This is the first of a series of excerpts from The Executives Guide to Cloud Computing (Wiley 2010, available on hardcover, kindle), a book that I recently co-authored with Eric Marks. In particular, this series will focus on the reasons why the transition to cloud computing is simply inevitable. The excerpts themselves are slightly edited to better fit this format. Enjoy!
There have been very few fundamental changes in computing.
On the surface, that may sound like the statement of a madman, or perhaps at least someone from an alternate universe. Nonetheless, it is true.
Sure there have been, are, and will likely continue to be a nearly incomprehensible fire hose of particular changes, some rather flashy in and of themselves. Simple things like pocket-sized flash drives that store more than the corporate mainframes of 30 years ago, or perhaps ubiquitous mobile devices for everything from the mundanely practical—e-mail, calendars, and contacts—to the cheerfully sublime. Much more complex developments such as the open source movement; the advent of relational databases; and the rise (and fall) of whole operating systems and their surrounding ecosys- tems, even those whose perpetual dominance once seemed assured (how many desktop machines are running CP/M these days?)— These have come and gone, perhaps lingering in some niche, forgotten by all but a few fanatical devotees.
But truly fundamental change—the tectonic shift that literally changes our landscape—happens only once in a long while, perhaps every ten or more years, even in the computing business. Fundamental change of this magnitude requires a number of smaller innovations to pile up until a true nexus is reached, and we all start marching down a different road.
Of course, as historians are fond of lecturing the rest of us mere mortals, these sort of fundamental changes are nearly impossible to recognize while we are in the middle of them, even as they loom imminently.
When researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were feverishly working on ENIAC—generally recognized as the first program- mable, general-purpose electronic computer—as the future of the world hung in the balance in the midst of World War II, do you think they envisioned computers embedded in nearly everything, from greeting cards to automobiles, from microwaves to MRIs? When researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and elsewhere in the midst of the Cold War strove to make computer networks more resilient in the face of nuclear attack,1 do you think any of them envisioned the Internet as we see it today? Likewise, when Tim Berners-Lee and other researchers at CERN were trying to come up with an easy way to create and display content over this new, literally nuclear-grade network, do you think they envisioned the impact on everyday life (both personal and professional) their new creation would have, or even the simple breadth and depth of stuff—from the sublime to the silly—that would be available on this new, supercharged ‘‘Internet’’? One estimate is that there are more than 500 exabytes—that’s 500 billion gigabytes—in this ‘‘digital universe,’’ and that this will double every 18 months.
The simple truth is that very few, if any, of the people involved in these developments had much of an idea of the consequences of their creations, of the impact on our personal lives, our culture, even the society on which we live—from how we interact with our families to how we conduct business.
Whether you are ‘‘technologically modest,’’ or are either by age or temperament not ashamed to let it be known, at least in certain circles, that you are a bit of a geek . . . either way, it is pretty much a given that developments in computing are having a big impact on our society, and more to the point, an even bigger impact on how we conduct our business.
And bigger changes—tectonic-shift scale changes—will have at least commensurate impact on our lives in every dimension, including the fields of commerce. One example, perhaps a seemingly simple one, yet central to many of the changes now underway, will suffice to illustrate this point.
An Example for All to See
Consider for a moment newspapers. We now face the very real prospect—actually the near-certainty—of at least one (and probably many) major metropolitan area in the United States without a traditional (local, general purpose, print, widely circulated) newspaper. While this eventuality may be stayed—perhaps for quite some time—via government intervention, the fact that this will eventually occur is not in doubt. In a culture still echoing with such reporteresque icons as Clark Kent, or at least the more prosaic Bernstein and Woodward, this was once unthinkable. Now it is simply inevitable.
There was a time when the technology of newspapers—cheap newsprint (paper), high volume printing presses, delivery networks including everything from trucks to kids on bicycles—was the only reasonable means for mass distribution of information. In fact, with help from some of the newer technologies there was even a new national newspaper (USA Today) founded in the United States as late as 1982. But with the advent of alternative delivery channels—first radio, then broadcast, cable, and satellite television—increasing amounts of pressure were put on the newspapers.
