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

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, this is a copy which unfortunately seems out of sync but it'll do) :-

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.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The big chicken cometh ....

"The world is in danger of being gobbled up by a big space chicken" said Ms Lolly Stevens in the Marentessa Times yesterday.

She continued, "just like a butterfly, we can already feel the effect of its flapping 1,000 foot wings. The destabilisation of the financial markets is a direct cause of this and we're on the edge of a precipice."

Ms Stevens warned that she needed an immediate $600 billion in order to create a giant chicken trap in space and without this the world would probably end sometime soon.

"there is no time to think about this, we need the chicken money now" she stated whilst pointing frantically into the sky, flapping one arm like a wing and making "squawk, squawk" noises.

Asked about the likelihood of achieving her goals, she stated "well the Senate seems happy to spend more than this on one load of turkey, why not less on a planet eating chicken?"

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Is the cloud bad?

So Richard Stallman has attacked the idea of the cloud as a ' trap aimed at forcing more people to buy into locked, proprietary systems'.

Cloud computing (a term I'm not particular fond of) is often used to describe various forms of service provision of the computing stack. The shift of parts of the computing stack (apps to hardware) from a product to a service based economy is a consequence of the growing ubiquity of particular areas of IT.

Simply put, cloud computing is an expected consequence of IT becoming ubiquitous and it provides a large number of benefits through economies of scale and componentisation. However that said, it's not without risk and the key issue for any consumer is interoperability and portability between the different providers. In practice, such portability will only ever occur with open sourced standards.

So, is the cloud a trap? Well, the cloud is not a bad idea but some of the current incarnations are. If it's not open sourced then be aware of what you're getting involved in, either as a customer or a potential partner. In the web industry, you're potentially handing over strategic control of your future business to a technology partner and in the long run Stallman is right to call that 'worse than stupidity'.