Friday, July 27, 2007

And now for something completely different

Well, after almost seven years at Fotango - I have decided it is time to look for a new challenge. I've had a wonderful time at Fotango, the team has been outstanding and a real pleasure to work for.

I'm intending to finish my employment in October, which will give enough time to manage a handover.

After that? Well I've a few ideas .... I'll see what happens.

My one regret, is that we didn't get to open source Zimki and instead we have had this period of uncertainty over the month or so. I'm still hopeful that Zimki will be open sourced, it is in my view the right thing to do and there is a huge potential for new business.

This is my first OSCON, and overall it has been excellent ... interesting talks and a good chance to meet up with friends again.

Despite my usual nerves, the keynote went quite well ... I can now afford to take some time to relax.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Free Trade ...

Mike Olson commented that low cost distribution has been the key benefit of open source. He says that this can be achieved by other models and open source of the code is itself not key, merely a tactic.

I agree with Mike that access to read or modify the source is not the key benefit of open source. Most people rarely do this. According to Rishab Ghosh's FLOSS report many people aren't even aware that the technology they use is open source.

Question -"Do you use open source?"

Answer - "No, we use apache and linux."

However, a consequence of open source is freedom. With open sourced code, there is no market exclusivity and no lock-in to a vendor. Competition is on service alone, it creates a more perfect market.

With the future utility computing worlds of HaaS, FaaS and SaaS - where the need of a service is ubiquitous - this distinction is at the heart of the looming battles between monopoly providers and a marketplace.

So is the benefit of open source that the code is open .... absolutely, it's everything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Shooting the messenger ...

At the executive briefing Eben Moglen lambasted Tim O'Reilly for his apparent focus on the trivial for the last decade and not the big issues about freedom.

Now I greatly admire Eben, his work on GPL and his passionate speeches about freedom.

Freedom is an acute issue for me. I'm concerned about the culture of fear and also the culture of vulnerability that we have allowed to grow as we have sleepwalked into the surveillance society within the UK. I'm more than aware of how rights have been eroded. I'm a great believer in more not less freedom.

However, any idea needs mediums to spread through in order to be heard. Tim has done an enormous amount of work in spreading the meme of openness to both the technical and business communities.

I say "openness" because this meme is not just about software (open source) but has spread to content (Web 2.0), hardware (open hardware), businesses (E 2.0) and it continues to spread further.

This meme carries the ideas of freedom. As such it needs to be defended, supported, and disseminated. It's anything but trivial.

While Eben makes valid points, Tim didn't deserve the blunderblus that Eben fired.

Friday, July 20, 2007

JSOPs .... buy, buy, buy.

Carrying on from my last post, I want to breakdown the terms SaaS, FaaS and HaaS.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is simply where your data resides in an application from a SaaS provider.

Ideally you want to be able to move your data from one provider of that application to another and know that service will continue to work - you're just switching provider after all. This means the application has to conform to a standard - whether it's a standard for a CRM app or a standard for ERP app or whatever type of app it is.

Before anyone argues that you cannot create standards for such apps, Salesforce supports the case that you can. Where an app is ubiquitous in an industry, it's just a cost of doing business and not a form of competitive advantage. You may want your own special flavour of electricity - I want mine standard, bland, reliable, competitively priced and to come out of a plug.

The common service providers of a standard app worry about how this app is delivered, the infrastructure, how it works and the service. As a user, I care that my data works here with this CSP of CRM and that I can swap to this CSP of CRM because of price or better service or whatever. No lock-in, no exit fees and no hidden surprises.

FaaS (Framework as a Service) is simply where your data and your application resides in a framework from a FaaS provider. Early examples of this include Zimki and BungeeLabs but neither are open sourced yet. [Dec'2009 - this is now known as PaaS or Platform as a Service]

The same is true with FaaS as it is with SaaS. I want multiple providers competing to give me the best price and service, a competitive utility market, with no lock-in, no exit fees and an easy swap from one provider to another.

HaaS (Hardware as a Service) is simply where your data, your application and your framework resides in a machine environment (virtual or otherwise) from a HaaS provider. Again the same rules apply, I want no lock-in, no exit fee and an easy swap - hence open source standards are again the order of the day.

I met Jeff Barr some time ago. I told him that in my opinion the smart thing would be for Amazon to open source EC2 & S3, encourage competitors and compete on price and service - take first leader advantage, establish the market. If they don't, someone else could disrupt their market by doing this to them. I asked Werner the same thing at FOWA and he talked about their "secret sauce". I reckon all that is needed is an open sourced utility computing engine being adopted by small ISPs and they are going to have a fight on their hands.

