Archive | November 2012

Can’t we just stay?

With the imminent approach of the end of support of Windows XP (April 2014), questions on many customers’ minds include “can’t we just stay on Windows XP?” or” Can we just pay Microsoft some money to extend my support to mitigate my risks?”  Both of these questions have been asked of me in the last two weeks.  Having just had sight of the magnitude of costs involved for extending Windows XP support, let’s explore both of those questions and the extended support costs.

The move to Windows 7 or Windows 8 away from Window XP is an emotive decision for many customers. They can often feel forced to migrate and can struggle to identify the material benefit of migration. This is certainly true in terms of pure direct cost savings against the cost of transformation.  But fiscal benefit is of course completely separate to improving the experience of users and the material improvements in functionality and supportability which Windows 7 or 8 bring.  So are Microsoft unreasonable in wanting to move on and force their customer base to migrate?

Windows XP was released in September 2001 therefore By the time Windows XP becomes end of life (EOL), it will have been a supported product for 12.5 years.  Usually Microsoft only support a product for 10 years, and they would argue (with some justification) that they’ve gone the extra mile with Windows XP support already.  The main reason Microsoft remove support of a product though is because of the costs involved in having to support so many platforms and retrofit those platforms to accommodate new products and technologies.

Microsoft release new versions of products every 3 years, (a situation caused by EA agreements and software assurance rights) and so for Microsoft to have teams that support so many platforms (currently Windows XP, Vista, 7 & 8) it inevitably becomes  commercially unviable.  I also wonder (* Car Analogy Klaxon *) how many of us drive cars even 5 years old, never mind 12 years old? Yet we might consider running our business on software and technology that was developed over 10 years ago?

If you’re a customer considering staying on Windows XP, why move?  Inevitably, the eco system around Windows XP platforms will close. Your organisation will be forced to change in time.  Software vendors (for the same reasons as Microsoft), want to call time on older, legacy versions of their products too.  Hardware vendors (and it’s already happening), will not provide drivers and downgrade rights to older versions of operating systems on newer equipment.

All that new equipment you were thinking of buying in the next year or so but downgrading to Windows XP probably won’t be able to run Windows XP.  Also, it should considered that whilst it might be possible to sweat an asset for an indefinite period of time, (until it fails) at some point support and maintenance of really old equipment actually starts to cost your business more.  Effectively you’ll be paying more for support, to stay still technologically, whilst your competition embrace modern workplace working practices.

So, you’re thinking about taking a custom support agreement (Microsoft jargon for extended support)?  Well, if you’re an enterprise organisation, you’re going to be looking at 7 figures minimum per year, (and I’ve seen a customer that’s been offered 3 year extended support for an 8 figure sum).  There will be also be additional costs for customers who  request hotfixes and security patches as well.

All good things come to an end.  Windows XP has served the business world well, but inevitably technology vendors improve and enhance their technologies based on feedback and requirements from their customers.

Whilst it might be possible to put off the inevitable for a short period, the reality is that moving from Windows XP must happen at some point in time. My recommendation to any customer would be start planning to migrate off Windows XP if you haven’t already  and consider using that contingency/extended support fund you would have used to stay on Windows XP and get on with the business of migrating.  Migrating any volume of users before the EOL date of Windows XP has to be better than none.

…..and finally, if you have to make a change, make it a good one. There are many benefits and opportunities available to your business in moving to a new platform, make sure you understand what they are and communicate them. Show your user community that this change is a positive one for the business.

Data – The new Rock’n’Roll

“ Data is the new oil”

“The most valuable currency in the world is not money, it’s information”

– A couple of great quotes written by people much more eloquent than me. However I do have one of my own ;

Data is the new rock’n’roll

Just as rock’n’roll transformed music scene the use, and future potential use, of information is dramatically changing the landscape of a data centre. Historically the storage array was effectively the drummer of the band, required but sitting fairly quietly in the background, and whilst a vital component it was not necessarily the first thing people thought of when putting the band together. Even now, if you look at a picture of any band, the drummer is the one hanging about aimlessly in the background, try naming the drummer in any large and well-known bands; it’s much harder than you think. And so it was with storage and data; the storage array would sit somewhere towards the back of the datacentre whilst the shiny servers were the visible component, and the items that got the most attention.

