Danger of isolation

The release of Chrome solidifies the importance of web browser and decline of desktop in the future of computing. There is a new wave of computing revolution going on, and I am afraid Korea is being left behind in spite of its blindingly fast technology adoption. I believe here is where the difference lies: adoption vs. innovation.

Since the birth of the Internet, Software-as-a-service (SaaS) model has been attempted (remember those Application Service Providers in the early 2000’s?), but it truly gained momentum with rush of web 2.0 sites and also wild success of mega Internet companies like Google, Amazon, eBay, and etc. Since these companies needed to have massive processing power and deal with tremendous amount of data, they were early (commercial) adopters of high-performance computing. They wanted to monetize their expertise in running scalable data centers, and that’s how (commercial) cloud computing was born. Both Google and Amazon let a company or individual to run their web applications in their data centers and they charge only for resources used. This is especially good for web 2.0 start-up companies who cannot afford to run their own scalable data centers. Current cloud computing service isn’t perfect as demonstrated by outages from both companies. But, you can bet this is where the future of computing is headed. In turn this is also pushing development of products specifically targeting high-performance data centers, and both larger companies such as Cisco and Juniper and many start-up companies are jumping in the bandwagon.

This is also exactly why desktop and subsequently operating system is losing its significance. In other words, they both are going back to their basics, as they were meant to be. There is no reason for bloated OS. Actually some will even argue that OS is really just the kernel and anything else is application. It’s a religious war that I don’t want to get into. Nevertheless, it’s clear that as desktop applications move to the Internet (or cloud or somewhere remote accessible by URL or IP address), web browser becomes the window to all the applications. It doesn’t matter whether you use Windows OS, MAC OS, or Linux OS, all you need is a web browser. There will be some specific desktop markets that always need more processing power such as gaming and intensive computer graphics, and they will become only small fraction of entire desktop market.

This whole trend got me thinking about how come Korea wasn’t able to cash in on its technology achievements. Anyway you look, numbers are amazing: highest broadband penetration, highly advanced mobile phones, highest mobile Internet speed, and etc. But why doesn’t Korea lead rest of the world in Internet or mobile innovations? Why isn’t there a Korean company or innovation that everyone talks about as setting the trend for the future, changing status quo, and making significant differences in high-tech world? Why isn’t there a Korean people talk in the same breath as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Joy, Andy Bechtolsheim, Will Wright, etc.? Then I realized that it was because what we see on the surface is the result of fast adoption, not innovation. In addition, Korea is too isolated in terms of its technology reach. Concepts like Software-as-a-Service or cloud computing should have been initiated in Korea. Online gaming craze in Korea is well published even in US, but it’s a result of people spending tons of time playing games programmed and published elsewhere. Should fraction of these gamers have studied programming instead, we may have a different story. The social networking website was also pioneered in Korea. Cyworld was hugely popular and successful in Korea, but they failed to capitalize outside Korea. They tried much later, but it was too little, too late. A recent report shows that Facebook, a hugely popular social networking website in US, is growing the fastest outside US. I saw some report in Korea that complained Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome do not display most of Korean websites correctly. It’s because most Korean websites were developed for Microsoft’s ASP.Net. This is certainly not Mozilla’s or Google’s faults, and they certainly should not change its code to support non-W3C standard web pages. Korean mobile manufacturers have been in mobile phone industry for a while, but they never have generated hype and loyal following like Apple had with iPhone (to be fair, it applies to all other mobile phone makers). Also, by opening of API and free SDK, and allowing users to buy and install any applications they wish, Apple is pushing mobile application development to whole another level. In addition, Google’s open-source based Android phone is sure to bring additional push for mobile application innovation. What’s interesting is while Apple has full control over its hardware, Google doesn’t. Google relies on others for hardware, and this is quite similar to Microsoft and cheap PC hardware alternatives to IBM PC and its OS. Mobile phone’s hardware is getting commoditized, as all electronic hardware goes through, and tremendous value is placed in OS and other software running on top. That’s why Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the most well-known VC in the Silicon Valley, has created $100 million iFund to invest in iPhone and iPod Touch applications. In addition, Research In Motion, the RBC and Thomson Reuters have invested in an $150 million venture investment fund, called the BlackBerry Partners Fund, to support developers of applications running primarily on the Blackberry.

