Category Archives: Uncategorized

10 iPhone Apps I can’t live without

Some months back I wrote a post about stuff that made my life easier in 2013. I can’t find the reference to this, and therefore can’t remember who asked, but someone asked for me to write a similar article about mobile apps.

For some reason, I do bad things to technology. I’m lucky if a phone lasts 9 months or a laptop lasts 18 months. It’s not that I abuse them, but perhaps it is my travel schedule and usage that wears them out so fast. Whatever it was, my 15-month-old iPhone was dead. The battery was down to a few hours and the camera had stopped working. It was time to replace it.

I’m smart enough to get AppleCare and so Apple replaced it with no fuss. Instead of restoring from an iCloud backup, I decided to start from scratch and only install those apps that I really needed. A few weeks later, here are the top 10.

1) Google Maps

I’m sorry but Apple Maps sucks. It’s totally unusable and doesn’t recognize places. The first thing I did, after driving into a lake, was to move Apple Maps out my home screen and replace it with Google Maps.

2) Twitter

I love the plain vanilla Twitter app. The new version has made messages, interactions and newsfeeds easy to navigate and I’m a huge Twitter fan. I installed this straight up.

3) Waze

Google bought Waze but they haven’t integrated it with Google Maps yet. Where I live, there are a few roads which can get really badly blocked and Waze lets me know and helps navigate around traffic jams.

4) Whatsapp

Facebook bought them today, but this is on my home screen. I use it to talk to people out the country and besides… iMessages sucks. It’s unreliable. Whatsapp works great and it allows for group chats, which I use at work for round-the-world messaging on projects.

5) Polar Beat

I’m trying to lose weight and Polar Beat helps incentivize me. I’ve got a Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor and Stride Sensor. Awesome.

6) Expensify

With Expensify I connect my credit cards and receipts and build them into an expense report that I put into our corporate portal. I snap pictures of expenses and it builds them into a PDF that I submit. No paper expenses any more. And I email expenses to [email protected]

7) CamCard

When I go to a conference, I come back with 50 business cards and CamCard lets me photograph them and turns them into contacts. It’s a great time saver and it works very reliably.

8) TripIt

I email my travel plans to [email protected] and it keeps all my travel in one place. I have TripIt Pro so I get notifications of spare seats, changes to plans and check ins. I’m not that organized, so it really helps.

9) Uber

Uber is your personal driver. You click a button and a few minutes later you have a black car pick you up. I use this most weeks because it integrates with Expensify, and so I don’t need to keep manual receipts for taxis. It’s slightly more expensive than a regular cab but it saves in administration time.

10) Hotel Tonight

Hotel Tonight is my travel friend – I usually don’t book hotels until the day. This way I open the app, it gives me a list of reliable hotels and I click book. I get an email which I forward to Expensify and just walk out the hotel when I’m done.

Final Words

So these are the first 10 apps I installed on my phone. Note that there’s no Facebook or LinkedIn – those are apps that I use primarily on my laptop. There’s no Skype – that’s on my iPad. Are there any other apps that you really need on your phone?

Let me know what your favorites are.

Does the sale of IBM’s hardware business signal the beginning of the end?

These days, the only computer that I personally own is an iPad. This happened because some years back, I developed an unhealthy fascination with unusual computers. This culminated with a purchase of a Digital AlphaServer 4100. It was a magnificent machine.

Alpha Server 4100

Alpha Server 4100

Unfortunately, as it turns out, it would also trip my electricity supply when I turned it on, and cost a small fortune to run, and only fitted in the kitchen, where it was universally unpopular. It had a ton of moving parts to go wrong, and I realized that my fascination with weird computers had to stop, so I donated it to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. I hope they took care of her. If you read this and work there, please let me know!

And so, one of the things that I realized at the time was that UNIX was dying – I realized this around the turn of the century. In the last 15 years, IBM has swallowed almost all of the UNIX market share and some vendors have simply left the market of been acquired: Digital, Silicon Graphics, NeXT, and yet others have lost massive market share: Sun/Oracle and HP/Compaq/Digital, to be specific. I called the HP Superdome as dead as a dodo in 2012 and if you think I was wrong, check this.

As for IBM, they have increased revenue in a declining market, which is in a very similar position to Pearson (the world’s largest book publisher), who are growing in a declining market. IBM’s UNIX hardware sales department is very profitable and ensures sell-on of even more profitable software products, and services to implement those software products. IBM likes high-margin and is an execution machine.

