OK, it’s time to stretch the 2012 writing muscles, and what better way to do it than with the time honored “retrospective” format. But rather than try and itemize all the news and come up with a list of maybe a dozen or more interesting things, I decided instead to pick the best and the worst – events and developments that show the amazing range of the technology business, its potentials and its daily frustrations. So, drum roll, please. My personal nomination for the best and worst of the year (along with a special extra bonus category) are:
The Best – IBM Watson stomps the world’s best human players in Jeopardy. In early 2011, IBM put its latest deep computing project, Watson, up against some of the best players in the world in a game of Jeopardy. Watson, consisting of hundreds of IBM Power CPUs, gazillions of bytes of memory and storage, and arguably the most sophisticated rules engine and natural language recognition capability ever developed, won hands down. If you haven’t seen the videos of this event, you should – seeing the IBM system fluidly answer very tricky questions is amazing. There is no sense that it is parsing the question and then sorting through 200 – 300 million pages of data per second in the background as it assembles its answers. This is truly the computer industry at its best. IBM lived up to its brand image as the oldest and strongest technology company and showed us a potential for integrating computers into untapped new potential solutions. Since the Jeopardy event, IBM has been working on commercializing Watson with an eye toward delivering domain-specific expert advisors. I recently listened to a presentation by a doctor participating in the trials of a Watson medical assistant, and the results were startling in terms of the potential to assist medical professionals in diagnostic procedures.
For years I have been railing about cloud washing -- the efforts by vendors and, more recently, enterprise I&O professionals to give a cloud computing name to their business-as-usual IT services and virtualization efforts. Now, a cloud vendor, with tongue somewhat in cheek, is taking this rant to the next level.
Appirio, a cloud integration and customization solution provider, has created the cloud computing equivalent of the Razzie Awards to recognize and call out those vendors it and its clients see as the most egregious cloud washing offenders. The first annual Washies will be announced next Wednesday night at The Cigar Bar in San Francisco, and in true Razzie tradition, the nominees are invited to attend and pick up their dubious honors in person. I'm betting that Larry Ellison will be otherwise engaged.
Some Reflections On The Deal For Competitors, Partners, and Customers
On December 3, SAP announced the acquisition of SuccessFactors, a leading vendor for human capital management (HCM) cloud solutions. SAP will pay $3.5 billion (a 52% premium over the Dec 2 closing price) out of its full battle chest and take a $1 billion loan. SuccessFactors brings about 1,500 employees, more than 3,500 customers, and about 15 million users to the table. In 2010, the company reported revenues of $206 million and a net loss of $12.5 million. A price of $3.5 billion is certainly a big premium, but the acquisition catapults SAP into the ranks of leading software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution providers — a business that will grow from $21.3 billion in 2011 to $78.4 billion by 2015 (for more information, check out our report “Sizing The Cloud”). The deal will certainly help SAP to achieve its 2015 target of $20 billion revenue and 1 billion users as it mainly targets the 500,000 employees that SAP’s already existing customers have. The deal is expected to close in Q1 next year. However, because most of the stocks are widely spread, stakeholders might hold back for now, waiting for possible counter bids from competition.
Picking through economic news this week (French and German growth numbers; financial market turmoil; scattered US indicators) and the vendor announcements from Dell, HP, Lenovo, NetApp, and Salesforce.com, four trends emerge:
European economies are headed for a recession, and European tech market is already in decline. Eurostat (The European Union statistical agency) announced on Tuesday, August 16, that real GDP in the 17 euro area countries and the 27 European countries both grew by just 0.2% in the second quarter of 2011 from the first quarter. Annualizing these growth rates to make them comparable with US GDP growth rates, the numbers were 0.8%. France's real GDP showed no growth, while Germany's real growth was o.4% on an annualized basis. These were sharp slowdowns from France's growth of 3.6% in Q1 and Germany's growth of 5.3%. With worries growing about a financial crisis hitting European banks as a result of potential losses on their holdings of Greek, Portuguese, Irish, Italian, and Spanish bonds, ongoing government austerity programs in these countries as well as the UK, and feeble EU efforts to deal with the problems, there is a high probability that Europe will slip into recession in Q3 and Q4 2011.
Informatica also added more enterprise-level connectivity and a 24x7 support to its cloud offering, thus making it more enterprise ready than ever.
