Dec 042016
 

As a business born out of a weekend hack  Sydney based GorillaStack is almost a classic tech tale.

“I was involved in a startup previously,” says GorillaStack’s CTO, Elliott Spira, recalling how the company was his co-founder Oliver Berger at the AWS Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas last week.

“We noticed we had spikes in our AWS spend, there was a big attribution issue and one day we said ‘how about we do a weekend project and try to spin something up that listens to our Cloudwatch metrics and tells us how much we’re spending at any time of the month.”

As the challenge was accepted, the team went to work. “We hacked away all weekend as we like to do, being nerds, and by the time the weekend was over we had the basic cost dashboard that told us how much we were spending each month.”

Adding more features

“The next weekend we decided to add another feature and we decided to add cost alerting where we’d get an email when we passed a certain threshold. That was really cool as we could budget and know when we were spending too much.”

“On the following weekend we started working on periodic alerts on how much we were spending over a set set time and from there the idea started to prosper, we thought ‘oh wow, we have a bit of a product going here. Let’s show some friends who also use AWS.’ From that feedback we found people wanted to keep the dashboards up and keep track of what was being spent.”

Today GorillaStack offers a service that allows companies to manage their AWS usage, something that can easily get expensive for organisations not closely watching what they are using. “What we try to do is make a cultural change where people become conscious of what is actually theirs in the cloud.” Elliott says. “We’re actually seeing that change.”

Living the culture

“In terms of that culture, we try to live that culture as well. We have private Slack channels with each of our customers so there’s a constant line of communication,” says Oliver. “Those Slack channels have proved to be an effective customer support and product development tool. “we’ve fostered quite a good community.”

With the initial hack being successful the company was formally founded in June 2015 and to date is bootstrapped, having not taken any investor’s money. “We want to get to a stage where we’re comfortable with the product,”says Oliver.

Currently the user base includes paid customers like Citrix, Bauer Media, Health Direct and the Australian Football League. “We have quite a good spread in terms of geography and mix of customers,” observer Oliver. “Right now the breadth suits us.”

Applying the freemium business model

Following the freemium model, the company also offers a free tier offering a single switch. “If you want anything more you move onto our paid tiers,” says Elliott.

To the question whether the company is looking at catering to other services such as Microsoft Azure or the Google Cloud, the dominance of AWS comes into play. “Right now we’re definitely sticking with the giant, we’re really looking at growing our capability so we do more and offer more to our existing customers,” says Elliott. “I think it’s really important to focus on delivering value to them and our business’ future,” Elliot says.

Looking to the immediate future, their focus is on extending their current customer offering. “We’ve a fair bit on our roadmap, we have a bit focus on chatops with a more in depth integration with Slack and Hipchat integration with our existing product,” says Elliott.

In talking to the Gorilla Stack founders, it’s striking just how the startup follows the classic tech model of a bootstrapped company that started by a bunch of hackers solving their own problem. How the business evolves will be fascinating to watch.

Paul travelled to AWS Re:Invent in Las Vegas as a guest of Amazon Web Services

Dec 032016
 

“Like all great ideas it was conceived over a beer and executed over coffee,” says John Bishop, the joint founder and co-CEO of Pet Rescue. “A couple of friends and I were sitting in a bar back in 2003 and we came up with the idea, had a look around and there was no-one doing it in Australia at the time.”

John was talking to Decoding the New Economy at last week’s AWS Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas where he some time to explain how Pet Rescue uses the web to connect prospective pet owners with rescue shelters.

“Basically we help people find rescue pets in need of adoption,” John explains. “We work with the vast number of rescue groups in Australia. By rescue groups I mean pounds, shelters, vet clinics and foster care networks. There’s about 950 of those in Pet Rescue at the moment.”

Rabbits, guinea pigs and rats

The system allows accredited animal rescue services to list the pets they have available for adoption, “primarily cats and dogs but also rabbits, guinea pigs, pigs, chickens, there’s even one rat we’ve rehomed,” John laughs.

John was working as an IT manager with a consulting business on the side in 2004 when the site launched. “We didn’t know if it would work but I had the idea in my head the whole time I was building it that if one pet found a home rather than being killed then it would be worthwhile.”

“From day one I designed Pet Rescue to be as hands off as possible, once the members had access to it they could upload their own photos and things like that. It wasn’t groundbreaking in 2003 but it wasn’t that common”

“One of the biggest problems we faced in those early days was many of the rescue groups didn’t have digital cameras. So we did a promotion with a bunch of Kodak digital cameras that had been donated to us and gave them to the groups.”

A problem of scale

The site was quickly a success but that came with issues, particularly when the site was mentioned in the press or had a lot of social media attention. “Eventually we hit problems as I had gave no thought of architecting a site that would scale.”

While that scaling process didn’t go without problems, the service now sits in the public cloud with AWS so the Pet Rescue team can get on with connecting pets with owners, and John expects to help rehouse four thousand pets by the end of the year.

