Thursday, December 13, 2012

How the Grinch Stole Your Tablet

Santa heard you last year. You want a tablet. Let me be your Grinch for a few paragraphs.

                I’m not going to sit here and tell you that tablets aren't great. A year ago, I left my iPad at a friend’s house overnight. Feeling completely out of sorts, I had to turn to the methadone of Windows Solitaire.  I use my iPad every day, possibly every hour. What I do with it is the most trivial of human activities: Checking what my friends are doing, browsing amazon for stuff I don’t need, and yes… especially solitaire.  Not to say I don’t get work email on it, I do. But I reply using a computer like a grownup.

                It’s not that tablets are doomed to such unimportant applications. In fact, more and more workplaces are adding tablets into their business process. A client of ours is introducing MS’s new Surface to take patients signatures on legal forms. Others use them as an interface for retail customers, reducing the sporadic long lines that drove new business away.  You aren't going to do any of these things with yours, but you could, and that is comfort enough.

                The real reason I am being a Grinch today, is because regardless how you will use your tablet, you will certainly bring it to work. Assuming that you are a client, now we have some skin in the game. Small business networks still default to an IP range accepting 254 network devices. That would still be more than enough if the following devices hadn't started using some of those addresses: Office phones, cell phones, air conditioners, coffee makers (seriously), and tablets. That isn't to mention their computers, laptops, servers, and networking equipment. We have a client with 55 employees that is fresh out of IP addresses. The solution is simple, leave your tablets at home….. No not really.

                While nothing I've said so far is untrue, my conclusion is ridiculous. To limit the use of newer devices because of the short term engineering problems they pose or doubts about their productivity would be completely wrongheaded.  It is impossible to tell what innovations are going to be useful.  Having employees bring their own devices into work presents some experimental opportunities at low-to-no cost of the business. Every person who has ever worked for OCC started in this field because of how amazed they were with the power of these very innovations. It is power that manifests after a heck of a lot of playing around. …….. and his screen grew three sizes bigger that day.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorpoarted

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The GoDaddy Debacle: Why Email Was Down Monday

Monday morning is rarely slow for OCC. On top of that, vacations are over; our clients are back to work in full force. Around noon central time, the calls started coming in. "Email is down" was the first report, "VPN isn't connecting" the second. At the fourth or fifth, Jeff called the ISP's. Time Warner said they had been getting calls just like ours, as had AT&T... this is big......

Most clients, as is their rightful disposition, had little tolerance for our careful search for answers. They, after all, pay us to make sure the systems run as dependably as possible. Why was not a question they needed answered. After 2-4 hours of misery, it was all over of course; unsettlingly to no credit of ours.

As these things go, explanations can be equally unintelligible and overzealous. If I might attempt to avoid both pitfalls, indulge me in a simple explanation:

GoDaddy does many things, but most famously it provides domain name registration services. This allows Danica Patrick and millions of others to buy their domain names on a site that, while creeping us out on an advertising level, beats the competition on price. Domains purchased through GoDaddy typically use their domain name servers (DNS). Think of DNS as a phone book, it pairs domain names (Domain: with their number (IP: This phone book is so large that it doesn't make sense for all of us to have one, just to check with our ISP's phone book, constantly updating with all the other phone books in the world. GoDaddy's DNS suffered what appears to be an attack by a hacker. GoDaddy's "phone book" was inaccessible for a number of hours, and as the only such phone book, none of those listed in the phonebook could be reached traditionally for that time. This meant emails missed, websites down, and connections unestablished.

Hackers were at it again. A specific hacker as it turns out. To avoid adding to the desired publicity of such individuals, I will respectfully decline to include the hacker's twitter handle here. What you should know is that the individual associates with ANONYMOUS, but denies membership in the aforementioned collective (insert eye roll).  GoDaddy has often upset ANONYMOUS with its public support of SOPA, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" that the hacker group characterizes as limiting online freedom.

Then... it got even more interesting........

Yesterday, GoDaddy officially said the attack was caused by internal errors, and not a hacker. We simply don't believe it. Such a failure would be inconceivable for a provider as large as GoDaddy. It was reported on Monday that GoDaddy only got their DNS back up after they crawled to their competitor Versign to take control of some of their responsibilities, a company that also specializes in the type of attack that is suspected. Why would they lie? After all, if you had a restaurant that was set ablaze by an arsonist, why would you say it was a kitchen fire? Simply because the general public sees hacking as one thing, and one thing alone: invasion of privacy.

