Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Most Stable Operating System in the World

(Play the music to the Twilight Zone over and over while you’re reading this)

Imagine if you will an Operating Platform that always does what you expect, never crashes, reacts instantly to your every whim and shows exactly what you want on the screen, impossible you say, not when you enter the Powerpoint Zone.

Okay, enough of the Twilight Zone thing and all jokes aside I’m going to go on record here and say that Powerpoint sucks sweaty equine gonads!

Anyone who’s shocked by that hasn’t sat through as many excruciatingly abysmal Powerpoint presentations as I have over the years. For the more literal minded among you this can be equally applied to any other presentation tool.

A few years ago I watched a Powerpoint presentation introducing a new product from Microsoft, that was “due for delivery so soon that you’d be crazy implementing something else since it’ll own the market”.

Well, the product never showed up...ever even though the demogod doing the presentation said the product was “so good its not user friendly, its user seductive”...

Not a word of a lie he called a software product “user seductive” which brings up a whole lot of unwanted mental images about what this guy did in the privacy of his own home with empty software boxes. If the product was so ’seductive’ how come it never hit the market? I’d say because the best operating platform for this product was Powerpoint.

Now lots of people have written lots of stuff about Powerpoint both good and bad so I may end up repeating some of it here, but, I’m also going to go over some stuff that you may not have heard before.

They key thing to get out of the way up front is that 99% of the population do not know how to use Powerpoint. At all. Ever. In any way.

The strength and corresponding failure of Powerpoint is that it is very easy to use. In fact its so easy to use that after a couple of microseconds you can put together a presentation - what Powerpoint is spectacularly bad at doing is helping you to put together a good presentation.

A good presentation is about storytelling and entertainment and the speaker engaging with the audience, not with the speaker reading what’s on the screen. Most presenters are not natural storytellers and there are a very few that are so astonishingly bad that their presentations are like overdosing on sleeping pills. Time slows down, seconds become hours, your attention is drawn to a slowly melting ice cube because its more interesting than the talentless drone with the captive audience.

Have you ever noticed how your bladder starts to work overtime during bad presentations?

I remember one of my friends in the industry saying that he’d sat through the worst presentation of his life at IDG’s 2009 CIO Forum in Sydney, to the point where he told me he wrote on his response form “Please God, don’t ever let this man present to anyone ever again and warn me if he’s going to present at any other event that I’m going to so that I can stab myself in the eyeball with a blunt pencil to have a more enjoyable experience.” 

Now I worked with one CEO who proudly said “I’m so good at using Powerpoint that I can bang out a presentation in about an hour”. His presentations were amongst the worst I’d ever seen, he couldn’t communicate his message to save his life.

One of the best presenters I’ve ever met gave me this little gem of information, “Run your presentation silently, if someone who hasn’t seen it can get all the details and facts without a word being uttered you’ve just written a document and your presentation will suck.”

Now you might ask what the hell has this got to do with getting to a 1% Spend? Its simple, presentations represent the best ways to get your message “out there” to the rest of the business. A good presentation will help you get your message out. A bad presentation will just hurt you. In your favour is the fact that most presentations are so bad and you’re competing against such a low base that just a few small improvements will make you look like a master communicator.

Your other advantage is the self-delusional belief that most people have in their presentation skills and their unparalleled ability to use Powerpoint.

The fact that you’ve gotten this far and haven’t been offended to the point of stopping means that you figure there may be something to learn here.

Just remember 99% of the presentations you’ve seen are living, breathing examples of how not to do presentations. Watch all the bad presentations you can and learn from them, watch a couple of Steve Jobs’ Apple Keynotes to see how to give good presentation.

There’s a few more blog entries about presentations soon, going into a lot more detail and pointing out some good resources for you as well.

Retreat to the Future!

Welcome to the cloud.

I’ve just gone back to the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s...and no its not a bad acid flashback!

Recently I had a chance to sit down with a potential customer who wanted to drive down their technology costs by “moving our applications into the cloud, consolidate our server farm onto a smaller number of virtualised servers that we’re going to co-locate in an off-site data centre where we’ve rented rack space”.

I nodded at him when he asked “Have you done any of this sort of thing before”?

I smiled and said “Yep. The first time I did this was about 25 years ago.”

I got a smug response saying “No one was doing this 25 years ago, in fact no one was doing this 10 years ago. This is cutting edge technology.”

This is the point that I know that I’m dealing with someone from the shallow end of the gene pool who’s “drunk the kool-aid”.

Let’s get one thing straight here and now - this is 60’s technology that’s been dressed up to appeal to the new techno-hip who think everything with any technological cachet has a lower case “i” in front of its name.

Just like a filler on Rocky and Bullwinkle lets saddle up with Sherman, Mr. Peabody and the Wayback machine and travel back to the swingin’ 60’s to have a look at this wonderfully new invention called the “cloud”.

Here we are in Armonk New York around 1964 when some charcoal suited IBM guy signs off on CP-40 which evolves into IBM’s VM in 1972 and is with us to this very day as zVM and rips along on IBM mainframes delivering virtual machines up the wazoo to all and sundry for the past 38 years.

Suddenly its cost effective for companies to buy a mainframe and lease VM’s to customers on a machine that’s hosted in their data centre (usually housed in some nondescript building in an industrial park) and the terminals in the customer office all connect back to a box called a “cluster controller” that then connects back to the mainframe via a line leased from your telco.

In current techno speak we’ve got blade servers in a high availability virtualised configuration co-located in a data centre with high speed tails into the telco cloud connected to a router which connects to the machines downstream from it in the enterprise.

In essence these two solutions split by nearly 40 years of technological advancements are the same.

Now let me prognosticate about what will happen in a few years.

As the business matures and costs drop, margins shrink and the guys in the business of delivering “cloud-based, virtual machine environments in co-lo data centres” will begin to let their service levels drop to protect their margin and EBIT. Then some genius in a university somewhere will come up with some ground breaking idea on how to better share computing resources “in-house” and suddenly the “cloud” will become disappearing wisps of water vapour. Everything will come back into the local premises and some marketing genius will come up with a new term for it (in the late 80’s it was a LAN) and a whole new generation of attention span challenged techno-literati will again “drink the kool-aid” and the roller coaster will go off onto its next trip around until someone comes up with a new version of the cloud...

This isn’t new or ground breaking as marketers and the press would like you to believe. Its a slow evolution of established centralised computing technology that’s driven by valid economic reasons that will lead to another evolutionary change in distributed computing that will change the way corporate computing is run taking it back to being locally hosted and run.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

It’s true what they say about history and being doomed to repeat it...