Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Message

According to Bob Philips, there are three stages of man:-

  • He believes in Santa Claus.
  • He doesn't believe in Santa Claus .
  • He is Santa Claus.

Festive greetings and a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's not who says it that matters ...

Though I've talked about commoditisation and worth in the IT industry for the best part of a decade, I consider myself a late arrival to the utility computing field (or what is now called cloud computing). I only actively became involved (as opposed to just talking about it and using virtualisation, large scale SANs etc) in 2005 when I directed my company towards building a utility computing service.

I was also a late arrival to the open source world, only becoming involved in 2000 when I ran Fotango. Furthermore, I was a late arrival to the field of 3D printing, only taking a real interest in the subject in the late 1990's.

I was late because lots of other people were involved much earlier, decades earlier in every single case.

However, some people are later than me. This doesn't mean that I'm right and they're wrong. This doesn't mean that I have some great insight and they have none. It doesn't even mean that I have some right of superiority. All it means is that I've been involved for longer and that act in itself is meaningless.

Good ideas come from any direction and unfortunately the field of cloud computing is just as awash with half-truths, thought leadership posturing and nonsense as it is with good ideas. There does appear to have been an unseemly scramble by some to set themselves up as the digerati of cloud computing, the purveyors of knowledge and the oracles of our time.

Don't let others decide for you what is right or good, decide yourself.

What I find uncomfortable are blog posts such as Daryl Plummer's and Reuven Cohen's follow on which could easily be taken as to mock the ideas of those who are late to a field (the instant experts, the pretenders vs contenders). Now, I've met Reuven and he seems a pleasant enough fellow but I don't agree with this approach of "I'm the expert" vs "Cloud posers".

As I've said before "in my simple world it's the idea that's important, not the source".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Congratulations

I read that Werner Vogels has been made InfoWorld's CTO of the year. Congratulations are much deserved.

Whilst Werner and the Amazon team might not have been the first to take utility computing from idea into practice, they have certainly been the most successful to date.

Their execution has been second to none and the award is justly deserved.

Maturity models for the cloud

A friend of mine in the cloud world, James Urquhart, who now blogs at CNET recently posted about cloud maturity models. It's worth a read.

I've added a comment, which I'll also leave here (a tidied up version and a mental reminder for myself to check that what I'm pressing is a preview and not a submit button.)

=== comment ===

Good post James,
I especially like "achieving an open marketplace is essentially cloud computing nirvana, and the ideal to which most enterprises should logically strive to achieve" but of course, I'll add onto this.

Such a nirvana will only be achievable (without the loss of strategic control and pricing competition to a technology vendor) if the standards which the marketplace is built upon are operational open sourced pieces of code rather than specifications (it's an old post from July'07 but it covers the basics).

Such open sourced standards (the equivalent of open design patterns, such as the open SDK for GAE) will allow competition and service innovation through implementation. The standards themselves will help encourage portability, the open marketplace you describe and hence consumer innovation through componentisation.

As for "I believe this open market is inevitable, as the economics are just too powerful" - well it's either going to be open or we will see government intervention in the field to force the market to behave in such a way.

You can create the illusion of open marketplaces with a proprietary stack but it is no more than an illusion.

Anyway, good post.

As far as maturity models go, well you've seen this before and though it's old and tongue in cheek, it does have some serious point to it.

Utility SaaS Maturity Model (USaaSMM)
(pronounced u'sass'em)
(click on image for larger size)


Congratulations on the new gig by the way. I'm looking forward to reading more and seeing how this develops.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The cloud ... it's a triangle, damn it.

In 2006, I talked about the growth of utility computing and how distinct industries were being created. I used the ideas of componentisation to subdivide the computing stack into discrete layers.

In 2007, I formalised these three layers into hardware, framework and software. I used the following diagram at various conferences (from Web 2.0 to OSCON to FOWA) to describe utility computing as the transition of the computing stack from a product to a service based economy.

The shift of the computing stack

Then in early 2008, I added a bit more colour to my computing stack diagram to tart things up. But, alas the simple days of utility computing have been replaced by the cloud and its confusion of metaphors.

So, I was not that surprised to receive a very tongue in cheek email telling me that I was wrong about the cloud because it is a triangle (see diagram) .

How the cloud has changed ...



Apparently the source of this triangular insight is Michael Sheehan's post.

Oh no, did I got the colour, shape and names wrong? Who cares, it's not important unless of course the Appistry joke about Michael trademarking the triangle becomes true. In this case just use the rectangle (it's prior art and creative commons).

Alternatively, why not have a go and try experimenting with circles, dodecahedrons, the colour purple and paisley? Believe me you can't make any more of a mess than today's thought leaders.

As for my predictions for the future of cloud in 2009/10. Well, more and more analysts will start talking about the shift of IT from a product to a service based economy, there will be increasing user pressure for second sourcing options and growing demand for standards at various layers of the computing stack based upon operational open sourced code.

Don't ask me what name or shape it'll be, but as for the colour then judging by how much conflict there is in the cloud I'll take a stab at blood red.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cloud, old idea but a new innovation.

There has been a lot of internet discussion recently over whether the cloud is anything new, if you're confused hopefully the following will help clarify the situation. Before getting into the nitty gritty, let's clear up some terms.

From Jan Fagerberg's work, Innovation is the first-ish attempt to carry out an idea into practice. It is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant or new products, processes or services.

I say first-ish as it is notoriously difficult to determine who was the first person (or group) to put an idea into practice. As Eliot Sivowitch once postulated, in his Law of Firsts;

“Whenever you prove who was first, the harder you look you will find someone else who was more first. And if you persist in your efforts you find that the person whom you thought was first was third.”

An idea is an image or a concept or an abstraction. As John Locke said “it being that term which, I think, serves best to stand for whatsoever is the object of understanding when a man thinks”.

Discovery or invention are processes that result in the generation of new concepts or postulated entities or devices. Both of these processes involve serendipity, questioning and the use of analogy.

So how about the cloud then?

The cloud simply represents the shift of the computing stack (from the applications we write to the hardware we use) from a product to a service based economy. This shift is in a transitional stage at the moment, so you're equally likely to hear about product-like internal clouds as much as service-like external clouds. Consumers and vendors will take time to get used to this change.

However, the provision of this computing stack is not something new. Today, the use of computing hardware is not an innovation and the ideas of providing computing hardware as commodity-like products (standard servers) or as commodity-like services (through network connected virtualised machines) are several decades old. However, whilst the ideas are old, isn't the act of putting this into practice a relatively recent (the last decade or so)?

Well yes, it is and that's the point where confusion reigns because whilst computing infrastructure is not new nor is the provision of an activity as a service, isn't the combination of the two new?

In reality this is simply the natural development of an activity from a product to a service based economy. It doesn't repeat the original innovation of computing infrastructure, in much the same way that "car hire" doesn't recreate the original innovation of the motor car. It's less of an innovation and more of an expected evolution.

Unfortunately we use the term innovation everywhere and whilst you might think this doesn't matter, it does. The methods by which you manage an activity vary with whether it's an innovation or more commodity-like and not with whether it has this new feature (often called product innovation) or operational improvement (often called service innovation).

So is the cloud new? In practice it is, in concept it isn't. Is it an innovation, not really but lots of people will call it so.

I mention this also, because a friend recently described me as a thought leader on cloud computing. This is completely untrue and it would be fraudulent for me to even imply that this was the case. I might have been publicly speaking about commoditisation of IT over the past four years but as far as I'm aware, the real thought leadership in this field occurred decades ago.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A nice little earner ...