Monopoly vs Market - who do you think is going to win?

Of course, once this starts to happen, and it is fairly inevitable it will for infra-structural like services, there are whole new opportunities that appear. From exchanges to brokers.

Why bother dealing with a H/F/SaaS provider directly if portability exists, just get a broker to manage the service on your behalf to constantly get you the best price at the quality you need.

Think I'm kidding? Nope, this is where it is going. Which is great for business, the open source world and the new markets which will establish but a complete nightmare for those still selling an ERP app (as opposed to the manner of its use) as a source of strategic value.

If you don't like change, you're really going to hate the future.

All of this stuff has been obvious for about a decade, we waxed on about it at EuroFoo '04 and many of us were delighted that Carr had firmly put the subject on the map.

The first shoots of this have only just started to appear over the last eighteen months and sometimes these things take time.

A future exchange in computing resources? A futures market? Swaps on JSOPs (JavaScript Operations).

You betch'a.

Six years from now, you'll be seeing job adverts for computer resource brokers.

[Update July 2013 - I originally thought the smart play with Amazon would be to open source the technology to prevent themselves being disrupted by an open source play combined with exploitation of constraints e.g. increase demand through a price war beyond ability of Amazon to build. In this I was utterly wrong. 

What I hadn't factored in was the CEOs / CIOs of their competitors being so completely dozy and dopey that they would allow Amazon to walk away with the market right under their noses. You live and learn. Never underestimate the blindness of competitors.]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Competition, not greed, is good.

Utility computing concerns taking the idea of utility energy provision and applying it to the world of IT, so that companies buy computing resources in much the same way that they buy electricity - charged according to metered usage.

This market is growing, and will continue to grow in three distinct areas :-

SaaS (Software as a Service) : where entire applications are provided on a utility basis.

FaaS (Framework as a Service) : where an application development and deployment environment or framework is provided on a utility basis.

HaaS (Hardware as a Service) : where raw virtual machines are provided on a utility basis.

An ideal situation for any company, is where multiple providers of the same product exists (known as common service providers or CSPs) and where the company can switch between CSPs. Switching between CSPs will often be based upon price and quality of service.  As long as no lock-in exists and there are multiple providers of the same service, a competitive utility computing market should form.

This idea of a competitive utility computing market is viable at the SaaS, FaaS and HaaS levels. Each level is complimentary to each other - in that a SaaS app can be built upon a FaaS environment which can run on HaaS infrastructure. Each level is about achieving greater economies of scale and reduction of risk than any individual company can achieve.

The issues and the needs of a competitive utility computing market are also the same at each level - portability, multi-providers and agreed standards and solves the same class of problems - single source failure, access to resources, pricing competition, efficiency and exit costs.

In today's world the fastest way to achieve a standard is not through committee, conversation or whitepapers but through the release and adoption of not only a standard but also an operational means of achieving a standard. Hence such utility computing standards will only be achieved through the use of open source. This is the only way to achieve the level of interoperability that's required for easy transfer of code, data and processes without any one CSP being strategically disadvantaged to any owner of the standard (e.g. a product vendor).

Furthermore as the open source software model minimises lock-in to a utility computing service by encouraging other providers to enter the market and host an equivalent platform, this provides the pressure for a competitive utility computer market to form, with competition based upon price (for example CPU, bandwidth and storage), quality (SLA, TTFR) and capacity.

For background reading on why a marketplace is more efficient than a monopoly, I'd suggest Adam Smith (1723-1790) - "Monopoly ... is the great enemy to good management"

Or alternatively, for a less well versed argument, I'll be talking about this at OSCON.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Another world's first ...

A long, long time ago I was in a pub in Cambridge talking to an ex-Mathmo called Rich Walker. We talked about radar systems and robotics, and he mentioned an organisation called Shadow and a concept known as air muscles.

I've kept an interest in what they were doing, so it was with some amazement I read this PhysOrg article on the "world's first prototype of an artificial hand with "air muscles"

Well either it is based upon Shadow's work, or they are using Shadow's "air muscles" or they don't know that Shadow has been doing "air muscles" for over a decade, and building all sorts of wonderful creations with it.

All I can suggest is if the Japanese firm have "independently" created this, that they apply for a patent with the USPTO, EPO etc ...

Over the last two decades there has been an explosion in both patent applications and claims per filing. There would seem to be some evidence to suggest that this growth is correlated to the growth rate of new product introductions as opposed to actual innovation.

I think Audi's claim :-

"To date, NASA has filed 6,509 patents. In developing the A6, Audi filed 9,621."

