Saturday, February 11, 2012

Application Performance issues in Cloud

Cloud computing is changing the IT services are being delivered to a global, mobile workforce. The initial promise of cloud computing was the ease of service delivery over Internet, simplified service management - was sold as cost saving to enterprise IT departments.

Companies went ahead in their cloud based service delivery over a federated cloud computing environment, where some applications was hosted on public cloud, some applications on private cloud, and some legacy applications accessible over VPN. As companies rolled out their cloud strategy - they are seeing new challenges in application management.

IT departments now started to see intermittent performance problems on certain applications being reported by few employees - while others faced no problems. IT administrators are facing myriad set of problems and trouble ticket volumes increasing with bigger deployments of cloud services. This has led to temporary pause of cloud deployments in many occasions. IT departments are now seeing new challenges in meeting their internal SLA or even to ensure a minimum acceptable quality of service.

Only real way to manage this is to have a performance management system that monitors performance of all the applications - legacy, private cloud and public cloud.

The only way to effectively meet these customer requirements is to provide a single integrated dashboard that monitors and manages application performance from user's perspective.

The SLA Challenge - Availability

According to an IDC survey done in 2009, the major concerns for cloud adoption were: Security, Availability & Performance.

The main challenge for cloud adoption is that cloud service providers are not willing to sign up for a standard SLA. Each cloud service provider has their own interpretations of SLA and in a federated environment, it becomes impossible to collate every SLA and create a base line SLA for the end users. Even by 2012, these challenges will remain.

For example Amazon's EC2 defines outage as downtime greater than 5 minutes, and promises 99.95% availability. This could also mean that 99.95% of the time, the outage was less than 5 minutes. This SLA does not give a clear picture of the total outage time per year.

The problem gets compounded when more than one service provider is involved. For example the Internet Service Provider for the enterprise could have another SLA, and ISP for the user could have a different SLA. This effectively translates to an total outage times of:

Total Outage = Outage of Public Cloud provider + Outage of ISP1 + Outage of ISP2 ....

In case there are multiple cloud services which have interdependencies - then the outage time will be sum of all the outages.

The biggest problem in such an environment is that the user and the IT administrator has no visibility into these outages.

The SLA Challenge - Performance

Performance bottlenecks in the system can effectively stop a service deliver. From the user perspective poor performance and non-availability of service are same. Users will not tolerate slow performance - irrespective of where the problem is. The net impact to business is service outage leading to lost productivity.

Ensuring the minimum performance standards all across the cloud is almost impossible. The end user experience will vary based on geographic location. Not all Internet connections are equal - sometimes few zones could have network congestion leading to service outages - even when all the applications in the data center and public clouds are up.

Unpredictability of service outages and total lack of insight into the performance of cloud service delivery is the biggest pain for corporate IT service as illustrated below (an imaginary conversation)

Business User to IT Help desk : "I cannot access my corporate Inventory reporting system. I see that nothing is wrong with my Internet connections and I can access all other systems. I want to know if the inventory management system is down."

IT help desk to User: "Thanks for calling IT help desk. At the moment, all our indicators show that inventory management system is working well. Let me log a ticket for this case and we will investigate."
IT help desk to User on email: "We are not able to determine the reason for this problem. We will still continue to investigate."

User to IT help desk: "The problem is now resolved. I can access corporate Inventory reporting system. Please close the ticket."

The above illustration depicts the typical problem when mission critical services are moved to cloud and users cannot access it, and IT cannot troubleshoot it.

Closing Thoughts

Availability, Performance and Security are the three biggest problem areas in the cloud. The threat of data loss and legal challenges due to security breach is very high and most users and TI administrators are well aware of it.

Moving to cloud computing will also create additional management challenges and even with best of the breed solutions, IT departments will not be able to deal with availability and performance issues that emerge with cloud services being accessed by a global workforce. Companies will have to buy multi-site cloud services for redundancy as a possible solution - but that increases costs and management overheads.

