ScienceLogic and Citrix CloudPlatform

November 21st, 2014 by

We were recently fortunate enough to be featured in Citrix’s corporate blog, in an article written by Valerie DiMartino. In the blog she does a masterful job of tying Old Bay potato chips, a major U.S. river, and ScienceLogic together. More importantly, she also talks about how ScienceLogic and Citrix’s CloudPlatorm work together to offer a slick cloud management control layer.

Citrix CloudPlatform is the industry’s only future-proofed, application-centric cloud solution proven to reliably orchestrate and provision desktop (and traditional scale-up enterprise applications), web (scale-out cloud native applications) and datacenter infrastructure workloads within a single unified cloud management platform. This turnkey solution is an agile, flexible, efficient and open cloud orchestration and provisioning platform that allows you to leverage existing virtualization and hardware investments, and is trusted to power the world’s leading clouds.

ScienceLogic’s certified integration with CloudPlatform delivers a future-proofed cloud orchestration and monitoring solution. By automatically discovering, mapping, and applying the right monitoring policy to your entire CloudPlatform infrastructure, this integration ensures your cloud deployment is a success. Together ScienceLogic and Citrix will take your private cloud to the next level.

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SSL 3.0 and the POODLE Attack

November 10th, 2014 by

Another security vulnerability has hit the web. This time, it is the POODLE attack—and, no, it is not a puffy little dog.

POODLE, which stands for “Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption,” is a man-in-the-middle exploit that takes advantage of a software client’s ability to fall back to the much older protocol, SSLv3 instead of using TLS, which is not affected by this vulnerably. SSLv3 is used in older browsers and servers, and this aging protocol is still seen as problematic since it is still widely supported but no longer maintained.

This new vulnerability targets clients rather than servers, as we have seen with other recently discovered attacks (Heartbleed and Shellshock). POODLE affects the SSLv3, which encrypts the communication between client and server, allowing “man-in-the middle” attacks, which enable a hacker to gain access to users’ data.

While the likelihood of this type of attack is low, the advice from Red Hat is to implement TLS exclusively in order to avoid flaws in SSLv3.

Some of the services and clients that may be affected by this vulnerability include:

  • httpd (Apache)
  • MySQL (Enterprise)
  • OpenLDAP
  • Cups
  • Tomcat
  • Firefox/Chromium
  • Dovecot/Postfix
  • Safari
  • Curl

Sounds scary, right? The problem is with mitigation. Since this is a client attack, it’s difficult to fix software over which you have no control. Within hours of the vulnerability being announced, ScienceLogic issued guidance while waiting for an official fix from CentOS (Red Hat), providing instructions on turning off SSLv3 to customers, should they consider POODLE a concern for their own deployments.

CentOS has issued updates for OpenSSL to help address the vulnerability. The updates introduce TLS Fallback Signaling Cipher Suite Value (TLS_FALLBACK_SCSV), a mechanism that will abort the connection should a client attempt to fall back to an SSL version when TSL is supported. Currently, the only browser to support this mechanism is Google’s Chromium. As other browsers are upgraded, TLS_FALLBACK_SCSV will be supported.

MySQL uses a different version of OpenSSL for its client-server connection. Oracle has issued updates to MySQL. Customers should upgrade to the ScienceLogic-provided versions of MySQL 5.5.40+, and our 7.5 customers should upgrade to MySQL 5.6.21+.

While all of this sounds scary, you can count on ScienceLogic to address security concerns as soon as they arise. We conduct regular security audits of both EM7 and the platform on which we are based. In most cases, because of EM7’s architecture, pushing these fixes out to EM7 appliances can be done quickly with little or no downtime.

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Shellshock

September 30th, 2014 by

If you haven’t been totally heads-down over the past 5 days keeping your data center running (and if you have, you need to contact us immediately ;-) ) you’ve probably heard about the latest security vulnerability involving, literally, hundreds of millions of Linux-based devices, from servers to routers to storage subsystems. Dubbed “Shellshock,” this latest vulnerability is actually a set of vulnerabilities. NIST has rated these vulnerabilities 10-out-of-10 for their impact and exploitability. If you thought Heartbleed was bad, Shellshock has the potential to be nothing short of catastrophic. The vulnerabilities affect nearly every Linux server shipped over the past 20+ years. Hype? Not really. Within 24 hours of the announcement of the vulnerability, botnet attacks were already being seen.

Bash is the affected Linux application and is the default ‘shell’ for executing scripting commands as well as the command-line interface favored by most admins. In other words, if you’ve used Linux at a command-line level, you’ve probably used Bash. Every time an application executes a set of command-line instructions, it uses Bash, and this is where the vulnerability comes in. Under the right invocation, Bash can essentially allow potentially malicious code to be executed without appropriate security validation.

The gory details are outlined by NIST:

“GNU Bash through 4.3 processes trailing strings after function definitions in the values of environment variables, which allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via a crafted environment, as demonstrated by vectors involving the ForceCommand feature in OpenSSH sshd, the mod_cgi and mod_cgid modules in the Apache HTTP Server, scripts executed by unspecified DHCP clients, and other situations in which setting the environment occurs across a privilege boundary from Bash execution, aka “ShellShock.”

At ScienceLogic, we routinely check for CERT and RedHat security announcements, and have a process in place to escalate these to EM7 hotfix status based on severity. In the case of Shellshock, we recognized the impact quickly, and within 24 hours of RedHat announcing the fix for CVE-2014-6271, on Wednesday, September 24th, we had a hotfix ready and available on our customer portal. We also recognized that the initial fix for Shellshock from RedHat might not be the only one needed, and we correctly anticipated a second vulnerability announcement was coming. On Friday, September 26th, we developed a patch for the second RedHat vulnerability, CVE-2014-7169, again within 24 hours of the announcement! The cumulative fix is now available.

If there’s a good news story here, it’s that you can count on ScienceLogic to ensure your EM7 deployments offer the best possible security posture. Our regular, independently-conducted penetration testing and our recent approval for JITC certification are additional evidence of that.

The architecture of EM7 also ensures any security updates are quick and seamless. Because EM7 is agentless, any patches like Shellshock are required only on EM7 itself—there are no device-dependent agents to worry about—and in the case of Shellshock, this is a big deal. If every managed device had to run an agent, there could be a required patch for every managed device. The logistics of these agent updates can be a huge time and cost issue.

What’s interesting to note here, at the end of the day, is that any software application can have latent (and in this case, extremely latent) vulnerabilities. What matters the most is that you have a company behind you that values security and customer priorities as much as you do.

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VMware and OpenStack

August 27th, 2014 by

VMware and OpenStack

There has been a lot of talk about VMware and OpenStack during the VMworld 2014 keynotes this week.  I attended a breakout session specifically about the topic to see what other details could be gathered on the integration, and how it all is supposed to work.

I found it interesting that, even in the breakout session, somewhat backhanded comments were made and negative slides were shown about OpenStack (Keynote Smack Talk). The indirect message was, “you need a army of developers to get OpenStack to work, but, no fear, VMware is here—announcing its own OpenStack distribution!”

With VMware’s distribution, the total number of major OpenStack distributions has grown to eight. For me, one of the challenges with OpenStack is everything is so piecemeal. With eight distributions and 11 components making up the stack—all at difference phases of adoption—it is painfully hard for anyone to run OpenStack in production, unless your organization has an ongoing development team keeping things in sync. VMware said that some of the eight distributions plan on self-committing VMware code changes, but I question the sustainability of this plan.

Cost and Performance

VMware spent some time comparing the performance of RedHat Storage running OpenStack to VMware’s vSan running the same. They noted how much faster and better they are than RedHat, then went on to compare cost over time:

According to VMware’s study:

“In our testing, the VMware vSphere with Virtual SAN solution performed better than the Red Hat Storage solution in both real world and raw performance testing by providing 53 percent more database OPS and 159 percent more IOPS. In addition, the vSphere with Virtual SAN solution can occupy less datacenter space, which can result in lower costs associated with density. A three-year cost projection for the two solutions showed that VMware vSphere with Virtual SAN could save your business up to 26 percent in hardware and software costs when compared to the Red Hat Storage solution we tested.”

Summary

OpenStack adoption is gaining momentum, but the platform still needs to mature. I look at OpenStack like aged cheese: the longer it ages, the better it gets. VMware’s new distribution, added awareness, and increased contributions will only help OpenStack grow. However, I question if adding one more player will really help the technology age more quickly to the point it is ready to be consumed by all types of business, with or without hands-on development teams.  As it sits now, VMware has given OpenStack some backhanded compliments while still trying to tempt enterprises to consider the platform as an option when VMware is under the hood.

VMware has been one of the top contributors to the open-source OpenStack cloud platform over the last several years, and now the company is taking the next logical step by announcing its own OpenStack distribution. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/cloud/vmware-announces-its-own-openstack-distribution.html#sthash.AQAs69wQ.dpuf
VMware has been one of the top contributors to the open-source OpenStack cloud platform over the last several years, and now the company is taking the next logical step by announcing its own OpenStack distribution. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/cloud/vmware-announces-its-own-openstack-distribution.html#sthash.AQAs69wQ.dpuf

VMware has been one of the top contributors to the open-source OpenStack cloud platform over the last several years, and now the company is taking the next logical step by announcing its own OpenStack distribution. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/cloud/vmware-announces-its-own-openstack-distribution.html#sthash.AQAs69wQ.dpuf

VMware has been one of the top contributors to the open-source OpenStack cloud platform over the last several years, and now the company is taking the next logical step by announcing its own OpenStack distribution. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/cloud/vmware-announces-its-own-openstack-distribution.html#sthash.AQAs69wQ.dpufk
VMware has been one of the top contributors to the open-source OpenStack cloud platform over the last several years, and now the company is taking the next logical step by announcing its own OpenStack distribution. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/cloud/vmware-announces-its-own-openstack-distribution.html#sthash.AQAs69wQ.dpuf
VMware has been one of the top contributors to the open-source OpenStack cloud platform over the last several years, and now the company is taking the next logical step by announcing its own OpenStack distribution. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/cloud/vmware-announces-its-own-openstack-distribution.html#sthash.AQAs69wQ.dpuf
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VMworld 2014: Day 1 Keynote

August 25th, 2014 by

vmworld no limts

22,000 attendees, representing 85 countries, are in attendance at VMworld 2014 this week. This year’s conference theme is “No Limits,” but this morning’s keynote highlighted three major topics:

  1. SDDC (Software Defined Data Center)
  2. Hybrid Cloud (Migration/Adoption)
  3. End-User Computing

In alignment with those themes came a few product releases announcements:

  • VMware NSX 6.1
  • vCloud 6.0 beta
  • Virtual Volumes & Virtual SAN 2.0 beta
  • VMware vRealize Suite

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger spoke about being brave and embracing the “liquid” world we live in, reminding us that the status quo isn’t the status quo—Dr. Horrible rings a bell when I hear that phrase:

Pat went on to introduce the hyper-converged infrastructure portfolio, VMware EVO, with EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK.  These offerings are really focused at providing SDDC turnkey solutions that enable enterprises to move to the cloud faster, without the expense of alternatives like FlexPod and Vblock. Pick the partner hardware of choice and use VMware to stitch it all together.

Bill Fathers of VMware’s Hybrid Cloud Services business unit continued the keynote, focusing on vCloud Air. VMware’s view is that “hybrid cloud” isn’t so much migrating to a public cloud as it is moving workloads from one VMware platform to any other VMware platform—VMware itself being “the cloud” in the mind of VMware. Continuing this message, VMware is relaunching the vCloud Air public cloud service this September in an effort to capture public cloud market share currently controlled by AWS, Azure, and others.

Look for my writeup on the session covering VMware and OpenStack coming later this week!

vmworld 2014

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What’s New with 7.5?

July 14th, 2014 by

If you are one of our customers, you’ve been hearing about 7.5 since Customer Symposium last Fall. You’re also likely aware that 7.5, after much anticipation is now released. 7.5 brought groundbreaking new features such as our industry-first CloudMapper technology which you may have already seen with demonstrations around such complex environments as AWS or Flexpod. While CloudMapper may be getting all the press on the red carpet, we are also working hard on continuous improvements to the product.

7.5 also introduced Device Dashboards, which enable organizations to customize workflow based on the KPIs that are important to them when looking at infrastructure. This delivers a quick way to optimize workflow, saving you time and money.  For any of your devices, you can set up a default view to show all of the most important KPIs as well as create additional pages with any metrics you may need.