The U.K. government's use of a buy-out (re-capitalisation) strategy rather than a bail-out strategy has taken a lot of flak in the last month. I wholeheartedly support this Keynesian approach because it is a form of future wealth redistribution from the market to the state, assuming that we don't sell out too quickly when the market recovers (something which the laissez-faire vultures will obviously try hard to encourage).

Contrary to popular belief, most businesses are not the paradises of economic virtue and good management that they attempt to portray but are often haphazard structures prone to waste, incompetence, politics and simplified forms of management (often to ridiculous extremes). Dorian Gray would be proud.

It is the rare business that lasts fifty years without being seriously challenged by a couple of blokes in a garage start-up. If the military was run like most businesses, then we'd probably be on our twentieth regime change by now.

The government should be exploiting these weaknesses. The most obvious example of this, is the plans for more public building. Rather than making shareholders wealthy, we should be buying up the likes of Taylor Wimpey (on the cheap) and funnelling building projects through a part or wholly nationalised building company. Give people jobs rather than shareholders easy pickings.

It's worth remembering that money trickles up and not down, so if you want to get things going then start with those at the bottom of the social scale.

On the same note, the time has never been better to join the Euro. At such a low exchange rate, the potentials for investment and strengthening our manufacturing and export businesses are exceptional. Many pundits are asking the government to prop up the pound, however this form of interference is not only doomed to failure it also results in a transfer of wealth from state to market. Wrong way guys.

The debt burden maybe high but if we're buying out good future assets on the cheap then we're going to come out of this smelling like roses.

This is definitely not the continuing odour of the financial markets given the latest Ponzi scheme extravaganza. $50 billion in a pyramid scheme, talk about financial wizardry! You have to ask, who was auditing the books and signing off the accounts? Was it one of the big four again, the same gang who were also responsible for auditing many of the banks that have now collapsed.

We really should start asking ourselves whether we need a national owned auditing company and legislation that all company books have to be signed off by the government?

It'll be a nice little earner and we can always privatise it when the economy recovers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

For the people, by the people ...

The people of Sark have struck a blow for democracy. Not only did they decide to have elections but they also, rather peskily, voted for the people they wanted.

According to the BBC, this hasn't made the Barclay Brothers very happy and as advocate Gordon Dawes said:"Sark doesn't appear to want or appreciate the Barclays' investment and so it doesn't have it".

Hence 15% of the people of Sark are losing their jobs because the brothers didn't get the sort of democracy they wanted.

Naturally the brothers have the right to pull out of Sark, it's their choice. However, by doing so they throw down a gauntlet to free democracy. It is the right of every society to hold free elections without fear of recriminations or the economic equivalent of collective punishment. For us not to take up this challenge would only encourage other companies to bully governments and their people.

We too can exercise our own rights of choice. I will never knowingly buy any of the papers produced by the brothers companies including the spectator and the telegraph. I would ask you all to examine your conscience.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why the cloud is unavoidable.

This is really old stuff, but I feel it's worth repeating.

The importance of "cloud" computing to business is far beyond simple cost savings, allocation of resources, capex to opex conversion and economies of scale. These are the obvious reasons for considering the cloud and they are little more than a follow my leader game caused by the commoditisation of IT. As more competitors adopt the cloud it will create cost competitive pressures for others to follow. Consumers of IT will need simply to adapt to this change in order to retain their relative competitive positions (this is known as the red queen effect).

It's a very old merry-go-round caused by the usual transition of the once novel and new field of IT infrastucture to more of a commodity. It will have all the trappings of past transitions from the cries of users for second sourcing options, the battles over standards and portability, the usual formation of exchanges, brokerages, marketplaces and the confusion created by vendors as they attempt to prevent their industry being commoditised.

However buried in all this is one truly interesting aspect known as componentisation. From the work of Herbert Simon's and his theory of hierarchy, we know that the speed of evolution of any system is directly related to the organisation of its subsystems. Take a moment to consider how fast it is to build an application today using a database and a development platform and then compare this to how slow it would be to build the same application if you had to first start designing the cpu, I/O and memory.

Componentisation can make an incredible difference and the more organised the subsystems are, the faster it is to build new and adapt old systems.

The computing stack, from the applications we write, to the platforms we build upon, to the operating systems we use are now moving from a product to a service based economy. This change can be clearly seen from a quick scan of what is hot today. Software as a Service, Web Services, Mashing up Data Services, Hardware as a Service, Service oriented architecture ... it's all the same thing.

The shift towards services will also lead to standardisation of lower orders of the computing stack to internet provided components. A consequence of this will be an acceleration in the speed at which new IT systems can be built and modified. The world of IT and business on the web is about to get a whole lot faster.

It should be remembered that the battle for survival of any company revolves around the non-trivial task of balancing the needs of adaptation (changes to the market, the red queen effect) and innovation (creative destruction). However, it is these two effects of adaptation (through maintaining cost competitiveness and matching increased competitor agility to adapt to changes) and innovation (an ability to bring new ideas to market more quickly) which will force any business to choose cloud.

You don't have a choice, you never did. The cat is well and truly out of the bag and the old way is in decline. If you think that "cloud" is simply about more efficient and lower cost provision of IT then prepare yourself for a rude awakening.

You might think that cloud computing won't effect you, but it will if you use any form of IT infrastructure. Unfortunately, at different layers of the computing stack, various companies are preparing a gilded cage for you to walk into.

You should already be thinking about the cloud and your first words to any vendor should be:-

  • "Show me the alternative providers running a similar service not owned by you and how easy is it to switch between your service, their service and one I want to run myself?"

  • "Am I dependent upon any particularly vendor with these services?"

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Promises, promises ...

In my quest to unfortunately come across the most hopeless companies in the world, I've found a new contender to the throne of the most disastrously hopeless. This is a company who's service or product is in my opinion more shoddy than Mercedes. Step forward ... Tiscali.

Ok, now I was asking for the impossible. I was asking for them to transfer my "superfast, reliable broadband" from one house to another. What I got was a superslow, unreliable service. If this broadband was a car it would be my old A-Class Mercedes.

So, here's the story:-

5th Nov : told by Tiscali that our broadband would be transferred in 10 working days.

12th Nov : phoned Tiscali, to check on progress. I was told that they had ordered the broadband for the old address. They apologised and said they would get it sorted.

19th Nov : no broadband, phoned Tiscali. I was told that they hadn't re-ordered the broadband as they had to wait for the old order to elapse. They said they would call back shortly and give me an update. They never called back. I phoned again and was told that the broadband was going to be connected on the 27th. I was assured that this was a confirmed date and this time it would happen.

27th Nov : no broadband, phoned Tiscali. I was told that there was a technical fault with BT and they were liaising with BT to get it sorted. The order was apparently placed yesterday but they said it would be completed on the 5th Dec. I corrected them on the date of order. I asked for the name of the person I was talking to which I received the immortal line "Sorry we're not allowed to give you our names because of the Data Protection Act". Wow, that's a new one.

... slowly, I'm started to get tired with this nonsense ...

27th Nov decided to double check the earlier story with Tiscali. New story found. Apparently the order hadn't gone through for 5th Dec. Talked to supervisor, apparently there was a problem with Tiscali's computer systems; it kept on putting orders into an error state. The system was telling him the order was only placed yesterday, however he fixed the problem and the order was now placed. He would call if there was any further problems and he said it wasn't BT's fault.

6th Dec : no broadband, phone Tiscali. Apparently there was a problem with BT and the order would be completed on the 19th December which seeing the order was placed only yesterday .... here we go again.