And so IBM sold off its low-margin PC business to Lenovo in 2005, which was an extremely smart move. Lenovo knows how to make good quality hardware at a good price and they are performing well, though at low margins: $584m operating income on $29.57bn of revenue in 2012. Both companies have prospered.

For the last few years, IBM and Lenovo have been dating, discussing the sale of its low-margin Intel Server business. From what I can see, IBM waited too long and only got $2.3bn, when they wanted much more – indeed they would have probably achieved double that, two years ago. The logic is – get rid of the low margin business and focus on the good stuff.

The technology market is a very tough place to be right now, and it’s very tough for a company like IBM to make good decisions. The biggest hardware players in the world now are the big cloud companies like Amazon and Google, both of which build their own custom data centers and don’t buy from IBM or HP.

But I question IBM’s decision. UNIX is a profitable market but a deceptive market. There are mission-critical use cases that use IBM’s System z and there will probably always be a market for certified, bulletproof systems. The thing that worries me is IBM’s middle ground – System p. System p is advocated by IBM as a low TCO UNIX environment, and that, to my mind, is a contradiction in terms. To add to that, IBM have combined System i (more mission critical than p, but not as much as z) with System p, to avoid the cost of developing yet another infrastructure.

Even worse, news outlets and IBM alike have referred to the Intel “System x” business as Low-End. SAP runs its entire business for 55,000 employees on one IBM System x3950 with 80 cores and 4TB of main memory. IBM sell a System x system with 4480 cores and 56TB of main memory. Don’t be fooled – System x starts at low end, but has systems that can solve the world’s hardest problems. I have no doubt that IBM didn’t want to sell this part, but Lenovo very smartly took it.

What I believe will happen is that companies will stop using HP Superdome, Oracle M-Series and IBM System p in the next 10-20 years, because they will move to the cloud – either in their own data centers, or in someone else’s cloud. There is no use case for “fairly” mission critical and whilst IBM is the clear leader in the UNIX market, it is a dying market.

So this leaves IBM without all of the Intellectual Property that made it – in my opinion – the finest Intel server manufacturer and with a declining server play. Lenovo will stop pimping IBM software and services in the medium term.

If there is one thing for which I have the utmost respect for IBM, it is its ability as a company to foster talent and reinvent itself and even when IBM was at the brink of bankruptcy – losing an impressive $16bn between 1991 and 1993, it managed to turn around its business and become one of the greatest technology companies in the world.

In the midst of this, IBM is focussing on its impressive Watson technology as a solution to part of this, whilst SAP HANA platform eats the DB2 database’s lunch. Note, I sell SAP HANA services, but the numbers back me up: HANA is growing in sales 80% year on year to just under $1bn in 2013, and IBM software grew 2.8% last year (they don’t break out DB2).

IBM has just posted its seventh consecutive quarter of decline. I dearly hope that Ginni Rometty has a master turn-around plan and IBM will once again rise from the ashes, because IBM is an incredible company that has survived where others have failed. But I worry that with all the other changes happening in the technology world whether selling off all IBM’s hardware business will be viewed as a mistake. We shall see.

 

 

Stuff that made my life easier in 2013

I’m not one of those people who waltzes out of bed looking sharp and organized. It’s an effort, and I have to build a set of systems to keep myself organized. Each year, I try to pick a few painful areas to try to improve a workflow, and sometimes things that just make your life easier fall into your lap.

Here’s a few I found in 2013 – a mix of People, Process & Technology!

Expensify

Did you ever have that pile of 100 small receipts that you never managed to expense? Yeah, me too. Expensify collects, collates and categorizes your business expenses. You can take photos of receipts (you pay $0.10 per scan and it adds this to your expense report), and it will reconcile it with your credit card statement automatically.

Then, you print an expense report and send it in. I still then have to manually enter my expenses into SAP (hint to SAP, buy Expensify and give the integration away for free), but I can throw receipts in the bin once they are scanned. Even better, it automatically generates IRS-friendly receipts for payments of less than $25 so you don’t have to track small payments at all.

I did get tripped up once I hadn’t done my expenses in a while and Expensify hides expenses older than 30 days by default. This meant I forgot to expense a bunch of things and got in a muddle.

TripIt

If you travel frequently, you’ll be familiar with the pain of collating travel plans. A single trip can have planes, trains, taxis, hotels and car rentals; this can get extremely frustrating to monitor. TripIt makes things easy – you just email your plans to [email protected] and it builds a trip for you, so you can lookup reservation numbers and keep track.

TripIt has a bunch of other nice functionality: it will keep you informed if the type of seat that you would like becomes available, it will inform you of flight delays, and ensure you get refunds available to you if you don’t fly.

