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You can’t be excellent at software, hardware and services…

The “Ectors Principle” says that it is impossible to be excellent at hardware, software and services. You have to pick one and at most two but you can’t have all three.

Why can’t you be excellent at all?

Hardware is a discipline that requires you to define everything upfront and then to produce in as large volumes as possible to get to the lowest price per unit. It is a volume business with low margins.

Services requires people that understand customers ‘ problems and try to find solutions for them. It focuses on integration, customization, support, etc. To double revenue, you need to double the workforce.

Software is the art of combining easy to use solutions, with extensible and customizable features at an optimized and acceptable level of performance and availability. Smarter programmers can win from armies of dumb programmers.

So how can you combine a hardware platform that needs to have all features prebaked, with a people business that focuses on adding new features for each customer, with a software in which the art is to offer more with less features because feature overload kills ease of use, performance and availability? The simple answer is you can’t do them all well. You have to pick.

Who is trying to prove the “Ectors Principle” wrong?

IBM, HP, etc. come to mind when the words hardware, software and services are mentioned. How are they doing? BAD!!! Please name 5 HP software products that you find inspiring! IBM at least realized that being excellent at all three is hard and sold its PC and server business to focus on services and software. A word of advise: spin-off Power processors as an independent company!

Apple? Apple is not in the services business because you can’t have a closed software and hardware ecosystem and try to customize it to everybody’s needs.

Google? Google tried hardware with Motorola (failure!) and Nest but is not focusing on services because they don’t want to have to hire double the amount of people to double revenue.

Amazon? Hardware is proving difficult. Enterprises cloud services was a stretch.

General Motors? Do you like the software that comes with cars. Would you call it excellent?

Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, etc.? Software defined networks will kill their hardware margins in the next months/years. Alacatel Lucent just threw in the towel. More consolidation to follow.

General Electric? Wait until everything becomes “smart”. If GE is smart then their smart fridges have app stores with apps and peripherals from others. If not it will not be pretty.

Focus on one

Ideally you focus on one discipline and have another one as a hobby at most. Trying to do all will result in a weak link in the chain. The exact link that competitive startups will focus on to bring the imperium on its knees…

The first IoT devices

Every industry will be affected by IoT. Homes, businesses, cities, farm land, seas, space, etc. will get sensors. However the first IoT devices that will be massively adopted will not be a new breed of devices. They will more likely be devices we already know but will come with extra connectivity options and other IoT features. 

Why not new devices?

For any new device that customers don’t know, you will have to educate the users, setup a new distribution channel as well as aftersales services offerings. This takes time and is risky and as such device manufacturers will not massively produce them from day one. The result is that new types of devices will cost more than the magical $100 for which they auto limit their market success.

What will be the first IoT devices?

You can already say that Bluetooth scales, Nest thermostats & firedectors, Phillips Hue, etc. are the first IoT devices alongside Fitbits and other wearables. However these devices are single purpose devices that often don’t do more than their non-connected counterparts. Let’s call them the Internet of Isolated Things because out of the box, most of them work only with their app or their cloud and none has any meaningful peer to peer relationships. They only allow other devices to be a remote control.

The real revolution in IoT will start when devices will not come with everything prebaked by the manufacturer. As soon as for instance a storage NAS is able to run multiple IoT apps to connect to your Bluetooth scale, your Nest firedectors, your Hue lights and your Fitbit will we see the real power of IoT in the home. From that moment onwards you will see something amazing happening, devices together will have synergies that weren’t there before. You will have the lights in the living room go red, Fitbits receiving messages and your Nest firedectors downstairs launching a “mom will be upset alert!”, just because Mom stood on the scale and the results wasn’t pretty. You will have 30 seconds to hide the scrambled eggs and butter croissants and substitute them by fresh fruits and Special K :-)

Without a joke, the devices that you will buy regularly, but whose next-generation can hold many IoT apps will become the key IoT success enablers. Think WiFi routers, NAS, unified conference systems, set top boxes, etc. They might not be the sexiest devices in the world but people buy them in large quantities so IoT app enabling them will assure the IoT revolution to be accelerated… 

In a bit pipe world, do we need telecom standards?

GSMA, ETSI, etc. have been defining standards for the telecom world for years. However outside of the telecom industry these standards have found little or no adoption. In a world where telecom operators are fast becoming bit pipes, do we really need telecom standards? Why can’t the telecom industry just use SIP, WebRTC, REST, etc. just like everybody else?

The current systems in telecom are assuming calls and SMS need to be billed for. What would happen if the starting point is: data insights, network apps and connectivity are the only things that are billed? Connectivity is likely going to be unlimited or with very high limits over time. New revenue would have to come from selling data insights, either individually with consent, or aggregated and anonymised. As well as from apps that run inside the network: on CPEs, DSLAMs, mobile base stations, etc. So for the purpose of this blog let’s focus on a world where calls and SMS can no longer be charged for and connectivity is close to unlimited for most normal use cases. To move bits fast through a network, you want the least number of protocol converters. So using many different standards would make things slow and expensive. Additionally telecom operators have overpaid for lots of standards and their software support during years without ever using them. Finally implementing a standard is very costly because often only 20% of the functionality is really used, but the other 80% needs to be there to pass compliance tests.

The nonstandard or empty networking appliance
In a world where software can define networks and any missing functionality is just a networking app away, it would be a lot better to start from an empty networking appliance, i.e. networking hardware without software, and then to buy everything you need. If you need a standard then you might want to buy the minimal/light, equals 20%, implementation and see if you can live with it. Chances are you still have too many functions that are not used. Facebook open sourced its top of the rack networking solution and surprise, surprise, the interface is Thrift based. Thrift is used in all the other Facebook services to have a standard high throughput interface for all its software services. Google probably uses protocol buffers. Apache Avro would be another alternative and the most openly licensed of them all. So instead of focusing on a standard, it would be better to standardise on a highly throughput optimised interface technology instead of public slow standards. Inside a telecom operator this would work very efficient and for those systems that talk to legacy or outside world systems, adding a standard is just a networking app away. This would simplify a telecom network substantially, saving enormous costs and accelerating speed of change because less code needs to be written and maintained making integrations easier. These are all ideas that assume there are actual appliances that are software defined. As soon as general purpose compute becomes fast enough for heavy data plane traffic then the reality will be software defined networking in a virtualized way with autoscaling and all the other cloud goodies. However this reality is still some years off, unfortunately. In the short run virtualization of the control plane and software defined networking appliances [SDNA] for the data plane, is the most realistic option…

3 ways to know if you need a Dinovator

IT departments are a strange beast. Several years ago they were the most innovative department in most companies. They offered software solutions the business was not prepared for. However cloud, big data, IoT, etc. have accelerated in the last years faster than most in-house IT departments could handle. Some IT departments have more focused on putting processes in place to avoid talking to end-users than to actually helping the business compete faster and better. So how do you know if you are dealing with an IT dinosaur department or not?

1) speed of simple routine tasks

How fast can an IT department do simple tasks, e.g. open a firewall port, correct a misspelling on a website, add a user, add a subdomain, etc. If yours can turn around these tasks via automated solutions in minutes, you are top class. In hours, you are fine. However when we start talking about weeks or months then you definitely have an IT dinosaur department.

2) willingness to help the business

If your business has a problem, do you go to your IT department to ask for help on how IT might solve the problem and give the company a strategic advantage? Or on the contrary, the business has no other choice then to bring their own devices, use corporate credit cards to buy cloud resources, use external consultants, etc. because the last department that will listen to them is the IT department? Years of IT cost optimisations have pushed innovation out of some IT departments. If this sounds like yours: “IT dinosaur department”.

3)  attitute towards change

The world is innovating so fast that any business that wants to be competitive needs to embrace change. This means that waterfall methodologies no longer work. Lean, scrum, minimum valuable product, continuous deployment, etc., call it whatever you like. The reality is that if your attitude is that whatever you decide today will need to be changed tomorrow, you are doing the right thing. Few businesses can afford to make a five year IT plan any more. When the ink dries, it will be outdated. In a world were HP, Dell, IBM, Accenture, etc. need to reinvent themselves continuously or risk dying, what do you think will happen to other sectors? One mobile app like Uber, can create global chaos in an over-regulated sector like the taxi sector. There are too many sectors that have not been innovating and risk being disrupted, e.g. telecom, energy, logistics, financial services, retail, etc. If there is no attitude to embrace change, then you are at risk of becoming or already have become an IT dinosaur.

