Thursday, January 25, 2007

An open source utility based grid.

Zimki is growing - excellent.

These are my thoughts on why a grid of utility based providers of an open source platform is necessary and the CA / CODB divide in IT.

No service is ever 100%, hence the abundant use of the n+x model from stand alone (n+0), to the simple cluster (n+1) and further.

This extends not just to hardware but to providers. Hence the greater the number of providers in a cloud and the more distributed the application, the greater the resiliance. A case of n+1 would have one utility provider as the primary source, and another as the secondary.

By creating a utility IT environment where applications & data can simply switch from one provider to another, you enable two things to happen.

Firstly, you create a competitive utility IT environment - where price & quality of service (QoS) can be compared.

Secondly, you should be able to create a greater level of resilience at the same price.

As far as I am aware, it is estimated that 15% of company data centre capacity is utilised. If you accept this and assume a 100% markup then for the same price each company can access three equivalent utility data centres (n+2). Assuming perfect balancing of supply and demand, and discounting any economies of scale, an n+1 model will give more resilience at less cost on a utility basis.

This requires simple transfer between providers and open competition. If we spend over $2 trillion p.a. on IT and the majority of that IT is CODB and of little or no strategic value - then such cost savings will become critical.

This is why I believe there will be a shift towards a cloud of utility providers, competing on price & QoS with simple transfer of applications and data between providers. In the same way that it is likely that most CODB apps will become generic and exist somewhere on the cloud.

Price & competitiveness will force the issue. As the ubiquity of IT increases, so more of it will shift towards CODB.

Scarcity is the key to differentiation and a source of advantage, not ubiquity.

Everyone has ERP/CRM etc. The systems are not a source of differentiation and the focus should be "as cheap as chips".

In the long run, the utility model is most likely to be the only one standing, but the driving force will be a greater understanding that the majority of IT is CODB and price / QoS will become the critical issues.

The days of added business value are limited for the majority of systems.

The minority which is genuinely novel and new and therefore can be seen as a source of competitive advantage, will most likely shift to worth based development (WBD) methods - where reward is directly related to a metric of business value. This is all the more achievable when some of the risks are negated (such as hosting / operating costs) - however it still requires a change in mindset to distinguish CA from CODB.

Transitional (the movement from CA to CODB) is ripe for open sourcing, to avoid the cost of transition associated with being the non-standard product - however timing on this will always be critical.

So in general (and this is what we discussed back at Euro Foo'04, a rehash of a report I wrote back in 2002) - the ideal is roughly:-

Characteristics :-

  • novel and new
  • relevant
  • potential & measurable fast return
  • uncertain

possible source of CA

Approach: build using a WBD [minimise risk, share reward] method and if it becomes successful, and competitors appear to be building equivalents adopt the approach of open sourcing the entire service, allow all competitors to copy it and attempt to establish it as the standard product. [Avoidance of the cost of transition]

Characteristics :-

  • you've heard of it or worked on before
  • lots of companies have it
  • a generic term exists to describe it
  • often called "strategic"
  • you believe you need
  • considered as "best practice"

most likely CODB

Approach :"Cheap as chips" - use a generic product run on a utility service, avoid customisation.

This is based on my comments on Carr's blog about Google whacking the IT industry.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bits and pieces...

Added a recent talk section. I'm never very good at keeping these presentations, and most hit the bin right after the talk.

This one is from Euro-Oscon '06 and covers commoditisation, 3D printing and all that. It's and update to the Euro-Foo '04 session, which was based on much earlier stuff, which is on some old zip drive somewhere.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hope ++

In our history we have had many protests (from Wat Tyler to the Jarrow marchers to the Chartists). Few have succeeded, most have failed - all have struggled for their cause.

However, other than the anti-war march, I can't think of any examples of two million people turning up in London to protest and then going home after nothing happens.

Had Wat Tyler led a march of two million peasants, do you think things would have turned out as they did?

Why do we accept this?

How many people do you need on a march before you are listened to? 10 million? 20 million?

Why do we allow ourselves to be ignored?

Is it that we have too much to lose? So to demonstrate is ok and if we are all ignored well c'est la vie; there is always the election!

The problem with waiting for the election is the declining turnout and that both parties are identical. I've even heard talk of boycotting the next election in order to make some sort of statement - I presume that statement is "please ignore us".

So what is behind this political emasculation of the populace?

I have an idea.

I've noticed a growing culture not just of fear but of vulnerability and powerlessness.