I’d love to see TripIt add trip expense management that integrates with Expensify – this would be the cherry on the cake for me.

Amtrak Guest Rewards

In a world where airlines are either charging ($450 for access to US Airways?!) for access to clubs, Amtrak is not the place you would expect to lead in customer service!

Amtrak Guest Rewards is possibly the best rewards program. You collect points immediately at 2 for each dollar spent, or 500 for an Acela roundtrip, and 5000 points gets you a free one-way ticket. They often do special offers, double points, or right now they’re doing buy 3 get one free.

Then once you’ve racked up enough points in a year (10k gets you Select Plus, which is where you want to be), they start to treat you really well. You get free access to their Lounges (plus United Lounges) and they send free stuff in the mail like companion vouchers or upgrades.

And one of the nicest things is the lounges are often connected to the railway track by lift, so you can sit in the warm lounge sipping coffee, and then take a lift to the freezing track as the train rolls into the station.

Mint.com

Whilst we’re on the subject of web tools, I found Mint.com to be pretty cool. You connect it to your bank accounts and credit cards and it provides consolidated analytics on spend. You can create rules so it categorizes your spend.

It’s neat for looking for exceptions like making sure you got refunds, plus seeing where you are spending. Some people may not like the privacy implications, but I like it a lot. You may be surprised by where your money goes!

Lastpass

If you’re going to use things like Mint.com (or in fact any other online banking service) then you should consider Lastpass. It generates up to 100 character passwords which are individual for each website you use. I wrote about it here, because I like it so much.

I’ve also just added a Yubikey, which ensures that the websites that I only want to access from my laptop can only be accessed from my laptop. In this day of internet fraud, you can’t be too careful, especially when careful doesn’t cost you any inconvenience.

Amazon Prime

I have been a huge fan of Amazon Prime. It looks like Amazon have put the price up to $80 per year, have started to use USPS (which isn’t the best courier), and many Prime products are now expensive – so I’m not sure if I’ll be renewing, but it was great in 2013.

Knowing that you can get anything in 2 days, for free: you could reliably order goods on December 22nd and get them on December 24th – is awesome, when you live in the US. I used Amazon for pretty much everything I ordered online in 2013 as a result.

The free lending library and videos sounded good at the time, but I’ve rarely used them, despite there being a pretty good video app.

Sandisk Extreme Flash Drive

This is the first flash drive I have really loved – in the past, you had to choose between performance and price. For $45, you can get the 32GB Sandisk Extreme, which can write files as fast as your laptop can read them. In my job I often copy huge files to pass around the room, and this is a time saver.

Previously, you would have to pay $2-300 for a flash drive this fast, which is crazy money, but at $45, it is very affordable. Well done, Sandisk!

Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor

Anyone that knows me know that I’m a fitness nut and a Big Data geek. I’ve had a few HRMs in the past, and I’ve hated them. In particular, the Garmin Forerunner 400 Series watch, which I bought to incentivize me to run the London Marathon, was a giant paste of money.

Usability is key to actually using technology, and Polar got this spot on with the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor. It connects to my iPhone with and comes with the Polar Beat app, which uses the iPhone’s GPS to plot your location when you’re running. It’s easy to use and it just works and it’s a fraction of the price of a watch.

I also added the Polar Smart Stride sensor, which is handy when you’re running on a treadmill because it calculates how fast you are running but isn’t really worth the money unless you only run on a treadmill.

Apple EarPods

You know, I’ve had a lot of earphones over the years. Noise Cancelling, in the ear, over the ear, through the ear (maybe not). In the end, the new Apple EarPods are my favorite. They’re inexpensive (which is handy when you break them often like I do), the microphone quality is great, and the sound quality is good. Plus they actually stay in my ears.

I wish they would last a little longer, but this is a me problem, not an Apple problem.

WordPress

I’m going to add WordPress to this list – in a world of horrible platforms like Jive Software, WordPress is a wonderful breath of fresh air. I use a self-hosted blog from Bluehost, who I thoroughly recommend, and I can setup a new domain at low cost in a few minutes, configure it with WordPress, and get started.

It’s easy to add themes, make it look good, and extensions like spam protection are really easy. Blogging and content management is a breeze and I always love writing a blog on this site.

Final Words

Each one of these things actually made my life a little easier in 2013. In a world where we have to do more with a fixed amount of time, anything that makes life easier brings a real smile to my face. Anything which is free, or low cost (and all of the things on the list are inexpensive) is even better.

So thank you to all the companies above that made awesome products, and have a great 2014!

What are your favorites? What should I look at for 2014?