A Few Examples:

Let’s say you migrated a small farm of servers to the AWS cloud.  These servers are gathering metrics for AWS EC2, Host Resources, WMI’s, and New Relic Applications. Historically, that has required as many as 4 separate tools to view the data. With Device Dashboards, you can view one summary page that provides all 4 unique types of metrics on a single page.

EM7 7.5 Dashboard

Perhaps you also want to have a deep dive set of metrics for New Relic or WMI.  No problem!  Device Dashboard lets you have multiple custom pages for each type of device or App.

EM7 7.5 Dashboard

In the case of a Cisco Router or Switch, we now instantly provide Top-N analysis of key interface KPIs in addition to traditional availability, latency, CPU, memory, etc.  Some routers might have IP-SLA MOS tests enabled to monitor your UC environment.  You can now choose what IP-SLA metrics you want to automatically appear when you drill down into a router with has IP-SLA enabled – or any other KPI, for that matter.

A number of other goodies are embedded in the 7.5 release. We can’t wait for our customers to get upgraded and start using them!

My next post will focus on some of the great stuff we put into our latest minor release, 7.5.1.

 

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The Top 5 Lessons for Life and Business, Learned From Soccer

July 10th, 2014 by

Chile v Spain

Chile vs. Spain match in the 2014 Fifa World Cup, Brazil. Photo by Antonio Piraino.

1.     Hesitation is the mother of all F’ups!

In a soccer match, if you are in front of the goal trying to figure out what to do, it’s already too late. You have to take the shot and trust that all those hours spent practicing will send it in the right direction. If you miss, then you miss – but you came a lot closer to a goal than if you hesitate and give the defender an opening to steal the ball. When you hesitate, life goes by you. Never hesitate, go with your heart, and take calculated risks in life and business. That’s the only way you can exponentially advance compared to your competition.

2.     A little bit extra effort goes a very long way

What sets ‘world-class people’ apart from ‘good people?’ The world-class people put in just a little bit of extra effort. Growing up playing soccer, there were times when the ball would go right by me. Seconds later I would realized that if I had extended my leg just a bit further and put in just a little extra effort at that moment, I would have taken the ball – and who knows what may have come out of it from there. I used to play soccer with a group of co-workers at The Mathworks. Our CEO, Jack Little, with all due respect to him, had minimal soccer skills. However, he was always full of energy. When I had the ball, I feared him the most. Despite his lack in skills, he would come after me so aggressively that 9 out of 10 times he would screw up my plan and play. When he had the ball on attack, we couldn’t keep up with his stamina and speed. He wasn’t in better shape than us, he just made a mental decision to work hard and put in more than 100%… And he won big in soccer, as well as in life! The lesson is that you must put a little bit extra effort to succeed. The winners are those that put in 100% plus just a little bit more.

3.     Once you make a decision, don’t change your mind

I learned this taking penalty kicks. I was in 8th grade and my team was playing in the finals. We played 90 minutes, then two 30 minute overtimes, and then finally penalty kicks. And then all of the sudden the game was in my hands. It all came down to me, taking the final kick. As I stared at the goalie, I decided to shoot right… But then I wavered. Perhaps it’s better to shoot left. Right? Left? How about the center? I didn’t know which side to pick and I was getting all wound up over the decision. Finally, I ran and simply shot the ball as hard as I could, without any specific decision on the direction. The ball flew high over the goal, the opposing team went bananas, and I looked over to see my entire team with their heads down. I still have my yearbook, where one of my classmates wrote: “Too bad you missed that penalty kick. We could have won the championship – Have a good summer.” I’ve never missed a penalty shot since then, because I make my decision once and I stick with it. How does this pertain to life? In life, there things you must decide on and move forward and don’t look back. Once you decide on something, actions and thoughts start moving forward. For every step you take backwards, your competition is that far ahead of you. It is more important to focus your energy on the actual execution of a decision than on the decision itself.

4.     Team work is better than a single player

You’ve heard of the great soccer players who make big names for themselves. But people always forget that they would be nothing without a strong team behind them. If you take the world’s best soccer player and put them on a bad team, he or she will fail (For example, Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba’s poor performance for the Ivory Coast in the World Cup). However, if you create a team where everyone is focused on working well together (Germany, for example) then they will naturally succeed. In business, don’t count on a single person to carry the team. As a leader or a participant, make sure to build teams that are strong together, and that can win fights as a unit.

