A journey in Beijing: Small collection of photos taken with my new Nikon 16-85mm on a long taxi ride through central Beijing last week.
Below are two images taken in Central Beijing in Mid October 2011. The first was taken this morning at 7:15AM local time. The second, yesterday at mid day (12:20PM) local time.
This years VMworld conference, notably now one of the biggest and most important events in the IT world, was dominated by one theme: Consumerization. Not even having yet found a place in the Engish dictionary, you’d be forgiven for wondering what the word means. No, it’s doesn’t mean people doing more shopping, in fact it’s specific to the IT world and describes the trend of technologies to spread from the consumer IT market to enterprise (e.g. Mobile Apps), rather than the traditional path which is the other way around (e.g. the PC). Do you use your personal mobile phone to check work emails or write work related notes? Do you bring your personal mac, PC or iPad to work? Do you use MSN messenger, professional social networks, or document syncing services for work? Do you find your personal software and favourite websites easier to use and more functional than the ones your business offers? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you represent the fast growing number of employees who are changing the way corporate IT managers are looking at the world. We are moving into an era where consumer technologies are penetrating all aspects of our lives, particularly the workplace.
The interest from enterprise vendors in this trend is clear; VMware CEO Paul Maritz’s and CTO Steve Herrod lead this year’s VMworld conference with mobile and application focussed keynotes, despite VMware having its technology roots firmly planted in IT infrastructure and server virtualization. They launched their new ‘Project Octopus’, a system that allows users to sync and store documents in a secure environment, similar to Apple’s recently announced iCloud, and T-Cloud’s SecureSync but focussed on enterprise. Some say it will be difficult to pull users data away from this consumer dominated space, with their data already spread around services like Dropbox, Google Apps, and soon iCloud. Others believe enterprises need to lock down their data and create virtual ‘silos’ which span servers, PCs, tablets, and mobile devices and keep corporate data safe and protected from the increased risk of theft or hacking. Whatever the success of VMware and other enterprise vendors in ‘enterprise-ifying’ these popular apps, one thing is for sure, today the growth of data and success of enterprise IT depends dramatically less on a corporate top down approach and more on consumer expectations and habits.
The Man in the Middle
Regardless of how major IT vendors respond to this trend, I believe it is the CIO and IT managers response that is most crucial. IT managers play an increasingly difficult role of ‘man in the middle’, stuck between a mix of employee demands, software and devices such as iPads and iPhones; and the growing risk of data security, theft, and disaster recovery. IT managers have to balance the potential benefits of consumerization, with the associated risks. And this is not a future trend, it is happening now. According to Unisys’s recent study of 2,820 information worker respondents from ten different countries, over 95% of devices purchased by consumers are also used in a work environment. However, in the same study it was found that 70% of IT managers and employers wanted to standardised devices for their employees. This shows a mismatch between the reality of consumerization in the enterprise, and the IT managers expectations of their system. However, if employers can meet the reality of employee use of personal devices in the workplace head on, rather than just play ‘catch up’ with consumer trends and preference, there is a great opportunity to improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and even lower IT budgets.
And the issue is not just with devices. Many employees use their preferred platforms, applications, and even SaaS as tools in their workplace. I am one of those; a Mac user using Mac apps and SaaS document collaboration tools to aid my work. What does this mean to data security? Enterprise standards & compliance? Scalability? For years enterprise IT and IT departments have failed to keep pace with the rapidly expanding base of easily available and extremely useful tools available to any consumer at the press of a button or swipe of a credit card. This should be a wake up call to managers who want to return IT to it’s once glorious purpose of aiding enterprise productivity, rather than holding back employees and reducing efficiency with legacy software and rules built for the ‘top down’ era of enterprise IT. It’s time for some radical rethinking of software. Luckily, it’s already begun.
Cloud to the rescue?
