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Friday, September 28, 2007

Whoops: Morgan Stanley did it Again!

Information Week is reporting that The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said Morgan Stanley has to pay $12.5 million in fines to resolve charges that it mishandled email.

The gist of the story is FIRA found Morgan Stanley negligent of improper email handling on several occasions. The reasons given seem related to technology failure and inconsistent policies.

I feel sorry for the rank and file IT people who are undoubtedly caught in the cross-fire over how Morgan Stanly should have managed email and archiving, especially the history this firm has with email compliance. It appears there are systemic technology and business process problems that need to be resolved.

How about this solution?

Create a simple and enforceable email retention policy that dictates all messages sent or received on company systems will be saved for seven years. No exceptions, and there is no ambiguity.

Use a hosted archive system to gather, protect, index and securely save every message in three geographically separate data center locations. Emails can be immediately searched and made available for any reason.

The above is what Sonian is all about. And Sonian can provide all this functionality for a few percent of that total whopping fine.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Day of Leading-edge Thinking

Today I attended two tech events at MIT in Cambridge, MA that coincidentally aligned on the same day.

So much of my time this past year building Sonian has been working with a virtually distributed workforce across multiple timezones. We leverage the many great hosted workspace tools and real-time chat to stay in sync, and keep the communication flowing. So it's refreshing to get out of the virtual and into the 3-d physical world for some good old-fashioned idea sharing.

This morning I attended the MIT Enterprise Forum's "Fireside Chat" with Ann Winblad, co-founding partner of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.

Some interesting ideas flowed from this discussion. There was a lot of validation from the investor community about the role of software as a service (SaaS) to solve mid-market IT problems. Sonian's built on this premise, and we know we're on the right path to big time successes. The amount of innovation coming from the SaaS providers is quickly eclipsing the traditional installed software vendors. You can see this trend looking at the attendees for two recent developer conferences. Salesforce.com's "Dreamforce" developer conference and Intel's developer conference occurred at the same time in adjacent venues. These events by their very core nature cater to different audiences, so it wasn't a problem to deice which event to attend. Your either in one camp or another.

Salesforce attracted seven thousand people interested in developing applications on the Salesforce hosted platform. Intel attracted five thousand developers wanting to know all about the latest in writing code for Intel CPUs. I thought this was a very interesting and note-worthy observation. I'm saving more discussion on this topic for future blog posts.

The second event was an Amazon Web Services (AWS) five-hour mini boot camp on working with their various web services. I was really looking forward to this event in order to meet many Amazon Web Services executives that I only knew by email and phone. Although we have been using their services for many months now, any time an opportunity is available to make in-person connections with a valued business partners should be taken advantage of.

Amazon's Web Services business unit (AWS) is a bit of an enigma for most who haven't been following the latest SaaS trends. AWS operates almost like a separate entity from the larger e-commerce operations. AWS is creating discreet web service building blocks (storage, compute, queuing) out of core Amazon technology that has been tested in real-time, real-world conditions. These building blocks can be used to create an infinite number of technology solutions to solve critical business problems.

These building blocks are like natural resources that can be harnessed to solve IT problems more elegantly and cost effectively for both the customer and the service provider. It's a Win Win situation. The solutions launched from the AWS environment can be targeted at any audience, whether it be social networking, media management, or enterprise IT.

The next wave of enterprise IT innovation will be built on these types of scalable, reliable platforms.

Sonian has created a digital content archive platform with the AWS modules and we are using this platform to solve the near-term email archive problem, while also planning to offer archiving for IM, SharePoint, wiki's, blogs and file systems. Sonian is the durable search able enterprise repository.

Future blog posts will expand on AWS and the benefits of using grid computing to manage archival data.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Transparency = Accountability = Strength

Sonian is all about "changing the conversation" between messaging technology vendor and the audience of IT departments who look to us to solve their archive problem. It's our challenge to communicate openly and in a way that really hasn't been seen before in this industry. This mode of communication awareness is called transparency, and it's inspired by the open source way of thinking.

