent blog post is: My list vs Gartner, shortly followed by On Capabilities. I think it’s a great read. My only regret is that, while I understand his model (I think!), i’ve not had to work on the final piece between his final strategic map (for any business i’m active in) and articulating a pithy & prioritised list of actions based on the diagram created. And I wish he’d get the bandwidth to turn his Wardley Maps into a Book.

Until then, I recommend his Bits & Pieces Blog; it’s a quality read that deserves good prominence on every IT Manager’s (and IT vendors!) RSS feed.

Recommended Bedtime Reading, and signing off for a bit…

I’ve never really been a big fiction fan. About the only author i’ve read extensively (outside high technology and business stuff – don’t yawn) was by Michael Crichton. At least the books that have yet to be turned into films. Well, all except “Disclosure”, where Demi Moore sexually harasses Michael Douglas and then throws the company’s political establishment against him when he refuses to succumb to her charms. But I digress.

There’s been a lot of comment on the blogs and twitter feeds I follow on the West Coast of the USA that keep on citing a new book by Andy Weir called “The Martian”. I tried to buy it on my last trip abroad, thinking i’d go buy the voiced version on Audible to listen to, but baulked at it’s then £20+ price tag. However, it appeared on an Amazon email last week for under £10 in hardback form, so I bought it.

Finished it today (like many of the USA folks, completely immersed in it for two days between work bursts). I’m completely with them; it is a fantastic book, and would make a great film. A modern day Robinson Crusoe, but one accidentally left behind on Mars. At least Crusoe had to worry more about Cannibals than continuously working around all the life support systems, and food, to last long enough to be rescued. If indeed NASA didn’t just leave him behind to eat his poison pills. Thoroughly recommended, and superbly written throughout.

Tomorrow, i’m off to Cornwall for a short break before I start my next assignment, which will start on June 2nd. Really looking forward to it. As such, the frequency of my blog posts are, with effect from today, going to drop to one per week. I think my daily posts have now caught up with my brain nuances, and the newsflow in High Technology has started to slow. At least until Apple have their Worldwide Developers Conference at the start of June, and Google do their matching I/O conference a week or two later.

In the three months or so i’ve been writing this blog, a few articles keep on getting lots of page views well after their posting data. The Crossing the Chasm one got reposted on LinkedIn by the original author of the book i’d summarised, and I started to get warnings from WordPress that I appeared to have an incoming tidal wave for 3 days running.

For some reason, my mention of Chromecast working on the Tesco Hudl tablet gets regular traffic, nominally by hoards of people querying Google to see if Tesco sell Chromecast in the UK.

Surprisingly few look at my tips for spotting the 4 key trends to look at with any business, in order to suss out what dimensions are and are not working. Or the other post about how to conduct yourself in a price war (there are only two things you focus on, and all paths to action stem from there).

I’m gone for a week, and to see how adept my 2 year old granddaughter has got on her iPad Mini we bought her (a necessity, as when she visits us, I never could get it back until she leaves again). She is impressively native on it with photos and with YouTube. Even tries to swipe “Skip Ad” on ITV on the telly.

So, signing off until May 30th. See you once i’m back.

Sometimes a picture is “How on earth did you do that”?

IBM3270ALLIN1

People often remember a startling or surprising first impression. Riverdance when they first appeared during the voting interval during Eurovision 1994. 19-year old Everton substitute Wayne Rooney being put on the pitch against a season-long unbeaten Arsenal side, and scoring. A young David Beckham doing likewise against Wimbledon from the half way line. Or Doug Flutie, Quarterback for Boston College, throwing the winning touchdown in a Rose Bowl final from an incredible distance with no time left on the clock. There is even a road in Boston called “Flutie Pass” named in memory of that sensational hail mary throw.

There are always lots of pressures on IT Managers and their staff, with tightening budgets, constrained resources and a precious shortage of time. We used to have a task to try and minimise the friction these folks had in buying Enterprise IT products and services from us or our reseller channels. A salesperson or vendor was normally the last person they wanted to have a dependency on for basic, routine “stuff”, especially for items they should be able to work out for themselves. At least if given the right information in lucid form, concise and free of surprises – immediately available at their fingertips.

