Saturday, April 19, 2008

Here comes the farmer ...

In 2005, I started an ambitious project to build a utility based development environment, which was successfully launched in early 2006.

Back in 2006, I described the service as a "platform for developing SaaS like apps in the future". This service was identical in concept to Google's recently released AppEngine, except that we used JavaScript and our plan included the open sourcing of the entire stack and not just an SDK.

Within our service both code and data were stored as portable objects. The open sourcing of the product was planned to provide alternative places that you could port to. I nicknamed this concept FaaS or (Framework as a Service), though Robert did warn me that we would just end up with a lot of aaS.

He was right.

For anyone confused by the abundance of terms like DaaS, PaaS, IaaS, HaaS and so on, the reality of what is happening is very simple.

Any X as a Service simply refers to the commoditisation of the computing stack from a product based economy to a service one. End of story.

A key part of this transition is that we move to a service economy that competes on service rather than product. Such a transition has enormous benefits for society in terms of innovation (I'll talk more about that later in the year at Web 2.0 Strategies). However this is a difficult transition for those who have always seen their product as the source of advantage.

In a service economy, SLAs are not as important as portability between providers. Without such portability you will remain still stuck in a product based economy, albeit one that you can rent over the wire. The companies who accept that service is the key to competitive advantage in a service economy will have no problem embracing this; those who believe their technology is their "secret source" will always have problems adapting.

Where for example, two years since its release, is the alternative provider for the Amazon patented S3 environment?

Like it or not, we are moving towards a world where ubiquitous IT activities will be provided by utility computing markets. Providers will openly compete based upon price vs QoS (quality of service) and services will be defined by open sourced standards.

A lack of open source was one of the things which concerned me about BungeeLabs offering. Now I gather from James Urquhart's blog that Intuit has entered the fray with its own platform which builds upon QuickBase's database and workflow applications. Whilst Intuit are making positive noises towards portability, the way to actually achieve this is through multiple providers and easy switching between them.

In my view, if Intuit want to have any form of real lasting impact in the shift towards a service oriented economy and avoid being another "also ran", they should open source their entire offering immediately and take an approach of competing on service.

Words are grand, but as per Aesop's fable of the farmer and the crane ...

... actions speak louder.

P.S. If you're thinking why would an established company even consider such a route, I'd recommend reading the section on, "Why Great Companies Can Fail" in Christensen's book, "The Innovators Dilemma".

P.P.S. If your product doesn't become the open sourced standard in a service oriented economy, someone else's will.

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