Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Magic Formula for Success

Reading a recent interview in Fortune magazine with Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, I was reminded of some conversations I’d had with entrepreneurs (successful and otherwise) in the past.

Successful entrepreneurs are often easy to spot – they are passionate about what they do, and focused on their passions. Herb was one of these people – passionate about people. Regardless of the actual industry he chose, Herb would have been very successful due to this passion. Giving your employees the ability to express themselves – whether through decorating their desks or how they make their inflight announcements means that they put that little bit of extra effort into what they do.

In this dark and dreary time of year, many people’s minds turn to new beginnings – looking for a new start in their professional life, or a new diet or exercise routine. So many self-help and dieting books get a massive sales boost in January as New Years’ resolutions are made, with desperate people searching for that magic formula that will make them happy, rich and/or thin.

The bad news for those desperate seekers is that there is no magic formula. If you want to lose weight, get fit quickly and stay like that, there’s no magic pill or exercise regime that will achieve it. You have to be committed, passionate even, to losing weight and getting in shape, and really want to. Hard work and a focus on the task at hand will slowly but surely get you to your goal.

The business world is very similar – companies like Southwest Airlines, Zappos Shoes and Rackspace realised that the magic formula is simply to specialise in something that you’re passionate about. All of these businesses are passionate about their employees, and giving great service.

If you’re setting up as an entrepreneur, then find your passion and specialise in it. Don’t try to be a generalist – recognise your limits, and play to your skill set. If you’re looking to buy some shoes next time you’re in the US, check out Zappos for some amazing service.  For domestic flights within the US, go for Southwest every time.   If you’re looking to buy hosting, speak to someone at Rackspace – they only provide hosting, and with 15 years’ experience providing Fanatical Support, they're a pretty good bet.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Movember 2011 - week 1

2011 marks my sixth year participating in Movember at Rackspace, and I’m proud once again to be growing my Mo for charity. But what is Movember, and just what is a Mo?!

Movember is the month formerly known as November, where gentlemen across the world unite and grow a moustache, or “Mo”, for charity. Known as “Mo Bros”, these fearless men attempt to grow the most ridiculous Mo they can, and ask their friends and family to sponsor their Mo. Movember originated in Australia, and supports national Prostate Cancer charities – in the UK, it’s the Prostate Cancer Charity that benefits from all these funds that are raised.

Prostate cancer is a disease that over 100 men are diagnosed with each day in the UK, and will affect most of us in one way or another throughout our lives. Each year I proudly wear my Mo, I find more and more people who have been affected by this terrible disease. The Prostate Cancer Charity supports and informs men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and also fund vital research into the causes, treatment and prevention of prostate cancer.
To be honest, Movember has to be the easiest way I’ve ever helped a charity – in the past, I've run marathons, climbed mountains and cycled from London to Brighton. With Movember, all I need to do is stop shaving my upper lip for a month. All everyone else needs to do is enjoy the spectacle, have a laugh and sponsor my Mo.

In my six years of Movember, I’ve found that the Movember message has spread further and further afield – each year I meet more people who are joining in. Just yesterday I was in a meeting with one of my suppliers and noticed that his upper lip was looking stubblier than usual – it turned out that he too was growing a Mo. Many sports personalities and teams are now getting involved, and helping spread the word. If we can raise the profile of prostate cancer and other men’s health issues, and help make people aware of how to recognise the early symptoms, then we can help to prevent many needless deaths.

Back to the now though – it’s day three, and already I’m noticing that this years’ growth has more white patches than previous years. Thank goodness for “Just for Men” moustache dye – without it, my ginger and white moustache would be quite shocking to behold! My wife and children haven’t complained yet about the stubble, but when I told my eight year old son I was growing a Mo again, he was horrified! I’m certain that they will all be much more horrified towards the end of the month as my Mo blossoms!

I have been able to recruit 30 other male Rackers this year to unite with me in hairy upper lipness, which includes a large number of colleagues in our Amsterdam office. We also have a number of Rackers in our San Antonio and Austin offices who are joining in, making this a truly global Rackspace effort! Each year in the London office, we have a Mo-Off at the end of the month, where all of our Mo Bros strut their stuff on a catwalk (or Mo Walk, if you will?!) and award one Mo Bro the title of “Rackspace Man of Movember”.
Over the past six years at Rackspace, we have raised almost £20,000 for the Prostate Cancer Charity, just through Movember. I am proud to participate each year, and look forward to continuing to raise more funds with Movember in the years to come.

If you’d like to donate to the Rackspace Movember team, please click here – all donations go straight to the Prostate Cancer Charity.

Monday, 14 February 2011

2011 – The Year Of The Entrepreneur?

Speaking with some entrepreneurs recently, I was struck by how much easier it is to start a company now than when I worked for a start-up 10 years ago. While I’m sure that investors are just as cautious with their funds now as they were then, the rapid rise of on-demand computing and The Cloud over recent years, along with advances in technology has made it easier, cheaper and faster than ever to set up an IT infrastructure.

Even though so many entrepreneurs are using Cloud products now than ever before, many are still uncertain about just what The Cloud is, and what benefits it offers them.

From a very high level, Cloud Computing usually has three main characteristics:
1) It is built on a shared infrastructure (to deliver economies of scale)
2) It is delivered over the Internet (as opposed to installed onto your PC/server)
3) It is billed on a utility basis (i.e. pay as you go computing)

There are many different types of Cloud products available that share these characteristics, with their ranks swelling practically each week as new innovations are released and as existing offerings are rebadged as Cloud. The most well known and widely used type of Cloud product is shared applications, or Software as a Service (SaaS). These applications can be anything from email solutions that are purchased on a per mailbox, per month basis, to CRM packages such as SalesForce. Start-ups can easily register a domain name online and purchase email accounts from a SaaS provider and have a working corporate email system up and running in hours, as opposed to weeks or months with dedicated systems.

Need a website hosted? Simple – upload your code to a shared web hosting platform like Rackspace Cloud Sites and your site can be up and running in minutes. Or if you need something more complex, why not sign up for a Cloud Server? These virtual servers are available in most operating system flavours that you can think of, and are paid for on an hourly basis.

Looking for a suite of productivity or Office applications? Instead of purchasing expensive licenses, sign up online for a virtual desktop product that comes with all the applications you need, or with Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google Docs. A few clicks of the mouse, enter your details and credit card and your IT system is up and running before you know it.

The benefits of Cloud are many – no more expensive capex payouts for servers and software licenses, the flexibility to grow quickly and pay only for what you use, and the lack of fixed term contracts all make Cloud an attractive proposition.

With the rise of the Cloud, it really does look as though 2011 will be the Year of the Entrepreneur as opposed to the Year of the Rabbit!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Storage in the Cloud

Many organisations are now looking to store their data in the Cloud to take advantage of the many benefits that Cloud storage can offer. However, this move is one that should not be taken without serious consideration.

Before moving any data to a Cloud Storage solution, customers should examine their data closely; check their internal security policy, and any compliance or regulatory requirements they may be subject to. Customers should ask themselves the following questions:

* Why move data to the Cloud?
* Are you trying to store data offsite for a specific reason – e.g. as a backup, for DR purposes, to allow remote access, to enable easy scaling of data?
* What is contained within the data – is it confidential information? Is it subject to regulations or compliance?
* How critical is this data – if it was irrevocably lost or compromised, would this affect your business?
* What data protection regulations are your data subject to?
* Are you legally able to store this data outside of the country your business is based in?
* Who do you want to access the data?
* How do you want to access this data?
* How securely do you need to store this data?
* Are you willing/able to encrypt this data?
* How will you move your data to the Cloud?

Cloud Storage has many advantages; not least of all is the utility pricing and on-demand scalability. Being able to store gigabytes of data for pennies and without ever having to worry about upgrading disks to cope with growing data is a huge draw. However, not all Cloud Storage solutions are created equal, so not all will be suited to every customer. Indeed, some customers may not be able to find a valid use for Cloud Storage within their organisation if they are subject to strict data protection regulations or compliance standards.

If the data being transferred the Cloud is simply a backup of your data, then software that transfers your data using AES-256 encryption and enables you to easily share your data with colleagues. Automated backups can be configured and fully customised, and users can simply drag and drop data to their Cloud Drive as easily as moving data between folders on their PC. The ability to access files remotely via a web portal means that as long as you have a PC or smartphone you are never without your files again!

If the data is simply being uploaded for DR purposes, then this type of backup software allows you to configure files and folders stored on local PCs/servers to be automatically uploaded to the Cloud as changes occur.

If transferring files for a website that will be accessed by users across the globe, then a Cloud Storage solution that includes Content Distribution Network (CDN) functionality should be considered. Some Cloud storage providers have partnered with some of the world’s leading CDN providers to give customers a global experience for their users without the usual headaches associated with such systems. A CDN caches data in end-points in most major cities across the world as users request it, giving them fast access to the files without being affected by peak usage in other areas. Data can also be uploaded to the Cloud using online control panels, desktop software or even programmatically via solution provider's API.

If the data that will be moved to the Cloud is confidential or is subject to compliance regulations (e.g. PCI DSS for credit card information) then Cloud Storage may not be the right solution. It is very difficult to comply with PCI DSS and other standards in the Cloud as most Cloud solutions are hosted on shared infrastructure.
The UK Data Protection Act states that personal information should not be “transferred to other countries without adequate protection”, so if the data that will be transferred to the Cloud comes under this regulation then encryption prior to transfer is one way of providing protection. Other countries may have different regulations in place that prevent certain types of data from being removed from their country of origin.

Storage in the Cloud can only be a good thing for most organisations, especially in these times of economic strife. However, look before you leap feet first into the Cloud. Encrypt your data, and make sure that you are able to access it and upload/download using the tools of your choice. Don't be afraid of the Cloud - as long as you protect your data, you could find some cost savings there.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Security and the Public Cloud

Should we panic, or is it much ado about nothing?

I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with a number of Rackspace customers at a recent customer event, and unsurprisingly, the big topic that all of them wanted to talk about was the Cloud. What is the Cloud? What’s the difference between Public and Private Cloud? What’s all the fuss about, and can I really host my data on the Cloud without it being hacked and compromised?

Firstly, just what is the Cloud? Well, it’s certainly nothing new. Many of us have been happily using the Cloud for some time now, but without realising it. Do you have a Hotmail or Gmail account? If so, your email is hosted in the Cloud. The simplest definition of public Cloud is that it is a shared computing resource or service, accessed via the public Internet and paid for on a utility basis (i.e. hourly).

The concept of utility computing is not a new one – it was originally suggested back in 1961 by John McCarthy at MIT. He had the idea that one day computing power and specific applications could be sold through the utility business model. This was an idea that faded in popularity during the 1970s when it became apparent that the technology of the day could not fulfil this dream. However, in the 1990s, the rise of application service providers (ASPs) proved that this concept could become a reality. As the speed and reliability of the public Internet improved, more people started using Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, such as SalesForce and hosted email platforms. The concept made a lot of sense – why purchase the hardware and software licenses and employ a team to build and support an infrastructure when you could simply pay a third party a low monthly fee and get a readymade service, often complete with support?

Private Cloud is very different to Public Cloud – Private Cloud is simply another term for server virtualisation. Offering the security of dedicated servers, but with a cloudiness in terms of flexibility when creating and deleting virtual servers and adding capacity combined with the ability to customise the infrastructure. A simple metaphor that explains the difference between Private and Public Cloud is that Private Cloud is like purchasing a house, or apartment. You pay for it on a reasonably expensive, long term basis. You can customise it – knock down walls, redecorate, change the curtains. But at the end of the day, it’s the place you go to eat, sleep and live. Public Cloud is like a hotel room – you pay for it on a utility basis, and while you cannot customise your environment, change the curtains or redecorate, you can do most of the same things that you would want to do in your house.

So what’s all the fuss about, and can you safely host your data in the Cloud? Well, the main reason for the fuss is the global recession. Everyone wants to cut costs, and reduce their operating expenditure, and the Cloud is one such way to do that. For start-ups, it’s a great way to get a business going for little to no initial investment, so many Venture Capitalists may see the number of start-ups approaching them start to dip. For existing businesses, it allows them to reduce capital expenditure and host a website, email solution, share documents or access applications like CRM systems with minimal operating costs.

Is the Cloud secure – should you be worried about the security of data stored in the Cloud? Really, is anywhere truly secure? With government agency websites and global software companies being hacked and compromised, it’s apparent that if a hacker wants to access your data, they almost certainly will get to it. Security in the Cloud is not a new fear – as long as you’re sensible around what you store and how you store it, you’ll be fine. For example, don’t store completely confidential, critical data in the Cloud. Use encryption for any data that you’re storing in a Cloud solution; install and configure software firewalls on any Cloud servers; install anti-virus software and configure regular scans. Essentially, treat the Cloud the same way you would a server in your office. Take the necessary precautions to protect your data, and ensure you’re using the right tool for the right job.

Security in the Public Cloud is not a new concern. It’s just regular IT security for data stored in a different location.