The AWS/VMWare partnership

Disclosures: My employer is an AWS partner. This post is solely my personal opinion and does not represent the opinion of my employer or AWS. I have no knowledge of this partnership beyond what has been publicly announced. I also own a small number of shares of Amazon stock.

Last week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and VMWare announced a partnership that would make AWS the preferred cloud solution for VMWare. AWS will provide a separate set of hardware running VMWare’s software managed by VMWare staff. Customers can then provision a VMWare environment from that pool that looks the same as an internal data center.

As others have pointed out, this is essentially a colocation service that just happens to be run by Amazon. I share that view of it, but I don’t take the view that AWS blinked. It’s true that AWS has eschewed hybrid cloud in favor of pure cloud offerings, and they’ve done quite well with that strategy.

I don’t think the market particularly cares about purity, nor do I think the message will get muddled. Here’s how I see this deal: VMWare sees people moving stuff to the cloud and they know that the more that trend continues, the smaller their market becomes. Meanwhile AWS is printing money but is aware of the opportunity to print more. Microsoft Azure, despite having an easy answer for hybrid, doesn’t seem to be a real threat to AWS at the moment.

But I don’t think AWS leadership is stupid or complacent, and this deal represents a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for them. With this partnership, AWS now has an entry into organizations that have previously been cloud-averse. Organizations can dip their toes into “cloud” without having to re-tool (although this is not the best long-term strategy, as @cloud_opinion points out). As the organization becomes comfortable with the version of the cloud they’re using, it becomes easier for AWS sales reps to talk them into moving various parts to AWS proper.

Now I don’t mean to imply that AWS is a sheep in wolf’s clothing here. This deal seems mutually beneficial. VMWare is going to face a shrinking market over time. With this deal, they at least get to buy themselves some time. For AWS, it’s more of a long game, and they can put as much or as little into this partnership as they want. For both companies, it’s a good argument to prevent customers from switching to Microsoft’s offerings.

What will be most interesting is to see if Google Cloud, the other major infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider will respond. Google’s strategy, up until about a year ago, has seemed to be “we’re Google, of course people will use us”. That has worked fairly well for startups, but it has very little traction in the enterprise. Google can continue to be more technically-focused, but that will hinder their ability to get into major corporations (especially those outside of the tech industry).

I don’t see that there’s a natural fit at this point (though I also wouldn’t have expected AWS and VMWare to pair up, so what do I know?). One interesting option would be for Google to buy Red Hat (disclosure: I also own a few shares of Red Hat) and make Open Shift its hybrid solution. I don’t see that happening, though, as it doesn’t seem like the right move for either company.

The VMWare-on-AWS offering will not be generally available until sometime next year, so we have a little bit of time before we can see how it plays out.


Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 is no more. After a number of unplanned combustions, including a few post-recall devices, Samsung has given up on it entirely. This is a wise move. Better to fix the problem for the next version and pretend this never happened. Other than the 1/3 cut to revenue that they predict. That’ll probably be a reminder for a while.

I’m really interested to see how Samsung’s brand recovers from this. On the one hand, they’re clearly the leader in high-end Android devices (full disclosure: my current phone is a Galaxy Note 4 and I really like it). They seem to be the only mainstream manufacturer that can compete with Apple. On the other hand, exploding phones are pretty unprecedented. To my knowledge, the Galaxy Note 7 is the only phone to ever be specifically mentioned in airline safety briefs.

Samsung as a whole will be okay, unless it turns out the board and executives were pushing for the Galaxy Note 7 to be mini-bombs. Even the smartphone division will probably recover, though they may have to pull some extra tricks out of the bag to regain consumer trust. I would not be surprised if the Galaxy Note 7 is the last device to carry the “Galaxy Note” name. “Galaxy” may be retired as well, even though the Galaxy S and Galaxy Edge devices have no history of combustion.

I’ve had my phone for less than a year, so barring an accident, I won’t be replacing it for another 18-24 months or more. The Galaxy Note line has a lot of features I like, and I figured whenever it was time to replace my phone, I’d go with the current of that line. Depending on what Samsung does over the next year, I may have to reconsider.

As I sat down at my desk Monday morning, I found myself being very thankful I don’t work for Samsung right now. I can market my company’s software because I know it does awesome things. Even though it has some bugs, as all software does, they’re not going to burn anyone’s house down. I can’t imagine trying to promote products when your company is associated with exploding phones in the public’s mind.

Hurricanes doing laps

As I write this Thursday night, Hurricane Matthew is approaching the east coast of Florida. By the time this post goes live, Matthew will have just made landfall (or made its closet approach to the Florida coast). Hundreds have been killed in Haiti, according to officials there, and I haven’t heard of any updates from Cuba or the Bahamas, both of which were hit fairly hard.

But even as the immediate concerns for Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas are the primary focus, there’s another though in the mind of meteorologists: a second round.

National Hurricane Center forecast graphic for Hurricane Matthew.

National Hurricane Center forecast graphic for Hurricane Matthew.