... says it all.

Friday, July 06, 2007

One click shopping ...

I've read with interest Amazon's patent application for

"A distributed, web-services based storage system. A system may include a web services interface configured to receive, according to a web services protocol, a given client request for access to a given data object, the request including a key value corresponding to the object"

as pointed to on Slashdot.

Why with interest? Well Zimki was originally launched last year under the name of libapi, and by the 7th March 2006 (the day before Amazon applied for its patent) we already had 24 registered users.

The really interesting thing is that the service provides (and provided) distributed file storage via web services. Sounds a bit familiar?

We're looking into it...

The really cool thing, is that we have another service that was launched long before libapi and also provided "distributed file storage via web services".

Oh, and before you ask why didn't we apply for patents on "a distributed, web-services based storage system" or "a utility based computing environment" or "online development of web applications" - well it was blindingly obvious prior to 2005, let alone in 2006.

It's happening all over again ... the sooner they neuter such patents, the better.

As for Amazon, well I've long maintained the biggest obstacle to adoption of utility computer services - for example S3 & EC2 - will be vendor lock-in. Once you have a marketplace of equivalent services, you can overcome this. Hence why we focused on open sourcing Zimki, and my subsequent disappointment at the delay to this.

Amazon could of course be planning something like this and wanted the patents as a defensive measure ... I'd hope so, otherwise this just seems like a fairly odd move.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Web 2.0 Berlin

I submitted a proposal for Web 2.0 Berlin about a week ago, and then received a email from Brady about helping out in the advisory board.

Wow .. I didn't know what to say, other than "yes" of course, I'm very flattered.

So first order of the day, was to email (a very un-web 2.0 like approach) some friends and contacts I respect about their views on good speakers, what they would advise etc.

Unfortunately, my mistake, I sent out one email to all thirty-eight at the same time. It didn't take long to be told of my error!

However, I did get some very interesting replies, suggestions and had a discussion with Ben about Security and his feeling this is missing from the conference.

Well it's a valid point, and one I'll raise.

Now, as for trends ... well I don't agree with Ben that there are NO significant changes occurring.

I'd argue that change is constantly occurring, and the most significant seem to be driven by the meme that is "open source" causing a faster dissemination of novel and new ideas, an acceleration in innovation and increased creative destruction.

Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, utility computing etc are all consequences of this as the once novel and new becomes ubiquitous and common.

Now this was part of something which I started to write some time ago about the "entropy of innovation" - I'm very good at lame titles.

Anyway, today's discussion sparked a conversation with Jenny Ambrozek, so I'll add my notes that I made during and shortly after the FAST conference - they are very rough, and at some point I'll get my note book out and write a clearer post.

Rough thoughts

The open source concept created communities around creating software systems. However the meme has spread up the stack of software (from just operating systems to system applications to entire business applications) and out of the stack (creative commons on content, images etc).

The idea of communities sharing and collaborating on information which is often provided freely in an "open source" manner is what is starting to impact traditional news media. In the same way that open source collaboration became faster than proprietary development, the same would seem to be true in information aggregation.

The hidden power behind this all is that open source removes barriers to dissemination of ideas and content. This spurs on innovation, as it accelerates the rate at which the novel and new becomes ubiquitous and common.

You can see this effect in other areas, hence wikipedia become quickly the main source of knowledge on the internet - precisely because of its open and free nature, precisely because this encourages collaboration. If you don't encourage collaboration, then because of the open and free nature someone else will - hence the trio of open, free and collaboration are always combined.

This meme will travel into processes, including business processes and many other areas of human endeavour. It increases collaboration by removing the barriers of secrecy and the illusion of arcane knowledge. It's strongest affect is where it impacts infra-structural services - those used by all. Had HTTP not been released in an open and free manner, the world wide web would not have become the force it is today.

Hence enterprise 2.0 for me is merely an extension and spread of this meme into an organisation. Ultimately I expect to see more openness and collaboration between organisations as a result - hence my theme about the necessity for openness in business at Andrew Mcafee's session at FAST and why I agreed with Euan Semple's default position that the simplest thing is to do nothing ... it's going to happen to an organisation in any case ... assuming the organisation chooses to compete in this new world.

Cats and Dogs ...

Rotten weather, constant rain - yes it's the end of June?

So far this year, the new batch of ducklings and the flowers have been early and April was more like June, May was more like July, June more like August and July?

Well, at this rate I'm expecting Autumn to start soon - from the looks of things, it certainly is heading that way.

Let's hope the leaves don't start falling in the next few weeks.