Tag: Amazon

Time to make a quick buck on PRISM fiasco

National-Security-Agency--008While the big internet companies are wringing their hands about being caught helping the US snoop on its citizens, there are some companies who are turning this into a money making opportunity.

DuckDuckGo, a service that does not does not keep a record of searches or tailor them to what its users have looked for in the past, said it took the company four years to get one million searches a day, but this had tripled to three million in the eight days after the PRISM surveillance scandal broke.

A tweet from the company said: “It took 1445 days to get 1M searches, 483 days to get 2M searches, and then just 8 days to pass 3M searches.”

While this is nothing in comparison to Google, it could be the tip of the iceburg for companies who are concerned about the deals that US companies made with their government.

The Patriot Act, under which PRISM was developed, has already been helping fledgling European Cloud companies see off much larger US competition.

This is because the US companies would have to guarantee to the Europeans that their data will not leave Europe, otherwise they would have to give it to the US government. This created a rush to build European data centres to support US cloud operations in the “old country.” However there is still some concern that a strict interpretation of the Patriot Act could force those US suppliers to hand over foreign data whether it is stored in Europe or not.

While all this is a mess for the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, it is great news for European Cloud providers such as the French Sovereign Cloud.

While there are fears that local spooks might also want to look in corporate clouds, that is a better option that giving the data to a foreign power.

As F-Secure chief research officer Mikko Hypponen pointed out: “If you are going to have a Big Brother, it is better to have a domestic Big Brother than a foreign Big Brother.”

Meanwhile European Union could force US cloud suppliers to give up the European customers. At the moment they are asking the US some fairly sticky questions, and could turn to regulating the American cloud users from the market.

At very least, it could recommend that companies opt for European cloud providers instead. In Germany they take such recommendations very seriously. One security recommendation nearly killed off the use of Internet Explorer and gave Firefox a significant boost.

Telecoms groups such as Orange and Deutsche Telekom have announced that they are trying to exploit the concerns as they build their own cloud businesses.

Government agencies and municipalities, especially in more privacy-conscious countries such as Germany, are more likely to turn to local alternatives for cloud services.

Sweden banned Google Apps in the public sector over concerns that Google had too much leeway over how the data was used and stored and PRISM could be a final nail in the service’s coffin in that country.

 

Online shops get physical

google-walletAmerica pioneered online shopping and its e-commerce outfits are now spearheading another trend. They are thinking of opening traditional brick and mortar stores.

Online juggernaut Amazon is said to be actively exploring a store concept and it is not alone. Bonobos, Warby Parker, Sigma Beauty and others are doing it as well.

It might sound surprising, given the e-commerce boom, but online outfits are looking ahead. They can’t hope to sustain current growth rates much longer, so they might be compelled to branch into physical stores sooner or later.

“But we wanted to put a face on the brand, and we wanted people to touch and feel the product,” Sigma cofounder Simone Xavier told CPA Practice Advisor.

Although online retailers tend to have much lower costs than their traditional counterparts, websites can’t completely replace showrooms and stores, or good salespersons for that matter.

“It is strange to see e-commerce sites open physical stores,” said retail consultant Jeff Green. “But when you think about, it’s not surprising. The most successful retailers are going to have a combination of bricks-and-mortars and digital sales. For online retailers, you might as well get to the sale as close as you can.”

Of course, online retailers will stay true to their roots and their physical stores won’t replace online. Many probably won’t bother with physical stores at all and even those that do are likely to face a lot of challenges.

Google – the egregious corporation

Google the OgleDoes being the Jack of all Trades and the master of none apply to Google? I fear so. Having oodles of cash has tempted Google into all manner of strange ventures but it’s pretty clear that some of its wacky ideas are way off kilter.

Take the supply chain, for example, and Google’s venture into being a hardware company. The evidence is that it simply doesn’t have a clue about the very complicated infrastructure in Asia – the original design manufacturers (ODMs) need to be cultivated and have learned from the School of Hard Knocks that most of the trouble in the world come from vendors that make microprocessors and operating systems.

To be fair to Google, it has been consistent. It has, like Amazon, destroyed more industries than it’s created.  Bookshops. What are they?  Books? Google will take care of that problem, thank you very much. Google has also undermined the publishing and the advertising industries. You might say that is a good thing, but ask any large publisher what they think of Google and you will hear a torrent of bad language that would make a navvie quake.

Then there’s news. Google News is one of the stupidest concepts on the planet and is well on its way to destroying journalism, with hacks everywhere not bothering to cultivate contacts but simply copying what other hacks have written. So much for investigative journalism – Google News has turned hackdom into a crazy carousel.

The Google search engine is, of course, bloody useful, but it encourages laziness too and the search results are tainted by Google adverts.

Google’s motto about doing no evil implies it is doing evil.  These mottoes invariably turn into their opposites – think of the League of Nations, think of the United Nations.  Any organization that uses the word harmony contains within itself the seed of chaos.  Catchlines are minetraps.  Google is a money making organization and altruism is no part of that.

Don’t let yourself be bullied by Google. Nor by Microsoft or Intel. Rant over.