What is a dinovator?

A dinovator is a person that accepts that they work for or are at risk of becoming an IT dinosaur but don’t accept this reality. A dinovator will look for unproven, non-standard, and often risky technology solutions to apply to the current business challenges and will via prototypes demonstrate to others that there is a better future. A dinovator will not try to make slides and convince others. They know that some people still don’t have a smart phone and will probably never change their mind. A dinovator makes sure that others understand how cutting-edge technologies can give a company a unique advantage. Seeing is believing. If you would live in 1802, would you belief that one day the world would be jammed with cars, planes and smart phones? You would not. You would call a fool to anybody trying to convince you otherwise. However if somebody would show a prototype of a car to you, then you would have to belief that horses are not the only means of transportation. Only over time will you realise that traffic jams and F1 will be possible. But at least you stopped believing that horses will continue to have a monopoly. The world needs dinovators to show this message to telecoms, energy companies, transport companies, banks and insurers, super market chains, etc.

Everybody can be a dinovator

You don’t need to be technical to be a dinovator. If you are in a business position, just asking smaller or alternative suppliers to show different more innovative approaches will also work. Telecom operators have during years asked their suppliers to give them faster and cheaper networks. They did not ask with the same intensity for new revenue generating solutions. The end result is that their regular suppliers have been focusing all their energy on what the customer asked. If a customer does not ask for it, then a “well managed company” will not dedicate resources to it. It is the typical innovator’s dilemma. The end result is that the industry is shrinking and once super companies have no other choice then to consolidate and fire employees, e.g. Nokia just bought Alcatel Lucent. You have a choice. Either you wait for others to make your job irrelevant or you become a dinovator. If you are good at being a dinovator then pretty soon you will be able to call yourself and your company an innovator. Being an innovator is an attitude. So join the dinovator movement, tweet your dinovations to the world and include #dinovator @telruptive.

Is Google innovating too slow?

Google is the poster child of innovation. At least it was some years back. Google was surprising the world very frequently with very large innovations until recently, e.g. Maps, Youtube, Android, etc. There hasn’t been any big ones for quite some time however. Self-driven cars might be the only exception and they seem more marketing than product still.

So is Google innovating too slow?
One of the key differentiators Google always had was superior back office solutions. Lately however more and more competitors have open sourced their backoffice marvels, e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, etc. This has meant that communities have grown around them, e.g. Open Compute, Hive, Kafka, Suro, etc. Now Google is not competing any more against competitors but also against their eco-systems. Kubernetes, the Docker orchestration solution from Google, is not used internally but if successful hopefully stimulates open sourcing more infrastructure elements. Also Google’s cloud business, although they were first with PaaS, never got the adoption an AWS or Heroku got.

Google and Slow Telecom Innovation
Android is the key to the biggest global mobile ecosystem but Google has been slow in rolling out other telecom innovations. Google Fiber is still limited to some lucky US cities. Google flirted with TV white spaces and announced enterprise wifi solutions but nothing really shocking came out of it so far. Why didn’t they compete with operators yet? If anybody could invent a way to circumvent mobile spectrum licences, you would expect it to be Google. LTE-U, the unlicensed spectrum for LTE networks does not seem to be a bad starting point. Until now there are just some rumours about Google becoming an MVNO. Also why did they buy Motorola, in order to sell the device business shortly after? Where their patents really worth the money? Some cool devices could have been created instead! WebRTC is a good standard but except for the free Google Hangout it is unclear what will happen next with it on Google’s side. Google Voice has never broken out of the US. It seems like the Voice team ran into a company politics battle and lost from the Hangout team. Finally Facebook is moving strong towards defining the future of network equipment. Why is Google not playing their SDN cards publicly?

