I’d like to start with some cloud access please . . . .

My tendency is to write when I’m in the air. Thankfully for you, it’s not every time I’m in the air or I’d be writing a lot; a really lot! There’s something, I want to say, ‘thought provoking’ or ‘liberating’ about sitting in a plane for eleven hours, but that’s not quite the sentiment I’m looking for. More like ‘mind-numbing’ I think. There certainly is time to think when you’re staring out the window at the clouds and listening to “the cabin crew’s favourite music choice” (!!!). I suspect the propensity to think and write is also something to do with that dispossessed feeling you get travelling on business. There’s an imposed normality to it that somehow doesn’t quite match the reality; a desensitisation to the excess of walking down ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas, realising that driving down 101 south of San Francisco in a Mustang is basically a rubbish experience and moving back and forth through so many time zones so quickly you neither know what day it is, nor what country you’re in. All this, I think, contributes to my choice of travel companions; three friends I wouldn’t be without.

The first two are obvious. Passport. There’s a year left on my current one, which is held together with security stickers thanks mainly to Virgin Atlantic. They never seem to come off so I just leave them. Nobody seems to object (apart from a ‘tut’ from the lady at the United check-in desk). So until I can ‘carry’ my passport on my phone I’m ‘sticking’ to the paper variety. Not even biometric, for the time being at least – old school, analogue, physical.

Wallet – again, obvious. Not going far without that. Specifically the corporate card. It really is my flexible friend. (Wait, wrong brand and twenty years out of date). Anyway, my flexible friend, except for right now. It’s just packed up, on the first day of a week of travelling. Log in and find out what’s going on. Wrong password. Ugh. Email me a new one, except of course the email never arrives, so I ring the helpline which is delighted tell me, having entered all my details, etc. that they are super busy (when aren’t they) and that the next available agent will answer my call, which is important to them, in a week or so. That’s all outstanding because fortunately I’m not busy of course, so let me know when it suits you for me to contact you, why don’t you. Clearly, said organisation is not alone in this approach. Ok well I have to get in a plane so I guess I’ll find out when I get there whether or not whatever the issue is, can be sorted quickly, or not, or whether I’m stuck in a foreign country with limited means of payment.

So, on to the third and final item. My phone. Again it’s the same for most people probably. I can pretty much do without a laptop, iPad, etc. if I have my phone but the interesting thing is that it isn’t the phone as such that I want to carry with me. Yes, ok so I have a non-cabin crew chosen selection of music on there should I need it on a flight, but the reality is that it’s largely a means of accessing my stuff that’s elsewhere. What I’m seeing as I stare out the window at the clouds is that ‘the cloud’ however you choose to define and use it is becoming ever-more pervasive and yet less and less visible. Less distinct. There’s an assumption on my part that wherever in the world I land I’ll switch on my cloud access device and be able to get to all my stuff. When it’s offline it’s basically a brick. The concept of amount of data, cost, location and all the other practicalities go out of the window. It’s not a ‘check-me-out, nice-to-have’ any more, it’s a need – an expectation. With the type of capability I can have at my fingertips now if I don’t have what I need with me I can typically get what I need (in a business sense, you understand) generally straight away.

All this presents me with a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is two-fold. From a personal perspective, who backs up the cloud? As I noted previously, there’s all sorts of apps connecting to all sorts of other apps and moving data around, etc. Is it all protected. The answer, presumably, is “no idea, but I hope so.” Facebook, for instance. The average user has over 200 personal photos uploaded. Given that there are now more than one billion Facebook users (apparently) there’s an interesting set of question buried in there somewhere, The second part of course is, who backs up the cloud from a business perspective. But it’s more than that isn’t it? Who keeps the cloud available – not the cloud itself but the stuff in it. There are so many variables. Availability isn’t just knowing its there. Surely it’s being able to get it wherever and whenever I want it. Today was a classic example. Rather than having an app to show my mobile boarding pass, today’s airline prefer to text me a URL which I browse to on my phone, except of course when you’ve had your phone tucked away and it has no signal so you’re boarding pass is, well, still in the cloud, so to speak. Interesting.  If I can get it to the cloud and secure it on its way to, and in the cloud can I also help to ensure its availability as and when it’s needed. Gone are the days of sitting in from of a PC and connecting to a fileshare.