Tesco chucks cash at digital services

tescoTesco is continuing in its quest to become the all singing all dancing supermarket giant.

The company has now said it will be launching a new UK digital music and book service, while, like many companies, is moving to improve its presence in China, launching its Clubcard into the country.

Head honcho Philip Clarke said that the supermarket would be throwing $750 million at the technology market  this year, a mark up three times more than in 2010, in a bid to go head to head with the likes of Amazon and Play.com.

He said the company would be embracing digital retailing, eventually offering apps to help customers shop easier as well as confirming that it would launch blinkboxmusic and blinkboxbooks over the coming months.

It’s taking the moves seriously – hiring one of Facebook’s most senior European executives, Gavin Sathianathan, to lead the operation.

Mark Bennett, a former EMI and Warner Music executive, has been tasked with heading up blinkboxmusic.

This is one of many paths the company has been taking in its quest to become supermarket king.

Earlier this month it was reportedly in talks to buy family food chain Giraffe as well as entering into the price match war with its rivals.

Tablets a boon for shops

stylustabletWhile the humble desktop PC emits a death rattle across Europe, consumers are flocking to tablets – devices which tend to be much more comfortable to keep on your lap when channel surfing.

According to analyst house Context, tablet sales have increased an enormous 350 percent in a single year, proving a boon to retailers who had the foresight to invest in the devices. Global MD of retail research at Context, Adam Simon, pointed out that there is a shift away from online-only retail channels, giving bricks and mortar stores the opportunity to capitalise while the consumer embarks on its cheap-and-cheerful tablet frenzy. Amazon is an example, which now stocks the Kindle in regular stores.

Click and collect is an emerging trend which is also helping the traditional retailers. Rather than waiting for the postman to stealthily drop in a “Sorry you weren’t at home” card in the nanosecond he or she was at the door, customers order online and pick up their product from a designated site. This is a pretty neat option because you don’t need to take a week off work to make sure you catch your delivery. Argos has enjoyed success with this model.

Of course, Apple is still very popular, but Context pointed out that top tablets in Western Europe also included the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, the Galaxy Tab2 10, and the Nexus 7. Samsung’s laughing.

Context tablet analyst Salman Chaudhry said in a statement that Apple’s show and play concept “was a real leader and taught consumers to enjoy experiential purchases while also creating links between their own stores and other retail outlets”.

“Various tablet vendors are now following these footsteps by making more devices available in stores for people to trial before they buy, with even Google getting in on the act with their stands in PC World,” Chaudhry said.

 

Bitcoin hopes to take on big players

bitcoinBitcoin is slowly gaining more support from mainstream businesses, but it is still largely relegated to transactions involving virtual goods, gambling or some even shadier activities. Bitcoin Store hopes to change all that.

The outfit focuses on consumer electronics and gadgets and according to The Verge,   it has a pretty good variety of products to offer. Since it’s not the first Bitcoin retailer out there, the company hopes to make a name for itself by undercutting the competition, including the likes of Amazon and NewEgg.

Bitcoin Store head of marketing Jon Holmquist said the whole point of the site is to demonstrate that both consumers and businesses can save a bit of cash simply by using Bitcoin. He said that Ingram Micro is the site’s supplier and that all large electronics sites use the same supplier.

However, the Bitcoin Store somehow managed to get into the highest pricing tier for Ingram Micro, which means it is the first time that a Bitcoin company is getting products at the same price as conventional retailers.

“It really showcases how much cheaper it is to pay with Bitcoin,” he said. Holmquist went on to point out that pricing on the site changes automatically as Bitcoin exchange rates fluctuate.

He also pointed out that the site’s owner, Bitcoin guru Roger Ver, decided to keep all Bitcoins amassed from sales, as he believes Bitcoin will continue to rise in value.

Europe to binge on cheap tablets

nexus7The tablet boom is still going strong and according to Forrester Research, plenty of growth is expected over the next few years. Tablet ownership in Europe is expected to quadruple by 2017.

At the moment, an estimated 14 percent of European online consumers own a tablet, and the number should hit 55 percent by 2017. But who stands to gain from the boom?

Google starts to recruit resellers against Amazon Cloud

cloud 2Google and Amazon have been scrapping it out for dominance of the skies, but now it seems that the search engine Zeppelin may be trying to recruit resellers to help out.

According to GigaomGoogle has signed up its first reseller, a company called RightScale, which is offering a “cloud management platform”.

It helps an enterprise automate routine tasks, monitor usage and monthly costs, and control security options.

As a reseller RightScale works with other major providers of Internet-delivered computing power and storage, including Amazon, RackSpace, HP Cloud, and Windows Azure. But its products have always worked with Compute Engine since Google launched the cloud service in June.

What this means is that Google has finally woken up and realised that its enterprise customers not only need someone to sell them the products, but also hold their hands if something goes tits up.
One of the difficulties that Google has had is that the company is so big, that getting information on its products, particularly when something goes wrong, is difficult.

But there are some elements of self-protection here. This partnership announcement comes a week after Amazon launched a new service called OpsWorks, which competes with RightScale. This means that by having resellers Google and the reseller can protect each other from the Amazon juggernaut.