So from my view Tiscali blames other companies for its own faults, makes promises it doesn't keep, has problems it doesn't get sorted, completely fails to deliver its service and even its staff tell porkies - can't give a name indeed! Well, that's got to be more utterly hopeless than Mercedes.

Fortunately, I separately ordered cable broadband from Virgin which was done and installed in less than three days - thanks Virgin! The one last problem I have is to go through the task of cancelling my Tiscali account and getting them to refund the cash they owe me. I suspect that this is going to be painful.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Note for Self - that's a lot of talking.

For a number of years, I've been talking about how activities transition from innovation to commodity or more simply put how yesterday's hot stuff becomes today's boredom.

I undertook a piece of research into this field and found what appears to be an S-Curve relationship between the ubiquity (how common an activity is) and the certainty of an activity (approximated from the quantity of information published)

Now every presentation I give is slightly different. Each mashes up (thanks to Dennis for that) different parts from earlier presentations as well as new elements from my research. Well, I'm considering an entirely new style of presentation, so I've decided to write down the list of the themes I've covered and to use this as a basis for my new work. I thought, I'd keep a record of the list here (see below).

It's a lot, however there is a whole bunch of stuff that I've known about and barely touched upon. So next year, I'm going to provide a high speed, kitten based, mash-up of a presentation. It will contain an initial introduction and then fifty five themes, with the audience choosing which ones they want. I've got a nifty new way of doing this including bonus sections ... should be fun.

I've also been asked by numerous people whether I'm coming back to the U.S. to present again? I will probably do a presentation or two, on behalf of Canonical, for various cloud issues but regarding my management theory presentations that's strictly U.K / Europe based. The cost of travel and accommodation in the U.S. is simply too expensive.

Theme List

  1. It's not just products that get commoditised but processes and all other forms of activities.
  2. How an activity's characteristics change from innovation to commodity, no matter what it is.
  3. Why management is complex and why there are no magic bullet solutions.
  4. Why outsourcing often fails.
  5. Why good management often leads to the death of a company.
  6. How companies evolve between various stages from disorganisation to getting it together and finally "we need more innovation".
  7. The inefficiency of organisational structure where similar types of activities are grouped together (such as marketing and IT) rather than the stages of an activity's lifecycle (transitional, commodity, first mover)
  8. Why you need to constantly adapt to changes in the market place in order to just stand still and survive today (the business equivalent of the Red Queen Hypothesis)
  9. The difference between commodification and commoditisation.
  10. Why you need to constantly innovate in order to survive tomorrow (creative destruction)
  11. Why commoditisation is both friend and foe.
  12. Why change is the norm.
  13. Why you need to constantly balance creative destruction and adaptation in an organisation and how this leads to a paradox of order and disorder. The innovation paradox.
  14. Why Google's 20% rule was an efficient way of balancing this paradox and a continual source of competitive advantage.
  15. Why marketing and branding for a vendor constantly creates a disadvantage for their consumers.
  16. The shift of IT from a product to a service based economy (what we used to call utility computing many years ago, and now is unfortunately called cloud computing.)
  17. Why open source standards are an essential part of our future.
  18. Why organisations only exist in the intersection between people and activities and how traditional forms of management are inefficient.
  19. The need for more dynamic methods of management.
  20. The limits of ROI and why it is only suitable for certain stages of an activity's lifecycle.
  21. Why you can't plan the future and why every organisation needs some chaos.
  22. Why today's organisational structures often fail people and why innovation is not everyone's job.
  23. How strategy varies with lifecycle.
  24. Why innovation markets will only work for post-event inventions and discoveries.
  25. The limits of open source and closed source technology and the domains where those techniques are particularly strong.
  26. Why fortune favours the brave and how the future value of an activity is inversely proportional to the certainty we have about it.
  27. Why transparency and portability matter in cloud computing.
  28. Why you have no choice in the long run over whether you adopt cloud computing.
  29. Why fuzziness in processes is valuable information.
  30. Why single methods of project management (for example six sigma, prince 2 or agile) are inefficient and often harmful
  31. Why getting it wrong doesn't matter as long as everyone else is getting it wrong.
  32. Why web 2.0 is important and why now.
  33. Why commoditisation leads to more innovation and a faster rate of evolution (extension from Herbert Simon's work on the Theory of Hierarchy)
  34. The difference between innovation and product or service innovation (whether radical, incremental or disruptive)
  35. Why KPI's and attempts to make management easy can seriously damage your wealth (extension from Ashby's law of Requisite Variety)
  36. The three accelerators of innovation in web 2.0 - network effects, componentisation and bridging the divide between opportunity and ability.
  37. How the growth of 3D printing and the commoditisation of manufacturing processes will create new languages.
  38. Why IT organisations are under increasing organisational stress as they try to balance the needs of commoditisation and innovation.
  39. Why competitive life just seems to get faster and faster.
  40. Why the transition from one domain (such as products or services or bespoke) to another causes major disruption.
  41. The difference between ideas, invention, discovery and innovation.
  42. The effects and failure of organisations to deal with the commoditisation of human, physical and social capital.
  43. How social networks allow us to challenge traditional views of management.
  44. Why organisations need pioneers, colonisers and town planners.
  45. Why the role of the enterprise architecture is so important and never completed.
  46. Why organisations should use both X & Y managers and something in between (the XY Manager).
  47. The problem with patents and why the length of term of a patent should vary according to the innovation and how long society could be expected to independently discover it.
  48. Why tailor made can be bad for the consumer.
  49. Why failing and gambling are important management traits.

The other six ... well, I've got to have some surprises. However, just like the other stuff in this list, they are not new ideas just old ideas repackaged.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Finally .... I have connection again!

After five weeks, I finally have connection again. There is lots I'd like to talk about but it's late, so I'll have to wait until this weekend.

However, I will note that there seems to be a growing argument that open standards will provide portability in the cloud world. This idea is seriously flawed and there is a far simpler way to ensure portability between one cloud environment and another. The solution is for both providers to offer an identical service.

The simplest way this can be achieved is if the standard for the service is not a written specification but an operational open sourced stack built with portability in mind. It doesn't matter what layer of the computing stack you're talking about.

I used identical because if the standard is an open sourced stack then there is nothing preventing a provider making operational improvements in the code whilst still maintaining exactly the same functionality. This is why GPLv3 and not AGPL is so important for the cloud world.

Back in 2006-7, I described this concept as an open sourced standard but you can think of it as an open pattern (thanks to Doug Neal) with competition around service provision. By providing the service as an open sourced standard, you can not only solve the issue of portability but also provide a faster means of implementing and hence achieving a defacto standard.

Of course a focus on service provision is in line with the shift of IT from a product to a service based economy, which is what cloud computing is really all about. I covered many of these subjects back at OSCON in 2007.

Whilst none of these ideas are new, the lack of portability is a result of the normal jostle of competitors in an emerging market. This will continue to provide a clear stumbling block for adoption and prevent the formation of functioning exchanges and brokerages.

I suspect that open standards will continue to be cited as a possible solution but the problem with these standards is that they define what can be done, not what can't be done. Product differentiation is the mortal enemy of portability.

Of course, you could achieve portability with a proprietary stack but only if consumers and providers are willing to sacrifice a major element of strategic control to a technology vendor. I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft achieves this with Azure.

Of course, the simplest answer to all of these problems is open source. In less than a decade, I suspect you will find that the entire cloud world is either based upon open sourced stacks with provider competition around Price and QoS or we'll have ended up with government regulation.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Silence ...

A number of people have asked me why I'm being so quiet on Twitter and the Internet in general. Thank you for being concerned, however the simple reason is that I've moved home and my broadband provider (Tiscali) has taken almost four weeks to spectacularly fail in connecting my home to the internet.

