Big Data Revolution

For years now in the digital age I have heard the common refrain, “Content is King”. This idea that the most important thing to have in the age of information is compelling content to bring users to my website from their PC, Tablet, Smartphone and any other device the future holds.  You need to have something exciting. I agree with most of the premise, but in my view content is not king, it’s just a prince. The real king is data and what the companies or governments who own the data intend to do with the data.   We are seeking information.  That is clearly evident with the current industry buzzword “Big Data”.  The amount of data has indeed become “big”.  Data has become so large we easily talk in terms of terabytes  for our local hard drive on our desktops and laptops.  In the cloud all storage is quoted in terabytes or petabytes and we are starting to hear new terms beyond exabytes and now have zettabyte’s and even yottabyte’s. We are entering a time where every movement we make is being recorded and digitized.  It could be our web sites we visit or when we ship at the shopping mall, or drive on the freeway.  The compelling key to all this is can we turn all this Big Data into something useful and actionable.  The view from a far is we can and will and it will cause a consumer revolution unlike anything we have seen before in human history.

The amazing thing is how readily data is available.  The amount of data on the internet is estimated to hit 1 zettabyte in 2015.  Many of you reading this article did not even know the term zettabytye existed (admit it).  Once we add 999 more zettabytes we get to a yottabyte, which will probably happen sooner than we think.  With this amount of data on the public web and the backdrop of the existing NSA leak scandal featuring Edward Snowden should there be reason for concern?  Yes and no.  Our ability to record history will be unparalleled.  In time every activity and event in a person’s lifetime will exist on a thumb drive.  Historians of the future will have little to research or ask.  We are such spontaneous society that when a little pop up happens asking if we accept the terms of whatever the website, we say “yes” with little hesitation.  I predict an entire human life will be recorded and stored on a thumb drive.  From your birth until your death.  Every high emotional event and every crime committed will all be recorded for humanity to witness.

With this type of large amount of data available and an increasing array of information regarding user behavior there remain challenges to get from point A to B.  Though we can collect data across the web using technologies like Hadoop, we still rely on traditional databases to store and analyze data.  It is one thing when you are talking gigabytes or terabytes, but it is a wholly different thing trying to capture, store and analyze data sets in the neighborhood of petabytes and exabytes on a traditional DBMS.  I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by the late great Microsoft researcher, Jim Gray in 2006, a year before he disappeared off the coast of California.  At the time he was working on a project where you would move a exabyte of data from Geneva to his lab in the Bay Area (when you were Jim Gray you got this type of funding).  The challenge he discovered was not moving the data across the wire, but getting the data on and off the wire.  It turned out it was a limitation in the PCI Bus architecture involving the southbridge  and northbridge.  It turned out they had 500gb limitations.  At this point I could only imagine Jim getting out the duck tape and adding some additional bridges.  Jim Gray was Bid Data before we had a term for it.  If he were still alive he would be enjoying life more than ever.  This highlights but one example of some of the technical issues with Big Data, and since Jim Gray did this project data sets have only become larger and the internet as highlighted above continues with its abundant growth projections.

The reason we tackle this area of Big Data is the promise it can deliver.  There are examples for the future and examples that exist today.  When you do any search on the web the ability of the search engine to quickly identify and recommend to you information is an example of Big Data.  When you go shopping in a website and the website recommends an additional purchase based on prior purchasing patterns, that is an example of Big Data.  The providers of this type of detailed are not satisfied as they want to collect more information about each individual and be better able to service and sell to them.  recently Amazon filed for a patent that was about predictive user behavior.  Identifying what a user will purchase before they have purchased and ship it to them.  Sounds a bit far-fetched but then this is the reality we live in.  We are accruing so much data and we are creating  the ability to analyze the data that makes these far-fetched scenarios not so far-fetched

