Tune into the Cloud: Cheap Thrills

Tune into: a faceless cloud

For the longest time, product differentiation, has been the non-plus-ultra for technological oferings, but recently we see – in an sector that is about the same age as the cloud industry – a number of suppliers that are taking a diametrically opposite strategy. The industry we are talking about is the smartphone industry. A sector that – after early attempts such as the Nokia 9000 (the refrigerator) and the first RIM Blackberries (which you could not make any calls with) only really got started with the introduction of the first iPhone. That was in June 2007, just a year after what is now generally seen as the beginning of the cloud, namely the launch of Amazon’s S3 service in March 2006.

But while in the cloud both the leaders at the top of the market and the challengers at the bottom of the market are still trying to differentiate themselves by doing things different from their competitors (adding more features and replacing standard components with possibly premium but for sure proprietary implementations), we see at the bottom of the smartphone market a drive towards ultimate standardization. One by one a large number of suppliers of Android-based phones are installing plain vanilla Android. No special skins, not a collection of bloat ware and no proprietary software what so ever.

For users, this means there is barely any learning curve when changing brands. In addition, updates to the underlying open source software are immediately available – no need to re-apply any of the supplier-specific modifications. Meaning the phone will age much more slowly and thus can be used longer and more productively. Open Source as it was intended. Not only to provide vendors a quick start for the release of a yet again proprietary product, but to offer customers and  end users an interoperable and standard platform.

Selection in this segment of the phone market thus happens more and more based on pure hardware specs. The functionality is by virtue of using the exactly same software exactly the same and also the design is becoming less important for choosing. They namely all have a solid black glass plate with no buttons on the front augmented with a user selected case against drops and damage on the back. Although some innovations – such as wireless charging, fingerprint readers, and dual cameras – may come a year later with these vendors than with the market leaders, the do come typically implemented in a more standard way and at significantly lower cost.

The only question that remains is: Do I take the 8-core, 6″ for $ 95 or a 4-core 5.5″ for $ 50, both ex works and with the latest version of Android preinstalled. BTW the mentioned (indeed very low) prices are not wishful thinking of this blogging gadget freak, but found in the wild prices from reputable manufacturers, even including VAT (or salestax), import and shipping. In reality only the two or three market leaders do not seem to participate in this trend.

The question is whether struggling cloud providers (again everyone except for the two or three market leaders) should consider a similar approach. Not offering their own – albeit open source based – unique cloud solution that with a lot of luck and even more effort may capture just 1 or 2% market share, but instead a 100% undifferentiated on unmodified implementation of a standard platform. A standard platform which – if you add all these “commoditie” suppliers together – might well capture a 20/30% market share and where customers can switch seamlessly between vendors as not only the API but also higher level platform services (such as databases, messaging and container scheduling services) all work exactly the same. A step beyond what we now see with platform as a service frameworks, which, although the framework they started from was standardized (for example by being based on Cloud Foundry) is not really plug- let alone binary-compatible with the other vendors offerings.

If (increasingly struggling) challengers of the industry would indeed take this route then also selection of cloud providers could be largely based on objective criteria such as pure specs, prices, and of course … data center location. The latter is namely rapidly becoming more important in terms of compliance, data-residency and of course existing and upcoming privacy regulations.

Cheap Thrills is likely the most well-known song of Sia, the popular artist that performed at Apple’s most recent recent iPhone Launch (the 10th edition). An artist who has indeed chosen to link her popularity not directly to herself as a person, by making a habit of performing with a standard black and white faceless wig. Someething that has done wonders for her privacy.

Tune into the Cloud: Money for Nothing

Tune into: The Dark Side of Digital

For me the digital age began with the introduction of the CD (a Dutch invention BTW) and I still remember inserting my first real DDD (Digitally Recorded, Digitally mixed and Digitally Mastered) album into my first hard earned CD player. In hindsight we now know that digital – after a brief revival with the introduction of the CD – had a very dark side for the music industry. By providing the ability to endlessly copy songs without any loss of quality the economic model of buying music quickly eroded. And also in the broader economy we are now beginning to experience some of the drawbacks of ever progressive digitization.

