Henry Ford and the faster horse

Henry Ford
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I’m not a hunter of famous quotes, they sort of grab my attention dependent on mood and timing.  But, I was reading something related to cloud technologies and came across a good one from Henry Ford:

If I listened to my customers they would have asked me to make a faster horse

Visionaries always look smarter AFTER they’ve achieved enormous success.  Most game changing technologies come from the mind of an expert who has vision and some luck.  Better mouse trap technologies(Google algorithm combined with better advertising engine) vs. never before seen technology(Netscape Navigator) have certain qualities that I think make it easy to read whether they are truly innovative or just iterative.

When I think about cloud computing and all the things its intended to enable, I don’t see visionary nor game changing.  I see evolutionary or, using Clayton Christensen speak,  ‘sustaining technology‘.  Simply put, applying existing technology to a new service and wrapping some additional iterative frameworks doesn’t make revolutionary.  Then I read this article summarizing this years CES show and I’m left thinking, really?  I just don’t see anything on there thats all that interesting.  New innovative technology is commonly beaten down by armchair analysts and I don’t see that on the list.

I think the amount of noise new technology gets, to some degree, can provide a litmus to how disruptive it might be.  Although with the number of hobby journalism going on, this test is quickly becoming worthless.  Law of averages puts most new ideas to bed well before any true adoption takes place.  But, I’d expect those technologies that did in fact “change the world” probably have similar attributes.  Without having the time and energy to study all the game changing innovations over the past 100 years, I suspect a healthy percent must have had to overcome significant adversity.  Which brings me back to Mr. Ford.

Think for moment when Henry Ford unveiled his first Model T.  The community must have been startled and dismayed at this limited noisy machine.  Comparing it to the existing horse transport must have led to doubt and ridicule.  The cost, speed, lack of infrastructure and fuel stations, poor reliability, I mean the list is endless.  I mean, you got to name your horse, it was a pet, a resource, and a friend to many.  What sort of engagement did that black T get?

So, if I compare this heresy noise test to the cloud world, it practically getting a ticker tape parade.  Everyone seems to love it, yet no is really using it….yet.  I think LJE is one of the few to say, ‘Come on guys, this is all marketing hog wash already, its called Grid Computing and its been around for awhile’.  So the question becomes, can technology be disruptive/innovative AND wildly accepted from the get go?  I personally can’t accept that conclusion, although there certainly might be a case for it from history.

Still love the quote.

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Where can I find a cloud?

MANDALAY, MYANMAR - FEBRUARY 22:  Burmese monk...
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I used to get this question a lot at my current old company.

” How can we, as a user of several operational systems, take more advantage of The Cloud?”

This is where the infamous Gartner Hype Cycle, of which there are hundreds of examples, should be referenced.   In terms of The Cloud and its reference to this chart, it’s getting higher and higher to the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’.  I agree with this for the most part.  As more technology companies commandeer the term for marketing purposes or shove some old/new software package onto EC2, expectations get set.  Commonly the setting is wrong.  Marketing philosophy aside, I find myself explaining what the cloud can actually do, what its actually used for to more people I’d (shall I say) expect better from.

I recommend starting here for a general semantics overview to describe all the aspects of the cloud.  There is no One Cloud for all things, all people.  I agree with the 3 layers of cloud services comprising of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.  The mainstream cloud service of Amazon Web Services is an IaaS and PaaS model, depending on which service you buy.

I think for corporate entities that have applications that are not web properties or scientific/analytic computations, the options for leveraging the cloud are relatively slim.   Stated more directly, the value proposition of the cloud is minimal for most applications.  Anyone can put anything “in the cloud” but if the application isn’t built for it, you are simply leveraging a pay-as-you go managed service.

I have only seen 2 basic services that my old company could have leveraged for their “operational systems”.  Database Backup service similar to Zmanda (that Ingres would of course build their own – I would expect) and Outlook attachment offloading.   I am not including already purchased SaaS solutions such as SF.com or Intacct.  Thus, these little niche solutions are not necessarily game changing use cases for the cloud.

