Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Message

According to Bob Philips, there are three stages of man:-

  • He believes in Santa Claus.
  • He doesn't believe in Santa Claus .
  • He is Santa Claus.

Festive greetings and a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's not who says it that matters ...

Though I've talked about commoditisation and worth in the IT industry for the best part of a decade, I consider myself a late arrival to the utility computing field (or what is now called cloud computing). I only actively became involved (as opposed to just talking about it and using virtualisation, large scale SANs etc) in 2005 when I directed my company towards building a utility computing service.

I was also a late arrival to the open source world, only becoming involved in 2000 when I ran Fotango. Furthermore, I was a late arrival to the field of 3D printing, only taking a real interest in the subject in the late 1990's.

I was late because lots of other people were involved much earlier, decades earlier in every single case.

However, some people are later than me. This doesn't mean that I'm right and they're wrong. This doesn't mean that I have some great insight and they have none. It doesn't even mean that I have some right of superiority. All it means is that I've been involved for longer and that act in itself is meaningless.

Good ideas come from any direction and unfortunately the field of cloud computing is just as awash with half-truths, thought leadership posturing and nonsense as it is with good ideas. There does appear to have been an unseemly scramble by some to set themselves up as the digerati of cloud computing, the purveyors of knowledge and the oracles of our time.

Don't let others decide for you what is right or good, decide yourself.

What I find uncomfortable are blog posts such as Daryl Plummer's and Reuven Cohen's follow on which could easily be taken as to mock the ideas of those who are late to a field (the instant experts, the pretenders vs contenders). Now, I've met Reuven and he seems a pleasant enough fellow but I don't agree with this approach of "I'm the expert" vs "Cloud posers".

As I've said before "in my simple world it's the idea that's important, not the source".

Monday, December 22, 2008


I read that Werner Vogels has been made InfoWorld's CTO of the year. Congratulations are much deserved.

Whilst Werner and the Amazon team might not have been the first to take utility computing from idea into practice, they have certainly been the most successful to date.

Their execution has been second to none and the award is justly deserved.

Maturity models for the cloud

A friend of mine in the cloud world, James Urquhart, who now blogs at CNET recently posted about cloud maturity models. It's worth a read.

I've added a comment, which I'll also leave here (a tidied up version and a mental reminder for myself to check that what I'm pressing is a preview and not a submit button.)

=== comment ===

Good post James,
I especially like "achieving an open marketplace is essentially cloud computing nirvana, and the ideal to which most enterprises should logically strive to achieve" but of course, I'll add onto this.

Such a nirvana will only be achievable (without the loss of strategic control and pricing competition to a technology vendor) if the standards which the marketplace is built upon are operational open sourced pieces of code rather than specifications (it's an old post from July'07 but it covers the basics).

Such open sourced standards (the equivalent of open design patterns, such as the open SDK for GAE) will allow competition and service innovation through implementation. The standards themselves will help encourage portability, the open marketplace you describe and hence consumer innovation through componentisation.

As for "I believe this open market is inevitable, as the economics are just too powerful" - well it's either going to be open or we will see government intervention in the field to force the market to behave in such a way.

You can create the illusion of open marketplaces with a proprietary stack but it is no more than an illusion.

Anyway, good post.

As far as maturity models go, well you've seen this before and though it's old and tongue in cheek, it does have some serious point to it.

Utility SaaS Maturity Model (USaaSMM)
(pronounced u'sass'em)
(click on image for larger size)

Congratulations on the new gig by the way. I'm looking forward to reading more and seeing how this develops.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The cloud ... it's a triangle, damn it.

In 2006, I talked about the growth of utility computing and how distinct industries were being created. I used the ideas of componentisation to subdivide the computing stack into discrete layers.

In 2007, I formalised these three layers into hardware, framework and software. I used the following diagram at various conferences (from Web 2.0 to OSCON to FOWA) to describe utility computing as the transition of the computing stack from a product to a service based economy.

