Sforce from Salesforce.com

WSJ writes about a plan by Salesforce.com to offer its hosting infrastructure to other organisations who want to offer “utility computing”:

[The plan is] to let other software developers rent out their software using Salesforce.com’s computers. These software developers won’t have to buy hardware, worry about managing databases or protecting users’ security — as long as they pay Salesforce.com $50 for each person per month who taps into their software over the Internet.

In a year or two, Mr. Marc Benioff [CEO of Salesforce.com] envisions entrepreneurs around the world offering software globally from his company’s computer facilities in Sunnyvale, Calif. A company in India or China, for example, might create a program for managing architectural offices that a U.S. architect could use online. Such customers could draw from a broad range of software — with assurance that a reputable company is storing the information they transmit to its computers.

The first phase of Sforce, similarly, is designed to make Salesforce.com work better with other companies’ software. By early next year, Salesforce.com plans to let other companies assemble and offer utility-style services on its computers. Mr. Benioff, who calls the concept “client-service computing,” hopes to boost the users Salesforce.com serves from about 90,000 today to one million in 36 months, with 60% of those tapping into programs written by other companies.

So, the plan seems to build a platform others can use. Hard to say if it will work. USD 50 per user per month seems relatively high from the point of view of potential users in the emerging markets.

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HP’s Blade PCs

NYTimes writes about HP’s solution which it says can cut computing costs by 45%:

The Hewlett-Packard solution uses clusters of “blade” personal computers each a narrow circuit board that handles all the processing chores of a desktop PC. The blades are housed and managed at a central location in a corporation. Likewise, each user’s files are stored centrally in a network of disks.

Users sit at workstations each with a screen, a keyboard and some local memory sign in with passwords and gain access to both processing power and individual work files. Each worker gets a PC blade, but not always the same one. The processing resources are allocated by Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView software, developed over years and used for managing workloads in corporate data centers.

The company saves money because not all PC’s are used at once. So if a company has 10,000 workers and the maximum use at any time is 70 percent, the company might be able to buy a system with only 7,000 blades instead of 10,000 desktop PC’s.

There should also be large savings, according to Hewlett-Packard, from cost reductions in maintenance, management and training that result from its centrally controlled approach.

This seems a variation on the thin client approach, with the actual client processor being remoted.

Why are India and China gaining?

Dana Blankenhorn asks “Why is America losing ground to China and India, while we gained ground in the 1990s?” and answers:

The answer is commoditization, the process of something becoming a commodity. Most of our big technology products have become commodities.

PCs are commodities. Even routers are commodities. (Commodities are not always cheap. Gold, silver and platinum, all pictured here, are also commodities.) All the talk about “open source” and “intellectual property” is really an attempt to use law in order to prevent software from becoming a commodity. And it wont work, at least it wont work in operating systems.

When Americas tech economy last got into trouble, in the 1980s, the problem was much the same. PC innovation slowed down. Excitement moved toward consumer electronics. Economies of scale in manufacturing came to trump innovation. Japan ate our lunch.

From a technology standpoint what made the 1990s different were applications. Starting with MS Windows 3.0, then going on to 3.1, multimedia, and the Internet, you had huge new green fields for the development of applications. In a world looking for applications innovation, and small intense teams, made all the difference. America had more flexibility in Japan, more freedom, and America came to dominate.

Reversing the trend of the last few years requires the same sort of platform. We need to understand that wireless broadband isnt a solution but a platform. We need to write and deliver applications that take wireless broadband in the home, in the factory, in the workplace, and then in the world as a given. These applications must deliver outstanding value, they must do things we want done we didnt know we could get done.

So the platform is there. The way we reverse the commoditization trend is through The World of Always On.

I agree with Dana. Commoditisation can help companies in the emerging markets leapfrog. A mix of server-centric computing (on the LAN) with desktop thin clients and open-source software can make for affordable computing solutions, reducing the price barrier. Of course, a lot more has to be done – these countries have to start creating IT ecosystems which go beyond just the tech companies. There needs to be adoption of tech at the engineering colleges to create both trained human resource as well as more open-source software. There also needs to be training for the new adopters, with “demo points of presence” in various neighbourhoods – sort of an IT Starbucks. There needs to be an alleviation of the credit constraints faced by the new adopters by getting banks to provide financing for IT infrastructure. And finally, the local software companies need to recgonise that there is a singificant domesti market waiting to be tapped. All these have to happen simultaneously.

Rural Marketing in India

FEER writes about the initiatives being taken by ITC and other companies to tap into the emerging rural India market. ITC has srt up over 2,000 e-choupals across India at a cost o about Rs 1.5 lakh (USD 3,400) each in villages. It is now adding 5 a day, with plans to cover 100,000 Indian villages in 5 years (India has a total of 600,000 villages).

