March 2009


I have had my fair share of travels overseas. The most logical, and most times, the only way to get to the other side is by air. And whether you travel on business class, first class or economy, you have to contend what with to do for the duration of the flight.

Most people who travel by air will do one of 5 or 6 things: work on their stuff, chat with a flying friend or a friendly neighbor, read, sleep, and watch the inflight TV or listen to music. But what do you do when you have none of those and can’t sleep?

When you travel on budget carriers, there is a good chance that inflight entertainment is non-existent. So what do you do?

On board Cebu Pacific, traveling from Hong Kong to the Philippines, you cannot possibly escape the unorthodox way of entertaining bored travelers. Flight attendants will engaged customers by playing some parlor games. The most common is what locals call “Show me” contest where participants will produce an item or article that the game show host will call out on the airplane’s PA system. Another game is singing a tune. The whole experience will bemuse first time flyers of the airline.

 

I will probably never expect to experience something similar onboard any of America’s low cost carriers. Americans can be too uptight about propriety to entertain an entire complement of passengers. But a SouthWest Airlines flight attendant did make a very amuzing, if not certainly, very entertaining event out of the ordinary, mundane and often ignore pre-flight announcements that all carriers are mandated by law to perform – whether passengers like it or not.

On average it doesn’t take a lot of effort to give customers a measure of comfort, that feeling of satisfaction, the experience that they would bring with them for as long as memory serves them. The added bonus is that word of mouth, coupled with Internet-based social networking platforms like youtube and facebook, have made it relatively inexpensive to create new and future business.

Its not everyone’s cup of tea I am sure. But when you have to cram yourself into a tight seat and get elbowed by your next seat neighbor. A good distraction can be welcome and entertaining. The trick we’ve learned here is to be honest, entertaining and charming.

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On Februarty 15, 2008, NetApp announced the release of its StoreVault S550 platform, an entry-level device targeted for the midmarket and is a direct response to Dell (AX4 OEMed fromEMC), HP (StorageWorks MSA 2000) and IBM (DS4200).

Fast forward to less than a year later, when NetApp quietly made it known that it was discontinuing the S550 platform in favor of the FAS2000 family. So did NetApp actually launched two family of products targeting the same market segment? It does look like it but my understanding is that the FAS2000 was originally targeted at larger end of the SMB spectrum whereas the S550 was meant for those just above the SOHO-segment with a capacity requirement of 12 TB, and preferably already a NetApp customer.

Am I trying to beat up NetApp for killing a product line a year after it was launched? The S550 is an upgrade to the S500 launched in June 2006. And no, I am not berating NetApp for making a ‘wise’ decision. Why would you create two product families that target the same market segment? (Truthfully a lot of products out there in the consumer space do that – just try counting the number of Sony MP3 player models out there and you start to wonder if the marketers are in cahoots with product development to come up with new and ingenious ways of egging more money from unwitting customers.)

Back to NetApp. According to the vendor the S550 will continue to be sold until June 2009 and the product itself will be supported until 2012. But why would anyone want to buy a product that is close to end of life? You don’t! And if you did buy one recently its likely because the channel reseller didn’t want to let you know about the end-of-life secret – what you don’t know won’t hurt them! Certainly I wouldn’t buy a product that is unofficially announced as coming to an end. Why? Spare parts will be more expensive! Support queries will not get prioritized as less people become familiar about a dead product!

End-of-life is a fact of life in any product. Every product – good and buy – will eventually see its lifecycle coming to a complete grind. You just don’t want to be the ones buying at the tail end of an end-of-life. Trust me, you don’t want that! Its like buying a brand new server only to be told a month later that that particular model is phased out and a new one is now available, cheaper, better, faster – been there, done that!

Vendors have a responsibility to tell customers (every customer – not just the most important customers) that certain products are coming to an end. They can offer specials to entice potential customers to buy the ‘dying’ product but that should be a concious decision on the part of the buyer. Channel partners should take an oath of protecting the interest of their customers first before the company bottomline. Because at the end of the day, the customer is trusting you, Mr Channel and Mr Vendor, that you know every truth there is about a product they would like to consider as worthy of their hard-earned cash and investment.

If the customer can’t trust you, then you don’t deserve to sell them anything!

This morning I woke up to Bloomberg reporter, Ian King, explaining to Bernie Lo, Bloomberg’s Hong Kong anchor, that IBM is talking to Sun [8] about buying the latter. King pointed to a story on the Wall Street Journal [9], citing the acquisition of Sun by IBM [10] would bolster Big Blue’s “heft on the Internet, in software and in finance and telecommunications markets.”

What a lame excuse! IBM has a significant presence on the Web, just read Lou Gerstner’s autobiography, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance [11]. Most people may not know it but IBM is a software company too. Its been in the Software Magazine 500 Software companies list for several years. Its mainframe-related software business alone should dwarf many pure play software vendors out there. Granted it doesn’t have JAVA, a Sun original IP, but it has its own string of innovations from time immemorial. MySQL is another story though.

Anyway, this is a storage blog so let’s stay focus. Relative to IBM, Sun’s storage business is mostly OEMed from other vendors – LSI [12], Engenio [13] (acquired by LSI), and Dot Hill [14] (lowend to midrange), and Hitachi (enterprise). Its tape is largely an acquisition – StorageTek. So from a hardware perspective, Sun doesn’t have much of a home-grown offering. But who cares? Certainly not Sun customers. They buy Sun for its solution sets, its expertise, and its history in high performance computing workstations and depth of knowledge/experience of the Web. Oh yeah, its Open Software strategy has been at the forefront of media coverage too.

