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.