As we hit 2013 that all changes; the storage array is the Kylie of the datacentre, it’s the sexiest piece of equipment in there. And so it should be given that upwards of 40% of a customer’s IT budget is spent simply on provisioning the capacity to house data.

At Computacenter, we’ve made a large investment in our Solution Centre. Whats sits in the front row now? Of course it’s the data arrays; with the latest technology from EMC, HP, HDS, IBM and NetApp all showcased. Why is it front row? Obviously as it’s the most important component of any solution nowadays. And of course, it looks sexy, or is that just me?

The storage array is now front and centre, it’s the first component to be designed when re-architecting an environment. Why? Simply because a customer’s data is their most valuable asset, it’s transforming the way people do business; it’s changing the way we interact with systems and even each other, your data is now the lead singer in the band.

Data is the one thing that is getting attention within the business; it’s the one thing you have making the front pages of “Heat” magazine – Where’s it going? What’s it doing? Is it putting on weight? Is it on a diet? What clothes is it in? Should it be in rehab? But as the manager of the data (or the band) there is one simple question that you want answered; how do I make money out of it?

And that, dear reader, is the $64,000 question. The good news is that is becoming ever more possible to use your data as a revenue generation tool, we are only starting to see business value being generated from data, as 2013 progresses we will see some niche players mature (and possibly be acquired), we’ll see an increased push from the mainstream vendors and we’ll start to see ways of manipulating and using data that we just couldn’t contemplate when the storage was simply providing the rhythm section.

Even converged systems, the boy bands of the decade, which perform in harmony always have one better singer than the rest, well he’s the data

So: Compute, Networking, and Software, the gauntlet is down; Data is the new rock God, it’s the Mick Jagger to your Charlie Watts, you want the crown back? Come and get it, but for now it’s all mine.

All the data architects out there can join me as I sing (with apologies to Liam & Noel) “…Tonight, I’m a rock’n’roll star!”

The Windows 7 or 8 quandary?

With the very recent release of Windows 8, many companies that haven’t started moving to Windows 7 already will surely be asking themselves; “should I deploy Windows 7 or Windows 8”? In fact, only this last week I’ve been asked this very question twice by customers. So, assuming you’re not one of the 50% of organisations already committed to Windows 7, what should your organisation consider doing? Which is the right choice and why?

It’s no coincidence that any new version of Windows is ready and available to supply to Microsoft’s OEM channel partners in September of any given year.  Christmas will soon be upon us all, and there are presents to be bought, whether for loved ones (or ourselves!) and this gives you a good indication of who Windows 8 is primarily aimed at in this first wave of enablement.  In fact, (as warned previously), you’ll no doubt have seen the Windows 8/Surface/Windows 8 phone campaigns begin in earnest, entirely to this end, to sell to home/consumer users. Uptake in consumers drives uptake in business, a lesson that Microsoft learnt a long time ago.

With Windows XP the predominant operating system for the vast majority of the remaining 50% of companies yet to upgrade, and with Windows XP support ceasing in April 2014, that gives these customers around 16 months with which to try and get off the older platform if possible, (of course, some won’t make it in time given their organisations size and plethora of legacy applications).  A typical 2000 seat organisation for reference takes around 12 months to plan, design, test, enable and deploy Windows 7; though don’t quote me if you don’t plan and prepare well enough. (You’ve been warned).

Windows 8 clearly brings some very attractive features for enterprise, specifically of interest are the following : –

  • quicker boot up, stability and performance of the OS
  • Improved security
  • The improved search function (which is really excellent)
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Longer support lifecycle(remember it’s 10 years from release for any MS product)
  • Windows 8 to go – allowing boot from USB drives
  • Internal application store for self service applications of your apps
  • Touch UI for touch enabled applications (such as Office 2013)

Having used Windows 8 for some time now, (on both touch optimised device, and non-touch optimised device), without doubt, Windows 8 is better with a touch experience.  Yes, the Windows Modern UI is excellent, but there are functions and features you still need a keyboard and mouse for to make the experience less irksome.  Secondly, there is a learning curve with Windows 8; things aren’t where you’re going to expect them to be or do what you expect them to do sometimes.

