Monday, June 29, 2009

Structure 09 - Cloud Computing Is Here To Stay And Grow

I was invited as a guest blogger to Structure 09 - a day long event by GigaOM focusing on cloud computing. It was a great event with an incredible speaker line-up of thought leaders in the domain of cloud computing. The panel and keynote topics included persistence on the cloud, hosting web apps on the cloud, infrastructure design etc. I won't attempt to summarize everything that I saw and heard, instead here are some impressions:

Solving interoperability with Open Source: A founding developer of Wordpress, Matt Mullenweg, strongly advocated open source for the cloud for two reasons. The first reason is to achieve interoperability and the second is to ensure the business continuity when certain vendors cease to exist. As I have argued before there is a strong business case for open source on the cloud. It was great to see the reaffirmation that other thought leaders feel the same way.

Operational excellence: Javier Soltero, CTO of Management Products at SpringSource, emphasized the operational excellence as a key differentiation for a company to achieve a competitive advantage. Vijay Gill, a senior manager Engineering and Architecture at Google, also feels the same way. He believes that having the lowest cost platforms capable of providing good enough service is going to be a competitive advantage for the companies. For good software, you need great engineers – and most companies aren’t set up to do that. The technological challenges can be solved but it is the smart people writing smart code that will provide the competitive advantage to the cloud infrastructure companies.

Vertical clouds: We are likely to see more and more cloud offerings that are optimized for the vertical functionality e.g. run your Ruby apps on the cloud, analytics on the cloud, storage on the cloud etc. The IT should focus on becoming a service provider against merely a cost center. Chuck Hollis, CTO of Global Marketing, EMC Corporation believes that if IT does not embrace the cloud technology stack, they will most likely become an organization that manages the consolidation of all the cloud services. James Lindenbaum, co-founder and CEO of Heroku, emphasized that the developers should focus on core - what they are really good at and not worry about how the code will scale on the cloud. The bad code is bad code regardless of where it runs.

Hybrid cloud: The debate between private and public cloud continued. The proponents of the public cloud such as Greg Papadopoulos, CTO of Sun Microsystems, argued that most public clouds are run more securely than most private enterprise clouds. I completely agree. One of the ideas that was pitched is to have SEC force the public companies to put their data on the cloud. If, for compliance reasons, the data needs to be retrieved the government has a better shot at retrieving this data from a public cloud against a private and proprietary system that could potentially be sabotaged. The proponents of the private cloud such as Michael Crandell, CEO and founder of RightScale, cited security as a barrier and suggested approaches such as silo clouds that are dedicated for a given customer that do not share data with other customers.

I believe that hybrid deployments are here to stay. Successful cloud and SaaS vendors will be ones who can create seamless experience for the customers and end users from top to the bottom of the stack such that the customers still retain their current on-premise investment, keep their data that they don't want on the cloud, and significantly leverage cloud for all their other needs.

It was a lot of information packed into one day event. However on the lighter side Om's conversation with Marc Benioff included Marc poking fun at Oracle and Microsoft. Marc is witty and he has great sense of humor. Check out his conversation:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cloud Computing At The Bottom Of The Pyramid

I see cloud computing play a big role in enabling IT revolution in the developing nations to help companies market products and services to 4 billion consumers at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). C.K.Prahlad has extensively covered many aspects of the BOP strategy in his book Fortune At The Bottom Of The Pyramid that is a must-read for the strategists and marketers working on the BOP strategy.

This is how I think cloud computing is extremely relevant to the companies that are trying to reach to the consumers at the BOP:

Logical extension to the mobile revolution: The mobile phone revolution at the BOP has changed the way people communicate in their daily lives and conduct business. Many people never had a landline and in some case no electricity. Some of them charged their mobile phones using a charger that generates electricity from a bike. As the cellular data networks become more and more mature and reliable the same consumers will have access to the Internet on their mobile phones without having a computer or broadband at home.

The marketers tend to be dismissive about the spending power of the people at the BOP to buy and use a device that could consume applications from the cloud. BOP requires innovative distribution channels. The telcos who have invested into the current BPO distribution channels will have significant advantage over their competitors. The telcos, that empowered people leap frog the landline to move to the mobile phones, could further invest into the infrastructure and become the cloud providers to fuel the IT revolution. They already have relationship with the consumers at the BOP that they can effectively utilize to pedal more products and services.

