Friday, 30 July 2010

Hardback Books Waste 1 million trees a Year

I was lucky enough to be given a hardback copy of the book "How to Measure Anything" by Doug Hubbard. The basic idea of this book is that it's possible to measure almost anything. One of the examples the author uses is that of a 3rd century BC scientist - Eratosthenes - that measured the circumference of the Earth to 3% accuracy without anything but a few smart observations and calculations.

Some of the barriers that people use apparently to avoid measuring things include:
  • utility - why bother
  • economic - it'd be too expensive to measure
  • ethical - it would be immoral to measure
This morning, I took the spirit of the book and applied it to a question: what is the additional impact of hardback books (as compared to soft back books) on the environment? or put another way, how many more trees does it take to make hardback books? (one of the other things the book mentions is that you really have to know what you want to measure)

My estimate - about 1 million more trees

How did I get to this estimate? 15 minute lunch break and the following back of an envelope calculation.

How many books sold per year globally?
Total number of books sold globally - 3.1B (2005 figures)
Average weight of a book 340 grams, with the additional weight of a hardback book being about 140 grams.

How much paper?
Assume hardback constitute less than 10% of all books sold (sampling my shelf)
So this indicates that the number of hardback books sold is about 300M (a year of course)
The Additional weight (at 140 grams per book) is 42,000 tons (metric)

How much paper does that translate to?
This one is a hard one. But I found one source on the Web. 1 ton of paper (uncoated) needs about 24 trees
Total number of trees required = 42,000 * 24 = 1 Million trees

The really interesting question of course is the comparison between E-books (consider the carbon footprint of making the device, storage on the network, wireless network usage, etc) and that of printed books.

Anyone seen any quantitative comparisons of this?

Monday, 26 July 2010

The ' “False cloud” is false ' is true!

I have heard Cloud service providers often say that “unless it runs in their data center it isn’t Cloud”. While this view is certainly a possible viewpoint, is it necessarily valid? It certainly does not echo the experience of some of the customers that we have worked with who have built their own private cloud infrastructure across financial services, telco and government verticals. Some of these customers brought the promise of Cloud computing – ready access to resources through self-service, ability to add resources as demands increase and to get charged for usage – into their own data centers years before the term “Cloud Computing” was ever coined! Credit Suisse, for example, with their Java Application Platform, have delivered some outstanding results: double digit percentage reductions in project costs and operational costs. Even if you choose to ignore these real results, some customers correctly observe that for data security or privacy reasons, they would not consider using an external provider. What would you think if your bank told you that their banking system ran “in the Cloud”?

Hence, it was with interest that I read a blog post Jonathan Eunice titled “The ‘false cloud’ is false”. In his blog post, Jonathan talks about the fact that Cloud should be identified by the benefits that it offers. Clearly if you go by the NIST national definition of Cloud computing there is no mention of where the services actually are provided out of. Instead the definition focuses on the characteristics of cloud services. Jonathan makes a valid point in saying “if cloud computing is going to mean something practical, important, and central to enterprise IT over the next few years, cloud must be broad enough to include privately-owned and operated infrastructure”. In his summary, he says “in the end, if cloud purists want to insist that only external clouds qualify, that's their right. But as cloud rapidly mainstreams, enterprises will demand that their concerns and approaches be taken seriously. For enterprises, cloud defined by its benefits is the true cloud.”

Which is really the point: Cloud should be measured by the benefits that it aims to, and ends up, delivering and not how these benefits are delivered. The “how “ is of interest to the providers who provide the services – whether internal or external.

Probably of most consideration is this: that internal IT now has a competitor and must show its value to business. As one of my colleague says “ Cloud is to internal IT what E-commerce was to bricks and mortar retailers” – ie. a wake up call.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Watching Enron in the UK

While in the UK I was fortunate enough to catch the play "Enron" at the Noel Coward theatre. The play benefits from raving reviews in the UK mainstream media including the Guardian. The Times hailed it as the "smartest play in the room". Certainly on the evening that I was there, the theatre was packed.

I particularly enjoyed the play since it did a decent job of capturing the history of the company - the rise of Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow and the way in which Fastow's brainchild of off-balance sheet investment vehicles that were largely wholly owned served as the mechanism to hide losses off the balance sheet. These raptors came to represent a house of cards that had to be fed with real money as the losses escalated. While Skilling was hot on turning everything into a trade able entity - including the weather - others in the company who were in the business of making real things and charging for them, such as power stations, lost investment as losses escalated. Exacerbating the situation.

With surprise I learned that the play has basically been a flop in the US. After opening up to much fan fare on Broadway, the curtain came down for good after just 15 screenings. I read a synopsis of the contrast in the Independent Newspaper. According to the Independent, "The Broadway show was given a big marketing push amid high hopes it would repeat its success on this side of the Atlantic, but while it received many good reviews, Ben Brantley of The New York Times called it a "flashy but laboured economics lesson" that was "all show and little substance". Did this review kill the play?

The disparity between between the reception in the US and in the UK, got me thinking - clearly the US and UK share a common language (almost) but certainly our respective views of what is funny is certainly different.

Having grown up in the UK, I share the love of the British for dry humour and satire. Some of the musical pieces interlaced in the play are takes on the washing machine advertisements of the 60s and 70s - which of course taken on face value are not funny, but are pretty hilarious when considered in the context of the play.