Why does Hackers News have to be so whiney? Open Source SAPUI5

Disclaimer: I’ve been pushing SAP to Open Source their UI platform for some time. So this matters to me.

I found about SAPUI5 finally making it Open Source via whiney news platform Hackers News. SAPUI5 is a general-purpose web framework for application technologies, built on jQuery. It’s not perfect. It’s more than a bit bloated and a little slow, but a bunch of people saw potential in it. In the SAP internal and external developer community, and the customer community.

We also saw that the potential that it had, would be killed by it being a closed framework. So, we lobbied, internally and externally, to make the framework Open Source. Why? For many reasons:

- Open Source can crowdsource product problem resolution and drive the framework forward
- Customers and developers alike can understand the license implications
- SAP can benefit from greater penetration and utilization

In short, we believed that SAPUI5 was a good framework that could become great, and heavily used, by opening up the source to the community. There was no downside, in our estimation.

So, I was sad to read the usual garbage in Hackers News:

“A UI toolkit from SAP, that’s rich.”

“Looks like UI kits from 3 years ago.”

“This looks like ExtJS, but worse than ExtJS.”

“Why is it so slow?”

Alas that’s pretty much what I expected from that website. I really don’t understand why “hackers” don’t see the significance of a company like SAP, that will have struggled hard to make a framework like this Open Source.

This is a really important and good thing for the community. So take a look at OpenUI. If you don’t like something, please contribute. Criticize heavily, from within. Add some value.

But please don’t whine about those people that worked hard, just because it’s SAP.

Three steps to protect your online identity in five minutes

According to Russian businessman Eugene Kaspersky, online fraud costs more than $100bn per annum. The US National Security Agency and UK GHCQ have been spying on your personal emails for years. What do you do about it? Login to your Bank of America account with “Password1″, to find out that someone emptied your account.

Yes, Bank of America allow that password. So do Chase and Citi.

I studied Computer Science at University, where I learnt from Ross Anderson about cybercrime. We knew all about it in 1996 – we estimated that the NSA could easily build a computer to build modern cryptographic algorithms in a few minutes for about $2m. Cybercrime is 20 years old and we don’t get any smarter about it?

So what can you do to protect your money, your identity, your life? It turns out that it takes three steps, and five minutes.

Encrypt your computer

I use a Mac. You click Apple -> System Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> File Vault -> Turn on FileVault. That’s it. If you use a PC then it is no harder to enable BitLocker.

If you have a PC or Mac built in the last few years, it will be 1-2% slower. Big deal.

Now, if someone steals your laptop, they can’t access it unless they have your password. Both BitLocker and FileVault use encryption which is pretty hard to get through, though you had better believe that the NSA can still get in. Sorry.

Use a Secure Password

You would be surprised how quickly hackers can crack passwords. They can crack 50% within a few minutes and 80% within a few hours. Remember why you installed the security alarm at home? Mostly, because you want the burglar to break into the house next door? It’s the same with passwords – you want to be in the 20% that hackers can’t be bothered to get to.

Hackers use wordlists that have proper nouns (London), foreign wordlists (mot-de-passe), non-Latin characters (пароль) and substitutions (P4ssw0rd). None of these things protect you. Two things matter – length of password, and number of words.

So choose something which is easy for you to remember, and hard to guess. Make sure it has 4 words. Let’s say you’re a Dickens fan. OliverPickwickChuzzlewitRudge. You are now in the 20%. Why? Read this awesome article by Ars Technica.

But be careful – don’t use phrases from books, especially the Bible. Hackers are now using phrases taken from books to fuel their word lists.

Never use the same password twice

You should never use the same password twice. If your password is stored by one website and hacked, then they can log into any other website where you used the same password. But using a different password on each site means you have to remember hundreds of passwords, right?

Wrong. Meet LastPass.

You enter one master password, and then LastPass generates random secure passwords for all the websites you access. It is so easy to use, there’s no excuse not to use it. And it is cloud based so you can use it anywhere you need it.

It has a handy side-effect that you track the websites that you have passwords stored in. Remember to protect your LastPass master password with OliverPickwickChuzzlewitRudge!

Final Words

These three steps to protect your digital existence take less than FIVE MINUTES to complete. Yes, there are other things that you can do. But these three steps put you in the 20%. Unless you are specifically being targeted – the hacker will go somewhere else.

But take note – no one looks after your privacy. Bank of America certainly don’t – they allow insecure passwords. Neither do Apple or Microsoft – they provide secure functionality but don’t enable it by default or encourage you to use it. If you care about this then you have to take action to look after yourself.