As soon as I'm finally connected, I'll blog the whole sorry episode and play catch-up with the internet world.

For me, Tiscali is a name that does not conjure up the idea of "Superfast, reliable broadband" in the same way that Mercedes is a name that does not conjure up "trailblazing innovations".

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Amazon CDN

Amazon has finally made a move into content delivery networks with CloudFront.

It'll be interesting to watch Akamai's response as Amazon pushes a utility model and we see a likely race to the bottom and a focus on volume operations. Since May, Akamai's stock has already taken a bit of a pounding from $40 to $13.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How do you want your cloud?

As I've said before, I don't make predictions. So here is my non-prediction for next year.

When the Azure services platform is launched, we will see the creation of an ecosystem based upon the following concepts:-

  1. build and release applications to Microsoft's own cloud environment providing Azure and the Azure Services.
  2. build and release applications to a number of different ISPs providing Azure and specific Azure Services (i.e. SQL, .Net and Sharepoint services).
  3. purchase server versions of Azure and specific Azure services for your own infrastructure.
  4. buy a ready made scaleable "Azure" container cloud from Dell, for all those large data centre needs of yours.

Since the common component in all of this will be the Azure platform itself, then migration between all these options will be easy as pie through the Windows Azure Fabric Controller. If this happens, then the lower orders of the computing stack will end up becoming less visible and the hypervisor wars will become an afterthought. It could be Game, Set and Match to MSFT for the next ten years.

This vision however is only possible, if the network effect parts of Azure actually work (I'll post about that some other time) and the advantages of componentisation through an acceleration in business innovation are realised.

Of course, all of this will create a huge dependancy for all parties concerned on this technology layer but without a clear cut alternative, the pressure to adopt could be immense. The real battleground for the "cloud" has always been in building an ecosystem around the framework layer of the computing stack.

Anyway, this is not a prediction but simply what I would do in order to create a closed marketplace. Naturally, I'd prefer the market to be open and it'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One step at a time ...

It was several years ago that I started to talk about portability and interoperability (what I later cheekily called patration) with large scale computing providers (what is now called the 'cloud').

I used the ideas of componentisation (Herbert Simon's work on the theory of hierarchy) to describe the acceleration of business evolution on the web that will result from the shift of the computing stack from a product to a service based economy.

I raised most of these points in various discussions at web 2.0 summit in 2006, hence I was pleased to read the following ZDNet post about this years summit in which industry executives such as Cisco's Chief Technology Officer, Padmasree Warrior, described the need for federated clouds and portability at all layers of the computing stack.

I couldn't agree more with the posts comment that "eventually, cloud computing providers at all of the layers will become more open and adhere to standards that allow for federation and movement between clouds. Maritz sees cloud computing as helping to drive the information economy and stimulate new information marketplaces."

Marketplaces, open source ... absolutely. My only word of caution is that people need to carefully consider why the framework layer of the computing stack is so important and especially the dangers that exist within it.

I provided a link to my OSCON 2007 talk on commoditisation, federation, utility computing markets and the need for open source standards - it's a bit old and tired but still covers most of the main points.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday

This is the time of year when we remember those soldiers who have made the greatest sacrifice on our behalf. I'm sure however they would prefer it if we didn't have this one special day and instead remembered them for the rest of the year.

Whilst we happily reduce a hero's income support because they have some paltry war pension, I notice that bankers (who don't have a special day) happily spend governmental support on plumping up their pensions and bonuses.

When you consider contribution to society, it is difficult to justify the huge salaries in the investment world when compared to that of a teacher, policeman or a soldier. The reason of course is that our economic system has little regard for contribution to our society and we delude ourselves when we consider it as being anything other than a system that needs active management.

If there is one thing to remember, it is that our current system rewards those who sacrifice the most the least and offers everything to the most callous and greedy who risk nothing.

Every day we enjoy the security and the benefits of an educated and ordered society. Every day we enjoy the peace and freedom that men and women have fought and died for. Every day we should honour all our heroes but above all else we should honour those who have suffered and died in conflict in the service of their country and all those who mourn them.

One day a year, is not enough.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Interoperability is not enough

Sam Ramji said: "My team's focus has been on making sure that this platform treats open source development technologies as first-class citizens" and here are some of the quoted examples :-

  • A developer using the Eclipse IDE can write a C# application that runs on Windows Azure
  • Gallery, the leading PHP photo application, can access Windows Azure cloud storage
  • A blog engine hosted on Windows Azure can authenticate users with OpenID.

This is excellent news but as I've said many times before, what we require is portability (or what I used to call patration)

In a service world, lock-in is not solved by interoperability alone. You require portability of your code and data from one framework provided by a large computing vendor, to another or to your own machines. This is my basic minimum in order for me to be happy with a cloud service.

This can be achieved with a closed stack (adopted by many providers) or an entirely open framework, however in the cloud computing world the frameworks (Azure, Google App Engine, Zembley, Jaxer, ReasonablySmart, 10Gen etc) are the potential standards that allow for portability & interoperability between these providers. This is what you need in order to overcome the current lack of second sourcing options.

In the service world, specifications and open standards are not enough. In a service world, standards need to be actual pieces of operational code. Whilst a "standard" can be a closed technology, it obviously creates dependencies of all the participants in a marketplace on the technology vendor who owns that "standard".

If you're going to compete on service, compete on service but don't try and convince us that either a proprietary technology is open because it uses some open standards or a proprietary technology doesn't create lock-in in the service world.

There will always be some CIOs who will rush head long into a gilded cage, I suspect most will be considering how to deal with second sourcing issues.

Friday, October 31, 2008

In the darkness bind them ...

I picked this up Tom Lord's comment on Nick's recent blog post about "A typology of network strategies"

"Yes, we want a utility infrastruture but no, we don't want the power company to be the sole provider of compatible toasters" & "we will have to bust up and separate the two realms of business"

The platform plays in the cloud world will separate the resource providers (ISPs) from the application providers (ISVs and community) and provide a common technology framework between the two.

The two businesses will be kept separate but they will also be bound and ruled by the platform. This is why, in my view, the recent spate of blog posts about Amazon EC2 (a cloud ISP) vs Azure Services Platform (a platform play) miss the point.

To explain, I'll note the following from Microsoft's own literature and apparently Ballmer's own statements:

  • "the cost—in terms of capital expenditure and the time and effort of staff to support those solutions—has become increasingly prohibitive"
  • "The Microsoft Azure Services Platform provides the foundation for you to help customers tackle these challenges"
  • "you’ll have the flexibility and interoperability you need to deliver robust, yet cost-effective, solutions to expand your practice and your revenue"
  • "All of the innovations we'll make in cloud services, we will also repackage over time back into our server offerings"
  • "partners won't come up empty-handed in Microsoft's hosting plan"
  • "Microsoft will also continue investing in partner programs"

Using a bit of twisted logic, you could imply that the long term future of Azure might well be as a technology platform provided by a marketplace of different ISPs on top of which is built a marketplace of applications created by different ISVs. If this is the case, you could think of Microsoft's own data centres as a beach-head for this strategy.

Amazon was recently praised by Ozzie for releasing its cloud services before Microsoft. He is reported to have said that "all of us are going to be standing on their shoulders". I wonder if he was speaking literally and that Azure Service Platform will be available on Amazon's servers at sometime?

If that turns out to be the case, then Amazon will truly find itself playing the role of one of the nine.

Blinking cell ...

Need a new watch? Try our bio-watch made from genetically modified cells, powered by photosynthesis, fully biodegradable, 100 year life span and even makes a tasty snack if you're feeling hungry.