In essence, I think Korea’s high-tech industry is not taking full advantage of its potential. One major part of the problem is the whole start-up environment, from investment community to engineers and marketing folks who are too isolated. When a start-up is started, it should look to US and Europe (and perhaps China) as its main markets, not Korea. Products should be architected and designed for more than just Korean market. The key to successful business outside Korea is to understand local business and consumer cultures, so Korean companies should not be shy of hiring someone outside Korea, and also tolerate other cultures or different way of thinking. Also, you need more personal investors willing to take very high risks and provide seed money. Successful entrepreneurs should be available to offer advice to those in need. Koreans are no doubt very smart on paper. What separates them and successful entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley are basically thought processes: creative problem solving, seeing beyond what’s obvious, thinking outside the box, etc. There is a reason why most innovations and value/wealth creation is still happening in the Silicon Valley. One of the reasons is general acceptance of immigrants and differences in cultures and thinking. Silicon Valley’s position may certainly change in the future, but so far I believe it is still here. I sincerely hope that Korea can take full advantage of its highly-educated, smart population and its technology achievements to start creating values outside Korea (but NOT with Government initiatives). She has the potential and just needs to spread her wings.

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Whole Product

The concept of “Whole Product” has been well known. In order to complete user experience, you need additional products, features or services in addition to the main product. For Apple iPod, it was the iTune that managed music collection as well as vehicle to buy a song at $0.99 (as opposed to buying an entire album). Apple perfected the art with iPhone and its App Store.

Thinking back, Samsung made critical mistake when trying to enter enterprise networking market. Most companies buy Cisco products not only for their technology, but also support and professional services, which make up the whole product. Even though networking products are based on open standards (IETF), because enterprise network is complicated and mission critical, it’s important to design it correctly and to receive immediate support when something goes wrong. Samsung wasn’t willing to invest money in the support and services structure.
Along with iPhone, Google’s Android phones will also have Application Marketplace, so it would be very interesting if the success can be replicated. I say it would, but we shall see. There is clear business model for Apple iPhone application developers (by charging for apps), but I don’t see it for Android. I suppose they would have to give developers freedom to charge for an application. So far I think they are supposed to be free, but money could be very strong motivator, so Google should strongly consider it.

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Mobile app – P2P or mesh

If mobile phones (more like smart phones) are becoming mini-computers, it is very conceivable that many things you run on desktop could be run on smart phones.

The major differences between the two are mobility, contraints and the volume. I was thinking about the last part. There are supposed to be around 3 billion mobile phones in the world, as opposed to some several hundred million PCs. Also most phones are on all the time, albeit in standby mode. If some applications are running all the time, battery wouldn’t last long. If you consider all the phones worldwide, there will be millions phones on at one time.
If there is a way to tap on to each of those phones, combined productivity would be great. There is one sort of application that utilizes a great number of folks downloading at the same time, and it is BitTorrent. Can you imagine BitTorrent running on most smart phones……either streaming or downloading? You can easily max out network capacity…., and your other mobile applications would suffer. The idea of creating mesh network using mobile phones in proximity has been aroudn for a while. It could be doable, but what would be the purpose? Mobile P2P would be cool, but what useful thing can you do with it?
It brings me memory of using the first VoIP app. I was in college, and I remember using it in a dorm room…, and I can’t remember the name of the app, but all I remember is that it really sucked and I was really disappointed. Like any new technology, I think the first batch would be more of “proof-of-concept”. But, it’s almost like evolution – that technology will improve, and at some point, environment will be ripe for the app(s).
I truly believe it’s only matter of time that some sort of P2P or mesh networking. You know, that’s why I think iPhone will lose to hundreds of gPhones. iPhone will kill those applications, but gPhone is for freedom. You can hack it. You can install any applications. You can probably even install modified OS. gPhone will spur much more innovations than iPhone. It’s substance vs. style, and I’d go for substance (with style). :)

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History repeats itself? iPhone and Apple Mac’s

My current mobile contract is over in October. I set my mind to buy an iPhone next, but then T-Mobile’s Android phone, G1 will be also available in October. That complicates things a little bit.