In the long term Google will probably do better than Amazon. It has a lot more experience running Apps on the Cloud, and soon its products will be faster and cheaper but this announcement is a reminder that even super-companies like Google need resellers to get their products out there.
Google is also the new kid on the block and many corporate customers will not be aware that it is out there yet. Having a reseller pushing product is one way of raising the profile.

Microsoft confuses on Azure

clouds3Software giant Microsoft is trying to encourage its channel to come up with more cloud offerings by cutting the price on its Azure licencing.

Microsoft lowered Windows Azure price on SQL Reporting Services, which is used for business intelligence-type applications.
The SQL Reporting Service is now measured at increments of 30 reports at $0.16 per hour. The previous charge was measured at $0.88 per hour in increments of 200 reports.

Writing in its bog Vole claims that “the smaller report increment will give customers better use of the service and lower effective price points”.

Like most of the postings that Microsoft has made on its cloud offerings this one is as clear as mud. That is one of the things that resellers have been moaning about when it comes to Azure. The licensing arrangements are so Byzantine you have to be Constantine the Great to understand how they all work.

Customers have to pay for the compute time, data storage and data access and the bandwidth of the data transferred out of the cloud. Those various services get priced per GB. Then there is a monthly fee rolled into the overall cost if an organization uses SQL Azure.

To make matters worse, at the end of last year, Vole started reducing the price for Windows Azure Storage (WAS), claiming that costs could be reduced by 28 percent. WAS offers geo-replication storage support, as well as lower cost “redundant storage”. The geo-replication storage service is turned on by default.

However according to RPC magazine the service cannot be that good because when there was a two-day Windows Azure service disruption in December, Vole did not bother using it. If it had, Microsoft would have lost customer data.

Microsoft is apparently planning a few price more cuts which look even more complex as they are discounts based on spending tiers.

All this is because of the effectiveness of Amazon, particularly Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon cut data transfer prices by as much as 83 percent. In addition, Amazon decreased some EC2 on-demand prices by up to 13 percent.

All up this is making the life of the reseller trying to sell Azure based offerings a little harder. Price cuts would make things a lot more competitive, if the original pricing structure was not so complex. Trying to sell such a complex structure to a client is a tough sell, particularly when the customer does not know what they are getting into.

HMV pooch put down, Blockbuster busted

nippergonerHMV’s pooch has been put down. Staring into a rifle rather than a gramophone, Nipper’s one of the latest goners in the struggling high street. The question is just why exactly he and the chain have taken this long to croak.

His Master’s Voice had been shouting – with a sickly sore throat – for quite some time about how it is still relevant. HMV tried to launch a digital on-demand service, it committed more of its shelf space to electronics, and attempted to lift itself out of an inevitable quagmire. All the nostalgia is fair enough considering the brand’s longstanding legacy (though this Telegraph article makes a compelling case otherwise) – what doesn’t make sense is the illogical idea that Britain’s high street is integral to its national character or even its larger economy. Britain went through the luddite movement once already. Haven’t we learned our lesson? Once the technology is out there, you can’t turn back the clock, and trying to do so is understandable, but stupid.

Shopping online makes sense. This is why it is so successful. Given the choice between getting on a bus, standing in a queue, paying more, and with a limited selection – compared to one click ordering in under a minute, cheap, for exactly what you want or need – is it any surprise the consumer has largely chosen the web? It is possible that a retailer will figure out a hybrid model at some point in the future, and bargain or pound shops are unlikely to have many problems in a recession, but for the sort of commodities that don’t need to be tried on, the internet is a better option.

Any sympathies in wake of the bust must be directed toward the thousands of staff that lost their jobs because management refused to innovate in an age where taking risks and doing so is the  only way to succeed. Consistently playing catch-up, and thoroughly outpaced, it is a miracle HMV managed to hold on as long as it did. As for the unfortunate staff: let the demise of HMV, and all the others, work as a warning that in a permanently connected society it’s now nearly impossible to rest on your laurels and run a successful operation. HMV, of course, is only one of the most recent. Jessops (which previously shared the same chief executive as HMV’s last) was another casualty, before it, Comet, and before that, more. It has just been announced that Blockbuster will go into administration – South Park aired an episode about the inevitability of this outcome in October 2012.

Britain’s high street hasn’t been about some vague and nostalgic notion of community for a long time. Its steady transformation from local merchants and butchers to identikit hubs of big brand shops, that look the same in every British suburb, was complete years ago.

Adam Smith described Britain as a nation of shopkeepers, and that – first published in 1776 – is still true today. But it is something that must change. The high street’s death rattle has only just begun. An economy committed to hiring people to sell products – let alone barely producing –  is bound to fail, and we can only expect more casualties to come.

According to some critics, the blame is solely in the hands of management. Speaking with ChannelEye, Luke Ireland, business strategy adviser and non-executive director, said: “It is no surprise that we see three more major retailers succumb to the power of the internet.

“Don’t blame tax avoidance or government policy blame the management for not embracing the internet.

“It’s not going away and unless you fundamentally build it into everything you do your business will fail. I feel for the staff but if you work for a retail business which ignores the internet I’d look for another job.”