So, have you heard any of these:-

  • one person can't make a difference
  • what's the point in voting
  • they don't listen anyway
  • I'm worried about .... job, home, debt, children ...
  • we're under the threat of terrorist attack
  • the environment is collapsing

I'm hearing a surprising number of statements about human frailty recently and everyone seems to be a potential victim. (Where did that term come from anyway?)

In a spirit of inquiry, and to shed some light on the current zeitgeist, I've been running my mood map on Zimki which tracks photos and blogs tagged with certain emotional words. It's a simple demo app which took about an hour+ to write (this is for someone who didn't know JavaScript or HTML)

The result (obviously impacted by seasonal variation):-

Well since Nov '06,

Sadness has increased over Happiness (+2%)


Hope has increased over Fear (+7%)

So we're more miserable, but at least we're hopeful.

Of course this is all anecdotal, but the worrying thing is that we may be hoping for someone else to create a better future because we feel powerless to do so ourselves.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's not God ... honest

Having spent an evening talking with a proponent of intelligent design, I am impressed by the careful wording that is used.

The fundamental concept of ID implies the existance of an Intelligent Designer. However, ID is careful to avoid attempting to identify who or what that designer might be.

They state they do not care who the designer is, just that there is one. Any possible reference to the supernatural is avoided at all costs.

So, ID is science is it? Apparently, they claim, yes.

So, being science it is limited to the realm of reality? In order to be science it must be.

So the intelligent designer exists within the realm of reality and is therefore not supernatural!

At this point, certain questions spring to mind

Who made the intelligent designer? Who's his mother? Where did she come from?

Even if you invoke an infinite lineage of intelligent designers, you still end up outside of the realm of reality.

You can't escape it - ID eventually needs a supernatural being, which means it's faith and not science.

Now there is nothing wrong with ID being a matter of faith; and that's exactly what it is.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

To be or not, BT ...

Customer service is an important part of any company. So I've decided to write about my latest fiasco with BT (British Telecom). I won't bore you with the minor arguments with the company but the last two just get me annoyed.

About four months ago we moved from BT broadband to Tiscali. We kept the BT land-line though.

We then were sent a bill for continued use of BT broadband.

We phoned BT, asked them why they had sent a bill for a cancelled service; they agreed we owed them nothing.

A few months later we get sent a reminder for the bill. Same old story, same old phone call, same old agreement. This time they promised us they had settled the matter and we wouldn't be getting any more phone calls about us not owing them anything.

A little later, we get phoned by the BT Collection Agency for collection of outstanding money. So same old story, same old phone call, same old agreement, same old promises that they had settled this and we wouldn't be getting any more phones calls asking us to pay fictitious debts.

If past performance is any guide, we are now expecting the bailiffs to turn up. Talk about utterly useless, it's amazing the phones actually work.

The other matter was that someone drove into our telegraph pole, breaking it in half. We called BT from another phone and told them the telegraph pole was broken, they seemed to have difficulty in believing this and kept telling us our phone would be working tomorrow.

Eventually after four days an engineer turned up. So we phoned BT to ask them what was happening and they said "You've got a broken telegraph pole" ... doh.

They have promised to reduce our bill for the days our telegraph pole was split in two across the road and no telephone service was available. I'm not holding my breath; that could be fatal.

The secret is to bang the rocks together guys.

There is one observation that I would like to make.

The phones are obviously maintained by local engineers and I never seem to have problems here.

On the other hand all the customer support stuff seems to be done in some offshore centre (given the difficulties I experience in understanding them, and in being understood).

It might be cheaper financially but in terms of customer experience I imagine it is costing them dear.

In Buzby's words "Make someone happy" - well from my experience BT is more turkey than Buzby.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Vote now to evict ...

Ostracism was practised in the the ancient Greek Athenian democracy. The idea is fairly simple, the public can choose if it wishes to expel an individual from its society for a period of ten years.

Once a year, the public would decide if it wished to hold an ostracism. If the public decided it did, then after a period of time the vote would occur.

Members of the public would put forward a name for ostracism. If the most voted for name exceeded a set number of votes (i.e a significant percentage of the actual population) then that person would be commanded to leave the city for 10 years (exile).

There would be no loss of property, no loss of title or status.

There was no defense against this.

Was it used? Occasionally

Why was it used? Mainly to remove confrontations, removing an individual seen to be a threat such as a potential tyrant etc.

It's a check and balance measure.

Obviously in its literal form it would be useless in a modern society e.g. voting on bits of pot, use of a roped arena, majority of 6,000, use of the death penalty, relevant only to a city etc.

