Top 20 IT Mistakes

InfoWorld: offers a list. One of them:

2. Dismissing open source — or bowing before it

For better or worse, many IT shops are susceptible to religious behavior — a blind, unyielding devotion to a particular technology or platform. Nowhere is that more true than with open source.

On the one hand, the most conservative IT shops dismiss open source solutions as a matter of policy. Thats a big mistake: Taking an indefinite wait-and-see attitude toward open source means passing up proven, stable, and scalable low-cost solutions such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. On the other hand, insisting on open source purity in your IT operation can delay progress, as developers are forced to cobble together inferior or unwieldy open source solutions when more appropriate commercial software solutions already exist.

Open source software is not inherently better than commercial software; it all depends on the problem to be solved and the maturity of the solution being considered.

IBM’s Cell

WSJ writes about IBM’s new chip for the home-entertainment market:

Sony and IBM are expected to announce that next year they will start selling the first Cell-based product — a high-performance workstation designed for use by videogame designers and Hollywood animation houses. Pricing and marketing plans haven’t been determined. IBM said a version of the workstation mounted in a rack with multiple Cell processors will be able to perform 16 trillion mathematical operations a second. That speed would theoretically make it faster than all but a dozen of the world’s supercomputers, although much of its power is dedicated to graphics processing rather than to general-purpose computing.

Tom Starnes, an analyst with Gartner Inc., who has been briefed on the chip, said that “they’re hinting at stuff that is indeed very impressive.” While the processing power in videogames “all gets used by 12-year-old boys,” Cell also is designed to handle video streams from cable and satellite systems, decompressing encoded information and expanding it for display on big, high-definition, plasma screens.

Analysts said the processor might be able to reorient digitized video as it is received to provide views from above or an end-zone view. In other applications, the processing power of Cell might permit a viewer to take a TV character and place him in a videogame, or interact with a commercial to see how a dress would look on an image of herself stored in the system.

Intel’s Challenges

The New York Times writes:

Next week in one of his first official acts as the designated chief executive, [Paul Otellini] plans to present his strategy to Wall Street analysts. He may have a lot to answer for, including the 25 percent decline in Intel’s stock price this year.

Mr. Otellini will tell analysts that he plans to focus on four areas for growth: international markets for desktop personal computers, mobile and wireless applications, the digital home, as well as a new initiative aimed at large corporate computing markets that Intel is calling the Digital Office.

The strategy is a significant shift – a “right-hand turn,” as Mr. Otellini likes to say – from Intel’s long-term obsession with making ever-faster computer chips. Instead, the company is now concentrating on what he calls platforms: complete systems aimed at both computing and consumer electronics markets.

Mr. Otellini insists that the recent missteps, including the premature introduction he himself made of the digital project, are simply a result of over-optimistic marketing.

Smarter Phones

The Register writes:

Going beyond the calendar feature common in many current mobiles, the “smarter smartphone” learns about people’s preferences by logging calls and noting when application like cameras are used. Location-based functions allow the phone to keep record where you work and socialise. The phone also makes note of Bluetooth pairing bonds, in theory allowing it to build a profile of who you socialise with. This information would be sent to a server which processes data and returns suggestions or reminders.

Beyond predictive texting the phone is touted as a device that predicts what you will do. The New Scientist reports possible applications include reminding you not to drink too much the night before an important presentation. Some people might balk as the idea of being monitored – and nagged – by their personal technology. But US scientists reckon they’ve hit on a winner.

The technology is the brainchild of Nathan Eagle and Sandy Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The system is based on mobile messaging software called Context, written by developers at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki Institute of Technology led by Mika Raento. The software build a profile of user’s routine by asking them what they’re up to when they come into range of a new mobile mast.

TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: Happenings (Part 2)

Consider what Verizon is doing in the US it is getting rid of the public-switched telephone network to put in place an IP-based network. Technology Review writes:

[Verizon is building] a new network that makes more efficient use of its switching stations and physical wires by working more like the Internet, and that wires up customers homes with high-capacity fiber-optic lines. With such an infrastructure in place, the theory holds, the longtime supplier of plain old telephone service can change into a new kind of company, one that can compete in a world where media giants like Comcast are blending services such as television, telephone, and Internet access.