It's true, of course. Well at least it can be.

Hacking can come in a bunch of different varieties. The real world analogies are akin to theft and vandalism. Theft removes irreplaceable value or release of private information. This type of attack has been in the news with the Apple UDID story already in progress. Most attacks, however, are of the vandalism variety, as is likely true with GoDaddy. Known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, these simply make services unavailable and don't entail any privacy concerns. The hackers are never privy to sensitive information, but they prevent the target from performing business as usual. To the general public, many of whom host websites and email with sensitive information on GoDaddy host servers, the word "hacked" sounds ominous.

From our position, the image is flipped ironically. If in fact a DDoS attack shut down GoDaddy's DNS servers than we expect preventative measures will likely make them a more secure DNS provider in the future. If however they were responsible for inconceivable infrastructure oversights as they claim, we will no longer chose to do business with such a poorly run operation. In short, if GoDaddy is lying, its a good thing, and if they are telling the truth, it's very bad. As it stand, we chose to wait and see what GoDaddy's next moves are before we drag our clients and reputation around an increasingly hostile environment.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Social Value

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, announces purchase of Yammer

Microsoft announced yesterday that it would buy Yammer, a social media company, for an estimated $1.2 billion dollars. Weeks ago, announced the $689M purchase of Buddy Media, another social media plug-in company. The stories continue from Oracle buying Virtue all the way to the biggest fish of them all: the unwitting public buying Facebook.  So why are social media companies so highly valued? What, if any, opportunity does social media present to small businesses as an information strategy?
Let’s boil social media’s value down to three abstract value points.

In Friends We Trust

I recently got engaged and since the announcement, my fiancĂ© and I have been asked the standard “how did you two meet?” question an awful lot. Our answer is boring and predictable – ‘Through friends’. Yes, people meet in bars as strangers all the time, but the majority of relationships, personal or professional, begin through the introduction or recommendation of someone we already trust. Our brains are just built this way. The difficulty for businesses trying to reach new customers has always been that they are strangers at the bar; unpredictable, potentially dangerous, and likely to take advantage of you. Through social media, advertisers hope to receive willing endorsements, transforming the relationship to “friend of a friend”. Certainly advertisers spend years and billions trying to make their brand warm and inviting, but this may prove to be a convenient shortcut. Well, that is the hope anyway. The industry is so new that predicting its value is quite difficult. In fact, the advertising industry would have to change completely in order to validate the high expectations that have already been levied into Facebook’s IPO price point. 

We Are Our Habits

Social Media companies never want to talk about this side of their business. It’s the most stable and proven value the companies possess. It is at once the most boring and controversial. It’s data. Market research is as old as markets, but it has never seen a boom like the one it is experiencing right now. Companies like Facebook and Twitter track data that can present new insights into our habits and desires. The problem, from their perspective, is that market research is vanilla when it comes to startups. It’s a predictable industry with fairly steady revenues. Nothing to get investors excited about. Additionally, from the user's standpoint, irresponsible distribution or collection of data is a big worry. Concerns over personal privacy are understandable, especially when minors are participating.

A Better Mousetrap

Email has been around for over 20 years.  We have been able to send communications around the world, instantly, and at no cost (strictly speaking).  We were always able to send messages of 140 characters, more if we liked. The lure of social media has been a better way to communicate. But how much better could it really be? I would like to point out that for small business, this is where the REAL value lies in social media. It’s all about capturing an audience. Facebook, for example, creates a semi-public audience by capturing those who would most likely be interested in your public utterances.  As a business on Facebook, I can address only the customers that are most likely to make a purchase. Choosing the public media platform (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) to pour your time and effort into has more to do with the type of mouse you are trying to trap. B2B sales? LinkedIn. Recipe book? Twitter. Interoffice communication? Microsoft hopes Yammer is the answer.
I would not be surprised if we looked back in 5 years and came to the conclusion that this social media buyout phenomenon was nothing more than an arms race to calm panicky shareholders. After all, shareholders want to see their investments keeping up with the crowd. With all of the benefits that these tools present, count me on the naysayers list. It seems that these companies fall in a third generation of technology booms. First it was Microsoft, Apple, Dell; companies that sold tangible products. Next it was Google, Amazon, EBay, and PayPal. All of these are essentially the virtualization of existing business models. There is no doubt that the social media's effects on culture, politics, and life have been profound. While I believe that social media will have a significant effect on how business is done, I doubt the current expectations of an Arab Spring for industry will materialize.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated