Portal’s Purpose

[via Ed Brill] An article by IBM’s Ken Bisconti in Computerworld outlines the role of a portal in the enterprise context:

Processes: The portal should streamline events and allow organizations to view themselves as collections of business processes rather than functional departments, allowing them to better share intellectual capital across the company.

User experience: The portal should ensure that the content, applications and collaboration tools are customized and integrated for unique, role-based user experiences. In addition, the portal should accommodate a global audience, while considering variances such as time zones, currency exchange rates and foreign language support.

ROI: Return on investment must be demonstrated through easy deployment, integration and implementation. The cost of managing the portal shouldn’t burden IT staff or vex end users.

Partners: Business partners should be able to securely access critical information on the portal, and the portal should ensure them lower costs for the delivery of business processes.

Organizational productivity: The portal should provide all employees, customers and partners a collaborative workplace that breaks down boundaries between departments and organizations and ensures that people work as effectively as possible.

Streamlined: The portal should accommodate the integration of collaboration tools such as instant messaging, Web conferencing, team rooms and third-party applications.

Embedded: The portal should be a window to e-learning and training offerings.

RSS:Blog = HTTP:Web = SMTP:Email

Brad Feld writes:

In the early 1990’s, SMTP enabled a raft of companies that built businesses around all aspects of Internet-based email. Shortly thereafter, HTTP enabled – well – an entire industry. SMTP and HTTP are really simple protocols (and – when they were first created – had a slow initial commercial adoptions that suddently went non-linear and became pervasive.) We are seeing exactly the same thing with RSS – and blogging is simply the first broad-based instantiation.

I’ve looked at a lot of RSS/blog related startups in the past 12 months. They bifurcate into two categories – those with a well-defined, easily understandible business model and those without. The vast majority – with a little effort – can fall into the first category. Now – like with everything – a bunch of the ideas are either stupid, small, or disorganized. But – once you filter these out – you are faced with traditional businesses based on a new emerging protocol. The good news – and the bad news – is we know how the game will play out – so with RSS it’ll just happen faster than with SMTP and HTTP. I expect the victors will be the early birds that have a combination of conviction, compentence, and agility.

Business Week has an article on companies leveraging the blogging ecosystem.

Reputation Services

Fred Wilson outlines what a reputation service needs to do:

1) Identify things you can trust. Its not just about people, but people are an important subset.
2) Identify things you cant trust.
3) Incorporate user feedback.
4) Incorporate other data that is relevant.
5) Allow users to set their own standards. For example my idea of a bad review may be very different than yours.
6) Provide for syndication. I might want to take your reputation and make it my own and add more user feedback into it.
7) Provide for extensibility. I might want to take your reputation service and add my own layer of reputation service on top of it.

What’s Ahead for Tech

Barron’s thinks that the next year will be tough for technology companies, but also offers some rays of hope:

To shake corporate executives out of their parsimonious mood will require a sense of urgency about that Next Big Thing. Trouble is, no one knows what it is. Possibly, says Sherlund, it will come from the adoption of Web services. He notes that companies like IBM, Oracle, BEA Systems and Microsoft all offer software to help integrate disparate software systems — the idea at the heart of the notion of Web services. Sherlund thinks the trend could be a significant growth driver.

Or, Sherlund posits, the trend could be the move to the digital home, as we all spend more time and money routing pictures, music and video around our home networks. “Many of the companies we think of as benefiting from corporate IT spending are rushing to leverage their positions in the digital market into the home,” he says. Little wonder: One of the industry’s few unqualified successes in recent years has been the iPod, Apple Computer’s hugely popular portable digital music player.

That said, neither of those trends — or any others we came across — seems monumental enough to drive a big wave of tech spending in the next 12 months. Sure, companies are still ga-ga over open- source software like Linux, they are adopting voice over IP phone services, they are buying densely packed “blade servers” and they are spending generously on security software. They also are forking over large sums to meet the stringent audit and reporting demands of Sarbanes-Oxley. But the dollars involved in all of those simply aren’t enough to move the needle on tech spending, given the huge size of the overall technology business.

“You need a pervasive sense that there is a next obvious thing to do, and that if you don’t do it, you will get left behind,” Berman says. “Right now, there is nothing like that. Companies are doing ‘keep the lights on’ spending, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

Berman does see one hope on the distant horizon: a long-term bull market at the intersection of broadband and wireless. The ability to be productive anywhere, anytime, over a fast connection will ultimately be more powerful than what he terms “the last killer platform” — the ability to be productive every time you sit down at your desk, thanks to e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and the Web. “The productivity implications of what’s coming are way more compelling,” he says. “But are the essential building blocks in place in 2005? I don’t think they are.”

Goldman Sachs’ Sherlund says it’s time to get used to a technology world that thinks as much about the global economy as it does new product cycles. To better understand this strange new world, Sherlund says he’s been spending more time with Jack Kelly, a Goldman analyst who covers economically sensitive industrial stocks like Tyco International and 3M.