This would all need to be upgraded to a more modern and liberal version. However such a version of this may have some merit.

When I first raised this idea, the first comments were that we would have a reality TV style voting frenzy and let's get rid of Paul Daniels (a TV celebrity in the UK).

However, that shows a remarkable lack of faith in the electorate to take such issues seriously. I don't subscribe to that point of view.

We live in a society which seems to quite easily remove our civil liberties. It's worth reading Henry Porter in the Guardian, which I've summarised below. I recommend you read his articles though.

  • The right to be tried by a jury:Abolished in cases of serious and complex fraud in 2003.
  • The right to protest:Since 2005, demonstrations outside the House of Commons must be pre-notified to, and approved by, police.
  • The right not to be convicted on hearsay evidence:Hearsay evidence can be submitted to get an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo).
  • The right to trial:Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 the Home Secretary can undertake control orders restricting the liberty of individuals suspected of terrorist involvement - without trial.
  • The right to privacy:DNA samples taken from anyone arrested but acquitted or not prosecuted are now retained on a national database.

and on, and on and on.

It has got to the extent that friends of mine now leave this country to find home elsewhere because of such concerns.

You also have to ask yourself the question :-

"if parliament is there to prevent tyranny - what happens when parliament are the tyrants?"

With the current government desire to increase controls on the population (ID cards, NIR database) and the removal of liberties, we should start to ask ourselves what checks are in place? What happens if someone gets carried away with it all?

Could Ostracism be a useful mechanism?

There is much talk today of a culture of fear and the reasons for the changes to our liberty, well I'm reminded of the Thomas Jefferson quote

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

Maybe we should have a chat with our political servants about this and possibly update our version of democracy with a few extra tools, so we all know where we stand on this matter. Maybe not.

You decide.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Commoditised web - how much? what next?

A few weeks ago the company I run, Fotango released our new utility billing model onto Zimki which is our commoditised web operating environment.

We are going to blog about this in detail on the Zimki Blog and also the Fotango Blog but I'll provide some information on here for those interested in the ideas behind commoditisation of IT and the stuff I talked about back at EuroFoo and EuroOscon.

As we run our own sites on Zimki, I can now reveal the cost of running our websites in terms of JavaScript Ops, Bandwidth, Storage etc. For simplicity our billing system converts all this to tokens (think electricity kw/h) which can be bought in batches of 100,000 for £1.

So let me be clear, this is a scaleable and robust environment where you can build and release entire applications online without ever needing to set-up a server, arrange a hosting environment, install and configure a database, install a web server etc. There is no initial capital investment for your service, as it is utility basis.

All you need is a browser and knowledge of JavaScript (which runs both front and back-end with an extended persistence layer). You can build an entire business online - or an application or even just expose parts of it through an API - with just a browser. So, how much does it cost to run your own online site? Well, let's get a sense of perspective first. Six years ago when we first created Fotango we spent a large amount on capital to install web servers, set up hosting etc. Setting up a web site could easily run into tens of housands of pounds, if not more.

So today, well :-
  • The Fotango site costs 63 pence per day, or about £19 per month
  • The Zimki Blog costs 19 pence per day or about £6 per month
Of course, we are not charging at the moment - i.e. it's free to use. The entire business is built around the capabilities of a scaleable cluster with some nifty financial models based on utility, which charge on the basis of how much of the cloud you consume. For a company web site and a blog - £25 per month seems reasonable - crikes I wished we had this a long time ago.

But that's progress.

However, when we open source the system (planning to do so, later this year) and release the grid elements, our customers will be able to switch their applications and data between different providers at the press of a button. (why? well price and QoS will very between providers - we intend to provide that information along with a number of market capabilities - think energy trading, and I'll comment on this in a moment.)

Or our customer could host Zimki themselves.

Or they could use multiple Zimki providers.

Or (and this is my favourite bit) our customer could even sell spare capacity in their own data centres back into the Zimki grid.

That's the plan - and slowly we are getting there! As for why open source - well see my earlier post about this.

Will I be shifting this blog to Zimki - of course! I'm just waiting for my friend James Duncan to finish writing his Zimki blog application, and then hopefully I'll be able to get the code from him and create my own! (several beers may well be in order)

So why the comment about energy trading?

Well you can build an application in Zimki (either in a realm or using multiple realms) which can have different end-users. So for example, I could build a CRM system for different companies using either seperate sandboxed realms or keeping the data separate with program logic in Zimki. This means I could build a SaaS application on Zimki (we are intending to release an example billing module for our Zimki customers in order to help them do this, but that's much later).