Another alternative is to simply put demo environments on the cloud for field reps, allowing them to spin up instances when they need it without crushing their laptops with VMware or something similar.  Finally, you could argue QA or performance tests of some type could be done, although the performance tests would be narrow in scope and probably cause most performance engineers to puke at the idea.  Again, sort of a ho hum advantage.

This is where the cloud and its messaging will need to go through a marketing maturity model of sorts.  The current drum beat that the Cloud could save energy issues, eliminate system admins, feed a starving child in Bangladesh, etc. etc. all need to be set in context to real business value.

A recent webinar I attended hosted by Information Week took a poll of the attendees asking their personal interests in cloud services.  50% said they were “checking it out, still waiting to jump in”.  For all the hype and attention, most see it as new fangled technology worth a peek, but thats about it.  This will continue, in my opinion, until applications are (re)written to take advantage of the cloud infrastructure seamlessly(like Mathematica) or ground up cloud apps which most Web properties seem to have already conquered.

I attended a conference last spring(2008) where Simon Crosby(CTO of Citrix / Xen) spoke about the future of Hypervisors and why everyone else was doing it wrong.  Entertaining talk, although I thought he was going to literally pull his hairline back 2 inches with all the double handed hair pulls.  Virtualization is to clouds like water is to farming, its a must have.  The piece that stuck with me was the current lack of instrumentation and toolkits for Hypervisors to understand the resource load requests of applications *before they request it*.  He went on to say that in order for more packaged apps to work with VMs and Hypervisors intelligently, more sophistication(and a standard) are needed to collect the needed meta metrics for a true dynamic elastic response of resources such as memory, CPU, disk, etc. .  Some applications do this today, but there is no standard, no toolkit for developers to write applications  to respond to the benefits of the cloud. Just like a plug in the wall, the electric load ebbs and flows depending on what I do.  All the “apps” writing to those plugs fit a standard API and thus the grid responds predictively.

The talk was ages ago, so I do wonder what new is happening in the application development space to enable ISVs and customers to write “cloud aware” applications?

I think time and start up investment will change this in 2010.

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background

I live in San Francisco with 2 little girls and a lovely wife.  I grew up in silicon valley during the 70s and 80s and was surrounded in a sort of Who’s Who of silicon valley engineers.  I didn’t realize until years later that these awkwardly dressed be-speckled men were literally changing the world.  Volvo’s, Saab’s, and american cars littered the driveways.  If you owned a Mercedes you were clearly not bright.  My dad is a retired high energy physicist from SLAC (although he still has an office and working phone!) and my mom was a nurse at Stanford.

I’ve spent nearly 14 years working in software, 11 at Oracle and 2 at Ingres.  I studied pre-med in college and realized by 2nd semester junior year (after 2 semesters of organic chemistry) that I wasn’t going to pursue medicine.  I knew doctors(at least the good ones) are born, not developed.  So….I found a new focus, software.

I got my on the job training doing project & product management for a couple internal products at Oracle.  I moved onto managing the first Oracle Appliance(aka Raw Iron) and finished my tenure performing a “chief-of-staff” role for a relatively large (500 people) engineering group focused on serviceability of software at scale.

At Ingres I’m I was a product manager for partner solutions and integration.  I manage two software Appliance solutions built for Business Intelligence and Enterprise Content Management markets.  I also enabled ISVs to work with Ingres technology.

I’ve called this blog ‘AverageAccess” because good blogs are incredibly intimidating.  I’m convinced the reason is access to information combined with reasonable intellect and sharp pen.  One of my managers at Oracle would complain about meetings with LJE because the room was filled with access limited information.  Information was a weapon, commonly used to expose a foe, who of course was also a colleague.  Fun place.

Thus, this blog is meant to be written from the average information access perspective.  Its from data that is gleaned from fairly straightforward public sources.  On a bad day it will be no better than regurgitated news(typically already regurg’ed from some other source!), however, I think with a little color (or spice) and possibly a different perspective something interesting may occur.

So here goes…..

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