The immediacy of the newer channels led to the widespread death of afternoon newspapers in most markets; anything delivered to the dinner table in a physical paper was hopelessly out of date with the evening news on television or radio. The morning papers had the advantage of broad coverage collected while most people slept, and as a result have held on longer.
However, at the same time intrinsic limitations of the newer technologies made them better for certain types of information, though not as useful for others. For example, a two-minute video from a war zone could convey the brutal reality of combat far more effectively than reams of newsprint, but did little to describe the complex strategic elements—political, economic, cultural—of the conflict itself. As a result, a certain stasis had been reached in which newspapers carved out what appeared to be a sustainable role in the delivery of news.
Then came the Internet.
In particular, the effectively free and ubiquitous—and yes, near- instantaneous—delivery of all sorts of information mortally wounded the newspaper business. As the first round of the web ecosystem grew, the only remaining stronghold of the traditional newspapers— their ad-based revenue model—was made largely irrelevant. eBay, Craigslist, and freecycle (among others) replaced the classifieds, and online ads took out most of what was left.
Some newspapers will undoubtedly manage the transition in some manner or another, perhaps even emerging as something fairly recognizable—particularly national/international properties such as the Wall Street Journal and the previously mentioned USA Today—and perhaps even financially sound.
But those that do will likely largely do so without their original distribution technologies, and more important, many will not make the transition at all.
What Happens Next
All of this upheaval in news delivery—the enormous changes that have already occurred and that which is yet to come—have been enabled by developments in computing technologies, with the widespread adoption of everything from the Internet to the iPhone. It is probably worth remembering that all of this has occurred largely without cloud computing, and as a result we are probably less than 10% of the way through this transition in news delivery, and this is only one industry. One industry, one example, with entire economies yet to transform.
Even so, some things have not changed much, even in the delivery of news. The computing infrastructures range from the stodgy (server, even mainframe- based systems within many newspapers) to circa-2009 state of the art (which we might as well start referring to as ‘‘legacy web,’’ web 2.0, old-school web, something like that). By and large these systems still cost too much to acquire, do not adapt to changes in demand nearly easily enough, are not reliable enough, and remain way too complex and costly to operate. Even the few systems that do not suffer from all of these problems are not ideal, to say the least: Some are proprietary, and most are either too complex to create new application software, or simply do not scale well enough, at least for the sort of software that researchers are hard at work developing. In particular, with the first generation of electronic news infrastructures focused on just delivering the news, the next generation will be focused on sifting through all of that content, looking for just the right stuff.
All of that sifting and sorting and searching will take orders of magnitude more computing capacity than we have anywhere today. How will we pay for hundreds and thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands times more servers and storage than we have today— almost unimaginable quantities of computing? How will we operate them? Write new software for them? It is fair to wonder how we will even power all that gear. Assuming that all of these concerns are resolved, then, we will face a larger question still, one which we presume has many answers: What sort of business models are enabled by all this, and how do we get there?
This Scarcely Seems Possible
Before we leave this example, it is probably worth considering our present circumstances just a bit more. In particular, most of the history of both economics and engineering can be understood by thinking about managing scarcity. In other words, how do I get the most done with the least stuff, or within certain limits? For example, that underlying drive to dealing with scarcity, at its core, drives the startup team to work harder and pay less, the Fortune 500 enterprise to optimize manufacturing processes, and entire nations to set energy policies. Allocating scarcity is just Economics 101. Of course, it is also Engineering 101. Dealing with scarcity causes communica- tions engineers to develop better video compression schemes, improve CPU designs to get more done in the same amount of time, and even rethink server packaging to reduce power consumption and labor costs.
While scarcity may be the nemesis of some, it is quite literally a prime mover behind the developments that have together come to be known as cloud computing. What does this mean, and how can it be possible?
Copyright © 2010 Eric A. Marks and Roberto R. Lozano.
In the next installment we’ll look at the underlying technological flow, and how that has made cloud computing possible. If you like what you’ve seen, keep in mind that the book is available (hardcover, kindle) now!
I’m really excited to be kicking off a four-part webinar series generally themed around Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing.
Today’s webinar starts at 2 pm EDT / 11 am PDT, and we’ll be posting a recording soon after the completion.
There has been a significant amount of exciting news brewing in our world, and I can’t wait to share some of it in the days, weeks, and months to come. So as a bit of an initial down payment, we’re going to go have some fun on this first webinar in the new series.