But one thing is for sure. I don’t like G1. HTC and T-Mobile should’ve done better job at designing an aesthetic phone. It’s fugly. I see it as a beta phone, and I hope Samsung or LG make much better Android phones. Then shall I wait till those phones are available? Next Android phone is most likely from Sprint, and I wouldn’t buy it even if it’s free (unless I can unlock it and use it in AT&T network!) because Sprint network sucks and the company will be extinct in a few (or several) years.

It also dawned to me that there are some similarities between different routes PC/Mac took and how Apple and Google are approaching mobile market. Apple iPhone is definitely vertically integrated. Apple controls the hardware, but lets 3rd-party software developers to publish their applications as long as Apple approves them (thus the similar to Mac). On the other hand, Google’s Android is open-source and it relies on others to make platforms and anyone can develop software (thus similar to Microsoft and PC). Even in Google’s case, I think they would need to screen some applications that might be borderline immoral – offensive, racist, unethical, or just plain wrong (wrong on whose standard? That could be a source for a debate). So, with such parallism, I have to wonder whether iPhone will suffer the same fate as old Mac did. While many phone manufacturers are coming up with different phones with different tastes (thus much broader appealing than iPhone), iPhone will be limited to designs that Apple can release.

In addition, as recent smart phones have demonstrated, future mobile phones will be just like mini computers. There will some mini computers for average folks, some for advanced, and some for ultra geeks who may even buy off-the-shelf-components and build their own. The key is to let hardware vendors package them differently and target different market segments. Google just provides OS and default search, many many 3rd-party developers offer their applications. This is what Microsoft wanted with its Windows Mobile OS, but Google is definitely crashing Microsoft’s party. Who would win? I don’t know about you, but I am going to bet on Google. Google (Android) will dominate smart phone OS in 3-5 years. Because it is open source, someone can easily build an affortable smart phone based on Android and create mini smart phone reveolution in developing nations, where cheap phones are dominant, but people will naturally want to move up to better, sophisticated phones. In other words, even in smart phone market, there will be different segments; more basic, cheaper to advanced, more expensive phones. Someone might even sell mobile phone kit(s) with different components.

One hurdle I could see is carriers. In many places, you are locked in to a carrier. This must change. It is hurting mobile innovations. Those fat cats must go. FCC must allow open competition. Google’s bid for spectrum was more self-served, but open airwave would have spawned amazing innovations in mobile industry. In the end, perhaps, all telecom service providers (either wired or wireless) might become just pipe provider. They want to avoid that, thus make you lock-in or monopolize the market.

Again and again, the higher you go up on the value chain, more important it is. Content/software is the king – applications on PCs, OS in routers/switches, programming on cable network, etc.

Coming back to the original point, Apple had better be prepared to not repeat the history.

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T-Mobile G1 (Dream)

T-Mobile’s G1, much anticipated Google Android phone, was unveiled today. However, looking at the pictures, I can’t believe how ugly it looks! I glimpsed a bit of screen shots, but I am not entirely convinced this would be a iPhone killer…. In addition, I am not hearing about customers dying to get their hands on it. Google/T-Mobile could have done better job marketing the phone… :(

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Follow your dream?

Should you?

I had a conversation with someone who has been quite successful as a serial entrepreneur. Since I have a lot of spare time, I wanted to pick his brain and get some pointers what I could follow his footsteps. His brief answer was that he just had been lucky, right place at the right time. He also said there are some people who are cut out to be a leader, founder, and entrepreneur. And, most people are not. He said God (whichever god depends on your religion) has set out a path for everyone. People have different strengths, and he doesn’t believe in working on improving weaknesses, but reinforcing strengths.