Enter Cloud. Cloud, or I should say SaaS, is helping bring enterprises back on track, in line with staff expectations of design and interface gained from social networks, games, and smartphones. Services like Google Docs and Baihui allow employees to collaborate, share data, and work from anywhere, in ways that are not possible with conventional IT software. New enterprise software like Project Octopus and SecureSync will allow enterprises to regain control of the data while offering cloud – like sync services to their employees, keeping data safe but allowing convenient access from anywhere. VDI (Virtual Deskop Infrastructure) allows users access to their desktop environment not only from inside the office but securely from outside and from any device, without file transfers or security holes. But even these technologies may not be enough to shift the momentum of users away from their flashy iPad applications and social networks like QQ and Dropbox, which offer similar services. As well as utilising public and private cloud solutions, IT managers need to find clever ways of allowing access to popular services while maintaining security and educating their employees about the risks of data security.
From fear to leadership
With the rate of development in mobile devices, applications, and the consumer cloud, the average employee can now derive more value from personal IT purchases than from their company’s IT department. However, as well as empowering the employee to become more efficient, these consumer technologies in the workplace can represent significant risk to the IT manager. It’s no surprise then, that the obvious reaction to this trend of consumerization is one of fear. However, I believe through a combination of communication with employees, Cloud solutions, and careful policy-making, IT departments can turn this wave of consumer technology into a major strategic advantage for their whole company.
The first challenge is to recognise the trend, gather data internally about what devices and software staff are using, and carefully open access to useful tools and services. Next, the IT manager can provide a suite of matching tools and software such as SaaS applications which reduce risk and increase employee flexibility. Finally, it is up to the IT manager to help employees understand how to best utilise their personal devices and software for work purposes, while educating them about important topics such as data security, and regular backup. A simple idea such as providing a free secure backup service for employees’ mobile devices and laptops can both help win the employee over to the value of the IT dept, and help protect important company information which might only reside on a their personal laptop from loss or theft. Gartner believes the consumerization of IT is the most significant trend affecting the IT Industry in the next ten years, even bigger than Cloud Computing. I believe these two massive trends are fundamentally linked; that IT managers now have a unique opportunity to shift their thinking from one of fear to one of leadership, and to help their organisations gain a competitive edge by empowering staff with next generation, flexible and secure IT solutions.
I was in a meeting with Ciscos China GM for Datacenter Virtualization, Charleston Sin last week and he asked the same billion dollar question everyone’s been asking in China and worldwide recently: “How big do you think the Cloud Market will become?”, adding, “HQ is always asking for our numbers.” He’s not alone, analysts and technology leaders all over the world are asking and being asked this question. The problem for us all is what exactly does this question mean, or more specifically, what does Cloud Market mean?
The same thing is happening with green. Governments and people around the world recognised the importance of saving energy and cutting carbon. A lot of technologies and businesses emerged as a result of reduced technology costs. In China, for example, there was a boom of solar panel producers. Now, everything that saves 1% energy cost or 2% carbon can be called ‘green’. Green doesn’t mean anything any more, it is simply a trend.
Let’s take a look at what is happening in these cases.
At the beginning in the red circle new technologies emerge, and start to become cost effective for businesses to adopt. Next in the green, businesses start adopting these technologies more agressively, they become integrated together, new paradigms emerge and people find new ways to innovate and use the technology. In the purple, the analysts, companies like Gartner and IDC, identify these emerging trends and give them a name. Finally, in the blue, the marketing departments of companies grab the name and go crazy with it, as the whole world of technology explodes in excitement about this new trend.
Above we see some of the technologies and trends that have lead to the explosion of cloud. However I believe what has happened in Cloud is that marketing people now use the word ‘cloud’ to define not one, but a very general and unspecific set of different trends, such as virtualization, on-demand IT, desktop virtual desktops, and big data. Technology reporter and friend Navin Kabra from Pune, India, writes in his recent article about Apple’s iCloud ‘…by now the term “Cloud Computing” or “Cloud” has become so diluted as to be essentially meaningless.’ His point is a valid one. Cloud now describes so many different trends that even the IDC and US government’s formal definitions of Cloud don’t really help any more. It is not important to argue about what Cloud is, but instead to recognise and accept that it covers a number of different trends.