We’d be honored to have you join us!
Transformation of supply channels are never pretty – emotions and corporate carnage everywhere, a few new winners, and when all settles out eventually arrive at a more productive & efficient marketplace.
Since I spent much of the second half of last year writing my first book, as you can well imagine I’ve been paying particular interest to the morphing of all things publishing, with a particular focus on these things we have traditionally called “books” – will such a thing remain, how will they be distributed, how to construct them, and so on, all culminating into the ultimate question – how best to deliver something plenty of folks will actually find valuable?
This book was been done in what may soon be the (mostly) last vestiges of the old-school model, at least circa late 2009 / early 2010 – a traditional publisher (Wiley -who have been great to work with, by the way), a traditional distribution and retailing model (with Amazon playing a prominent, though by no means exclusive part of each of these two steps), and an expected ebook edition (by Amazon for the Kindle) four to six weeks after the paper book appears.
What is interesting is that in this model (pre-iPad, more on that in a moment) Amazon has a significant amount of control over the ebook distribution channel, and of course they have been working very hard to gain more. They really stepped up their pace recently, with presumably pre-emptive moves to sweeten the pot for authors and open up the Kindle for apps in the week+ before the iPad announcement.
Apple Enters the Fray
In a peculiarly ironic turn of events I received my “page proofs” (the near-final edition of a book, with just about final formatting, content, and so forth all in place for one last review) on the very day that Apple placed a big foot right in the middle of this fight, or as the infamous Nuke LaLoosh said in Bull Durham (my second favorite baseball movie), Apple “… announced their presence with authority”.
Amazon, of course neither had nor continued to stand still. In fact, they responded very forcefully by pulling all titles from Macmillan (a big publisher who is one of Apple’s launch partners), and going so far as to remove all references to these now-banned Macmillan titles from all Kindle users’ wish lists, in addition to removing sample chapters from these titles from all Kindles. That’s right, Amazon reached out and de-licensed, removed, whacked, destroyed – you pick the term – content that it had either agreed to maintain on a customer’s behalf or had previously delivered to that same customer.
Charles Stross (a well known science fiction author with some titles published by Tor, a Macmillan subsidiary) clearly describes the battlefield, the combatants, and what’s at stake in an excellent post – well worth the read.
As Stross points out
This whole mess is basically about duelling supply chain models.
…It’s interesting to note that unlike the music industry who had to be pushed, the big publishers seem to be willing to grab a passing lifeline.
… But Amazon, in declaring war on Macmillan in this underhand way, have screwed me, and I tend to take that personally, because they didn’t need to do that.
To his last point, Amazon (in this battle with Apple) really angered many content creators (in this case authors) … a losing proposition when one is in the business of distributing content.
But I think there is an even more important point here, one which has already been and will no doubt continue to underly many disputes as cloud computing continues its inexorable path towards dominance.
The Underlying Question of Trust
This point is very simple, really.
In their fight with MacMillan and Apple, Amazon crossed two boundaries with their customers that should never have been crossed.
In particular, they 1) deleted content that had already been delivered to the customer and 2) deleted content that they were storing for their customers (the wishlists). Hard to say which was worse (both were not good), but the wishlist content is something which Amazon encouraged customers to create and is also part of the customer experience, part of why someone would presumably intend to stay with Amazon and the Kindle for content.
- Amazon has been here before – remember the incident last summer when they deleted Orwell books? – and really should have learned their lesson.
- Irony of ironies, this sort of death-grip control is precisely why Apple has received so much criticism of the iPhone app store. Yet even when Apple has removed applications from the app store, I’m pretty sure that they did not have the temerity to remove apps that were already purchased by end customers.
- Even though these examples may be minor and may even be reversible, any time a provider breaks an implicit or explicit contract – no matter how minor, and particularly when this is a remote, seemingly abstract cloud provider – it is a very pointed reminder that the end customer is at the eternal whim of the provider, and most definitely is not in control.
- Customers do not like being reminded that they are not in control, and will gravitate towards service providers who understand this fact and behave accordingly.
- Deliberate removal of content is different, and arguably more toxic than inadvertent removal of content (as from operational or technical failures).