Listen to people like the Jacobys [of Verizon], and its easy to imagine that in a few years Verizon customers may not even have phones, or at least not ones that only make phone calls. Instead, theyll have devices that surf the Web, transmit video phone calls and still pictures, and deliver TV programming, TiVo style. Customers will use their cell phones to instant-message their kids TV screens that its time to stop playing video games and start doing homework. Theyll control what their phonesor rather, their personal telecommunications networksdo in a way thats simply impossible today.

Or at least, thats what Verizon executives hope. The company astonished Wall Street and telecom insiders in January when it announced that it would spend $2 billion over the next two years to move to Internet-type switchinga far more ambitious overhaul than those planned by its sibling phone companies, such as SBC and BellSouthVerizon managers admit theyre spending the money without a full understanding of how the new network will be used or what services consumers will want most. According to Paul Lacouture, president of Verizons network services group, its an investment the company has to make simply to survive in a fast-changing industry. Moving to packet switching now, he says, means we future-proof our network.

Verizons Waltham Lab is where tomorrows world is being prototyped.

Software developers created the Universal Media Communicator, a program for desktop PCs that lets users seamlessly transfer calls from cell phones to wireless PDAs to traditional landlines to IP phones, without ever putting anyone on hold. One of the programs myriad features represents separate phone calls as icons that users can drag and drop to initiate conference calls. The idea is to let the customers control their phone servicewhere calls reach them, say, or when and whether their phones ring.

A lot of people think you want to blow up the public switched telephone network. But what you really want is this evolution to Internet Protocol, says Michael Weintraub, director of converged services at the lab. It isnt that the current network is so badits just that packet-switched networks make everything faster, cheaper, and easier to use. And they turn the tables on who has control.

But will people pay for the new features enabled by packet switching? Come to think of it, what will people pay for, once voice calling is simply one entre on a vast menu of potential services?

SBC, another of the American Baby Bells, is also building out the future. Its CEO, Edward E. Whitacre Jr, according to The Wall Street Journal, aims to transform SBC into a state-of-the-art communications and TV giant that will have a dominant presence in consumers’ living rooms. He plans to challenge cable companies head-on with a full slate of video services that SBC will bundle with Internet access, wireless calling and traditional phone service — all for about $100 a month. He said in an interview:

[In the living room of the future,] you can be watching television, probably on a thin screen plasma screen. If you get a phone call, the number displays on the television screen, doesn’t interrupt the picture — and it will tell you who’s calling. If you wish to take [the call] you can take it by pushing a button on your remote.

You can sit there and view content off of your computer — maybe it’s family pictures. Or, somebody sent you an e-mail; it will pop up on the screen while you’re watching TV in the left-hand corner. If you are watching a basketball game and you would like to have an overhead view, you’d click a button and you change the camera angle. If you’re interested in what everybody else is watching at that time, or maybe what’s hot on TV, you can push a button and it will tell you who’s watching what across the nation.

Landline and wireless are certainly melding together. More people have wireless phones, more people have broadband, they’re on the Internet, they can get that at home, they can get that on the cellphone. Video is now a part of the equation.

A good example of convergence is something we have out there now called unified communications, where with one device you can get your e-mails, get your faxes, your messages — either wireline or wireless messages — just by calling one number. So, it’s all converged.

Tomorrow: Happenings (continued)

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Exploring Network Economics

[via Abhay Bhagat] Michael Mauboussin writes:

Economists have successfully described the economics of both information and networks. These economic principles appear durable. It is the combination of information and network properties that creates opportunities for businesses and investors. Most investors have not internalized these ideas.

We believe the importance of information-based networks is increasing in todays global economy for four reasons:

1. Physical capital needs are lower than they were in the past. Information-based networks require less capital as they grow than physical networks do.