It's time for vendors to engage in honest conversation about email's current "state of affairs." There needs to be a more open dialog between messaging vendor and customer. For too long the allied e-messaging industries haven't served core customer needs. Add to that customers haven't demanded more accountability from their e-messaging vendors either. Vendors play the feature-creep leap frog game with each other, rather than listen to what customers want in a product. As an example, over the past year we have talked to many unhappy "legacy technology " archive customers who complain (rightfully so) the current archive technologies are too complicated and too expensive to operate. Organizations are looking for a simpler, more elegant way to solve the archive issue. Spending six figures for software license fees and a full-time IT person salary to manage an installed archive platform is not the way to solve this problem in 2007 and beyond.

Recently there has been an "up tick" in e-messaging market activities. Yahoo! acquiring Zimbra and Xobni's big debut are two recent email events getting media and market attention. Om Malik wrote a post on his blog calling email the original social network. But these are recent exceptions to the rule. In general, except for SPAM and the occasional email-borne virus outbreak coverage, the mainstream media pays little attention to email issues. Yet email is still the most used and most critical communication infrastructure available to us. And we as consumers tolerate a lot of pain around email.

Over the summer there was a blog-o-sphere vibe predicting traditional email's demise in favor of IM and social network communication systems. The basic sentiment can be summed up in the phrase "Email is like your daddy's Oldsmobile." Meaning while email may get the job done, it's not cool or interesting. It has been predicted that the newly minted information workers entering the workforce will prefer the informal nature of Facebook-o-grams and IM over "old-fashioned" email. A shift away from email as we know it today will eventually occur (but not to Facebook,) and who can blame the younger generation from shunning email when you consider all the problems (SPAM!) that plague our efficient use of this platform.

We all need to ask, and keep asking of ourselves, "is this the best we can do?" - for ourselves and our customers.

Congratulations to BDS and Mozy.com

Techcrunch reported Sunday in this post that online backup vendor Mozy is going to be acquired by EMC for a nice $76m. This is great validation for hosted data services, and the promising future hosted backup and hosted archiving (they are not the same) services will have in helping mid-sized organizations manage their critical IT functions.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Free goodies for you: Try FreeSender.com

Announcing FreeSender.com. FreeSender is a super-simple free web service you can use to transfer files to anyone, anywhere in the world, just by using a web browser.

How many times have you tried to send a 50Mb ZIP file to someone only to have the message bounce back because the file is too large, or the receiving system doesn't accept ZIP attachments? FreeSender is the solution to this problem.

FreeSender is the perfect way to send someone a file without having to worry about email attachment size and type restrictions blocking your transmission.

Why are we making this service available for free? Because Sonian is all about providing a "premium" experience for our audience. Premium for us means delivering outstanding value at a fair price. Well in this case we're making a useful utility available at no cost. It's our way of showing the market what to expect from Sonian in the future, as we start to launch our hosted archiving service.

Here is some background on FreeSender and why we are making it available for free. FreeSender is powered by Amazon S3 - a revolutionary hosted storage facility that is also used in the Sonian Archive. We have been working with Amazon Web Services for over a year now, prototyping the use of grid storage systems to solve archive and e-discovery problems. FreeSender is a by-product of our research.

Stay tuned for more free services, and the unveiling of Sonian Archive.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Compass Says Increasing Size and Volume of E-mails Straining IT Resources

This just in from the "This is no Surprise" department:

Recent research from the global IT and business consulting group Compass shows that the size and number of e- mails are skyrocketing. This growth can have a significant impact on business communication, and has serious implications for executives responsible for planning and budgeting IT resources.