The picture was one of the ones we put in the DECdirect Software Catalogue. It shows an IBM 3278 terminal, hooked up to an IBM Mainframe, with Digital’s VAX based ALL-IN-1 Office Automation Suite running on it. At the time, this was a startling revelation; the usual method for joining an IBM system to a DEC one at the time was to make the DEC machine look like a remotely connected IBM 2780 card reader. The two double page spreads following that picture showed how to piece this, and other forms of connections to IBM mainframes, together.

The DECdirect Software catalogue had an aim of being able to spit out all the configuration rules, needed part numbers and matching purchase prices with a minimal, simple and concise read. Our target for our channel salesforce(s) was to enable them to extract a correct part number and price for any of our 550 products – across between 20-48 different pricing tiers each – within their normal attention span. Which we assumed was 30 seconds. Given appropriate focus, Predictability, Consistency and the removal of potential surprises can be designed in.

In the event, that business (for which I was the first employee in, working alongside 8 shared telesellers and 2 tech support staff) went 0-$100m in 18 months, with over 90% of the order volume coming in directly from customers, correctly priced at source. That got me a 2-level promotion and running the UK Software Products Business, 16 staff and the country software P&L as a result.

One of my colleagues in DEC Finland did a similar document for hardware options, entitled “Golden Eggs“. Everything in one place, with all the connections on the back of each system nicely documented, and any constraints right in front of you. A work of great beauty, and still maintained to this day for a wide range of other systems and options. The nearest i’ve seen more recently are sample architecture diagrams published by Amazon Web Services – though the basics for IT Managers seeing AWS (or other public cloud vendors offerings) for the first time are not yet apparent to me.

Things in the Enterprise IT world are still unnecessarily complicated, and the ability to stand in the end users shoes for a limited time bears real fruits. I’ve repeated that in several places before and since then with pretty spectacular results; it’s typically only a handful of things to do well in order to liberate end users, and to make resellers and other supply channels insanely productive. All focus then directed on keeping customers happy and their objectives delivered on time, and more often that not, under budget.

One of my friends (who works at senior level in Central Government) lamented to me today that “The (traditional vendor) big players are all trying to convince the world of their cloudy goodness, unfortunately using their existing big contract corporate teams who could not sell life to a dying man”.

I’m sure some of the Public Cloud vendors would be more than capable to arm people like him appropriately. I’d love to help a market leading one do it.

Footnote: I did a previous post on what Vendors, Distributors and Resellers want here.

Officially Certified: AWS Business Professional

AWS Business Professional Certification

That’s added another badge, albeit the primary reason was to understand AWS’s products and services in order to suss how to build volumes via resellers for them – just in case I can get the opportunity to be asked how i’d do it. However, looking over the fence at some of the technical accreditation exams, I appear to know around half of the answers there already – but need to do those properly and take notes before attempting those.

(One of my old party tricks used to be that I could make it past the entrance exam required for entry into technical streams at Linux related conferences – a rare thing for a senior manager running large Software Business Operations or Product Marketing teams. Being an ex programmer who occasionally fiddles under the bonnet on modern development tools is a useful thing – not least to feed an ability to be able to spot bullshit from quite a distance).

The only AWS module I had any difficulty with was the pricing. One of the things most managers value is simplicity and predictability, but a lot of the pricing of core services have pricing dependencies where you need to know data sizes, I/O rates or the way your demand goes through peaks and troughs in order to arrive at an approximate monthly price. While most of the case studies amply demonstrate that you do make significant savings compared to running workloads on your own in-house infrastructure, I guess typical values for common use cases may be useful. For example, if i’m running a SAP installation of specific data and access dimensions, what operationally are typically running costs – without needing to insert probes all over a running example to estimate it using the provided calculator?

I’d come back from a 7am gym session fairly tired and made the mistake of stepping through the pricing slides without making copious notes. I duly did all that module again and did things properly the next time around – and passed it to complete my certification.

The lego bricks you snap together to design an application infrastructure are simple in principle, loosely connected and what Amazon have built is very impressive. The only thing not provided out of the box is the sort of simple developer bundle of an EC2 instance, some S3 and MySQL based EBD, plus some open source AMIs preconfigured to run WordPress, Joomla, Node.js, LAMP or similar – with a simple weekly automatic backup. That’s what Digital Ocean provide for a virtual machine instance, with specific storage and high Internet Transfer Out limits for a fixed price/month. In the case of the WordPress network on which my customers and this blog runs, that’s a 2-CPU server instance, 40GB of disk space and 4TB/month data traffic for $20/month all in. That sort of simplicity is why many startup developers have done an exit stage left from Rackspace and their ilk, and moved to Digital Ocean in their thousands; it’s predictable and good enough as an experimental sandpit.