So herein lies the opportunity. Is it feasible to have all that stuff backed-up, available when and where I want it, shareable with whom I want whilst being protected all the time in case I leave my cloud access device in a yellow cab? From a device, available to me on another device or to someone else I choose on their device. Here’s hoping the answer is yes but that it’s also possible just to rely on my other two friends. Passport and wallet. Neither of them are very ‘cloudy’ but then generally when I take them of my pocket, at least I don’t get a ‘no service’ problem!

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Everything has gone cloudy. Can you see me?

Every second organisation and person is venturing into “cloud” at the moment it seems; this new technology that’s going to make everything right in the world. I have a couple of side issues with that anyway – its not actually ‘new’ at all and how many people understand what ‘cloud’ actually refers to? That’s not the point though. For the purposes of right now, I’m going to use ‘cloud’ to refer to any application which is hosted by, or which hosts my information, elsewhere – in another place or organisation. No doubt you’ll see the limitations and flaws of that definition, but for this piece, it servers a purpose.

What I’ve been looking for recently is a way of better organising myself. Not that I’m a total disaster, but it seems that with all these ‘i-devices’ there really ought to be a great way to share my information . . with myself (?) – not all information, but things like tasks, plans, and so on. I’ve tried a few apps recently because it seems that the in-built and standard Microsoft apps aren’t quite flexible enough or joined-up enough to really address my needs. A couple worthy of note are http://www.rememberthemilk.com which looks great and works well except for the fact that Outlook integration and real-time sync are paid for extras and I’m convinced at this stage that I can meet my needs for less or better still, my favourite price – free. The one I’ve really been trying to use and I think I have settled on though is http://www.wunderlist.com. There are apps for iPhone, iPad and Mac which is great because I find an app to be much more convenient than a web page on Mac and apps for the other devices. There’s a raft of things that it allows me to do and it too looks really nice. My ask to the WunderKinder folks is: please add location-based awareness to task lists – for those of us who create lists to remember things but forget to look at the lists, its invaluable if you’re iPhone pops up a reminder when you arrive at home, work supermarket. The inbuilt iPhone task tool does it averagely. Remember the Milk does it well because its easy to define your chosen locations for reminders.

But this too is beside the point – apologies for the foray into apps. What struck me as I was trying these things out was two things. The cliché question of “where is my data actually going” which I’m less bothered about, although its an interesting question. Should we be worried? Depends on the company I suppose but its hard to tell these days. If its Symantec that’s hosting your data then you’re safe. If its a small app-providing company, what do you think? Hard to tell how much infrastructure there is behind this stuff. Presumably a fair bit, even if the app is free. More concerning for me though is the ‘social’ side of all of these apps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of social media. So many services and apps I’ve looked at signing up to recently have asked whether I would like to sign up using my Twitter or Facebook account and if not, whether, once signed up, I would like to share my activity within the app with those social media services. As an average user, how much do any of us actually know about who can view information that we’re creating in these apps or data that we’re storing in these place – are we inadvertently sharing that information when we assumed it was private. Seriously, who actually reads the fine print? Worse still are the default sharing sites – you will share or you can’t sign up for the service. There’s raising awareness of your app or service to gain new members and then there’s forcing users to share only for the benefit of the app or service itself. That’s an instant no-go for me.

So lots of thoughts there but here’s another – if my information is stored somewhere else and that’s fine with me, what happens if my information is lost, damaged or otherwise at the place its being held? I backup the data on my laptop and I have been doing so for years. If that information was being stored on a local server in your workplace chances are that its being backed up too, chances are by Backup Exec, in fact (note: “Who’s Looking After Your Clouds?” – check out further down my blog) but what about cloud? Cloud, as in public cloud – the one your app data is being held in. From my [work-head] perspective its no different. The backup of that data just happens somewhere else because the data is somewhere else. From another perspective you have to ask a couple of things: how much information am I sharing and with whom and if the answers could be ‘lots’ and ‘a lot of people’ because you just don’t know and therefore there’s a risk to that data, how well is it being protected in case something does happen in that ‘somewhere else’. Do you actually know (have seen face-to-face in the last couple of years) all of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers? What’s the risk and what’s the protection against that risk like? Security is one thing, but backup is always the last line of defence. So interestingly as everything is going ‘cloudy’ its possible that we can see each other better than ever – perhaps more than we’d like.

Apples and Toasters

Apple Toaster

Apples weren’t my thing a couple of years ago. It was all a bit too predictable. You could tell the guy on the train who was going to get a Mac out of his laptop case – it was ‘a certain type.’ Now it seems I have become one of those types. It’s ok these days because every second person has an Apple product of one type or another. I’m hopeful that fact prevents me from being part of that once-predictable crowd.