Google and IoT
Google bought Nest for a lot of money and that was it. No IoT cloud, no IoT other product portfolio, etc.

Google and Social Networking
G+ finally got some users and there are some features that are better than Facebook but there is nothing world shocking about it.

Did Wall Street kill Google innovation or is there just silence before the storm?
Publicly traded companies no longer have the liberty to forgo short-term profit, for mid-term revolutionary products. Has Google fallen victim of the shortsightedness of day traders or is there just silence before the storm, ideally hurricane or tsunami? Time will tell…

The future of networking

Today’s networks are mainly based on hardware acceleration of a limited set of low-level routing rules. This was perfect in a well established world of a limited set of well known protocols traveling mainly from servers to clients. The new reality is that software has become elastic, data has grown big, Internet of Things clients are growing exponentially & are very chatty, streaming 4K video will be the norm, etc. Networks now need to become software defined if they want to survive this new reality.

Is SDN on top of private cloud the solution?
The answer is only partially. There are just too many data plane heavy use cases that still need hardware acceleration in the short term. Too many networking software is not ready for scale out and too many layers of hypervisors and other complex abstractions make current solutions too slow.

The solution is divide and conquer. Just like transactional database are still around after a wave of NoSQL, NewSQL, streaming analytics, graph databases, etc. So will next-generation networking need a mix of best in breed virtualized and appliance-based solutions to each problem.

Networking White Boxes or SDNA
Software defined networking appliances will be the first big innovation in 2015 to be adopted at scale. These boxes combine network acceleration with software-defined networking applications. In the beginning this will mean that standard networking ASICs can be reprogrammed in more dynamic ways. Good examples are the Facebook Wedge and Six Pack. This is however just the start. Expect multi-core processors that can handle many ports at the same time or new versions of ASICs and FPGAs that are more optimised for SDN logic.

Network Orchestration
Just like IT and Cloud got a big Devops boost through orchestration tooling, so will network orchestration tools allow for virtualized SDNs and physical SDNA to be orchestrated seamlessly. These will likely be additions to existing devop and orchestration tools instead of a new set of tools.

Software Define Radio
Instead of using cables and broadband solutions which are expensive to install, expect the next generation of software define radio to allow for end-devices to communicate with their peers and hubs a lot more freely, optimised and ad-hoc. This means that the next-generation of networking needs to take into account a reality of wired and wireless. Also expect protocols to evolve. With software defined radio it will be possible that new wireless standards emerge from small projects on Github that become overnight successes. Yaml, Json, Node.js, WebRTC, etc. were not born in a standardisation group. They became standards through usage. Expect the next generation of networking protocols to come from small super smart startups.

Networking Apps & App Stores
At the moment you buy an appliance that comes with an embedded operating system and a set of pre-installed networking logic. At most you can install plugins. The near future will see networking apps be sold via networking app stores on SDNA from a third-party. Expect new networking startups to become overnight successes because they no longer need to ship atoms worldwide, they just need to upload bits to an app store.

Reshuffling of the networking and telecom market
With software, operating system and hardware being separated, the old networking industry rules get rewritten. It used to be enough to be good at 2 or at least 1 out of three. Excellent hardware, an ok operating system and some good software was enough to be market leader. Now no longer. Best-in-class can be easily obtained in each category. The problem will be when revenue streams come from software maintenance but the supplier actually was only excellent in hardware. These suppliers will see their revenue disappear overnight when others start winning the networking software battle. Expect also the networking services business to change. If hardware, operating system and many networking apps substitute the single vendor approach then very likely IT system integrators will have a better shot at dominating the services market then traditional network vendors. Networking will have become more like IT. Even telecom networking. So IT system integrators have everything to win by accelerating this trend.

Expect many new technologies and business changes that will make new winners and old losers in the next 24 months. My money is on the network software innovators to come out winning…

The Dinovator Movement is better than the Bitpipe Accelerator Den…

March 26, 2015 1 comment

Summary: Help companies with dinosaur IT systems survive the ice age of innovation. Become a Dinovator…

Before reading this blog post, you should have read: how the cheapest X86 became the smartest switch on MWC, how the cheapest X86 can solve the 4 biggest telecom industry problems and the telco innovator’s den.