Two factors are driving the growth of e-mail: larger and larger files are being sent as attachments, and more and more people are storing these large files as messages in their inboxes. The weekly volumes of e-mail have tripled in the last three years and the average file size has grown from 81K in 2004 to 124K in 2006.
Sonian's hosted archive service is designed to address the critical email storage problem from both the compliance and storage resource management vectors. Appliance and installed software archive solutions trade the email storage problem for file and SQL DB storage problems. Outsourcing your long-term archive to a trusted provider removes the storage management burden from IT, thus allowing IT to focus on technology projects that enhance competitiveness and achieve strategic goals.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fixing Email, and SPAM, for good

It seems most of my recent posts have been about email, messaging and Web 2.0, instead of Sonian's hosted archiving theme. This post continues the trend, and yes there is a method to the madness. Let's dust off the crystal ball and take a look ahead... to a future where our electronic communications (email) are reliable, secure and spam free.

ZDNet writer David Berlind posted An Open Letter to Email Vendors on his blog expressing (justified) frustration with the current anti-SPAM solutions. He, like many of us, have implemented a rube-goldberg-esque approach to keeping our mailboxes spam-free. The thinking behind this approach is to layer a couple of different anti-spam technologies from different vendors, working at gateway, server and desktop levels, to get the best possible filtering protection. But in reality it's not that simple or effective. Multiple quarantines and block and white lists create an administrative headache almost equivalent to the problem being solved in the first place. Maybe a possible explanation for our proclivity to use layers comes from our history with virus protection. Before SPAM was a real problem, email anti-virus was the big issue. And with virus control, a layered multi-vendor approach DOES work best.

The net net of it all is we shouldn't have to tolerate this SPAM madness that's purely a result of our own inaction and inability to come together as a unified group to solve the core deficiencies that plague SMTP-based email. The SMTP protocol has served us well (sort of), but it's time for a top-down, bottom-up reset. SMTP was created with the premise that people who access the Internet would be doing good and honorable activities. Unfortunately, as is true in other segments of our society, it only takes a few bad people to take advantage of a system designed with the assumption that people are good. (Think airport security check points for a painful corollary.)

SMTP-based email is failing us, and as a result, we're starting to see users find creative communication channels to get around all this "brokenness." High school, college and twenty-something professionals are using IM, SMS and social network internal messaging systems like Facebook to communicate with each other. With the latter, email notifications are used to signal when a message is waiting, but the actual back and forth correspondence occurs within the protected social network boundary.

If the messaging industry can't work together to solve SMTP problems in a coordinated manner, we will end up with a hodge-podge of different silo'd communication systems that provide rich functionality within themselves, but basic interoperability between each other.

My future for email wish list:

  • I get to choose my favorite email and calendar client technology - let's call this the "super client."
  • My super client is paired with a secure, reliable, hosted storage silo and processing engine. We'll call this the "super server." The super server is my "proxy" on the Internet.
  • Behind the scenes authentication and encryption ensure that I am the author of my own messages, and the system cant' be spoofed.
  • A protocol that looks a lot like RSS allows me to "syndicate" my outbox. Instead of pushing messages from one server to another like SMTP does now, the RSS-like magic protocol notifies other peoples' super servers I have shared content with them, and their super server retrieves the content. Like-wise their super servers notify my proxy content is waiting for me, and I can retrieve it as I like.
  • As the author of the content I retain ultimate control of my content's final disposition.
  • This system allows me to create content to share with one person, or a group, (think email) or the entire world (think blog.)
  • The super client is where I live (it could be a web app or a local application, it doesn't matter) - The super client is where I create my content (like this blog post,) or an email message to a friend. Or an instant message. They are all just forms of one to one or one to many communications.
Please share your ideas on how to fix email. We need massive, creative brainstorming to solve the problems.

Yahoo! acquires Zimbra. Enterprise Mesaging 2.0 Sparks Up

In an interesting turn of events, Yahoo! is going to acquire Zimbra for a reported USD $350 million.

This Yahoo! acquisition came out of nowhere. Some expected Google to go after Zimbra, since Zimbra would have been a nice complement to the Google Apps Premiere offering (adding needed offline support, and a more traditional enterprise-friendly blend of installed apps paired with hosted service.) It's clear that Zimbra needed to be acquired by a larger company in order to get traction with large enterprise customers. Large enterprises like to buy their core collaboration infrastructure from other large IT software vendors. But will Yahoo! be taken seriously in the enterprise messaging market? That's the bet.