So why would IBM buy Sun? Beats that pants out of me. IBM has a full range of storage (disk, tape and software) offerings – some of it OEMed, some of it as a result of acquisitions, and some of it OEMed. Its 2007-2008 acquisition list [15] is impressive. Diligent Technologies (data deduplication), FilesX (continuous data protection), XIV (SAN and clustering), Arsenal Digital Solutions (data protection), NovusCG (storage management of heterohenous environments), Princeton Softech (data archiving, data classification, data discovery), and Softek Storage (data migration).

So why buy Sun?

Acquisitions usually happen to (1) bring in new technology that the buyer doesn’t have; (2) take out a competitor and grab marketshare; or (3) get the customer base. In this case, I’d speculate it may be a combination of all three but certainly individually, Sun doesn’t have much to offer IBM. Sun’s Open Source Storage Strategy has a long-term potential to throw a spanner on IBM’s storage management software business. Heck it has the potential to mess around with everyone major storage vendor’s software strategy today. ZFS promises to make data software management ‘almost free’.

I have had my fair share of travels overseas. The most logical, and most times, only way to get to the other side is by air. And whether you travel on business class, first class or economy, you have to contend what with to do for the duration of the flight.

Most people who travel by air will do one of 5 or 6 things: work on their stuff, chat with a flying friend or a friendly neighbor, read, sleep, and watch the inflight TV or listen to music. But what do you do when you have none of those and can’t sleep?

When you travel on budget carriers, there is a good chance that inflight entertainment is non-existent. So what do you do?

On board Cebu Pacific, traveling from Hong Kong to the Philippines, you cannot possibly escape the unorthodox way of entertaining bored travelers. Flight attendants will engaged customers by playing some parlor games. The most common is what locals call “Show me” contest where participants will produce an item or article that the game show host will call out on the airplane’s PA system. Another game is singing a tune. The whole experience will bemuse first time flyers of the airline.

I will probably never expect to experience something similar onboard any of America’s low cost carriers. Americans can be too uptight about propriety to entertain an entire complement of passengers. But a SouthWest Airlines flight attendant did make a very amuzing, if not certainly, very entertaining event out of the ordinary, mundane and often ignore pre-flight announcements that all carriers are mandated by law to perform – whether passengers like it or not. Click here to watch it.

On average it doesn’t take a lot of effort to give customers a measure of comfort, that feeling of satisfaction, the experience that they would bring with them for as long as memory serves them. The added bonus is that word of mouth, coupled with Internet-based social networking platforms like youtube and facebook, have made it relatively inexpensive to create new and future business.

Its not everyone’s cup of tea I am sure. But when you have to cram yourself into a tight seat and get elbowed by your next seat neighbor. A good distraction can be welcome and entertaining. The trick we’ve learned here is to be honest, entertaining and charming.

A month ago I got myself a Palm Treo Pro (850 unlock) and I thought I would finally get rid of my Windows mobile phobia. As you will have note from previous entries I have tried my hands on other Win Mobile 6.1 devices: Samsung Omnia i908 and HTC Touch Diamond. This is not my first foray into a Windows Mobile device. I do have a HTC Touch and an O2 XDA Atom Life.

I even chucked my BlackBerry Pearl aside to make sure my judgement isn’t clouded by happier memories. But after weeks of fiddling with the Palm Treo Pro I’ve concluded that I am probably not a Microsoft Windows Mobile friend. While the Treo Pro has an elegant external design, a little on the heavy side but solid built, I feel that the operating system is a clunker – requiring too much learning for an average phone user such as myself.

So I took out my trusty old BlackBerry Pearl, charged it and am using it every day now. The Treo Pro is just waiting in a corner – waiting to be traded in for another device – either a Sony Ericsson (for me) or a Nokia (for my wife).

More interesting I was recently loaned a BlackBerry 8900 (the successor to the BlackBerry Curve). After my brief stint with the BlackBerry Bold I had thought that the next device I would love to review is the BlackBerry Storm. The 8900 came a few months after the Bold and is a few weeks ahead of the Storm in Asia. But being a former Curve user, she (8900) is worth the upgrade. 

The 8900 display is about the same brightness and resultion as the Bold. It keys are much better to handle. The device is fast both as a personal information management (PIM) device, and communication is crisp – I haven’t had any signal drops even in my building which is notorious for bad cell signal. 

My biggest hiccup (and remaining one for both the Curve and the Pearl) is the clunky browser experience. You don’t want to use the Pearl or the Curve to surf the Internet. Yes, you can connect to any b or g network but surfing is painful at best.

The 8900 changes the game. I am very pleased that Research In Motion finally updated the software for better surfing experience. To be fair, there is no comparison to the iPhone or iPod Touch when it comes to a portable (handheld) device to surf the Internet (yes, even the Nokia Communicator series isn’t up to the challenge), but RIM has painstakingly updated the BlackBerry so that it is easier to surf.

At the end of the day, we choose ornaments because they fulfil certain functions – they are either beautiful to have, or they are functional allowing us to be productive during moments when we need to be. RIM’s BlackBerry 8900 meets both of these criteria – at least for me.