The shift of the computing stack

Then in early 2008, I added a bit more colour to my computing stack diagram to tart things up. But, alas the simple days of utility computing have been replaced by the cloud and its confusion of metaphors.

So, I was not that surprised to receive a very tongue in cheek email telling me that I was wrong about the cloud because it is a triangle (see diagram) .

How the cloud has changed ...

Apparently the source of this triangular insight is Michael Sheehan's post.

Oh no, did I got the colour, shape and names wrong? Who cares, it's not important unless of course the Appistry joke about Michael trademarking the triangle becomes true. In this case just use the rectangle (it's prior art and creative commons).

Alternatively, why not have a go and try experimenting with circles, dodecahedrons, the colour purple and paisley? Believe me you can't make any more of a mess than today's thought leaders.

As for my predictions for the future of cloud in 2009/10. Well, more and more analysts will start talking about the shift of IT from a product to a service based economy, there will be increasing user pressure for second sourcing options and growing demand for standards at various layers of the computing stack based upon operational open sourced code.

Don't ask me what name or shape it'll be, but as for the colour then judging by how much conflict there is in the cloud I'll take a stab at blood red.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cloud, old idea but a new innovation.

There has been a lot of internet discussion recently over whether the cloud is anything new, if you're confused hopefully the following will help clarify the situation. Before getting into the nitty gritty, let's clear up some terms.

From Jan Fagerberg's work, Innovation is the first-ish attempt to carry out an idea into practice. It is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant or new products, processes or services.

I say first-ish as it is notoriously difficult to determine who was the first person (or group) to put an idea into practice. As Eliot Sivowitch once postulated, in his Law of Firsts;

“Whenever you prove who was first, the harder you look you will find someone else who was more first. And if you persist in your efforts you find that the person whom you thought was first was third.”

An idea is an image or a concept or an abstraction. As John Locke said “it being that term which, I think, serves best to stand for whatsoever is the object of understanding when a man thinks”.

Discovery or invention are processes that result in the generation of new concepts or postulated entities or devices. Both of these processes involve serendipity, questioning and the use of analogy.

So how about the cloud then?

The cloud simply represents the shift of the computing stack (from the applications we write to the hardware we use) from a product to a service based economy. This shift is in a transitional stage at the moment, so you're equally likely to hear about product-like internal clouds as much as service-like external clouds. Consumers and vendors will take time to get used to this change.

However, the provision of this computing stack is not something new. Today, the use of computing hardware is not an innovation and the ideas of providing computing hardware as commodity-like products (standard servers) or as commodity-like services (through network connected virtualised machines) are several decades old. However, whilst the ideas are old, isn't the act of putting this into practice a relatively recent (the last decade or so)?

Well yes, it is and that's the point where confusion reigns because whilst computing infrastructure is not new nor is the provision of an activity as a service, isn't the combination of the two new?

In reality this is simply the natural development of an activity from a product to a service based economy. It doesn't repeat the original innovation of computing infrastructure, in much the same way that "car hire" doesn't recreate the original innovation of the motor car. It's less of an innovation and more of an expected evolution.

Unfortunately we use the term innovation everywhere and whilst you might think this doesn't matter, it does. The methods by which you manage an activity vary with whether it's an innovation or more commodity-like and not with whether it has this new feature (often called product innovation) or operational improvement (often called service innovation).

So is the cloud new? In practice it is, in concept it isn't. Is it an innovation, not really but lots of people will call it so.

I mention this also, because a friend recently described me as a thought leader on cloud computing. This is completely untrue and it would be fraudulent for me to even imply that this was the case. I might have been publicly speaking about commoditisation of IT over the past four years but as far as I'm aware, the real thought leadership in this field occurred decades ago.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A nice little earner ...

