Category Archives: Technology Industry

Dreamhost Uptime Numbers are TERRIBLE!

I don’t care what their marketing stats say, I have my own indepedent verification. I’ve been using Wormly for quite a while monitoring some of my demo sites, and other services that are part of Bayon and part of Dynamo. Since I was already paying for it, I figured I’d turn it loose on this blog (nicholasgoodman.com) and see what the uptime was like.

I always thought Dreamhost was a little skiddish, and my email box finds approximately one email per day with a failure, but i figured they were small, single request failures. Nope. The independent measuring of the uptime of this blog is a CRUDDY, CRAPPY, 97.6%.

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That’s pathetic! My blog is nothing special, an out of the box WordPress installation backed by their MySQL. I haven’t done any of my own installations, customizations (excepting a theme) and yet my blog uptime is awful. I’ve liked the dreamhost panel; it gives the “technical but uninterested in actually administering their own server” user a lot of power and I’d be willing to tolerate a little downtime (truthfully, anything above 99.5% is OK with me). But 97% uptime? Shyeah… Time to start looking.

Anyone have any suggestions for good WordPress / PHP / MySQL hosts? WIlling to pay top dollar and I’ll bring with me registrations for about 25 domains.

Business Intelligence: Experience vs Sexy

A couple of postings over the past few days that prompted me to put some digital pen to paper so to speak. The first was a post by L. Wayne Johnson who works for Pentaho who I had the pleasure to meet last week in Orlando entitled “Is it just sexy?” The second was by a Ted Cuzzillo over at datadoodle.com entitled “Tableau is the new Mac” Both share important perspectives that deserve some more light.

First, we have to start with a premise that leads you to see why there are two somewhat divergent paths that products/people/companies are taking. BI is now a commodity. The base technology components for doing BI (reports, dashboards, OLAP, ETL, scheduling, etc) is commodotized. Someone once told me that once Microsoft enters and nails a market, you know it’s been commodotized and based on the success of MSAS/DTS/etc you can tell that MSFT entered long ago and nailed it. So, if you don’t believe that the raw technology for turnings data into information is essentially commodotized then you should stop reading now. The rest will be useless to you.

What happens when software becomes a commodity? There’s usually a mid market but you start to see players emerge at two ends of a spectrum.

Commodity End (Windows, Open Office, linux, Crystal Reports):

  • Hit the good side of the features curve. Definitely stay on the good side of the 80/20 rule.
  • Focus on lots and lots of basic features. You’re trying to appeal to lots and lots of people. If you’re pipe isn’t 1000x bigger than the other market you are toast.
  • Provide a “reasonable” quality product. To use a car metaphor, you build an automatic transmission car with manual windows. The lever to open and close the window doesn’t usually fall off and if it does, you’ve already put 100,000 miles on the car.
  • Treat the user experience as one category in “Features.” Usability is something you build so that customers don’t choose the other guy over you – it’s not core to your business, you just have to provide enough for them to be successful and not hate your product.
  • Sell a LOT of software. Commodity End of a market is about HIGH VOLUME (you should sell at least one or two orders of magnitude more than the experience end) – however, people looking for “reasonable commodity” products are cheap. They want low prices so this also means your MARGINs are lower. Commodity selling is about HIGH VOLUME, LOW MARGIN business. (Caveat: not always true).

Experienced Based (Mac, iPhone, Crystal XCelcius):

  • The good side of the 80/20 rule still applies. Experience based doesn’t always mean 100% high end, every bell and whistle.
  • Focus on features that matter to the user doing a job. If a feature is needed to help a customer nail a part of their using your product it, add it and make it better than they expect. Lacking features isn’t a bad thing if you keep adding them – for instance the iPhone was LAME feature for feature initially (no GPS, battery was a pain, etc) but users were patient.
  • Provide a high quality product that is as much about using as doing. The experienced based product says that it’s not enough to have a product that does what you want, but it has to be something you ENJOY using.
  • User and Experience is KING. Usability is not something that is a feature to implement, it’s the thing that informs, prioritizes and determines what features are implemented.
  • Sell some software. In order to get the driving experience a user wants (BMW 700x series) they are willing to pay for it. It’s a higher margin business and there’s no secret that if someone is looking for something that both works, and they LOVE to use then it’s worth more to them. It’s a LOWER VOLUME, HIGHER MARGIN business. (Caveat: not always true – things are relative. iPod is higher margin but also high volume).

So… Let’s get back to the point on BI. I’ve built some sexy BI dashboards for customers that look great, including some recent ones based on the Open Flash Chart library. However, I come more from the Data Warehouse side of the house so more of my time is spent on ETL, incremental fact table loads, etc. I understand that you have to have a base of function/feature to have a fighting chance on the experience side.

Sexy isn’t “just sexy” if done right. When done right, Sexy is called “Great Experience.”

Experience is about creating something that people want to use. People are happier with a software product when they enjoy using it. For instance, Ted refers to Tableau as “a radically new product.” I’ve seen it and it’s a GREAT experience, with some GREAT visualization but there’s nothing REVOLUTIONARY about it except for the experience. It’s not in the cloud, it’s not scaling beyond the petabytes, it’s not even a web product (it’s a windows desktop APP). Not revolutionary, just GREAT to use.

Tableau is an up and comer for taking something commoditized (software to turn data into insight) and making it fun to use and leaving users with a desire for more. Kudos to Tableau.

What about on the commodity side – that’s where players like Pentaho come in. They’ve built something that meets a TON of needs for a TON of customers and does so at a VERY VERY compelling price (free on open source side, or subscription for companies). Recall, Pentaho is the software that I use day in and day out to help customers be successful – and they are consistently. Pentaho is earnestly improving their usability that matches up with the philosophy of Usability is a category of features. Sexy is just Sexy for the kind of business and market they are trying to build. They want to make things look nice to be usable and help people do their job well but they’re not going to spend man years on whizbang flash charts. The commodity end is a great business model – Amazon.com is pointed about their business model of “pursuing opportunities with high volume and low margins and succeeding on operational excellence.” I consider Pentaho a bit more revolutionary than Tableau – it’s 100% platform independent and the rate at which open source development clips IS REVOLUTIONARY.

Pentaho is an up and comer for taking something commoditized (software to turn data into insight) and making it easy to obtain, inexpensive to purchase, and feature rich. Kudos to Pentaho.

Both sides of the market are valid. There’s a Dell and an Apple. There’s BMW and Hyundai – both are equally important to the markets they serve and the same is true for BI as a market.

PS – I do agree with L. Wayne Johnson that there can be sexy that is “just sexy.” A whizbang flash dial behind questionable data is pretty lame, or an animation that adds nothing to the data (see this Flash pie chart for an example of a useless sexy animation) The point being that if you consider the “antee” for the BI game at “good data” then the experience/feature sets/approach is what separates the market.

A company that doesn't get "it" – ParAccel homepage

UPDATE: ParAccel have updated their website and no longer have the below silly teaser link.

I ran into someone from ParAccel at a TDWI conference this year and she alluded to the fact that I might find their product interesting. I saw another blog posting that mentioned them so I figured out it was time to go and find some information.

I’m a consultant. I’m not into vague marketing statements like “We scale linearly and process data 100x faster than everyone else.” Everyone has that on a website with a Dashboard or some whizbang graph. What is going to get a company into my sales channel (I have customers)? Good information about their product. What it is. Specs. Diagrams with approach to scaling. Things people like me need to understand what a product is.

So – here’s a dumb move. Put a link on your homepage (http://www.paraccel.com) that invites people to learn about your Architecture but then come up with some self important fake popup about an architecture that is SOOOO secret we can’t even give you a big diagram with bubbles and concepts.

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In the day and age where Open Source and user generated content, tips, ideas are progressing technology at impressive rates there are clearly some people who get “it” and don’t. Getting customers jazzed about your product (with that big diagram with bubbles and concepts) is more important than what you think your competitors will gleam from it (big diagram with bubbles and concepts).

Yawn. Moving on. :)

Irony: Good Service to Bad Service to Good Service

Or why Speakeasy now sucks.

Let’s set this up (and tune out if you’re not in for a customer service rant).

Cable companies have historically done an exceptionally poor job about treating customers well. Chalk it up to a condoned monopoly, stagnant business model, etc. We’d all heard the horror stories about the cable appointments missed, must be there between 8am to 5pm three weeks from today, etc.

Speakeasy, a rather hip DSL provider (VOIP, data solutions, and DSL service) has always had grand service. Call them and they are helpful and smart. The other people on the end of the line aren’t people reading scripts taking orders, these are people that know what they’re doing. I first became a speakeasy customer in 2000 and have recommended them to several people.

Speakeasy, or more specifically COVAD (their subcontractor for doing installations), muffed up my DSL installation order when I recently moved. Suffice to say that the COVAD dispatcher who berated me for not being available for an appointment that I never knew about was what unfortunately the deciding factor to leave a company that I had, otherwise, had a good experience with. So, having spent approximately 5000 USD over my lifetime as a customer (I get their top shelf DSL with all the bells and whistles) I had to say no more I’ll make other arrangements. Called and cancelled the move.

I was surprised then to find the 49.00 “order charge” on my last invoice for the cancelled order. Clearly they’re not going to charge me for having an awful customer experience which already caused me to cancel my service with them. Yup! Called to ask to have it removed. Nope. Pointed out that I’ve been one of their top shelf DSL clients. No dice. So, here a company which used to be savvy, hip, and customer focused is now trading 50USD administrative fees for happy big spending customer satisfaction (5000 USD).

Speakeasy; you had much potential to be different. But, like other phone/utility providers you’ve crossed over and you pretty much blow. Sold your soul to the nickel and diming “concession this and administration that” fees.

The irony is that when I called the Cable company who has historically done exceptionally poor in terms of responsiveness and customer support they responded exactly the way I would have expected the new, hip company to. Called two days before my installation, asked if they could do Internet in addition to Cable. No problem. 10am (when they said they’d be here) they showed up, polite, courteous, helpful, and 30 minutes later Cable + Internet up and running.

There you have it. Old companies can renew their service focus and end up wowing a customer. New companies can let their service slide and lose customers over silly stuff. Goes to show that a focus on the customer is the thing that matters more than the size and age of the providers. It’s timeless for new and old.

Pet Peeve: EST != EDT

I work with people all over the country and the world. What that means is that we often schedule meetings, calls, webex meetings, remote consulting sessions, etc. Lacking some great shared calendar in the cloud that we can use to do this adhoc (I’m sure there’s some web 2.0 startup who does this so please comment if you know of something GOOD) this means that people email and put suggested and adjusted times in emails.

For instance, just yesterday, I received the following email:

The regular 10am EST XYZ meeting tomorrow is cancelled until further notice.

What’s the issue with this email? Well, we don’t have a 10am EST meeting. We have a meeting scheduled at 10am Eastern (ie, when the clock in the eastern time zone hits 10am during the summer months).

EDT and EST have VERY SPECIFIC timezone offsets.

EDT = UTC – 4
EST = UTC – 5

I use generally, and think many others also use “Eastern” to refer ONLY to local time. Ie, what the clock on the wall says in New York regardless of EDT/EST.

Let’s take the above example:

  • 10:00 EST on June 22 (someone sends an email requesting a meeting)
  • 10:00 EST = 13:00 UTC (given the definition of EST, with an offset of -5 hours)
  • 13:00 UTC = 11:00 EDT (ie, makes sense right, 10:00 EST = 11:00 EDT)
  • 11:00 Eastern = 10:00 EST (on June 22 when New York is in EDT the actual meeting time)

Obviously you assume that someone requesting a meeting for 10am EST on day that falls on EDT was ACTUALLY requesting a meeting at 10am EDT. However, why bother doing that?

My suggestion to people that can’t keep it all straight:

Use Eastern/Pacific instead of EDT/PSTs. Eastern/Pacific is clear that it’s local time but you haven’t confused it by requesting an incorrect time.

Atlassian: A company I hold in high esteem

Atlassian, makers of Jira and Confluence, is an exceptional company in my opinion.

  • They make a solid product that gives users the “I kick ass” feeling. 
  • They understand the benefit of making it easy to BUY software, instead of SELLING software to people.  You can eval their product and purchase it on your CC and expense it.  No stiff suits and long high touch sales cycles.
  • They’re open.  They have open APIs, plugins, modules, web services, work with about any app server/db, have transparent discussions about product/features/bugs in public.
  • They’re “open source — eee” without an open source license.  They are all the great things about community, openness, flexibility, and choice; they are NOT themselves open source but contribute symbiotically with code and free licenses
  • They’re HONEST about their open source stance: We contribute to core projects, give our product for free, but we are NOT open source ourselves.  It’s really quite simple, Open Source (capital O, capital S) means that the software has an OSI approved license. If it doesn’t, don’t use the term.”
  • Young, smart, energetic, smart, focused, did I mention smart?

I’d been waiting to publicly describe my regards for this company but this just put me over the edge:

any Atlassian employee can spend up to 6 paid work days a year working for non-profits or charities of their choice.

Not dogging the 20% Google employees get for any project, but WOW.  What a committment to values beyond the bits.  Really shows me that the “community” that Jira believes in is more than just lip service for software sales.  They believe it.

Kudos.  I look forward to suggesting to everyone I know to purchase your product.

Google Spreadsheets, pretty cool

There’s been some buzz about googles launch of their first "office-esque" product.  So, I signed up to get a preview to see what all the fuss is about.  To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the application.

Google Spreadsheets is a browser based spreadsheet and collaboration tool.  You make, share, save, edit your spreadsheets in a web browser. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t a super light grid based notepad; it’s a real spreadsheet with formulas to do real work:

You can highlight ranges of cells, just like good ole Excel:

Overall, I was quite happy with the experience and think it will definitely be useful for individuals and SMBs.  I ponder, like others, how useful it will be in big corporate environments BUT don’t really think of it as a competitor to star office/open office. 

So when are Pivot Tables/Pivot Charts arriving… now THAT would be awesome! :)

OLAP Survey

I noticed some other bloggers posted but I’ll encourage people as well. The more people that respond the more accurate the survey represents reality!
“We would very much welcome your participation in The OLAP Survey 6. This is the largest independent survey of business intelligence users worldwide. The Survey will obtain input from a large number of users to better understand their buying decisions, the implementation cycle and the business success achieved. Both business and technical respondents are welcome.

The OLAP Survey is strictly independent. While Oracle, Microsoft, Cognos and other vendors assist by inviting users to participate in the Survey, the vendors do not sponsor the survey, nor influence the questionnaire design or survey results. As a participant, you will not only have the opportunity to ensure your experiences are included in the analyses, but you will also receive a summary of the results from the full survey. You will also have a chance of winning one of ten $50 Amazon vouchers. Click here to complete the survey on-line.”

Mac is the new black

As I shutdown my sleek, stylish, light, and functional Gateway 200 ARC at the hipster coffee shop around the corner from my house I noticed something; my Windows/Intel box was the “odd duck” in the coffee shop. Little iBooks, Powerbooks, iPods were prolific. It just then dawned on me that more of my peers (developers, techies, programmers) are using Macs as well.

Here’s the irony: I’m thrilled and bummed all at the same time. I’m thrilled that the hipster masses are rejecting homogenous Windows. I’m bummed because I’m partial to Linux, NOT Mac!

I guess on the upside, my preference for Linux places me in the counter culture; still.

Disclosure: I boot Windows for Wireless/Dual Montior support. However, VMWare Workstation allows me to boot a “developers OS” when I want to do some real work.