One of the books I like is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. One principle in the book says that the state head must know how to utilize his generals’ strengths best. If a general is good at offense, he should be deployed in offensive position. And if a general is good at defense, then in defensive position. You can’t blame a general for not doing his job if he was assigned with a job he cannot possibly do well. It makes total sense……

So, what if your dream is not in line with your strengths? Or what if your strengths are not enough to reach your dream? Books and TVs are full of stories about people following their dreams, persevere, and actually achieving them. How about others who have followed them but never made them? There are many athletes, both professional and Olympic, who in spite of their best effort do not make it at the top. What about those countless artists and musicians? When do you realize that perhaps your strengths are not in line with your dream or just not enough? What do you do? Then, is it about different levels or definitions of success? Should an athlete be satisfied with making it to the Olympic teams?

It’s especially meaningful to me since I have two kids of my own. As a parent, I would tell them that they could be anything they want to be. Would I be setting them up for big disappointments? Shall I just tell them that there are different levels of successes, and they should set low goals? Jack Welch is famous for setting “stretch goals”, which may not be applicable for kids, but I really ponder over the whole thing.

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Dare to predict the future

Since the shutdown of the company I was working at previously, I have had some time to think about what I want to do. I still have the desire to start my own company, but it’s indeed getting harder and harder as I have certain family obligations. Next best thing is to join a startup, but there aren’t too many left standing in networking industry. As I have mentioned before, best case scenario would be to join a startup in web application space, but because I don’t have relevant prior experiences, it is tough. That leaves joining a well-established company in networking industry. While that’s good for supporting the family, it is bruising to my ambition and dream of starting a company of my own. However, life would not be worth living without a dream. We live one life, and I just refuse to accept that I will live the rest of my life as nobody in the sea of big corporations. Well, not exactly. My personality wouldn’t let me be nobody. I am too ambitious to be nobody in any company. Either I make a difference and become somebody or get the hell out. I think I’ve always enjoyed limelight – there is something about being a center of attention.

At any rate, I decided to examine history of technology innovations (as far back as I could remember), and see where the future innovations would happen. As people grow older, they tend to have “locked-in” view. I can feel that I already do that sometimes. But, it’s important to have open mind and views. I will let my imaginations go wild, and see where things might be headed in the future. This would be a good exercise.

I would divide Internet into two large areas: physical and logical (or Layer 1 to 4 and Layer 5 to 7 of OSI model). In physical side, you have telecommunications and data communications equipment that is responsible for delivering bits (zeroes and ones) from point A to point B. In Layer 1, most long hauls, WANs and LANs are either fiber or moving to fiber. To desktop is most likely to remain copper, and to laptop is most likely wireless (Wi-Fi variation). Long hauls use mostly SONET, the good-old, reliable SOB. DWDM stuffs much more information into single strand of fiber using different wavelengths. So, as long as you have fiber in the ground, DWDM or any other future boxes will be interested in stuffing more and more bits into the single strand of fiber. Similarly, Ethernet evolution map is pretty much intuitive, too: faster and faster. Also interesting thing is moving everything over IP. Storage used to be exclusively on fibre channel network, but with NAS and iSCSI, everything is accessible over IP without specialized network. There is even talk about implementing fibre channel over Ethernet. Actually, much more interesting things in physical side are happening in and around data centers. The need to have scalable data center is pushing for HPC environment where resources from multiple servers are pooled together. What’s happening now is like creating a humongous server with hundreds of CPUs and obscene amount of storage. With pre-partitioned storage, any number of CPUs can be instantly grouped together to perform certain jobs. For example, if there is sudden surge of demand for database processing, addition CPUs can be assigned to already existing database CPUs. It is like dynamic server virtualization. You can also imagine, with fast enough connection and fast enough storage like maybe Solid State Drives, that there could be separate “memory area network” in addition to “storage area network”. Thus you have three physically separate areas – CPU, memory and storage – being grouped dynamically on the fly and providing services to clients as needed. What provides physical connections for those three areas become quite interesting too…. Memory typically requires 50ns or less access speed, so I am not sure if current Ethernet switch can work. But, you could imagine some sort of box providing network connection to/from clients as well as between the three areas. That would be really neat… But the box needs to be as scalable as the computing resources. Also management would not be easy. There may be additional challenges I am not seeing right now, but I would believe that’s where most network, server, and storage vendors are heading.