Let’s have a look at these trust.platform.com sites for a minute and analyze the value of this new way of communicating availability:
It actually looks like the industry is moving away from the traditional service-level agreement (SLA) communication, with its well-defined statistical availability number of 99.9%, 99.995%, etc. I believe that this makes a lot of sense for most cloud computing platforms in the SaaS and PaaS category, as I noted in my recent blog on cloud computing taxonomy:
Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, gave a typically energetic performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall yesterday, both in the main-stage keynote and the private lunch for press and analysts. In addition to some humorous digs at Oracle, SAP, and pretty much any company that wants to run its own data center, Benioff described his vision for enterprise applications in the world of social computing, which he calls Cloud 2. Key to this vision is salesforce.com’s own Chatter application, which is . . . er, well actually it's not really clear what it is. Various spokespeople described it as an internal Facebook, a collaboration engine, Twitter but secure, but to me it still seems to be a user interface in search of an application.
The demonstration reminded me forcibly of the scene in Bruce Almighty in which Morgan Freeman lets Jim Carrey hear all the prayers being made at that instant by the citizens of Chicago. The user gets a stream of tweets, discussion threads, notifications, and alerts from feeder applications, messages from colleagues to each other, general questions, etc. My question, which no-one could answer adequately was “how is this different from email?” The features they cite — filtering, highlighting, threading, categorizing, etc. — are all in Outlook if you care to use them.
The main difference, apart from the fashionable user interface with the sender’s photo next to each message, is the switch from emailers deciding who they want to read their message, to readers deciding whose chats they want to see. Benioff’s description of his own Chatter feed puts him as the omniscient Bruce, watching every sales process, customer service problem resolution, product design collaboration, and invoice approval throughout his organization.
Informatica is one of the traditional leaders when it comes to data quality and data integration. More than 4,000 customers trust Informatica's software products globally and drive more than half a billion dollars in revenue. Informatica solves many of the traditional data integration challenges, for example, between custom developed apps and packaged ERP solutions. As a result, IT operations professionals and enterprise architects are well aware of Informatica’s solutions. However, what has gone under the radar so far is Informatica's cloud computing approach. For about two years now, Informatica has provided www.informaticacloud.com, a cloud-based integration offering, for customers. Informatica recently announced a new version of this service, and Forrester had the chance to talk to the vendor prior to the launch. The new solution offers an improved service for data quality, B2B data transformations, and a number of continuous improvements. But what really caught my attention is Informatica's well-kept secret of a sophisticated agent technology.
Back-office managers and European customers have ignored the message — until now
Today, Google announced Google App Engine for Business, and integration with VMware’s SpringSource offerings. On Monday, we got a preview of the news from David Glazer, Engineering Director at Google, and Jerry Chen, Senior Director Cloud Services at VMware.
For tech industry strategists, this is another step in the development of cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Java Spring developers now have a full platform-as-a-service host offering in Google App Engine for Business, the previously announced VMforce offering from salesforce.com, plus the options of running their own platform and OS stacks on premise or in virtual machines at service providers supporting vCloud Express, such as Terremark.
What’s next? IBM and Oracle have yet to put up full Java PaaS offerings, so I expect that to show up sometime soon – feels late already for them to put up some kind of early developer version. And SAP is also likely to create their own PaaS offering. But it’s not clear if any of them will put the same emphasis on portability and flexible, rich Web-facing apps that Google and VMware are.
So Google aims to expand into enterprise support – but will need more than the planned SQL support, SSL, and SLAs they are adding this year. They'll also need to figure out how to fully integrate into corporate networks, the way that CloudSwitch aims to do.
VMware And salesforce.com Join Forces To Push PaaS To Mainstream Adoption With vmforce
salesforce.com and VMware announced today the development of a joint product and service offering named vmforce. Forrester had a chance to talk to executives at both companies prior to the announcement, and I am quite impressed by the bold move of the two players. Most developers in corporate environments and ISVs perceive the two stacks as two totally different alternatives when selecting a software platform. While the VMware stack, with its Tomcat-based Spring framework, reached mainstream popularity among Java developers with its more lightweight standard Java approach, salesforce.com’s Force.com stack was mostly attractive to developers who liked to extend CRM packaged apps with individual business logic or to ISVs that created new applications from scratch. In some cases, the Java standard and the more proprietary APEX language at Force.com even appeared as competitive options.