Like any major trend in technology those who make the big bets early will stand to reap the rewards.  It is still early in the game as the ability to identify and collect the data is maturing, but the real value will be to analyze, decide and execute upon the data.  The opportunities are there.  As much that has been done in the open source community the traditional database players of Oracle, Microsoft and IBM will play a big role and I am sure recognize a big monetary opportunity that will please shareholders down the road.  the one thing I would suggest to all players is extreme focus.  Some of the biggest winners will be the consulting firms that can develop the IP and hire the talent to create robust Big Data practices.  In particular in the short-term as many companies struggle with what all this means

We are still very early in the Big Data revolution.  Though the ideas and vision are there, the tools and expertise necessary to make them happen are still infantile.  As in everything in technology, a technical challenge will be overcome.  In the early days of the PC it was things like memory management and disk compression.  In search it was relevance.  Each step along the way will be met with opportunity for some company or companies to fill a temporary void until a solution is developed.  Those voids are usually temporary opportunities in the billions of dollars.  But in the end the goal will be met in turning Big Data into meaningful date.  Because of it all our lives are set to change, yet again.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 28, 2014

CES 2014 – Wearable Technology

It seems as we get ready for this years Consumer Electronics Show, that we are entering a new phase of technology.  The buzz this year seems to be around a new emerging category of technology, namely wearable technology.  From the pre-show buzz it sounds like we should hear a lot coming out of CES this year from new Google Glass applications, to smart watches, virtual reality, and maybe even the classic dinner fork.  It seems a foregone conclusion that this years event will signal a launch pad for this category to go towards becoming mainstream in the modern world.  It is time for a new category as the Smartphone and Tablet are in a mature phase, where it’s no longer just cool to have but expected, meaning they are one step closer to being boring.

It seems all movements forward in technology are driven by limitations in what is currently popular.  The move to laptops was driven by the fact that desktops were tied to a power outlet and users had a need to take their productivity with them.  Then as laptops got smaller we wanted something even smaller and netbooks evolved to ease our troubles.  However all these devices were limited by battery supply and a constant need to find a location with an electrical outlet.  We also need somewhere to sit and place our laptop or netbook.  Thus the advent of Smartphones and Tablets, and a bonus, no keyboard.  We could access information where ever we stood, provided we had connectivity.   The limitation now?  We still need to hold the device and use our hands.

It was with this backdrop that the first device to get notoriety was Google Glass.  They actually looked ok.  I was expecting some huge visor of a person’s forehead, but they were actually kind of sleek.  I can already see that early on these new devices will create some of the social confusion that mobile phones with ear buds  did, the “Are you talking to me?” moment.  No, they actually do not even know that you exist (that is kind of rough reality for some people).  The concept of Google Glass is interesting, it at times seems like you could be in your own world, kind of like some of the bulkier Virtual Reality devices you see attached to people’s head,  however as you walk through town you more or less can interact with what is around you and get more information on things you may see and want to know more about.  Some places have already gone as far as banning them.  The Five Point in Seattle, WA has done this.  It is a dive bar and people go there to get drunk and lose themselves.  I can understand not wanting Google Glass to record them, this is a sign of legal battles to come.

The first Smartwatch I saw was over a decade ago when Microsoft Research came up with the Microsoft Spotwatch, it was connected via FM (as in you r radio).   It could do stuff like check the weather, but it was big and ugly.   In 2013 we started to hear a lot of talk about a new breed of SmartWatches.  At the forefront was the Apple iWatch, which was conceptual at the time and despite the rumors still has yet to be released.  Samsung has since released  its own watch which is available through carrier stores.  Having seen them they have some cool features.  The gentleman at the AT&T store I was at had one, but was not wearing at the time and discussed some of the features.  You can receive your texts via your watch.  Check the weather.   I can see this is going to happen and it will reinvent the whole idea of what a watch will be.  The advantage of having a watch that is connected will be having perfect time.  No longer having to reset your watch as it may be running fast or slow, your time is managed by the U>S Naval Observatory in Annapolis, MD. Beyond time we still need a killer purpose for the watch, but then perfect time may be enough.

