Archive for the 'Analysts' Category

The app hell of the future

Just over 5-years ago, in April 2011, I wrote this post after having a fairly interesting exchange with my then boss, Michael Dell, and George Conoly, co-founder and CEO of Forrester Research. I’m guessing in the long term, the disagreement, and semi-public dissension shut some doors in front of me.

Fast forward 5-years, and we are getting the equivalent of a do-over as the Internet of Things and “bots” become the next big thing. This arrived in my email the other day:

This year, MobileBeat is diving deep into the new paradigm that’s rocking the mobile world. It’s the big shift away from our love affair with apps to AI, messaging, and bots – and is poised to transform the mobile ecosystem.

Yes, it’s the emperor’s new clothes of software over again. Marketing lead software always does this, over imagines what’s possible, under estimates the issues with building in and then the fast fail product methodology kicks-in. So, bots will be the next bloatware, becoming a security attack front. Too much code, forced-fit into micro-controllers. The ecosystem driven solely by the need to make money. Instead of tiny pieces of firmware that have a single job, wax-on, wax-off, they will become dumping ground for lots of short-term fixes, that never go away.

Screenshot_20160524-113359Meanwhile, the app hell of today continues. My phone apps update all the time, mostly with no noticeable new function; I’m required to register with loads of different “app stores” each one a walled garden with few published rules, no oversight, and little transparency. The only real source of trusted apps is github and the like where you can at least scan the source code.IMG_20160504_074211

IMG_20160504_081201When these apps update, it doesn’t always go well. See this picture of my Garmin Fenix 3, a classic walled garden, my phone starts to update at 8:10 a.m., and when it’s done, my watch says it’s now 7:11 a.m.

IMG_20160111_074518Over on my Samsung Smart TV, I switch it from monitor to Smart TV mode and get this… it never ends. Nothing resolves it accept disconnecting the power supply. It recovered OK but this is hardly a good user experience.

Yeah, I have a lot of smart home stuff,  but little or none of it is immune to the app upgrade death spiral; each app upgrade taking the device nearer to obsolescence because there isn’t enough memory, storage or the processor isn’t fast enough to include the bloated functions marketing thinks it needs.

If the IoT and message bots are really the future, then software engineers need to stand up and be counted. Design small, tight reentrant code. Document the interfaces, publish the source and instead of continuously being pushed to deliver more and more function, push back, software has got to become engineering and not a form of story telling.


Dell and EMC together

I’ve been asked a few times about the Dell/EMC merger/acquisition, I can say nothing, not because of financial or security regulations, but because I know nothing at all. Although it was clear some changes were afoot at Dell, the announcement came as a surprise to me.

A couple of things are amusing though in the industry analysis. The most amusing is the quotes coming out of other industry based organizations and their CEO’s. This is a classic of it’s kind, on the Register about Meg Whitman at HP, and then this one from Dietzen the CEO at Pure.

This moves comes out of ‘weakness, not strength’, claims CE Dietzen

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of this entirely predictable FUD a confident CEO would say something to the effect of

The acquisition will be challenging, but we welcome the increased competition and are sure customers and businesses will recognize and continue to benefit from the great products we already have, and those on our roadmap.

Of course no one would ever actually say that, one it doesn’t make headlines, and two because well…

The other thing that’s been disappointing is that other Dell trope, you can’t use Apple products. See as an example The Register:

I have one thing to say to MacBook users at EMC: Whoops

I have to say, I’m always surprised when I hear this kind of thing. Seriously, while I’m sure Michael Dell would prefer everyone use a dell tablet or laptop, I’m sure he’d rather have the most talented, productive people and being acquired and having to use new apps is enough of a productivity hit. Why on earth would he want to want to make it worse by enforcing a move of hardware, software and app paradigms. FYI there are a number of people in Dell Software Group, especially from the Quest acquisition, that have been using Apple products since the Quest acquisition.

Dell Software Analyst and Strategy Update

I know from conversations while cycling and running with friends and industry contacts here in Austin people want to know what is going on here at Dell, and especially in Dell Software Group. Last week a few key executives and senior colleagues held the 2013 Dell Annual Industry Analyst Conference. I didn’t attend, put there are a great set of short videos and pictures here, on Flickr, which reflect much of the detail covered.

HTML5 and App stores, more…

This week we’ve seen Amazon launch their HTML5 Kindle “online” book reader, aka the Kindle cloud reader. Simon Phipps summed it up nicely on Computer Weekly here. David Gerwitz over on ZDNet also has a good perspective.

