Archive for June, 2011

Enterprise 2.0 Introduces a World of Networks of Networks

Enterprise 2.0, the annual conference focused on social media, was held in Boston this week with IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft as major sponsors. The conference makes available a wealth of useful information, mainly in the form of white papers and videos of the keynote presentations, for free. Check it out here.

Last year, the conference focused on the search for the social media killer app for business. The growing consensus then was collaboration. BottomlineIT’s sister blog for CFOs covered it here.

This year collaboration is a given. Some other interesting themes, however, emerged in conversations with various key players. For example, Cisco’s Murali Sitaram observed that the world appears to be rapidly evolving into a network of networks. What might that imply for your business?

Social media at its core is about creating networks. Facebook, the largest social network by far, enables its subscribers to create networks of friends among whom they communicate. Twitter, the social media micro-blogging giant, lets its subscribers post their thoughts in 140-character snippets, which are distributed to a network of followers who are encouraged to pass them on.  Within minutes a message can go viral, expanding exponentially.

Vendors are jumping into the social media space with products that, in one way or another, let people and companies create networks, expand on existing networks, or better manage their rapidly growing and multiplying networks. People and companies end up participating in multiple networks. The result, as Sitaram noted, is a world consisting of networks of networks. Between your employees, partners, and customers, you already are involved in many networks. Once aware of these networks, you can exploit them to advance mutually beneficial objectives. That’s essentially what President Obama did to get elected.

Yammer, another Enterprise 2.0 player, provides companies with what amounts to the ability to set up a Facebook-like social media environment within the company. In fact, companies can set up multiple Yammer groups; one for finance, another for budgeting, still another for procurement. You can set up yet a different Yammer group to bring in external partners.

The Yammer groups don’t replace your existing enterprise applications. Those systems—ERP, CRM, HR, supply chain management, procurement, and such—remain the systems of record. Instead it becomes part of a new, complementary category of systems referred to as systems of engagement. These are the social networking systems you will use increasingly to engage and collaborate with employees, partners, customers, and other stakeholders.

At this point, social networking is about managing the engagement experience. Hank Barnes, principal in Adobe’s customer experience management group, suggests a goal of social networking is to turn customers into advocates. Citing a Harvard Business Review article by Roger Martin titled The Age of Customer Capitalism Barnes suggests managers need to change how their companies engage with customers. The way to do that is social networking. Martin’s article demonstrates how companies that focus primarily on delivering customer value do better in the long run than companies that primarily aim to create shareholder value.

The business social networking market is hot. IBM, in launching its new IBM Connections, a social networking platform for business with real-time compliance capabilities, noted that IDC has projected social platforms to be a $2 billion market by 2014. Gartner, meanwhile, reported  that by the end of 2013, half of all companies will have been asked to produce material from social media websites for e-discovery. The conclusion: social networking for business clearly has arrived.

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Next Up: Dynamic Data Warehousing

Enterprise data warehousing (EDW) has been around for well over a decade.  IBM has been long promoting it across all its platforms. So have Oracle and HP and many others.

The traditional EDW, however, has been sidelined even at a time when data is exploding at a tremendous rate and new data types, from sensor data to smartphone and social media data to video data are becoming common. IBM recently projected a 44-fold increase in data and content, reach 35 zettabytes by 2020. In short, the world of data has changed dramatically since organizations began building conventional data warehouses. Now the EDW should accommodate these new types of data and be flexible enough to handle rapidly changing forms of data.

Data warehousing as it is mainly practiced today is too complex, difficult to deploy, requires too much tuning, and is too inefficient when it comes to bringing in analytics, which delays delivering the answers from the EDW that business managers need, observed Phil Francisco,  VP at Netezza, an IBM acquisition that makes data warehouse appliances. And without fast analytics to deliver business insights, well, what’s the point?

In addition, the typical EDW requires too many people to maintain and administer, which makes it too costly, Francisco continued. Restructuring the conventional EDW to accommodate new data types and new data formats—in short, a new enterprise data model—is a mammoth undertaking that companies wisely shy away from. But IBM is moving beyond basic EDW to something Francisco describes as an enterprise data hub, which entails an enterprise data store surrounded by myriad special purpose data marts and special purpose processors for various analytics and such.

IBM’s recommendation: evolve the traditional enterprise data warehouse into what it calls the enterprise data hub, a more flexible systems architecture. This will entail consolidating the infrastructure and reducing the data mart sprawl. It also will simplify analytics, mainly by deploying analytic appliances like IBM’s Netezza. Finally, organizations will need data governance and lifecycle management, probably through automated policy-based controls. The result should be better information faster and delivered in a more flexible and cost-effective way.

Ultimately, IBM wants to see organizations build out this enterprise data hub with a variety of BI and analytic engines connected to it for analyzing streamed data and vast amounts of unstructured data of the type Hadoop has shown itself particularly good at handling. BottomlineIT wrote about Hadoop in the enterprise back in February here.

