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Bill Bennett

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Cloud computing saves time and money, but they are not the only reasons to use it.

The great thing about the cloud is it means you are no longer tied to a place or a device. Your cloud data is available everywhere and on almost any digital gadget.

After years of promise remote work now mainstream

There’s a widespread feeling that remote work is now mainstream. Many assume that we will never go back to the old ways of working.

If that’s true, it’s been a long time coming. For years experts and pundits have predicted many more people will work from home in the future.

There’s evidence that the number of people working from home, at least for some of the time, was already rising before the Covid–19 pandemic accelerated the trend.

Remote work slow, steady rise

The rise has been slow, but steady.

It exploded when New Zealand and most of the world went into lockdown. Anyone who’s work could be done remotely logged on from home. Data volumes on broadband networks soared and hitherto esoteric applications like Zoom became part of everyday life for white collar workers.

For some home will be cemented in as their main future workplace. It’s worth remembering this only applies to certain types of work, a surgeon can’t operate via Zoom, nor can a supermarket shelf stacker.

The National Business Review closed down its editorial office, apparently for ever. The paper gave staff an allowance to cover home working costs.

Lonely, alienating?

Remote work is not too lonely and alienating for journalists. The job often involves attending functions or meeting people for interviews or information gathering.1 It could be hard going for some.

Yet, hundreds of companies are working through similar plans.

One key thing that changed with the early 2020 lockdown was that managers and individuals alike realised that mass remote working is possible and practical. Until now there was scepticism, especially among more anally-retentive managers.

Productivity questions

There are still questions over its desirability in every case. Some voices say remote working is more productive. Other managers hate the idea of not being able to look out from the corner suite to see rows of heads down with people beavering away.

For what it’s worth, my experience over the years is that it can be more productive at times, but work quickly eats in to the rest of your life. I certainly do more than a forty hour week and can count the number of non-working weekends over the last 15 years on my fingertips.

Either way, my gut tells me that while we are going to see more home or remote working than before lockdown, there will also be a drift back to the office.

Mix and match remote work

Maybe people will work from home two or three days a week and commute on the other days. Or it could be people will work one way when they need to focus on their own, and another way when close collaboration is needed.

It’s not all about me, but let’s go back to my experience in this department. I find if I only work from home, my productivity is OK, but not great.

Likewise, if I only work from an office, it’s not great either. But if I mix things up, productivity shoots up. If I have the freedom to work from home as and when the mood or my energy levels dictate, I get the best result of all.

Your experience might be different. It certainly will if you have a young family or if there’s not a lot of space at home. In those cases getting out is wise. This goes some way to explain the popularity of co-working spaces.

Which brings me to the other key point. It’s likely that many future workplaces will look and feel a lot more like co-working spaces.


  1. Well, that’s my experience and I’ve been working this way for almost 15 years now and sporadically for periods before this one. ↩︎

If a tree falls in New Zealand’s tech forest…

A week ago Catalyst Cloud launched a low-cost storage service. Or to be accurate its Object Storage service. You can see the full press release at Scoop.

The story didn’t get a run in any reputable New Zealand media.

Contrast this with the extensive coverage Microsoft got the following day when it announced it was opening a New Zealand cloud region.

The Microsoft story was everywhere. It popped up at Stuff, RNZ and Reseller News among others. There were overseas runs at TechCrunch, CRN and Computerworld.

The prime minister even talked about it on TV.

Big run

My point here isn’t about New Zealand media giving the overseas company a bigger run than the local company. Although that could be a story in its own right – see Comparing the stories below.

What the contrast between two stories show is how much damage the lack of local technology coverage does to New Zealand’s home grown technology sector.

No-one here has the resources to file a story that is, by local standards, somewhat significant.

No one is watching, does anyone care?

We no longer have a native technology press. It’s a situation which, presumably, will be worse again if or when Stuff is no longer operating as a separate entity.

Last month Bauer Media closed its New Zealand operation shutting off Peter Griffin’s excellent regular features in the Listener.

The most visible remaining NZ tech title, Reseller News, is run out of Australia, with a part time local reporter. The Herald, Stuff, RNZ and Newsroom all have the occasional story, but it is mainly sporadic and far from comprehensive coverage.

An exception would be Juha Saarinen’s regular Herald columns.

This web site is also sporadic. There are stories here, but they are written in between my paying journalism work. That means it can’t be timely.

There are a couple of other outlets, but the big picture is that New Zealand can no longer sustain a commercial tech publishing sector with the resources to cover stories like the Catalyst Cloud storage launch.

Filling the vacuum are many overseas sites. Whatever their merits, they are not going to zoom in on the activities of a local cloud provider.

Comparing the stories

There’s no question the arrival of a New Zealand Microsoft cloud region is the bigger news story. Microsoft is the world’s second largest cloud operator, it has many customers here and there is a pent-up demand for a world-scale cloud operator to open shop in New Zealand.

In contrast, the Catalyst story, is, in effect, not much more than a feature update.

There are interesting angles to the Catalyst story. The cost of its Object Storage is on a par with costs for world scale cloud operators. It costs three cents a month to store a gigabyte.

