Monday, November 3, 2008

Salesforce Site Hosting will Prod Business Cloud Adoption

Salesforce today announced the availability of Sites, a place for businesses to host their websites on Saleforce's infrastructure. This announcement is significant and should serve to push Google's AppEngine to address the needs of business. Here is why:

1. Salesforce has established a reputation of reliability in the business SaaS marketplace. Corporate executives, who would never consider deploying a critical business application on Google or Amazon, routinely run their entire business development engine on Salesforce.

2. Salesforce has done it right. By starting a community of developers around Apex, expanded to Force apps last year and now introducing public facing web applications, Salesforce is exploiting existing processes and data that businesses want to access.

The question of when businesses will start moving to the cloud has been hotly debated over the past few months. I believe the question assumes the "why" they should move to the cloud is obvious, but we shouldn't make that assumption. Until now, there has been very little "why" for businesses to make the leap. The benefits may now outweight the risks. Business technology is essentially comprised of services for storing and controlling data and processess that govern the business model. Gaining fast, reliable access to these processes and data is the business mission of corporate IT. It's going to take time to get the word out but I think this might be the game changer. The old adage "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" might well be stated the same for buying Salesforce.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Web 2.0 Diaspora - profitability now matters

The term diaspora is normally associated with the scattering of a people group geographically from their homeland. The term is originally Greek and is literally translated "a scattering or sowing of seeds". There is little question that the original homeland of Web technology is Silicone valley California but I often find myself mildly annoyed when listening to a Twit podcast or Buzz outloud and hear long narratives about local valley activities or politics. Don't they know there is a whole generation of us Web 2.0 businesses born outside the beloved homeland?

Being outside the valley has a few notable drawbacks. We are less subjected to the clouds of money floating down from the VC sky. Many of us started online businesses with the mistaken idea that a business model that included a plan to generate revenue was necessary. Oblivious to the obvious drawbacks of charging a fee for our services, we blindly went forward telling customers what value our service could provide and insisting they pay us for using it.

Lately I've been hearing how the winds of economic trouble has begun to blow the clouds of money away from my distant cousins in the valley. There is much fear of drought and disaster among the sequoias and other farmers in that region. I fear many of my friends in the valley may become chafe, blown by the winds of trouble and scattered abroad.

I would like to share a small lesson learned from those of us scattered beyond the reach of the money clouds. There is hope, even now if you stop relying on the rain and start digging wells. There is money in the fertile soil of software as a service (SaaS) but you must have the vision to build something of value that you can bring to the "farmers market" and sell.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open Source Moodle is Driving Blackboard Innovation

We recently announced an integrated solution using Moodle on Amazon Web Services that provides a highly scalable option for schools and Universities running or interested in running Moodle. This give us the option to do single sign-on integration with DigitalChalk and offer a combined package that will work both inside and outside the Amazon cloud. The really interesting thing about this deal was how rapidly were were able to create this solution using open source. From inception to delivery took about six weeks to complete. Most of the development actually fell into our codebase, the open source SSO server and Moodle required very little work. For almost two years we have struggled to address SSO with the commercial market leader, Blackboard. Their building blocks toolkit were poorly documented and questions about supporting authentication outside their app architecture was addressed by telling us that Blackboard must be the primary athentication mechanism and they will provide very little to the external app.

Our announcement about Moodle on the Amazon Cloud got picked up by a prominent ZDNet blog about open source (thanks Dana!). The Blackboard World conference is going on right now and someone chimed in on comments to tell us how great the new Blackboard is. One thing is for sure, Blackboard has remained on a very Web 1.0 archtecture for many years. Feeling the heat from open source may have forced them to innovate and catch up. Disruption in the marketplace always forces innovation! (See the BB reps comments below)

Keynote speaker Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen demonstrated the power and direction of Blackboad NG at today's afternoon session of Blackboard World '08 in Las Vegas. TRULY a Next Generation product that makes any institution's 'learning' go everywhere. + It will now wrap Moodle & Satai. + Courses will be available from Facebook and other social networking sites. + Content displays on iphones, cellphones and other mobile devices + Open API's and Open Source code development for Building Blocks, Modules, add-ons and more! Blackboard is no longer a stand-alone Learning Management System---it just made "learning" ubiquitous to a new generation of users. The glimpse on their web site ( is only a peek compared to what CEO Chasen demo'd today! (not a Blackboard employee but someone who was at the presentation and more impressed with NG then ANYthing I've seen in a decade of online learning/teaching/CMS/LMS)


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Greed Tarnishes Salesforce Reputation

On Thursday I was almost giddy when I found a link to get the iPhone upgrade for my (now legacy) iPhone a day early. I upgraded iTunes and my iPhone and started installing new applications. One of the first choices (and high on the most popular list for business.. hmm... who else broke in early?) I made was to get the Salesforce app. This was particularly interesting for me because as a Salesforce user and compulsive slave to my email, I regulary access my Salesforce account on my iPhone to view incoming sales leads as soon as I am notified. The Safari browser is ok but with the scrolling and zooming required it is always slightly annoying.

