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.

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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.

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!

Free T-Shirts and Technical Stuff

As I’ve struggled my way through this last week on jet lag, limited sleep and caffeine at Symantec’s Worldwide Sales and Marketing Conference, two things have struck me. The first is that Backup Exec has a special place in a lot of peoples’ hearts. Its roots can be traced back around 30 years and there is a very real passion – among the sales force and pre-sales groups in Symantec, within the channel partner community and among our customers too. We brought themed “Backup Exec Boot Camp” t-shirts and hats to the conference as prizes and throughout the week more and more employees and partners were wearing them – through their own choice. Supporters if you like, but certainly a very loyal following that’s prepared to shout about it from the rooftops. If you want to get one for yourself, look out for the regional Boot Camps we’re going to be running around EMEA in the coming weeks and months. Traveling around EMEA, I meet partners who have built their businesses around Backup Exec and customers who have been using it for years and who are genuinely pleased to meet “a Backup Exec guy” like me.

The second thing that struck me this week was that in spite of the breadth and depth of capabilities within Backup Exec there is also a real awareness gap around those capabilities. I see focused competitors going after the VMware space – there’s loads of stuff talking about them as one trick ponies; there’s more still trying to translate reality from marketing hype. I’m not going to dive into that right now, although Sean Regan wrote an enlightening blog http://bit.ly/kYxIQz that I’d recommend you read. We’re doing our own bit when it comes to virtualisation, backing up more VMWare hosts than anyone else in the market, through Backup Exec and also NetBackup. (IDC market data & Symantec unit bookings).

Here’s the thing though. You could argue all day about the number of companies running Backup Exec, but it’s a lot – well into seven figures. Many of those have already invested in the VMware Agent for Backup Exec in the three or so years that it’s been available, while others are running the Hyper-V Agent in the same sort of time. Hyper-V platform uptake seems to be picking up more and more as well. Despite this I still run into customers and partners who don’t realise these agents exist. There are others too. Backup Exec and De-Duplication, for instance. Symantec System Recovery – there’s another example of how Backup Exec goes so far beyond tape-based physical server backup and can solve real problems for real organisations.

My suspicion is that it’s the approach we take in talking about it all. I don’t just limit that to Symantec. It’s endemic in the industry. We tend to talk about technical stuff – we all do it. What does it do? How does it work? My phone lets me check my mail and make calls (most of the time). I don’t care how it does it; it solves my challenge of communicating with customers, colleagues, family and friends. So what problems does Backup Exec solve? It’s simple really – it makes life easier. Whatever the question, the answer is Backup Exec. If my business is building boats, Backup Exec helps me build more boats. It lets me spend less time doing backup and restore stuff, less money investing in hardware, less time worrying about the complex bits and more time and energy building boats. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Or is it about free t-shirts and technical stuff? And just to clarify, Symantec is #1 for VMware backup, t-shirt or not. http://bit.ly/lXcWi6