An area I am rather excited about is fitness technology.  Wearable devices that in time will help manage our daily fitness.  Tell us when we are doing good and not so good.  We could have our bodies monitored throughout the day.  You have devices that help you train as well, like FitStar being promoted by former NFL great Tony Gonzalez.  A device that helps you workout and stay motivated, not sure about Tony yelling at me but it may work.  Going back to our previous theme of watched, Addidas has a Smart Watch that acts as a personal assistant when you are running tracking things like distance, heart rate, time etc..I can foresee a lot of  devices and services coming in the near future to aid and assist us in living healthier lifestyles.  Accommodating our increasingly mobile lifestyle.

A final area that wearable technology will need to conquer is our vanity.  The reality is most people do not want a geeky gadget.  In order to feel good we want to look good.  In the end we are all slaves to fashion so why should wearable tech be any different.  The idea of wearable technology will become mainstream when it is on the cover of GQ Magazine  or Heidi Klum starts analyzing and commenting on fashion technology on “Project Runway”.  This is wear I think Apple with its dedication to sleek and beautiful design can take a leadership role .  Though it is one thing to make a pretty phone another thing to make accessories that you want to wear.  Technology is a cross-section and intersection of industry as it impacts every business model it touches.  It has influenced design in the back room where ideas are conceptualized, not it will impact us in what we see and wear.

The Consumer Electronics Show this year promises to have a lot of buzz around this new and emerging market segment, which should make for an exciting and entertaining show.  CES is not always a success.  One year the buzz was 3D television, which struck me as not a winner.  Most of the US population had either recently purchased a Plasma or LED television and were not interested in buying a new TV.  Let alone having to wear those awful 3D glasses.  Wearable technology is just a natural extension of where we have already been, dating back to the mainframe.  It will push are lives into new areas we have not explored and hopefully make us better.  While at the same time freeing up our lives to do more of the things that we want, to make our lives more fulfilling.   Welcome to 2014, it is going to be the year to step out in your digital clothes.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 3, 2014

June 29th 2007 – the day developers left Microsoft

There was a time when Microsoft owned the developer community. It could almost say or do anything it wanted, the developers would always follow. However loyalty in business relationships is fragile, it can span time but lacks the core depth of personal relationships. It is governed by the most shallow and transparent of currency the almighty dollar.  During my career the developer has always been at the forefront of jobs that I have had.  Developers were the key to Microsoft’s success and did more than anybody to drive the success of the Windows empire.  Developers were Microsoft royalty.  If you wanted to get lots of free swag attend a Microsoft developers conference.  Laptop bags, T-Shirts, Polo’s, Pens etc..Parties were key as they went late into the evening with lots of food and drink.  Developers were the royalty of Microsoft, treated better than anyone else.

When the world changed it happened quickly.  That change happened on June 29, 2007 when Apple launched the much anticipated iPhone.  It was a breakthrough event in terms of the user experience.  Catapulting what we had known of the mobile experience into a new dimension.  It happened on so many different levels, from touch screen to browsing the web.  But most importantly it fostered a new eco-system of mobile app developers.  Within months Objective C went from being a forgotten development language to a top 5 language.  All of a sudden Apple was the pace to be.  The iPod had been successful, but it was the iPhone that created the new Apple developer mantra.

Mobility would breed new competition.  The biggest threat to all being Google with its Android platform.  They understood that they would need developers and that developers were attracted to open source.  It was interesting that to head up this effort they picked a Microsoft guy, Vic Gudotra.  I had seen Vic speak several times and the word, “showman” would define his speaking style.  He was an acquired taste, a little over the top for some.  Seeing him on TV at an Android Developers Conference was interesting.  As he walked around the Partner booths (just like Microsoft in the old days) he talked each partner up, saying that Android’s success depended upon them.  Every thing he said was not something new he had invented, it was borrowed from a Microsoft past, except now Windows was no longer the platform being promoted.

Ballmer pleaded at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in 2012, to stick with the company.  We have not let you down in the past and we have a bright future.  This was leading up to the Windows 8 launch and having applications at launch was critical.  It was now a decades old Microsoft formula.  Not sure why he needed to beg and pander to his audience.   But I can tell when it happened.  When it became necessary.  The technology is driven by change and sometimes changes generates tidal waves, mass hysteria, a sense of I need to go there if I do not want to be swept under by the massive crash of thunderous waves.  This was the case when Steve Jobs had his moment where he eclipsed the sun.  It seemed just a matter of moments where developers left Windows and flooded to iOS.  Job postings all of a sudden begged for developers who could write mobile iOS applications.  When it comes to money loyalty is a fickle thing.

