Photo by stevoarnold
I love the premise of cloud computing. Rapid development, regular release cycles, continuous improvement, the list goes on.
So why are so many businesses still stuck in the desktop app mind set?
- Fear of losing control of their data
- Fear of slow connection
- Fear of no connection
- Perceived browser limitations
- Desire for offline access
Fear of losing control of your data.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in my professional career working with System Administrators is how very few Sys Admins have a deep knowledge of databases. In short, a system admin is not a DBA (exceptions exist of course, but they are just that; exceptions).
In large, well funded organizations there is often a clear deliniation between DBA's and Sys Admins. But many other companies don't make this distinction. To them everything that runs on a computer is IT. Their IT guy is Josh. He's in charge of everything. He knows everything. He's an IT god. How tough can it be to manage a database as well?
Sorry. I've seen single sys admins in many, many organizations, and nothing against them, but I rarely see one who is extremely proficient as a sys admin AND a DBA. The positions are simply too different.
My point here is, a company that is selling a SaaS offering will, in my opinion, best most companies in the following:
- storage of data
- confidentiality of data
- integrity of data.
It's their job. They do it everyday for hundreds or thousands of customers.
Fear of slow connection
This is a real concern. Our developers are in Australia, just south of Brisbane (where the photo above was taken). The rest of us are in North America. We use many SaaS offerings for a wide array of needs, from support tickets to accounting, and slow connections are sometimes a pain. But we are also very cognitive of the benefits of SaaS, and the ability to connect from anywhere. Slow connections here and there haven't soured us, though we freely admit, blazing fast access all the time would be nice.
Fear of no connection
Your concern is noted. But if you lose connection now with your desktop app how proficient would you be? Even desktop applications are becoming more reliant on internet connections, and as such, internet connections have gotten more reliable.
If you can't afford to have an applications down for 40 minutes here and there, perhaps you should stay on the desktop side. But really determine critical vs. nice-to-have. Many SaaS solutions boast great availability. They have to. If they don't, they won't be a SaaS for long.
Perceived browser limitations
The first browser app I ever worked with was a firewall app back in '98. Boy did that thing suck. One page with endless scrolling. We've come a long way since those days. So long that some SaaS solutions don't require web browsers to do the work (hello Dropbox). Really look at the solution - see what is browser based and what isn't. Even those items that are browser based have a lot of functionality. This is one area where I applauded 37 Signals - in 2008 they announced that they were ending support for IE6, even while millions of consumers were still using that abhorrent version.
IE6 simply didn't provide the level of customer usability that they demanded, and they said so with no reservation or remorse.
Desire for offline access
OK, this is a good point. And to the extent that you really need true offline access, it may be a deal killer.
If you have closed labs and your solutions must be tested in those labs, then you have some choices to make. Hopefully your management will not categorically deny the ability to use SaaS solutions because of this, but they may. Doing so will surely be felt in the long run.
SaaS is here to stay. It may not kill the desktop app, but it certainly provides a level of customer usability that is lacking the in world of setup.exe.
Categorically refusing to use SaaS solutions will greatly limit your potential tools in your toolbox or weapons in your arsenal.
We're an app company. We use SaaS for many of our company needs, and we're excited to introduce this concept to our own product line in the very near future.
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Cloud computing is all the rage these days with online storage & backup being one of the most well-known aspects of it. Over the years I've played with a number of online file sync services and I always left a little less than impressed. Each service had advantages and disadvantages with the disadvantages outweighing the advantages (at least for me.)
I've been hearing about Dropbox for a long time and just assumed that it was like the others that I've tried and it was only recently that I decided to give it a go and I must say that I'm very impressed. Here's the scenario that got me started:
I am the current secretary for our local Lion's Club (Lions Club of Palm Beach-Currumbin) and the club recently decided to buy a laptop to be used by each new secretary, instead of passing CDs of files and big boxes of records around. I needed a way to keep the files on the new laptop backed-up in a way that I wouldn't need to maintain even after I leave the position and that would sync with my own computer so I don't have to keep switching back-and-forth between the two computers (I do most club work on my own laptop.) Back in my dusty memory I remembered hearing about Dropbox and that it had a free version, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It worked perfectly right out of the gate, so well in-fact that I was stunned, I'm used to something going wrong at some point.