I most enjoyed Jonathan Eunice, from Illuminata, tweets. I hope Jonathan won’t mind me quoting them here:

OSGI and simplicty

from my conversation with James Governor after my flying visit to London for Dell Tech Camp, I’d known James was interested in OSGI from our conversations when it was an emerging technology and I was still at IBM; I hadn’t realized how much though until our recent discussion, and his blog entry for today, James quotes Kevin Cochrane, VP of marketing, CEM at Adobe. Kevin says of OSGI:

“There are 3 OSGi use cases relevant to customers:

1. updates. ie bug fixes to customer production systems. there is no need to bring them down.

2. extending new services. you might have 12 services, and a huge user community – you can still roll out extensions with no downtime.

3. discovery of new services. find a pre-packaged piece of code. browse, integrate and deploy.”

And yes, those are the key benefits that I can see us exploiting and delivering direct customer value through what they enable, rather than simply what they are. OSGI has many other “technical” benefits in the architecture and development space, but these three deliver the most value to the customer.

OSGI features, functions

Image from

Dell Tech Camp London wrap

Dell Tech Camp London

Talking, Talking, Listening

I’ve been meaning to just say “hi” and thanks to everyone who stopped by Dell Tech Camp last week.

The picture shows the Design center team which included a complete cross section of our design team across Enterprise and Consumer groups. Tom, Scott and myself were there from Enterprise. I must admit, Tom and Scott outclassed me as they were from the h/w design side of the team and bought “things” along for touch and feel. If I’m going to do this again next year, I need to think through how we show off some of our software. Having a play penof inanimate objects and mock-ups works great for hardware.

The event itself was actually 3x separate events. A Customer event, a Press/Analyst event, and on the last evening, a Team Dell event. The good news about being the software guy, no parts or demo’s to break down when it was all over. Over in the Virtualization zone, they had our delivered stuff covered, they had a pre-release version of vStart, our all in one rack based virtualization solution; Running on it was a virtualization stack from our partners, and DELL Advanced Infrastructure Manager(AIM), plus a number of other simulated software demos.

Each of the “events” were very different. For the customer events I got to talk to some great folks about what they are doing, where they are with virtualization, perhaps the most interesting was with the folks from a UK Government agency who didn’t use virtualization at all. We had a great discussion about how they could gain greater flexibility and optimization while not compromising on their important data analysis mission.

Now I remember how I dislike standing up all day

The Press/Analyst briefing was more formal, the Dell AR had grouped the attendees into interest groups, and they were cycled through every 45-mins. I had some great discussions with the guys from the451 Group and IDC as well as a number of others on our use of agile, some of the technology selection and challenges in working towards being more visible(as opposed to embedded) software company. We also talked about how we were approaching some of the complicated issues in the automation and orchestration of work to deploy and manage multiple hypervisors and physical servers and storage.

I had a frantic last day, up early and run in Regents Park, shower, pack, check-out and hoped on the London Underground over to Liverpool St station to meet and have coffee with James Governor of Redmonk aka Monkchips. James had been at Dell Tech Camp, we acknowledged each other across a briefing and left the catch-up for today. As always our discussions ricochet’d all over the place, but as always around our common interests, data center efficiency and complexity vs simplicity. Then it was back on the Underground, pick-up my case from the the hotel, Underground, Paddington Express and then the familiarity and comfort of the AA Flagship lounge and AA service back to Austin.

It was great meeting folks again, either to argue the pro’s and con’s of what we were doing, or to hear what they were doing. I’d forgotten though how hard work being a “booth babe” was, and how my lower back hates me for it.

Dell Tech Camp Europe 2011

I’m looking forward to heading to London, specifically to the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm for next weeks Dell Tech Camp. The event is invite only for customers, Press and Analysts, but at least according to the briefing I got yesterday is jammed and for the opening session the Dell employees will have to watch from an adjacent room.

Tom Garvens a Director from the Dell Server hardware design group and I will be in be in the design lab section of Tech Camp to talk about innovation, our approach to design for both software and hardware. We’ll have some examples of what we’ve been working on, both past, present and future.

If you are coming please come find us and say hello. I can’t promise it will be as exciting as the last time I was at the Roundhouse, and I certainly won’t be getting wet to entertain…

Moo card do-over

my latest personal moo card design

Since I’ve tracked my moo cards here over the years, here is my latest personal design. I must admit, it was only after I submitted the order, the folks over at pointed out I should have included a QR code on them. D’oh.