One of the symptoms of this is the seemingly endless stream of RIFs (Reductions in Force) at once leading high-tech enterprises. Fortune recently rattled off a seemingly end-less list of tech lay-offs: 5500 at the largest provider of data center networking, 4000 at its equivalent in mobile networking, another 4,700 at one of the world’s largest software providers and no less than 6,500 at a producer of hard disks. And it is not limited to hardware and software companies, also in the area of IT services several historically very stable players are no longer able to escape this trend. And that an industry that most of us still deem to be the “market of the future”. It now seems increasingly likely that a majority of traditional high-tech companies may fail to find a recipe or modus operando for long-term success or even survival in tomorrow’s digital, open-source and cloud-inspired era.

And unlike in the past, these RIFs do not seem to be just a temporary reshuffle of the skills portfolio to the demands of a changing market. McKinsey recently came out with “Poorer than Their parents?”. A report which identified that, while between 1993 and 2005 only about 2 percent of the world population faced declining or steady incomes, that number increased to no less than 65 to 70 percent of all western households for the period between 2005 and 2014. A whopping 65% of all households that experienced no economic progress for years and years on end! And that despite the massive technical progress signified by smart phones, flat-screen TVs, voice activated assistants, electric cars and every bit of information and knowledge – always and everywhere – available on-line.

If these technological advances indeed lead to growth, then that growth is clearly not benefitting traditional businesses and –even more worrying in this context – completely bypassing their employees. One reason for this may be stagnation of the once seemingly endless growth in productivity per employee. Even though – thanks to innovations such as Blendle (another Dutch innovation) – we can all now start our morning much more informed by scanning five daily newspapers and an endless stream of weekly and monthly magazines, it does not necessarily seems to make us more productive. Something equally true for the endless stream of emails, instant messages, pokes, likes and other digital artifacts that (over)fill our days. With regard to productivity, office workers are now losing the war against technology and automation as fast as their blue collar colleagues before them. And the next group of war refugees – the tribe of knowledge workers that most of us will deem ourselves a member of – is only around the corner, with every major tech firm upping the pre-emptive arms race with massive investments in Artifical Inteligence and Cognitive Systems.

Looking for a more sustainable economic model for our (yours and mine) digital future, I therefore started reading Paul Mason’s “Post Capitalism”, especially triggered by its ambitious subtitle: “a guide to our future”. In practice the book feels more as a – very readable – refresher on Marxist theory, including political conspiracy theories and a plea for a non-work-related basic income (Money for Nothing) for everyone, rather than as a practical recipe for full employment and shared economic growth in a fully digital economy. So we continue our search – for example by revisiting the ideas of “Small is Beautifull” economist E. F. Schumacher – for a workable model to understand, predict and of course govern the increasingly Wall-E and Jetson-like future we are all heading into.

Mainly because it would be a distinct shame if a digital “Money for Nothing” scenario would for most of us pan out as “not having a dime to spend on anything”, instead of Mark Knopfler’s original intent of “receiving pay for activities that hardly feeling like work” while listening to an endless riff (but now spelled with double f) of “I want my MTV”.

“Money for Nothing” was the second track on Dire Straights’ first “all-digital” album “Brothers in Arms” in 1985. You therefore can imagine my surprise when I recently saw a remastered version turn up on Spotify. Turned out the original was still mostly mixed using an analog device. Not that my ears were able to register that, for sure not on the type of speakers I could afford at that time. And even now – on the compressed (but free) Spotify stream, I could not point out any significant differences.


Tune into the Cloud: At the Hop

Tune into: Hype Hopping

About a year ago we tuned into “the need for speed” and how a concept like serverless computing” was increasingly catering to this. We are now a year further and the term “serverless” is taking on unexpected proportions. With some even seeing it as the successor to cloud in general or at least as a successor to the clouds’ poorer cousin in terms of revenue, hype and adoption: PaaS.

The question we need to ask is whether this constitutes an example of Hype Hopping: to effortlessly pivot to the next new thing once the previous one turns out to be just a bit less attractive and certainly a lot more complex then we all thought at first. The Gartner Hype Cycle has been calling this for years the trough of disillusionment, a valley that only the strongest of innovations manage to pass in order to reach the slope of enlightenment or even the plateau of productivity that lies beyond.

But even before the through there are pitfalls that hypes need to survive in order to thrive. Cloud computing itself once started its journey as “on demand” or “utility” computing. Terms that in retrospect were not sexy enough to survive. Whether Serverless will survive the markets sexiness test is something that remains to be seen. Also because – unlike there are no real clouds in cloud computing – there are plenty of real servers in what is called serverLESS computing.

Whether serverless indeed will be sufficiently different to be deemed as the next generation of “How to do IT” is not easy to answer. After all, we saw plenty of earlier generations of different approaches, such as Structured Programming, Object Orientation, Service Oriented Architectures and now Micro Services, all lay claim to such a change agent role. But deep down they all were just similar enough to allow a grey bearded mainframe type to claim: “been there, done that, on our sixties S/360”. And let’s face it, when it comes to serverless, did not virtualization, software appliances, containers and everything delivered “as a service” already take many steps to remove any physical servers from our direct field of vision.

The most visible incarnation of serverless is currently Amazon Web Services’ Lambda. Although this was by most accounts not the first implementation of the idea. Manta of IaaS provider Joyent – recently acquired by consumer electronics giant Samsung – and Iron.IO’s Iron Worker arguably were earlier. And neither is Lambda any longer one of a few. Due to rapid succession introductions of new offerings such Azure Functions, Google Cloud Functions and IBM OpenWhisk. Although many of these newbies are still in a beta or even alpha stage, the term functions is rapidly becoming a standard when it comes to naming serverless offerings. And Functions as a Service (FAAS) or Function Platform as a Service (fPaaS) is even used broadly as a more precise (but therefore more confined) alternative for the term Serverless altogether.

Most of today’s serverless implementations enable users to execute user-defined functions based on various event triggers. For example, one can have a thumbnail created every time someone saves a picture, or send a bill every time someone streams a song, or verify the identity of a user every time he triggers an event. Behind the scenes the invoked function is usually performed in a container (mainly because they are so fast to start-up). While the individual containers are often running in an isolated and secured user dedicated environment, in most cases a Virtual Machine (mainly because they provided proven insulation and safety). On some platforms you declare your functions by inserting a piece of code or a script, with others you can insert functions in the form of a ready to run (binary) container. The latter feels -with a container basically being a portable machine incarnation – somehow a lot less “serverless” than the script approach.

The essence of serverless in my view is however that in addition to no longer having to worry about WHERE (on which server or which virtual machine) your functionality will be running, you also don’t have to worry anymore about WHEN your function will be performed. This is taken care of by the trigger or event engine of the serverless platform. This may make classic programming constructs such as loops and infinite, nested and complex “If – then – else ” trees, a thing of the past. And we all know how much code it can take to handle the logistics, versus the core transformation, in any real world applications. Not to mention how hard it is to debug such logistical flow code. Not surprisingly one of the most frequent comments heard about serverless computing is how amazingly little code you have to write to get something done.

With serverless the provider/operator of the platform is responsible for the WHERE and the WHEN and the user/developer needs only to determine the WHAT. In some way this sounds as a familiar promise. Did not non-procedural and event-driven 4th generation languages lay similar claims? And if so, could serverless long-term turn out to have the same disadvantages as these predecessors. And I don’t mean just the increased lock-in that these platforms brought, but the fact that in case of performance issues tuning let alone refactoring was almost impossible, as the environment almost fully abstracted the user/developer from the HOW.

Whether we will all be shredding our just recently printed business cards and updated linked-in profiles claiming our new found role as “Cloud Something” to replace them with “Serverless Whatever” is therefore questionable. If only because “it runs in the cloud” still sounds so much better than it runs “at the Serverless”.