For me it started with a phone. I had two Blackberries over a period of two or three years and they served their purpose really well. I was a huge fan. Then one day, the whole RIM-outage-no-mobile-email-reboot-it-every-so-often thing just became too difficult. It turned out that in my job (for which mobile communication is important) having to do all those extra bits and pieces you have to do when you own a Blackberry, were getting in the way of actually doing my job. Landing in another country for a one day meeting and finding that I couldn’t pick up a local mobile phone provider signal and couldn’t get any email just wasn’t acceptable. The truth is not that there was anything desperately wrong with Blackberry. I’m still a huge fan of the physical keyboard – by the way, the original Bold 9000 had the best keyboard by a country mile. What changed was me. Doing email and making phone calls on the go is a by-product of what I do but an important one. As a result something like that getting in the way was just, well, getting in the way. So there’s Apple number two.

Yes, number two. iPad came to me before iPhone in fact, as Apple number one, but since I had nothing to compare the iPad to, as much as I like it (and am writing this now on it at 38,000 feet) it didn’t dawn on me what the difference with Apple products was until the iPhone.

It took me a while to get used to the iPhone over the Blackberry. Issues aside, I knew what I was doing with the Blackberry. I’d used them for so long day-in, day-out that I knew all the quirks and what had to be done when. Up to a point that worked, as noted. When I say it took me a while to get used to the iPhone, I’m talking a couple of days. There were a few ‘what is it trying to do now’ moments. I was trying to use it like a Blackberry – trying to impose the previous user experience on a new interface. The irony was instead of trying to learn what was going on, just becoming part of the experience and letting the thing guide me worked out fine. I’m as comfortable if not more so with the iPhone as I was previously with Blackberry.

Apple number three was the Mac. Much like Blackberry I’d always had a Windows laptop. Ten plus years. Yes, they’re slow sometimes and get slower as they get older. Yes, there’s a bunch of stuff you just have to know to get it to work properly and so on, but it was comfortable and so I clung on to my Windows laptops – a fair number of them. But once again, as I changed and the work I was doing changed so my needs changed. The value to me now of a laptop that weighs almost nothing and is there when I need it, with no extended boot sequence and with plenty of battery life is greater than the comfort of previous machines. And yes, it is awfully pretty as well.

They key to all of this for me, with all of these devices, is that they’re built to do one thing and do it well. In the same way, if you want to toast bread you buy a toaster not a grill. Yes the grill may be able to do a load of other stuff as well, but all I need to do is toast bread. The toaster is an appliance built to do one thing, do it well, and not require any real knowledge or talent (not that I’m suggesting that making toast is complex you understand.) What I’ve been getting my head around recently is the difference between the toaster and the grill. What makes an appliance an appliance rather than a bunch of things thrown together in a effort to make life simpler. Apple seems to do it pretty well. It also seems that the toaster in our kitchen does it pretty well – rarely is there burnt toast. It’s about making it easier when what we’re trying to achieve is not the primary thing we do. My job isn’t doing email on the move but it is something I need to be able to do, therefore, iPhone. I don’t toast bread for a living either, therefore, toaster.

You’ll know by now in this blog that I’m getting to the bit I do actually do – backup. More specifically backup appliances and more specifically still, Backup Exec Appliances. Not just a bunch of stuff we’ve thrown together in a box. Built specifically to do one job and do it well. Serving a purpose. Because if your primary job is doing backups every day, what else could you be doing more usefully if backups were easier to do. And if your primary job isn’t doing backups every day then you surely want ‘doing backups’ to be as straightforward and worry-free as possible, don’t you? So there it is; Backup Exec Appliances – rather like Apples and Toasters . . . ripe now and cooked just right.

This train terminates here . . .

I’ve been away for quite some time. Not physically, you understand, although the same level of travelling around the world applies, as ever, but in writing terms. A lot has been happening in the world of Backup Exec and its left me with little time to sit and think and write. For that I can only apologise but its all been in the name of a good cause. If you’re reading this then you are probably aware that Backup Exec 2012 has been launched. Its significant. It brings change, but not just change for the sake of change. It brings change that makes life easier. I urge you to familiarise yourself with the changes. I moved from a Blackberry to an iPhone a little while ago and its a bit like that. Different, but better and it took no time at all to get into a new look and feel.

