Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Links for 03-25-2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book review: Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Badass Cover
Sadly, Kathy Sierra doesn’t blog any longer for reasons that I’m not going to get into here. But the good news is that she has a new book out, Badass: Making Users Awesome . It’s a book about making products successful but doing so through the lens of the user. She writes that an “awesome product” is a side-effect of products that help users to be successful at whatever they want to do do. And that’s what leads to success.
Where you find sustained success driven by recommendations, you find badass users. Smarter, more skillful, more powerful users. Users who know more and can do more in a way that’s personally meaningful.
It’s Kathy’s contention that a lot of the time companies don’t put enough focus on helping users advance the skills in the “compelling context” around their tool rather than just the tool itself. For example, a camera is a tool. Photography is the context. And, by helping users advance their photography skills and engaging with them around that context, companies can be more successful.

There’s science and examples to buttress Kathy’s points. Research on motivation from Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. Ski instruction techniques from Lito Tejeda-Flores. “Deliberate practice” to move skills to the Mastered (i.e. reliable/automatic) category. The acquisition of perceptual knowledge. The book is far from a textbook though. It has simple exercises, lots of graphics, and highly readable prose. (If you’re familiar with the O’Reilly Head First series of programming books, the style of this O’Reilly-published work is somewhat similar.)

The bottom line is that Badass is highly engaging and biased toward the practical. You can read the whole thing in a flight across about half the US. To the degree that I have a criticism, it’s the flip side of my praise. It’s perhaps a bit too breezy a read. Some more examples using a wider variety of products might have better grounded the book in concrete specifics.

Overall grade: 4/5

Monday, March 23, 2015

Slow IT needs to modernize too

Writing about bimodal IT in CIO, ActiveState Software’s Bernard Golden wrote:

Bimodal IT echoes a presentation I saw several years ago from Will Forrest of McKinsey, who said that CEOs are so tired of how poorly their IT organizations are performing that they’re setting up separate organizations to pursue new opportunities. The implication is clear -- traditional IT is on borrowed time and faces a future where it is consigned to unimportance. It may, in fact, be too late for enterprise IT to do anything about this.

Keep calm and slow down resized 600

By way of background, bimodal IT [1] refers to the idea that, according to Gartner’s Daryl Plummer, "Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we believe that by 2017 75 percent of IT organizations will have gone bi-modal in some way… Traditional IT has focused on operational excellence. IT has been like rocks in a river. In contrast, the digital world is in continuous flow. In “business moments”, businesses can leverage some ‘digitalized' process to create new opportunities. Those moments are supported by more fluid form of IT, more flexible and ready for anything.” 

Of course, this is something of an oversimplification. Most IT organizations are complex and heterogeneous. They have many modes and types of infrastructure, applications, and operations. IT is multi-modal as another analyst put it to me. However, I find the binary lens useful because it helps to crystalize the opposing priorities of stability and speed—because it’s really pace of change that distinguishes the two modes.

But pace is not an absolute. It’s not zero and infinity. Which is where I quibble with Bernard’s piece that I quoted above and why I caution about equating slow or Mode 1 IT with terms like legacy, outdated, or old. (Even though it may be those things in some cases.) 

Instead, think of classic or traditional IT as simply more focused on stability and efficiency and operated at a more deliberate pace. But it’s not necessarily static. It’s an opportunity to modernize and refresh within a go slow paradigm. As another recent Gartner report noted: "Software evolution is driving the IT market rapidly toward new architectural models and implementation practices. The trend toward bimodal IT will accelerate this evolution, and increasingly expose legacy operating systems like Unix (and the workloads based on those operating systems) as classic 'Mode 1' technology that is suited to traditional data center modernization."

The distinction between doing nothing and modernizing is an important one and I suspect that not recognizing that distinction fuels some of the criticism I’ve heard and read about the multi-modal or bimodal view of modern IT. Doing nothing implies giving up. It suggests that there is no benefit to undertaking IT projects that aren’t all-in with respect to agile development practices and infrastructure architectures. It effectively provides an excuse for not using IT for any sort of incremental strategic business advantage.

While incrementalism can indeed sometimes be a poor alternative to making needed changes, so too can the perfect be the enemy of the good. So pursue game-changing IT initiatives that take fundamentally new approaches like OpenStack IaaS, OpenShift by Red Hat PaaS, containers, cloud management platforms (such as CloudForms), and more. But don’t miss out on opportunities to streamline your existing IT model as well.


[1] Bimodal IT is a “Gartner-ism.” However, a variety of others have expressed similar concepts using different terminology. For example, IDC refers to cloud/social/mobile/big data under the “3rd platform” moniker to distinguish it from the older-style “2nd platform."