“At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors rose directly to the top of the charts in 1958 and turned out to be the bands’ biggest but certainly not their only hit song. Others were the largely forgotten “Dottie” and the more persistent “Twistin ‘USA”. Although the dance moves of the Hop were clearly different from the Twist and from subsequent Rock & Roll and Hip Hop variants, for many older people it all seemed just more of the same pointless hopping around.

Tune into the Cloud: Chain Gang

Tune into: Decentralisation

More than with previous technological (r)evolutions a side effect of cloud computing seems to be an increase in the degree of centralisation and concentration, not just within company organisations, but particularly in the wider commercial market. This is the most obvious with Software as a Service, where providers such as AirBNB, Uber, but also earlier cloud services such as LinkedIn and Google Search quickly established a ‘winner takes all’ distribution of market share and thus market power. And also in Infrastructure as a Service, we see an quickly diminishing  number of suppliers still having the illusion that they can keep up with the gorilla in this market.

My first scientific encounter with centralisation and decentralisation was during the early eighties of the last century – when Prof. Gert Nielen – one of the founders of the then just launched Business Information Science curriculum – stated that centralisation and decentralisation can best understood as a sponge. By squeezing the sponge (centralising the control) we expel waste and increase efficiency, for example by concentrating information storage and processing in one place and by all using the same standard way of working. But after a while squeezing the sponge harder does not bring that effect anymore, we must make room for new ideas and new ways of working and the best way to do so is by permitting a degree of decentralisation, by releasing the sponge and let many (decentralised) flowers bloom.

A technology that makes decentralisation possible  in the cloud is the Block Chain. But so far block chain technology is mainly known for Bitcoins and the somewhat anarchic atmosphere that surrounds this phenomena. In essence, a block chain is a reliable journal (ledger) of transactions, which makes it possible – without a central authority and with no predetermined confidence (trust) in transaction partners – to still do business with each other. And no longer needing a central authority (such as a commercial or central bank, or a central provider such as a Google or AirBNB) also means that there is no  authority that can indulge in censorship or market manipulation.

To understand why having such an authority can be a problem, we only have to look at the music industry. It seems almost every artist  at some point during their career will run into a serious conflict or at least a fundamental difference of opinion with their record company. Would it not be much nicer if these artists could autonomically control their music distribution and IP transactions. And I mean not through free or even illegal downloads and streams but through a worldwide trusted network of micro transactions.

Now artists and musicians are a group that for centuries has been monetizing their skills and talent  as independent contributors rather than as traditional salaried workers. But increasingly this may also apply to the traditional employee jobs of enterprise organisations that people like you an me are active in. Also here workers will be increasingly expected to string together a monthly income from individual transactions. In which case it is nice if the percentage of overhead and (government) taxes that is deducted from the incoming flow is somewhat limited.

And if these two small examples are not convincing enough  to establish the need for block chain based solutions, consider the ultimate use case for decentralised low-cost but reliable transactions: the Internet of Things (IoT). Increasingly, these “things” do transactions with people, but also directly with each other. An example of the latter is a parking garage (a thing) that offers cheap parking at weekends to smart cars (other things) that are looking for a place to stay safe during the city trip weekend their owner is planning. Now from a privacy perspective it is pretty essential if both the cars and their drivers can remain anonymous and also that is possible thanks to block chain based technologies and its many associated initiatives such as ethereum.org. Not that block chain based technologies do not still have some hurdles to overcome (scalability being just one of the more well known ones) but the potential is quit promissing.

Decentralized architectures may seem complex but they in many cases also have proven to be very powerful and robust. Just consider the original architecture of the Internet (although that still some essential parts centrally arranged/agreed) or the power of bittorrent and other peer2peer applications, including the original version of Skype.