While I’m on the subject of change, its change time for me too. For the last eleven years I’ve been looking after Backup Exec in one role or another and that’s a long time in anybody’s book so its time for something new. I had an offer that came out of nowhere really. But wait, it’s not game over. I’m getting off this train, but I’m getting on another train. Another yellow train – in fact another Backup Exec train. One of the areas we talked about as part of the recent product launch was the Backup Exec Appliance. I’ve mentioned it here before, and no, at the time I didn’t know I’d be changing roles, but that’s what I’m picking up – the Backup Exec Appliance business. It follows the path of what I really believe in when it comes to protecting data – two things: it’s not about backup and restore; firstly, it’s about making life easier, better and secondly if I’m a company that builds boats it’s about helping me to build more boats. Plug and play, all in one place, done for you. You focus on what you do as a business, I’ll focus on what I do. So now when you think about protecting your data and you get to the software bit, you just have to decide whether you want it to arrive in a box, or on a box? With Backup Exec 2012 both options are easy. Perhaps one will turn out to be more easy than the other. Your call.

It’s software, Jim, but not as we know it

In a coupe of days time I will have been looking after Backup Exec in some shape or form at Symantec for eleven years. Sales, pre-sales, regional technical leader and now as Subject Matter Expert. In that time I’ve known software and that’s it, really. Certainly, like any pre-sales guy I could make the hardware do useful stuff but it was software driven.

So what’s with backup appliances? Software and hardware in one go. Some time ago Symantec launched the first NetBackup appliance and with a series of appliances now available it seems that the business is going from strength to strength. But It’s not like e-mailing a license key or buying boxed product software. There are incredibly slick processes being running in the background managing the logistics and I’m in awe of the people who make it happen. I’m lucky enough to call some of them friends. They do the hard work so you don’t have to; but more of that later.

In the U.S., more recently, Symantec launched the first Backup Exec appliance. I wasn’t sure to start with. You’ll know by now that I’m all in favour of making life easier, better. Software is choice. Take what you want and leave the rest. But now as I look at the appliances I see another approach that sits side-by-side with software. You choose, but there’s no need to leave the rest. You can have it all. Better still, we’ll do it for you. Set it up. Configure it just right. Your job? Plug it in and turn it on.

Okay so there’s a little more to it than that. You still have to tell it what you want to backup. I’m not a mind reader here. That’s not my job. What you haven’t got to do is set up the box itself. Its done for you by the people who build the thing – Symantec. 

I’m a huge fan of “all in one place.” Know why? Because it makes life easier (again). Who goes to three different supermarkets so they can make a sandwich? One for the bread, another for the bacon and another for the bag to put it in? Nobody. You buy it all in one place. If somebody else has made it and packaged it for you, even better. All you have to do is consume it.

So it comes down to this. It’s software, but not as we know it. Maybe not as you know it today either. Take the software. When you buy it though, just decide do you want it to arrive in a box, or on a box?

Who’s Looking After Your Clouds?

Cloud is the answer. It has to be doesn’t it? And its all about software, right? Wrong. I’m at VMworld in Copenhagen this week and its not just about software and its not all about virtual. Sean Regan walked around the show and found 14 hardware boxes that weigh more than him. Cloud? Maybe – clouds aren’t weighed down by steel boxes. Consolidation? Maybe. Some of its expansion, especially in storage, but shhh, don’t tell anyone; its a secret.

From customers I’ve talked to here it seems to be all about doing more with existing hardware. Getting the cloud you want from the infrastructure you’ve got. That sounds like its a blend of physical and virtual, not just all about virtual. Symantec can take the hardware you’ve got today and help you build a cloud infrastructure on top of it in partnership with VMware. Once you’ve built that infrastructure, we’ll help you protect it too. Can you imagine deploying a physical production server without securing it or backing it up these days? You wouldn’t really would you? So why not extend the physical processes and technologies into virtual as you deploy it. Sure, its shiny and new, but that’s not to say the backup, security and availability of it needs to be totally different. How much time have you got to learn new processes and tecnolgoies and try to integrate them with what you’re already using and familiar with? If the answer is lots, then you’re in the minority!

Here’s the other thing if you didn’t manage to get to VMworld this year. It’s funny but everyone is ‘number one for VMware backup.’ I know I’ve said it before in previous posts but Symantec really is – most market share, most customers, most customers backing up virtual environments with Backup Exec and NetBackup.
What you do need to ask though is these two things when it comes to VMware backup:
Firstly, is your backup product VMware Ready? If a backup product isn’t certified by VMware that’s a problem. Why did VMware say no to certification?
Secondly, why are you number one in VMware backup? Ask the question. Most of the responses we’ve had to the question this week at VMWorld have been along the lines of “the marketing guy told us to say that” which is interesting.