“Our challenge at the moment is we have a weird supply and demand problem happening, we have half a million unique visitors a month and helping rehome about five to six thousand. Another challenge is we’re still working on an old model of handling enquiries about the pets.”

“Our goal is to get to the point where we rehome 200,000 pets a year. Right now we’re looking at 90,000. It’s a bit of a magic number because that’s the number of pets that are unnecessirly killed each year so if we can get to that two hundred thousand we can zero that out.”

Finding funding

The bigger task for Pet Rescue is to find funding with the organisation as John doesn’t believe paid registration for the rescue groups or users is the best thing for the site, “we want to have as few barriers as possible,” he says.

Currently the service earns some money from advertising with some corporate partnerships in the pipeline. “We need money, it costs a lot to keep the site up and costs a lot for development.”

While many startups and corporations talk about using tech for good, Pet Rescue’s and John Bishop’s mission of ending unnecessary deaths of unplaced pets is a genuine worthy cause. By making it easier for companion animals to be adopted by the right households shows what technology can do.

Paul travelled to Las Vegas and the Re:Invent conference as a guest of Amazon Web Services.

Dec 012016
 

As with every vendor conference, this year’s AWS Re:Invent convention in Las Vegas bombarded the audience with new product announcements and releases.

One of the interesting aspects for the Internet of Things was the announcement of Amazon Greengrass, a service that stores machine data on remote equipment which combines the company’s Lambda serverless computing and IoT services.

Further pushing Amazon’s move into the IoT space was CEO Andy Jassy’s announcement that chip makers such as Qualcomm and Intel will be building Lambda functions into their chipsets, further embedding AWS into the ecosystem.

Jassy also touted the company’s new Snowball Edge, a slimmed down version of their Snowball data transfer unit that also include some processing features, that is aimed at storing machine data at remote or moving locations such as ships, aircraft, farms or oil rigs.

That latter function ties into one of the key aspects about the Internet of Things – that most data doesn’t have to, or can’t, be transmitted over the internet. This is something companies like Cisco have focused on in their edge computing strategies.

With AWS dominating the cloud computing industry – Gartner estimates the company is ten times bigger than the next 14 companies combined – the worry for customers and regulators will be how much control the organisation has of the world’s data.

It’s hard though not to be impressed at the range of products the company has, and the speed they get them to market, the onus is on companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook to allocate the resources and talent to match AWS in the marketplace.

Oct 132016
 
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

This Thursday night join Dom Knight and myself on ABC Nightlife to discuss what tools you can use to start or improve your business and how can we encourage more people to have a go.

Last week the last Australian car making jobs finished and a survey of the Geelong Ford workers found only one percent were interested in starting a new business.

If you missed the spot, you can listen to the podcast through the Nightlife website.

Despite the reluctance to start new businesses it’s never been easier to do so with a range of tools making it simpler to run one. Tonight on the Nightlife we look at some of those tools and what we can do to encourage more people to have a go at running their own companies.

For the program, I’ve a compiled a list of tools businesses should be using. It certainly isn’t exhaustive or definitive and if you have any suggestions on better or newer tools, I’ll be happy to add them.

Some of the questions we cover on the program include;

  • who ran the survey of motor industry workers?
  • what were most of them going to do?
  • so what sort of businesses can these workers go into?
  • what programs are being offered to these workers?
  • how has starting a business changed over the past twenty years?
  • is the focus on tech startups intimidating people who might want to start a business?
  • what are the basic tools every business should have?
  • a few years ago social media was all the rage, does it matter any more?
  • what’s the number one advice for anyone thinking of starting a business?

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Oct 112016
 

Workplaces by Facebook was is the social media giant’s enterprise collaboration service it hopes will put the company into the enterprise space.

Like many similar products, the service is aimed at improving collaboration in the workplace. As the media release gushes, “the new global and mobile workplace isn’t about closed-door meetings or keeping people separated by title, department or geography. Organizations are stronger and more productive when everyone comes together.”

On first impressions, Facebook should score some successes with the service however it’s success is far from guaranteed. As we’ve seen with other major company’s attempts to open new products, being the deepest pocketed player doesn’t automatically ensure a successful product.

The Google example

A common assumption when a behemoth enters a martketplace is will simply smother smaller competitors by virtue of its size.

History shows this not always the case, Facebook itself thrived despite the huge threat posed by Google+, indeed Google is probably the best example of a large corporation that struggles outside its core business.

Part of the reason for the idea of big companies easily squashing the little folk being a fallacy is that the smaller companies are more focused on their problem – for a corporation the division is one part of a broader operation run by managers, not owners.

In such a marketplace, execution and management focus matter so Facebook’s success will depend as much on executive buy-in as the resources thrown at the product.

Cost and complexity

A notable thing about Workplaces by Facebook is its partner network, led by Deloitte. This is not a good sign.

The need to have consulting partners – particularly huge and expensive companies like Deloitte – is not an encouraging sign for the nascent service and may be a barrier towards adoption.