The ceiling at AWS is much higher when the application slips into production – which is probably reason enough to put the development work there in the first place.

I have deployed an Amazon Workspace to complete my 12 years of Nutrition Data Analytics work using the Windows-only Tableau Desktop Professional – in an environment where I have no Windows PCs available to me. Just used it on my MacBook Air and on my iPad Mini to good effect. That will cost be just north of £21 ($35) for the month.

I think there’s a lot that can be done to accelerate adoption rates of AWS services in Enterprise IT shops, both in terms of direct engagement and with channels to market properly engaged. My real challenge is getting air time with anyone to show them how – and in the interim, getting some examples ready in case I can make it in to do so.

That said, I recommend the AWS training to anyone. There is some training made available the other side of applying to be a member of the Amazon Partner Network, but there are equally some great technical courses that anyone can take online. See http://aws.amazon.com/training/ for further details.

A week of “Twitter is dead” memes. The true state is more complex.

Social Network Icons

It’s the sort of news you expect in a Newspaper. I think M.G.Siegler was 100% correct in his article on Medium article entitled “Whither Twitter” (I think well worth the 3 minute read):

The reality is that Twitter is currently being torn down in the press so we can later get the Twitter resurrection story. That’s how this works. Why build something up if you can’t knock it down? And why knock it down if you can’t build it up again? Instead of one, consistent story, you get three for the price of one! The rise, the fall, the comeback. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the preserve of the Newspaper Industry. One forum I navigate regular is “The Land of Serious Topics” on the UK Motley Fool, and it feels most days that over 80% the controversies come from the output of at least one of the six big Newspaper publishers here. Gotta sell papers. The more fascinating trend is that Newspaper readership is becoming the preserve of the (dying) old, and the younger sections of the population – who are more Internet savvy and get their information sourced more widely – typically see the world through more balanced, less bombastic eyes.

At face value, Twitter have gone public and suddenly all their numbers come into view for our consumption – and likewise for the industry surrounding Wall Street. They seem around 1 Billion people have registered for the service at some point, but monthly active users is around 200 million accounts – 1 in 5 still active. The market doesn’t see that growing, and having assumed a valuation based on high growth, the user count is not progressing to support their thesis. Quarterly revenues look fine, but the growth of users on the service doesn’t give folks the confidence that these can continue until the user base demonstrates healthy growth too.

Also notable this week was Amazon announcing a capability to be able to tweet details of a product with the hashtag #amazonbasket and have it dropped into your Amazon shopping cart for later review and/or purchase. Article about this from the BBC here.

I’m convinced there is something unique under the covers that no other social network nor comms medium comes close to, compared to Twitter. The main one I see is the virtual water cooler when specific people engage in a conversation about an industry change or observation of trends. I often see Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) kick off a numbered list which lots of high profile people pick at one by one, agreeing or offering alternate views. The one this weekend kicked off like this (please excuse the reverse order – read it bottom up) – he mulls over how poor the Apple iPhone was at placing voice phone calls when it first came out, compared to Nokia phones of the day that were comparatively rock solid doing this):

pmarca twitter numbered list

One of the innovations of one of the other social networks is to post a notification to your handset if a quorum of people known to you start engaging in a conversation like that at any time. A sort of “Hey, there’s an interesting conversation between your friends x, y, z, a and b going on – like to jump in to listen and/or contribute?”.

Another is to at least flag back to you if a message you sent was received by the other party and read. Twitter tended to remove a lot of the DM “Direct Message” capability from their mobile clients, so many people zone out into other communication media (like SMS, WhatsApp, Snapchat, iMessage, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc) instead. So, a lot of the communication you have with different people (or audiences) gets fanned out across many silos. I for one would like to be able to throw an annotated map of where i’ve parked my car to my wife when I go to pick her up from a store, and to know that the message made it through and was read. Further complicated by me being on a Nexus 5 handset and her on an iPhone 5S.

One related idea is to allow an invisible hashtag on a message that identifies my physical location and could be optionally sent with a direct message – so she knows not only when i’ve left, but where from as well.

Another is to mark a post that i’ve read it when i’ve done so, and not tolerate my frequent realisation that “i’m sure i’ve read that an hour ago”. That’s one thing that VAX Notes did so well in times of old.

