Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts from Cloud Connect - Maybe Randy Bias was right...

I had the opportunity to attend Cloud Connect in Santa Clara last week, which was a great chance to not only reconnect with many of the leaders in the Cloud Computing space, but also take the pulse of the industry as a whole. Lots of discussion about OpenStack, PaaS platforms, the evolution and segmentation of Cloud/Service Providers, and how quickly (or not quickly) the industry was adopting various forms of Cloud Computing.  [Good write-up from Alistair Croll here]

One of the discussions that came up again and again was around when, how and why Enterprise business was adopting Cloud Computing. This is always an interesting discussion at Cloud Connect because in the past the thinking went something like this: 

Enterprise = Private Cloud = False Cloud = Old Stupid Apps = Stupid People = Waste of Time

A next-level down the thinking was that Enterprise ways of building clouds were too expensive, not designed for elasticity and would be ultimately ineffective for web-scale applications. Hence, building or operating anything called a "Private Cloud" yourself was the quickest route to the IT unemployment line and guaranteed to bring shame and ridicule upon your family.

Let's now fast-forward to 2012....

My podcast co-host Aaron Delp wrote this week about some of the discussions that happened on the InterTubes to in parallel to Cloud Connect:
The highlight of the last week was the "hoopla" to come out of Cloudscaling over their Open Cloud Infrastructure announcement and Chris Hoff's response and then Randy Bias' counter-response. Great reading and Randy provides some good background in the last article!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thoughts on the "Apps Economy", "Open Data" and the Value of APIs

To quote my friend Stevie Chambers (@stevie_chambers), "I feel like a new room has opened in my memory palace."

That was exactly how I felt after finishing my recent The Cloudcast (.net) podcast with Sam Ramji (@sramji) and Christian Reilly (@reillyusa), where we discussed the role of APIs in the economy of mobile devices and "open data". I had heard that Sam was brilliant, but hearing someone articulate both the business and technology value of APIs the way Sam did was a lot like listening to Chris Collinsworth explain line-play during an NFL football broadcast. You think you have some idea how things work and then they show you the "behind the QB angle" and you realize that a new door of complexity has been opened up to you. All I can say is wow!! There is an incredible underground economic environment living behind the mobile devices and apps that have become such a critical aspect of everyone's life.

I'd encourage everyone to take 45 minutes and listen to the podcast - not for selfish reasons (we make $0 from the show) - but for pure education purposes. It'll open your eyes to the incredible power of the "apps ecomony" + "open data". I've gone back and listened to it 3 times now and am learning little nuanced things each time.

Here's some of the highlights and key points I took away from the discussion, as well as some areas I now want to go explore.
  1. The movement from a link economy to an "app economy" that is driven by "open data". There are lots of ways to look at it, but it ties very closely to Dave McCroy's concept of "Data Gravity" and the blog I had last week about Planet Data. The linkages and networks are still incredibly important, but the information behind them is driving a ton of new business opportunities.
  2. "Open Data" might be the black mamba companion to the "Big Data" movement, where unlocking data is potentially creating more (or faster) near-term value for more companies than the PhD-laden data scientist path.   
  3. Mobile environments like iOS and Android are allowing us to create a business experience where the critical asset is the API; where there can be 100s of Apps accessing the same data (or "throw away apps") and we move from building silo'd applications to managing platforms (data + APIs). 
  4. If done correctly, a proper API + Data platform strategy implicitly links the business process to the technology.
  5. If your business manages many partnerships that change throughout the year (or year to year), it will be critical to understand an API strategy to allow that model to become efficient. 
  6. We'll begin to see more and more companies unlock their previously "closely guarded" data in ways that allow them to enter new markets, or expand existing markets. "An API request for your data will become the new, real-time market research".
  7. "Open Data" is not only about using open-standard (and open-source implementation) protocols, but also about rethinking how a company values their data and the potential that comes with opening it up to new markets or new partners.
  8. The 2nd-generation companies building the framework for the open data economy are still in early stages (Apigee, Mashery, Programmable Web, InfoChimps, etc). Google being the poster-child for the 1st generation companies.
  9. We may hear of business managers in the near future bragging to their colleagues that they made their quarter because of their investments in an API strategy.
To say that I'm excited about exploring this new economic space is an understatement. I'd love to hear others thoughts about this space, or good resources you've found to better understand the markets.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Software Defined Networks (SDNs) - A History Lesson

[Gracely's Theorem - 99% of all new tech ideas are just old tech ideas + bandwidth + faster CPUs]

I'm a big fan of history, especially technology history, because it gives us such wonderful guidance about what to expect with each new "technology disruption". Just like the history of mankind, technology tends to follow repeatable trends, actions and mistakes.

The latest trend that I've been carefully watching is around Software Defined Networks (SDNs). Today's SDN discussions are primarily focused on how new paradigms will change the architecture of IP networks and how network-level services are delivered and managed. This shift is being led by companies like Big Switch, Nicira, Embrane, and Cumulus, but it's being closely watched by incumbents like Cisco, HP, IBM and Juniper. At the core of SDNs are a couple of basic principles:

  1. If the hardware and software functions of network equipment (switches, firewalls, etc.) were able to be decoupled from one another, then the industry would be better able to leverage the economics, advancements and speed of the individual components to more quickly enable new networking capabilities. Maybe new network capabilities enable new revenue opportunities (maybe...)
  2. By logically (or physically) separating the Control Plane and the Data Plane, more scalable and flexible network topologies could be built to better handle the needs of dynamic, web-scale networks.
  3. Technologies like server virtualization have radically changed the demands on the network (live migration of virtual machines, software based network services, etc.) and the network needs to evolve to accommodate these new application needs.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Welcome to Planet Data....

[See the video additional at the bottom of this post]

Let me begin this post by dating myself - when I first (truly) got into technology, AOL was a big deal and there was an interesting level of anticipation anytime the modem on your computer would start screeching. There was something very powerful about being able to connect your computer to something else over a network. And then the Internet began to grow...and grow...and grow! But it wasn't just the Internet that was growing in terms of the number of websites, it also grew throughout the late 1990s and 2000s in the number new ways to access the network. First it was in your office building. Next you could visit a remote office building and connect. Then the network became "virtual"(VPN) and you could connect from a customer's office. Eventually we no longer needed wires and could get "work-like" speed levels on our couch via home broadband, a wireless router and a laptop. Coffee shops and smartphones joined the party soon after. And every time the network became easily more available in a new location, the amount of value and new opportunities grew exponetially!! (oh wait...we knew this would happen).

But towards the end of the 2000s, something strange seemed to be happening, at least for me. The network didn't seem to open up new doors anymore, because it was already everywhere. It had become ubiquitous. I knew something was different, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. And then I saw this video clip and it dawned on me...

[start at 2m 0s]

...the ubiquity of the network had flipped it from a position of "opens new opportunities" to "creates extreme frustration when it's not available". And while Louis CK was making a joke, it also seems to be backed by technology as we're seeing more and more network-focused start-ups "attempting to hide the complexities of the network" (Big Switch, Nicira, Embrane, Cumulus, etc.)