A separate issue in Deloitte’s involvement is how cloud services, which we include Workplaces by Facebook, are buddying up with the major consulting firms with everyone from Huawei to Oracle entering arrangements. While this might help partners squeeze a few more pennies out of their hapless clients, it’s doesn’t seem to be in the vendors’ or customers’ interests.

Trust

What happens to users’ data is a perennial problem for Facebook and it’s notable this issue isn’t mentioned in the announcement.

Facebook’s success shows consumers are relaxed about how the company uses data but that attitude may not be shared by managers and business owners.

The proprietor of one reasonable sized startup said, “I have a slight concern about giving Facebook any access to my company information. Whilst it has been fine from a personal perspective I feel the trust level is not strong enough to warrant handing over access to, effectively, everything.”

Overcoming that objection may be one of the biggest challenges for Facebook being accepted as an enterprise tool.

Becoming an enterprise service

Facebook’s push into the enterprise isn’t surprising and indicates that as the company matures, something more than the advertising funded consumer market is needed to drive its growth.

That consumer background is a strength for Facebook as the consumerization of enterprise software is an established trend. Having an interface and tools that are familiar to most staff is very attractive to managers looking at introducing new platforms with the shallowest possible learning curves.

However the ultimate question is what need does Workplaces by Facebook address? There’s no shortage of collaboration platforms that offer most of the futures offered by the platform.

If Workplaces by Facebook does address a genuine need in enterprise workplaces and the company’s management can maintain its focus on the product then the service may be a success. That isn’t a given though.

Sep 212016
 

Oracle CEO Mark Hurd’s keynote at the company’s Open World conference in San Francisco yesterday illustrated a problem facing businesses around the world and its effects on enterprise software vendors like the one he heads.

“Standard and Poor’s top five hundred companies’ revenue growth is at one percent, their earnings growth is five percent.” “It means what? Expenses are going down.”

“This is the problem that the CEO has,” he says. “Why is it hard to grow revenue. All your investors want you to grow earnings and deliver growth. They have little patience for any long story about why it’s so hard.”

“They don’t care about any issues you may have. Grow earnings, grow cash flow, grow stock price. That’s it.”

Growing in a slow market

As a result of that the easiest way to grow earnings is to grow revenues but when global GDP and markets are flat, the only way to grow is to gain market share, Hurd says. “We have to know the customer better, we have to do a better job of marketing and we have to do a better job of aligning our goods and services to what our customers want. We have to improve our products and processes.”

That imperative for companies to cut their operating costs has had a brutal effect on enterprise IT budgets, “over the past five years, the growth in enterprise IT has been flat.” Hurd says, “the growth in spending has been basically zero.”

Customers drive the market

Like many things in the tech industry, the sector’s growth focus has shifted to consumers, “consumer spending on IT has almost quadrupled in the past decade. So while companies are sort of flat, consumers have been spending like crazy.” Hurd observes, “consumers are more sophisticated, more capable, more knowledgeable and expect better services than ever before.”

“Your customer experience is not being defined by your competitors but by technology fuelled consumers. For instance, AirBnB may be defining customer experience for the hospitality industry.”

“People are using a lot of social technologies in their personal lives,” “we expect ease of use, simplicity, clean interfaces are now things we expect in the enterprise side.”

Crimping innovation

In the enterprise IT sector, Hurd believes the flat market means many companies catering to the corporate market are skimping on Research and Development which in turn is crimping innovation, a factor compounded by cloud providers taking an increasingly larger share of the market.

This is underscored by cloud leader Amazon Web Services spending over ten billion dollars a year on R&D. Hurd’s boast that Oracle is spending half of that shows how the legacy players are struggling.

What stands out in Hurd’s keynote is how legacy providers see cloud computing as their salvation. However Amazon’s dominance in that space is a major obstacle for them.

For consumers, big and small, the shift to the cloud has been a good thing in shaking up the existing industry and making new technologies more accessible to smaller customers. For existing businesses like Oracle, there’s a challenge in adapting to a lower margin, commoditized and quickly changing market.

A bigger question though facing all large corporations, not just software companies, is this new normal of low economic growth. Succeeding in that environment is going require a completely different management and investor mind set to that of the last seventy years.

Sep 162016
 

Ahead of next week’s Oracle Open World, which I’m attending, the software giant has announced its quarterly results which illustrate how software has shifted to the cloud.

The company’s cloud revenues jumped 77% on the previous year which is impressive but represents less than a tenth of the company’s sales.

What would concern Oracle’s shareholders is the stagnation of sales in their main product lines – on premise software makes up 69% of the firm’s revenue but it didn’t grow for the quarter and new license sales dropped eleven percent, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

Oracle’s big announcement in the last quarter though was the acquisition of cloud ERP provider Netsuite for $9.3 billion.

That acquisition will test how Oracle pivots into the cloud, it may well be the Netsuite management teach the parent company some tricks.