When you look at the Windows Phone and Surface the designs have come a long way from where they started, as has the OS.  But unlike Microsoft’s origins getting developers to write applications to the Microsoft platform has become much more difficult.  Since the launch of the Apple iPhone and the subsequent success of Android Microsoft has struggled to recreate the sense of nearly spiritual community it had before.  Developer’s have options, but more importantly, as has been said, they have options that can make them money.  The iPhone has created so many opportunities for developers that they dare not stop and go back to Windows development

It does not seem that long ago Microsoft owned the developer community.  That they could whisper anything and a developer movement would naturally coalesce around it  in an organic manner.   Every launch of the new Windows operating system began and was defined by the Microsoft developer community.  In the enterprise Microsoft still has a lot of pull with developers however in the consumer space it is a struggle for Microsoft to garner the attention of developers to write to the Windows OS.  Consumers, unlike enterprises, do not have deep roots with legacy systems.  They are governed by emotion.  Their gut.  Visual stimulation.  Things marketers talk about but only after they have already occurred.

The industry is driven by momentum, by big swings in the technological landscape.  When these sea changes happen it is best to be in front and on-board with the change otherwise you will be left behind in its wake.  Ballmer knew this but he just did not have the vision to see the road ahead.  Now what is left is a company trying to get developers to listen, when in the past they never had to do that.  Apple to its credit saw the move to mobility and enlarged the opportunity.  Once a company or companies develop momentum it is very hard to catch up. As for every one application developed on your platform, the competition gets ten.  To be a leader on the industry you must have developers, when they start migrating it puts your future into question.  For Microsoft that happened one summer day over six years ago.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 31, 2013

The Nokia Acquisition

“Two Turkeys do not make an Eagle” – Vic Gudotra, Google Exec

The words of Vic Gudotra, a former Microsoft exec, now Google exec, upon hearing Nokia had selected the Microsoft Windows Phone OS over Google’s Android platform.  It makes for a nice quote and though it may seem a bit harsh given both companies performance of late in the mobile marketplace, for the interim it is pretty accurate.  With that being said this was something that had been rumoured for a long time,  It is interesting timing, given Ballmer’s retirement announcement and the massive re-org that Microsoft is going through. Ina Fried wrote a pretty interesting article on how the acquisition came to be (you can read here).   Nokia was Microsoft’s signature customer for the WIndows Phone OS, but it was never a guaranteed success.  During the entire time of this current agreement, Nokia was bleeding cash with every earnings report.  Market share was improving but it seemed very hard to sustain any momentum, when you have competitors like Google, Apple and Samsung not just increasing market share but owning the media every time they even whisper. No matter how quiet. Looking at what this relationship is and could be, is fodder for a lot of conversations and observations, moving forward this will be fun to watch.

One thing I have hated, let me please put in bold, hated is Microsoft saying there needs to be a third eco system. When Ballmer spoke about this a few years ago I was in shock, what happened to my Microsoft?  I never remembered this kind of talk when we were promoting Windows.  But as in all things in life, things change.  Even former Netscape founder Marc Andreesen says a third eco-system for mobility is necessary for the industry.  He is cheering for Microsoft.  Competition creates strange bedfellows.    Because of missteps and it reliance on its legacy, Microsoft more or less backed itself into this corner.  This ecosystem is first and foremost the developer, what Microsoft would call its birth right.  That is no longer the case as that has been eroding for years as technology advances and new and viable platforms come to market.  I have spent 20 years talking to, working with and selling to developers.  All the talk about better productivity etc… is nice but at the end of the day developers go where the money takes them.  This is an area that both Microsoft and Nokia have struggled, by coming together this could help simplify the message and opportunity for developers.