Upgrading my Digital Life – analysis of home Cloud Providers

There was a time, not so long ago, that I had a big computer in a cupboard that stored all my digital life: my movies, photographs, music and documents. This way, when I was home, I could access everything from one of several computers and I would synchronize the stuff that I really needed to my laptop.

This seemed like a sensible approach at the time but the world has moved on, and so have I. For a start, I no longer want a noisy computer in a cupboard. It would cost thousands of dollars to buy, and more money to power. Second, I travel and I want my information available to me wherever I am. Third, the access and price of cloud storage has plummeted. For a few dollars a month, you can get whatever you need.

Like most people, I already use a bunch of cloud services. iTunes Match for my music collection, iCloud for email, Facebook, Flickr. I used to use Mobile Me for file storage but when iCloud came around, that got removed from the service. But in particular, I don’t have safe backups of my music and documents, so I thought I’d spring clean my digital life.

What do consumers need in cloudy digital life?

I feel like the needs are pretty simple – probably yours are similar, but for the detail.

- The ability to upload all my music somewhere, and store the stuff that I want on my Mac and iPhone, and stream the rest. Plus the ability to connect up music players as needed. I’ve consumed a lot of music over the years!
- Safe file storage that synchronizes with my main machine (Mac) and allows me to view and edit documents in the cloud from time to time. I don’t actually have a lot of documents – it boils down to a few GB in the end.
- Storage for large quantities of photographs (100GB) including support for bulk upload, albums, preferably location information and faces.
- Email archive for tens of GB of older emails that I rarely access.

The first thing I realized was that it really doesn’t matter to have one provider, or several, for these services, so long as the overall cost is reasonable. Given the cost of equipment I used to buy, I’m good with paying $100-200 a year for the pleasure. Less would be a bonus!

Music

I’ve been using iTunes Match since it first came out. It’s a pretty nice service in many ways and I uploaded most of my music up there. But now I want to switch from the UK to US iTunes stores and iTunes Match doesn’t let you do this. You have to download all your music, cancel your subscription, move the store and upload all your music again (argghhh!).

Whilst iTunes Match makes it super-easy to move content to the iPhone or iTunes, it is a walled garden and you can’t play music without either iTunes or Airplay. No support for playing from the web on another PC, or via a streaming device like Sonos (without Airplay).

So, I went looking to see what else is out there. Amazon CloudPlayer looked good so I signed up for $25 a year and started uploading my music. Unfortunately I’ve not had much luck with this – it only matches some 30% of my music, which means I am uploading tens of thousands of songs. This is pretty inconvenient! iTunes Match matched about 95% of my songs. CloudPlayer is also based on horrible Adobe Flash technology which means when I pause the upload on my laptop during the working day (it slows the internet), it gobbles up the battery life.

I moved from there to Google Play, which is completely free for up to 20,000 tracks, and then $120 a year, which is very steep. I’m also unimpressed by the very high CPU usage (200%) when uploading music, though it does upload music fast. I’m struggling with the $120 a year price tag, when Amazon and Apple are only $25!

Not sure where I’m going to – but I’m tempted to cancel my Amazon subscription and put up with the pain of moving iTunes Match.

File Storage

Apple’s iCloud offers cruddy file storage – only really supported if you create files within the iCloud walled garden using Apple’s apps. This doesn’t really suit me well and the folder management within iCloud sucks, as does offline availability. Yuck.

It turns out that there are a bunch of GREAT options for file storage management out there. There’s Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox and a hundred others. What’s more, this market has commoditized, so prices are consistent and low.

I tried out Amazon and Google (I’ve used Dropbox in the past too) and I immediately liked Google’s interface the best. You get 15GB free (vs 5GB with Amazon) which means I can store all my files for free. If I need more, Amazon or Google are both around $50 a year for 100GB. Both provide great file synchronization and you just drop your documents in.

But more than anything with Google, the cloud storage management and ability to view and share files is just great. I have to admit I’m concerned about privacy with Google but unless I want to host my own files in a country with very strict privacy legislation, your data is not 100% secure anywhere in the cloud, especially from the Government. Be mindful of what you upload. My only other problem with Google Drive is I do get a lot of “Unable to Sync” errors even when I have otherwise good network connections.

Photos

Photos are the trickiest as unlike Music, the cloud provider can’t match them against some existing list of albums and avoid big uploads. You really do need to organize, sort and upload a truckload of images yourself.

Apple provides absolutely no mechanism for this and there is no iPhoto in the cloud. What’s more, iPhoto uses up all the disk space on my Mac with various copies of images for different devices, caches, thumbnails and databases. I have 35GB of images on my Mac and iPhoto uses 70GB. What a pile of junk.