There seems to be an ever dizzying number of different mobile communication apps, from short message ones, to group comms, to blogs, to forums and all the way through to publishing apps (like Medium, Longreads, etc). Ever more disconnected silos. I’ve even looked at the potential of moving this blog from WordPress to something like discourse.org, in a vain attempt to facilitate more two way conversation (rather than me just punting words into the ether). The one thing that’s surprised me the most, in running a blog, is the sheer amount of content and link spam I need to contend with; i’ve so far posted every day for 74 days (today is #75) and my automated spam filter has caught 4,124 attempts to litter my site; that’s an average of over 55 attempts at responding to each and every post with link graffiti. This will probably be a factor in any new product, but something that Twitter have largely solved already (I see very little Twitter spam).

There look like plenty of useful use cases for Twitter right there under the surface. I however suspect that they have not yet made up their mind what they want to be for their users, and certainly not deeply enough to say no or to focus on what is important to realise that vision. And to be able to markedly improve user engagement, to make new users stick and to reduce what looks like a shocking amount of churn.

Time will tell if they decide this on their own, or have a competitor come do it more eloquently instead. Until then, it’s something I think about a lot – and agonise over what it would take to be that competitor.

Customer, Customer, Customer…

Jeff Bezos QuoteI’ve been internalising some of the Leadership principles that Amazon expect to see in every employee, as documented here. All of these explain a lot about Amazon’s worldview, but even the very first one is quite a unique in the IT industry. It probably serves a lesson that most other IT vendors should be more fixated on than I usually experience.

In times when I looked after two Enterprise Systems vendors, it was a never ending source of amusement that no marketing plan would be considered complete without at least one quarterly “competitive attack” campaign. Typically, HP, IBM and Sun (as was, Oracle these days) would expect to fund at least one campaign that aimed squarely into the base of customers of the other vendors (and the reseller channels that served them), typically pushing superior speeds and feeds. Usually selling their own proprietary, margin rich servers and storage to their own base, while tossing low margin x86 servers running Linux to try and unseat proprietary products of the other vendors. I don’t recall a single one working, nor one customer that switched as a result of these efforts.

One thing that DEC used to do well was, when a member of staff from a competitor moved to a job inside the company, to make it a capital offence for anyone to try and seek inside knowledge from that person. The corporate edict was to rely on publicly available data only, and typically to sell on your own strengths. The final piece being to ensure you satisfied your existing customers before ever trying to chase new ones.

Microsoft running “Scroogled” campaigns are a symptom (while Steve Ballmer was in charge) of losing their focus. I met Bill Gates in 1983, and he was a walking encyclopedia of what worked well – and not so well – in competitive PC software products of the day. He could keep going for 20 minutes describing the decision making process of going for a two-button mouse for Windows, and the various traps other vendors had with one or three button equivalents. At the time, it followed through into Microsoft’s internal sales briefing material – sold on their own strengths, and acknowledging competitors with a very balanced commentary. In time, things loosened up and tripping up competitors became a part of their playbook, something I felt a degree of sadness to see develop.

Amazon are much more specific. Start with the customer and work back from there.

Unfortunately, I still see server vendor announcements piling into technologies like “OpenStack” and “Software Defined Networking” where the word “differentiation” features heavily in the announcement text.  This suggests to me that the focus is on competitive vendor positioning, trying to justify the margins required to sustain their current business model, and detached from a specific focus of how a customer needs (and their business environment) are likely to evolve into the future.

With that, I suspect organisations with a laser like focus on the end customer, and who realise which parts of the stack are commoditising (and to follow that to it’s ultimate conclusion), are much more likely to be present when the cost to serve steps off the clifftop and heads down. The real battle is on higher order entities running on the commodity base.

I saw an announcement from Arrow ECS in Computer Reseller News this week that suggested a downturn in their Datacentre Server and Storage Product orders in the previous quarter. I wonder if this is the first sign of the switching into gear of the inevitable downward pricing trend across the IT industry, and especially for its current brand systems and storage vendors.

IT Hardware Vendors clinging onto “Public” and “Hybrid” cloud strategies are, I suspect, the final attempt to hold onto their existing business models and margins while the world migrates to commodity, public equivalents (see my previous post about “Enterprise IT and the Hall of Marbles“).

I also suspect that given their relentless focus on end customer needs, and working back from there, that Amazon Web Services will still be the market leaders as that new landscape unfolds. Certainly shows little sign of slowing down.