The ‘everything is stored in New Zealand’ angle would be important, but then it’s also an important part of Microsoft’s story. And, no doubt, Microsoft could make the same claim about only using renewable energy.

Uphill battle

What this illustrates is the uphill battle a company like Catalyst has to be heard above the noise.

It must be galling for people at Catalyst and other New Zealand technology companies to do something innovative like introducing low cost cloud storage only to wake the following day and see a rival’s news splashed around the place.

Longer term it is a worry. Wikipedia says:

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception.

Tech companies need that observation and perception. New Zealand’s tech sector no longer has either.

Cloud computing more energy efficient than we thought 

The digital services churned out by the world’s computer centres are multiplying. Their energy use is not, thanks to cloud computing, a new study says.

Source: Cloud Computing Is Not the Energy Hog That Had Been Feared – The New York Times

The New York Times story refers to a study published in the journal Science: Recalibrating global data centre energy use estimates.

It starts:

Data centres represent the information backbone of an increasingly digitalised world. Demand for their services has been rising rapidly. Data-intensive technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart and connected energy systems, distributed manufacturing systems, and autonomous vehicles promise to increase demand further.

Given that data centres are energy-intensive enterprises, estimated to account for around 1 percent of worldwide electricity use, these trends have clear implications for global energy demand and must be analysed rigorously.

Efficient cloud computing

There’s a common belief that accelerating data processing means the energy used to power data centres is rising fast. It turns out it is not.

Data centres did six times as much computing work in 2018 as in 2010. Yet their power consumption increased only six percent.

There’s also evidence computing means less pollution and greenhouse gas than we feared.

The reason for the new optimism is the amount of work that has shifted to the cloud. And not just any old cloud. Most has moved to the bigger and more energy efficient services.

Low carbon

Cloud giants like AWS and Microsoft run huge data centres. Many place their data centres where they can use low carbon energy. Hydroelectricity and solar power are favourites. Some are located in naturally cold places. This means less need for air conditioning.

Big cloud companies use technologies that pack more computing and storage into ever smaller hardware. Small hardware is usually more efficient.

Energy efficiency is good for the environment. It’s also good for the cloud companies. Energy is often a significant cost. Cloud companies love to boast about their clean energy. It also helps them win business.

Microsoft reports strong third-quarter

Microsoft announced its third-quarter 2019 results in a press release. Highlights are

  • Revenue was $30.6 billion and increased 14% percent.
  • Operating income was $10.3 billion and increased 25 percent.
  • Net income was $8.8 billion and increased 19 percent.
  • Diluted earnings per share was $1.14 and increased 20 percent.

An impressive result by any standard. In the last five years or so, the big story at Microsoft has been the rise of the company’s Azure branded cloud services. The latest quarter was no exception:

“Demand for our cloud offerings drove commercial cloud revenue to $9.6 billion this quarter, up 41 percent year-over-year”.

Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Microsoft.

But the next part of the release was more of an eye-opener. Microsoft Office is also on a roll. Quoting from the press release:

Revenue in Productivity and Business Processes was $10.2 billion and increased 14 percent, with the following business highlights:

  • Office Commercial products and cloud services revenue increased 12 percent driven by Office 365 Commercial revenue growth of 30 percent.
  • Office Consumer products and cloud services revenue increased 8 percent and Office 365 Consumer subscribers increased to 34.2 million
  • LinkedIn revenue increased 27 percent
  • Dynamics products and cloud services revenue increased 13 percent driven by Dynamics 365 revenue growth of 43 percent.

Back in the first division

In other words Microsoft is firing on all cylinders. The turn around in the five years since Satya Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer is astonishing.

Not so long ago the company looked like a has-been. Nadella rebooted the business to focus on the cloud and today it is primed for an optimistic future.

No surprise that the company’s share price jumped 5 percent after the announcement.

What wasn’t part of the popular narrative of the last five years is the pain Microsoft went through as its shifted its focus. The company needed to invest vast sums in cloud capacity to get where it is today. That was a huge risk. Similar investments have not paid off for the likes of IBM or Oracle.

Windows advantage

To a degree Microsoft is still playing catch up with Amazon, which invented cloud computing as we now know it. It had one huge advantage over Amazon; its installed base. Windows was, in some cases still is, loaded onto millions of servers the world over.

As these workloads move from on-premise hardware to the cloud, customers know it’s not hard to move Windows apps and data from a local server to Azure.

There’s a downside for Microsoft. Cloud margins are small compared to Windows licences. Microsoft could rely on gross margins as high as 90 percent when it sold licences. It’s lucky to get half that from selling cloud services. Still, 40 percent or thereabouts is still a healthy margin.

Schools moving to the cloud

Network for Learning says ‘moving to the cloud’ is on the to-do list for many New Zealand schools. Here’s the first of a series of posts I’ve written for the N4L blog that aim to demystify the cloud and how to make use of it. It’s written for a non-technical audience.

“Cloud computing is using remote computers for jobs that were once done by local machines.

We call it cloud because the computers are somewhere else on the internet. Most of the time you don’t need to know where they are.

When the idea was first developed, people would draw diagrams to illustrate how it worked. They used pictures of clouds to show the remote computers could be anywhere. The image and the metaphor stuck.”

Read more at The Cloud.