It's a fairly typical situation these days: a small business approaches me with a need to replace an aging Exchange 2003 server and Office 2003 for 14 users. They want to compare purchasing their upgrades outright vs just renting them from Microsoft. The in-house server approach for email and Office software will run them roughly $10K USD before any consulting labor -- or they could opt to have us move them into Office 365 E3 for $280/month.
At face value, sure, you could say that the in-house approach pays for itself in just about 3 years compared to paying for Office 365 E3 over that period of time. But you're squarely forgetting about all the hidden nasties which I brought into full light in a previous article on the TCO of cloud vs on-premise technology.
When it comes to Office 365, some people think I'm too soft on Microsoft because I'm always writing about the good things I see in the service. And don't get me wrong, I think the platform is leagues better now than it was just a year ago. Just peruse some of the brutal honesty I wrote about Office 365 in the head to head piece I did against Google Apps back in mid 2012, and you may be shocked about my current viewpoint on the product.
Microsoft has indeed come a long way with the service as a whole. Before the 2013 edition of the suite, I found 365 to be a cluttered "me too" offering that did nothing to differentiate against Google Apps. My biggest gripe was that Microsoft was working too hard to cram desktop-first software into a cloud experience that felt half baked in the end. That notion got turned on its head earlier this year, and my feelings about the latest Office 365 for Business ecosystem are pretty positive overall.
To cloud or not to cloud? It's a question a lot of my clients are asking more often, and is undoubtedly one of the biggest trends in the IT industry right now. SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, and soon to be DaaS -- all acronyms which represent offloading critical functions of some sort to the cloud or into virtualized environments. All the big cloud providers are guilty of throwing fancy numbers around to make their case. But do their trumpeted cost savings really add up?
You'll have to make it to the end of this piece to find out what I think about that personally. Because in all honesty, it depends. Too many business owners I work with make the same cost comparison blunders over and over again. Most of them are so blindly focused on raw face value costs -- the "easy ones" -- that they lose focus on the bigger picture, namely their TCO (total cost of ownership).
In the mid-2000s, walking into a college classroom holding a laptop that came with a stylus for the purpose of note-taking was without a doubt out of place. The smartphone craze was still years away, and for all intents and purposes, touchscreens were relegated to two platforms: the Nintendo DS, and the last hurrah of Palm devices like the Treo. So when I sat in my undergrad classes taking notes in OneNote 2003 on my Thinkpad X41, people looked at me like I was an alien. Professors even asked from time to time whether I brought my paper notebook to class, so I wasn't playing with my "toy" the whole time.
Tablet PCs had a real personality dilemma way back then. Aside from OneNote, they were a sort of a pariah in the PC industry. Cool, sleek, powerful, and usually fairly light -- but they were held back in one major way: the operating system. I bless Microsoft for taking chances in areas where no one else dared, which undoubtedly led us to the current revolution being driven by Windows 8.1, but the first wave of Tablet PCs had real potential. The hardware was there, but the operating system was the large bottleneck by far.
Google Docs and Google Drive were all I knew when it came to personal cloud document storage until this summer. I never got on the Dropbox bandwagon, and was so entrenched in the Google ecosystem that SkyDrive didn't interest me at first when it came out. While I have nothing personally against Google Drive, as it has served my company and myself quite well, I had to take a deep dive into SkyDrive territory to prepare for an Office 2013 class I taught this past summer. I was pleasantly surprised with the service, so much so that I began using it side by side next to Google Drive for my personal needs.
Fast forward to when Windows 8.1 went RTM, and I subsequently moved my primary Thinkpad X230 Tablet over to the new OS. One of the least publicized aspects of 8.1 has to be hands-down the tight integration between the OS and SkyDrive, meaning you didn't need a standalone app anymore to save/open files on the service. Some have called it Microsoft going too far, but I completely disagree. The service is 100 percent optional (you can still save locally as you would expect) and if you are using a local account instead of a MS account for your computer login on 8.1, the service is a moot point at best.
If you wanted to build a case study in the perfect recipe for IT project disaster, you wouldn't have to look any further than the new official Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov. The site, which was supposed to be the official gateway for Americans to purchase cheap (now clearly up for debate) health insurance, has become an overnight poster child for just how bad the government can fumble a well-to-do technology implementation. The common symptoms are all present: budget overruns, too little time to test, poor design & planning, and you can take it from there.
So when the President came out for an impromptu press conference about the disaster this past Monday, it struck me a little odd at how he addressed the situation. He went on to describe the numerous problems plaguing the website, and then turned course to let us know that the feds were calling in the "best and brightest" in the tech industry to help solve the woes. Verizon was publicly mentioned -- which I'm not sure why that namedrop really mattered, since I didn't know Verizon's mobility expertise really had much of anything to do with a large federal website catastrophe.
One of the biggest problems I have with all those fancy iPad rollouts in corporate America is that they are merely patching a larger problem instead of solving it. Let's face it, nearly 60 percent of tablet buyers currently are not replacing their primary mobile devices -- they're merely supplementing them. Less than 9 percent truly see themselves replacing their laptops with tablets. If tablets are the future of mobile computing, there is a serious problem with their perception by non-consumption driven buyers.
When one of my customers approached us about helping them migrate an aging, near-crippled fleet of netbooks into modern tablets, I knew there had to be a better way than the "iPad standard". We initially toyed with the idea of getting tablets to use in conjunction with GoToMyPC or LogMeIn, but the recurring costs on such an approach started to balloon. Plus, a workforce that lives and dies by the full Microsoft Office suite would never adjust to a touch-only future.
"Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero day' vulnerability forever". These spot-on select words come from Tim Rains, who penned a stellar TechNet blog post back in August on the impending XP doomsday. That entry, aptly titled "The Risk of Running Windows XP After Support Ends April 2014" goes into a deep discussion about the underpinning reasons as to why it's so critical that organizations start moving their fleets off the now 12 year old OS.
My writing hand has been largely inactive for the past few weeks, but for very good reason. I've been using the time to wrap up a massive infrastructure overhaul for one of my larger commercial customers, including the rollout of Surface RT tablets to replace a fleet of aging netbooks for a mobile workforce. Tablets used to be relegated to the "PC-plus" category of companion gadgets (I'm looking at you, iPad), but my latest client project proves that with the right hardware, a mobile business team can truly ditch legacy computers in favor of a single, compact endpoint device.
While I'm not going to to get into the nuts and bolts of how we did it -- I'm saving that discussion for a second follow-up piece -- I do want to cover some of the reasons that my customer and I decided that Surface RT was the perfect platform for a mobile work team. Too much of the technology press is busy glossing over tech specs and fashion design scores for the latest tablets on the market, and not enough emphasis is being placed on the capabilities of one device over another.
The countdown to Windows 8.1 is officially on. Whoever thinks that Windows 8.1 is squarely a consumer-centric release is heavily mistaken. After spending a month with Windows 8.1 Pro on my Thinkpad X230 Tablet, I can definitively say that Windows 8.1 is shaping up as a rock-solid option for the enterprise. I've previously written about why businesses should have been considering Windows 8 for their next upgrade cycles. With 8.1, Microsoft's latest OS is a service pack on more than a few steroids.
By any measure, I've been a vocal, bullish early adopter of Windows 8. My day to day consulting work for customers doesn't allow me to stay stuck on previous generations of Windows. Even if I did prefer Windows 7, my mixed client base is moving to 8 whether I like it or not. I need to be prepared for the questions and troubleshooting that ensues, which means I need to be their resident Windows 8 expert.
For those in the States, the mad dash to compliance is unquestionably on. After years of taking a "wait and see" approach to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations surrounding medical office technology, healthcare providers (and related covered entities) are scrambling to get their systems and procedures in order. Big Brother has officially set a September 23, 2013 deadline for most new rules that put into place heightened protocols for how patient information (PI) is shared as well as how notifications about breaches need to be handled, among other things.
Naturally, a lot of my consulting clients in the healthcare industry are reaching out for professional help on how to get their IT systems in line as these deadlines approach. One of the biggest facets of the new HIPAA laws, which affects companies like mine that provide hands-on IT consulting, is that for the first time ever we are being considered "covered entities" in the same boat as the healthcare outlets themselves.
Just two years ago, before the Surface RT was even on the horizon, another alternative entrant in the computing market was posting miserable (Surface RT-esque) sales after launching. The suspect in question, Chromebook, was only able to post about 5000 units sold for Acer in the two months after its launch in June 2011. Samsung supposedly fared even worse. Analysts across the industry were taking bets on when Google would throw in the towel on Chromebook. They all but called the device destined to fail.
Fast forward just two years, and Chromebooks now represent the fastest growing PC segment already. In fact, as of July 2013, they officially snagged 20-25 percent of the sub-$300 laptop market. And the warm feelings for Chromebook are anywhere but over. The radical alternative to Windows and Apple laptops is poised to grow another 10 percent in just 2013 alone. The burning question still stands: how did the analysts get it so wrong?
Google shocked the tech world back in December of 2012 when, out of nowhere, it announced that Google Apps Free Edition was going bye-bye. I was also a bit disappointed to hear about this, as it provided a free way for clubs and small businesses of 10 users or less to leverage the power of Google Apps for their email, calendaring, contacts, etc.
Yet as a consultant to numerous clients supporting clients on the Free edition, who knows the unreasonable expectations they sometimes hold the (free) service to, I can see Google's justification for pruning the bushes here. We can all agree: it was good while it lasted.
With Microsoft's recently-announced reversal of its anti-consumer DRM policies for the Xbox One, the next gen console war has suddenly been brought back to a level playing field. It's no longer a battle of who had the upper hand at E3 this year, who does/doesn't require impractical internet connectivity 24/7, or whose specs are better on paper. The most hated DRM underpinnings on the Xbox One have been unequivocally rescinded, meaning that we can finally have an honest discussion of what the two next gen consoles will offer apples-to-apples.
While Sony has been squarely riding its momentum on cruise control since E3 this year, trying to keep the debate on its terms after usurping Microsoft in the opinion war, reality is coming back into the middle ground finally. And seeing that we are just months away from these hotly anticipated console launches, Microsoft is slowly unraveling its winning plans for the Xbox One.
I've long been a believer that a judgement gap, influenced largely by negative media coverage, is what continues to hold back cloud adoption among small organizations. And judging from the results of a recent study completed by comScore, my intuition has been fairly on track. The biggest issue surrounding cloud uptake, at least for small businesses worldwide, seems to be none other than an issue of perception.
How so? The study, which surveyed companies with between 25 to 499 computers in the USA, Germany, France, and the UK, found that 42 percent of small businesses which had yet to adopt cloud technologies were concerned about reliability/uptime. Likewise, a full 60 percent had cited issues with data security as reasoning for staying cloud-free.