Fixed! Tableau on my Mac using Amazon WorkSpaces

AWS Logo

I found out today that we may need to wait another month for Tableau Desktop Professional for the Mac to be released, and i’ve been eager to finish off my statistical analysis project. I’ve collected 12 years worth of daily food intake courtesy of WeightLossResources, which splits out to calories, carbs, protein, fat and exercise calories – and is tabulated against weekly weight readings.

Google Fusion Tables – in which I did a short online course – can do most things except to calculate and draw a straight line, or exponential equivalent, through a scatter plot. This is meat and drink to Tableau, but which unfortunately (for Mac, Chromebook and iPad user me) runs only on Microsoft Windows.

I got a notification this morning that Amazon Web Services – as promised at their AWS Summit 2014 in London last week – had released Amazon WorkSpaces hosted within Europe. This provisions quite a meaty PC for you, but which you can operate through provided client software on your local PC, Mac, Android Tablet or iPad. There is also a free add-on to sync the content of a local Windows or Mac Directory with the virtual storage on the hosted PC, so you can hook in access to files on your local device if needed. There are more advanced options for corporate users, including Active Directory Support and the ability to use that to sideload apps for a user community – though that is way in advance of what i’m doing here.

There are a number of options, from the “Basic” single CPU, 3.75GB memory, 50GB disk PC up to one with 2 CPUs, 7GB of memory, 100GB of disk and the complete Microsoft Office Professional Suite on board. More here. Prices from $35 to $75/PC per month.

I thought i’d have a crack at provisioning one for the month, and to give me 2 weeks to play with a trial copy of Tableau Desktop Professional (i’ve not used it since V7, and the current release is 8.1). Within 20 minutes of requesting it off my AWS console, I received an email saying it had been provisioned and was ready to go. So…

WorkSpaces Set Up

 

You tell it what you want, and it goes away for 20 minutes provisioning your request (I managed to accidentally do this for a US region, but deleted that and selected Ireland instead – it provisioned just the one in the Ireland datacentre). Once done, it sent me an email with a URL and a registration code for my PC (it will do this for each user if you provision several at once):

AWS WorkSpaces Registration

 

Tap in the registration code from the email received, it does the initial piece of the client end of the configuration, then asks me to login:

AWS Workspaces Login

 

Once i’d done that, it then invited me to install the client software, which I did for Mac OS/X locally, and emailed the links for Android and iOS to my email address to pick up on those devices. For what it’s worth, the Android version said my Nexus 5 wasn’t a supported device (I guess it needs a tablet), but the iOS version installed fine on my iPad Mini.

AWS Workspaces Client Setup

 

And in I went. A Windows PC. Surprisingly nippy, and I felt no real difference between this and what I remember of a local Windows 7 laptop I used to have at Computacenter some 18 months ago now:

AWS Workspaces Microsoft Windows

 

The main need then was to drop a few files onto the hard disk, but I had to go revisit the Amazon WorkSpaces web site and download the Sync package for Mac OS/X. Once installed on my Mac, it asked me for my PC’s registration code again (wouldn’t accept it copy/pasted in on that one screen, so I had to carefully re-enter a short string), asked which local Mac directory I wanted to use to sync with the hosted PC, and off it went. Syncs just like dropbox, took a few minutes to populate that with quite a few files I had sitting there already. Once up, I used the provided Firefox to download Tableau Desktop Professional, the Excel driver I needed (as I don’t have Microsoft Office on my basic version here) and – voila. Tableau running fine on AWS WorkSpaces, on my MacBook Air:

Tableau Desktop Professional Running

 

Very snappy too, and i’m now back at home with my favourite Analytics software of all time – on my Mac, and directly on my iPad Mini also. The latter with impressive keyboard and mouse support, just a two finger gesture (not that one) away at all times.

So, I now have the tools to complete the statistical analysis storyboard of my 12 years of nutrition and weight data – and to set specific calorie and carb content to hit my 2lbs/week downward goal again (i’ve been tracking at only half that rate in the last 6 months).

In the meantime, i’ve been really impressed with Amazon WorkSpaces. Fast, Simple and inexpensive – and probably of wide applicability to lots of Enterprise customers I know. A Windows PC that I can dispose of again as soon as i’ve finished with it, for a grand sum of less than £21 for my months use. Tremendous!

ScratchJr – programming for kids 5-7 – Fully Funded: yay!

