Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another non-Google online ad firm dies out

The latest Silicon Valley gossip has Jellycloud, an online ad placement company, shutting its doors this last week.  The firm started as Gator, the pesky psuedo-malware outfit we all knew and loved a couple years back.  

While given that information, few will likely mourn its passing, the more important facet of this is that Jellycloud's failure is yet another in a string of VC-funded online ad companies going out of business.  In this case, they chewed through over $50 million in funding before the collapse.  Can anyone but Google make money in this market?  Even among the big players, Yahoo relies on a partnership with Google for a great deal of ad business, and it's quite well-known how Microsoft's online division's bottom line looks.

Until next time!

Michael O'Brien is a partner at Praece Strategic Technology Consulting, helping small and medium businesses align technology plans with business goals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Virtualization for the Small Business, Part III

My last two posts in this series presented an introduction to server virtualization and the bottom-line benefits it can provide for small businesses.  This short post will wrap up the series by focusing on a few popular low-cost server virtualization systems for the small business.

VMWare Virtual Server - $Free
While VMWare just made their step-up system, ESXi, available free of charge, Virtual Server is more appropriate for the small business with its ability to run on just about any hardware.  This system is my top pick for creating virtual environments for customers, as the newest release candidate provides a fantastic web interface for managing virtual machines from any location.  It's also quite fast and can be built on a very low-overhead linux system.  All in all, it's a very mature, fairly speedy system with fantastic value and flexibility.

XenExpress - $Free
This is an extremely popular program from the Xen division at Citrix.  Based off the open source Xen system, XenExpress provides a robust bare-metal infrastructure, meaning it does not require a host operating system to work.  This reduces overhead, but means that the hardware compatibility is not quite as strong as VMWare Server, resulting in higher server hardware costs.  Overall, XenExpress is a solid product with fantastic speed and features, but not quite as easy to use or flexible as VMWare Server.  Also, while VMWare server doesn't have a limit on how many virtual machines can reside on a physical machine, the free version of XenExpress limits you to four.  That's been a major roadblock in my deploying this with any customers.

Microsoft HyperV - $Free with Server 2008 or standalone
The jury's out on this one, as it has been very recently released.  Suffice to say it's got a small army of developers behind it, but it remains to be seen if it can avoid the bloat and interoperability problems we've seen with many of Microsoft's IT products.

Michael O'Brien is a partner at Praece Strategic Technology Consulting, helping small and medium businesses align technology plans with business goals.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tacoma Technology Companies

For my first post I want present a list of Tacoma Tech. companies. I'm always on the lookout for a local tech. job and I stumbled upon a great list of Tacoma Tech. companies. This list comes from http://www.thriceallamerican.com/tacoma_tech_companies, and I want to share it with everyone (yes, I got their ok to do this). Who says all the tech. jobs are in Seattle or the Eastside? With the gas prices so high and such a commuting nightmare, Tacoma is definitely a great place to work! Let me know of other local companies that should be added to this list.

Software Houses: Companies with dedicated programming units
Ambient ID, Inc.: RFID solutions for healthcare and food safety industries.
AppTech, Inc.: IT consulting and design.
Artifex: Custom software for a variety of business applications, as well as web and graphic design.
Ascentry Technologies: Wireless communications for Homeland Security applications. (Purchased by TechAlt Inc. of Seattle in Jan. 06. I have been unable to determine whether or not they still have operations in Tacoma.)
Avue Technologies: Software solutions for human resources department.
Cascadia Software: Training and integration of Sybase database systems, and development of DBA tools.
IDmicro: RFID tracking devices and associated software.
IdentityMine: Prototyping, proof of concept, and marketing demonstration services for emerging technologies.
Insynq: Develops and offers applications for remote management, business applications, and consulting.
Intel (Dupont): The world’s #1 chip maker, where I used to work—not a software company, but enough programmers for “critical mass”.
InVivo Health Partners: Hardware and software for information management in healthcare.
Konnects: Online social networking for the business and professional worlds.
Limelight Healthcare: Develops IT software for the healthcare industry.
LION Mortgage Technology Solutions (Gig Harbor): Software solutions for mortgage lenders.
NewTec (Fort Lewis): Defense contracting firm.
Nu Element: Fuel cell and associated technology.
Prepared Response: Software for emergency first-responders. Headquarters are in Seattle, but Tacoma has a large portion of the employees.
Sagem Morpho: U.S. headquarters of a European-owned biometric software systems vendor.
Topia Technology: Mobile object technology for a variety of applications, including integration of disparate systems, distributed computing, and in situ application evolution. Creator of Skoot large file transfer service.
Vadium Technology: Develops secure encryption solutions for enterprise, government, and military applications.
Web Development: Web dev firms get a category of their own, to distinguish them from software companies
Business Internet Services: Development of custom web sites and associated back-end applications.
Data-Imagery: Content management, CRM and e-commerce web development.
Gridwork Design: Web design for publications and non-profits.
HighPoint Solutions: Integrated strategy, branding, marketing company, including some web development.
SiteCrafting: Web design and web application development.
Information Technology: IT service providers
Internet Identity: Services to combat phishing and other forms of online fraud.
IS Techs (Puyallup): IT and help desk consulting services.
ITC (Midland): Computer and network design, procurement and support, web hosting and design, online databases, Flash/Actionscript, ASP, php development, kiosks, Drupal and Plone, and general problem solving.
Optic Fusion: Colocation and hosting.
Graphic Design: Tech-related design firms
Ainsworth Studio: Graphic and website design.
Rusty George Creative: Branding, graphic design, digital/interactive design and development.