One last thought – once a reputation for capricious removal of a customer’s content (whether already delivered or ostensibly maintained on their behalf) is earned, it will be very, very, very hard to lose.
I have no idea how this battle to establish the next dominant book distribution channel(s) will turn out, and truthfully have not even picked a favorite yet (others have opinions, of course).
What I do know, however, is that I – speaking as both a customer and a content creator – will drop any provider / channel-enabler who thinks that it is ok to break this boundary with customers, and am fairly certain that most customers will do the same.
How many occurrences will it take? Not sure, but we just don’t want to go there.
These are exciting times to be in both content creation and consumption. Many of these changes, while not seemingly directly “cloud computing”, both are enabled by and will drive much of the the near to mid term cloud computing adoption. As such, I will write on these topics from time to time.
Here are a couple of samples:
… this excellent book is an insightful description of how cloud computing can quickly sharpen the focus of information technology and line executives onto the delivery of real value.
… will soon become a leading industry reference.
Thanks for the kind comments, Kevin.
We’re reviewing the final page proofs now and creating the indices … after that, the book passes on to production (both physical and ebook). Very much looking forward to taking that last step.
This has been very interesting to join the publishing world (in a certain sense) precisely when it is in the midst of the greatest upheaval since, well probably since the invention of the printing press. More on that later.
In fact, not only am I back and tearing into things, I’m more excited about this industry in general and our company in particular than just about anytime.
Not only that, but am having an enormous amount of fun … getting into the flow of all of the myriad of conversations, customer implementations, arguments, and more that have developed in the past few months, and beyond that am developing a nearly insatiable appetite for moving forward.
That may be all well and good, but a fair question would be to wonder just what am I coming back from?
Just before the middle of last year a set of discussions bore fruit, and I sat down to co-author the Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing with Eric Marks (CEO of Agile Path). Everything lined up nicely – we had a publisher (Wiley), a clear need in the market, and something which we hoped would contribute to the development of our industry.
Through the course of the summer we made fine progress, with everything moving forward to a late fall / mid-winter publication date. My focus admittedly narrowed quite a bit (as anyone who has had the privilege to contribute to a book will readily attest) … but the end result was definitely worth the effort.
(I’ll talk more about this writing project at another time, but for now let me just say that I loved writing and hope to be doing quite a bit more in the future)
A Peculiar Turn of Events
Then something really odd happened. Without going through all the details (and some of them are strange indeed), I found myself literally lost.
<feel free to insert joke here – we certainly have!>
One moment I’m driving home from the airport, looking forward to seeing the family, catching up a bit on email etc., then working on the book some more … the next moment I’m driving down the road with no idea where I am, what I’m doing, how I got there, or perhaps most disconcerting of all, how to get home.
Then things got really strange.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I was diagnosed with a macro pituitary adenoma – basically a good-sized non-malignant tumor right smack in the middle of my head, causing all sorts of havoc with vision, cognition, conversation, and much more.
At the advice of one of our daughter-in-laws (Rachel, a three time cancer survivor with an astonishing story of her own) we named the tumor, had a mini-celebration noting it’s arrival, and began coming up with some really bad jokes. One sample:
Man we’re really glad that all of these symptoms weren’t just in my mind … oh wait a minute, they are!
Right after that we figured out a course of treatment, made all sorts of obvious arrangements, and ran like mad to finish the book.
A New Start
Very early on Monday morning, November 23, Carol (my wife) and I headed down to Barnes-Jewish Medical Center for whatever would come next. By 7:30 I’d met more than a dozen of my newest best friends (believe me, when you meet someone whose job is to play around inside your head you’re pre-disposed towards being friendly), by 7:45 said goodbye to my family, and soon thereafter to consciousness.
The procedure itself was a real geek-fest (or so I’m told – I have only fleeting memories of the OR itself) – real-time location and targeting systems (able to track a wide variety of instruments within my head with astonishing accuracy) displaying everything on six 50″ plasma displays surrounding the operating table, a robotic inter-operative MRI that emerged from a garage part way through the procedure to see if any tumor remained to extract, and much, much more.
By 4:30 I’d come to, by 10 pm I realized that “I could see, think, & talk” (that left me so excited that I didn’t really sleep for a couple of days), and by Thursday morning (Thanksgiving in the US) I went home – tired, but deeply grateful.