5.     He who prepares the best usually wins

Pre-game preparation and a realistic understanding of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is one of the best ways to get a leg up on the competition. Some of my best games required a trip to watch my opponent and learn their players’ style, strengths, and weaknesses before I had to compete with them. How much you’ve worked out before the game, if you are in great shape, if you have stretched enough, and what you’ve eaten the past 24 hours are all additional pieces that lay the groundwork for delivering a great match. Maybe the corporate world won’t be judging whether or not you’re in great shape, but I can guarantee it will matter whether or not you prepared for a meeting. We spend so much time reacting to external forces and other people’s demands that we are constantly playing catch-up. Take a little time each day to sit back and look at things from a distance and prepare for what is to come. For me, that means locking myself in a room and focusing only on preparation; for a test, for an interview, for a negotiation strategy, or even how to get my future wife to say “Yes.”

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AWS Public Sector Symposium – Saving more than Just Costs with AWS

July 9th, 2014 by

Heading down to the AWS Public Sector Symposium this June meant leaving my house at O’Dark early but it also meant that Amazon was providing us breakfast. As with everything Amazon does, the breakfast was top notch.

Okay, now that I’ve covered the most important part (food), let’s move on to the real stuff. At the Day 2 breakfast (yes, food again), I had the good fortune to sit down next to two very experienced Federal IT experts.

One was a very tenured CTO that I know from a “prior life.” He provides the IT vision and road map of an organization that is using AWS to share their research data with over 25 countries. This allows the best minds around the world to collaborate continuously, in real time, on some of the most critical public health challenges. The advances in his line of work have literally saved lives by allowing them to find solutions much faster. That, to me, far outweighs just saving money; this is the real promise of what cloud computing can bring us.

The other was a Federal IT employee who was more at the operations level. He had been with his agency for years and he knows what is necessary to get the job done; he was clearly a “no-nonsense” person. For the most part, the things he shared weren’t new to me. However, it was new to hear it coming from someone the middle of an organization, where we usually encounter resistance to the adoption of cloud for fear of it “moving their cheese.” Having already gone through it, he was confident in the fact that his organization would not only still need his expertise, but allow him to focus on the parts of his job that he wanted to do.

He shared how one of Amazon’s leading partners was helping him simply be more effective at his job. Sure, he was saving on costs, but he really focused more on his newfound ability to focus on his job instead of getting mired up in all of the red tape of contracts and procurement. Simply put, he got started with just a credit card and was able to turn up the required IT infrastructure in minutes, which previously would have taken months. The final push that made his decision was the realization that “if it doesn’t work for me, I’ll just turn it off and it only cost a few thousand dollars vs. literally weeks or months and tens of thousands of dollars for the normal purchasing process.” He had seen his share of failed IT projects that wasted millions of dollars and countless months of his organization’s valuable time. This allowed him to see the kind of rapid results that we so often only find in a smaller/nimble commercial company. His story gave me hope that we will be seeing more of this no-nonsense adoption of AWS in the future – and it will help drive much-needed change for our Federal agencies in the way they purchase IT.

Finally, I was able to learn all of this while dressing up my oatmeal with all kinds of great toppings and enjoying a good cup of coffee. AWS, you sure know how to do it right.

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World Cup 2014: Is There a Tie Between Soccer Success and Hybrid Tactics for Efficiency?

June 30th, 2014 by

Having just returned from the first few World Cup games in Brazil, I wanted to reflect on some of the things capturing the conversation of the locals in Rio.

Fifa-World-Cup-2014-Brazil-Logo

To start with, how is it that a tiny country of only 4.7 million people (with all of 3 professionals in it) produced a team that makes it to the World Cup playoffs? Better yet, how is it that they have been drawn into the group of competitive nations who have all previously won the World Cup – and by all rationale measure should have beaten this little minion to a pulp? Yes, I’m talking about the small nation of Costa Rica, who placed first in the Group stages of the 2014 World Cup. Costa Rica, who just edged Greece out of the World Cup Quarterfinals, and is arguably in the process of achieving the unthinkable. To put this in context, Spain (debatably the most successful soccer nation in history) has already been eliminated.