If the forecast holds and Matthew loops back around to strike the Bahamas and Florida again, it could exacerbate already devastating damage. It is expected to weaken, so the threat will be more for rain than wind, but with existing widespread damage, it could be significant.

Such an event is not unprecedented, but it is rare. Eduoard and Kyle, both in 2002, did loops over open water, but did not strike the same area twice. Hurricane Esther struck Cape Cod twice in 1961.

From what I’ve been able to find, it looks like 1994’s Hurricane Gordon is the closest analog, but it’s not great. Gordon snaked through the Florida Straights and moved onshore near Fort Myers. The second landfall was near the location of the “seafall” on the Atlantic coast. Gordon’s peak strength was a low-end category 1, not the category 3 or 4 that Matthew will be at landfall (or closest approach).

Matthew is already making its place in history as the strongest storm on record to impact the northeastern Florida coast. Next week, we’ll find out how much gets tacked on.

Other writings in September 2016

Where have I been writing when I haven’t been writing here?

Over on, we had another 900k+ page views in the month: the fourth time in site history and the second consecutive month. I contributed two articles:

Meanwhile, I wrote a few things for work, too:

  • Cycle Computing: The cloud startup that just keeps kicking — The Next Platform wrote a very nice article about us, so I wrote a blog post talking about how nice it was. (Hey, I’m in marketing now. It’s what we do).
  • Cloud-Agnostic Glossary — Supporting multiple cloud-service providers means having to translate terms between them. I put together a Rosetta Stone to help translate relevant terms between AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.
  • The question isn’t cost, it’s value — When people talk about the cost of cloud computing, they’re usually looking at the raw dollar value. Since it takes money to make money, that’s not always the right way to look at it. It’s better to consider the value generated.

How not to code your bank website

When is a number not a number? When it is a PIN. Backstory: recently my bank overhauled its website. On the whole, it’s an improvement, but it hasn’t been entirely awesome. One of the changes was that special characters were no longer allowed in the security questions. As it turns out, that’s a good way to lock your users out. Me included.

Helpfully, if you lock yourself out, there’s a self-service unlock feature. You just need your Social Security Number and your PIN (and something else that I don’t recall at the moment). Like any good form, it validates the fields before proceeding. Except holy crap, if your PIN begins with 0, pressing “Submit” means the PIN field becomes three characters and you can never proceed. That’s right: it treats the PIN as an integer when really it should be a string.

I’ve made my share of dumb mistakes, so I try to be pretty forgiving. But bank websites need to be held to a very high standard, and this one clearly misses the mark. Breaking existing functionality and mistreating PINs are bad enough, but the final part that lead me to a polite-but-stern phone call was the fact that special characters are not allowed in the password field. This is 2016 and if your website can’t handle special characters, I have to assume you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong.

In the meantime, I’ve changed my PIN.

Snapchat sunglasses? Why they could be successful

Snapchat’s founder announced on Friday that the company is working on a new, non-software product: sunglasses. Set to go on sale this fall, these sunglasses will include a camera that, when activated, will record 10 seconds of video. Presumably, this video will be posted to Snapchat by way of the user’s phone.

Some of the reaction I’ve seen so far is pretty predictable: “it’s like Google Glass, but less featured!” and “what a great way to announce that you’re a d-bag.” Haters gonna hate, as they say, and I’ll admit that the design is not my style. Still, there are reasons to believe Snapchat’s Spectacles will have the sort of wide consumer adoption that Google Glass never did:

  • Price. At less than one-tenth the price of Google Glass, it’s much more affordable. The price is in line with normal sunglasses, for those of us who don’t buy our sunglasses off the spinny rack at the drug store (full disclosure: I buy my sunglasses off the spinny rack at the drug store).
  • Branding. Oh sure, Google had great brand recognition when Glass launched. But Google’s brand is more about utility. Snapchat is about social. And this lines up well with the respective eyewear, but I think the fact that Snapchat is a social media platform, not a “know everything” platform helps in this case.
  • Obviousness. Both Google Glass and Spectacles are pretty obvious externally, but Spectacles will apparently have an LED light to indicate when it was recording. The fact that Spectacles are sunglasses, not a fixture on general-purpose glasses, means that some of the more obvious privacy concerns (particularly bathrooms) are avoided because people probably won’t be wearing them inside. Plus the limited duration shortens the window for privacy violations. It’s more “I have my camera ready to go” and less “I am recording your every move.”
  • Simplicity. Yes, Spectacles have very limited use, but that also means they’re really easy to use. I haven’t used Glass, so I can’t speak for the ease of use, but it’s hard to beat “push this button.”

None of this is any guarantee that Spectacles will be a success, of course. It will be interesting to see how this affects Snapchat usage. Anecdotally, while I have many friends of a variety of genders, ages, and interests on Snapchat, it’s a small group of mostly twenty-something women that post stories (perhaps there’s greater usage 1:1?). There’s a lot to be said for being able to share your experiences from your own point-of-view, so now we’ll have to see what Evan Spiegel and company can do.

Thoughts on the Wunderlist outage

For most of Wednesday and Thursday, the to-do list management service Wunderlist was unavailable. They haven’t published a public post mortem, though I’ve asked if they plan on it. It has to be a hell of a problem since it resulted in such a long outage.