That means I can create a SaaS application, without investing in hardware, setup etc etc or being concerned about scaleability and such issues. The end-users of my SaaS application would then pay me (if it's any good!) for it's use and I would just pay the Zimki grid for consumption of resource. This reduces my risk and capital investment when creating a new business, enables me to expand easily with the business and makes it easier for me to get such services out there.

It also means that once my SaaS application is successful, then shifting from one provider of the Zimki grid to another could significantly reduce costs. That creates competition and enables price to be balanced against QoS. The world of commoditised IT is rapidly approaching, which is good because once all established we can get onto the business of commoditising something else - like the manufacturing process (think digital fabrication, most likely with inkjet, giving compositional and geometric freedom)

I look forward to a day when I'll get to read a book from Nicholas Carr on "Does it MATTER - Digital Fabrication and the corrosion of competitive advantage" as we all merrily inkjet print huge numbers of physical goods (as dissussed back at Euro Foo '04). That will cause even more nashing of teeth than this current round of commoditisation, but then biological manufacture (Drew Endy et al) isn't that far into the future either.

Still, from all accounts, the printing of object and electronics is happily jogging along. (Thanks to James for spotting the post)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nissan Bliss

Well, we had our first small (and I mean small) glitch with our Nissan car. We called the garage they said "bring it in, we'll fix it and lend you a courtesy car".

Can we get an automatic? Sure no problem.

So we trotted off to the garage (near work), and were told they might be able to fix it in a day. If they could then we wouldn't need a courtesy car. They offered to give us a call later, if they weren't going to finish they'd have a car waiting.

We were happy and left for work.

Later on we get the call. They'd fixed everything.

So we go along to the garage and lo' and behold they had fixed everything, and cleaned the car, and pumped up the tires and given it a good checking over.

So with baited breath we waited for the bill. When I used to drive a Mercedes it often felt like a few hundred pounds would disappear just for the Mercedes dealership to notice the car - it gives me the shudders just to think about some of the bills which came in for the actual work.

So tentatively we asked - "How much?"

"Nothing, it's all part of the service."

Gasp! Really? Wow... Gosh.

What a fabulous company Nissan is. I know I've waxed on lyrically about how amazing they are, well they keep on outdoing themselves with their stunningly good customer service.

The car is incredibly reliable (and enjoyable and fab and ... I could carry on) but you almost wish it wasn't so damn good just so you could enjoy more of this customer service - that's an amazing experience to create.

Hats off to them - Fantastic company, Fantastic cars.

British built too! It's enough to make you proud.

Hyperbolus remembered ...

According to wikipedia 2,973 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks

According to Reuters there has now been 3,000 U.S Military deaths in Iraq

According to the Lancet over 650,000 Iraqis have been killed since the war started.

No WMD's were found, the search was called off.

We still haven't had a public enquiry into Britain's involvement.

I have the greatest admiration for our soldiers, who put their lives on the line.

As for our political servants, I wonder if things would be different if the ancient Greek democratic practice of ostracism was available.

Monday, January 01, 2007

An idea is not just for Christmas .. it's for 20 years

I've finally sat down and started to read the Gower review on intellectual property - I'm disappointed.

Though the report talks of the need for balance (go for it!) and there seems to be a lot of good ideas in there, it seems fairly weighted in one direction.


"IP serves three principal functions: to incentivise knowledge creation; to accumulate knowledge in a culture; and to protect a distinctive identity"

Surely the principal aim should be to accumulate knowledge in a culture?

Protection of a distinctive identity is just a method of achieving this, not an aim. The idea that it is necessary for incentivising knowledge creation would imply that there are no other suitable mechanisms for encouraging innovation. Do you really believe that firms would not innovate without IP (that's first leader advantage up the spout). What have universities been doing for last eight centuries?

The idea that listening to a radio is only possible because inventions and creations have been incentivised through the IP system is worthy of a Booker prize.

The report states that new technologies such as genetics, software and databases require IP protection and strongly argues the case for why companies should be able to generate revenue from patents without actually producing products. It argues that such action will increase liquidity in the market for ideas, and that a costly patent process might prevent this.

This implies a cheaper patent system, which probably will result in less scrutiny.

The overall vision for the IP system is that it must enable greater economic productivity - damn it, I thought this was a country not a PLC.

The patent trolls must have had a great Christmas.