I don’t expect the slight alternative or even anarchistic feel to blockchain will disappear  in the near future, even though the growing popularity of books such as “Capital in the 21th century” by Thomas Pikety and “Post Capitalism” by Paul Masson and even the (temporary) emerging of a “socialist” with a remarkably young following in the US election is a sign that the world is starting to look at alternative models to organise, allocate and monetise traditional market-driven commercial activities.

<em>Chain Gang (That’s the sound of the people working on the “Chain Gang”) is a song that Sam Cook wrote in 1960 about a group of inmates – chained together – that had to perform forced labor for a central authority. In most part’s of the world  Cook is better known for his much more optimistic “(What a) Wonderfull World.</em>

Tune into the Cloud: We’ll meet again

Who would have thought? A Brexit decision!
Time to have a 😉 look what the British may now change:

  • Currency: The UK might get its own currency? (Oh, but wait, they already have that)
  • Travel: I may need a passport to get into to UK (Uh, I already do)
  • Time: They may move to a different time zone (Actualy the’re already there, they may finally abolish summer saving time though)
  • Weather: The UK may consider a climate change to mark the departure (Uh, seems already the case, and not just in UK )
  • Traffic: The UK may decide to drive on the other (dare I say: wrong) side of the road (you get where we are going with this?).
  • Sports: They may no longer participate in EU sporting events ? (Actually the UK already didn’t, it is England, Scotland and Wales, and in addition they have their own commonwealth games, so again, no change)
  • Food: UK may decide to no longer eat EU subsidized food like crooked banana’s, and UK cuisine may become a thing? (Uh, unlikely?)
  • Work: IT workers from EU will need a visa and a permit (but last time I looked most IT worker immigrants were not from EU but from above mentioned common wealth countries). Call centers with largely international staff may however consider relocating to Amsterdam or back to Dublin and bankers will simply do what they always do (follow the money)
  • Cloud, Data-centers and IT: This is not the place (see our published/publishing research for more on this) but suffice to say the leading cloud providers already had announced opening up a local shop in UK before the decision
  • Long story, short: Best case the UK relationship to the EU may become like Norway’s, worst case it becomes like Switzerland’s? The way Boris Johnson described it in this mornings Telegraph – as a partnership with free trade and free travel but no European laws and courts – may well be what most Europeans secretly (and not so secretly) longed for already.
  • The morale of the story so far: If you happen to have an upcoming election, you may want to carefully consider what you wish/vote for, as you may actually get it.

But kidding aside, the way this will pan out is far from clear. And what is even more unclear is when this may all transpire. While all agree on “a 2 year transition period,” there are vastly different opinions on when these two years may actually start (some even mention 2018) if ever.  And although I told my British colleagues earlier this week: “Goodbye, it was nice knowing you and … Good Luck!” , the twist of taking longer is that the minority that lost this referendum (a.k.a young people) may in fact be the majority by the time this transpires. So who knows – in  the words of Vera Lynn – it may all come down to “We’ll meet again – don’t know where, don’t know when – some sunny day”.

“We’ll meet again” is a 1939 British song performed by Vera Lynn (born Vera Margaret Welsh) which was standard repertoire for many occasions where people said goodbye (including many a funeral). The song is praised for the distinct optimistic undertone, something distinctly missing from most Brexit analysis so far.

Tune into the Cloud: Total Madness

Tune into: Total Security

It took some time but the need for Total Security Management is slowly starting to sink in. With regard to quality it took the western manufacturing industry several decades before it realized that a separate quality department – standing at the end of the production line to check which products did not meet the mandated specs – was a costly and disastrous path to take. And slowly but surely we are seeing similar thinking with regard to cyber and cloud security emerge.

Not that we are taking cloud executives on today’s equivalent of a Japanese factory tour. A quality tour let managers firsthand experience it was everyone’s responsibility to ensure quality and that everyone had the right (and the moral obligation) to personally halt the line when something went wrong. But that may be more because we are not sure yet where the contemporary equivalent of such a tour would need to take our executives. Would it be visiting the hyperscale datacenters of a Google or an Amazon (assuming our executives could get in). Or maybe a visit to the offices of various security start-ups in Silicon Valley and Israel? Or are the cyber control rooms of major telco’s and big accounting firms a better wake up environment? The more courageous may even contemplate a trip to China, Russia or other emerging cyber hotspots, to encounter some of these modern threats in the wild?