At the moment, service availability and performance assurance over the cloud is still a challenge and will remain a challenge for some more time till tools and methods are developed to solve it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Product Innovation Management and Marketing

In my earlier article on Innovation and Successful New Product Development, I had briefly touched upon the marketing as part of new product development activity. Marketing also happens to be a vital activity even in early stage of innovation - as early as in ideation stage - where one is starting to identify an opportunity. Marketing will be needed at all stages of innovation as well, even before the product is released.

Types of Innovation and Marketing

As discussed earlier in "Types of Innovation", there are four main types of innovation: Radical, Incremental, New business models, & New business ventures. Marketing is needed for all types of innovation but different aspects of marketing.

Ideation Stage

In the first stage, one will identify the basic idea for the product, but then that idea has to be validated by the real users, then one needs to identify the volume demand for the innovative product, and finally one needs to validate the pricing model for the product/service. So in other words, once an idea is conceived it must be validated by the market - and that needs market research - which is an marketing activity.

Often times, one gets an idea for a product. For example, one gets an idea to build a mini-windmill that can be hosted on top of the house to generate electricity. Though this idea sounds like a good one, but as a business proposition, is there a market for it? If so what is the potential market size/demand?

In most cases, the innovative idea is often generated to meet a niche need and often has a small niche markets. Marketing at this ideation stage is to understand how the potential product/service will meet the specific needs/wants of the potential market. Understanding the needs of a niche market will need a complete immersion into the customer lifestyle for detailed observation of user needs. This essentially involves an extensive anthropology study of the target market.

In case of incremental innovation on existing products, a detailed anthropology study is essential to identify the hidden needs of the market. Often times customers do not tell what they really need, instead they cover their needs with vague wants. Anthropology study is necessary to identify the real needs and from the stated needs.

Marketing activities done during ideation stage is often done by inventor/innovation teams. In large organizations, members from marketing teams are also used to give guidance and help.

Development Stage

During product development stage, there will be lots of decisions that needs to be made regarding the product specifications which impact how the product is used. Making a wrong choice will hurt the product's acceptance.

During product development, marketing activity must be concentrated towards validating the product design with the target users. This essentially involves creating a lead user group who can be recruited to test and validate the product. This builds credibility and confidence on the product during the launch stage.

Engaging the lead users is a very low profile marketing activity - often times it must be kept secret and protected with legal agreements between the users and product development company.

Engaging customers at this stage has several benefits:

1. Avoid bad user experiences.
For example, Blackberry introduced Playbook tablet PC in 2011. When the final product was released, event the most loyal Blackberry customers were aghast to know that the tablet did not support Blackberry e-mail. Soon customers began to air their negative opinion about the product - and that killed the Playbook.

2. Enhance product usability - by better understanding how people will use the product.
Apple released "Mobile Me" service in 2000, but the service never succeeded. Even with the success of iPhone and iPad, customers were reluctant to use MobileMe. Apple learnt from that mistake, and created a core lead user group while building iCloud.

3. Build product credibility
New products do not have any credibility when launched. Credibility will have to be built slowly with customers using the product and certifying it. By having lead users use the product before the release, product will have built a level of credibility even before the launch. Once the product is launched, these lead users can comment and air their opinions in public, thus building product credibility.

4. Build better products
Identifying and fixing bugs before product release is 1000 times cheaper and better than customers discovering those bugs. Often times, testing/QA process during product development stage uses simulation methods and does not mimic the exact customer use cases. Lead users can provide very valuable inputs and are essentially form as an extended test team.
Today it is common to see an extended "beta" programs - where a select set of users will use the product and provide their valuable feedback.

Marketing in product development phase is a very low profile activity but an intense activity. It involves active two-way communication with customers to make them understand the product and for developers to understand the user needs.

Launch Stage

Innovative products will need extensive marketing during product launch. Customers are typically skeptical about new products and are unaware of the product benefits and uses, companies will have to rely on marketing to build a market awareness for the new product.

The biggest chunk of marketing budget will be used up during the product launch. Microsoft for example spent about 500 Million Dollars for launching Windows Vista.