The Salesforce App looked like a great find, views formatted and scaled to the iPhone screen. I installed the app and entered my account information. It gave me a message saying there was no user in the account with that ID. Odd I though, so I retyped and got the same results. Ok, I'm in a hurry. I'll just wait a day and try to access the system on Friday, after all, they aren't expecting users today right? Next day, same deal, no user in the system. I went so far as to research things on Salesforce support but found nothing. I got busy and didn't get back to it until Saturday. A Google search on Saturday gave me the sad results, I must purchase a Mobile user account to access the system. How much is a mobile user account you ask? $50.

You have to be kidding right???? The app is free but access to the system is $50?!? I get their business model but this really was a bone headed decision, I'm already paying over a $G per user per year to access the system. Accessing the system on mobile Safari cost me $0.00 extra. Salesforce is missing a great opportunity to increase my addiction to their product. Right now they own the CRM SaaS market and they have my data. I've been willing to live with a mild case of vendor lock-in because their technology is so good but now I am beginning to wonder if someone from Redmond recently got hired in their product planning department.

I smell an opportunity. Any of you hot shot Apex developers interested in building your own version of an iPhone app for Salesforce? I'll pay up to $4.99 for your app. Anyone??

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hanging out in the Cloud Cafe

There is beginning to be a nice ecosystem of service providers popping up around Cloud Computing. Today I enjoyed a conversation with John Willis, host of the Cloud Cafe podcast. We spent time discussing the future of cloud computing and where things are heading with regards to standards, cloud portability and the business model of using cloud computing.

For anyone interested in learning more about the geeky things in DigitalChalk, you will enjoy this podcast. John maintains one of the most comprehensive venues for all things cloud computing related. I'm personally excited to see him start introducing Amazon Cloud training courses on DigitalChalk.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Yahoo Can't Sell Search

I want to thank Yahoo for sending me a notification today that my credit card was going to be charged $150 again for the privilege of being listed on search index. It allowed me to (try) to remove my payment information to avoid wasting another $150 this year. It seems that with Yahoo stupidity has not bounds. Not only did they charge me to get our site indexed on a timely basis, they failed to deliver on the stated benefits. For the past year Yahoo delivered a whopping .04% of DigitalChalk organic search traffic and it took them SEVEN MONTHS to get us into their index. Of the 492 websites that provided me with referral traffic in the past 12 months, Yahoo ranked 17th behind AOL, ASK! and (all of whom I did not do anything to get indexed with). Do I need to tell you who was first? Of course not. I paid nothing to Google for my site to be indexed and through simple SEO activities we moved from start-up to a PR4 in our first five months.

I'm happy to spend my SEM budget on Google. Now that they are supplying the ads for Yahoo search I'll get placement on whatever paltry search scraps Yahoo throws my way.

Oh, by the way, you can't cancel with Yahoo. Once they take your credit card, it's a black hole. You have to see this from their FAQ to believe it. To stop paying them the $150 I had to change my credit card information to something bogus. There is no such thing as cancellation when it comes to paid listings on Yahoo. The reason given? "For security reasons, we are not able to close customer accounts." Who's security are you protecting Yahoo? Jerry, it's not going to work buddy! Carl, save yourself the humiliation, there is nothing worth saving.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Net Parenting Destroys Productivity

There are two fundamental schools of thought for enterprise IT management. Having experienced both extremes I am convinced that most CIOs are the victim of their own well-intended efforts to enforce boundaries. It is the natural inclination of most IT professionals to place boundaries around what software and and network resources are available. This is a behavior born of necessity, everyone can't have access to everything and the truth of the matter is that it's a matter of self preservation for IT. While acnowledging a need for boundries, productivity is born from creativity and rapid access to content and data. At some point if we take the control approach to an extreme the tools intended to empower users become the shakles that bind them.