I’m not a security expert but to me the similarities between total quality and total security management are very striking. The mantra “Zero Defects” can be easily exchanged for the just as catchy sounding “Zero Breaches” and “Design for Security” is today’s equivalent of “Design for Manufacturing”. With regard to quality it were guru’s like Demming that led the path from expensive and ad hoc quality control at the end of the production line to continuous and iterative quality processes incorporated and embedded into the design and the process.

In the area of security the Jericho Forum already in 2004 pointed out the dangers of merely focusing on perimeter security. In 2013 this forum even deemed itself no longer necessary, in their own words “on the basis of proven success”. Nevertheless it is often still scary what malicious things one can do once inside the firewall of many a company or organization. After complete de-perimeterisation you basically would not need a VPN to reach your applications and be protected from outsiders. Each application would protect itself and decide for each user what he is allowed to do or not do. But with the exception of maybe (web-)email and some SaaS applications, most companies have not come close to setting up the majority of their business applications in a way that they can protect themselves and are no longer dependent on a company perimeter defense.

The advent of micro-services is a good time to re-examine your current security policies. Not only because the security challenges around micro services will typically increase rather than decrease, but also because with the advent of the Internet of Things, security at the source is increasingly mandated and required. Ideally each micro-service will determine itself who does or does not get access to its services and should be able to adequately fence of access attempts by malicious external forces. Also because adding this type of security as an afterthought, on the outside of the service itself, is likely to be cost prohibitive, as many of these external security solutions are at least as pricy as maintaining after the fact quality control , like we did in the days that quality was still a cost instead of a benefit.

With regard to cost, total quality thinking does to reason in terms of an “optimal” rates of defects. A fictional point after which any further reduction of defects will cost more than is economically justifiable. In the end it is namely always cheaper to get things right the first time around, rather than having to return 5%, 0.5% or even 0:05% for repair. Or worse, having to compensate x% of customers for consequential damages (which can easily outweigh the cost of any production improvement). As a result the manufacturing industry no longer measures its defects in percentages but in the initially hard to imagine measure of PPM a.k.a. parts per million. And that iucreasingly in single digits, with a maximum of 1-9 parts per million produced products showing any defect

Now granted, security can be a little bit like health. No matter how healthy you live, you can be unlucky – statistically unexpected but nonetheless very devastating – and get seriously ill. Hence, security is increasingly extending on the one hand from preventive measures to keep out the bad guys, to ongoing monitoring of the current state for anomalies (similar to the active search for signs of a disease in a so-called health pre-scan) and on the other hand by taking measures to reduce the impact of any breaches by counter by beeing able to act appropriately and quickly when something does go wrong. And also for the latter it is necessary that the entire organization is involved with security, it can no longer be delegated to the department at the end of the hall.

Total Madness is the compilation album of the very British Ska revival band Madness. The song “Our House” is about a family that initially is kind of living apart together but that eventually come close together. The song achieved a global cult status in the Netherlands as theme song to the TV hit series “Divorce”.

Tune into the Cloud: Yes, we have no Banana’s

Tune into: Hybrid Architectures

Just like the earwurm  “Yes, We Have No Bananas” seems to come back every decade or so,  IT has a number of issues that seem on eternal repeat. One of these is the idea that once we have found a better way to do something, that we can just convert and replace all our existing investments. So we figured we would replace mainframes with distributed systems, distributed systems with client/server, client/server with web architectures and now Web architectures with cloud.

In the equally hype-centric world of dietetics (the study of diets) this would be comparable to switching to only eating bananas, after someone has discovered that bananas actually have quite a number of good qualities (filling , lots of carbohydrates, vitamins, cheap, long shelf life, etc.). Now there are of course diet gurus with huge influence (remember Atkins, Montignac , Agaston’s South Beach or the now popular but anonymous “Military Diet” ), but nutricional patterns usually change only marginally and, moreover, very slowly.