Well, we're not quite there yet, but this announcement from UC San Diego is certainly timely news.

How long?

The simple solutions to environmental degradation are less consumption or fewer people.

The past twenty years have definitely taught us that less consumption is out.

I wonder how long it will be before we see the first examples of bio-terrorism based upon environmental concerns (whether individual, group or sponsored by a state).

History has taught us that despite the monstrous, unethical and vile nature of murderous acts such as genocide and eugenics, a madman's reasoning has often been used to justify these same acts in terms of some "higher purpose".

I have little doubt that there are madmen in our society today.

On a positive note, I'm very encouraged by Barack Obama's promise of $150 billion for clean energy research. I'm a little less impressed that this is over ten years. Still, it's a step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tim 1 ... Others 0

A couple of people have been asking me recently about the whole Tim vs Carr vs others debates. There are lots of good points being raised but I'll keep it simple, in my opinion Tim is right.

I'm being blunt because Tim made some extremely good points and was promptly criticised from various quarters without people (in my view) really critically evaluating what he said. I've lost count of the number of times this has happened to Tim whether it's over social network portability, supporting open source or even the whole web 2.0 concept.

There are network effects but it is not (nor has it ever been) sustainable at the hardware / infrastructure layer of the computing stack. Whilst I have previously discussed, in a number of posts, how preferential performance and pricing can be used to create network effects within a single cloud provider (i.e. through data transfer or intra-cloud api calls), these effects are relatively weak. For comparison consider the network effects associated with having a telephone number (strong) vs the network effects of cheaper phone calls between users on the same network (weak).

As far as I'm concerned the future for this part of the stack is one of invisibility, high volume, low margins and open source. This is not where the battle for the cloud will be fought.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Awesome ...

Have a read, have a play and then spend a few moments to consider how powerful an open sourced JavaScript everywhere framework provided by a marketplace of cloud providers could become.

Now take a look at ReasonablySmart.com.

Looking for a good author ...

Manolis is the creator of a piece of technology which turns an ordinary paper book into an interactive experience. I've written about this before but just in case you haven't seen this, I've included a video of me playing with the technology.

I want to be quite clear, this is a paper book which you touch words in and it interacts with your computer. It keeps all the wonderful characteristics of paper whilst gaining all the enjoyment of interaction. I love this concept unlike the Kindle which I think of as a poor excuse for a book.

Unfortunately Manolis' publisher has been unable to find an "absolutely stellar writer to justify the spend" which means the book won't be produced anytime soon.

So I've created a facebook group and I'm looking to find people willing to support this project. I need to be clear that I've worked with Manolis as part of amphilab, I still support him in his goal to find funding and I have a small interest in the company.

Manolis will need:-

  • An outstanding author wanting to write a book which will be blinked.
  • 1,000 people willing to buy the world's first ever truly interactive paper book. It won't be cheap (around £200) but each person will be named in the book and invited to the launch party.
  • Ten companies who wish to buy sponsored links at £25,000. Each link will be a permanent electronic link from the physical book to their web site.

This is what it will take to usher in a new era of interactive books.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I wandered lonely as a cloud ...

First wander ...
Over the last few days, there has been a lot of to and fro between Tim O'Reilly and Nick Carr over cloud computing. I'm sure more is to follow.

The debate over network effects at the hardware (what is commonly called Infrastructure as a Service) level of the stack (from bare bones to virtualised images to operating system) is of little value to me. The shift of the computing stack from product to services will inevitably accelerate the process by which these lower level orders of the computing stack become invisible. The lower levels will find themselves pushed to a low-margin standardised high-volume business based entirely upon open source.

What interests me is that the argument for portability, interoperability and transparency in the "cloud" will inevitably shift to the framework (development platform, messaging system, database, templating system and so forth) level of the stack (or what is commonly called Platform as a Service).

The framework layer will consolidate to a few large marketplaces with each marketplace based upon a standard framework. A few of these frameworks will be proprietary but most will be open sourced. For each standard framework there will be many homogeneous providers with portability between them.

This framework layer (which Tim hints at) is where the real battleground is. This is where the real network effects are. This is where the trillion dollar company exists. Why on earth do you think I started Zimki back in 2005-7? Why do you think MSFT is releasing Azure?

Anyone still needing help to work out where all this is heading, just think about Ballmer's comment on enabling "Microsoft partners to create their own cloud infrastructure", think about a marketplace of ISP's all providing the same framework, think about how over the last decade the lower levels of the computing stack have become invisible to most developers and then go read my old blog post.

However, a marketplace based upon a proprietary cloud technology vendor has lots of attractions from the acceleration of innovation (through componentisation) to the more mundane capex to opex conversion. James Governor said in a recent tweet that "no amount of assertive statements from thought leaders will prevent customers from adopting proprietary technology". He is absolutely right. This is a gilded cage that some CIOs are not going to walk but rush into.

My only advise is that if you're the CEO of a company and your CIO is talking cloud, find someone with a senior level background in manufacturing to check their reasoning. If you hear the words "lacks second sourcing" then consider upgrading the CIO. It'll pay in the long run.

[For reference, my reasoning for Zimki was derived from Tim's earlier work on Infoware and the Open Source paradigm shift]

[Dennis Howlett has a really interesting piece on this whole topic.]

Second wander ...
When I worked for Canon (2001-2007), along with Zimki, utility computing and open source, I used to write endless reports about the dangers of mobile phones to the camera business, the future of 3D printing & fabrication technologies along with being fairly vociferous against SED. I've always believed it to be dangerous to focus exclusively on the core or with what you are comfortable with. That's a lesson I learned from reading Schumpeter.

This is especially true during recessionary times. It should never be forgotten that such times do create opportunities, not just for industry but government as a whole.

Despite the neocons desperate denials, as we've seen from the banking fiasco, the laissez faire school of economic lunacy has turned out to be a house of cards. However, there is always a silver lining. Our Government appears to be slowly turning away from the mumbled dribblings on money supply of those Chicago School ephors and back to an eminently more sensible and direct Keynesian approach of investment.

This is good news ... assuming it lasts.

Beyond the positive buy-out and part nationalisation of banks and the promises of public building works, the government should look towards bolder measures including the wholesale plunder and pillage of the weakest industrial sectors to the benefit of society.

The building industry and auditing professions are prime-time to be pushed towards nationalisation and bought up on the cheap and invested in. There are lots of measures such as the enforced auction of land banks with unused planning permissions which could be introduced in order to assist with this transfer.

Furthermore, since lots of parents are no longer sending their little darlings to those expensive private schools, a quick dropping of the charitable tax status plus a few extra regulatory burdens should force a few of these schools towards bankruptcy. Picking these up on the cheap would be an excellent way to bolster the national education system. This is to say nothing of the potential to buy-up private hospitals on the cheap.

If the government sets her mind to it, it could make a nice little earner. Despite the nay-sayers professing doom should the government take such action, there will always be plenty of entrepreneurs keen to rebuild after we get through these tough times. A bit of piracy might also help with social mobility, for people to go up others also have to come down.

A Keynesian approach of control, intervention and ruthlessness and a mix of the skull and cross bones combined with a healthy dash of "ahoy there, me mateys!" is what we need. In the long run, it is also the only sensible way forward.

[Update Nov 2012 - Alas those pesky monetarists weren't quite as dead as I hoped QED QE.]

Third wander ...
As any biologist or sociologist will tell you, the fastest growth of any population is normally the generation before it collapses due to environmental degradation. The "golden" age always happens just before the fall. It happens with populations from bacteria to wolves. It also happened with the Mayans and the Romans.

We're next.