I think they handled it fairly well, though. Logins were disabled in order to prevent further problems and regular updates were posted to the status page. I’d have preferred that the login page were redirected to the status site. I took a guess at the address and it was right, but I’m not sure all users would have done that. It might have saved their support team some effort.

The status page promised updates in various non-specific time frames. I’d have liked “we’ll provide another update at $specific_time”. When the specified time rolls around, if there’s nothing to say, just say “no new updates, we’ll update again at $blah”. And speaking of times, having the current time on the page is helpful for a global service, since not all users know what your time zone offset is.

On a more personal note, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I managed without my outsourced brain. Wunderlist has become a critical extension of my brain. Fortunately, I didn’t have much pressing due during the outage. But it did make me miss my old days of using TuDu running in a screen session.

Come see me at these conferences in the next few months

I thought I should share some upcoming conference where I will be speaking or in attendance.

  • 9/16 — Indy DevOps Meetup (Indianapolis, IN) — It’s an informal meetup, but I’m speaking about how Cycle Computing does DevOps in cloud HPC
  • 10/1 — HackLafayette Thunder Talks (Lafayette, IN) — I organize this event, so I’ll be there. There are some great talks lined up.
  • 10/26-27 — All Things Open (Raleigh, NC) — I’m presenting the results of my M.S. thesis. This is a really great conference for open source, so if you can make it, you really should.
  • 11/14-18 — Supercomputing (Salt Lake City, UT) — I’ll be working the Cycle Computing booth most of the week.
  • 12/4-9 — LISA (Boston, MA) — The 30th version of the premier sysadmin conference looks to be a good one. I’m co-chairing the Invited Talks track, and we have a pretty awesome schedule put together if I do say so myself.

Twitter doesn’t need read receipts

Not content to leave the potentially user-hostile decisions to Apple, Twitter announced last week that they were adding read receipts (among other features) to direct messages. Annoyingly, this is an opt-out feature. Twitter is once again adding a feature no one wants while ignoring the real problems of abuse on the platform.

I’m no product management expert, but I know there are times when you listen to your users and times when you don’t. “I want this thing” is a good time to not listen to your users. That’s not to say you ignore their wishes entirely, but you can build a product that people like even if they don’t realize that’s what they want at the time. Apple has had a fair amount of success with this approach.

“This thing is a problem” is absolutely something you listen to your users about. Particularly when prominent people end up abandoning the product. While Twitter has given lip service to the harassment problem, it does not appear to have taken any meaningful steps to address it. In fact, the read receipts can bolster harassment.

Before the addition of read receipts, harassers would have to guess if a direct message was read or not. With read receipts on, there’s the immediate satisfaction of knowing your message got through. Even setting harassment aside, read receipts just reinforce the cultural demand for immediacy. I’m fairly connected digitally, but I don’t see a benefit to read receipts. I’ll probably respond to a message quickly, but if I don’t then that’s my decision. I don’t need the platform insinuating that I’m ignoring someone when I’m really just trying to keep my children from tearing the house apart.

Instructions for disabling read receipts came out almost as quickly as the announcement.

Full disclosure: I own a small number of Twitter shares.

Will Apple get tangled up in wireless headphones?

Last week, Apple announced the latest version of their flagship product. The iPhone 7 will begin shipping to customers on Friday and it will be the first to not have a headphone jack. The 3.5mm jack, which has been around since at least 1964, is the standard appearing on computers, music players, phones, some airline seats, and more. The standardized technology means you can use one set of headphones in any of those places without hassle (except for detangling the cords, of course).

But no more, says Apple. They used “courage” to describe this decision, a phrasing that has been soundly mocked. Courage probably isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly bold. This is a big risk that Apple hopes lays the foundation for additional changes that will lead to an inarguably better product. Of course, it might serve to further put the brakes on plateauing sales and a growing sense of meh.

Apple supporters are quick to point out that the doomsayers were wrong about Apple’s decision to remove floppy drives, CD drives, and ethernet ports. This feels like a different scenario, though. In previous cases, there was always something better to use instead (though I still wish the MacBook Pro I use at work had a wired ethernet port). Particularly by the time the optical drive was killed, USB drives and network services met the needs of the average consumer much better.

What’s the better option for the iPhone 7? Purchasing headphones that can only be used with Apple products, that require charging every few hours, that can’t be used while the phone is charging without an additional adapter? Will the technology used by these wireless headphones avoid the lag and disconnection issues that can frustrate Bluetooth device usage? Will noisy spectrum become an issue in crowded spaces like buses and subways? Will people be able to avoid losing them?

Apple’s previous removals proved to be successful enough that other manufacturers followed suit. But that success was possible in part because better standard solutions were available. This time, there’s no standard; it’s Apple or nothing. I don’t see that there’s a compelling enough story for the average consumer to support this as a long-term change. I’m no soothsayer, and I could end up complete wrong. But I bet Samsung really wishes they could have a do-over on the Galaxy Note 7’s battery: it could have been a great chance for them to take some of Apple’s market share.