Spinning Back Up
December was mostly about getting some rest, generally letting my body catch up with how good my mind felt, and enjoying all the family and friends that were coming in for the Christmas and New Year holidays. As a bonus I was unexpectedly able to travel to see one of our sons graduate from Marine Corp bootcamp (though by train rather than plane – another bonus in and of itself).
One funny and definitely unexpected “upside effect”: I felt so astonishingly great so quickly that I had a momentary flash of panic, wondering just what I’d written in the months preceding. Fortunately my fears were put to rest by re-reading the manuscript, which turned out to be in pretty good shape (needing only the usual late-stage edits).
With the new year – and a re-gifted ability to think clearly – comes much new opportunity, and I am definitely looking forward to helping our customers truly take advantage of all that this transition to cloud computing has to offer, re-joining industry-wide discussions in all forms, and (of course) helping Appistry continue to deliver the most complete, useful cloud application platform extant (yes I know I’m biased, but I’ll happily argue that is so with good reason … preferably over a couple of fine craft brews).
The timing with the book is pretty good – Wiley is planning on releasing it (both physically and electronically) on April 12 – and much of my upcoming work will include stuff related to Exec’s Guide.
So please forgive me if I’ve either been very obtuse, perhaps a bit contrary, or simply slow to respond … in many ways this is truly a new start, and both personally and professionally it would be hard to be more excited.
Here’s to a fantastic 2010 and beyond!
There is much more to this story. In particular faith is very important to us. As one of the uber-intellects in human history (St. Thomas Aquinas) was fond of saying “grace builds on nature”. In other words, everything was all of one piece – the great doctors at the top of their game, a fine medical institution providing them the context in which to work, and the prayerful support of family and friends. I’ll post more on this stuff (someday, someday) at my personal blog http://www.hopeitis.com.
While this has nothing to do with cloud computing, it is just some cool news … it’ll be great to see the prelude to the Lord of the Rings receive some lavish attention … finally.
After about a billion twists and turns, it looks like the last lawsuit standing in the way of Jackson, del Toro et al filming The Hobbit has now been cleared. From the WSJ:
Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. will be able to film “The Hobbit” on his fabled journey after reaching a settlement with the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien, who sued its New Line Cinema movie studio over who owns the rights to the late author’s work … scheduled to begin shooting some time next year … terms of the deal are being kept confidential”
There are about a billion reasons why I like the whole Lord of the Rings world, from The Silmarillion to the fourth age. But The Hobbit was my introduction, so I will always have a particular fondness for this one.
Besides, the whole business of Bilbo Baggins and his unlikely adventure bear an uncanny resemblance to just about any successful startup … but that is most certainly a discussion for another day, perhaps over fine ale at a nearby pub.
More info in this story from the BBC.
A month or two back I put together a new description for Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing, and last week it seems to have migrated to the Amazon entry for the book. In any case, just wanted to share it with you:
Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing
Tap into the power of cloud computing and learn the strategic implications for your organization.
In less than a decade Google, Amazon, and Salesforce.com went from unknown ideas to powerhouse fixtures in the economic landscape; in even less time offerings such as Linkedin, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and many others also carved out important roles; in less than five years Apple’s iTunes became the largest music retailer in North America.
They all share one key strategic decision – each of these organizations chose to harness the power of cloud computing to power their drives to dominance. With roots in supercomputing and many other technical disciplines, cloud computing is ushering in an entirely new economic reality – technology-enabled enterprises built on low cost, flexible, and limitless technical infrastructures.
The Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing reveals how you can apply the power of cloud computing throughout your enterprise, giving members of the C-suite a detailed look at:
- Why cloud computing must be a top priority on your company’s IT roadmaps
- How the drive for scale, lower costs and greater agility is making cloud computing a fiscal and technological imperative;
- The relationship between cloud computing and other relevant IT initiatives;
- The strategic implications of cloud computing for the enterprise;
- Where to begin and how to get started integrating cloud computing into your existing operations.
Now you can harness cloud computing’s potential for your organization. Executive’s Guide to Cloud Computing shows you how.
Well there it is … hope that this sounds interesting to you, and that it will make a contribution to our collective push into the next age of computing.