As Microsoft transforms itself into a device manufacturer the acquisition of a device manufacturer was going to be necessary.  It is one thing to say, “we are going to make devices”, it is another thing to figure out how to construct a supply chain to do it.  To hire the talent to design cool devices.  To make a device.  All skills that Microsoft was just learning.  This was an acquisition driven by necessity, by two companies struggling to compete in a space that was running away from them.  In reading Ina Fried’s article the point is made executives at both companies were becoming increasingly nervous about the fact that the Nokia Windows Phone was not creating buzz and grabbing significant market share.  This on top of the fact that unlike Microsoft earning’s Nokia was bleeding cash, Nokia does not have a Windows and Office business to hold it up.  The bigger concern was how long could hold out before it could no longer remain a viable entity.  It has not been brought up in articles I have read but the knowledge of the device supply chain is very valuable to Microsoft and unlike Nokia for the foreseeable future Microsoft has the cash to keep it afloat.

Long term it will be interesting to see how Microsoft’s relationships with its OEM’s plays out.  The OEM model that Microsoft built out under Joachim Kempin is legendary and has made billions for Microsoft and its OEM partners (Compaq, Gateway, Dell, Sony, HP, Acer, IBM, HTC, Samsung, LG and many more).  The big question is how far will Microsoft have to go.   As of today Microsoft is in  the business of creating new tablets and smartphones  Will they have to make PC’s?  Not in the foreseeable future, but those partners are being challenged as well as the PC market shrinks, what are they to do?   They will have to look at tablets, but he OS of choice by no means will be a guaranteed Windows device, especially as Android devices have an increasingly large share of the market.  The OEM’s I am sure are a bit put out as they look to new markets Tablets were going to play a big part,but  now I would say that they would be wise to hedge their bets by investing in alternate platforms like Android and Chrome. (many are already doing this).

This is the big gamble by Microsoft, it is done dipping its toes in the water with hardware project sand by acquiring a big piece of Nokia, is plunging into the icy depths in search of a bigger and brighter future.  The long run this looks like a great acquisition, but the bigger challenge will be managing the short run, the next 1-2 years.  The market will continue to move forward rapidly and is not waiting for Microsoft and Nokia to get their act together.  Approval of the deal will not be final until Q1 of 2014.  Then there is the  challenge of integrating 32,000 new employees into Microsoft.  This again will take some time.  The worry is if it takes 2-3 years to get this up and running how far will the market have moved ahead?

Will these turkey’s fly?  Will they become a great eagle?  Why are we being so harsh on the turkey?  It is very early, but one thing is clear is that if Microsoft is to become a device and services company it needed to make this acquisition.  Rather than working as separate companies, as partners, but with similar but different agendas this brings them together to work as one and set a mutual agenda.  It will also bring their different skill sets together and hopefully allow them to benefit through greater economies of scale and basic sharing of IP and best practices..  It is difficult to make these type of deals not because you want to but because you have to.  Ina’s article was very interesting in the fact that despite the situation there was a lot of executive posturing, but in the end  it had to happen otherwise it would be colossal failure by both parties. Can two turkey’s make an eagle?  We are about to find out.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann September 10. 2013


Microsoft Bing since its launch has been considered the primary competitor to the behemoth known as Google search. It is a valiant effort in a very lucrative market space. However despite the immense opportunity,the term success has so far eluded Microsoft Bing.  When you look at Search Engine market share the numbers continue to improve for Bing as it hit over 17% in April, however the revenues have so far failed to materialize.  In Q2 of Fy13 for Microsoft’s Online Services Division lost money, $283 million.  In Q1 Google generated over $11 billion in revenue.  Granted Microsoft’s OSD is not just Bing, but all the other online services such as MSN and Outlook Mail.  The flip side of course is we really don’t know how Bing as a stand alone business is doing, despite the market share increases.