I was recently helping in a small organization and during a meeting the presenter approached me to see if someone could play a specific piece of bumper music as an intro. When I inquired about that and suggested we just download the song from iTunes I was informed that would not work because iTunes was blocked from access on the network. Why? The answer I got from the system admin who made the decision was "we can't let people just be downloading music here at the office." "Really", I reply, "why not?" I get a blank stare... I must be stupid, didn't I know music could destroy the business....

Opening up the toolbox to users so they can do things we didn't anticipate them doing is going to clutter up machines and make more work for IT to clean up right? Probably so but then again, maybe it's time for the tail to stop wagging the dog. There are smart ways to establish boundries. We don't have to enforce all boundries with technologies. People are amazingly adept at learning, let's start teaching them how to use technology in a safe and productive way instead of treating them like idiots. If we find we have technology idiots on staff who can't learn then perhaps we can create a dunse community and send them to it.

Here are three ways small to medium sized orgs can reduce IT cost/effort and headache:

1. Outsource your net-nanny activities to It's free, effective and they will do a lot better job of policing the "bad" sites than you ever could.

2. Move your internal mail server and network storage servers to Google Apps for Business and Jungle Disk. It's the 21st century, quit hosting your mail and storage locally, it's a headache and your staff will never be as good as the pro's at the hosted services.

3. Take the dollars saved and buy Macs. Your employees will love you and your PC support cost savings will more than offset the difference in price.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Dell Cloud a Microsoft Threat?

Dell is quietly moving into the cloud space. Steven Schuckenbrock, CIO of Dell talkes at length about X86 infrastructure in cloud computing in a recent interview with Dan Farber. There is almost no mention of Microsoft when talking about virtualization capabilities. The only mention of Microsoft in the 10 minute interview was in describing competitive cloud computing initiatives, Microsoft was listed along with Google and Amazon as an example of trends in the cloud.

Dell has the potential to be a cloud computing powerhouse and they are clearly thinking about SaaS and cloud computing in a unified strategy. I'd bet on Dell making a strong play for moving enterprise customers over into a cloud delivery approach. They dominate the desktop hardware arena in the enterprise and are a trusted partner for most corporate CIOs.

The message that Steven is telegraphing is that the era of desktop computing has ended, at least from the standpoint of new market share initiatives at Dell.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Big ships are slow to turn

Much has been made about why Microsoft cannot seem to compete effectively in the Web 2.0 world. One would assume that with virtually unlimited development resources and the ability to hire the brightest minds in software, Microsoft would be able to at the very least successfully copy the Google or Amazon model. Microsoft has a long history of successfully copying a technology and dominating the market with their own version but of late they seem to be struggling to duplicate some of the simplest concepts. I have a theory on why that is, bureaucracy.

Microsoft is struggling to support the weight of it's own infrastructure. We see the most obvious evidence in Windows. There is no freedom to innovate because of the sacred cows in the product and the dependencies of historical features that must be supported. Another pitfall that seems to have trapped Microsoft is the insatiable desire to plow their own flavor of standards into any new product. I recently found an article in PC World that illustrated how the Federal Government is unable to innovate because of the layers of standards and many Gov websites are running on 2001 technologies and designs. Most of the .gov websites have missed the Web 2.0 wave. Microsoft is in the boat with them.

The best thing for Microsoft would be to spin off and divest itself of several divisions. It's time to let the kids leave home and go innovate on their own. That my be the best and perhaps the only hope of avoiding a slow decline into obsolescence.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Eucalyptus is Smelling Good

Troy Tolle sent me a link to look at a new open source tool from UC Santa Barbara called Eucalyptus. This looks very promising for a much needed tool for managing Zen VM images across multiple host services. The point of the tool is to manage VM images in a cluster with the first implementation for Amazon EC2 but with the flexibility to support other interfaces it's going to give us more options over time.

The intriguing thing that strikes me is the potential to marry this with the many new cloud computing platforms coming online in the next few months. Competition in the cloud is going to help everyone get a better product.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CDNs On The Ropes

If you work for a Content Delivery Network (CDN) you might want to shop your resume at Google. Current CDN bandwidth rates are running between $1.60 and $.85 per Gig. That makes for a very tidy margin when buying commodity bandwidth at $.06-08 per Gig. With the introduction of Google Apps Engine pricing of $.09-.11 per Gig the game has just changed. Google is starting a bidding war with Amazon for the Platform as a Service (PaaS) market and the collateral damage will be the CDNs.