2. Networks demonstrate increasing returns. Most industries benefit from supply-side increasing returns to scale: higher volume leads to lower unit costs, up to a point. In contrast, successful networks generate increasing returns from the demand-side as users beget users.

3. Networks can form faster and more frequently than in the past. Because of plummeting communication and computing costs, the barriers to creating a network are declining. But even though the barriers to entry are low, the barriers to success remain high.

4. Networks can spread globally. Because many networks have high upfront costs and low incremental costs, they can expand rapidly within countries and across borders.

This report focuses on how to categorize networks, how they affect economic value, and how they form.

Barrett on Business Models

InfoWorld writes about a talk given by Intel’s CEO when he was in India recently:

Peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing would never have gathered momentum if the music industry had adopted models for distribution over the Internet, said Intel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett.

“The music industry absolutely stonewalled the distribution method associated with the Internet to the point that peer-to-peer sharing became so prevalent, that it didn’t make much difference,” Barrett said.

“Five to eight years too late we are starting to see distribution models set up for distributing music over the Internet, where actually somebody gets paid for it,” he said. “People are inherently honest and want to pay for goods and services and that would have happened if the music industry had adopted the technology and come up with commercial distribution models a lot earlier.”

The film industry faces a similar challenge as bandwidth increases enable downloading movies over the Internet. “It would be interesting to watch whether the movie industry will in fact rapidly and aggressively adopt a distribution model consistent with the new technology,” he said.

A number of companies have benefited by changing the rules, said Barrett, citing retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dell Inc., which sells configured-to-order computers direct to customers. Wal-Mart uses IT to control inventory and point-of-sale information, to know exactly what is selling at any of its locations, how to price a product, how to price it by region, and how to replenish inventory automatically.

“Wal-Mart is really an IT company in disguise,” Barrett said. “They just happen to sell products to the consumer.”

Intel changed the rules to its advantage using four key strategies, according to Barrett. These included its “Intel Inside” branding program, shifting the definition of computer architecture from computer makers to companies like Intel, creating a new distribution channel of about 180,000 system integrators that build computers with Intel technology, and setting up a venture capital business that invested in companies with technologies supporting or compatible with Intel’s own technologies.

Interview with Prof. Jhunjhunwala

Rediff has an interview with Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras, with whom I am working on our thin clients project. Prof. Jhunjhunwala talks about his vision for rural India:

Although I don’t dream only for rural India, rural India comes first in our dreams. Rural India is where 700 million people live. India cannot be fully enabled unless these people get enabled.

In the eighties, till companies like Hindustan Lever after being beaten by Nirma decided to go to rural India and make FMCG products work there, the market for such products was only urban India. But after that, everything changed.

In the same way, the telecom market is largely in urban India, and in the minds of most of the operators, money cannot be made in rural India. We, on the other hand believe that it is possible to not just provide telephone and Internet connections in every village profitably but use that connection to drive not just health and education in the village but also the rural economy.

We believe that telephones and the Internet can have a larger impact in rural India than in the urban areas.

We strongly believe that the per capita GDP of rural India can be doubled in the next 8-10 years using Internet as the starting point.

What is needed for rural micro enterprises to flourish are four very important components. One is finance. Here, what we are planning is using the Internet kiosks in the village to bring banks to rural India. That is our first job, and that is where our ATM machines costing just Rs 40,000 as against the ones available in the market now for about Rs 900,000, will play a role.

Second important thing for any micro enterprise to flourish is, training, information and support. Here, our video-based training can be used to train rural youth.

The third thing that they need is, buying, selling and delivery of goods; that is, logistics. We are looking at using the Internet again to not just buy and sell, but provide logistics support.

The fourth thing that is required is sharing of risks. It is here that insurance schemes that share risks will play a major role. I will give you an example. ICICI has developed a product which links repayment of loans based on measurement of only rainfall in a district.