If you thought that we were waiting by the phone to get calls from telecom CEOs for the telco innovator’s den then you don’t know us. From the start, we did not think they were going to call. However we were surprised that one of the top 10 telecom CEOs actually got our blog post, read it and considered calling. This is a clear signal that our base message: “The telecom sector needs to innovate or things will get messy” was spot on. There are three things that sell in this world: sex, gossip and controversy. If you want to deliver a message to a large audience that does not want to listen, pick at least one as your theme and build a guerrilla marketing campaign around it.

If you think that we are now organising the Bitpipe Accelerator Den, then you are also wrong. Yes we would be able to assist in supplanting inefficient telecoms with efficient Google Mobile and Fiber. However would that serve a lot of people? Do you really want lawyers to start calling you with offers to help you with your divorce because  Google detected that your partner is looking into it but hasn’t told you yet? Do we really want to see large 300.000 employees companies reduced to 3000 because they are now bit pipes? Telecom downsizing is not pleasant. So please if you are working in the telecom industry, or in any industry that is the victim of disruptive innovations, then please keep on reading and become a Dinovator…

Dinovators are people that wake up one morning and find that the company in which they have been working for many years has been converted into an IT dinosaur. Not because the employees have been doing something wrong but because the outside world just went too fast and out innovated them. You now have two options: 1) Jump ship 2) Show dinosaurs how to innovate. If you are a Dinovator you prefer option two.

So how can you innovate in a traditionally minded company? You can go and show slides. You can go and tell everybody that the wolf is coming. However we tried those approaches years ago and you will fail. Majorities and laggards don’t want the status quo to change because they have a vested interest in it and they don’t know if they will have so in the new reality.

What works however is seeing magic with your own eyes. Anybody that has seen and touched the future can’t deny it any more. Now how can you show the future to people? First of all you need to understand their problems. If in the telecom industry the problem is revenue generation, then don’t go and show them a new proposal for a better protocol or faster network. Show them how new revenue can be generated, churn reduced, cost reduced, OTT revenue generated, etc.

So if you are technical then you can use the cheapest X86 server with 6 ports or any other device you can get your hands on and put an open source operating system like Snappy Ubuntu Core and you can create some Snappy Apps to show  that there is a better future and can convert it into the smartest switch that solves the 4 biggest telecom industry problems. You can use the open source Juju charms and some cloud to show how complex telecom software can be abstracted and how for instance an open source SMSC can have a rest API with three parameters [to, from & message] and still deliver the same SMS service as that very expensive box that has all types of SMPP and other useless APIs and takes months to integrate with. If you are in financial services, retail, logistics, industrial, energy, etc. then you can probably find some other cheap box that can be Snappyfied or open source software that can be charmed so you can show your magic.

If you are not technical but have access to suppliers then you just ask them to surprise you with what they can come up with if they would apply disruptive innovations like Snappy and Juju. If you promise them that you will arrange a meeting with the boss of your boss if they surprise you, then they will be happy and surprise you for sure.

However to accelerate “dinovation” and to be inspired with what a community of dinovators can do, our proposal is to use Twitter. Just tweet a 1 minute video or a short blog post about your “dinovation” and include #dinovator and @telruptive. If you see tweets with great “dinovations” then you retweet them and share them with colleagues, customers, partners and bosses. This way you can become part of the the Dinovator  Movement. The Dinovator Movement is not accepting that companies that have been around for many years are useless and need to be substituted. The Dinovator Movement is about showing that even in the most traditional companies there are Dinovators at work that show how that company needs to adapt to the new reality. The Dinovators explain to management that what is needed is Innovator’s Dens in which partners, customers, suppliers, etc. are invited to participate and innovation can be accelerated without RFPs and wasting everybody’s time. A Dinovator wants their company to embrace the new reality and thrive on it. Open Source has made becoming a Dinovator super easy. Nobody will put a critical system in production without paid support so even business people will be happy with open source Dinovations. However open source has a magical power, it does not get stopped by RFPs. So use its power. Have a Dinovator Day…

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