I recently reexamined the benefit of migrating our video storage and streaming from Amazon to one of the top CDNs but could not come up with a valid reason to increase my streaming costs by 500%. The classic argument from the CDNs is that with thousands of regional edge nodes, my content will be delivered quickly and locally. The reality is that quality of service in streaming services is often less about the number of hops to the server and more about the through-put of the last mile to the consumer. If there is a 250ms lag at the beginning of the connection but the stream stays connected during the live of the download it's transparent to the user but let that same video file start buffering and the customer is going to complain. Bottom line, the CDN brings one big value, the ability to scale to big loads if your content goes viral. We did the math, we can build out a nice scaling infrastructure and still have money left over on Amazon. Let's face it, most of our applications will never have 10,000 requests per hour.

The destructive cycle of technology always weeds out products with relatively high profit to value ratios. As the PaaS solutions come online, more developers will be able to access the low cost commodity pricing and it's going to drive down the value of CDNs significantly.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Go to Michigan State for a Stone-Age Education

I was recently forwarded a link to a directive issued last November by Michigan State University telling all faculty that they must "Avoiding use of online software tools such as Google Apps, Gmail, and Microsoft Office Live". In their Q&A on the MSU faculty website they go further to say that all faculty must discontinue any use of online software of any sort, including personal email accounts and collaborative accounts on Google or Yahoo that may be used if the faculty member works at other universities. This edict effectively says you cannot use online software services in your professional or personal lives, period.

I've run into people who work in technology but don't understand technology progress and the creative destruction life cycle before and I certainly have seen when lawyers run a muck in an organization. This seems to be a case of the later, the main complaint is the End User License Agreement (EULA) presented by Google that states that they have the perpetual right to use and store what you post in Gmail or Google Docs. While this on the surface will cause most lawyers to spontaneously convulse, a bit of context should be considered before reacting. The reason Google wants to store and share information you have uploaded is to sell advertisement. Nobody at Google (as far as I know) is stupid enough to want to sell your personal or business documents to the highest bidder. On the contrary, Google has been one of the stanchest protectors of it's users data. Google is simply sharing keywords associated with your page to their ad serving engines and the third party involved is the advertiser who posts ads associated with those keywords. If I'm an advertiser and my ad shows up on your personal Gmail in box page, that doesn't mean I can read your email.

This sort of thinking is the 21st century equivalent of outlawing automobiles for fear of the impact on horse sales. Software as a Service is here to stay. Cloud computing is not going away. The MSU stance on using online software services is exactly the wrong approach. All software services are not equal, all EULAs are not the same. Educate your faculty (ironic to tell a university to educate isn't it?) on safe practices. Participating in the process at least assures you have a voice. The MSU policy sounds like Jim Jones headed to Guyana. Watch out for cool-aid everyone.

With 46,000 students and 4,800 faculty (gather from wikipedia, another "bad" website) MSU probably has tens of thousands of policy violators right now. Wake up MSU! The genie is out of the bottle already. As a parent of a high school student I can say that MSU just made the stone-age college list. My daughter and my money are definitely not going there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

DigitalChalk teams with IBM for Closed Captioning

We are very pleased to announce that DigitalChalk has jointly partnered with IBM and Hunter College to be the first online video training system to offer automatic closed captioning capabilities.

What is exceptional about his process is that it's fully automated. Prior to this technology being introduced, user-submitted video content online had to be manually transcribed and the closed captioning had to be loaded into the play script using a tool such as Magpie. By sending the video through a text-t0-speech translation engine and getting a full transcript with time coding, DigitalChalk customers will get (CC) automatically. We are also offering an online editor that let's the trainer tweak the timing and fix any errors before publishing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Google wins on (any) Microhoo deal

Yes, I know that Microsoft has officially walked away from a possible hostile bid move on Yahoo. The market pressures that pushed MS to attempt the friendly offer in the first place have only continued to escalate however with the emergence of a Yahoo/Google search ad deal. It very well may be a poison pill for MS if Google can ink the deal to serve ads onto the Yahoo network but we aren't there yet. MS has a major hurdle to cross, examples of the trending to Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions like the deal between Salesforce and Google underscore how quickly the tides can change in technology. Microsoft can either become a holding company of mature products (read IBM and Oracle) or innovators (something never before done in Redmond). They seem to have resolved themselves to being an investor, hence the Yahoo bid.