Soon we are going to stop being interested in using Cloud as an ‘umbrella term’ for a number of technologies, applications and trends, in the same way ‘Web 2.0’ is no longer a popular or useful tech term. We can begin now, by using more specific terms such as IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS to describe what we really mean. However these three alone are not enough to cover all the new ‘Cloud’ technologies which are emerging. For example, is Apple’s iCloud ‘IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS’? Clearly it’s not IaaS or SaaS, and it’s not really a full platform either, it’s more like a storage platform or ‘Sync-as-a-Service’, a new dimension in the cloud game. And what about other services such as backup and voice as a service? These will soon be offered entirely as an elastic service: ‘Backup-as-a-Service’, ‘Voice-as-Service’.
Gartner has a well known ‘hype cycle’ curve which currently has Cloud perched neatly on top, ready for downfall. Does this mean the market will dry up and suddenly there will be no demand for IaaS – enabling technology, SaaS, Cloud Sync, big data, and other so-called cloud technology? Unlikely, I think, instead it will signal the end of the hype, and time for meaningful words, business models and technologies to emerge and grow strongly from 2012 through 2020. So perhaps we can start re-thinking how we use the word ‘Cloud’ now and stop trying to answer impossible questions like ‘What is Cloud Computing?’.
Now we can return to Charleston’s billion dollar question: “How big will the Cloud Market become?” and turn it into a meaningful one for his organisation, like: “How will trends in IT-as-a-service drive network equipment growth?”. With specific questions like this we can create meaningful answers which help build solid intelligence.
Questions such as ‘How big is Cloud?’ and ‘What is Cloud?’ are now only really useful from a marketing standpoint. Engineers and business leaders need to stay focussed and define what these cloud trends and technoligies really mean to their business, and how they can take advantage of them. The age of cloud hype is coming to an end, the real work is beginning, and businesses need to decide where to focus. The key is not to pay too much attention to the purple and blue circles in the diagram which represent the trends, hype and marketing terms of technology, and instead to keep focussed on the real benefits and applications of those technologies. Only in this way can businesses that want to take advantage of this paradigm shift in IT succeed. Next time someone asks you ‘What is Cloud?’, rather than confuse them with your own interpretation of Cloud, perhaps you can engage them with this answer: “First tell me about what your business does, tell me how you use information and technology, and I’ll tell how cloud computing can benefit you.”
Our media company, China-Cloud.com, asked me to write a piece targeted at university students considering entrepreneurship. It will be translated into Chinese (not by me!) and put on the website soon. Below is the original article in English:
I want to begin by saying I don’t really believe in giving advice, but unfortunately I’m not yet wise enough to follow my own advice. Two years ago, in June 2009, I was preparing to leave India after spending almost two years there working on a web startup and then a service company I started with my German-Taiwanese friend from university. It had been a roller coaster of a time, not without difficulties, and packed full of valuable learning experiences. Even though my time left in India was limited, and there was a lot to do at my company (I was CTO), I wanted to reach out to local Indian students about to graduate and give one last presentation. In India I used to teach English to orphaned children twice a week, and once a week teach a university course about The Web. Occasionally our team had the opportunity to give guest lectures to students, inspiring them to be entrepreneurial and consider a different career path. Alas, time and circumstances were not on my side, and I left India before I had a chance to deliver my presentation. Two years later I find myself in China, still in the startup world, and still eager to share my thoughts as a young entrepreneur. So here is what I wanted to say, here are four simple tips for Business and Life:
1. “It’s one thing to know the path, but quite another to walk the path”.
This is a quote one of my most respected mentors, Richard Rhor, an American priest and philosopher. It is also a disclaimer for the remainder of my tips! Most young people including me, and many older ones get very excited about knowing the right stuff. In my experience, nowadays knowledge is worth very little without experience. To get experience, we must walk the path. Many of the things we haven’t learned yet, and some things we think we have, will not fully reveal themselves until we get out there and try it out. In my experience it’s the people who actually walk out into the world and engage with it, that really get what they want. It’s easy to know what the right thing to do is. It’s hard get your head down and actually do it.
When you take a risk and do something, opportunities pop up that you never expected; you learn things you never even knew you had to learn.