For too long there hasn't been credible competition to the Exchange / Outlook dominance. (n.b. - GroupWise and Notes are credible competition, but you won't see any mass migrations away from Microsoft to either of those aging platforms.) Don't get me wrong here, I like Outlook and Exchange, but we all know the client and the server could be so much better if Microsoft had to worry about a competing product chipping away at their core business.

In 2007, Enterprises large and small can choose between hosted apps or traditional installed software for their collaboration. Most companies "self-select" to one camp or another, based on the CIO's predilection for SaaS or Do It Yourself IT. There are many great choices in both camps.

Zimbra gives Yahoo! an on-ramp into the enterprise messaging and collaboration market. It's unclear whether enterprises will view Yahoo! as a serious enterprise messaging vendor.


Let's hope so!

Monday, September 17, 2007

10 Web 2.0 Apps CIOs Personally Use

Sonian is promoting the concept that mid-sized organizations can benefit most from a hosted archive service that embraces "web 2.0" usability traits; such as dynamic AJAXy web UI's that are intuitive and require no training, frictionless sign up and free trials, simplified work flow that leverages tagging and data categorization, and maintenance free (for the adopting customer) infrastructure.

I have been closely watching the up-take in web 2.0 applications and services being used in more and larger organizations. And others are starting to study this trend as well.

Over the past month major IT analysts like Gartner and Forrester have surveyed the attitudes and trends IT executives have about web 2.0 technologies.

It's useful to define how the term web 2.0 is used here. "Web 2.0" is a broad catch-all term to describe everything from YouTube, Digg and Del.icio.us, to Basecamp, Facebook, and Wordpress. For this post, web 2.0 means a web service that is easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and offers a focused feature set to solve a specific problem. Web 2.0 is most likely used for collaboration, project and personal/group information management. A key trait is a typical web 2.0 application can be adopted at the individual or departmental level.

We have seen this trend before: knowledge workers have a problem that needs to be solved, IT may not act quickly, so a solution is adopted "under the radar." Email in the early 1990's came in the enterprise at departmental levels before being deployed top-down across the organization. PDA's and Blackberry's followed the same "ground-up" enterprise penetration.

The survey results below show that CIO's are starting to personally use classic web 2.0 services like wiki's, blogs, and business-focused social networking tools. This could mean we'll start to see a "top-down" implementation of web 2.0 in the enterprise.

Which of the following Web applications do you use personally?

N=150
Video over the web 54%
Wikis 49
Blogs 48
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) 47
Podcasts 39
Social networking (e.g., tagging, social bookmarks, community sites such as del.icio.us, LinkedIn, Technorati) 33
Expertise location and sharing 21
Mashups 13
Virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life) 12
Instant mobile updates (e.g., Twitter) 11
None of the above 11

Source: CIO Insight, August 2007

IT departments need to understand how strategically deployed web 2.0 IT services can be a good thing for the organizations they serve. Eventually end-users will find the solutions they desire (often times end-users are closest to and most knowledgeable about, their own needs.)

IT should get ahead of the web 2.0 movement.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

CMSWire: More eDiscovery Scares: Don't Delete Your Email!

CMSWire posted a story summarizing a recent Osterman Research/Fortiva report on eDiscovery trends.

A key "take-away" is that most organizations need some type of archive system in place to minimize the eDiscovery and data storage burden on IT. You can get archiving systems as installed software, a dedicated appliance, or as a hosted service. Choose one that meets all your needs. I think a 100% pure hosted service is the easiest and most cost-effective way the mid-market enterprise should implement archiving.

The following are some highlights from the article. You can read the full text here.

Sponsored by archiving software vendor Fortiva, the study reports that businesses with more than 1,000 employees are averaging 37 legal discovery requests a year, 37 business requests, 25 audit requests, and more than 100 requests per year from end users.