Links for 03-23-2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Links for 03-12-2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Focal points, culture, and cities (with some fun)

Focal point: The clock at Grand Central Station

I was going to start this post by relating focal points (aka Schelling points) to open source projects and the way in which some projects gain critical mass quickly (and others don’t). Think docker and other projects around containerization today as an example of a concept gaining adherents among both true believers and some who may just be sensing the direction of the wind. I think there’s something there. Computational biologist Luis Pedro Coelho writes about Schelling Globalization as an explanation for the popularity of soccer—his idea is that people watch things in part because other people are watching them. There’s also a cultural element that makes the concept a bit different from power laws and network effect that also lead to coalescing around particular approaches, technologies, or outcomes. 

But my game theory isn’t solid enough to tackle this today—although I do think that there’s an aspect of shared cultural understanding and implicit agreements about mutually beneficial outcomes that’s relevant to the most successful open source projects.

Instead I’m going to do something that you may find entertaining. Feel free to play along at home and in the comments. 

First, a modicum of background. 

Thomas Schelling is an American economist. He won the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on "understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis.” Among his ideas was the concept of a focal point. Schelling describes them as "each person’s expectation of what the other expects him to expect to be expected to do.” That’s a bit of a mind twister but, in other words, everyone in a group tries to guess an outcome—say, a number from a list of numbers—that they expect others from the group to pick as well and to do so without communicating.

Schelling also presented the best-remembered and quoted example of a focal point as applied to locations. In the words of Wikipedia:

Schelling himself illustrated this concept with the following problem: "Tomorrow you have to meet a stranger in NYC. Where and when do you meet them?" This is a coordination game, where any place in time in the city could be an equilibrium solution. Schelling asked a group of students this question, and found the most common answer was "noon at (the information booth at) Grand Central Station." There is nothing that makes Grand Central Station a location with a higher payoff (you could just as easily meet someone at a bar, or the public library reading room), but its tradition as a meeting place raises its salience, and therefore makes it a natural "focal point".

It seems a rather remarkable result. Two people could randomly find each other in Manhattan? Which is doubtless the reason the story is so memorable. The noon part is fairly trivial. (Pretty much everyone picks noon when asked a question of this form.) But what of the location? Would Grand Central win out today? What of other cities?

In 2005, economist Tyler Cowen posited the clock at Grand Central would still win out but only because of awareness of Schelling’s result. Here’s my take on New York and some other cities. If you’d like to play along, here are some cities I know well enough to have an opinion about. Think about it and come on back.

New York, Boston, Cambridge MA, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, London, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Louis, Geneva.

New York. 

I imagine Tyler travels in circles where the name Schelling rolls off more tongues than the ones in which I do, so I don’t really buy into his rationale. I don’t really believe that a broad cross-section of even New Yorkers would tend to pick Grand Central as a meeting place these days; Amtrak doesn’t even come into that station. It’s a great meeting place but it’s just not going to pop into the mind of most people who don’t commute in and out of there. 

The top (well 86th floor) of the Empire State Building is, of course, enshrined in countless movies. But it would be a horrible meeting place; you have to pay and may have to wait for hours. I imagine few would pick it anyway.

I can think of a number of imposing steps that would make a good meeting place: New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History. But that’s the problem. I couldn’t really choose one over the other.

I think I’d go for Times Square. The problem is that it’s a big place with lots of people. But, if you either know the area or scout it a bit, there’s actually a fairly modest wedge of pavement where the George M. Cohan statue, Father Duffy statue, tkts booth, and a set of bleachers sit. Barring New Year’s Eve or Tony Awards level crowds, you’d probably find another person with a rose in their lapel easily enough.


I think that in front of Faneuil Hall is probably the obvious choice. I could offer up alternatives such as the swan boats or Fenway Park but my heart wouldn’t be in them. There is a cultural context to how one answers though. If I were playing this game with certain friends, I would certainly pick Fenway along Yawkey Way. (And, generally, there’s a contextual element to all this that might lead us to, say, the baseball park in a given city.)

Cambridge MA

Out of Town News in Cambridge seems the logical choice. Though that might be assuming locals. For a broader group of tourists though it’s hard to say where exactly—maybe the John Harvard statue? (Unless they were MIT students in which case it would be 77 Mass Ave.)

San Francisco

In front of the Ferry Building. I don’t really feel comfortable with this and I doubt most non-residents would answer this way. But the Golden Gate Bridge? Hard to get to and the most obvious meeting point on the Marin side isn’t even in San Francisco. Fisherman’s Wharf? Maybe. Yuk. And Golden Gate Park is both out of the way from downtown and doesn’t really have a single obvious meeting place.


