Business: March 2009 Archives

the necessity of Kool-aid

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I'm not the type to drink Kool-aid, so in running my business, I've not made any Kool-aid. I try to remain sober and keep in mind my advantages (and my competitor's advantages) when asked, I give an honest overview. This sometimes costs me deals, sometimes it costs me employees, but overall I think maintaining that humility is a win.

Like most technical people, I have a 'there is nothing new under the sun' attitude- almost everything is an incremental improvement over something else (certainly almost all businesses are)

Now, a lot of time that incremental improvement makes a big difference- it makes a lot of sense to focus on improving your incremental improvement as much as possible, and really, it makes sense to focus on marketing that incremental improvement, as that is the value you are providing over your competitors.

But many companies seem to want to put themselves forward as some kind of revolution... sometimes they ignore the good parts of how things have always been done and end up with a product that is better in some ways, but that fails in some of the basic ways that they would not have failed in had they stuck with 'what exists now plus our incremental improvement' rather than trying to re-invent wheels.

Other companies do the (I think rational) 'take what is common now, add some incremental improvements, sell' but then market it as if it was something completely new.

I give the example here of the so-called "cloud computing" providers- (You probably shouldn't call prgmr.com a cloud computing provider, not until we slightly improve our provisioning system, at least. I've been looking at eucalyptus as the way forward, as I think an API that is compatible with several providers is essential to providing a product that is actually useful to consumers.)

Cloud computing is [virtual] dedicated servers, with the incremental improvement of a nice provisioning system. Now, that's a real and very useful incremental improvement, (and it does enable some fundamental changes in how data center space is thought about and managed) but you can take what you are doing on your current [virtual] dedicated servers and put it on a server at a 'cloud computing' provider with no other changes. Assuming the cloud computing provider gives you static IP addresses (most do, frontend servers without a stable set of IPs is generally considered a Bad Idea)

(this is why I see ec2 as a competitor even though they are a 'cloud' and I am not. I realize they don't know I exist, yet. But that's ok. I was here first, but nobody calls me a serious business guy. It's been over five years since I've worn a tie.)

Now, this incremental improvement of good provisioning is something that you have been able to implement on your own with your own hardware for a long time now. look at tools like cobbler and koan. (or really, if you need to clone your servers, systemimager.) Functionally about the same thing, but you needed access to your own boot server infrastructure. The new part is that there is now an easy way to do this with a small number of servers, and the cloud computing providers maintain the provisioning system for you (rather than you maintaining your own boot sytem, using systemimager or whatever other tools you like.)

but setting up a good provisioning system used to require a good bit of server and sysadmin infrastructure. the cloud computing providers have removed most of that barrier. (you still need SysAdmin resources on the application level to scale- taking a webapp from running on one server to running on two servers requires application level thought. Depending on the application, it goes from trivial to very hard. But that is a problem that must be solved at the application level.)

Charity and advertising

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Running a business, of course, I need advertising. Now, personally I think that charity and advertising can go hand in hand. Doing something good often gets you press in ways that are more valuable than the kind of press you can directly buy. A linux user group saying that they host on my server is probably worth quite a lot of those pay-per-click search ads. It is cheaper for me, usually, and it supports causes I like. I like Open-Source software, and I recognise that it does need some support from commercial entities, and I also recognise that commercial entities like prgmr.com would not exist without open-source software. (for that matter, I wouldn't be able to do my dayjob without open-source software. Open-source is what allows me to be drastically more productive (and thus get paid more) than a windows reboot monkey.)

If you are running a computer or open-source related project that is generally not profit-seeking (you don't need to officially be non-profit... I'm writing off the cost of hosting you as an advertising expense, rather than writing off the retail value of the package as a charitable donation. Smaller writeoff for me, but much easier to defend.) email lsc@prgmr.com, and maybe we can reach an agreement. At this moment, I'm not in a position to hand out free images that consume more than 10Mbps on the 95th percentile, but I hope to change that soon.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Business category from March 2009.

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