Other notable findings from the survey include:

  • One in four businesses surveyed has delayed a business or IT initiative in order to meet legal discovery requirements
  • For each discovery request, 58% of the time spent by IT is spent gathering, restoring and searching through backups, while the remainder is spent finding and searching through PST files (25 percent) and searching through the email server (17%).
  • On average, businesses keep 24 months’ worth of data on backup tapes.

What enterprises may find surprising, however, is that 75 percent of companies surveyed are still relying on backup tapes to fulfill eDiscovery requests.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Email circa 2012 Could Feel Like 1992 - and that's probably a good thing

Alan Leinwand over at the excellent GigaOm blog posted some thoughts about the future of data centers. His post was inspired when Intel announced their plan to have a 80-core processor by 2012.

...it is very conceivable that by 2012 we could have Intel-powered servers with 80-core processors interconnected by one-hundred-gigabits-per-second Ethernet connections. To fully utilize the processing power in these servers, they will probably run virtualization software that isolates processors to virtual run-time environments.
Whoa! 80-core processors with 100 gigabit Ethernet is an amazing amount of compute power. Just imagine the types of hosted applications that could be created to serve business needs, especially when applied to next-generation email and communication infrastructures.

Before I talk about what Email could be like in 2012, lets hark en back to email's nascent days. Email circa 1992 was dominated by cc:Mail, MHS, DaVinci, MCI Mail, Compuserve, AT&T Mail, proprietary gateways, dial-up connections and MS DOS single-tasking email clients. During this time period Email started to mature from a novelty to a must-have communication infrastructure. Proprietary gateways and "closed" networks like MCI Mail gave way to SMTP gateways and higher speed Internet connections. The merits of SMTP and X.400 protocols were debated, and ultimately SMTP won the hearts of email administrators world-wide. The downside is SMTP's ease of use and openness is also its Achilles heel. While this openness was initially attractive (how many of you remember what it was like to configure a closed system AT&T Gateway? - not pretty!), the SMTP protocol has brought a lot of pain and suffering with out of control spam and virus problems. It's easy for me to write this now, with 20/20 hindsight, and identify where different choices could have had profound positive changes on our life today.

A popular saying these days is "we are where we are" - meaning we can't do anything about what is done, but hopefully we learn from the past and chart a path for a better tomorrow.

So what does all this have to do with 80-core processor Intel chips? And why should email in the future start to look more like the past? Because we (the email industry) need to shake things up and start to lay the foundation for a new way for us as individuals, and groups, to communicate electronically. And this new way will probably look a lot like the old way. We need secure interconnected systems that guarantee message delivery, enforce identity and authentication, so we don't have to worry about unlawful spammers and out of control email-borne viri. We need systems that treat electronic communication systems like a "utility" - meaning it's assumed to just work all the time, like electricity and water. We need communication systems that have built-in compliance and policy controls, while at the same time preserving the privacy each of us deserves with our own personal missives. We need something like a modern version of MCI Mail (don't throw anything at me :).

80-core processor, 100 gigabit Ethernet, virtualized "monster" servers will be the perfect platform to sustain the "utility"-based communication systems of the future.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Capgemini to help push Google Apps into larger companies

Cnet News.com is reporting here that Google will use Capgemini to help big business use Google Apps Premiere.

The article says Capgemini will provide desktop and customization support so that larger businesses can get a custom experience from Google's "commodity" application platform.

Global consulting firm Capgemini believes that GoogleApps--Google's online alternative to Microsoft Office--appeals to more than college students and small businesses.

For Google, the arrangement helps Google Apps' entry into large corporations, which tend to be conservative about new technology adoption.