What Wall Street and most of main street doesn't understand is how utterly bad a Microhoo company will perform. Mixing oil and vinegar only makes a vinegrette when there is an emulsifying agent involved. I see no binding agents between these two organizations. Right now Microsoft and Yahoo are about as technologically and culturally opposite as I have ever seen. What platform wins? The dominant Web platform (Linux) or the dominant small intranet platform (Windows Server)? The mass defections at Yahoo will likely become a wholesale exodus. Microsoft may think it's buying market share but the social community market is as fickle as teen shopper. Google will benefit no matter what direction this deal goes. They have to be praying that the deal happens and the Microhoo goo gets thick. If not, they are dealing with two organizations that have proven they can't compete in the Web platform space. Google's got to be loving this.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Stop Meshing with Cloud Computing

The buzz phrase effect has finally kicked in with Cloud Computing. A few years ago "Web Services" meant an XML message between two web systems using a simple protocol. When it became a buzz phrase that enterprise marketers got a hold of it, Web services became anything that did something (they wanted to sell) online. The same is starting to happen with Cloud Computing. We often try to define what a technology is (standards) by what a technology is not. Here's my exclusion list:

1. Cloud Computing is not a Web portal - My Yahoo, iGoogle and the like are not examples of Cloud Computing. They may run on the cloud, the may even interface to cloud based systems but they are not by definition cloud computing. Why? because they are not "computing" platforms, they are very interesting Web properties.

2. Microsoft's new Mesh is not cloud computing - Let me quote the source "Live Mesh puts you at the center of your digital world, seamlessly connecting you to the people, devices, programs, and information you care about— available wherever you happen to be." HUH? I think there are clouds involved in that statement but they aren't computing clouds. This is another example of MS being lead by people who don't understand who their competition is.

3. Virtual Servers at (you name it, godaddy, rackspace etc.) is not Cloud Computing - Virtualization, while a very powerful tool in the advancement of cloud computing, does not by itself make a solution Cloud Computing. The missing element is cloud abstraction. Amazon's EC2 would not be a cloud computing platform if I had to call a sales person to buy a virtual instance. My virtual instances in EC2 are transient and I am paying for them in a utility model. I can stand up and shut down instances with a web service command (yes, a TRUE web service).

In my opinion there are three technology candidates for the title of Cloud Computing Systems.

1. The portable Web - deployable widgets, portlets or other elements that are built on top of Adobe Air, Google Gears or even (big throw back) a Java applet. These computing elements can be designed to serve a specific computing function and be deployed across multiple platforms without concern for the underlaying infrastructure.

2. Autonomic virtualized clouds - Amazon Web Services, Microsoft SSDS (when it actually happens) or VMWare based solutions for computing or storage in an on-demand configuration that provides utility computing from a Web connection.

3. Virtual Application Servers - Google Apps Engine is a great example of where Cloud Computing is going. The Google implementation on Python with it's limited API will not draw enterprise customers but it does give us the first working "appserver in the cloud". Where Google shines in this regard is simplicity. Relatively lower skilled programmers can quickly develop working applications without any concern for the underlying implementation of the services they are using.

Hopefully the message of Cloud Computing won't be completely drowned out by the over use and abuse of those who are simply trying to ride it's coattail. Maybe we can start a new trend by coining another buzz phrase. I'm not sure what the next buzz phrase will be, I'm in favor of the Semantic Cloud Computing Web Service 2.0. What do you think?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Who's paying for cloud computing?

With the advent of cloud computing for the mainstream (read any smart coder) we have seen an explosion of applications that fall into the category of "web 2.o" and social networking. The biggest majority are being hosted on Amazon AWS but with Google Apps Engine and Microsoft's announcement of an S3 alternative, competition has already begun to take effect.

One of the lessons that Amazon has learned from Google is the concept of micro payments adding up to big bucks. Every day I spend a few dollars on Google Adwords to get traffic to DigitalChalk and I spend a few dollars running server instances and streaming videos on Amazon. I'm not making Amazon or Google rich but I spend money with them every single day. There are no other vendors except my utility companies that have their hooks into me that way. I'm not complaining, to the contrary in fact, I can stop spending with either vendor with a single mouse click. I'm choosing to spend money with them because it has a very easy-to-measure return.

To my point, I read today on Charles Coopers blog about the death of Web 2.0 and the emergence of the Semantic Web which as he defines it, is cloud computing running web 2.0 apps. I think his observations are mostly on-target but I think we are going to see a the natural migration from early adopters (like me) to mainstream adoption (enterprise) as the next phase on the cloud.