There is no single marketing plan for launching innovative products - Some companies opt for a low profile launch( E.g.. EMC Ionix, Oracle LDOM) - based on product & market profile, while some may opt for a very high profile launch (Example Nokia Lumia, HP Tablet, etc)

Closing Thoughts

Marketing should be an integral part of innovation and new product development. Marketing activities are essential to get the right inputs for innovation and guiding new product development process. Often times, new & innovative products fail because it failed to meet the market expectations. For every successful new product, there are hundreds of failed products. E.g.: Apple Newton, MobileMe, HP TouchPad, Sony Reader etc.

So if you are working with a limited development budget and want to increase your chances for success - then use the tools of marketing in every stage of innovation and new product development.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Successful innovation needs entrepreneurship. As I explained in "Types of Innovation" - there are four types of innovation: incremental, radical, new ventures, new business models. Of the four, only incremental innovation fits into the existing business structure, the other three will need entrepreneurship to make that innovative idea into a commercial success.

Entrepreneurship is needed for introducing new products, new services, new business models or new business ventures. Entrepreneurship can imply starting new companies or it can also be internal - where managers start a new business within the existing organization. For organizations to succeed in innovation, they must foster an environment of entrepreneurship within the organization - i.e., enable managers to implement new business models or new ventures to support innovations - thereby ensure that the organization prospers.

In a startup or small business, the inventor/innovator and the entrepreneur will be the same person. Since most innovators/inventors may not have the necessary entrepreneurship skills to exploit the intellectual property of their invention/innovation - many startups fail.
For example see: Greatest Running Shoe Never Sold Leaves Inventor Without Deal. Lenn Rockford Hann, the inventor of new type of running shoe could not succeed as he did not have the necessary entrepreneur skills.

Entrepreneurship Skills

Entrepreneurship is an act of starting a new business. This can be an individual starting a new venture or an existing organization (including governments) starting a new venture. Entrepreneurship is exemplified by:

1. Starting a new business
2. Introducing a new product/service.
3. Changing the existing business process/practice to enhance profitability.

The key to be an entrepreneur is to act with limited information and take a financial risk.

Entrepreneurs can be individuals who are employed in a large organization, or can even be self-employed - working on their own venture. Many managers in large organizations are entrepreneurs in the sense that they are acting on limited information and facing a level of business risks.

Organizations need to develop entrepreneurial skills within its employee base to grow and succeed. Entrepreneurial abilities and attitudes increase business productivity and encourages innovations. This involves building a level of risk tolerance and risk taking abilities within the organization by managers and employees.

Entrepreneurs have a stronger preference for independence and autonomy in decision making, and tend to take control of things. Such behaviors must be supported within an organization with adequate control systems to encourage autonomy while being responsible for their decisions.

Entrepreneurship is inherently more risky than general business. The lack of information regarding needs/wants of potential customers, development time/costs, technical issues/problems, manufacturing costs/process, etc. This lack of information results in experimentation in business practices and processes - which impacts the bottom line. While large companies can absorb some losses, for small startups it could be fatal. Manager entrepreneurs in large companies are shielded from personal risks of innovation when compared to lone inventor/entrepreneur.

Innovation & Entrepreneurship Attitudes

Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand and share similar attitudes/skills:

  • Creativity
  • Vision
  • Idea Generation
  • Lateral Thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Opportunity recognition
  • Viability Screening

These skills are needed for innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition, successful businessmen will also need strong skills in:

  • Business Planning
  • Strategic Marketing
  • Selling
  • Financial Management
  • People Skills
  • Leadership
  • Persuasion

Since, no single individual many have all these skills, inventors will have to tie up with people with business skills to take an innovation and make it a business success. (Think of Steve Jobs & Steve Woz, Bill Gates and Paul Allen.)

Closing Thoughts

Innovation is vital for business rejuvenation and business growth. But it takes entrepreneurial skills to bring an innovative idea into market. Inventive individuals and organizations alike must develop entrepreneurship skills - if they want to succeed with innovation. Just having an innovative idea is not enough, it takes entrepreneurship to bring that idea into reality.