The U.K. government's use of a buy-out (re-capitalisation) strategy rather than a bail-out strategy has taken a lot of flak in the last month. I wholeheartedly support this Keynesian approach because it is a form of future wealth redistribution from the market to the state, assuming that we don't sell out too quickly when the market recovers (something which the laissez-faire vultures will obviously try hard to encourage).

Contrary to popular belief, most businesses are not the paradises of economic virtue and good management that they attempt to portray but are often haphazard structures prone to waste, incompetence, politics and simplified forms of management (often to ridiculous extremes). Dorian Gray would be proud.

It is the rare business that lasts fifty years without being seriously challenged by a couple of blokes in a garage start-up. If the military was run like most businesses, then we'd probably be on our twentieth regime change by now.

The government should be exploiting these weaknesses. The most obvious example of this, is the plans for more public building. Rather than making shareholders wealthy, we should be buying up the likes of Taylor Wimpey (on the cheap) and funnelling building projects through a part or wholly nationalised building company. Give people jobs rather than shareholders easy pickings.

It's worth remembering that money trickles up and not down, so if you want to get things going then start with those at the bottom of the social scale.

On the same note, the time has never been better to join the Euro. At such a low exchange rate, the potentials for investment and strengthening our manufacturing and export businesses are exceptional. Many pundits are asking the government to prop up the pound, however this form of interference is not only doomed to failure it also results in a transfer of wealth from state to market. Wrong way guys.

The debt burden maybe high but if we're buying out good future assets on the cheap then we're going to come out of this smelling like roses.

This is definitely not the continuing odour of the financial markets given the latest Ponzi scheme extravaganza. $50 billion in a pyramid scheme, talk about financial wizardry! You have to ask, who was auditing the books and signing off the accounts? Was it one of the big four again, the same gang who were also responsible for auditing many of the banks that have now collapsed.

We really should start asking ourselves whether we need a national owned auditing company and legislation that all company books have to be signed off by the government?

It'll be a nice little earner and we can always privatise it when the economy recovers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

For the people, by the people ...

The people of Sark have struck a blow for democracy. Not only did they decide to have elections but they also, rather peskily, voted for the people they wanted.

According to the BBC, this hasn't made the Barclay Brothers very happy and as advocate Gordon Dawes said:"Sark doesn't appear to want or appreciate the Barclays' investment and so it doesn't have it".

Hence 15% of the people of Sark are losing their jobs because the brothers didn't get the sort of democracy they wanted.

Naturally the brothers have the right to pull out of Sark, it's their choice. However, by doing so they throw down a gauntlet to free democracy. It is the right of every society to hold free elections without fear of recriminations or the economic equivalent of collective punishment. For us not to take up this challenge would only encourage other companies to bully governments and their people.

We too can exercise our own rights of choice. I will never knowingly buy any of the papers produced by the brothers companies including the spectator and the telegraph. I would ask you all to examine your conscience.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why the cloud is unavoidable.

This is really old stuff, but I feel it's worth repeating.

The importance of "cloud" computing to business is far beyond simple cost savings, allocation of resources, capex to opex conversion and economies of scale. These are the obvious reasons for considering the cloud and they are little more than a follow my leader game caused by the commoditisation of IT. As more competitors adopt the cloud it will create cost competitive pressures for others to follow. Consumers of IT will need simply to adapt to this change in order to retain their relative competitive positions (this is known as the red queen effect).

It's a very old merry-go-round caused by the usual transition of the once novel and new field of IT infrastucture to more of a commodity. It will have all the trappings of past transitions from the cries of users for second sourcing options, the battles over standards and portability, the usual formation of exchanges, brokerages, marketplaces and the confusion created by vendors as they attempt to prevent their industry being commoditised.

However buried in all this is one truly interesting aspect known as componentisation. From the work of Herbert Simon's and his theory of hierarchy, we know that the speed of evolution of any system is directly related to the organisation of its subsystems. Take a moment to consider how fast it is to build an application today using a database and a development platform and then compare this to how slow it would be to build the same application if you had to first start designing the cpu, I/O and memory.