What’s the Secret of Success?
So what is the secret of Costa Rica’s 2014 World Cup success? Amidst all of the noise comes the most rational argument to date – it comes down to the coaching and the desire of the players themselves to be coached to success. Along the way, the most successful are also (somewhat uncomfortably) embracing the modern athletic methods and tools along the way. Costa Rica’s manager, Jorge Luis Pinto, believes that one of those methods was the introduction of ‘footvolley’ – essentially volleyball without the use of hands – which helped his players build up their stamina and prepare them for the physicality of the modern game. That means learning to be agile, more efficient, and looking to Hybrid Independent Tactical (IT) alternatives to best achieve their goals. In fact, Hybrid IT is not necessarily a new topic – think about Roger Banister’s record mile run and the introduction of cross-training across all sports.

Robinho, who was hand-picked by Pele, playing footvolley last week in Praia de Barra.

Robinho, who was hand-picked by Pele, playing footvolley last week in Praia de Barra. Photo by Piraino.

Points of Failure
Back to Spain- it’s time to endure their pain on their way out the door. Hard and fast slapshots toward the goal were layered on top of a series of even more loosely targeted shots at goal; they quickly grew frustrated by their lack of success, which only led to their complete elimination from the World Cup tournament. What caused this downward spiral? Are they old? Do they lack cadence? Is the problem simply that they have changed nothing? Are they mentally fatigued? (Granted, they have served as the proverbial ‘hamster on its wheel’ for quite a while. Although, who isn’t a hamster when in operations?)

And finally, these simple but profound words from the person monitoring it all the closest, Spain’s coach: “We were almost trying to get rid of the ball.” All too often, that hot potato mentality is what prevents operations teams from progressing with confidence; very few individuals are prepared to stop and make the correct moves, particularly when you have a lot on your plate and the easier path is to leave it to someone else… or at the very most, to just put a quick band-aid on the issue.

Unrelenting Chilean fans celebrating their victory over a descending Spain. Photo by Piraino.

Unrelenting Chilean fans celebrating their victory over a descending Spain. Photo by Piraino.

At the end of it all – and for Spain this is the end of an era; winning is no longer just ‘business as usual’ for them – a fresh approach is required. IT ops folks are embracing a far more fluid and changing world on the competitive field of IT operations. Rather than burying one’s head in the sand and hoping the ‘same old, same old’ will continue to work, it is far better to embrace new techniques and work as a team to ready each other for new options. Without them, the smell of weakness is hard to resist and only serves to fuel the opponent’s fire – much like a hard-nosed customer demanding support.

This should remind us of the parallels between sports and everyday functions. Why be inefficient? Why not be coordinated in our approach and create less work for ourselves? Why not try new things beyond what we are accustomed to and use other approaches and platforms so we can do our jobs better? With regular practice, our bodies adapt to working in a different manner; leveraging leading-edge technologies to create an efficient, coordinated environment. Think more automation and new plays – think Hybrid.

Don’t just try a new approach – attack the issue
What about the excitement generated by the Dutch team? The second-highest scoring team in the World Cup to date (behind mercurial Colombia) is finally moving past their reputation as a dependable bridesmaid, thanks to two brilliant strikers, van Persie and Robben (see below).

So what could possibly still be bugging the Dutch coach? Well, the FIFA scheduling has it so that Brazil was able to monitor the Netherlands game before its own match this past weekend, potentially aiding Brazil’s strategy before the next round of play. Like any smart competitor, learning to neutralize and attack the opposition often starts in the engine room.

What other challenges do they face? They are their own worst enemy – after the thrashing they’ve dealt the likes of Spain and Chile, the Netherlands team needs to stay grounded and realistic. Otherwise, their egos may lead to complacency right as they hit the more sophisticated challenges ahead of them. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough for long; teams need to stay on their toes, constantly monitoring their level of play and staying prepared for the more advanced and rapidly changing operating terrain.

Netherlands' striker, van Persie, outside his hotel in Rio.

Netherlands’ striker, van Persie, outside his hotel in Rio after training practice.