Here's the features about Dropbox that I really like, and work perfectly in my situation:
- It's free for 2 GB of storage. That's big enough for all of our Club's records and with it tied to the Club's e-mail address it keeps me out of the loop when I pass on the secretary laptop.
- The sync is seamless. And I really mean seamless. It's so simple to set up that practically anyone can do it and the sync just worked and kept working. At no point in the process was I wishing I could have some kind of manual control, the automated system worked great.
- LAN sync. If you are syncing files between two computers in the same subnet then it will copy the files directly instead of going up to the cloud and back down. Particularly helpful for that first sync on a new computer.
- Shared folders. I now have two Dropbox accounts, one for the Club and one for me. I share the files in the Club account with my account so that I can edit them on my own computer. It's also a very handy way to share some files with friends and co-workers.
- Web access. All files can be accessed on a web site that works very well, it's not slow and kludgey feeling like I've seen before.
- Previous versions. Works great as a backup solution.
- Cross-platform. Supports Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android and soon Blackberry.
Now, there are some disadvantages, but they didn't affect me. Your mileage may vary.
- Size limit. You can pay to get more than 2 GB of storage, but they only go up to 50 GB. That may grow in the future, but for some people it won't be enough. There is a 250 MB bonus for referrals (which I got because I referred myself... shhhh...)
- One Dropbox per computer. Each computer can only be tied to a single account. There are some workarounds, but they aren't perfect. Proper use of shared folders makes this much less of a problem than it seems at first.
- Only one Dropbox folder. You only get one folder syncing up to your Dropbox account. It would be nice if you could map different folders to different locations and there may be some workarounds for this. It's not a concern for me now, but I could see me wanting it in the future.
All-in-all Dropbox is a perfect solution for most cloud storage problems. They've left some things out that I'm sure make it easier to perfect those few things they do, so I won't quibble. It's free and so easy to install you really can't go wrong to take it for a spin.
A couple of weeks ago I took part in a global chat hosted by Jason Calacanis on his This Week in Startups weekly podcast.
Here is a snippet of our discussion, which starts around minute 55:00.
Jason: In the enterprise are people moving away from Windows, are Apple and Macs starting to get some foothold or is that something that MacHeads like to think?
Shawn: Not in the Enterprise. To us the entperprise is thousands of computers. In the small-to-medium (SMB) business... well not even there. In some of the niche markets like art studios you'll see a lot of Macs. [I then proudly display my MacBook Pro to the camera]. I use a Mac for personal but I make money on Windows [because] that's just what companies are using. You've heard of a big Linux swelling but you don't really see it in the marketplace. So we definitely focus on Windows.
Jason: So what do you think in the next five, ten years, do you think you'll see Apple starting to take market share in the enterprise, do you think you'll see Linux taking marketshare in the enterprise?
Shawn: Linux has already started to slow down, I think you'll still see them make a good solid hold on servers, but they've already lost on the desktop applications. As far as Mac, yeah, I think if you can integrate them [with Windows environments] a little better - the move to Intel was a step in the right direction, but as far as five to ten years I think you'll see more Software as a Service (SaaS) and I think you'll see a lot more virtualization.
I've reflected on my answer to Jason and I want to expand somewhat. Apple makes computers that consumers want. They like Apple products because they look so good, are easy to use, and in general do a great job of getting out the way of you and your apps.
But these benefits come with a jump in cost. This jump, as well as the cost of managing Windows & Mac's simultaneously, are no doubt what the CTO and CFO's of corporate America take into consideration. When it's time to puchase 300 new laptops, CFO's aren't overheard saying "I'm looking for an easy to use computer that is a beautiful as the Grand Canyon." More likely they're simply saying "get me the cheapest thing that our users already know how to use."
This introduces a dichotomy. - Apple makes billions skating to where the puck will be, yet virtualization is a tiny blip on their radar (Parallels and Fusion). Yet all the experts say that Cloud computing and virutalization are the wave of the future. So who's right?
Both parties. As much advancement as the future will bring, computing will still very much be broken down into consumer and business.
Apple will likely remain a predominiately consumer electronics outfit. Dell and HP will no doubt continue on the slow course of evolution with business computing, churning out powerful desktops and laptops and trying to get a toehold on the personal and mobile computing market. They will probably not make a huge dent on the latter, but will likely rule the roost on the former.
The interesting (authoritative) statistic that I want to see is the number of PC users at work who make the switch to Apple or other leading mobile computing devices for personal use.
Count me in that stat. I used Apple through the early 90's but switched when Windows 95 was released. I gladly jumped back into the Mac camp when they released their first Intel MacBook Pro line. Right now I'm happy camper.
As far as mobile computing goes; I like my iPad but it's more of an ultimate bathroom reader and killer movie player for long plane rides.
Three words: Google Apps Integration.
Follow me on Twitter @ShawnAnderson
Follow Jason Calacanis on Twitter @Jason
Slashdot reports on a Slate article discussing the massive two year drop in the desktop computer purchases.
Flight of Desktops, from Slates Farhad Manjoopulls numbers from Forrester research which show 48% of consumer households used desktops only two years ago (2008), while 2010 numbers are at 32%. Projections are currently at a 2015 desktop number of around 18%.
I am not surprised at the consumer numbers, but I do wonder what the corporate side looks like. Mr. Manjoo does hit on cloud computing, which while infant is still a viable solution.
I am very curious to see where systems management is heading for mobile computing. Managing desktops and laptops used to be the core of systems management, but that's not the case today.
It's exciting to see the number of businesses that are starting to jump into mobile computing by replacing blackberry's with iPhones or Androids.
Integrating these mobile computing devices is going to be fun from a systems management point of view.
As iPhones and other smart devices start to utilize corporate infrastructure such as file shares, printers, email, etc., we'll see a huge jump in managing these systems along with other servers, workstations, and peripheral devices. Common tasks, such as updating patches, reporting on which apps are used, and overall security will be a huge challenge.
Thanks to Mr. Manjoo (and Forrester Research). The next few years promise to be filled with challenges as these mobile devices are introduced into our business infrastructres.
Follow me on Twitter @ShawnAnderson
The US Department of Defense (DoD) is being advised to take a long hard look at Google Apps Premier edition.
As I wrote about using Google Apps for the company last October, the topic has been on my mind - which explains why this article jumped out at me.
I've done quite a bit of consulting with the DoD. Some of their policies, like any other organization, don't seem to make much sense. Other policies however, are cutting edge (Federal Desktop Core Configuration, for example).
This past week China and Google have been having some fairly heated discussions, some of which have been released publicly, no doubt to up the ante to the other side. Google in short is thinking of pulling out of China, including their server farms. That brings us to the heart of the China/Google problem.
Paul Strassmann wrote a guest post for Larry Dignan column on ZDNet titled "Government Gmail use following Google's China news". The crux of Mr. Strassmann's position is that all Google servers should be removed from China because it must be assumed that the Chinese government has access to the server farms. He was specifically discussing gmail servers, and Google released a statement stating that Google has no gmail servers in China.
While the back-and-forth is certainly entertaining, it begs the question; can the DoD, and for that matter any organization, really trust a cloud in which they do not have full control.
This poses problems not only for the DoD, some of whose smaller organizations actually use Google Apps Premier, but for their contractors, sub-contractors, and vendors. A number of companies use Google Apps Premier for their internal email solutions. If these companies have dealings with the DoD they may find themselves at odds with new policies, should the DoD find cause to ban Google Apps from inside its network and with any vendors it deals with.
Keep an eye on this, Windows administrators. When it comes to the DoD and security, especially during times of war, they prefer to err on the side of security.
What do you think? Cutting edge or paranoid?