Pike Place Market at Rachel the piggy bank. I realize that this is probably a very tourist-centric answer but, as a very occasional tourist, I have absolutely no alternatives to offer.

New Orleans

This is tough. Bourbon Street is obvious, but where? There’s no single focal point within the focal point. There’s Pat O’Briens but that’s actually a little off of Bourbon. Cafe du Monde for locals perhaps though that’s probably overthinking it.


Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, right? I haven’t spent a huge amount of time in London but seems likely.


Presumably the Eiffel Tower although I confess I don’t know what that means exactly with respect to a meeting spot. I guess the pyramid at the Louvre is a possible alternative but probably not a very likely choice.


Hachiko’s statue is apparently already a popular Tokyo meeting spot so I’ll go with that. It’s also at Shibuya which is one of the city’s big railroad stations. Other options likely include places like Studio Alta but I doubt they’re a better guess. 


Tiananmen Square seems obvious although it’s huge. So I’ll say Tiananmen Square in front of the Forbidden City.


In spite of the fact that I grew up outside of Philadelphia, I’ve spent very little time in the city, so I’m really coming at this from the perspective of a tourist. So I’m going to go with the Liberty Bell. (Independence Hall is across the way.)

Washington DC

This is hard; there are so many iconic locations on the Mall. I’m split between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument but I’ll narrowly pick the former.

St. Louis

The Arch.


Jet D’Eau, I assume?

 I hope you enjoyed reading this and possibly playing along. Before we close though, a coda by way of a quote from a 2005 Schelling interview:

When I first asked that question, way back in the1950s, I was teaching at Yale. A lot of the people to whom I sent the questionnaire were students, and a large share of them responded: under the clock at the information desk at Grand Central Station. That was because in the 1950s most of the male students in New England were at men’s colleges and most of the female students were at women’s colleges. So if you had a date, you needed a place to meet, and instead of meeting in, say, New Haven, you would meet in New York. And, of course, all trains went to Grand Central Station, so you would meet at the information desk.

So, in fact, the Grand Central result was perhaps not all that remarkable after all given the context in which it was asked. And perhaps this points to an important lesson for reaching points of intersection and agreement; the assumptions, experiences, and culture of the participants matter a lot.

Nickels and dimes don't drive enterprise IT

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Jim Stogdill has a Public vs. private cloud: Price isn’t enough piece up on O’Reilly Radar which is well worth a read. Here’s the gist of his analysis:

I think this is the point that some public cloud proponents miss. We are talking about decisions that at least feel like high risk, and they don’t seem to produce the material levels of ROI necessary to give up control.

This is not unlike the choices consumers make every day when they buy a car and choose the convenience of an SUV over the fuel economy of alternatives. For many people, the incremental fuel cost just isn’t that big of a deal in the context of their total household budget. If they do choose not to go with an SUV, it’s often because of other concerns.

I think private cloud will be around, at least in very large enterprises, for a long time and for similar reasons. The control the chief information officer (CIO) (and general counsel) seeks will trump the narrower interests of Rational Economic CFO. And I don’t see lots of CIOs taking huge risks and kicking off expensive five-year transition plans to improve profitability by 0.4%.

We’ve seen this sort of dynamic before by the way, albeit with considerably different particulars. One example is the push for the Linux desktop back in the 2000s. It could save money and it could get organizations out of Microsoft lock-in. But ten years later, Microsoft to Linux (on the desktop specifically—servers are a whole different matter) hasn’t happened in a broad way and, at this point, isn’t a very relevant or important battlefield anyway. However, the savings and other benefits just weren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things to most organizations compared to uncertainties, risks, and the general distraction of a large scale user-facing migration. The same might be said of any number of other client technologies such as VDI.

None of this is to say that using public clouds for some workloads isn’t often valuable. Or even that some organizations (especially those below some threshold of size) won’t take the public cloud plunge all the way. But wholesale change requires truly compelling benefit at the level of the organization as a whole. And that’s mostly beyond what a full public cloud migration can deliver.

This situation just further highlights why hybrid clouds are today’s reality as has been shown in both numerous surveys and our daily interactions with customers at Red Hat. And it also highlights why hybrid cloud management platforms and portable operating systems are such a big deal.

Links for 03-11-2015

Monday, March 02, 2015

Building IT self-service at UTS in Australia

Openshift logo

Nice customer story about OpenShift Enterprise at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

A few points worth highlighting.