That said, I love the convenience of PhotoStream synchronization between devices, and iPhoto does do a good job of collating my Photo albums.

It’s less obvious where to go to from here and I’m still evaluating options. Yahoo! bought Flickr, and you get a massive 1TB of free image space with them as well as great web content management software. But how do you get all your images up into the Yahoo! cloud? There is a Flickr Uploader and an iPhoto plugin but they are both quite buggy in my experience. Also, how do you get a copy of your images on your PC or iPad, to share with your friends when you don’t have a network?

Then there’s Google Drive. It has support for the Picasa photo management software with integration with Google+, which sounds alluring. Unfortunately the version of Picasa that’s available for the Mac is a horrible old-school Mac app that is slow, clunky and doesn’t work well with the MacBook Pro Retina screen. It does however appear to let you keep your photos in sync with iTunes and Google+ and what’s more, photos less than 2048×2048 don’t use up your space on Google Drive.

I’m still lost here as to a way that will work for me to manage my photos. Guess I need to blog again when I find a workable solution.

Email

I’ve not really got to email yet, but I do have a collection of older email archives that I’d like to keep for posterity. One thing is for sure: Apple’s iCloud won’t be the place I upload my email. It’s an OK location for occasional personal email, but it’s almost entirely unmanageable and the web interface sucks.

It feels like Gmail may be the easiest solution, given I’ve already chosen Google Drive. There is Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Outlook, which lets you upload email and then Google Sync to synchronize with all your devices.

Conclusions

One thing is for sure – Apple’s walled garden of iCloud Apps falls way behind what else is out there in the market and it has pushed me out of the Apple ecosystem. I think the problem is sufficiently bad that I will seriously consider a non-Apple product like the Google Nexus 7 when I come to buy a new device. Unless the new iPad Mini is amazing, of course.

The other thing is that it’s clear that the major players: Apple, Google and Amazon, are trying to compete with each other on land grab for subscribers – free, or paid. It’s also clear that none of them have got it right yet and if you want the best of all worlds, you have to go with different providers for different apps.

Google are a strong contender across the board and Google Drive appears in particular to be best of breed. Google’s desktop app support is lacking and Picasa for Mac really sucks. There is a lack of a consistent interface with Google which is a bit frustrating. However, their web services like Google Drive are the best, bar none.

Amazon are trying very hard to compete but I don’t really feel they are trying hard enough. I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber and this gives me no benefits with their cloud apps, which is frustrating enough. Add to this a lack of photo software, and a sucky CloudPlayer and I’m struggling.

Yahoo! seem to want to play in this world with their Flickr acquisition, but their strategy feels confused and whilst they offer huge free storage for both Mail and Photos, the apps leave something to be desired unless you want a pure-play cloud approach.

I’m left feeling I will continue using iTunes Match for music ($25/year) and Google for Documents/Photos/Email ($60/year for 100GB) for a total of $85/year. But mostly, I’m left feeling there must be a better way. Have I missed some obvious options? What do you think?

Altruism is an illusion that will get you killed

I’ve been pondering this for the last few days, and Mark Finnern brought it up at the SAP Mentor Monday Webinar today, so it seemed time to put pen to paper. Last month I wrote a blog post entitled “Top 5 Database Platforms – the Developer Experience Exposed.” The subject isn’t important for the purposes of this blog.

It was inspired by an unnamed source, which led me to do a detailed analysis. I wrote it because I thought that a wake-up call would serve the common good, and allow a positive discourse. It would give some people the air cover they needed to make change.

What I didn’t realize at the time was two things: first, that it would go viral, with 12k views in 3 days, not helped by a competitor picking up on the article, and riffing it. Second, it would also have a negative backlash. Some people felt betrayed, some felt I used deliberately over-emotive language some felt I was naïve in my comparison and others felt I’d got it wrong. Some felt that I’d been used and someone loaded a gun and put it in my hand.

Is it possible to have an independent voice?

Well in short of course not: we all have a bias.

But the irony of this situation is that it was the critical voice that I held within the SAP community that let me to have discourse, which led to relationships and eventually close friendships.

The irony is that once you have close friendships, your voice is compromised and this consequently diminishes your value to the community.

Altruism is an illusion

In writing this blog I’ve spent time pondering the nature and illusory nature of altruism. Nietzsche describes this in his book Beyond Good and Evil, where he points out that the strong do not delude themselves to believe that altruistic behavior can be taken at face value.