We recently started working with other businesses interested in migrating from a traditional data center to Amazon EC2 & S3. The payback is typically less than a year and the option to scale will open up new doors to growth. It's only a matter of time before smart CFOs and CIOs in the enterprise market start noticing the benefits of saving 80% on bandwidth and starting up dozens of cloud servers with a single command. The mainstream is starting to realize the real risk is in staying with status quot. Now that Amazon is offering a full SLA I think we will see more mainstream adoption of these cloud computing platforms.

If you want to hear more about how we build our system on Amazon, you can email me at tonymccune(at)gmail(dot)com or visit us at DigitalChalk.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Creative destruction in action

Listening to the debate about cloud computing and the possible impact on jobs within technology companies has me thinking that perhaps the wrong question is being asked. It's not IF cloud computing is going to take hold, it's when. The real question is what will you do with it?

This debate reminds me of the questions I use to get in the 2001-2004 time frame about Open Source in the enterprise. Many CIOs would ask me if I though anyone was using open source software for actual enterprise systems. My typical response was to ask them about the commercial software they were running. Almost invariably they would name a product that had significant open source components. The same thing is happening now, with Web 2.0 applications being used in the enterprise. Many companies are jumping into secondlife to do group events or using Twitter to notify groups of non-critical news and events. I even heard recently about a municipal fire department who is considering using twitter as an alternate method of notifying the community in the event of an emergency. And yes, you guessed it, both of these two examples run on the Amazon Web Services cloud computing environment.

Where does this leave us? It's just another turn on the technology innovation and destruction cycle. As we push older technologies (read operating systems) down further into the stack, it's going to continue to get less mission critical and less expensive. Geoffrey Moore described this process well in his 2005 book, Dealing with Darwin.

Can the cost of servers be driven down to zero? Yes, absolutely, if a disruptive technology comes along that let's us run software in thin air. Until then the cost of computing cycles will continue to drop in a steady rate. The next iteration has already arrived. We will see most applications in the cloud running in an on-demand application service within a few years. Google app engine is the first into that game but there are sure to be more coming quickly.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Community generated content = quality?

I recently read a well written posting by John Warner in the Swamp Fox that discussed the value of Wikipedia and how some academics were refusing to let students reference that as a source. It occurs to me that there is a certain element (unfortunately many teaching our youth) that value singular credentials over majority consensus.

Although I am firmly in the camp of consensus, it's worthwhile to examine both points a bit more. Is the expertise of one or two highly specialized contributors worth more than the combined contribution of a large community of contributors? I think it's probably a little of both that brings quality. We don't gain value from a mob of uninformed opinions nor do we get the most well thought out explanation from an expert who has not been challenged in his or her basis of belief. The best outcome would be based on a community of well informed contributors.

Those of us who are willing to wade into the fray on a topic we are less than expert in provide a couple benefits, first we force the expert to communicate in a more complete fashion to address a broader audience. A further benefit is the introduction of fresh and unorthodox inquiries that often become the catalyst to new thought on a topic.

Open Source software seems to be following this pattern. Over time we see that a community of contributors in any given project generate a much broader consensus of what a technology should look like and include. In the early days of my participation in Open Source it seemed that the biggest benefit was the volume of code made Open Source attractive. Now I think the community (at least around larger, longer established communities) brings it biggest value in the quality of mind-share it contains. It's fair to say that nowhere else in the history of technology has there been a time when such diversity of thought and objectives been focus onto a single objective.

I think we live in some very interesting times. The time when a single entity can control the future of a technology is past. The new currency in technology isn't code, it's creative use of code. Solving a problem and building a base of loyal users is how we will make money in technology for the foreseeable future. So, taking care of customers and giving people what they need to be successful will make you successful? Interesting concept.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Enterprise Architecture: From Incite comes Insight...: The Economics of Industry Certifications

I personally have been the victim of overpriced technical certifications. I found this blog to be very telling.

Enterprise Architecture: From Incite comes Insight...: The Economics of Industry Certifications

It seemed like there was some sort of scam going on to charge me $150 to take an online test (regardless of the outcome). As it appeared prometric was the only provider, I figured it was a case of single supplier economics. It appears that is the case.

Anyone interested in putting certification tests online for a reasonable price and fostering a community of certified professionals (and not line the pockets of a monopoly provider) should setup an assessment with a certificate on DigitalChalk.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

There is no security in buying software

I had an interesting call today. Someone inquired about using DigitalChalk and began asking the usual questions. A question that often comes up revolves around "can I install this on my servers?" Although most people use software as a service in some aspect of their lives, many don't necessarily think about the difference between that and installing software that they have purchased in a box. When I explained that this is a service that he can subscribe to, he began telling me that they (his business) had explored software services such as but opted to buy box software because they "own" it and they can "control" it.