The payback from all of this, according to IBM, will be increased enterprise agility and faster deployment of analytics, which should result in increased business performance. The consolidated enterprise data warehouse also should lower the TCO  for the EDW and speed time to business value. All desirable things, no doubt, but for many organizations this will have require a gradual process and a significant investment in new tools and technologies, from specialized appliances to analytics.

Case in point is Florida Hospital, Orlando, which deployed a z10 mainframe with DB2 10, which provides enhanced temporal data capabilities, with the primary goal of converting its 15 years of clinical patient data into an analytical data warehouse for use in leading edge medical and genetics research. The hospital calls for getting the data up and running on DB2 10 this year and attaching the Smart Analytics Optimizer as an appliance in Q1 2012. Then it can begin cranking up the research analytics.  Top management has bought into this plan for now, but a lot can change in the next year, the earliest the first fruits of the hospital’s analytical medical data exploration are likely to hit.

Oracle has its own EDW success stories here. Hotwire, a leading discount travel site, for example, works with major travel providers to help them fill seats, hotel rooms, and rental cars that would otherwise go unsold. It deployed Oracle’s Exadata Database Machine to improve data warehouse performance and to scale for growing business needs.

IBM does not envision the enterprise data hub as a platform-specific effort. Although EDW runs on IBM’s mainframe much of the activity is steered to the company’s midsize UNIX/Linux Power Systems server platform. Oracle and HP offer x86-based EDW platforms, and HP is actively partnering with Microsoft on its EDW offering.

In an IBM study, 50% business managers complained they don’t have the information they need to do their jobs and 60% of CEOs admitted they need to do a better job of capturing and understanding information rapidly in order to make swift business decisions. That should be a signal to revamp to your EDW now.

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Extending the Digital Transformation of the Economy with IPv6

In case you missed it, there is a digital transformation of the economy underway and IT plays a central part. BottomlineIT first talked about this digital transformation earlier this year. The Internet of things is part of it, but it goes much further. You can see it with the proliferation of digital capabilities in just about everything you do—in your new car, in appliances you buy, in the instrumenting of business processes of all types.

Behind this digital transformation is the Internet, which is the medium across and through all these digital bits travel. Ultimately every item, everything with an RFID tag, every smartphone, anything needing Internet access will need an IP address. And as the Internet currently is configured, it is running out of IP addresses. That’s the problem Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) addresses.

A survey of U.S. technology and business decision makers by IT industry association CompTIA  found 31% of respondents believe the transition to will be mostly smooth. BottomlineIT agrees mainly because for a while at least, the big Internet providers will use masking and address translation techniques to cover up the issue. But at some point, companies will have to incorporate IPv6 when they upgrade their communications equipment.

Jeff Doyle, president of Jeff Doyle and Associates, explains the problem like this: “When the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the top-level address management agency, allocated the last of its address pool to the five worldwide Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) on February 3, the clock started ticking in earnest. We expect the RIRs to use up those last addresses by late summer. So what then?”

Well, for one thing the Internet is NOT going to come to a crashing halt. As noted above, there are techniques that the big Internet providers can use to fudge the problem for a while. The sky is not falling.

Still, if the Internet is important to your business you will need a plan to deal with this issue at some point. That plan simply may be a budget allocation to replace your current networking and communication equipment with IPv6-capable equipment sooner rather than later. If the Internet is critical to your business, an in-depth risk analysis also might be undertaken.

Ultimately, you will have to upgrade your networking and communications systems for IPv6, but you may not have to lift a finger. As you buy new network equipment in the course of a normal technology refresh, the vendors will have made the upgrade for you and built it in. Cisco has been leading the charge on this, but the other vendors are following right along. Equipment for the small office/home office (SOHO) market appears slower to follow but these vendors too will incorporate IPv6 in their products.

In terms of applications, Microsoft has incorporated IPv6 support into its Windows stack for releases from Vista on.  But again, other vendors are following right along. A partial list of IPv6-compliant applications can be found here.

How big a change is IPv6? Let’s look at the numbers: Compared to IPv4, the current standard that supports 232(4,294,967,296) unique addresses, IPv6 supports 2128 (approximately 340 Undecillion) addresses. That’s eight orders of magnitude greater than trillion. It’s tempting to say that society will never use that many addresses, but given the Internet of Things, who knows? IPv6 also provides new technical features revolving around assigning and managing Internet addresses.

There will be different IPv6 transition strategies, according to CompTIA, depending on the priorities, needs, and capabilities of each organization. Those with high demand for IP address, mainly Internet service providers and wireless carriers, already should be on top of the issue. Most companies, however, needn’t worry at all. The complete transition to IPv6 is expected to take five years or more.

The CompTIA survey found that just over half (56%) of respondents indicated they are following news on IPv6 and 30% have conducted research into the implications. However, only 21% have actually performed network upgrades while nearly one-third (31%) have done nothing at all. BottomlineIT’s recommendation: unless you are a huge consumer of IP addresses you’ve already done what you need for now simply by reading this piece. You can safely wait until you go through your normal equipment, system, and application refreshes.

A more productive use of your IPv6 thinking might be pondering what new things you can do when you have access to a seemingly unlimited number of unique IP addresses.

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