Steve and Me

Last month I was asked by Microsoft to attend an event in Chicago that featured their CEO Steve Ballmer.  I really didn’t understand the details, but Chicago is a convenient train ride from the land of cheese, so I agreed.  I rarely attend any events, vendor sponsored or otherwise.  But I am glad I went to this one.

Steve Ballmer was speaking to the Executive Club of Chicago (or some such thing).  There were 1,400 people there.  After introducing each of the 20 people sitting at the head table with him he spoke for about 30 minutes.  I tweeted his presentation live:

  • Ballmer: we borrowed our way to prosperity, the next economic boom will be built on innovation and productivity.
  • Ballmer: our job is to make the virtual world as good or better than the real world. In 10 years I want to speak to this group digitally.
  • Ballmer: we spend about $9B a year on research and development.
  • Ballmer: breakthroughs will come through modeling the physical world in the virtual world.
  • Ballmer: …does a quick commercial for and encourages people “to click on one of the ads, otherwise we don’t make money.”
  • Ballmer: In our industry people give up too soon. Windows took 5 years to catch on.
  • Ballmer: I wish we would have seen the search business model. My one do-over is to start search business sooner. Will increase 8% share.

Let me say this about Steve Ballmer, he is not like you and me.  I fancy myself a competent speaker with an ounce of charisma.  Ballmer oozes charisma while coming off very genuine.  While it was clear he has a few talking points that he would back to (primarily creating buzz regarding, he spoke eloquently without notes and without sounding rehearsed.  He is what you would expect at the top of one of the world’s largest corporations.Me and Steve Ballmer

After the luncheon I was invited to Microsoft’s Chicago offices for a CIO forum.  I knew Ballmer would be there, but little else.  When I arrived I was escorted to a small conference room with 5 other mid-market CIOs.  We stood around and mingled, then Ballmer walked into the room, looked me in the eye and apologized for being late.  Much to my surprise  he sat down and gave us a full hour of his time.

In my next post I will recap some of that discussion, including his recommendations for CIOs; the future of cloud computing and Microsoft’s view of the healthcare market.

Windows Vista

I am writing this post from my primary home PC, which runs Windows Vista. As I switch between it and my work PC, which runs XP, I would be hard pressed to tell you the difference. The only things that come to mind are:

  • Vista’s radically different Search user interface and
  • User Access Control.

I find both annoying. But, I am a geek and when I am home I enjoy trying out the latest and greatest. I also have a MacBook running OS X Leopard and my old home built PC runs Ubuntu Linux (I had time to build PCs?).

Other than some minor annoyances I like Vista and I would not consider switching back to XP.  I would also add that there are annoyances with all of these Operating Systems.  I find Apple’s Vista claims disengenuous.  I found just as many OS X Leopard annoyances and incompatibilities.  For example, my SuperDuper backup would not work and I could no longer import my Flip video into the new version of iMovie.

But, when I am working I am a business person. Every day I am faced with a limitless number of opportunities to make Ministry and Affinity a better place for our patients, doctors and employees. Upgrading the operating system on our 14,000 PCs is not on that list of opportunities. That is why we are taking a pass on Vista. Not that anything is wrong with Vista. It works great for me. But I would rather spend our team’s time working on electronic health records, patient safety initiatives and reducing the cost of healthcare to our Wisconsin communities.

Testing Vista alone would take thousands of hours. Getting our users acclamated to the OS would be another huge investment in time. When you are multiplying everything by 14,000 it adds up quickly.

USA Today has an article on Vista and I am quoted liberally (more than John Halamka – woohoo). I thought Jeff Graham did I nice job with the article. But, I love having a blog because it gives me a chance to expand on the quotes in the article.

On a personal note, the USA Today photographer came out to our Weston facility and took about 200 pictures of me and about 5 of some of our employees doing their day-to-day work. Despite having the dds in my favor, It appears from the online version to go with one of the pictures without me. Actually, that is the way it should be. These are the people providing the service to our patients. IT is a support department and we should be in the background.  Update: I just got the print version.  I see there is a photo of me too.  The caption made me cringe a little.  How do I look?

How much does email cost?

Our manager of data center technologies, Chris Fallin, has done a great job of designing an upgrade to our Exchange-based email platform. The design is enterprise-class (highly redundant and highly recoverable). But it also manages cost by reducing some of the unnecessary redundancy we have today. We will be implementing tools to manage email retention and e-discovery. We will also are buying tools to monitor the platform and manage the migration from Exchange 5.5 to 2007.

In total it will cost us $1.5M to upgrade our email platform. This includes a mix of Servers, OS, System software, Network upgrades and Microsoft Client Access Licenses.

Additionally, our cost to maintain that system (software and hardware maintenance and network connections) will run about $760K over the next 4 years. At that point we will need to upgrade hardware again (at least).

Given that we have 15,000 email users, I calculate our cost of email, for the next 4 years, will be $3.14 per user per month.

Come on Google, Answer the Phone (with updates)


2/27/07 1000: I decided to send Google another request today in case my first one wasn’t clear enough: This is my second attempt to contact you. I am the CIO of an organization with 11,000 users. Can someone contact me about the feasibility of migrating from our existing Exchange 5.5 platform.

2/27/07 1030: I received this email from Google after my second contact: We did receive your inquiry… thank you for your interest. Blair Reuling s your point of contact given the size of your organization. Blair is in he field and often traveling, and might be delayed in responding. Please eel free to contact Blair at…

2/28/2007: I phoned the Google enterpise dude 6 or 7 times today and could not reach him in his office or on his mobile phone. I left him a voicemail with a request to contact me so I can give him a bunch of cash. No contact yet. He has n are code in the Chicago suburbs. Maybe we will become best friends and go to White Sox games together – I have opening day tickets. Come on Google, answer my calls.

3/6/2007: Today I had my second conversation with Google – this was a WebEx (yes, Google uses WebEx).  I will create a new post when I have something to report.  But, I can confirm that they answered the phone and they have kept my interest enough for a 3rd meeting.   Of course the thing about meeting with Google is that you know they are going to Google your name.  When they did, this little post popped up.  But, they seemed to take it in stride by accepting my baseball offer below.  Hi Blair.
Original post

This month, for the first time since 1996, I started believing that there may be alternatives to Microsoft Exchange. Recently, Google announced their enterprise offering: Google Apps Premiere Edition for Enterprises.

Since we are the verge of beginning a project to rebuild or email system, I quickly jumped into the Google web site completed a web form telling them that I am the CIO for a $1B+ organization with 11,000 users and I wanted to buy their service. Of course there are no phone numbers posted, which indicates to me that Google has not created an infrastructure for supporting enterprises. They are treating their enterprise customers like their freeloading search and gmail users – here is the offering, don’t call us – ever. That is a good strategy for Aunt Agnes who cant figure out ho to open an attachment from her knitting club, it doesn’t work when you hope to close multi-million dollar deals.

While I waited for a response I started checking out the information Google had posted online. In general, I wanted to know if this would be an enterprise class service.

I got mixed feelings from reading the promotional material. On the one hand they have developed APIs for directory integration, user provisioning and onsite backup (good, good and good). But the information was not very deep and there was not of service to support an enterprise offering. Migrating to an email system would be a massive undertaking and there would have to be a ton of resources to assist us with the planning and testing.

While I applaud Google for including a service level agreement, it really isn’t enterprise class. 99.9% uptime for email is not acceptable in today’s world.

Even the pricing isn’t geared toward the true enterprise user either. $50 per user per year is great for a small company. But it really doesn’t scale to a large organization. At 11,000 users we would be forking over $550,000 a year. I am not sure how much we spend on messaging now, but I suspect it is less than half a million annually. Google’s service does give our users access to documents and spreadsheets, but most users that need Office already have it. This would be the case in most enterprises.

It is 4 days after begging Google to take my half million dollars, and I still have not heard from anyone. Apparently they are processing a backlog of CIOs willing to risk their job on such a venture. I am thinking this is more evidence that there is not a lot of enterprise support and their offering may be more suited to small businesses.

Still, I am very intrigued. I really feel that I have been overcharged by Microsoft for years because they could. So, I am primed for a change. Also, a managed service has a lot of appeal.

In the mean time I have downloaded the latest version of OpenOffice on my home PC. The improvement over the earlier versions that I have tried is remarkable. I can’t imagine why anyone would buy Office for their home when this works exactly the same. Folks, it is a free download (via bittorrent).

Maybe Microsoft’s iron grip is loosening. Maybe Google can get a grip.

I will keep you updated.