They were trying to get away from the “yak shaving” that often goes on when you’re constantly setting up and tearing down development environments. "Throughout their time at the university, software engineering students work in teams to develop the full life cycle of an application, from development and testing to project management andarchitecture. Students spent a great deal of time manually configuring applications to work withnetworks and infrastructure, which distracted them from completing the actual course content.” A Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) like OpenShift is perfect for reducing this sort of unproductive activity. For example, setting up a database is a matter of clicking a button rather than go through a many step manual configuration process.

A PaaS also enables the sort of separation of concerns between admins and users/developers that I wrote about previously in “Why PaaS is such a useful abstraction.” 

The PaaS pilot also helped some UTS professors, who may wish to set up applications depending on specific requirements for the courses they teach. The OpenShift environment allows instructors to manage their own applications, while the UTS IT team can provide customization, security patches,and upgrades without the day-to-day management responsibilities they had previously.

UTS can also preconfigure chosen applications with plugins that automatically integrate into the existing infrastructure. This lets engineers and developers spend more time on innovation, while instructors and students can start their projects sooner.

Finally, OpenShift’s broad language and tools support was important as well.

“OpenShift supports a wide breadth of languages without the need for customization, which is ideal in the learning environment,” said [Manager of Systems and Application Services James] Lucas. “OpenShift also supports database platforms within the environment, letting users deploy it as part of their code with just the click of a button.”

Check out the case study. It nicely illustrates what a PaaS generally and OpenShift in particular can do for you.

Adopting private clouds the right way

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A post by Gartner’s Tom Bittman noting that a poll of attendees at the Gartner Datacenter conference last December found that "95% of the 140 respondents (who had private clouds in place) said something was wrong with their private cloud” has been making the rounds. Predictably some of the headlines have been a bit overly dramatic. (Gartner did not, in fact, find that 95 percent of private clouds “fail.”) Nonetheless, it’s true that—as with IT projects more broadly—a lot of private clouds aren’t as successful as they could or should be.

I encourage you to read Bittman’s post, as well as his Gartner research if you have access. One of the things you’ll see is that many of the reasons are more about organization and process than they are about technology. The same theme repeats in Andy Patrizio’s "Seven Reasons Your Cloud Deployment Might be Delayed” in which I’m quoted along with CA’s Andi Mann and Pund-IT’s Charles King. It’s also consistent with what we’ve seen at Red Hat. Below, I’ve expanded on some of the thoughts that I shared with Andy when he interviewed me for his story and noted a few of the ways that Red Hat can help you do better.


Enterprises often cite lack of in-house skills as an impediment to doing private cloud deployments. As a result, making use of training programs and/or partners who do possess the skills and real-word experience can significantly accelerate cloud deployments. This is a big part of why last year Red Hat acquired eNovance, which is focused on meeting growing demand for enterprise OpenStack consulting, design, and deployment. We also offer a variety of training and certification programs for OpenStack.

New infrastructure management approaches needed

Enterprises often approached their "Cloud 1.0" projects as if they were just an extension to their existing virtualization infrastructure. This is a mistake. While clouds often use virtualization, they require new approaches and new technologies. For example, in a recent InfoBrief and survey sponsored by Red Hat, IDC found that "74% expect to buy new management solutions to support open hybrid clouds and next-generation application architectures.” Requirements included unified application, middleware, and infrastructure automation; advanced analytics; full OpenStack support; and integration with existing systems and management tools. Red Hat has been active in the cloud management platform space with Red Hat CloudForms based on the upstream ManageIQ project.

DevOps and software-defined services cut across silos

Aligning the organization to cloud infrastructures and new processes such as DevOps--and instituting the right incentives in that organization--is as important as technology. Software-defined services cut across many different operational silos such as servers, storage, networking, and database administration while DevOps requires greater alignment of application development and system administration. Cloud technologies can actually help different groups within an organization work cooperatively but they need to want to do so.

Failure to account for bi-modal IT

Some cloud deployments fail to appreciate that there are two basic modes of applications and infrastructures in the typical enterprises and try to straddle the two without recognizing the essential differences. Cloud deployments should focus on new cloud-native workloads while bridging back to existing classic IT services, workflows, and datastores and providing unified management. They should not however try to be all things to all applications. As Bryan Che noted in a recent post: "VMware’s vision for One Cloud and OpenStack sounds appealing--one unified cloud for running both cloud-native and traditional applications--but it is fundamentally flawed in implementation because these two classes of workloads have quite different requirements for infrastructure. And, by attempting to mash these two worlds together, all One Cloud provides is one limited cloud that is not optimized to run any workload.” By contrast, Red Hat is taking an approach that recognizes the essential differences between “classic IT" workloads and cloud-native ones.