2. Success is doing what you love to do, every day.
I believe the world we live in today makes it really difficult for people to be successful. First of all, we start off thinking success is all about having money and being famous. Maybe you still believe that. That’s because the TV and movies and magazines make us think that we should aspire to be like the people we see in them. Although I’m young I’ve been able to meet many people who are rich, and some who are famous, but these are not the most successful people I’ve met. Truly successful people do what they do because they’re passionate about it, and sometimes that leads them to get rich, but it’s not the reason they do it. Apple made $65bn revenue in 2010. Do you think Steve Jobs started Apple for money, or that he works hard for fame? Of course not! He is simply passionate about creating perfect products that are simple and beautiful, yet very clever. I also know many people who are successful but not rich at all, they do simple jobs like teaching or farming, but they love their work. Secondly, discovering what you love doing is very hard, because most organisations today aren’t very good at letting you discover and use your real talents. So you need to work very hard to discover what you’re good at, even harder to make sure you can do what you’re good at for the rest of your life. Starting a business or working in a startup is one good way to learn what you like because there are always new challenges and opportunities to do something new.
Success is discovering what you’re really good at, and finding a way to do it every day.
3. Management and leadership are different things.
A great organisation needs both, but it is important to understand the difference. If you are planning to start up or do a new project, you need to know what leadership is and know how to pick great leaders to work with. In a traditional business, the big boss picks managers who have other managers report to them, and everyone has strictly defined roles, responsibilities, and people they report to. In a traditional business the organisational chart is very important, and is usually shaped like a pyramid. But people who have great leadership skills do more than tell people what to do and report to their boss. These ‘leaders’ care about the goals of the company. They are not afraid to share information with their team and encourage ideas from everyone. They take risks and do things without asking. They are open minded and easily adapt to new situations. They are not afraid to share ideas with everyone and speak out when they think something is wrong in the organisation. They admit when they are wrong and they fix things quickly. They never complain or gossip. Most of all, they inspire their team and other leaders to cooperate and achieve goals together.
Why is leadership so important in this day and age? It’s not just a cool new way of doing management. People with great leadership skills are required more than ever in modern companies because of business expectations and employee expectations. In todays business environment, especially in the technology sector, markets and demands change quickly, innovations happen fast and only good leaders can adapt quickly and lead their team to success. Also, today employees expect better managers and better teams, and it is very easy for them to change jobs if they aren’t satisfied. How many times have you heard someone say ‘I left my company because of my boss’ or ‘I don’t like the culture of the company’? Today employees care who they work for. There is a global company with 20,000 employees that has an almost flat organisational structure, every week the company founders speak to everyone via live video conference, and engineers can spend 20% of their time on their own personal projects. It’s name? Google.
Sure, things get done in a management focussed organisation, but the leading businesses of today’s world are built by people who understand the importance of great leadership.
4. People are everything.
The Chinese know this better than anyone else! It’s all about people. Business, entrepreneurship, teams, even great ideas and technologies. Friends often come to me to ask for startup advise, and immediately start talking about their great idea. The problem is, a great idea is not worth anything without people to build it, people to manage it, people to fund it, people to sell it, and people who will buy it. We entrepreneurs often get carried away with a great new technology, and forget that it’s people who are our most important asset. Did you know most venture capitalists place much higher value on the people in the team than on the idea or the business plan? Great people are not always your friends or people who are like you either. It’s important to have a good mix of people with different backgrounds and skills in any team. Of course simply finding good people is not enough, you need to attract them, and they need to want to work with you, buy from you and invest in you. If you want to start up, being a tolerant, humble, happy person is very important. All the successful people I know are nice to others, and fun to be around.
To be successful, identify great people, attract them, and work with them.
Neither business or life is easy. There are no quick tips or ‘Top 10′ lists which solve real life problems. The best thing advise like this can do is give you a glimpse of what is still left to be learned, but I believe the only way to really learn something is to actually doing it. Even I don’t fully understand because I still have a lot left to do! One thing I do know is that standing up and doing something difficult will open doors to you that you never knew existed. As 20th century Scottish explorer William Hutchinson Murray says:
” The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves as well. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen accidents, meetings and material assistance that no one could have dreamed would come their way. Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. ”
William Hutchinson Murray, 1951
Jack Ma, Robin Li, and my chairman Edward Tian, are among those who understand this statement better than anyone. They got out there, found something they’re passionate about, attracted great people, and just did it. Good luck!