Elastic capacity at utility pricing: The computing demand growth in the developing countries is not going to be linear and it is certainly not going to be uniform across the countries. The cloud computing is the right kind of architecture that allows the companies to add computing infrastructure as demand surges amongst the BPO consumers in different geographies. Leaving political issues aside the data centers, if set up well, could potentially work across the countries to serve concentrated BOP population. The cloud computing would also allow the application providers to eliminate the upfront infrastructure investment and truly leverage the utility model. The BOP consumers are extremely value conscious. It is a win-win situation if this value can be delivered to match the true ongoing usage at zero upfront cost.

Cheap computing devices: OLPC and other small handheld devices such as Netbooks are weak in the computing power and low in memory but they are a good enough solution to run a few tools locally and an application inside a browser. These devices would discourage people from using the applications that are thick-client and requires heavy computation on the client side. The Netbooks and the introduction of tablets and other smaller devices are likely to proliferate since they are affordable, reliable, and provide the value that the BOP consumers expect. Serving tools and applications over the cloud might just become an expectation, especially when these devices come with a prepaid data plans.

Highly-skilled top of the pyramid serving BOP: Countries such as India and China have highly skilled IT people at the top and middle of the pyramid. These people are skilled to write new kind of software that will fuel the cloud computing growth in these emerging economies. The United States has been going through a reverse immigration trend amongst highly skilled IT workers who have chosen to return back to their home countries to pursue exiting opportunities. These skilled people are likely to bring in their experience of the western world to build new generation of tools and applications and innovative ways to serve the people at the BOP.

Sustainable social economies: It might seem that the countries with a large BOP population are not simply ready for the modern and reliable IT infrastructure due to bureaucratic government policies and lack of modern infrastructure. However if you take a closer look you will find that these countries receive a large FDI [pdf] that empowers the companies to invest into modern infrastructure that creates a sustainable social economy.

Most of the petrochemical refineries and cement manufacturing plants that I have visited in India do not rely on the grid (utility) for electricity. They have set up their own Captive Power Plants (CPP) to run their businesses. Running a mission critical data center would require an in-house power generation. As I have argued before, local power generation for a data center will result into clean energy and reduced distribution loss. There are also discussions on generating DC power locally to feed the data centers to minimize the AC to DC conversion loss. Relatively inexpensive and readily available workforce that have been building and maintaining the power plants will make it easier to build and maintain these data centers as well. The local governments would encourage the investment that creates employment opportunities. Not only this allows the countries to serve BOP and build sustainable social economy but to contribute to the global sustainability movement as well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Structure 09: Put Cloud Computing To Work

GigaOM has organized an exciting event on cloud computing, Structure 09, on 06/25/2009. I will be at the event as a guest blogger and will be part of the energy and excitement. GigaOM has managed to put on an excellent schedule packed with great speakers including Marc Benioff, Michael Stonebraker, Jonathan Helliger, Greg Papadopoulos, Werner Vogels, and many others. I like the breadth of topics - cloud databases, data center design and optimization, commodity hardware, private cloud etc. I will see you there if you are planning on attending the event and if not come back here for blog posts covering the event. Leave a comment if you would like to see any specific topics or sessions covered.

Here is a lineup of the speakers:

  • Marc Benioff | Chairman and CEO,
  • Paul Sagan | President and CEO, Akamai
Confirmed Speakers Include:
  • Werner Vogels | CTO,
  • Greg Papadopoulos | CTO, Sun Microsystems
  • Jonathan Heiliger | VP Technical Operations, Facebook
  • Dr. David Yen | EVP Emerging Technologies, Juniper Networks
  • Russ Daniels | VP and CTO, Cloud Services Strategy, Hewlett-Packard
  • Vijay Gill | VP, Engineering, Google
  • Richard Buckingham | VP Technical Operations,
  • Jack Waters | CTO, Level 3 Communications
  • Yousef Khalidi | Distinguished Engineer, Microsoft
  • Dr. Michael Stonebraker, Ph.D. | RDBMS pioneer and CTO, Vertica
  • Raj Patel | VP of Global Networks, Yahoo!
  • Michelle Munson | President and Co-founder, Aspera
  • Lloyd Taylor | VP Tech Operations, LinkedIn
  • Michael Crandell | CEO, Rightscale
  • Jeff Hammerbacher | Chief Scientist, Cloudera
  • Allan Leinwand | Venture Partner, Panorama Capital
  • Jason Hoffman | Co-founder and CTO, Joyent