I’ll have to think about business cards with a qr code, it looks like I’ll be in London June 6-9th for Dell TechCamp.

The app Internet…

Next big thing, the current tech gold rush, the perfect companion to your mobile device, or something more evil?

Yesterday was the quarterly Dell Executive meeting, hosted by Michael Dell. We got some great internal news and direction, company progress on the companies’ transformation. Michael invited George Conoly, co-counder and CEO of Forrester Research along for a Q&A session with Michael at the end. They effortlessly flew through a number of subjects, it was a great session.

When it came to the open Q&A, I got to ask the first question. which was on the subject of the “App Internet”. Rather than try to rehash the conversation here, I went looking for George’s blog and appropriate commentary to link back to. There is an entry here which doesn’t quite capture George’s cup-runeth-over-enthusiasm for the “App Internet”. What follows is my open reply to George.

It would have been fun to explore this subject further, maybe we can do it online, but lets start with what we agree on:

  1. the app Internet provides a rich user experience and good response times for local data and actions
  2. Because of this users are “thirsty” for Apps rather than zooming in and out of random, dissimilar webpages, using a brower which doesn’t really integrate with your “platform”. This makes app stores a great way to make money, and provide a key opportunity to “lock-in” the user, if you control the platform, and the download utility, you control both ends and the middle. Think your local cable company, great model, eh? 100% lock-in, your device and apps are just like cable boxes, as soon as you terminate your contract, you risk losing access to your service, your “cable box” and your secret stash of data on the cable DVR.
  3. Apps are the current tech’ wild west; the new gold rush; because of the effect of 1. and 2. and the democratization of platform app development, anyone can do them.

While there are some limits in place to control what apps do and validate them before they make it onto the store, after that its open season. Until the mobile platforms implement at least Facebook app Privacy-like controls(*1), no one, except those wanting to make a fast buck should touch them. Google Chrome browser apps have paid some design attention to this, but unless the browser app/extensions is stupidly simple, you’ll end up getting prompted to give access to all data, never anything else. So, before I download any app for my platforms I always think, do I trust the provider, the platform and what is the worst it could do?

The problem is that currently none of the mobile app platforms(except Blackberry which uses a legacy server redirect structure) allow you to intercept marketplace calls; white list apps; block downloads; scan downloads for known problems; block installs; automate post install cleanups, or provide you any real hooks to do any of these things. You are left trusting the marketplace, and at least for Apple, Microsoft, RIM and some of the ereader/ebook type devices, there is ONLY one marketplace, to ensure the validity of their apps.

Once you’ve got the app you have no real idea what data the app is accessing, what it’s keeping, what it’s downloading, more importantly, what its uploading and why.

Now, hopefully there are a fully set of rehearsed comebacks on these points. If not, then beware, make sure you know how what your platform is and how to change when the time comes. Jim Louderback has a good perspective posted in response to Colonys blog.

I’ll write a follow-up on some of the miscoinceptions about HTML5, and mobile apps, which are mostly because people are working with a pure browser, non-platform integrated model when they start their dismissal. I’ll close with this quote from my 1989, Enterprise Workstation Management from Chaos to Order presentation, available on

A Workstation is a platform where people sit and wonder when the train will finally arrive. After a while they get anxious and start wondering whether they are on the right platform after all

(*1) Who’d have ever imagined a world where you’d hold up facebooks privacy model as something you’d actually want? Think about it though, wouldn’t it be nice to have a settings/privacy page on your phone that showed you what apps had been run when, what level of access they had, what websites/addresses they’d accessed(*2) and allowed you to selectively block access, block the app or remove or reduce it’s privileges. Great eh?

(*2) Actually facebook doesn’t provide this, but heck at least any server side app should be tracked and optionally logged…

Getting the ball moving

It’s getting interesting now as we start VIS 1.1 planning and design, while also working on the technology evaluations for VIS 2.0. At the same time seeing VIS 1.0 coming toward the end of it’s development sprints, with the final “tuxedo” UI replacing the “pyjama” UI, the simplicity and ease of use is looking really good.

So it was good to see this IDC White paper, sponsored by Dell, on  improving datacenter productivity. The IDC opinion section of the report aligns, unsurprisingly with the key areas we are working on, at lists the key capabilities. Mary Johnston Turner from IDC has also provided some useful background information.

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally 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 am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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