After 10 years cloud, the total spending on cloud services companies still well less than ten percent of total global IT spend. So a  cloud-only strategy is marching pretty far ahead of the rest of the band. Even a cloud pioneer such as Netflix only managed this year to moved its last server out of the door, and then only for its streaming business. The Netflix DVD business – yes, that still exist – is still running just on in-house servers. The average company therefore does well staying away from a “Bananas only” mindset. Throw everything out the door and start over is in most cases not an option. Imagine that governments would replace national infrastructure such as airports, highways and power plants every time the political make up  (and hence the preferred approach) changes.

With regard to IT this makes seamless collaboration between the old and the new more important than ever. The term which the industry has adopted for this is – as previously discussed – Hybrid. The big question is: where do we place the cut. What we do best in the (public) cloud and what we do best internally. From compliance and data residency standpoint we see many organisations that would like to put that cut between data and processing. Having storage under our control and compute in the cloud.

But many of us will remember what we’ve discovered the hard way with classic client/server. Namely that if the compute (on fat clients) is just a little too far from the data, scalability goes out the window. Hence the introduction of three-tier architectures (and billions in Citrix-like server-based computing configurations), where processing and storage again stood close to each other, connected by a preferably the fastest and  widest connections possible. Hence separation of data and processing  in the cloud held a clear “Do not try this at home” label so far.

But there is hope. By putting private data not in house but in a colocation data center nearby – or even better inside the same building – as the data center infrastructure of the cloud provider, we overcome quite a few physical challenges and still maintain control of our sensitive information. In addition, companies can increasingly make use of the direct private LAN / WAN connections to leading cloud providers that an increasing number of communication and collocation service providers are offering as  alternative to connecting over the (open/scary) Internet. And finally a number of vendors that have been supplying network acceleration software to SAN / NAS manufacturers for years, are workington making  these algorithms and protocols available – in many cases simply via the market places and app stores of the supported cloud providers. And by combining these (moving data to a cloud near colocation facility, connecting directly to the public cloud of choice and accelerating the traffic) there are plenty of opportunities to get creative, while maintaining a good balance between the old and the new.

“Yes, We Have No Bananas” (1922) is about a song about a greengrocer who simply sold what he had in the house, no matter where the customer actually asked for (sounds familiar?). It re-emerged in the thirties (as the anthem of Irish fighters for freedom of religion), forties (during the English WW2 banana import ban); fifties (as theme song of comedian Jimmy Durante), sixties (in a movie with our “Dutch” Dick Van Dyke),  in an episode of the Simpsons (Bart’s girlfriend) and this century in Australia after Cyclone Larry took out most of the banana harvest.

Tune into the Cloud: Space Oddity

Tune into: Economic Fall Out

By now the new year is already well under way, but for me it began with the realization that many things won’t last forever. We unexpectedly lost David Bowie, the growth of the iPhone came to a hold and slowly the realization that the sheer endless economic growth we all grew up to, may not last forever.

Meanwhile a number of cloud-enabled innovations such as smart machines, the digital economy and algorithmic business are contributing to a growing disconnect (“Can you hear me, Major Tom”) between growth and employment. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, one theme even was “A World Without Work”. We know this future from dystopian films like Wall-E (2008) where increasingly obese people are doing less and less, and from animated series like the Jetsons (1962), where single earner George pressed one button once a day and still made enough to keep his housekeeper (Rosie the Robot) employed.

Traditional market thinkers see the disappearance of traditional jobs just as progress that accompanies change. People should simply adapt. After all, most of us no longer work in agricultural jobs, we moved on.  And similarly the thousands of in-store employees of large retail chains – closing down one by one – should not be looking back but looking forward to new possibilities and opportunities.