Componentisation can make an incredible difference and the more organised the subsystems are, the faster it is to build new and adapt old systems.

The computing stack, from the applications we write, to the platforms we build upon, to the operating systems we use are now moving from a product to a service based economy. This change can be clearly seen from a quick scan of what is hot today. Software as a Service, Web Services, Mashing up Data Services, Hardware as a Service, Service oriented architecture ... it's all the same thing.

The shift towards services will also lead to standardisation of lower orders of the computing stack to internet provided components. A consequence of this will be an acceleration in the speed at which new IT systems can be built and modified. The world of IT and business on the web is about to get a whole lot faster.

It should be remembered that the battle for survival of any company revolves around the non-trivial task of balancing the needs of adaptation (changes to the market, the red queen effect) and innovation (creative destruction). However, it is these two effects of adaptation (through maintaining cost competitiveness and matching increased competitor agility to adapt to changes) and innovation (an ability to bring new ideas to market more quickly) which will force any business to choose cloud.

You don't have a choice, you never did. The cat is well and truly out of the bag and the old way is in decline. If you think that "cloud" is simply about more efficient and lower cost provision of IT then prepare yourself for a rude awakening.

You might think that cloud computing won't effect you, but it will if you use any form of IT infrastructure. Unfortunately, at different layers of the computing stack, various companies are preparing a gilded cage for you to walk into.

You should already be thinking about the cloud and your first words to any vendor should be:-

  • "Show me the alternative providers running a similar service not owned by you and how easy is it to switch between your service, their service and one I want to run myself?"

  • "Am I dependent upon any particularly vendor with these services?"

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Promises, promises ...

In my quest to unfortunately come across the most hopeless companies in the world, I've found a new contender to the throne of the most disastrously hopeless. This is a company who's service or product is in my opinion more shoddy than Mercedes. Step forward ... Tiscali.

Ok, now I was asking for the impossible. I was asking for them to transfer my "superfast, reliable broadband" from one house to another. What I got was a superslow, unreliable service. If this broadband was a car it would be my old A-Class Mercedes.

So, here's the story:-

5th Nov : told by Tiscali that our broadband would be transferred in 10 working days.

12th Nov : phoned Tiscali, to check on progress. I was told that they had ordered the broadband for the old address. They apologised and said they would get it sorted.

19th Nov : no broadband, phoned Tiscali. I was told that they hadn't re-ordered the broadband as they had to wait for the old order to elapse. They said they would call back shortly and give me an update. They never called back. I phoned again and was told that the broadband was going to be connected on the 27th. I was assured that this was a confirmed date and this time it would happen.

27th Nov : no broadband, phoned Tiscali. I was told that there was a technical fault with BT and they were liaising with BT to get it sorted. The order was apparently placed yesterday but they said it would be completed on the 5th Dec. I corrected them on the date of order. I asked for the name of the person I was talking to which I received the immortal line "Sorry we're not allowed to give you our names because of the Data Protection Act". Wow, that's a new one.

... slowly, I'm started to get tired with this nonsense ...

27th Nov decided to double check the earlier story with Tiscali. New story found. Apparently the order hadn't gone through for 5th Dec. Talked to supervisor, apparently there was a problem with Tiscali's computer systems; it kept on putting orders into an error state. The system was telling him the order was only placed yesterday, however he fixed the problem and the order was now placed. He would call if there was any further problems and he said it wasn't BT's fault.

6th Dec : no broadband, phone Tiscali. Apparently there was a problem with BT and the order would be completed on the 19th December which seeing the order was placed only yesterday .... here we go again.

So from my view Tiscali blames other companies for its own faults, makes promises it doesn't keep, has problems it doesn't get sorted, completely fails to deliver its service and even its staff tell porkies - can't give a name indeed! Well, that's got to be more utterly hopeless than Mercedes.