The comment and underlying mindset indicated to me that there is a basic disconnect for some otherwise very bright people when it comes to software and how it's used. The truth is that all software is a service, it lives for a period of time in a computing environment and does something for us, typically with our data. The data was really what my new friend was concerned about. He perceived that his data was either lost or not usable without my software. To some extent his concerns are valid but in reality, he doesn't gain more assurance of future value of his data by running the software on his computers verses accessing it on the Web. Here are a few things to consider when looking at a buy vs. subscribe decision:

1. Can you reasonably duplicate or exceed the level of service and redundancy on your infrastructure that your service provider is offering you? This requires that you get your service provider to give you some peek under the covers and a reasonable SLA. Typically if a service provider specializes in a software service, they have much more capacity and redundancy than you would invest for your own needs.

2. Do your box software and online service provide both provide you with the ability to extract or back up your data and IP assets into an external media that you control? If either one cannot, it should be a deal breaker. Just because the data is stored on the hard drive you manage, it doesn't mean that your content can be extracted from the software that manages it.

3. Does your software or service have a community around it? Typically the best answers for how to do something or fix something in software comes from the community, not product support.

4. Determine the real cost of software. One of the reasons SaaS has risen quickly in popularity is the relative ease of use it provides in comparison to box software. The hidden costs in servers, maintenance contracts, added staff and supporting infrastructure can often add up to costs several factors greater than the cost of acquiring the software. Lower up-front cost and most importantly, lower risk is driving the adoption of SaaS.

5. With SaaS you get to use the technology from day one and you only pay for what you need or consume. This is the Killer App part of SaaS. With Salesforce for example, we were able to start using the CRM tools within hours of signing up to track live accounts. I didn't have to pick a software package and I can't imagine out growing their service.

The final reason why SaaS is something you should get comfortable with now is because soon, it may be your only choice. Most new consumer and enterprise software technologies are being developed as a service offering. Box software is very rapidly going the way of the CD. Try it out, give some thought about your risks and then put into place processes to protect your data.

Oh, one other thing... your competition is using SaaS and they are saving big bucks.

Friday, February 29, 2008

All searches should smell fresh

I really don't get why Ask, Yahoo and MSN are scratching their heads when they see the market share numbers on search. When I am searching, I want results (seems fairly obvious right?) and by results, I mean results that mean something. Am I confusing you yet?

I'm confused, when I go to MSN or Ask, they don't have any reference to my blog and they have old very out of date references to DigitalChalk pages but when I go to Google I get my stuff displayed with my latest updates within hours. I understand that I'm not the biggest traffic draw on the web but when we did a redesign of the DigitalChalk website in DECEMBER and Yahoo still has stale references on this last day of FEBRUARY to our old site design, one begins to question the quality of ALL of the content in a search.

Ok, I'm calmer now. sorry for shouting. Here's the Crux, it really doesn't matter how good your search result relevancy algorithm is if you are applying it to stale, out-dated data in the index. I was watching the TV ads that Ask! (or is it just Ask?) ran last year that showed a better user experience. My first reaction was wow, nice but as I thought about it, I realized that all the cool visuals and AJAX driven layers that pop up are enjoyable but don't get me closer to results unless there is a relevant result in the search.

Google keeps it simple. We all know their search view is simple to view but what I am really getting at is that they keep the their goals in search simple and focused; give the user the very best quality search result. Nice. I am sure they spend a tremendous amount of time and money creating a search crawler and index that keeps ever-vigilant for new and relevant content. The value for me is priceless. I love finding my blog indexed the next day. I rest better knowing that someone pays attention to what I am saying, even if it is a robot.

Oh, I almost forgot, if you are reading this post, click on this link to visit DigitalChalk! (and make google think I'm driving lots of traffic)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Growing up on Amazon

We recently had a very nice success story written about us at Amazon and Jeff Barr just blogged about that on his AWS blog. Thanks Jeff!

After being on AWS for the past 18 months and having run thousands of server hours without a single minute of lost time on EC2 or S3 Amazon, we had a short interruption of service on S3 due to an overload of authentication request last Friday. What was very ironic was that on the prior Wednesday Amazon posted the before mentioned success story so in my haste to make hay on that, we had a press release that went out on, you guessed it... Friday.

The service outage on S3 didn't take us down per-se but we couldn't stream videos so it effectively shut down our deliver for two hours. Because of the press release and the traffic from Amazon's success story, I received a note from the tech beat reporter at the AP asking to confirm the outage on AWS and our reaction. After debating about it for about 10 seconds, I sent a statement confirming and also describing our pleasure with the service overall. To my delight and horror... the AP article contained my quote. You can see it here on Forbes

Our web traffic was up 300% last Saturday and we landed two sales (including one in Australia) directly from the press we got from the problems at AWS. Thanks guys, sorry it had to come that way.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ok, we have been playing on Amazon...

Today, Amazon Web Services (AWS) released a success story about DigitalChalk. For some time now we have been running our systems on the Amazon Cloud Computing environment known as EC2 (Elastic Computing Cloud) and their virtual storage system S3 (Simple Storage System).

Running our business on Amazon's cloud computing environment had it's initial uncertianties, not the least of which was the concern that customers might find that risky. We found the opposite to be the case, most customers who insisted on knowing more about our back end infrastructure were relieved to know we had their content on a system managed by one of the top Websites worldwide.

Now that we are "out" about Amazon, be looking for some interesting new offerings such as unlimited use accounts and privately hosted AWS accounts running DigitalChalk software.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vindicated by Vista

In 2003 I wrote an article in ZDNet that basically said that Microsoft was going to struggle over the next few years as Web services technology takes hold and Microsoft's hold on the desktop will begin to erode. I expected to get pummeled by Redmond loving fans worldwide but when the death threats started coming in (seriously), I realized that there are a lot of people dependent on Microsoft to survive and unwilling to consider that change might be coming.

Back in 2003 the code-name for Vista was Longhorn and at the time it was forecasted to be released sometime in 2004. I had no idea that my criticism was so prophetic, the product didn't release until 2006. The underlying point I was trying to make back then was that the PC desktop platform is going to become less and less relevant over the next few years.

There has been three significant events in the shift of thinking at Microsoft over the past few months that lead me to believe they have begun (perhaps kicking and screaming) to embrace the idea that there is a world beyond Windows. First, Microsoft joined the odd alliance with Novell to provide a "license" for the Novell Linux user. You might think this was an attempt to co opt Linux (and it was!) but there was a subtle admission that Linux matters in that move. Secondly, The Vista Genuine software program that required users to accept updates and validate their copies of Windows was modified to no longer disable the OS if a copy of Windows wasn't certified "Genuine" within the specified time period. (side note: what about not registering the license made the code fake? Just wondering) Finally, Today I learned that Microsoft has admitted defeat in the desktop wars. What do I mean? Back when Vista released, Microsoft first declared that Vista Basic and Home editions could be put on a Virtual Machine then reversed itself. The only version of Vista that my be used in a virtual machine was the Ultimate edition for $499. Today Microsoft recanted that position and has reversed their reversal to allow any edition of Vista to be put onto a VM. This is significant. In the months and years to come I believe we will look back on today and view this as the beginning of a shift in thinking at Microsoft from being desktop bound to becoming a technology innovation company again.

Will this make me run out and buy a copy of Vista to replace the XP I have running on Parrellels on my MacBook Pro? Probably not but I feel better knowing I can do so.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

We are getting coverage!

DigitalChalk just got picked up by Forbes Online. Hopefully this is the beginning of some good coverage!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DigitalChalk Winter 08 goes live!

I'm sitting here waiting with some anticipation while Troy and team roll out or Winter release to production. This codebase is a radical departure from the system we went live with last spring.

Some of the more obvious features from the customer point of view is a completely rebuilt chalkboard viewer for students. On the instructor side, the Chalkboard Editor is now all integrated into a single view and several new slide types are supported. You can now include slides in the lesson using:

  • Websites - display as a slide image or as the live site
  • WYSIWYG HTML slide
  • PPT converter to Images
  • Upload zip (images)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Check out the new DC!

For those of you have not seen the new look of DigitalChalk, I thought I would post a screenshot of our new Chalkboard view.

Falling behind in the fall... fresh start in winter

This past fall was like drinking water from a fire hose. We started getting some traction on the web marketing and it took most of the fall to find anyone to start helping with sales. I couldn't have done it without a lot of patience from Laurie & the kids.

I'm going to make every effort to start making weekly postings on Chalk Talk. Thanks to Jacob Abshire, we have a first rate marketing website taking shape. take a look at

and team have the Winter 08 release done and it's looking really sharp. We flipped the switch and started pointing our demo link off the website to the new release. You can visit that directly at the DigitalChalk demo site.

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