Interestingly, Microsoft felt the need to issue their own press release and spin on the Capgemini deal, which said, among other thoughts,

...enterprise customers have voted with their wallets in consistently buying Microsoft Office because of its rich features and reliability.
It's true Microsoft Office has very rich functionality, but the average user probably leverages about ten to twenty percent of Word's features. Too many dials and knobs get in the way when all a user cares about is efficiently creating and sharing content - whether the content is a document, spreadsheet or presentation. Today the emphasis is on sharing and collaboration, where Microsoft Office doesn't do so well.

Google Apps, as well as competitors like Zoho Office and Central Desktop, have a long way to go to emulate the full Microsoft Office experience, but I guess my hypothetical question is why do we need to slavishly copy the past? Just because Microsoft Office became a standard in most organizations, doesn't mean it will reign supreme forever.

Let's not forget, ten years ago another "office" suite was the darling of enterprise IT - but who here remembers Wordperfect Office? It was ground-breaking for it's time - the first integrated email, calendar and task list system - and that was in 1992.

Enterprise IT is on the precipice of some subtle but far reaching changes in the way content and collaboration features are deployed to users. Heavy Windows-based and client / server applications like Microsoft Office are starting to feel bloated and dated compared to some of the new efficient web-based productivity tools. The off-line access problem is getting solved, as well as better security models and confidence is building in the idea that hosted services can meet the needs of most organizations.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Understanding The World Of E-mail: How It Can Significantly Increase Or Decrease The Costs Of Electronic Discovery - Part I

Jerry F. Barbanel and Thomas W. Avery of Aon Consulting wrote an article for MetroCorpCounsel.com about the complexities of e-discovery relating to messaging system formats. It's an interesting read given that legal counsel and the courts now need to understand the nuanced differences between an Outlook OST and PST file, Notes NSF and GroupWise archive format. Read the full article , or scan the interesting quotes below.

The greatest cost factor for companies involved in large-scale litigation or governmental matters is the increasing cost of electronic discovery. Electronic discovery costs have been rising at double-digit rates, with no end in sight1. The most significant factor that contributes to electronic discovery costs relates to the enormity of e-mails that have to be collected, processed, hosted, reviewed and produced. With the amount of e-mails created by a company growing at a rate of 30% annually2, it is critically important for companies to master an understanding of this technology as the potential costs of electronic discovery could prove to be devastating.
In the past, the collection and review of backup tapes created significant and excessive costs for most companies. With improved technologies and a thorough understanding of a company's e-mail infrastructure it is now possible to avoid the unnecessary review of large quantities of backup tapes.

Sonian's mission is to provide an affordable, reliable, easy to use hosted archive repository that collects data from all your various messaging server infrastructures to support all your e-discovery needs.

Read the complete part 1 here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Archiving is One of the Top 5 Technologies SMBs Will Spend Money On

Computer Reseller News posted a story about small to medium size business (SMB) IT purchasing decisions for the coming year. Acquiring archiving and storage technologies rank second after security as a top priority. Relevant quotes from the article are below:

"Moving SMBs from backup- and-recovery solutions to archiving technologies also presents a great upselling opportunity for resellers..."
"Online backup services is also an area where resellers are starting to see increased interest in the SMB market, and vendors are now better enabling resellers to offer such services as part of their managed services portfolios—opportunities that can help them lock into recurring revenue streams."
The Sonian Archive solution is designed with enterprise-class features but priced for mid-size organization budgets.

We are starting to see more momentum toward hosted archiving to help lower capital IT expenditures.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Google agog for GoDaddy?

eWeek posted an interesting article right before the Labor Day holiday titled - Google-GoDaddy Marriage on Tap? - speculation that Google might have an appetite for the GoDaddy domain management business. Google already uses GoDaddy and Enom to power the domain registration system behind Google Apps Premiere. Based on the recent Postini acquisition, Google has a history of "trying, liking and buying" enabling technologies and companies with smart people. Google started using Postini to protect Gmail and decided they needed to own the defense system

GoDaddy's DNS knowledge would certainly be an asset to Google's overall strategy of information management. Our modern-day Internet requires an excellent understanding of DNS management, and GoDaddy has obviously figured all that out.