What else has been of interest this week? Well outside of the obvious – customers want a better way of backing up VMware than file by file, machine by machine – the better way being the Agent for VMware that we’ve had in Backup Exec for over three years – high availability integration has also been on the agenda. ApplicationHA and it’s integration with Backup Exec and VMware was described to me as “something from the future” by one customer I spoke to today. The ability to look inside a VM and see whether the application has failed, rather than just monitoring the VM it is sitting on, and bring the application up on a second VM – interesting. The next bit more interesting though for Backup Exec customers is that if that failure occurs and the application can’t be failed over, Backup Exec can create a restore job and, optionally, automatically restore as well to bring the machine with the failed application back online. With a retail price of around $350 per VM that kind of functionality and integration seems to me to be something of a bargain.

I’m not going to get started on security for VMware environments other than to say that Symantec is the largest security software company and when you look at new real estate in a virtual infrastructure the combination of market leading backup, security and availability from one company just makes sense. There’s a good reason it’s all market-leading software and all those reasons circulate around our customers who continue to buy and deploy that software.

So who’s protecting your clouds? If you aren’t thinking about Symantec, you aren’t thinking . . .

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“. . . well I do have a gold card . . .”

I travel on business a lot so I may as well collect all the air miles and tier points with different airlines as I go. What I hadn’t realised until very recently was that having the right colour loyalty card makes me somewhat “more equal than others.”

Arriving at the airport I simply asked an airline attendant whether I needed to print my boarding pass at the kiosk, since I hadn’t needed to last time. What I thought was a straightforward question was greeted with a look of disdain and a “yes at the kiosk, but why are you standing over here?” i.e. in this ‘premium section’ of airline check in. “Well,” I responded, “I do have a gold card.” All of a sudden the lights appeared to come on, doors opened and there was a little private fanfare all just for me as I was waved through to have my boarding pass printed for me at a desk with no queue. Odd, really. Aren’t I just the same as all the people queuing in the regular queue?

That got me thinking. Perhaps I’m marginally more valuable to my favourite airline than the occasional traveller. Maybe they’d like to retain my loyalty in a way so many business fail to do these days, despite the current economic climate. When I sit working on flights, or in the office for that matter, I don’t treat what I’m doing with equality. Some pieces of work are definitely more important than others and there’s a natural tendency to treat more lucrative or personally beneficial pieces of work differently.

So why is it then that it looks like my work, when its just ‘data’ is treated equally? If I delete an email in error and can’t get it back myself I genuinely struggle. If there’s a problem with a document on a file server I can probably get by for a bit longer without it. So what do I want from my IT organisation? I want them to prioritise the information that’s important to me, when I’ve messed it up or when there’s been a problem. I, like so many users, am not interested in whether there’s a hardware problem, or a network problem, or if the virtual server that Mr.IT is migrating to isn’t playing nicely today. Whether its me deleting something or not, this is business. Or it would be if I could get my information back!

Maybe Mr.IT views it differently though. He doesn’t care whether one piece of data is more important to me than another. I suspect what he wants is the ability to take a look, find what he’s after and do something useful with it. If it’s on a file server, an application server or a database isn’t it all the same thing really? What about the machine itself. One manufacturer or another, one operating system or another, physical, virtual. Should it matter?

Its all about meeting needs. The airline meets my needs as a frequent traveller by making life a little easier for me at the airport and maybe on the flight too. IT makes my life easier by being flexible. If they’ve got the same capabilities across all data I need them to help me with then it’s up to me as the user to decide what’s important to me right now – what I need restored as a priority. They don’t have to worry about what they can and can’t do depending on what I’m asking for this time around. They’ve got visibility into it all. They pick and choose. I benefit.

So, the ability for Mr.IT to look into whatever data he is asked for is critical in satisfying the business need. Picking that data up; just what is really needed and putting it back down somewhere else. Treating data equally – the ‘equal data agent.’ If he’s smart though, and wants to match flexibility with managing that data sensibly he’d add an archiving process into the mix. That way some data can be treated as ‘more equal’ than other data – the ‘unequal data agent.’ That’s for another time, but I’ve said it before – ‘it’s all about making life easier.’ Or should that be ‘ITs all about making life easier?’

You choose. If you’ve met me or read the last blog, you know what my software choice is. Maybe that’s your ‘gold card.’

By the way, I’m in Florida for the global Backup Exec conference the week after next so watch this space!