In terms of physical side of mobile industry, it’s also pretty much predictable. Apple iPhone and Google Android are paving a new era of mobile networks. Service providers need to upgrade their equipment to deal with more and more data. Thanks to the two pioneers, mobile phones will be considered as mini-computers where consumers are free (as much as phone manufacturer lets them) to download and install applications.

Logical side is even more interesting than the physical side in both wired and wireless networks. Whether you use desktop or mobile phone, what you do with bits delivered via the network is where the true value resides. However, I must say that I am much more excited about mobile apps than desktop apps. The evolution of desktop apps seems quite predictable. For example, social networking websites could be considered as enhanced BBS. I remember when I first got my computer in high school, it came with 2400 baud modem and the only “online” activity would be through BBS. I exchanged games with others physically…using 5.25” floppy disks. You could choose which BBS to go and hang out. When I went to college, I used newsgroups and IRC as BBS. Then to Yahoo Groups, and now it’s Facebook. Truly remarkable development has been around software-as-a-service model. In most cases, big software vendors tended to target customers who leave most margins, i.e. Fortune 1000 companies. Small-to-Medium businesses usually get crippled version at discounted price, but in terms of productivity, it could be considered a lot more expensive. When you move apps to web, now you have different economies of scale, and distribution and pricing model. Just as the Internet made “Long Tail” possible, SaaS changes the whole software landscape and makes it attractive to SMBs (not that it wouldn’t be also attractive to larger companies, but they may not have compelling reason to jump).

Also, when you add mobility, you get a whole different set of software. Mobility means your location may change at any time. The obvious apps are the ones that tell you about things around you, whether you are looking for a restaurant, a friend, etc. There is also notion of instant social gaming, where you hook up with whoever is available and play a game together. Another one is instant access to information wherever you are. One app I saw lets user scan a barcode of a product and find review/rating information about it. Pretty clever. So what makes apps on mobile phone with high-speed internet connection a lot more interesting is location + instant access to information.

What could be possible? Where could things go from here? SaaS means both desktop and mobile phone could access the same application. So the SaaS should be able to accommodate information from/to both desktop and mobile phone. Will desktops become just another (immobile) terminal to apps? How about SaaS of SaaS? If apps are moving to web, and there might be a need for information exchange between two or more SaaS apps. Mashup for mobile apps. There is an idea! Another characteristic of mobile phone is it’s most likely to be with owner all the time. So, it could be use as tracking device…..could be as physical as distance travelled or expenses……or some sort of analysis based on accumulated data…..like when s/he is most likely to spend money, etc. I actually have envisioned a society without cash, since a lot of financial transactions already happen without me actually touching the money. Money gets deposited using direct deposit. I always use credit cards for purchases. I then pay for credit charges using online banking. I don’t need to touch the money, period. So, what if you add charging capability to the mobile phone? It’s already done in Asia and Europe, where you can pay for goods using your mobile phone. It’s just that mobile carriers are not credit card companies, but it should be possible perhaps through partnership. Then SaaS could keep track of most of expenses through the mobile phones and provide you with financial analysis. That could be possible.

Actually, it would be impossible to think of all the possible mobile SaaS right now….., but it gives good topic ideas. From today on, I am going to write about at least one mobile SaaS a day.

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Just do it!

There are a few people at work I enjoy having conversation with, and one of them is a software engineer with a lot of interest in marketing and starting a company.

One day he and I had a discussion about high-tech marketing strategies. I gave examples and principles from books I have read like Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado, and Innovator’s Dilemma. But, he basically discarded them as garbage and they are all just after-the-facts, trying to explain what made companies successful. Hindsight is always 20-20, and it is easy to justify actions after success. I try very hard to make counter his points, but it didn’t fly.