ITC first aims to help improve farmers’ incomes by:
— Wiring rural communities with computer access to its e-trading platform
— Offering better on-line prices than auctions for produce
— Providing quality seeds and on-line agricultural advice

Next, it aims to help its own business by:
— Growing its commodities business overseas
— Gaining access to rural consumers
— Selling goods and services back to the farmers

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Microsoft and SMEs

News.com has an interview with Microsoft’s Orlando Ayala, whose focus is to build up the SME business. “Ayala is charged with turning the Business Solutions groups products–Great Plains, Navision and Microsoft CRM–into a $10 billion business by 2010. Projected sales for fiscal 2003, which ends June 30, are $550 million.” Says Ayala:

We believe this is a market with a lot of pent-up demand to be fulfilled. We come from the assumption that the market is very fragmented and solutions are very difficult to use–specifically if you want to automate a small business. The company has decided to make an important push with $2 billion in investments over the next 12 months.

This is really a platform play. What the company is trying to do is enhance the basic platforms–.Net and Windows–and expand that to a horizontal platform. Too many ISVs are focused on horizontal platforms with no differentiation. We want them to outsource their R&D to us.

We have about 800,000 partners around the world. These are partners that basically sell everything. Out of those 800,000, with Great Plains and Navision, we are talking today about 6,000 partners that are fully skilled to sell these type of solutions. My goal for the next 18 months is to increase that by at least 50 percent, so in the range of 9,000 or 10,000 partners. These are very, very skilled types of partners, who can sit down with a small business and tell them how to connect to suppliers and squeeze all the value out of the CRM investment that we made.

SMEs are the next frontier in software, especially those in the world’s emerging markets. A co-ordinated strategy needs to be done by the open-source community to create compelling alternatives.

Multi-Dimensional Life

There is so much going on in a work day. There are days when it is all a delight, there are others which I wish I was just doing one thing! One moment I would be discussing about rural India, the next about weblogs, and then about affordable computing, and finally software for SMEs. All in the space of a few hours. It is a lot of variety. And it takes time getting used to it. It is also something that I like.

Most of my life, I have focussed only on one or two things. It was only during the IndiaWorld days that there was a wider spread in terms of the portals we were doing. But even then, it was in a single space. Now, we are doing multiple things – there are different teams and different contexts. It is something I am beginning to like.

My life still revolves around work, though. It is the varied nature of things ae are doing that gives the multi-dimensional flavour to life. I have few other extra-curricular interests. Maybe I’ll look at some of those later in life. Have a long way to go. For now, the days are as exciting as they have ever been.

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: MyMemex

MyMemex is the personal Memex. It is our knowledge management system. It comprises of a weblog and a directory. The actions that we need to take at the individual level to help in the construction of the Memex are:

  • Each of us maintains a personal blog and directory. The directory outlines our interest areas, and can transclude other directories. The blog publishes an RSS feed, which others can subscribe.
  • We also have an RSS IMAP Mailbox, so that we can subscribe to RSS feeds from different content sources and see them in our existing email client. This also enables us to post items from our regular mailbox, thus giving a permalink to mails.
  • All that we have to do is to keep blogging and ensure we keep our directory updated as we add new posts. (We may need a feature to specify posts as public, private or for a particular group.)

    We may also be participants in some group blogs these could be to various communities or associations that we belong, or within the enterprise. In each case, the same actions with respect to blogging and maintaining the directory need to be taken. We will need to specify a blog post or a sub-directory as being public, private or visible only to specific groups.

    The browser that we use should have a bookmarklet feature, allowing us to easily post elements of a page that we are reading. The bookmarklet simply opens up a new window and prompts us for the appropriate information to create a blog entry. Ideally, a single click should be able to capture the page details on the personal blog.

    The MyMemex can be run on the desktop or hosted centrally for the individual version, or on the users LAN, in the case of the enterprise version. The components that comprise the MyMemex are:

    Blogging Tool, to create and manage the blog. It should also generate an RSS feed.

    News Reader, to aggregate RSS feeds and display them. Two useful features in the News Reader would be (a) RSS2Mail, thus enabling the display of the items in the email client, and (b) Mail2Blog, enabling the posting of items directly to the blog using the MetaWeblog API.

    Directory Manager, to create and manage the OPML-based personal directory. It should also support transclusion. Thus, if the user specifies transclusion of degree 2, it should show in place sub-directories upto two levels deep. The Directory Manager can be constructed on top of an Outliner, and would need an OPML Browser and Editor. A key requirement here is for each sub-directory to have a unique permalink, thus enabling it to be transcluded in another directory. The Directory Manager should integrate with the blogging tool to allow the user to update the directory at the time of posting.

    Tomorrow: MyMemex (continued)

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