These four components will significantly enhance rural India. So, all that we are developing now, the Internet kiosks, the ATM machines, the medical diagnostic kit, etc. are directed towards achieving what we dream of; that is doubling the rural GDP by providing education, health facilities and promoting entrepreneurship.

Also take a look at some of Prof. Jhunjhunwala’s presentations.

Audience Match Network

Fred Wilson writes about Tacoda:

The idea is to build a cooperative network among publishers where the data about what people are interested in can be used to target advertising. If you’ve recently been researching voice over internet services on the Internet, then USA Today can offer you Vonage phone service when you are reading the sports page. If you’ve recently been visiting sites to find a new mortgage, The Tampa Tribune can offer you a better low cost mortgage when you are reading the front page.

The big trick is to do this without violating anyone’s privacy. That is the reason why previous attempts to do this by Doubleclick and Engage failed.

Tacoda built the Audience Match Network with privacy concerns at the forefront. The Audience Match Network doesn’t store any data, it just makes real-time matches to serve targeted ads. No personally indentified information is used in the network. It’s all anonymous. And Tacoda is committed to keeping it that way.

China’s Semiconductor Industry

WSJ writes about China’s efforts to build its semiconductor industry ground-up:

Semiconductor design has potentially huge benefits for China. Chip-design companies can create valuable intellectual property and help determine global technology standards. Qualcomm Inc., for example, the world’s largest independent chip designer, earns most of its revenue, which totaled $4.9 billion in its latest fiscal year, from chip designs using its CDMA wireless technology. And whereas profit margins at the companies that assemble computers and other gadgets are often around 5%, margins at successful design companies are frequently well into double digits.

China is still years behind more advanced economies like the U.S. and Taiwan in chip design. But its rapid takeoff is attracting attention from some established heavyweights. Companies such as Germany’s Infineon Technologies AG and Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands have set up chip-design operations in China. Morris Chang, chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of chips, compares China’s design industry to an object with “zero speed but infinite acceleration.” His company this year opened a nearly $1 billion plant in Shanghai, its first in China, in part to cater to local design companies.

“If you look at the large number of small design companies created here, you are seeing the foundation of an industry created,” Craig Barrett, Intel’s chief executive, said in an interview during a trip to China this month.

China’s main attraction for chip-design entrepreneurs is the country’s vast domestic demand for semiconductors, most of which are now imported. Operating in China also puts them in proximity to the electronics manufacturers who buy chips for their products, and who are increasingly concentrated in China.

TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: Happenings

There is a lot happening in the world of technology. Even as we think about how we can leverage these changes, let us take at some of the unfolding events first globally, then in India.

Om Malik wrote, in a new column entitled Coverge Sense for Business 2.0:

Though a slow starter, a new era of convergence is upon us, and it is the driving force of change and growth for the entire electronics industry. We’re no longer talking about the PC vs. TV debate, mind you. Think about this: Always-on Internet connections of both the wired and the wireless kind have become commonplace even in the farthest corners of the world. At the same time, Internet speeds are inexorably increasing, in some places topping 50 megabits per second, enough to download programming from three television channels simultaneously. The upshot: Cable companies want to sell voice and wireless services along with their current products, video and data. Phone companies want to add video streams to their package of offerings.

And if that is not enough confluence for you, we’re seeing the continued digitization of media. Folks are buying new music by virtual truckloads from Apple’s iTunes store, while companies like Vodafone are offering television streams on their 3G cell-phone networks. TiVo has entered the popular vernacular, if not the annals of profitability, as it streams cable programming and, soon, Internet programming throughout the home. Radio is leaving its terrestrial roots and is being replaced by signals from the big birds in the sky. Video-on-demand, long an expense item for adventurous cable chief executives, is now as commonplace as a cable set-top box. Microsoft and Intel, two big proponents of personal computers, are betting the farm on the digitization trend.

David Kirkpatrick of Fortune wrote about the challenges faced by the big companies in an article entitled Technology in Turmoil:

It’s no secret that Microsoft is struggling to justify its business model in the face of an open-source onslaught. The newly released open source Firefox shows continued signs of taking market share from Microsoft in the critical browser businesspotentially the software giant’s most valuable chokepoint.