The laissez faire ephors would have us praying to the invisible fable that is the pareto optimality whilst we burn and plunder natural resources and ponder how we can turn the vast reserves of methyl hydrates into a viable source of fuel. I'd rather trust to reason than such gods of future-discounting lunacy.

This is why the latest debate that the worldwide limit of 450 ppm CO2 (a level which will cause runaway climate warming) is not achievable in economic terms is just madness. We've discounted the future long enough. Without a hospitable environment there are no future trillion dollar companies. Without a hospitable environment there is no economy.

Our choice is simple. Either we choose to do something on a grand enough scale or we choose to let nature decide our fate. Whilst many are hopeful that serendipity will conjure up some magic to solve our problems, I fear that many Mayans and Romans probably did the same.

Whilst I'm all for a gamble, if the upside is more gadgets and the downside is possible extinction ... it just doesn't seem worth it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Head Conference

I'm speaking Aral Balkan's most excellent Head Conference later this evening. It's the first totally online conference and it really has been fabulous so far.

Anyway, I like to experiment in formats, as with my use of Hegelian dialectics at FOWA. So this time, I'm going to try something completely different.

I've already recorded my talk which I'll broadcast during my slot, and while it's playing I'll answer questions and stop and explain bits where necessary. Of course people can watch the talk at their convenience and if you want to watch beforehand then please feel free. I've provided the video below.

Why open matters from innovation to commoditisation

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Far from the Madding Cloud ...

Today I was faced with a challenge.

Explain cloud computing and why interoperability, portability and markets based upon open sourced standards are important IN layman terms!

Now as James' says, I've done this subject to death over the last few years. So I thought I'd try to explain all of this using example for cloud computing and an analogy to explain why interoperability, openness and so forth is important.

So here goes ...

Imagine that average Joe has taken out a big loan to buy lots of very expensive computer hardware.

Tom rents this hardware from average Joe and uses his technological wizardry to make it all appear as one big computer.

Dick rents this big computer from Tom and uses his virtualisation technology to make it appear as lots of small virtual machines.

Harry rents some of these virtual machines and creates a multi-tenanted storage service and messaging system.

Alice also rents virtual machines from Dick to provide a multi-tenanted framework for developing applications in. Rather than building all the elements of the framework she rents Harry's storage and messaging system however she provides access to it through her own API.

Bob rents an instance of this multi-tenanted framework from Alice in order to build a multi-tenanted application which provides transport routing information based upon user provided data, some super smart algorithms and an external cartographic web service from Dave.

Sue, who runs IT for a multi-billion dollar transport company, decides to use Bob's new transport routing system as a key part of her business processes. It's provided on a software as a service basis and marketed as "cloud" which is the latest hot thing, so Sue is happy.

Sue has never heard of Dave, Alice, Harry, Dick, Tom or average Joe. That's cloud computing!

The downside is that average Joe forgets to pay a bill and his machines get repossessed.

As for the analogy;

Imagine that average Joe has taken out a big loan to buy lots of very expensive houses.

Tom uses his financial wizardry to make it all appear as one big security.

Dick divides this security into smaller ...

... you know the rest.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Almost .... but not quite

So according to James Urquhart's post, Google App Engine is going to be supporting JavaScript.

Well, it's about time. JavaScript everywhere (browser and cloud side) will open up the framework to a much wider pool of talent.

Well it's a positive move in my book seeing that I've been there, done that and bought the T-Shirt.

The one major downside is that they're not opening up all the other ancillary components of the framework including bigTable. If they did this, then we might actually start to see an ecosystem of providers develop in the cloud.

I might actually find a cloud service that I'm happy with.

Stop dithering ... you're going to have to in the long run.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Three Rules Happy ...

When it comes to cloud computing, I have three basic rules of happiness. However, before we get to my rules, I have some absolute minimum requirements that any service must meet before I'd even consider it to be cloudy. These include :-

  • I have readable access to all my data, code, frameworks and meta data that may have been created as a result of me using the service. It's my data after all, not yours.
  • The service is appropriately secure, scalable & resilient and must be charged for on an "as use" basis. I certainly don't want to pay for something that I'm not using, which means I also don't want to pay for using my own machines.
  • The T&Cs should be clear and provide me with some guarantee that the service will not be terminated nor fundamental elements changed without reasonable notice and an alternative solution.
  • Pricing should be transparent, efficient and competitive.

Assuming the service meets my basic requirements, then I have three basic rules of happiness:-

Rule 1: I want to run the service on my own machine.
This enables me to trial out a service before even considering adopting a cloud version and gives me a last resort fall-back option. I certainly don't want to be in an environment where I can't do this for whatever reason, including vendor failure or discontinuation of a product.

Rule 2: I want to easily migrate the service from my machine to a cloud provider and vice versa with a few clicks of a button.
If the test went well then I'll probably consider dipping my toe in the water. Hence I want an easy to use transfer mechanism for my data (including any code or framework elements) from my machine to an external cloud provider and vice versa. I do not want to learn any specialised skills nor require any technical knowledge beyond pressing a button.

Rule 3: I want to easily migrate the service from one cloud provider to another with a few clicks of a button.
If I'm going to use a cloud service then I want a choice in providers and an easy mechanism of switching between alternatives. I do not want to discover that switching only covers half of the service and fails to cover other elements like the storage subsystem or a messaging service.

For these reasons, I'm not very happy with most of the current cloud offerings.

Cloud Adoption Model

I've been reading some posts about cloud adoption models. So in a blatant bit of recycling from February this year, I once again bring you, the now renamed (from Utility SaaS to "Cloudy"):-

Cloudy Maturity Model
(click on image for larger size)


P.S. This model is simply a humorous diversion and I don't want to discourage people from thinking about real adoption / maturity models.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For the people, by some of the people ...

The one thing that we don't seem to hear a great deal about on this side of the pond is the policies of the presidential candidates. The election seems to have almost become Obama vs Palin and whether the U.S wants someone who's black in a position of power or someone who's a woman.

Well, I'm not an American, so I have no vote and my voice counts for nothing. I don't even know the issues at stake. However, I recently heard someone say that they couldn't vote for "a rootin' tootin' hockey mom". Why not? Surely a government by the people, for the people should have all walks of life in charge or is a Yale or Harvard degree becoming mandatory for office these days?

By pure coincidence, I read in the FT how Andrew Lahde, founder of California’s Lahde Capital, rounded on the US “aristocracy” who were able to pay for their children to go to Yale and then a Harvard MBA. He apparently said that “these people who were truly not worthy of the education they received rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government.'

This all reminded me of when I first visited San Francisco. I was staggered by how segregated the community was between poor and rich. The divide was sharp and crystal clear. A 15 second crossing separated the "American dream" from the "American nightmare". It certainly gave meaning to the old phrase of "from the wrong side of the tracks."

I wish I could go back and ask the person I heard saying they wouldn't vote for a "a rootin' tootin' hockey mom" whether they had the cash to pay for their children to go to Yale and Harvard?

For the people, by the people ... be careful not to lose this ideal and never dismiss someone just because they have a fairly ordinary background.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chuffed to bits ....

Just noticed that my talk at FOWA was mentioned by Carl Bate (author of 'Lost in Translation') on the CTO blog, and a quick bit of ego surfing shows that I'm also in Caroline McCarthy's article on CNet and Mortlemania.

Much appreciated.

Evolution, it's all about the genes ... not quite.

West Nile virus is a pathogen that causes fatal encephalitis in humans. A chemokine receptor (a type of receptor found on the surface of certain cells) CCR5 is critical for protection in humans. However, in predominantly Northern European populations a defective CCR5 allele (form of the gene) has been found. This defect is known as CCR5 delta 32.