Other Companies with Software Jobs: A few larger local companies that occasionally hire software engineers
City of Tacoma: Not a company, but didn’t want to make a new category…
Columbia Bank: No comment necessary.
DaVita: Kidney dialysis equipment.
Russell Investment Company: Tacoma’s most prominent local company (and Fortune’s 63rd top place to work for 2006).
Weyerhaeuser (Federal Way): Raper of the ecosystem, er, I mean responsible forest
management company…

Customer Service and other Support: Technology companies with support (non-techie) operations in Tacoma
Expedia.com: Customer service call center near the UWT.
Netflix: Distribution center near the mall.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Learn the Game

So all you need is money?

Here's another opportunity for entrepreneurs to get that cash that will allow them to realize their dream.

An Angel Financing Conference is aimed helping early stage companies understand the angel financing marketplace. And, they are also interested in individuals contemplating investing in these companies.

Expert panels are online to give entrepreneurs tips on how to successfully raise angel investment and others are committed for panels on guiding angel investors through the process of vetting start-up companies seeking capital are offered (see enclosed agenda).

If you are interested in registering, go here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tacoma: Best Performer in WA

Tacoma has received an exceptional ranking, along with similar high scores by Olympia and Seattle, in the recent Best-Performing Cities 2008.

Conducted by the Milken Institute and Greenstreet Real Estate Partners, Tacoma ranked 8th nationally (Olympia 9th, Seattle 17th). So why?

The Puget Sound Business Journal cited Tacoma's highest score in the category of growth in its high-tech sector. The report specifically states:

Data processing, hosting, and related services enjoyed average annual job growth of 17.2 percent over the past five years.

Olympia's growth has placed it up into the larger metros whereas in previous years it had been a stellar performer among smaller cities. The report cites Olympia for its Information Services as the fastest growing job sector, at 38% over five years (probably related to growth in state government) and Seattle was noted for adding 6,200 jobs in R&D services. For those who want to know, Spokane came in at a most respectable 35.

The study brags that its rankings are based on outcomes (i.e., jobs) rather than cost-based criteria (i.e., cost-of-living).

Best of the Best Coming to Tacoma

Larry Kopp, co-founder of the TacomaAngel Network reports on his recent sighting about Bill Payne, one of the principal presenters in TAN's upcoming Deal Doing Seminar.

Larry says, "Bill Payne, the moderator for TAN’s Business Development and Deal Doing Seminar was quoted this week in an article in the New York Times…Giving Businesses their Wings.

'….Many states offer tax incentives for investing in small businesses in their own state ..[of up to 100% over 5 years] For a list, go to angelcapitalassociation.org, click on Resources and look for state policy issues. [Washington State is NOT one of those states].

Indeed, supporting local economic development is one reason that angels often cite for their interest in this type of investing. “When you are a venture capitalist, and you are investing other people’s money, return on investment had better be your only motivation,” said Bill Payne, a founding member of angel investor groups in Montana and Nevada. “But angel investors are often motivated by other considerations, such as mentoring young entrepreneurs and giving back to the community.'

Payne has been an angel investor since the early 1980s, when he sold his company, Solid State Dielectrics, to DuPont. His interest in fostering local economic development led him to start the Frontier Angel Fund three years ago in Kalispell, Mont. The fund’s 33 members each put in $50,000, and they vote on each proposed investment.

Many of the 300 or so angel investor groups in the United States function almost like social clubs. If enough members decide to invest in a particular company, they often form a limited liability corporation and appoint one member to become the principal contact with the entrepreneur. If only a few members are interested in a deal, they are free to invest on their own."

