Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's your secret sauce?

Today you too can build a 135 terrabyte server for around $7,500.00 in parts.  The cost to you for the plans and equipment list?  Absolutely nothing.

Click right here and you can download the parts list and wiring diagrams at absolutely no cost from BackBlaze.

Why would BackBlaze do this?  They're in the business of selling cloud-based storage and they do it at extremely affordable prices (think $50 per year for unlimited cloud storage); their hardware is a big part of what allows them to keep their prices so low ... right?

Not really.  It turns out, as BackBlaze shows in their hardware plans, that outside of the custom enclosure, everything else inside one of their storage pods is commodity hardware.  Anyone with enough time could probably build one of their storage pods, so they have no problem giving away the hardware specifications and plans because that's not the special sauce at BackBlaze.

By giving away the hardware BackBlaze is very unlikely to lose any customers -- who is going to stop using their service to go build one of these themselves?  In fact, due to the considerable press that they are receiving from this move (and it's the second time they've done it), they are probably going to gain customers that may have never heard of them.  BackBlaze is also unlikely to make its competitors better or create new competitors -- again, the hardware is not the secret sauce.

What BackBlaze does, their secret sauce, is how they manage all of this hardware and put it together in a datacenter: the datacenter itself, the proprietary software that monitors all of the pods and distributes the inbound and stored data, the people that spend their time replacing failed drives.  How they create the software that works on your computer to efficiently transfer all of your date to their servers without bogging down your computer's operation.

What could you give away for free and not worry about your competitors having?  (I'm not saying you have to, but going through the exercise may lead you to what actually differentiates you)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

My thoughts on BlackBerry

Since everyone seems to be asking me:
  • They're going through tough times and they might not be able to recover.
  • Their tablet is not that cool and they will likely pull the plug on it.
  • They are rushing products and operating systems to market half-baked and not fully tested, which is making people abandon the platform.  Unfortunately, one of the biggest complaints on the other side is that they don't have enough cool features in new software fast enough, so it's a bit of catch 22 for them.
  • They have a massive installed base in corporations, including corporations that have sunk serious dollars into their own BlackBerry enterprise servers.
  • They have a pretty large installed base of casual users and the whole BBM thing is a big deal; it may become less of a big deal when Apple releases iMessage, but iMessage isn't going to work on the BlackBerry hardware that's already out there, so there would need to be an even larger platform defection.
  • I am still much more productive sending e-mail on my BlackBerry device than I am on my iPhone -- I can type faster and with more accuracy.
  • BlackBerrys still have user-replaceable batteries and iPhones do not.
Nothing that I said above hasn't been said by someone else.

Here's what I really think: RIM needs to turn their business model into that of a software provider.  If they can figure out how to get their software running on Android and make all the IT geeks that run BES servers happy about the remote control, they can likely save that business segment and, maybe, save their business.  Additionally, they should focus on improving the phones that they are very successful with: the high-end Bold and the Curve, which, in my opinion, are the most pervasive BlackBerry devices that I see people use; assuming that they can sort out the software side, let the Android device manufacturers win the touchscreen hardware war.  Instead of focusing on setting the hardware curve or playing catch-up, just jam cooler features (higher megapixel cameras, NFC chips, larger on-board storage, etc.) into similar form factors that get incremental changes (different surfaces, different finishes, smaller and lighter cases) with each revision.

(obviously it would be cool and huge for them if they could figure out iOS integration as well)

Just my $0.02, but I wouldn't be buying the stock until they figure out a viable strategy.

PS -- chances are better than they have ever been that RIM will get acquired, but even if that happens, you have to question the end strategy and justification and, in the case of an acquisition, I would still argue that it's an enterprise software play.