The Independent also makes a connection to today's politics: Skilling is the flipside of the optimism of Barack Obama. “ ‘Yes we can’ could be an Enron advert,” Prebble says. “It could be a cult chant and it could be the most inspiring thing you ever heard. And those are two sides of the same coin. If you give that much hope and faith to a man you think is great but isn’t, or who doesn’t behave in the way you expect, then you get Enron.”
You certainly get the overall feeling that our belief in chasing a common dream and mobilizing around it is one of our key strengths. One of the greatest strengths of the systems in US is people's willingness and eagerness to come together for a common cause without sometimes understanding it!

However, giving faith to those that are not great when combined with eagerness can lead to demise. Rapid demise.

Lesson in leadership and trust.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Conducting Conversations and Negotiations by Email .....

Looking at the MS Outlook View menu and then Arrange by sub menu, you can see an option to arrange by "Conversation". This begs the question: is it even possible to have a conversation by email? I mean how many times have you put something in an email only later to discover that you were misunderstood?

Omar Khayyam, writing 1,000 years ago, seemed well aware of the perils of the ill-considered e-mail:

The moving finger writes; and, having writ
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

Most conversations are better off conducted over the phone or in person.

It seems we are not the first to discover this....

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Run the Business versus Change the Business and Cloud Computing

Having had the fortune to work with one of the pioneers in Private Cloud Computing - Credit Suisse - I have become familiar with the terms "Run the Bank" and "Change the Bank". What the former refers to are the costs of business as usual. What the latter refers to are the funds allocated to supporting new business initiatives. By building a Private Cloud Infrastructure around a Platform as a Service (PaaS) Model - Credit Suisse have achieved 35%+ reduction in operational / Run the Bank costs and 30% savings in Change the Bank costs. Of course the holy grail is to be able to shift saved funds from the Run the Bank side and then funnel at least a percentage of them to help Change the Bank. For anyone who has been lucky enough to hear the Credit Suisse story - either at Oracle OpenWorld or one of our Cloud for Executives Forums - they will know that it's a very compelling case study.

It was with interest that I read an article in the Chronicle today The author - Bernard Golden - talks about the experience of the Telegraph newspaper in the UK moving to the Cloud as outlined by Toby Wright, their CTO. What I found particularly interesting was the reference to the same kind of terminology "Run the Business" and "Change the Business". I quote from the article "Wright presented a chart showing the changing makeup of IT headcount and how cloud computing supports delivering business value. Over a four year period (2008-2011), IT headcount shifts from 90% "Run the business skills"/10% "Change the business skills" to 20% "Run the business skills"/80% "Change the business skills.". From the article it seems that the Telegraph are taking the Public Cloud approach.

So great case studies of money being saved and focused on innovation.

So if you are building cloud - what kind of cloud infrastructure should you be looking to build? I love this quote from the article: ".....preferring to pay for application services rather than leveraging IaaS, which would leave it still managing infrastructure, albeit non-physical infrastructure, which Wright refers to as "virtual tin."

Which really echoes my believes well - which is that Virtualization / Infrastructure as a Service is not an optimal Cloud strategy for Enterprises - it saves money on hardware - and leaves "virtual tin" (in my next blog post I will talk about the economics of this).

Bottom line is this: the more is provide out of the Cloud - the more value there is to the business. Platform as a Service - with execution (Java) and data management (database) and management - is the sweet spot for the Enterprise from a Cloud perspective.

Interoperability, the Razor and the Smart Customer

I recently purchased a Gillette Fusion razor from a drugstore having forgotten to pack one in my over night back on the business trip I was on. A few weeks later, I got back home and added the razor to my collection (I have been known to forget such things on the never ending barrage of trips that I take). I packed my bag on my European trip and rather unsuspectingly packed a few Mach 3 blades along with the Fusion razor. So far so good? Well not really. When I came to use a Mach 3 blade with the Fusion razor I realized that it didn't fit! Upon closer inspection, I realized that the razor on the Fusion had been specifically designed so as to not fit with the previous generation Mach 3 blades.

While on the topic - another interesting observation. The blades on the Fusion razor feature a lubricant strip that changes color from green to white. This marks the point at which the blade needs to be changed - according to the manufacturer. The interesting thing is that this strip must have been designed by engineers in the earlier Mach 3 version and by sales in the Fusion version. Why I hear you ask? The strip on the Mach 3 version took much longer to change color compared to the newer Fusion one.

There are a few lesson in this.

#1 - Interoperability designed in - the ability to use one version of a blade with the razor from another - is something that customers expects. Designing this out of products is ultimately harmful to consumers and harmful to adoption of the product. I for one will be a lot more diligent when buying these products in future.

#2 - Features designed to benefit sales without having a direct correlation to an end customer value proposition are a mockery. In this case ensuring that the color of the strip on the blade changes to white from green more quickly simply means that customers will ignore the strip.

As it relates to high technology, the moral of this story is twofold:
- make sure your product are inter-operable with one another - and better still, based on industry standards such as JEE, so that they inter- operate with other people's products too
- build features that ultimately benefit your customer and make life easier for them rather than drive sales of your own product