“We are subordinate to the economic cycle now, something which used to be an afterthought, because product cycles were so strong,” he says. “Today, without any urgency to spend, people are looking much more at the economy. It’s a mature, consolidating market. A lot of what we talk about is corporate profit growth. It’s turned all of us into economists.” And there can’t be anything good about that.

Sachs’ Plan to Eliminate Poverty

The New York Times writes about Jeffrey Sachs’ plan:

Ever the macroeconomist, Sachs is in the process of calculating exactly what it will require to do them. Adding the costs of basic infrastructure, health care and primary education, among other things, he estimates that it will take about $100 per beneficiary per year for Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goals in the next 10 years. He figures African governments and households can kick in about $45, and donors already contribute about $10, so that leaves $45 more per person. On a global scale, meeting the goals would require about $150 billion of development assistance per year. If that sounds like a lot, it’s still less than the 0.7 percent of G.N.P. a year that donor countries have repeatedly promised, most recently in Mexico, where in 2002 they signed the Monterrey Consensus pledging ”concrete efforts” toward that goal. (Despite recent increases, the United States still spends under 0.2 percent of its G.N.P. on foreign aid — less than any other wealthy industrialized country.) ”You can’t have a civilized world in which the rich aren’t even willing to live up to this tiny commitment,” Sachs says. ”We’re talking about less than 1 percent,” he adds, a statistic that seems to astound him. ”It’s stunning.”

Sachs isn’t just expecting rich nations to fork over the cash, though. He’s traveling the world to rally poor countries to draft plans showing what they need and how they’ll spend it. Hunger, for example, can be eliminated with the right science and technology, he says, which can be purchased with foreign aid. So in July, Sachs convened in Ethiopia a United Nations conference on hunger to persuade African leaders to see it that way. Ambitious as ever, Sachs aimed to start an African ”green revolution.”

TECH TALK: CommPuting Grid: Net-Grid

At the other extreme (as compared to the LAN-Grid) is the ideal solution a centralised computing platform to serve everyone. Think of this as the Net-Grid. It is the way we access Googe, Yahoo and eBay so far, weve used these websites for services such as email, search and auctions. Now, we need to go a step further and even have computing delivered from the centralised bank of servers. We are already seeing this emerge in the second generation of application service providers (ASPs) like Salesforce.com. So, whats different about the Net-Grid?

The Net-Grid takes the LAN-Grid to its logical conclusion if bandwidth were available, the LAN and WAN would merge into a single network, and thus the locally hosted computing platform could be moved further into the core. The edges become simple presentation and input devices, while the core houses the complexity of the computing platform.

But there are big differences. The technologies that will work on the LAN-Grid in terms of data replication will not scale to the Net-Grid. The need is for a distributed file system which can support millions of users. There are multiple options available in open-source: Andrew File System, Coda, InterMezzo and Lustre are some examples. In a sense, the challenge here is simpler than what the likes of IBM and Sun have worked on solving treating a whole host of distributed resources across a network as one through virtualisation. In the case of the Net-Grid, all the hardware can indeed be centralised into a single location. The three challenges that need to be addressed for the Net-Grid are: providing scalable computing, scalable storage, and granularised billing.

The computing grid that we are discussing is very much like the architecture available in telecom: think of the LAN-Grid as the equivalent of a PBX, while the Net-Grid is the centralised switching system. (There is also an intermediate option that of a Centrex service from the local central office think of this as an Operator-Grid, hosted by the broadband operator over a last mile which is free of opex once the capex is done.)

In terms of costs, there are two key considerations: that of the computing infrastructure and bandwidth the assumption currently made is that open-source software would be used to provide the basic set of applications for the desktop. From a user point of view, assuming we would like to stick to the aggregate Rs 700 ($15) per user per month payment for the whole ecosystem of commPuting, the allocation for the grid will be about $2. [The rest is split thus: $8 for bandwidth, $4 for the network computer rental, $1 for support and reseller margin.]

Of this $2 monthly grid payment, about half would be spent on bandwidth and data centre costs. That leave us with $1 to provide the computing and storage infrastructure. Is this doable? Let us do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Let us start with the LAN-Grid which had a capex of $55 per user. We will get some economies of scale in pricing as we move computing to the storage. However, the real benefit that we will get is that much like a telco, we will not need to allocate that same computing power for every user. Let us assume that we design a system that assumes that a third of the users are online at the peak. This means that our capex will be a maximum of $18 per user (extrapolating from the LAN-Grid cost). Assuming that this can be amortised over a period of three years, and add financing and management costs, we will probably get to something like a total spend of about $24 over three years, or about $0.67 per month. This gives us an operating margin of $0.33 per user per month or about $4 per user per annum. So, in theory, it should be able to build, own and operate such a public computing grid.

Tomorrow: Benefits

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