As an example when I gave my wife a Windows 8 device initially, she didn’t like the experience at all, yearning for the ways she’s used for as long as she’s used a PC (which is a long time….. ).  Other experienced long term users  of Windows also report much the same, (me included).  With consumer deployment well established in perhaps 12 months’ time you’ll probably not have this problem but if you’re considering going early, you’ve got to consider the learning curve and factor in additional training costs.

Finally (as this is just a blog, not a whitepaper), it’s likely your existing hardware estate of the last few years will support Windows 8 right out of the box, in fact, I doubt you’ll struggle to make it run on equipment of up to 5 years of age, these devices however won’t have touch. The early devices that have touch are going to be great, but will be improved upon, and of course, importantly will come down in price, so again, Windows 8 touch optimised kit will come with a premium on your typical laptop cost of say £500 per device, with many slates likely to be £800 and upwards initially.

Right now, it’s most likely that Windows 7 offers most organisations the best choice for their corporate desktop deployment and Windows 8 for slates, Ultrabooks and touch enabled devices.  Windows to go might also offer you some benefit for flexible/home working practices (without the cost of additional hardware supply on the company’s part).

Windows 8 offers some great technology and features, but the added time, complexity of readiness (some features) and costs involved just make it another unnecessary time delay and barrier to deploying a supported and stable platform.  For these reasons; unless you have specific scenario that would be of benefit on Windows 8, Windows 7 remains my recommended platform of choice for the vast majority of your business.

Addendum that iPad?

The only really big problem with annual leave is that at some point you have to return to work. Well, I’m back, and following 2 weeks in Florida, the resulting jetlag is the reason I’m writing this at 5am.  Still, it’s not all bad, as I’m writing this on my new Microsoft Surface RT.  So how is it? Why did I buy one? What will I use it for? And importantly, how does it compare to an iPad?

Before we begin though, let’s start of by saying that I’m not going to discuss the device/hardware and app store, let’s just leave it at ”the external reviews on hardware are all about right”, (it’s beautifully designed and executed), the touch keyboard really is very workable and usable, and far superior to any iPad keyboard, and there aren’t loads of apps yet, (come on, it’s only been out two weeks, give  it 6 months. iPad had no apps for ages either, and up scaled/stretched iPhone apps don’t really count), those that there are beautiful on the whole (think flipboard cool).

So, why did I buy one?  Well, my iPad is just over 2 years old now, and to be honest, it’s not been performing well of late. Since I moved to IOS 5, application crashes are very frequent, and I’ve found it less and less enjoyable to use. Perhaps time for a new iPad then or maybe something else? Well, I checked out Nexus 7 (and they’ve just released Nexus 10), a good product for sure but whilst in US I visited a Microsoft store and well, the rest is history. I was won over by the device after 10 minutes, add in a nice dollar/pound rate and the deal was done.

What will I use it for?  Well, it’s a consumer device, (as is iPad), and I anticipate using it for a mixture of consumer stuff, and some day work usage. When I recount what I used my iPad for, I used it for the same, email at home, and a day trip device, rather than carry a full laptop. What I didn’t use it for was any creation, (I’m not a big fan of iPad keyboard and autocorrect), so as a basic consideration  does Surface do those things well enough?

How does it cope? Surprisingly well…… Surface comes with Office 2013 installed (preview to be upgraded to full version soon), so document creation is easy. (this article was written in Word 2013, then copied into the WordPress RT App). Integration into corporate exchange by ActiveSync is faultless.  Mail and Calendaring application, (it doesn’t have outlook), are as functional as iPad versions and the calendaring function is more reliable than iPads. Integration into Office365 is really excellent, (both Lync and SharePoint document access easy in addition to email) Citrix receiver is also available, though I’ve not tried that yet.

Where Surface works really well is the new combination of Windows 8 RT and the keyboard/touch interface, you end up evolving your interaction with the device, combining the Windows 8 UI and charms and touch/keyboard options.  As an example, when using the browser if you want to move to another page, you touch into the text box and then type.  If you want to go back a page in the browser, well that’s just a sideways swipe. It works really easily and beautifully, though there is a learning curve which is much steeper than iPad.