This weekend Alice and I found ourselves in XiAn (西安) as she had a conference there and suggested I should check it out. XiAn is a very important city of 8 million + inhabitants in central china with 7 centuries of human history, once Chinas capital, now best known for the terra-cotta warriors. It was a memorable weekend, not least for having to rearrange our flights on the way back after a hectic trip to the airport! The warrior museum is spectacular, and our trip to Hua Shan breathtaking. Here are 5 things I learned during our trip to XiAn:
1. Unfortunately I have to start on a slightly negative note: The pickpockets are really bad! I’ve been many places where one is told to watch out for it (India, Thailand, all big cities including London) but never experienced a problem or felt in danger. XiAn was different. Minutes after leaving our hotel for the first time Alice and I spotted a girl walking in a very odd way behind a woman. At first it looked like a mother and daughter fooling around, or the girl had some sort of problem; she was kind of waddling behind with her hand outstretched… Oh… In the womans handbag. It was a striking and slightly frightening image, as the woman clearly had no idea whatsoever, the waddling designed to match the womans left and right strides exactly and remain tightly behind her in her blind spot. We watched for about 50 yards. Almost as shocking as the rather obvious theft attempt was the fact no one helped the woman by letting her know, despite the fact it was clear what was happening to many passers by. Still shocked, I shouted “啊! 女士，小心!” : “Madam, be careful!”, finally stopping the attempted theft and causing the girl and her male partner to retreat. My second experi
ence was in the middle of a crowd pushing to board a public bus whereupon I felt a hand in my pocket, looking up to see a boy of maybe 16 look sheepish. He didn’t board the bus. Please be careful! Keep your belongings out of pockets, watch out for young pickpockets, particularly in pairs, and even watch out for being closely followed. On our way back to the hotel on the same piece of road (South Gate of the wall) I spotted Alice being followed by a boy and as I warned her he retracted and disappeared.
2. The terra-cotta warriors were all smashed when discovered, and historians now believe they were deliberately broken by a rival force to the emperor, just a few years after they were finished. This means all those photos or real warriors you see have each been carefully reconstructed from thousands of fragments.
3. Hua Shan, a beautiful and dramatic mountain area in Shanxi province, can be reached in just 45 minutes from Xi’An, via a new high speed rail link. The most common way in the past has been the 2 hour bus or train, but there are a large number of heavy infrastructure projects going on around XiAn, and it looks like this bullet train is one of them. Unfortunately apparently due to speed restrictions it ‘crawls’ at a mere 100kph until it reaches the outskirts when it quickly speeds up to 330kph, otherwise it would easily make the trip in 20 minutes.
4. Taxis in XiAn are not reliable. We really are spoilt in Beijing, where they are regulated. In XiAn expect everything from rip off attempts to drivers unwilling to pick you up despite being empty. We eventually had to get a local bus to get back to the hotel on our final evening.
5. You can get sunburnt in a cloud. We decided to climb Hua Shan from the bottom of the cable car all the way to he top, which is I’m not sure how far or high, but subjectively I’d say about 3 miles and extremely high. It was steep steps all the way up, and I wouldn’t recommend it for the unfit. I was embarrassingly caught off guard by the strenuousness of the climb. Incidentally, the whole Hua Shan experience was quite expensive, even by western prices which surprised us both. Park entry (100rmb) + return bus to cable car (40rmb) + return cable car (150rmb) = 290rmb, or almost £30 (US$50). Now to my point; despite being in hazy cloud or fog most of the day, I returned home to find red arms and face, sunburn of a medium degree. Oops! Anyway, the whole strenuous exercise and sunburn thing, and even having to reschedule that evenings flight after battling to find taxis later in the day were superseded entirely by a magnificent climb and beautiful views on the top of Hua Shan, above the clouds.
On a side note, the weather in Beijing this week has been beautiful; cool and clear with a breeze. Autumn seems like the best season to visit, for those interested.