Intel, the other duopoly partner at the top of the industry, also seems suddenly weakened. While some recent articles overstate the scale of threat that AMD poses to Intel, that danger is real nonetheless.

Look at Sunit wasn’t long ago that everyone assumed the company was toast. Now nobody seems sure either way. What does it mean that Sun is making its crown jewel, the Solaris operating system, open source?..Now with Solaris, they can get the same thing with an industrial-strength operating system. And Sun, which was a proprietary hardware company only yesterday it seems, is now one of AMD’s most important allies.

Then over in the enterprise software business, dogged little Salesforce.com continues to define an entirely new approach to using technologyso customers can merely think of what they’re getting as functionality. Who cares if it’s called software or not?

Let’s not leave out servicesThe new globalized business model poses gigantic threats to incumbent services players, particularly those that aren’t sufficiently diversified, like Cap Gemini, Ernst & Young, EDS, and Accenture. As Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani asks, how will these players compete in a world where their customers have the option of vastly lower prices for comparable services from Indian companies? How quickly can they shift their own employee base to the lower-cost model?

Tomorrow: Happenings (continued)

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One Idea A Day

Innovation Weblog points to Nan Russell:

One idea a day is all it takes to develop a creative thinking habit with big paybacks. You have hundreds of ideas passing through your head on any given day. The key is to recognize them and note them down. These are not world changing ideas I’m talking about, but the everyday type. Think of it more like idea-singles vs. idea-home runs, knowing that overtime singles can add up and be a winning strategy.

I keep online logs of ideas and add to them throughout the day, when something pops to mind or I come across something I find interesting. It may just be an idea snippet, but I still note it down. These lists are about all sorts of things: potential column topics, enhancements for my website, marketing ideas for my book, personal development areas, or even fun weekend get-aways.

Mobiles for All

Russell Beattie starts work at Yahoo and has a suggestion for corporates (including Yahoo): “Every Yahoo employee needs a free (or heavily subsidized) color mobile phone with unlimited internet connectivity. Yahoo would never dream of employing people and not giving them a PC with access to the internet right? Even if their job was only marginally related to being online, I’m sure the company wants their employees to be familiar with Yahoo’s products and services, right? I mean, they even provide internet access kiosks in the hallways for visitors. Well, the mobile phone is the same way. Corporations need to start looking at mobiles not as a private devices or a cost-center, but as a new way to do business. Want to have the best mobile services on the planet? Get a few thousand of your own employees using mobile data on a daily basis and see what happens!”

Clearwire’s Tests

Wi-Fi Networking News writes about feedback from early customers in Jacksonville, Florida:

Julio Ojeda-Zapata of the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press reports that Clearwires next expansion in St. Cloud, Minnesota, hasnt materialized beyond a test setup, but that it works as advertised. Clearwire uses broadband wireless technology thats probably a precursor to WiMax.

Ojeda-Zapata interviewed some Floridians about the service, and they werent just happy about it, but quite ecstatic. One user had access when his cable modem went down during a hurricane. A few discuss how portable the modem is, requiring just an AC outlet in the service area. Clearwire might combine some of the best aspects of DSL/cable (high speeds), 3G cellular (ubiquity), and Ricochet (driverless transferability).

That last is quite important: if I have to install drivers on my computer and reconfigure it for access, thumbs down. If I just plug into an Ethernet port, thumbs up. This was one of the factors that held back smaller-city provider Monet Networks: the lack of this kind of Ethernet-based hookup. And its one of the driving reasons behind the business model for Junxion, a Seattle company that has a cellular data box with Ethernet and Wi-Fi built in.

Into this world of wireless broadband will come thin clients with embedded network connections.

