Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Learning From Elevators To Design Dynamic Systems

Elevators suck. They are not smart enough to know which floor you might want to go. They aren't designed to avoid crowding in single elevator. And they make people press buttons twice, once to call an elevator and then to let it know which floor you want to go to. This all changed during my recent trip to Brazil when I saw the newer kind of elevators.

These elevators have a common button panel outside in the lobby area of a high rise building. All people are required to enter their respective floor numbers and the machine will display a specific elevator number that they should get into. Once you enter into an elevator you don't press any numbers. In fact the elevators have no buttons at all. The elevator would highlight the floor numbers that it would stop at. That's it! I love this redesigned experience of elevators. It solves a numbers of problems. The old style elevators could not predict the demand. Now the system exactly knows how many people are waiting at what floors wanting to go where. This allows the system to optimize the elevator experience based on several variables and criteria such as speed, priority, even distribution, power conservation etc. This also means an opportunity to write interesting algorithms for these elevators.

This is how I want ALL the systems to be - smart, adaptive, and dynamic. Just like this elevator I would like to see the systems, especially the cloud and the analytics, to anticipate the needs of the end users as opposed to following their commands. The context is the key to the success of delivering what users would expect. If the systems are designed to inquire about the context — directly or indirectly, just like asking people to push buttons before they get into an elevator — they would perform more intelligently. Some location-based systems have started to explore this idea, but it's just the beginning. This also has significant impact on designing collaborative recommendation systems that could help the end users find the right signal in the ever increasing noise of social media.

The very idea of the cloud started with the mission to help users with elasticity of the commodity resources without having users to learn a different interface by giving them a unified abstraction. If you had two elevators in a lobby, you wouldn't use this. But, for a high rise with a few elevators, the opportunities are in abundance to optimize the system to use the available resources to provide the best experience to the people, the end users.

Self-configuring and self-healing dynamic systems have been a fantasy, but as the cloud becomes more mature, dynamic capabilities to anticipate the needs of an application and its users are not far fetched. Computing and storage are commodity on the cloud. I see them as resources just like elevators. Instead of people pushing buttons at the eleventh hour I would prefer the cloud take a driver's seat and becomes much smarter at anticipating and managing applications, platforms, and mixed workload. I want the cloud to take this experience to the next level by helping developers develop such adaptive and dynamic applications. I almost see it as a scale issue, at system as well as at human level. If the cloud does promise scale I expect it to go beyond the commodity computing. This is why PaaS excites me more than anything else. That's a real deal to make a difference.

No comments: