Archive for July, 2009

Why do Analysts blogs make it so hard to have a conversation?

One of the most eloquent parts of blogging is the simple use of pings and trackbacks. It allows blogs to do what the web does best, link related conversations and information.

After writing my most recent blog entry, I noticed something that hadn’t occured to me at all before. Very few IT Industry analysts blogs provide this facility. Variously they require you to fill in forms, answer captchas, register and worse. In deference to Roblin Bloor, he has already posted my comment on his blog. But why might do IT Industry analysts make it so hard, surely not because they want to control the conversation?

This is also a tip-of-the-hat to the boys over at Redmonk.com, whose blogs not only support pings and trackbacks, they also post tweets along with blogs entries. Nice one chaps.

70% of something is better than..

70% of nothing at all. [With apologies to Double Exposure]

As I’ve said before, I’m an avid reader of Robin Bloors Have Mac Will Blog, blog. I also follow him on twitter where he is @robinbloor. Sadly his blog doesn’t accept trackbacks, but I’ll leave a short comment so he gets to see this.

His latest blog entry, CA:Dancing with dinosaurs comes across as a bit of a puff piece in support of Computer Associates.

On the CA involvement with mainframes, Bloor seems to have overlooked the fact that CA has John Swainson as CEO, and Don Ferguson as Chief Architect. John was previously an IBM VP, Don an IBM Fellow and both Don and John were variously in charge of significant IBM Software Group projects/products.

Personally I’d like to see someone from IBM find/quote a source for that 70% data number. It’s been used for years and years with little or no foundation. Jim Porell quoted this number in some of his excellent and more recent System Z strategy presentations, It’s dated from, I think, 1995.

Secondly, I’d guess it depends what you can business critical data these days. If Google collapsed or had their data centers in Silicon Valley interrupted with the loss of Google docs, YouTube, Google search, Maps and similarly Microsoft and/or Yahoo went offline… I’d suspect the whole notion that 70% of business critical data resides of mainframes would be laughable. Yes, a large percentage of purely text based transactional data is on mainframes and yes the value of those transactions exceeds any other platform, but that is far from 70% of anything much these days… Increasingly these days startups, SME’s and Web 2.0 business don’t use mainframes for even their text based transactional data.

Finally on the Bloor/CA assertion that installing mainframe software is arcane. That maybe, but here I’m still in full agreement of the mainframe folks, especially if you are talking about real mainframe software as IBM would have it, installed by SMP/E. One of my few claims to fame was reverse engineering key parts of the IBM Mainframe VM service process nearly 20-years now. It was then, and SMP/E is now, still is years ahead of anything in the Windows and UNIX space for pre-req, co-req, if-req processing; the ability to build and maintain multiple non-trivial systems from a single data store using binary only program objects. CA are not the first to spot the need to provide an interface other than ISPF and JCL to build these jobs streams.

But really, continuing to label mainframes as dinosaurs is so 1990’s, it’s like describing Lance Armstrong as a push bike rider.

Simon Perry, Principal Associate Analyst – Sustainability, Quocirca, has written a similar piece with a little more detail entitled Mainframe management gets its swagger.

heading for the Doc’s, I’ll be working at home later, looks like my foot is indeed in need of medical attention…

Ironman and Dell

I’ve seen the “Powered by Dell” tagline on the Ironman.com website but never given it much thought. This year I missed out on a coveted Ironman Hawaii (World Championships) slot, but was fortunate enough to get a call from the ironman HQ at the World Triathlon Corporation and get a slot in the Ironman Executive Challenge at Ironman Arizona in November.

So it was with some interest that Laura sent me a link to this article which links Dell and the Ironman with some useful insight from the chief technology officer for the Ford Ironman World Championship. It ends with five Ways Creative Use of Technology Can Turn a Small Business Into an Ironman.

Talking to Matt Domsch, Dell Linux technology lead, over coffee this morning, Matt gave me an idea to try ping.fm – I’ve set-up all my accounts and this is the only status updates I’m going to do that will go to all my active social networking sites. Let’s see…

Normal service will be returned following this!

Visible personal branding and the big company

I’m keeping busy at Dell, currently working on designs for both our 12g and 13g servers. My current motto is less is more, I’m trying to see what I can cut out to simplify things, as well as what can be automated. In my blog catch-up this morning I came across this excellent post, The psychology of social media: Can a visible brand ruin your life?

No, it is not another warning about posting compromising pictures on facebook, or blogging about doing outside work while telling your boss you are off sick. It talks about some of the issues and values of creating your own “brand” through social media tools. Now, back when Nigel Dessau and I worked together at IBM UK in the mid-1990’s, Nigel was quick off the mark creating content for, and getting involved with IBM UK and IBM Europes first web sites. I had the chance to work with him on some of the content and low and behold, the first Cathcarts Corner was published almost 13-years ago. Over the years, it moved, grew and contracted, and now is just this blog.

One thing I learned though was indeed the value of the perosnal brand. When reading Jennifer Leggios’ blog posting a few things rang true. One, it is worth thinking through before you launch into “just blogging”. It’s not sufficient to work out what you want to talk about and how you say it, but who your audience are, how you will reach them, your style and much more. Secondly, at many IBM Acadamey of Technology annual meetings, and often at other events, we were told by the business executives how IBM wanted the company to be more recognised for its innovation, for its technical leadership, and yes, they promised action. However despite the multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, there are and have never been almost any household names of technical leaders at IBM, or for that matter any major publically qouted company like Oracle, HP in the tech business, but also in other traditional NYSE style big companies GE, General Motors etc. Have there ?

In the second section of her blog post, entitled Workplace Impact, Jennifer talks how the corporation handles the rising, and visible brand that is a key spokesperson. I also worked with one of the tech industries most visible brands, Simon Phipps of Sun, now Oracle. It will be interesting to see where his “brand” goes once things get sorted out at Oracle. While Simon and I worked together at IBM, I was the Linux/Open Source guy, Simon was the Java guy, but he has done a much better job of communicating, and putting the case for open source than I ever could, and in the process created a brand through his blog, twitter and other contributions. I can’t see he’d have had the same success at IBM.

The point that Jennifer makes is it’s how the company reacts that makes the difference. My IBM UK managers where always very supportive of my personal brand, they definately empowered me. However, at a corporate level, unlike Simons’ experience at Sun, it’s my view that most companies practise what Jennifer describes as “talking out both sides of their mouth”. That is they realise that an engineer or technician that creates a personal brand is both getting distracted from their “day” job through their activities, and secondly, is a risk to the company if their exposure gets them unwanted attraction from competitors, start-ups and analyst companies who might offer them a better deal in order to capture the value from their brand.

I’d never thought about it that way, but it certainly puts into perspective the legions of corporate Vice Presidents who march through the PR sausage machine and come out the other other side talking tech, only to disappear 18-months later when they move on to their next assignment and are replaced by the next [insert name here] VP. The only really famous technical person I can recall from IBM, from a public perspective is Gene Amdahl, and thats more legend than fact. Sure, I’ve known many others, but none outside their narrow specialist area and through personal contact rather than through their notoriety, promotion or brand. Can you name anyone ?

Jennifers article is a long, but worthwhile read on the subject of personal brands, and certianly made me reconsider some of my long held views.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formaly a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

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