Homozygosity (i.e possession of two defective forms of the gene inherited from each parent) for CCR5 delta 32 is significantly associated with high risk and a fatal outcome when it comes West Nile Virus.

Now, HIV also uses CCR5 as a co-receptor in order to invade its target cells and homozygosity for CCR 35 delta 32 is reported to provide strong protection against HIV infection. So those Europeans who are homozygous for CCR5 delta 32 (estimated at 10% of the population) have a strong protection against HIV but a weak resistance to West Nile Virus.

In a long term scenario with the uncontrolled and unchecked spread of HIV, you might reasonably expect the population to become predominantly homozygous for CCR 35 delta 32 i.e. to be brutal, they are the ones who are more likely to survive.

However, with environmental changes we are seeing the spread of West Nile virus further North and if it is uncontrolled and unchecked then you could reasonably expect a decline in the level of homozygosity for CCR 35 delta 32. Again, for rather brutal reasons.

I mention this to illustrate one point. Evolution is not independent of the environment; it is predominantly controlled by it. In an environment which is constantly changing, where strengths can become weaknesses and vice versa, the stability of a complex system often depends upon diversity. Variability in the genetic make-up and the phenotype of a population can often save it.

In the current unstable economic climate, it is often tempting for a company to retreat to core activities and minimise diversity. This is probably the last thing you should be doing.

Cloud Recap ...

The Cloud Today
IT is currently undergoing a transformation as parts of the industry shifts from a product to a service based economy. This transformation is a normal consequence of the commoditisation of an activity from a novel and new innovation through to bespoke to products and then finally to commodity like services (e.g. utility services). The clearest evidence of this transformation can be seen from the abundance of service related messages in current IT trends whether this is in web services, software as a services, service orientated architecture or mashing up services.

It should be noted that not all of IT is becoming commoditised as standard services, only those parts of IT which are ubiquitous within the industry and as a consequence are well defined or near feature completeness.

The benefits of a shift to services for consumers are as follows :-
  • Acceleration in business innovation due to rapid creation of new higher order systems through componentisation (i.e. it's faster to build a house with planks than to start with cutting down your own trees).
  • Economies of scale.
  • Conversion of significant Capex to utility based Opex with a stronger link between cost and usage.
  • Ability to focus resources on core activities.
  • Minimisation of capacity planning effects.
Due to these benefits and the Red Queen effect (i.e. the need for business to remain competitive with each other) we are likely to see a large scale movement towards the services world once the barriers to adoption are removed.

At this moment the main adoption barriers are :-
  • Concerns over reliability and security of providers (in many cases this is not grounded in fact).
  • Concerns over legal issues (data transfer over geographic boundaries).
  • Concerns over lock-in to providers and the lack of second sourcing options.
The latter is of serious concern due to the lack of pricing competition and loss of strategic control for the consumer.

Understanding the Cloud.
The service world can be broken into a computing stack created from a number of discrete components (as per Herbert Simon's componentisation work on the theory of hierarchy). The main components of interest are:-

The Application layer : for example a specific application (such as CRM) or application data services (such as those provided by AMEE, Google Maps etc).

The Framework layer : for example, the development framework or platform, the messaging systems, any file storage service, the database and all the components used in providing an environment for the application to exist within.

The Hardware layer: for example, the operating system, the virtual machine and the bare metal. All the components used in providing an operating computing environment for the framework layer to exist within.

Each of the service layers can be built upon each other; for example an application which is provided by one company as a service can be built upon a framework which is provided by another company as a service and so on.

The organisation of these layers into stable components provided as services creates stable subsystems for the higher layers of the stack and this is what accelerates business evolution and innovation. For example mashing up a stable CRM service with Cartographic and CO2 emissions data provided by other services to create an application for calculating customer CO2 emissions is a much faster operation than having to build the application by creating the operating system first. This effect is known as componentisation.

This effect can occur throughout the organisation i.e. if you consider your company has inputs and outputs and between this a value chain of components and systems which convert those inputs to ouputs then this entire value chain can evolve. In other words, every part of your business is commoditising and hence enabling new higher order systems to appear ... nut and bolts enable machines, electricity enables radio etc. These cloud services will enable numerous new things to appear which in turn will commoditise.

Any service (at whatever layer of the computing stack) can be provided either by a single company or through multiple providers. In the later case, where there is freedom to switch between one provider and another, the providers form an ecosystem known as a competitive utility computing market. The word utility in this case is used as comparison to existing utilities such as electricity, telephone and gas.

The ability to switch between providers overcomes the largest concerns of using such service providers, the lack of second sourcing options and the fear of vendor lock-in (and the subsequent weaknesses in strategic control and lack of pricing competition). Where such switching between providers can occur, the users own systems may also act as a provider. This allows for the creation of hybrid arrangements with the use of external services as a top up for internal systems.

Whilst higher layers of the computing stack may be built upon lower layers which are provided as services, the lowest layer (hardware) is concerned with the bundling of bare metal (from CPU, I/O to memory) and its provision as an operating environment.

Separate machines can be bundled together to act as a "single machine" through cluster and grid technologies and single machines can be made to act as though they were many separate machines through the use of virtualisation technologies. Furthermore an application may cluster together or balance its load across several virtual machines. The use of cluster, grid and virtualisation strategies is one of balancing total available computing resources (no matter what the source) to match the demand for computing resources.

For the sake of clarity (or not), the reader should be aware that as with operating systems there is more than one type of virtual machine format with each format controlled by a specific hypervisor or virtual machine monitor. These monitors may run either on bare metal or within an operating system and hence it is theoretically possible to run multiple layers of virtual machine to operating system to virtual machine and so on. The most well known hypervisors are Xen, VMWare, KVM and Hypervisor V.

This combination of concepts from computing stack (from hardware to software) provided as a service, competitive utility computing markets, hybrid systems, virtualisation, clustering and grid technology is commonly grouped together under the term “cloud computing”.

Competitive markets vs monopoly.

Eventually either through market competition or government regulation, it is likely that we will end up with competitive utility computing markets. However during the early stages of transition from a product to a service based economy we are more likely to have monopoly like environments. Such environments will occur because there will be lack of interoperability and portability between providers at any particular layer of the stack. For example, in these early stages we are more likely to see heterogenous providers of hardware services offering different APIs, VMs and ancillary services rather than homogeneous providers offering the same environment with easy switching between them. That said, there are a number of efforts such as vCloud and OVF which directly attack this problem.

OVF deals with the packaging of a virtual appliance (a pre-configured software stack comprising one or more virtual machines) in a hypervisor neutral format in order that the virtual appliance can be installed on several different hypervisor environments. OVF does not, at this time of writing, deal with the portability of a running instance between virtual platforms. However, with the vCloud initiative, vMotion does deal with the portability of a running virtual machines from one physical server to another, however this movement is confined to the VMWare hypervisor.

I am not aware of any system which will currently move a running virtual machine from one hypervisor environment to another, however please feel free to correct me. (I have not yet checked out Citrix's Kensho environment)

In the “cloud” world, portability and interoperability in the longer term will almost certainly require open sourced standards i.e. operational open sourced code which acts as the standard. There are several reasons why open sourced standards are more likely to work than open standards (where the specification alone is open), these include :-
  • Open sourced standards provide a means for potential consumers to test a service by implementing it operationally within their own environment.
  • Open source also provide the fastest means of creating a defacto standard by reducing any barriers to adoption.
  • Open standards rarely do anything to prevent additional information or features from being implemented outside the scope of the standard. In the service world, any feature differentiation which results in any new information is a source of lock-in and is therefore not of a consumer benefit.
  • If the cloud technology is not open sourced or an open source reference model does not exist then this will create a dependancy for the service provider on a technology vendor. Whilst closed source technology can potentially solve consumer issues regarding portability and interoperability, the dependancy it creates can cause significant longer term issues for any provider.
The usual counter argument given to the creation of open sourced standards is that they inhibit innovation (in the case product innovation and feature differentiation). However given that the activity in question is ubiquitous and of declining strategic value, feature differentiation provides little or no advantage to the consumer and can only be seen as an advantage to the provider in ensuring lock-in.