The truth is that he was right. None of the authors – neither Geoffrey Moore and Clayton Christensen – has ever run a successful company. Also, so many successful companies in the valley have been accidental success. Look no further than Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin never wanted to start a company. After successful prototype, they just wanted to sell the technology. Nobody including Yahoo wanted to buy the technology. Everyone thought search market was mature enough with no room for new player. They sat on a $100,000 check made out to “Google, Inc.” from Andy Bechtolsheim, mulling over whether to start a company or not. The same with Craig Newman from Craigslist.org, which is arguably one of the most visited websites in the world. He started out by managing a bunch of mailing lists, which was a pain and took a lot of his time. He wanted a better way to manage the mailing lists, and that’s how Craigslist.org was born. Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook never intended to create a company of current Facebook. He just wanted to find a way to see who’s who in his freshman class, and that’s how Facebook started. Similar stories exist for other companies like eBay and Paypal. Have they all followed the strategies and tactics laid out in marketing books? I am not sure. But, it is surely easy to tell the world – after such huge success – why certain actions taken at the time were so brilliant. But, who knows at the time it was motivated entirely differently?

In addition, most successful start-ups happened to be started by engineers, not marketing-types. From HP to Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, and Google, all of them were founded by engineers.

Guy Kawasaki from Garage Technology Ventures said that one common mistake an entrepreneur makes is writing a business plan first. Instead, he or she should start building service or product and starting selling them first. It’s utmost important to get customer feedback as soon as possible. By incorporating customer feedback and improving service or product, the entrepreneur could build his/her business. If more capital is required for further growth, it’s much easier to raise funding with proven business model.

So, to my fellow entrepreneurs, JUST DO IT!

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Security: Tech’s all-time top flop

InfoWorld recently ran a story about high-tech’s all-time top 25 flops, and security took the honor of being the first place. The list included pretty familiar flops like IBM’s OS/2, Apple’s Newton, and IPv6. As someone who works in the security industry, the finding isn’t all that surprising. It was actually pretty amusing, because my colleagues and I all knew security would in in that top 25. As in my previous blog entry, the number of malware is reaching an epidemic level and there are many variations of past and current malware including virus, worm and spyware.

It looks like the security industry has reached its limitation with current techniques.

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Microsoft + Yahoo is a bad, bad move

Bad for Microsoft shareholders and probably good for Yahoo shareholders. 62% premium above Thursday’s closing price is a good offer, and board of directors at Yahoo must consider it very seriously.

Why is it bad and why it wouldn’t work? Let me count the ways…

1. Two mediocre companies – mediocre in terms of Internet world – will not create one better Internet company. Windows Live sucks. Yahoo has been losing its market share in search market and its new ad marketing system, Panama, hasn’t made difference to Yahoo. I really can’t see how the combined company will compete with companies like Google better…..

2. Mega merger rarely works. The reason why Cisco has been successful in M&A is because Cisco targets mostly small companies. There are a few exceptions, but it takes enormous amount of work to integrate large companies. It will take long time for Microsoft and Yahoo to work through integration, and competition will be far ahead of Micrsoft+Yahoo by then.

3. Microsoft has bullied its way into browser world by including internet explorer with its operating system, but these days, especially to web 2.0 companies and their web applications, browsers do not matter. Their applications are browser-agnostic in most part. Google returns the same result whether you have IE or Firefox or any other browser. Other Google services (or applications to an extent) will run the same whether on IE or Firefox or any other browser (if there is difference, it would be minimal). Furthermore, they are also OS-agnostic. Whether you run Linux, Solaris, or Windows, these web applications and web sites are made to run
the same no matter what OS and what browser you use. This is precisely why Microsoft should and is worried about Google and the whole slew of web 2.0 companies (look at Facebook and its huge list of applications – Facebook is already its own platform).

However, motivation is clear, and the proposed deal looks enticing to both Yahoo (for capital, financial and resource reasons) and Microsoft (for technology and market share gain reasons)…. But I can’t help but feeling that this will mark the time Microsoft finally jumps the shark……

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