But are the Dutch interested in using a Hybrid approach to win? Interestingly, the Dutch coach, van Gaal, has two former professional field hockey players on his coaching staff in Brazil. Being just 70% of the size of a soccer field, hockey fields puts large value on economical motion. Expert-close control and intelligent off-the-ball movement are key qualities, as are agility and speed – from the point of attack all the way to defense and escalation. The expertise van Gaal is bringing in through these field hockey pros lends support for the benefits of the Hybrid approach. Germany also has a very similar history using field hockey to innovate. Their adapted passing triangles and quick combinations make for a highly agile and collaborative approach. It has paid off. They bring rapid actions and changes to a fluid opposition. Both teams expect a 2% improvement from their teams in every game – a small adjustment, but often, the difference between winning and losing can be that 2% of effort, skill, etc.

So how about the US team?
How do you compete with countries where every kid grows up hoofing soccer balls around on every imaginable field (i.e. sand, concrete, dirt, grass)? How do our mild-climate accustomed bodies go up against the harsh climate countries that have the legs to carry them through the heat and intensity of this Brazilian World Cup?

Friday’s loss to the strong process-driven German machinery was because of a very deep setup and failure to hold the ball enough, meaning few attack opportunities. If we’re perpetually on the defensive, it’s difficult to move forward and, inevitably failure happens. As the US enters the Tuesday playoff against a robust but poorly tested Belgium, expect a US team that is more confident on attack. For the United States, the World Cup is not theirs to lose like many of their opposition, but rather one to be gained.

Efficiency and agility has dictated the modern approach to creating effective and successful teams. Brazil and Argentina are the benchmarks of formidable soccer teams, and they both display these traits to some degree. More importantly, they know how to balance patience, efficiency, and energy to create opportunities.

If that doesn’t work for you and all else fails by the 89th minute, then do as Mr. Robben recently taught us: set your sites on getting into the box, drag your feet, drop like your life just ended, and blame the opposition. Someone with a whistle is bound to come to the rescue.

Boys playing soccer on beach in Rio.

There is always time for soccer in Rio. Photo by Piraino

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HostingCon 2014: How to Compete

June 19th, 2014 by

Looking back on the HostingCon 2014 sessions, keynotes and panels it is clear to me there is concern throughout the industry about how to compete with the large vendors like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. As an attendee, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what service provider differentiators are and are not worth pursuing.

Not on Price, Performance, or Features

Let me tell you this: the competition will not focus on beating the big fish with lower prices. I came to this conclusion while listening to Kenny Li from Cloud Spectators present his session, “Standardizing Performance in the Public Cloud Arena.” Did you know that Amazon has dropped their prices 42 times since 2006? Furthermore, their cost of an Amazon EC2 instance has decreased 56% in just the past two years.

Hosting_Con_Amazon_EC2_Cost

Amazon is not the cheapest nor is it the most expensive. They are just below the average, according to Cloud Spectators, but their behavior suggests that they will continue to pass savings on to their customers – and small vendors can’t cover their costs if they attempt to match such low prices.

It will not be on performance. I say this not because the big guys are out-performing everyone else. I say this because the pace of performance improvements demonstrates that significant capital investments will be required more frequently by smaller providers if they are to keep pace with these larger vendors.

It will not be with features. During a panel discussion on tools used to build clouds, one panelist mentioned that Amazon released 240 new features in 2013 and has already released 180 new features this year. This clearly demonstrates Amazon’s continued commitment to expand and improve their cloud offering. Google and Microsoft continue to improve their services as well. This breakneck pace and huge investment in development makes it difficult for everyone, even the largest of providers, to compete on feature set.

How then? Specialization and Service

So how do service providers differentiate themselves from the large vendors? Well, the new reality is that infrastructure has become less and less important. The general consensus of HostingCon 2014 attendees seems to be that service providers must differentiate themselves by offering specialized services and delivering them with incredible customer service. During “Ask the Analyst,” it was suggested that specializing in a given vertical or technology is one way to achieve this competitive differentiation. Whether it is WordPress hosting or healthcare solutions, learning everything you can about a technology or vertical makes you far more valuable to a customer. It also allows you to keep costs down because the service can take advantage of commodity services like infrastructure as a service (IaaS). And, as the service provider moves into the role of trusted advisor, they can influence infrastructure decisions like using AWS or some other solution. A CEO that participated in the “CEO Panel” session indicated that specialization was one of the key drivers for their growth. When asked to share a few plays from their competitive playbooks, several of the CEOs mentioned moving up the stack as one of their top plays to beat Amazon. The other top play: customer service!

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