Instead there is usually a reason for our behavior – to further our own means, to feel good or for pride, or power. Even the TV show Friends gets in on the action with psychological egoism, or “there is no unselfish good deed”.

What should we do?

I don’t know. As someone told me the next day, altruism will get you killed. So in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, this one was written for me.

Does the Intel Sandy Bridge-EP platform bring SAP HANA to the masses?

Today, one of the biggest barriers to large-scale SAP HANA environments is hardware. It’s true that HANA is expensive but it also provides massive value that justifies the cost for the right scenarios.

But for large environments, HANA hardware is huge. Let’s take a typical 8TB IBM HANA appliance (remember you get great compression so this is equivalent to 40TB of Oracle).  But still you need 16x512GB IBM nodes, each of which has a 4U server and 4U storage node. That’s a massive 128U or 4 32U server racks. You need to locate, power and cool this much equipment:

Server Rack

You can buy 1TB EX5 nodes now from IBM but they are really just 2 512GB nodes stitched together with a special connection, so it is not any more dense. HP, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi and Cisco all make HANA hardware too, but it’s all roughly the same size.

The reason for this is because SAP HANA is highly optimised for the massively fast Intel Westmere-EX platform, which has really fast memory. The smaller Westmere-EP blade servers don’t have the grunt to run SAP HANA in an optimal way.

Enter Intel Sandy Bridge-EP

There won’t be a new EX platform until some time late 2012 or early 2013 – Intel is in no hurry because the EX platform is highly profitable and fast. But Sandy Bridge EP is out now and it provides some very interesting characteristics.

Westmere-EX. 40 2.4GHz cores, 512GB (4xDDR1333), 2x 6.4GT/sec QPI

Sandy Bridge-EP, 32 2.9GHz cores, 1TB (4xDDR1333), 2x 8GT/sec QPI

What this doesn’t show is the details of this great Real World Technology blog, which shows that for I/O intensive requirements like SAP HANA, Sandy Bridge-EP massively outperforms Westmere-EX. It has faster interconnects and lower memory, plus 50-70% better core performance.

Based on this it should be possible to run 1TB RAM in a (much smaller) single node with the same performance as Westmere-EX. Interested yet?

What will these systems look like?

Well Westmere-EX can take 1.5TB RAM in 48 sockets but you get a performance hit. As a result I think the right system will be a 32 RAM socket 1TB 32-core blade. Based on what I have seen so far in the blade server market, this means 8x1TB blades in a 10U blade chassis – plus roughly the same in shared storage. We are down from 128U to 20U – over 6x more dense.

Plus the cost reduction is extreme because Sandy Bridge-EP is much cheaper. The expensive item in a 1TB HANA node is the Fusion-IO log storage.

Does this pose a problem for the Intel sales engine?

In my opinion, it’s a big yes. SAP HANA is well suited to scale-out platforms and the highly profitable for Intel. With Sandy Bridge-EP you can use fewer, cheaper, less profitable CPUs for the same effect. HANA simply doesn’t need the scale-up that Westmere-EX requires.

What’s more this is big for a customer. A typical 1TB node currently costs around $200k. With Sandy Bridge-EP and the new FusionIO IODrive2 cards, you are looking at bringing this down below the $100k mark.

Interesting times indeed

Oracle posts terrible results – but does it matter for the rest of the tech market?

I’ve been in a period of quiet contemplation since Oracle posted bad quarterly results for the first time in… like ever. And the reaction from the markets was scathing. Stock went down 15% the day after and has slowly recovered – currently tracking at -11% since the results.

What’s even more interesting is there was a knock-on effect on other tech stocks. TIBCO was down at -11% and SAP at -6% on the same day – and they hadn’t done anything. TIBCO’s results were due the next day and SAP’s are due in mid January; the markets clearly believed that if stalwart Oracle had done badly, then presumably others would follow.

Let’s deal with TIBCO first; they posted fantastic results for Q4. 22% up on revenue. 31% up on profit. Innovation, success stories and all that; despite this, the stock is now only back up 1% above what it was before Oracle posted its results.

As for SAP, they posted blockbusting Q3 results and did the smart thing by keeping the full year advisory as it was. If they didn’t have a great Q4 then they would likely still hit the full year milestones – and if they had a great Q4 then they would smash them. Either way, investors would be happy.

I don’t have inside information on SAP’s results but Oracle blamed deal slippage. Some of the same seems to be visible across the enterprise IT space. From where I’m sitting, customers scrutinise where they spend money because they have to get value. If you’re a customer reading this – please do this. Take your time and ensure you spend it wisely – this way you will spend on the projects that help meet your strategic objectives. That can only be a good thing.

The worrying elephant in the room is further macro-economic trends We all know that the Euro is shafted. The UK economy is tightly linked to European exports so we are reliant on their – non-existant – buying power. The USA is reeling from the financial mess it has put itself in and only China is a huge buying force right now.

How much of the deal slippage can we attribute to the ailing global economy? Is everyone avoiding talking about it because they are afraid it might be true? And does this reflect on what might be a very tough economic market for 2012 and beyond?

We will see.

SAP 2011 results analysis – The Awful Economy Is Really Going To Hurt Financial Analysts

December 2011 has been a terrible month for the quality of SAP news. Or perhaps a reminder that some modicum of research and interest is required to produce a half decent article on a topic. Last week I hammered TechCrunch’s covering of the SAP and SuccessFactors acquisition with: Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad.

Today I’m on the warpath at Julie Bort from Business Insider, who wrote a piece entitled: The Awful Economy Is Really Going To Hurt SAP, Says BofA. Now to be fair it is Bank of America analyst Chandra Sriraman who is at the centre of all this. Some of the article is speculation and that’s fine. It’s the facts that worry me. First, here’s a quote on SAP’s biggest innovation in 2011.

HANA was hailed as groundbreaking when it was introduced about a year ago. It sits in a computer’s memory so it literally runs while the computer processes transactions.
There’s just one problem: No one is buying it.

When SAP CEO Bill McDermott told us last year that they were going to sell $100m of HANA in 2011, we thought he was being a bullish salesman. The product didn’t even exist and wasn’t released to market until July. But over 60% of that $100m was done already done by Q3, and Q4 is traditionally SAP’s biggest quarter by far. There aren’t any official numbers yet because some deals have not closed but insiders I talk to suggest that Q4 could be as big as the rest of the year combined, for HANA.

SAP’s revenue for 2011 is likely to be around €13.5bn (actually I think it will be more, but that’s the advisory, so work with me). Of this about 22% is license revenue – about €3bn, give or take. So of course even if it’s $120m or $150m of revenue from HANA, that is less than 5% of license revenue.

But Chandra totally misses the point. First, 5% isn’t bad in my books for year one of a product that wasn’t properly available until Q3. And second, HANA is really limited in its use cases right now. It was first available as an analytics appliance, and has just been made available as a data warehouse database. But soon, it will be available as a replacement to Oracle, Microsoft and IBM databases for SAP – and non-SAP customers. The available market just increased 100 fold. Steve Lucas – Global GM for Business Analytics & Technology at SAP told me this week that he wants to be the #2 database vendor by 2015.

“Although we remain positive on HANA, it contributes less than 3% of 2011 licenses and will not be able to offset any slowdown in the core applications market,” says Sriraman.

Well SAP’s license revenue for 2011 year to date is $2.2bn, up from $1.8bn in 2010. Thats 23% increase on 2010 (overall revenue is 16% up) and SAP have put an advisory for meeting the original 9% – rather than uplifting the revenue advisory. This is likely to be due to the worrying macroeconomic trends in the Eurozone meaning there is no up-side to increasing the advisory. My thoughts are overall revenue will be closer to 16% than 9% with a good chunk of that coming from software licenses.

The reason for that is multifold. First, the last of the old ERP licenses out there are being replaced with Enterprise Agreements – because support for the old R/3 software runs out in March 2013 and a lot of customers are planning upgrades. Second, Business Analytics is phenomenally strong under Lucas’ leadership and they made 50% of Line of Business sales in 2010. Third, Mobile and HANA will have added 6-8% to the top line.

Now it’s theoretically certain that ERP license sales should be on the decline, although SAP is still performing pretty well in that area too. But let’s say they do decline. If so, the question is can SAP increase revenue from Analytics, Mobile, in-Memory, Cloud and whatever else they decide to get into by acquisition or innovation – faster? Based on the evidence above, I say yes – and I wouldn’t have been this bullish myself, a year ago. And if you don’t believe me, meet Steve Lucas and his equivalent in Mobile, Chris Maclean.

Although SAP has been the “best performing Software and IT Services stock in our coverage portfolio up 15% YTD vs. the sector down 23%”

Yes – quite.

As a final note, I talk to a number of financial analysts on a regular basis and exchange notes on the markets. It’s a great gut check because they see life from a different perspective. They also don’t like to talk about this but the financial analyst market is under massive pressure and there will be big redundancies next year (I heard 50% of all analysts will leave the market for good). So in a few weeks you may end up reading: The Awful Economy Is Really Going To Hurt Analysts, Says BofA.