Keyboard and kickstand make the device lap or desk friendly, stable, and very usable. The really useful piece for a corporate addendum device comes in the fact the device has some really useful helpful features.   Firstly it’s got a USB port, so you can add devices to it.   Although it doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you can add one via USB, a useful feature given most companies in the UK don’t have wall to wireless.  Secondly, when I returned home and added the device to my network, it scavenged the network, found my wireless printer, and automatically installed the drivers for me. Printing without challenges. Try and do that on an iPad.

So, what’s not so great?  Surface is most certainly not a portrait device as it sports a 16:9 ratio screen, unlike iPad’s 4:3, (think old television versus new flat panel ratios).  Designed for watching films and such. It can run in this orientation, but it feels odd. If you’re an organisation that’s invested in MDM products, it’ll be a little while till Windows RT is supported I expect.  Microsoft licensing on RT means in theory you can’t legally use it to create documents in a work environment, (silly idea, I know). Corporate integration fully is just as painful as iPad, it can’t authenticate  against AD, and you can’t just point at your CIFS file servers or SharePoint servers.  The apps catalogue is thin on business tools and whilst it supports handwriting, there’s no digital stylus to actually handwrite into OneNote or Evernote (both of those apps are available already)

Is Surface a better addendum device than an iPad, in many ways, yes!  In some ways it provides exactly the same challenges for corporate integration, though with less MDM integration options in the short-term. It’ll be my new addendum device for a while, (neither iPad or Surface RT could be your only device) and we’ll  see how it pans out, though what’s really exciting is going to be the full Surface Pro (and other Intel based devices), which will be available in Jan/Feb and will come with the same strengths as RT, and fix many of its challenges.

One thing’s for sure though.  It’s going to make for some interesting challenges for selecting the right slates/tablets in 2013 for your business.

Are you “tomorrow’s CIO or networking lead – today?”

Its time to ask yourself “am I tomorrow’s CIO – today”? There are numerous surveys continuing to highlight the changing role and importance of today’s CIO and the business / professional expectations both now and next.

The role of a CIO or head of networking is evolving at a rate that is difficult to comprehend. What was once an IT role, then one of IT & business alignment and more recently IT & business innovation, is now all of the above and more – put simply it’s clear the outcomes expected from a CIO or networking head are now very different from yesteryear. Where do you fit in within the current state of flux, how do you “deliver” today whilst “appraised” of tomorrow?

The network is your friend not foe and holds many of the keys that will help to propel both you and your business forward. Fifteen years ago the network as we know it delivered connectivity often underpinned by tremendous operational stress – whether physical layer reliability issues (cabling), technical issues (some elements just didn’t work), or logical layer complexity issues (at the time much due to a lack of knowledge), the network for many was a necessary evil that only became important on failure.

If we fast forward to now, the network is currently one of IT’s biggest discussion topics – and the power of the network “helps to makes IT/us work in previously unimagined ways” – users require applications and services that turn human desires and outcomes into business logic (and vice versa). The network is the transport allows that interaction anywhere, everywhere, all of the time. Surely that means “tomorrow’s CIO – today” has a different relationship with the network than their predecessors as it is now a fundamental enabler of business change and execution. Equally that makes the networking head or aligned CIO key to the success of both today’s and tomorrow’s organisation.

It can no longer be just a discussion about cost, performance, reliability, flexibility, vendors, support – it’s all of the above and more but driven by a “relentless” appraisal of the business outcome desired followed then and only then by the conversations about network features and functionality. All too frequently the cost, feature / function discussion occurs far too early in the solution cycle and brings with it the potential to close the door on those dynamic “what if and how can we” outcome aligned conversations.

With all in mind the question is posed again, “are you tomorrow’s CIO today” and if so how WILL you leverage the network to deliver “tomorrow’s outcomes – today”. Now that’s real competitive advantage both for you and your organisation – and it will truly make you “tomorrow’s CIO right now”.

Many many moons ago with the series of milestone adverts featuring Muhammed Ali, Apple coined the slogan “Think Different” – now certainly is the time..

When we next revisit this subject we will touch on “tomorrow’s CIO” must know now technology topics.

Until next time

Colin W

Twitter: colinwccuk