ScratchJr UI

I’m absolutely delighted to report that ScratchJr – a tablet based system that teaches 5-7 year old kids how to program – duly hit its $80,000 funding goal just after bids closed on Kickstarter. With that, we have a version for the Apple iPad and a version for Android Tablets this year, and work is now underway to produce the associated teaching curriculum aids and materials.

Just waiting to get news of the ScratchJr t-shirt I get in exchange for my $45 contribution (which went via Amazon Payments as soon as the end date and successful funding level had been reached). I’ll order one in a size that should fit our 2-year old Granddaughter (and iPad Mini user) Ruby.

Full text of the announcement from the Project Lead Mitchel Resnick here.

If you haven’t seen it, I thoroughly recommend watching the video there. It’s an absolute delight to see kids so young speaking so authoritatively about the projects they have created on this platform at such a young age. The next step is to get Primary School teachers in the UK engaged with this; running something like the Education work we executed at Demon Internet (which got free and useful materials into over 95% of UK Secondary Schools for a cost of £50,000, plus £10,000 for associated competition prizes) would be fantastic, though mindful that there are many more primary schools than secondary ones here.

Three year lease, including support, insurance and warranty, for a tablet costs parents or their schools circa £10 per month over that term for an iPad Mini class device. Whether or not kids end up programming, it nevertheless gives them all sorts of other logic/sequencing skills applicable to a wide number of career options later in their lives.

ScratchJr in Use by Pupil

The older sibling product Scratch, the excellent Sugarlabs work (also being implemented on tablets) and Raspberry Pi also have a solid place, albeit slightly higher up the age range.

So, a gift well worth giving in my humble opinion. And kudos to the ScratchJr team for giving us a platform to fire up the imagination of kids from an even earlier age than before.

 

 

AWS Summit 2014, London. Impressed.

Amazon Web Services Logo

Having been to the Google equivalent a few weeks ago, I went to the 2014 AWS Summit in London today. Around 2,000 of us managed to steer around the RMT tube strike and overall, very impressed.

AWS have a “Windows Desktop as a Service” offering arriving real soon now, giving you both a Windows Server 2008 R2 server plus client software (for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) for circa $30/month/user. That increases to between $50-$70/user/month with Windows and Office in place. I can see major opportunities for them at that pricing, not least as they appear to have solved the issues around high performance graphics being driven remotely, and have also got things like keypads available on the tablet implementations of the client. You can side load apps into the mix either directly or using Active Directory.

So, I will shortly have the ability to run up a PC and do a 30 trial of the current Windows-only Tableau Desktop Professional for around £20 – so I can at last finish off the story telling end piece of my 12 year long weight/nutrition analysis, without having to buy a Windows PC. Just need to be able to through trend lines through a few different filtered scatter plots now (something I couldn’t do with Google Fusion Tables).

There are also several traditional Licensed Software providers offering server implementations of their product as instances you only pay for when active, and with no long term commits. Jaspersoft and Tableau Server being two such examples (there are many more). Amazon are also offering assistance to other software providers to provide more products under this basis, including helping to drive free 30 day trials.

Much else to be very impressed by, and the differences between themselves, Digital Ocean and Google Cloud Services are fairly stand-out – to me at least. I think i’d know what i’d do to fire up Enterprise volumes for either of AWS or Google, but the things i’d do are very different based on what i’ve now learnt.

The most populous stand appears to be that of Splunk, who were one of my 3-4 “bets for the future” when I was at Computacenter. Talking to them, it now looks like IT Security is now their biggest application area, followed by e-commerce infrastructure flows and lastly by their traditional log file (and associated performance) analysis business. The product now appears to have plugins for virtually piece of data centre, storage and network device vendor log file, and relationships in place with all the key large brand vendors – and of course links into AWS infrastructure as well now.

I didn’t win a Kindle HDX, or the iPhone 5S Telecity were raffling, nor either of the two drones. But learnt a lot, and will be applying the learnings over the next few weeks.

The precise art of a low margin business

Amazon Book Warehouse

I found this great article that explains Amazons pricing strategy eloquently. It’s also the first time i’ve heard that Apple rotate their stock faster than Amazon do, which is an amazing feat for a manufacturing company. Meanwhile, it doesn’t mention Microsoft, but if you try to insert the characteristics of their business model into the picture presented, you can see why Amazon, Google and Apple have them in a head lock and are emptying the room of oxygen needed to grow. Enjoy:

http://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2012/11/28/amazon-and-margins