Thanks Larry, for catching this info.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Google Chrome, second impressions

I've now had my hot little hands on the Google Chrome browser for almost a week and have further data to report back on the browser. 

The EULA Boondoggle

As reported in various places, and re-reported here, when the browser was released, Section 11 of Google Chrome's EULA had some very strange language which seemed to give Google
a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
After talking to some of my more knowledgeable Copyright colleagues about the topic, they assured me that there was no way Google could enforce this clause. "Copyright just doesn't change hands this way" was the way one friend put it. 

Still, this strange EULA (and the fact that it's a Beta) also gave many corporations pause leading to more than a few corporate bans of downloading and installing the product. After all, who wants their employees downloading a Beta browser that already has proof-of-concept security flaws, AND that has an odious EULA?  Uhh, none?

At this point Google started to feel the heat and they responded by, well, by changing the EULA. It now simply states
11. Content license from you
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
Google responded, end of story. Now, if we wait long enough they might solve the security problems and take it out of Beta, of course, considering that Gmail is still in beta, I am doubtful.

Accessibility Problems

A new, serious, flaw has been discovered: the beta release of Chrome is not an accessible browser and from a UW Tacoma Library point of view this is a deal breaker. Our technologies must, at the very least, be able to function with screen reading software like JAWS and preliminary reports show that it isn't. This is yet another thing that Google will need to work on if they are going to garner wide-spread adoption of this software.

What's even more worrying is that they knew about the problems and their response was to simply release a statement about how the APIs were designed to be compatible with WAI-ARIA and that we should expect more compatibility in future releases.

This is not to say that I was going to rush out and install the browser here, it is still in beta test. More just that it's another thing for Gooogle to impress me with their response time, much like they did with the EULA.

Cool Features

It seems like I'm discovering a new cool feature every day. Yesterday, I discovered that when you do a "Find" (Ctrl + F) there are several improvements over Firefox and IE. First, there's no popup window and the find function doesn't take up a strip at the bottom of the browser. It's appears as a small drop-down in the upper right corner of the screen -- yet another way that Chrome user interface is inobtrusive. Second, the search feature automatically highlights search terms in the browser window. And finally, in a function with limited application, it marks the scroll bar with a strip of yellow to show where on the page the hits are showing up.  i use this last feature to scroll through large pages that are ordered chronologically and gather data on when a term was popular. I'm sure someone can come up with a better use of this!

There's also the incognito mode, which I know is being ridiculed as "porn mode" but honestly, I think it's a great idea. First, my partner and I share a computer at home. Whenever she logs on to read her gmail, I'll inevitably come along later and use the computer and her gmail will still be logged on. Or her Yahoo account, or any of a thousand things she's done on the computer that day will leave traces behind. Normally, this isn't a problem but there have been times when she was looking at a gift for me on Ebay and I ruined it simply by opening the browser. Incognito mode solves that problem.

Also, as an adult with small kids, I might look at content that isn't appropriate for my daughters (Fark.com, for example, far from a pr0n site, but not exactly something I want a 10 year old looking at) and incognito mode is great to keep those tracks clean.

And from a public workstation standpoint, as a user and as an administrator, I'm always in favor of browsers that automatically clean their tracks (Firefox, etc), but I'd be even more in favor of one that doesn't leave any in the first place (Chrome Incognito). Here in the library, students sometimes have to use a credit card to put money on their Husky account (for printing and food and stuff) which they have to do through a browser window. Regardless of how secure the site is, I'm just more comfortable doing something like that in a browser that doesn't leave any tracks and I would want to make incognito mode the default mode for all student browsers in the library, just as a precaution.

I'd just like to see a couple of features added to this mode: parental locks to keep kids from browsing Incognito if desired, and the ability to make Incognito the default mode.


It's way to early to jump to any conclusions about Chrome. At the very least, there's a lot of work that Google need to do if they want to bring it up to the industry standard and see widespread adoption. If that's not their goal, and instead they just wanted to show the world something neat -- mission accomplished. Let's follow it up with something more business friendly, please?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google Chrome, first impressions


Not the new browser (I'm using it right now, it's good enough) I mean "wow" in regards to the response to the browser.  Deafening and devastatingly quick, that's how I'd categorize the response so far.  Everyone from the giants at the New York Times (my co worker in the Library pointed this article out to me) to the smallest blogger have gotten their hands on the new browser and put it though some kind of paces.  I mean, there's so much out there that it's hard to really hard to say something that you might not have already seen somewhere else, but I'll try anyway.