The history of Bing some may say is one of failed opportunity.  I am not so sure it is so much that as it is understanding online reality.  Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer often have said they blew it on search and I have often said they would never have figured it out.  Even if they had I am not so sure they would have been willing to take the financial risk to challenge Google at the time (remember we are going back to the 2002/2003 time frame) .  In his short stint at Microsoft Ray Ozzie provided the best analysis of Google.  He stated that they were using their immense revenues to fund software development projects that would compete against Microsoft. It was an indirect model, where ad revenues funded software engineering.  As has been shown Google has a lot of revenue to fund these projects.  It was difficult for Microsoft to grasp as they for so long have lived off of volume license revenues.

In the past decade it took a long time for Bing to come to the forefront.  First Microsoft toyed around with  Live search.  It was not a well named product.  Certainly not as fun as saying, “Google”.  But globally it did ok and when you looked at the top 100 websites, Live did appear in the top twenty.  It just did not have an ad word business model set up that could compete with what Google was doing.  Microsoft was slow in understanding the competitive threat that Google posed, if not holistically, at least opportunistically.  My view is Microsoft viewed it as another software market to conquer rather than the threat it was to existing businesses, namely Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows.   This is just another market space in which we are entitled to own.

As things progressed so did Microsoft’s desperation ending in an audacious bid to acquire its competitor Yahoo.  Luckily for Microsoft and many grad schools across America this would end in the ego of Yahoo founder Jerry Yang as he made every attempt to kill  the deal. In the end this may have worked out for the benefit of Microsoft as they entered onto a partnership rather than spending $40 billion on an acquisition that may have been doomed to fail. While Jerry Yang seemingly failed business 101 which is to increase shareholder value, not decrease it.  He is now a case study for business graduate school history.

What has happened as these events have unfolded  is that Google has systematically found other business opportunities to augment and promote its search business and increase revenues.  Namely using the mobile phenomena to launch Android.  This has led to great headway in the mobile phone business and the tablet.  In 2013 it is projected that there will be 800 million Android devices sold.  None of these devices will have Bing as the default search engine.  In addition there will be 300 million iOS devices sold in 2013, again none will have Bung as the default search engine.  I only wrote this to share with Steve  as he seems to be unaware of this fact, but hey, he is a numbers guy.

So what does Bing do?  For starters that Apple iOS number is key.  One of Steve Jobs last talks to the Apple faithful at their corporate headquarters was about the evils of its key competitor Google.  There is no question that there is no love lost between the two.  Apple has tried to compete with Google head to head.  The failed Apple Maps comes to mind.  In my opinion a rare case of me saying, “Whose stupid idea at Apple was this?”  Google owns that space and barring some catastrophe, I do not see them losing in that space.  So with all that hate and failure what if Bing was the default search engine for Apple iOS?  Instantly Bing would have access to 300 million users.  Granted this would be a bizarre twist of fate, but Microsoft is not in a position of power in this space and Apple would like nothing better than to hurt Google.  If Bing can meet Apple’s high quality standards they could have a very compelling play in this space and be considered attractive to Apple.

There is also a bigger question of “if Not Microsoft than who?”.  Competition  that is not challenged is a threat to the greater benefit of society.  They can dictate terms, which is never a good thing.  When we look at companies that are able to challenge Google there are few with the cash reserves to do it.  One of the few would be Microsoft.  And frankly they owe it to us all.  Fundamentally competition is a good thing and maybe Bing is competing, it’s just that Google is pushing their game to a higher place.  If that is true than Bing needs to set a higher bar, not just compete at parity.  Faster more accurate search is nice, but we are reaching a point where for the end-user it is becoming increasingly difficult. to distinguish in milliseconds.

Another factor is much of Bing’s success is tied to other products like Windows 8, Surface and Windows Phone.  To successfully get people to switch alla Coke versus Pepsi, is not so easy as there is a lot more tied to it than just switching a can. The effort Microsoft must put in will take years, which in technology is worlds away.    So far it has been slow in coming and market share has increased at a snail’s pace.  This may drain Microsoft’s cash reserves but the reward is high Once yo have been great there is always a thirst to be great again and I think that more than anything drives Microsoft.  To get there search will be a key cog in the engine.  Information rules the world and if Bing is not successful Google very well could rule that world.  Bing is in a tough place but it is a fight worth fighting.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann July 10, 2013