Fortunately, I separately ordered cable broadband from Virgin which was done and installed in less than three days - thanks Virgin! The one last problem I have is to go through the task of cancelling my Tiscali account and getting them to refund the cash they owe me. I suspect that this is going to be painful.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Note for Self - that's a lot of talking.

For a number of years, I've been talking about how activities transition from innovation to commodity or more simply put how yesterday's hot stuff becomes today's boredom.

I undertook a piece of research into this field and found what appears to be an S-Curve relationship between the ubiquity (how common an activity is) and the certainty of an activity (approximated from the quantity of information published)

Now every presentation I give is slightly different. Each mashes up (thanks to Dennis for that) different parts from earlier presentations as well as new elements from my research. Well, I'm considering an entirely new style of presentation, so I've decided to write down the list of the themes I've covered and to use this as a basis for my new work. I thought, I'd keep a record of the list here (see below).

It's a lot, however there is a whole bunch of stuff that I've known about and barely touched upon. So next year, I'm going to provide a high speed, kitten based, mash-up of a presentation. It will contain an initial introduction and then fifty five themes, with the audience choosing which ones they want. I've got a nifty new way of doing this including bonus sections ... should be fun.

I've also been asked by numerous people whether I'm coming back to the U.S. to present again? I will probably do a presentation or two, on behalf of Canonical, for various cloud issues but regarding my management theory presentations that's strictly U.K / Europe based. The cost of travel and accommodation in the U.S. is simply too expensive.

Theme List

  1. It's not just products that get commoditised but processes and all other forms of activities.
  2. How an activity's characteristics change from innovation to commodity, no matter what it is.
  3. Why management is complex and why there are no magic bullet solutions.
  4. Why outsourcing often fails.
  5. Why good management often leads to the death of a company.
  6. How companies evolve between various stages from disorganisation to getting it together and finally "we need more innovation".
  7. The inefficiency of organisational structure where similar types of activities are grouped together (such as marketing and IT) rather than the stages of an activity's lifecycle (transitional, commodity, first mover)
  8. Why you need to constantly adapt to changes in the market place in order to just stand still and survive today (the business equivalent of the Red Queen Hypothesis)
  9. The difference between commodification and commoditisation.
  10. Why you need to constantly innovate in order to survive tomorrow (creative destruction)
  11. Why commoditisation is both friend and foe.
  12. Why change is the norm.
  13. Why you need to constantly balance creative destruction and adaptation in an organisation and how this leads to a paradox of order and disorder. The innovation paradox.
  14. Why Google's 20% rule was an efficient way of balancing this paradox and a continual source of competitive advantage.
  15. Why marketing and branding for a vendor constantly creates a disadvantage for their consumers.
  16. The shift of IT from a product to a service based economy (what we used to call utility computing many years ago, and now is unfortunately called cloud computing.)
  17. Why open source standards are an essential part of our future.
  18. Why organisations only exist in the intersection between people and activities and how traditional forms of management are inefficient.
  19. The need for more dynamic methods of management.
  20. The limits of ROI and why it is only suitable for certain stages of an activity's lifecycle.
  21. Why you can't plan the future and why every organisation needs some chaos.
  22. Why today's organisational structures often fail people and why innovation is not everyone's job.
  23. How strategy varies with lifecycle.
  24. Why innovation markets will only work for post-event inventions and discoveries.
  25. The limits of open source and closed source technology and the domains where those techniques are particularly strong.
  26. Why fortune favours the brave and how the future value of an activity is inversely proportional to the certainty we have about it.
  27. Why transparency and portability matter in cloud computing.
  28. Why you have no choice in the long run over whether you adopt cloud computing.
  29. Why fuzziness in processes is valuable information.
  30. Why single methods of project management (for example six sigma, prince 2 or agile) are inefficient and often harmful
  31. Why getting it wrong doesn't matter as long as everyone else is getting it wrong.
  32. Why web 2.0 is important and why now.
  33. Why commoditisation leads to more innovation and a faster rate of evolution (extension from Herbert Simon's work on the Theory of Hierarchy)
  34. The difference between innovation and product or service innovation (whether radical, incremental or disruptive)
  35. Why KPI's and attempts to make management easy can seriously damage your wealth (extension from Ashby's law of Requisite Variety)
  36. The three accelerators of innovation in web 2.0 - network effects, componentisation and bridging the divide between opportunity and ability.
  37. How the growth of 3D printing and the commoditisation of manufacturing processes will create new languages.
  38. Why IT organisations are under increasing organisational stress as they try to balance the needs of commoditisation and innovation.
  39. Why competitive life just seems to get faster and faster.
  40. Why the transition from one domain (such as products or services or bespoke) to another causes major disruption.
  41. The difference between ideas, invention, discovery and innovation.
  42. The effects and failure of organisations to deal with the commoditisation of human, physical and social capital.
  43. How social networks allow us to challenge traditional views of management.
  44. Why organisations need pioneers, colonisers and town planners.
  45. Why the role of the enterprise architecture is so important and never completed.
  46. Why organisations should use both X & Y managers and something in between (the XY Manager).
  47. The problem with patents and why the length of term of a patent should vary according to the innovation and how long society could be expected to independently discover it.
  48. Why tailor made can be bad for the consumer.
  49. Why failing and gambling are important management traits.