Of course, being the impulsive geek that I am, I installed the browser before I read the comic as I'm sure many of you did as well.  But if you have 1/2 an hour, take a look at the link above, it's well worth the time.  What the comic does is brilliantly and succinctly explain that the egg-heads at Google are not just doing another browser re-write, but more like a browser revolution. That comic should be mandatory reading for all aspiring techies and old heads like me too.

One example of this "revolution" is the fact that each tab you open will be its own process on your computer.  Why should you care?  Well, this has several benefits; first, in Firefox (and IE) when old tabs die, they can sometimes hold on to bits of memory.  This leads to bloated processes that are holding on to memory and ultimately a slower browsing experience.  Second, since each tab is its own process, cleanup of that old memory is much faster, leading to more efficiency over all.  And then there's the big benefit; sandboxing.  Since each tab is it's own process Chrome can leverage the sandboxing technology they bought from Green Border Technologies to, basically, prevent applications running in one instance to use (or infect) other resources.  Thus, sandboxing makes your browser experience safer. Which is huge.

Currently to get a similar level of security I run Firefox with NoScript and Ad Blocker Plus but it's important to note that No Script is not sandboxing the scripts but just blocking all scripts from running and allowing me to choose which scripts I want to run and when.  Typically, I have to allow sites to run some scripts -- for an example try to go to Mazda.com with Javascript turned off. Since I have to allow a site to run at least the root scripts that means that I'm vulnerable to those scripts if they get tainted somehow.  In the sandboxed environment I should never be vulnerable, since the script is (theoretically) only allowed to act within the confines of the sandbox.  Thus, Google Chrome should be the safest browser yet.

This is all to say that ultimately, Google Chrome should be faster and safer.  We'll have to see, it's an open source, extensible, complex program, there are bound to be faults that can be exploited. And as for increased speed, regardless of benchmark tests which prove the Java script engine is faster than most I haven't seen any improvement in my browsing experience yet.  Of course... we're talking milliseconds here so I doubt that anyone will really notice the difference between say Firefox and Chrome.

There were also enterprise problems with Chrome that I discovered.  The first, and biggest, is that for right now each user on every machine has to load the browser personally.  This has to do with the fact that Chrome is stored in the user's profile in Windows and there's no option for a global install.  I'm sure they will fix this problem, because a browser that's not available for multiple users on a single machine is simply useless to me.

The second problem is just now coming to light and writers like Art Wittman (thanks Gary for the link) and others are pointing it out; the EULA gives Google a perpetual license to use your data how they see fit.  Sort of like what they do with search and gmail, they keep everything you have ever done on the Internet (though their services) and can use it for whatever they want. Which generally means "targeted advertising."  But this license gives them explicit permissions to, say, take a photograph of Grandma Mel that you upload to Flickr (which you have explicitly retained the rights to) and use it in any way that they see fit.  They could plaster your photo of Grandma all over town with some less than flattering caption if they want and according to the EULA there's nothing you can do.  It's a patently laughable idea and if the products weren't so darn cool I think fewer people would be excited to use them based solely on that license. 

So, I guess that my first impression is that it's a Google product.  It's really cool, very innovative, and darn near the perfect tool and to use it, you just have to give them rights to all data you ever transmit or receive through it.

Ready to make that Faustian bargain?  Then try it out for yourself.

Virtualization for the Small Business, Part II: Benefits

In my last post, I provided a basic introduction to server virtualization, and suggested that it could have an impressive impact on the bottom line for small businesses. As was also alluded to in that piece, this post will cover the benefits which drive that bottom-line impact.

Let's have a quick review. Server virtualization allows multiple logical servers to exist on one powerful physical server. This allows much more efficient use of resources, as while multiple servers are often used to avoid compatibility issues or to host services on different operating systems, they rarely fully use physical server resources. Virtualization allows each server to act as if it were on a separate physical server, while being contained in a powerful virtualization server that can provide resources to each logical server as needed.

The benefits of this are:

  • Cost savings
  • Flexibility
  • Fast, simple disaster recovery

Let’s go over these in a bit more detail...

Cost Savings

Typically, "server class" hardware is quite expensive to acquire. As I said before, that hardware is rarely fully used by the services running on top of it. Server virtualization allows multiple servers, with their own operating system and services, to share powerful "server class" hardware. Aside from simple hardware costs, virtualization saves a great deal of power and maintenance time costs. Server power supplies can easily range into the 500-1000 watt territory, so reducing that load can provide substantial energy savings. Additionally, while each logical server will still require software and OS administration, you only have to maintain hardware on your virtualization server.


As a consultant that advises small and medium size companies on new technologies that can improve their business, the flexibility that virtualization brings is a very exciting benefit personally. Want to trial that new collaboration system but don't want to modify a production server? While in a pre-virtualization world this would require purchasing or borrowing a test computer, a business with server virtualization can add a logical server to a virtualization host in seconds, and be testing soon after. This extends to modifications of existing logical servers, as they can be mirrored and test-upgraded before an upgrade is put into production. As I said before, this dynamic is a major boon for my customers, providing quick and inexpensive flexibility for trying new things.

Fast, Simple Disaster Recovery

For many business owners, this is the key benefit to server virtualization. Many of us have been through the nightmare of a server hardware crash. Often, especially in the small business environment, one of the major road blocks to restoring a production environment is the operating systems' dependence on specific hardware drivers. This leads to a complicated restore procedure: Bring the operating system back clean, then restoring data and applications, a lengthy process. In a virtualized environment, each logical server simply sees "standard" hardware that any virtualization server can provide. Thus, in the event of a virtualization server hardware malfunction, the logical servers can be moved to a new virtualization server without any special restore process. The result: A massive reduction in downtime.

I hope that's a useful breakdown of some of the primary benefits server virtualization can bring a small business. My next post, the final one of this series, will go over a few of the most popular server virtualization platforms which meet the budgetary and operational needs of the small business.

Until next time!

Michael O'Brien is a partner at Praece Strategic Technology Consulting, helping small and medium businesses align technology plans with business goals.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Exporting Global Communications

The Department of Commerce's (U.S. Commercial Service) Global Information and Communications Technology Team will be meeting in the Seattle area the week of September 15th.

During their stay, the Team will be hosting a half day event, The Future of Global Communications - Opportunities and Challenges, on Wednesday, September 17th between 7:45am - 12:30pm.

Featured speakers will be from Qualcomm, the Department of Commerce's Office of Technology and E-Commerce, and seven sector specialists from Department of Commerce offices (Commercial Section, U.S. Embassy or Consulate) from Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Korea, Greece, Vietnam, and Singapore.

The attendees will be given a vision of the future along with information related to export sales opportunities. More information about the event, and to register, can be obtained using this link.

Chrome re-released

One of our readers sent in a note saying that Google Chrome has, in fact been released. So... I googled it (!) and sure enough, there it is in the link above. According to Jack Flack over at Wired, the bizarre launch was a genuine mistake on the part of Google Chrome's developers; they hit the send button too soon on the web comic that was meant to introduce the new browser.

Oh well, it's out now. Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to get on with the testing.

Google goes Chrome

You have, no doubt heard the news by now that Google has released/will release a new browser called "Chrome." Chrome represents the fourth (or more) frontal assault on the castle walls of Microsoft (Gmail, calendars, and Google docs are meant to replace Outlook and Office) and given the popularity and usability of their other software, I can say I took the news with great interest.

For one, I was very excited by this news because we here at the UW Tacoma Library are always looking for improvements to our user's browsing experience. Especially when it comes to the safety of people's personal information which Chrome was expected to deliver. For another, I just wanted to play around with some new tech and Google's particular way of tying information gathering technologies together makes the prospect extra exciting.

When I came in to work today, I was hoping to get a copy of the browser to start testing but it turns out that Google did not really want to release it into the wild just yet. So, they have now completely scrubbed their search cache and moved the browser download link. Alas, no Chrome for me to test but rest assured, when Chrome hits the streets I'll be there to put it through its paces. Which means that you too will get an early look at Chrome.

Until then, I guess we'll all have to wait.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Wi-Fi Laid to Rest

The announcement of the Washington State Department of Transportation that the wi-fi service at rest stops will be stopped marks the end of a two-year experiment.

More than that it marks either the end of a failed experiment or the recognition of a more outstanding killer app than the experimenters' business model. Depends on your perspective.

The tendency is to lament the end of another hi-tech service. But I look at the "glass-half-full" perspective and see a greater adoption of technology and an increased capability of technology offering the user a better option. This is not to blame any of the wi-fi partners: WSDOT, Parsons Transportation or Road Connection, Inc. In the technology field, just as in other industries if not so prevalently, failure often leads to the greater success.

Economic developers celebrate the region's status as a place of many business starts. And, they lament the region's status as a place of higher business failures. But the two are linked. The marketplace will decide the winner if we let it. This is not to excuse the market manipulation that seeks to maintain all businesses regardless of their economic worth. And, it is not an excuse for the market interference from either monopolistic practices or regulatory constraints that stifle economic progress.

The Challenge for a marketplace is that those able to influence it keep it open, with an ease of entry that enables serial entrepreneurs.