The distinguishing feature between competitive markets and monopoly in the "cloud" world is therefore the use of open source and any consumer should carefully consider second-sourcing issues when choosing a cloud provider.

For a summary of my earlier thoughts on this matter, see  OSCON 2007 presentation on Commoditisation of IT (2014 : the original was on blip.tv, this is a copy which unfortunately seems out of sync but it'll do) :-

video

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gang up now before the *aaS cloud gets you

Back in July, I gave a general talk at CloudCamp London on how consumers will need to push vendors towards interoperability and portability in the cloud.

At FOWA during the session on the important bits of cloud computing, a member of the audience - Terry Jones - put a similar question of portability and interoperability to both the speakers and the crowd. I happen to be in agreement with Terry that the consumers of cloud services have an important role to play here and so far have been remarkably silent on the issue.

What I suspect we need is some form of consumer association providing unbiased information and supporting the needs of consumers. Such an association should primarily consist of cloud consumers and to a lesser extent service providers or technology vendors. Well, as a starting point, there is Google Cloud Users group started by Sam Johnston.

Anyway, I've finally got around to creating a video of my talk.

CloudCamp Jul'08 - Gang up now before the *aaS cloud gets you

The future of books is bright and rosy ...

Over the years, many doomsayers have pronounced the end of books whether it was through T.V, video or the Internet. Today, the humble but long lasting book is supposedly under attack from a new pretender - the eBook.

Yawn, been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt.

Whilst eBooks have their place they are no match for the tactile experience and versatility of the paperback. However, it does seem to be true that our use of the internet is changing our behaviour, as highlighted in the following Colbert interview with Nick Carr [no longer available]

One particular phrase struck me, the throwaway line of "have you ever tried pushing parts of the book" as though it was a browser. I had to respond with a video of my own.


By the way, Manolis (the designer of the bLink interactive book) is looking for funding just in case any Angel out there wants to extend their portfolio into the digital / physical world.

-- Update 4th July 2014

Despite the often predicted death of books, guess what ... books are doing fine.

Also, these days people are becoming far more interested in the whole physical / digital interaction of systems. I've been particularly interested in Hiroshi Ishii's work on tangible bits / radical atoms.

One example that I discussed with Manolis (mentioned in the video) was the use of electroluminescence in a two way process to make libraries quickly searchable i.e. search for a term, all the books with that term glow back at you. Anyway, interesting times ahead.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What's wrong with a cloudy world?

I've just finished reading the computerworld interview on cloud computing with Barry X Lynn, of 3Tera.

Whilst I would certainly agree that the shift from product to a service based economy is fairly inevitable for a ubiquitous and well defined activity, the problem with the cloud is the lack of second sourcing options i.e. the lack of interoperability, portability and easy switching between providers at equivalent levels of the computing stack.

As Bert, also of 3Tera, said on Tim Anderson's blog :-

"Interoperability certainly is a major concern for users of cloud computing".

Well, I completely agree and that's why I've been going on about the need for open sourced standards (i.e. the standards in the cloud are operational open sourced pieces of code) since 2006. Open source in this context makes sense as any ubiquitous activity is at best a cost of doing business and hence feature differentiation is of no value. The problem we're facing is that many product vendors are not prepared for a shift to a service world and competition based upon price and quality of service. What many vendors want to create is "my product as a service".

This mentality could create fairly vicious forms of lock-in with a loss of control and a lack of competitive pricing pressures. This is what Richard Stallman was arguing against and he is right, a proprietary cloud could easily turn into a trap that would cost more and more over time.

Barry countered this view with the idea that it's "no more stupid than picking up a telephone, getting a dial tone and completing a call anywhere in the world through interconnected "clouds" of phone company networks. Well, I must admit I don't know what the situation is in the U.S, but in the U.K. when I wish to change phone company, I can. Also when I switch between phone companies, I don't find that I either have to rewire my entire home or that essential data is somehow lost or changed. This is the problem with analogies to electricity or phone providers, unlike those utilities we have a relationship with cloud vendors through our data.

To make a fair comparison with the phone industry, then you would have to imagine an "open" system whereby you could simply change phone companies and a "closed" system whereby when you switch phone company then not only does your number change but so does every number you used to call and to top it all you also have to rewire your entire house in the process. Of course it would be madness, you'd effectively be locked-in and Stallman is right to called such a system "stupid".

A cloudy world without competitive markets based upon open sourced standards is a potential lock-in nightmare.

Caveat Emptor.

A silver lining ...

Whilst I was disappointed by the taxpayer's acquisition of toxic mortgages from B&B and the cheap sale of the savings business to Santander, I was wholeheartedly cheered by our Government's move to a buy-out rather than a bail-out response to the banking crisis. The recapitalisation of the failing banks by the Governmental purchase of preference shares through a rights issue is just what the doctor ordered.

This is a far more sensible course of action than the Paulson plan of buying toxic paper which was rushed through the two houses in the U.S. and would do nothing but to help those who least needed it and add woe to those who could least afford it. For the people, by the people ... don't make me laugh.

I'm also pleased to hear that the deregulation of the Thatcher era is finally being seen as partially culpable for the current crisis. Those who know me, know that I despise the laissez faire dogma of the Chicago "Nut-House" of Economics, as once preached by its high priest Milton Friedman. The die for this crisis was cast long ago and I'm glad to see that people are saying so.

P.S. If you want to know my economic tendency - it's A.Smith, J.M.Keynes, J.Schumpeter and J.K.Galbraith.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Busy, Busy ...

The last two weeks have been extremely busy for me. Along with working on the business case and funding for an interactive book company, I've started a new job and been a co-chair of a major London conference.

So in quick order ...

The interactive book company is Amphilab (I now work as an advisor having finished an initial three month stint). The company produces books with printed electronics. Let me just note one thing, these are not one page e-readers BUT real BOOKS with real paper pages which interact with computers. So it's old fashioned paper and ink (which we all love) AND turning pages (which we all love) PLUS text that interacts with computers & mobiles. We've already got a book deal and I'm now helping Manolis look for some funding that he needs.

I've also started a new job with Canonical as the software services manager. This role combines my passion for cloud computing & open source and puts it to good use for a great company. I know I was not intending to do any more work in the cloud computing space but then I met Mark and the Canonical team. It's a great place with great people - life just seems to be getting better and better.

Lastly, I've just finished co-chairing the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) conference. It was an absolute blast with some great talks by people like Kevin Marks, Gavin Bell, Suw Charman-Anderson, Julie Meyers, Ben Huh and the list goes on. The crowd was amazing, the venue excellent and Carsonified put on a grand show for everyone. Brilliant.

P.S. I've linked to my FOWA talk below. I know that I haven't yet created a video for my "Gang up now before the *aaS cloud gets you" talk at CloudCamp, London - I'll get around to it soon.

P.P.S. I'm also still writing, speaking, doing some ad-hoc work, building a bio-reactor and I'm in the process of moving home!

FOWA Talk - Innovation, the future and why nothing is ever simple.