Software Development

The Economist writes:

Three main trends are shaping the future of software development and giving hope to those who oversee big software projects. The first is awareness of the need to pay greater attention to the lifecycle of a piece of software, from the initial setting of requirements to ongoing implementation. The second trend is towards automating the testing of software. The NIST study estimates that $22.2 billion (more than one-third) of the cost of software failures could be eliminated simply by improved testing. The third trend is the emergence of open-source code, something embraced even by Microsoft, which is often seen by its many critics as the would-be nemesis of the open-source movement.

The three big industry trendslifecycle management, testing and open sourcecome together in a movement known as agile programming…The main principle of agile programming is that developers must talk to each other often, and that they must talk to the business people setting requirements equally often. Combine this with a short time-scaleideally agile proponents seek to deliver a working bit of software every few weeksand you have an accelerated, informal version of the iterative model. This means that no project can go on for years and produce nothinga fatally flawed project will be caught sooner.

Technology in Turmoil

[via Anish Sankhalia] David Kirkpatrick of Fortune writes: “The technology business is in a state of turmoil that was unimaginable just a couple of years ago. Industry icons are under threat, market leaders are at risk, and the whole pantheon of tech greats seems to be under renovation…Microsoft and Sun face open source, Intel seems weakened, outsourcing threatens services playersthese are just a few of the recent shifts in the firmament.”

Software Blades

Steve Gillmor writes:

Sitting in the Imax theater of the Tech Museum of Innovation for the Solaris 10 rollout, I watched Scott McNealy not talk about the futuristic SunRay sitting on the stage. Five years ago I sat in the press room laughing as a bank of SunRays blinked on and off in unison. No way, I thought, nobody is gonna tear me away from my ThinkPad. Now Scott was leaving the SunRay conversation for us to pick up, knowing full well that a zero install free OS with no viruses needs only a good synchronization standard (hello attention.xml) to enable persistent caching for mobile devices.

So complete is the Sun transformation that it fell to McNealy to answer a news conference question about blades with the elegant “software blades,” a nod to Solaris 10s container technology and a bear hug for Jonathan Schwartz virtualization of the Sun revenue model going forward. Its a marriage of the Big Freakin Webtone Switch with software as a service and cycles on demand. In this world, podcasting is nothing more (or less) than long-form ring tones.

Windows still sits in the middle, but now, with the BlackBerry, the iPod, the Mac, Wi-Fi, and RSS, I can route around it. More and more, I miss it less and less.

Microcontent

MarcCanter did a presentation recently. One of the slides outlined some of the evolving spaces:

Smart Email = Gmail, ODDpost, LaszloMail
Blogging = TypePad, Blogger, Blogware, LJ
Aggregators = Bloglines, NewsGator, Rojo
Photo Sharing = Flickr, Fotolog, Buzznet
Social Networking = LinkedIn, Tribe, MySpace
Moblogging = TextAmerica, Lifeblog
Location based = Dodgeball, Midentity
Content Communities = AlwaysOn,1UP

Popular Telephony

Business 2.0 has an article by Om Malik on the start-up:

New York-based startup Popular Telephony is offering a new VOIP technology that dramatically cuts corporate phone costs while letting workers take their office phones anywhere. Its secret: peer-to-peer software called Peerio that’s built right into handsets.

CEO Dmitry Goroshevsky founded the company three years ago to bring PC economics to the office telephone system. A traditional workplace setup requires a dedicated voice network and a private branch exchange, or PBX, to connect to the outside world and can cost upwards of $1 million. Cisco (CSCO) has been selling an IP PBX, which uses a data network for voice calls. But Popular Telephony eliminates pricey hardware altogether. Using a plain old PC, network administrators assign an extension to each phone. Peerio-enabled handsets — which will be sold through discount retailers and office supply stores — plug directly into a company’s data network, where calls are routed through a gateway and then out. Since Peerio is based on Internet protocol, office workers can use their phones wherever there’s a broadband connection. And though companies pay the usual rates to call conventional landline and cell-phone numbers, ringing up other Peerio and VOIP users won’t cost a dime. A handful of licensees are manufacturing the phones, which Goroshevsky expects to hit U.S. shelves in late 2005.