2010-10-02

Price vs Weight (Intel Xeon worth more than Platinum per ounce)

This is a topic about which I've waited a long time to write. At some point in my aimless browsing, I had the realization that if products were priced purely by mass we would see some very interesting data pop out. Here's the data table I assembled thus far. What else should make this list?
ObjectPriceWeight (oz)Price/oz
Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5002$1,490,0003.8$392,105.26
Intel Xeon E7450 Dunnington 2.4GHz$2,549.251.5$1699.50
Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 980X$999.991.24$806.44
1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost AX 201$35,000,00048,400$723.14
Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH.$10,495.0024.69$425.07
1870 Chateau Lafite Rothschild$7,40025.36$291.80
1945 Chateau Petrus$3,50025.36$138
Ferrari 599 GTO$426,84352730$8.09
Platinum (As of the date of this post)$1530.541$1530.54
Gold (As of the date of this post)$1201.461$1201.46
Clive Christian Imperial Majesty Perfume$181,80016.91$10751.03
Chanel No. 5$1153.4$33.82

Security Company Found

My wife and I decided to go with Alarm.com for our security company. We've had the system since August of 2009, and we couldn't be happier (well, I guess it could be free). We chose the system for a number a reasons. Some of the largest factors were the cellular connectivity to the monitoring station, GE equipment, support for the iPhone including live video and home automation.
Out system is fairly comprehensive. We included a full compliment of door and window sensors and outfitted our house with motion detectors, glass break, heat, smoke & heat, water, freeze, and carbon monoxide sensors. Our three cameras and numerous Z-Wave home automation products round out the system and give us enhanced control over our property.
Bottom line: Everything works as expected, and the customer service is superb.

2009-08-18

Searching for a security company

In early 2008, my wife and I started investigating security systems for our house. While the area we live in is quite safe, we wanted to have a little extra assurance about our property when we were away from home. The biggest initial consideration for us was the fact that we don't have a landline. Being a good geek, I set out on my quest to find an alarm company that supports Internet-based systems. I figured, with POTS going out of style, that Internet-based security would be the way of the future. Turns out, I was wrong.

Not only did I not turn up any promising results, I was truly disappointed that there appeared to be no DIY IP-based security systems. In the age of DIY DVRs, DIY home automation, and even DIY community networks; I didn't think it was unreasonable to expect a do-it-yourself alarm system to be on the market. At this point, I'm confident that many tech-savvy tinkerers have assembled their own alarm systems and hooked them up to a server for remote monitoring. I wasn't looking for that much work, and I really wanted a monitoring company to be involved to some extent.

In early 2008 I was visiting the websites for ADT, Brinks, CPI, and several other mainstream security companies. Each brought its own form of disappointment. Most systems required an active telephone line, some had wireless backups, and none offered Internet-based monitoring and management. It looked like my only options were spruced-up versions of the same systems that had been around for decades.

Luckily, I stumbled across Alarm.com on a technology blog. The concept hooked me immediately: They provide wireless (GSM) alarm system services with what appeared to be a very usable web-based interface. They used normal, GE Security components and you could pick from central monitoring or self-monitoring solutions (not sure if they still offer both).

I spoke with an Alarm.com representative who referred us to a local Alarm.com installer / partner. A few days later, we met the installer at our home for an assessment. The next day, I had the quote in my hands - ouch! For what we conceived to be a comprehensive security solution for our property, the dollar figure was through the roof. The initial estimate was over $2000 for installation alone (and our house isn't very large). The monthly rate was also higher than we anticipated, and the installer mandated a 3-year contract. In the end, we were so off-put by the pricing that we decided to delay our purchase decision and see what other options existed.

For well over a year we didn't even broach the topic. The economy was tanking, money was consistently being drained for other needs such as car repairs and a new AC unit. Then, just a few weeks ago, my wife brought it up again. Apparently, the thought of being out of town for a week had her concerned. I won't go into too much detail, but may it suffice to say that when she has a bad feeling about something, I listen.

My next post will cover what we decided on and details about the installation.

2009-02-22

Force.com, Platform at a Price: Part 3

If your competition finds out that you're hosting your site with Force.com (and assuming they don't care much for business ethics), you could be in big trouble. Think of how common denial of service attacks are these days. Imagine how damaging they would be if you are billed per HTTP request. This wouldn't be a big deal if Salesforce.com charged for data transfer instead of a page view. Most hosting companies have very ample data transfer allowances and even a well-executed DoS attack would have a hard time running up your monthly bills. By my calculations a malicious individual using freely-available web server stress testing software could cost you $3,000 every 84 minutes (1,000 requests per second) if you use Force.com.
Ouch!
Running that software on a loop for a whole month could result in a bill for over $1.5 Million dollars. I'm certain that Salesforce.com would help you investigate and resolve this, but it illustrates the potential nightmare for smaller developers hoping to leverage the power of the Force.com platform.