After some extensive and rather bizarre searches aided by Googles helpful new translated search feature I finally found how to set your service password for a China Unicom mobile number. This allows you to Log In to their online services and do other things like link your number to an existing account. Much discussions on Chinese forums told me the default number was ’123456′ which obviously did not work as a login to their site, but after more searching I found you can change your service number without phoning the service line (something I was a little reluctant to try given my Chinese is not great). Here’s how:
Simply text the following:
And that’s it! This works for my new number which is of the ’186′ breed. Your new password must be numbers only and no longer than 6 characters. I think. Below is some Chinese which might hopefully help someone out there…
Before learning a language you must learn to translate.
I’ve spent the best part of this year learning Chinese, which is my first new language after English. Here is a list of a few lessons that I’ve learned along the way as a fresher in language learning.
1. Before learning a language you must learn to translate.
Sound unintuitive? Every time I learnt a new word, or grammer I found myself searching for accurate English to serve as a translation so I could use the word correctly. Actually this is harder than it sounds, especially for languages with no common roots with English such as Chinese. Sometimes no single word or sentence can accurately translate foreign language, so context is very important when learning to translate your second language. I am always quite excited and surprised to discover a word in Chinese that can be accurately and plainly translated into a single English word, particularly verbs and adjectives. It is especially exciting when that word coincidentally sounds similar, for example in the case of 就 (ch: joe – en: Just) and 所以 (soyee – ch: So).
2. Don’t trust single word translations.
This includes translations given by teachers, dictionaries, books, and especially online tools. I find many single word translations misleading or incorrect. This is not surprising as authors and teachers are not so familiar with your language. More importantly, single words are often inadequate to describe the complicated and subtle implications of a foreign word. Translate in your own head and only trust the translations you make.
3. Repeat Repeat Repeat!
It can be frustrating to forget what you learnt yesterday, but such experiences are inevitable when you learn anything new. There is no other way to engrain new words and grammar than repetition. It might take up to 30 uses of a new word to properly embed it in long term memory, so don’t be afraid when you forget language, just pick yourself up and keep repeating!
4. Tell stories.
We remember stories, not words, and in telling them exercise a creative part of the brain which helps engrain new words and their context in our long term memory.
5. Use tools.
We live in an age of mobile apps and Internet, and as such language learning is definitely being transformed. Every learner’s needs and patterns are different, and all was needed in my case was a few suggestions about what is possible now:
- Mobile dictionary apps
- Mobile translation apps
- Google translate (uses mobile internet to get an OK translation for you)
- Flashcard apps for your computer
- Mobile flashcard apps
- Mobile language learning apps, for example lonely planet which gives you common phrases, including audio
- Language Podcasts
- Language learning tapes (now CDs or mp3s)
6. Bootstrap as early as you can.
In programming we have a term ‘bootstrapping’ which means software which once started can continue to build itself without relying on other tools and is self sufficient. When you can incorporate this philosophy into your language learning you are doing well. For example, instead of consistently referring back to your first language to learn new words and phrases, use parts of the new language you’ve already learned as a reference point for new material. After all, your second language wasn’t intended to be a translation of yours, but a self contained and complete form of communication in itself.
7. Find teachers who speak your first language badly.
This effectively forces you to bootstrap, and encourages you to practice what you already know in basic conversation with them. It also ensures the translations you learn are the ones you make, and are therefore more accurate.
8. Love it.
This probably goes without saying, but enjoying learning and using a second language really helps improve efficiency. I feel quite lucky to be able to take some time out to do this while my fiance works here in Beijing!
Which makes sense, because I believe, although I’m not an iPhone app developer, that the way push notification works is something like this:
(Facebook) App Server —-*push update*—-> Apple Push Notification Server —-*push update*—-> iPhone (connecting from China)
If you didn’t already know, Facebook and Twitter were blocked in China for the final time last year during the Ürümqi Riots. Since then, there has been no access to those domains. For expats interested in useful things like Facebook and Twitter, there are ways to ‘jump over’ the great firewall.
Side-note: This is an unaltered 100% scale screenshot from the iPhone 4 which demonstrates the incredible 960×640 resolution. I was amazed to find the full length shot could not fit on my laptop’s screen. The image above only shows a small top section of the screen but if the icons look big on your computer you get a feel for just how many pixels there are on that little device’s screen.