The other six ... well, I've got to have some surprises. However, just like the other stuff in this list, they are not new ideas just old ideas repackaged.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Finally .... I have connection again!

After five weeks, I finally have connection again. There is lots I'd like to talk about but it's late, so I'll have to wait until this weekend.

However, I will note that there seems to be a growing argument that open standards will provide portability in the cloud world. This idea is seriously flawed and there is a far simpler way to ensure portability between one cloud environment and another. The solution is for both providers to offer an identical service.

The simplest way this can be achieved is if the standard for the service is not a written specification but an operational open sourced stack built with portability in mind. It doesn't matter what layer of the computing stack you're talking about.

I used identical because if the standard is an open sourced stack then there is nothing preventing a provider making operational improvements in the code whilst still maintaining exactly the same functionality. This is why GPLv3 and not AGPL is so important for the cloud world.

Back in 2006-7, I described this concept as an open sourced standard but you can think of it as an open pattern (thanks to Doug Neal) with competition around service provision. By providing the service as an open sourced standard, you can not only solve the issue of portability but also provide a faster means of implementing and hence achieving a defacto standard.

Of course a focus on service provision is in line with the shift of IT from a product to a service based economy, which is what cloud computing is really all about. I covered many of these subjects back at OSCON in 2007.

Whilst none of these ideas are new, the lack of portability is a result of the normal jostle of competitors in an emerging market. This will continue to provide a clear stumbling block for adoption and prevent the formation of functioning exchanges and brokerages.

I suspect that open standards will continue to be cited as a possible solution but the problem with these standards is that they define what can be done, not what can't be done. Product differentiation is the mortal enemy of portability.

Of course, you could achieve portability with a proprietary stack but only if consumers and providers are willing to sacrifice a major element of strategic control to a technology vendor. I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft achieves this with Azure.

Of course, the simplest answer to all of these problems is open source. In less than a decade, I suspect you will find that the entire cloud world is either based upon open sourced stacks with provider competition around Price and QoS or we'll have ended up with government regulation.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Silence ...

A number of people have asked me why I'm being so quiet on Twitter and the Internet in general. Thank you for being concerned, however the simple reason is that I've moved home and my broadband provider (Tiscali) has taken almost four weeks to spectacularly fail in connecting my home to the internet.

As soon as I'm finally connected, I'll blog the whole sorry episode and play catch-up with the internet world.

For me, Tiscali is a name that does not conjure up the idea of "Superfast, reliable broadband" in the same way that Mercedes is a name that does not conjure up "trailblazing innovations".