One additional problem with Force.com is that an enterprise-class web application needs to have as close to 100% availability as possible. Frequent users of Salesforce.com are well aware that they regularly take their servers down for scheduled updates. The upshot of this, if there can be one, is that there never seem to be any unscheduled outages. If your clients need you to guarantee availability during a scheduled outage for any reason - you're out of luck:
Q: SFDC routinely has downtime for maintenance, but people expect websites to always be available. How are you handling this?

A: Your site is directly served from your salesforce.com organization. Your end users will see the "in maintenance" page when the instance servicing your site is not available.
Source: http://wiki.apexdevnet.com/index.php/Sites_FAQ

I would like to see how the Force.com platform matures and adapts to the needs of developers seeking a home in the cloud. For now, there are just too many variables and too many unknowns at this point to rely on this for an enterprise-class web application.

Force.com, Platform at a Price: Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, Salesforce.com's Force.com web application platform has a lot going for it. At the same time, there are some significant stumbling blocks. The title of this post provides a hint. This application platform can be very expensive. Let's look at a use case for an enterprise-level application.

I would anticipate a development team of 5 members working on this product. To ensure maximum flexibility and functionality, that would necessitate 5 Force.com Unlimited Licenses at $75.00 each [1]. Let's assume that we have a multi-tenant application that has a total of 100,000 users at various client organizations. Force.com Sites only allows only 1,000,000 monthly page views with the unlimited edition. I say "only" because a page view includes any http request for data - including AJAX transfers. That means each time the home page is loaded, a mouse-over pop up for detailed information is triggered, or a user clicks the back button a page view is consumed. That adds up. Just an informative home page with nothing else available for the public to see can consume a huge number of page views if you're lucky enough to be ranked highly by a prominent search engine. What's the cost for additional page views? You've got two options to handle your overages. You can either drop $1,000 per month for an extra million views or $3,000 per month for 5 million extra views [2].
Now, in this use case, we've got 100,000 registered users and all the data they might be generating. If each user adds only 100KB to our Force.com database, we get 10GB of data. That's not bad considering how cheap storage has gotten over the last few years. Force.com allots 120MB of storage per Unlimited Edition license [3]. In this example we have 5 users and 600MB of storage. That's nowhere close to the 10GB we need (not to mention extra to account for growth). Salesforce.com as a company is stuck in the dark ages when it comes to storage and pricing. I picture them adding storage in their data center in increments of 5.25" floppies. In reality, you can purchase extra data storage in units of either 50MB or 500MB. An extra 500MB will cost $125 per month [4]. In our example, we would need 19 units of 500MB to account for our storage needs. About $2,500 later we can accommodate all of our clients and have a little room to spare.

Bottom line, the monthly outlay to maintain this application is about $5,875. Surely, the pricing model for such an application would allow the development team to make more than 6 cents per user each month.

In the end, depending on your application and pricing structure, you can probably make a profit. I'm still not comfortable with the prices for data storage and extra page views.

I'll cover a few remaining issues in Part 3.

2009-02-20

Force.com, Platform at a Price: Part 1

Salesforce.com began life as an online service provider of customer relationship management tools. Salesforce.com has grown dramatically over the years yet has somehow avoided being pigeonholed in the realm of CRM. Through clever engineering and brilliant leveraging of their customizable platform, they have created an all-purpose platform for cloud-based web apps.

This platform, branded as Force.com, has its own language (Apex) and idiosyncrasies. For example, until recently you could not host publicly-accessible sites on Force.com. Now, with their Spring '09 release, they have added the Force.com Sites feature that enables the creation and hosting of public sites.

So far, everything I said about Force.com sounds great. It's a proven, enterprise-class platform. It has a very intuitive programming language and robust database. You can build your own web-apps on the fly using their web-based IDE and sell them on their AppExchange. As far as cloud-based platforms go, Force.com is shaping up to be a winner. Not so fast! Part two of this will show you where Force.com falls short in the quest for the perfect cloud platform.

Cloud Consideration

While the options for hosting a web-based application in the cloud are ever-increasing, I've found that there is no perfect solution for hosting a multi-tenant, enterprise-ready application. Many of the services available get frustratingly close.

Let me first explain briefly why I want to host in the cloud. First, operating my own infrastructure would require more capital than I can afford. Using a managed infrastructure doesn't get me much more value. The cloud offers the promise that you will only have to pay for what you use. That's a great concept for small companies just starting out. Second, an enterprise-ready application needs to be able to scale reliably. That's really two points in one. Making an application truly scalable is no small task and would require significantly increasing the complexity of underlying code and systems. In addition, ensuring the reliability of such a system can be tricky, and reliability should never be an issue when you are trying to draw large organizations to your product.

Knowing that I have some lofty goals, I set out to find the best cloud-based service for my needs. In subsequent posts I'll post my analysis of various offerings and see which come closest to serving the needs of enterprises with an eye toward multi-tenant solutions.