Looking ahead and pre-empting change with radical transformation was something that David Bowie was a true master in. Not many pop stars – with a matching pop star life style – manage to exchange the temporary for the eternal with an estimated 100 million in the bank. Many of us are aware of Bowie’s artistic transformations such as first to his alter ego Ziggy Stardust and later towards disco, a genre  truly loathed by many of his contemporary colleagues but which brought him his biggest hit “Let’s Dance”. But even more interesting are his business transformations. Fortune magazine described aptly how Bowie early on issued his songs exclusively through the internet and even started his own Internet Service Provider. But also how he foresaw that streaming (from the cloud) would make earning a living wage from recording a pipe dream for most artists and suggested they better get ready to shift their earnings model towards life performances and tours. In a forward-looking financial move he even monetized most of his own music rights through the issuance of bonds (sold to investors who clearly had a less insightful vision of what the future of the music industry would look like).

For most of us such radical transformation to retain some form of employement will be difficult. With complete shopping centers, office parks and industrial estates being replaced by online shops, algorithms and 3D printers, there will simply be less and less work opportunities to go around. Dutch business magazine Sprout recently aptly demonstrated this in an infographic: During 2015 Dutch Amazon look-alike Bol.com and and Dutch Macy’s equivalent department store chain V&D each generated about half a billion euros in annual sales, but traditional retailer V & D needed no less than 10,000 employees to do so, while online retailer Bol.com managed to the same with just 700 employees.

The responses of politicians to this dystopian future so far centered on education as the answer. Suggesting that if there will be no work future in production, distribution or administrative jobs than schools will just have to crank out more business developers, game and web designers and creative directors (and not lawyers or accountants as those are also expected to be largely automated away also). Training is important but simply cannot be the only answer. We cannot all work for the current or future Google’s of this world (especially when taking into account the “certified propeller head requirements” the recruiters of such companies tend to look for).

And while on the topic of companies with high propeller head densities, management consultancy McKinsey has also been actively sounding the alarm about the dangers of exploding (youth) unemployment which coincides with a seemingly contradictory skills gap preventing companies from finding the talent they are looking for.  But even better then just sounding the alarm they actually started an active program to address this: it’s not for profit “Generation” program. Maybe we should all consider helping a hand there. As volunteers that is. Because the future of work for more and more of us will consist of just that: volunteering. The alternative is to sit at home all day binging movies, TV series and music. Binging from the cloud, of course.

David Bowie (1947 -2016) broke through in 1969 with “Space Odity” and concluded with the (as we know realize almost posthumous) Lazarus. Many called him a chameleon because he constantly changed his style , but unlike chameleons Bowie did not do so to fit in, but to stand out and lead the way.

Tune into the Cloud: The Times They Are A-Changin’

As in other years, the Sunday Times bundled in February another issue of Racontuer’s special “Cloud in Business” report with its print edition. As mentioned earlier, I had the honour of contributing to these special reports. We started in 2013 with “Cloud Spotting Is The Shape Of Things Too Come”  where we observed “Ironically, uncertainty about the future is one of the main reasons for using the cloud”. Followed in 2014 with “Cloud for Digital Business” which drilled int the role of the cloud for new – increasingly digital – business ventures. Last year we examined more broadly “The Role Of Cloud In  Tech Trends“, while this February we looked – with a slightly lighter movie and time travel inspired tone – at “10 Ways Cloud Is Going Back To The Future“.

Now 4 years may seem long in cloud terms, but actually are just the final stages of the 10 year journey cloud pioneer Amazon Webservices embarked on back in 2006. For an overview of what they learned along the way have a read of Werner Vogels 10 Lessons from 10 Years of Amazon Web Services on his All Things Distributed blog. For a lighter Sunday afternoon look at what  cool movie and other “change of the times” innovations the cloud has been enabling, have a read of:

10 Ways The Cloud is Going Back to The Future (source Raconteur)

While businesses around the world come to grips with the impact the cloud will have on their future, it is enlightening to examine how cloud computing has already made many ideas from our favourite books and films a daily reality
10 ways cloud is going back to the future

1. Money crimes
Criminals and crime fighters in our favourite stories have always “followed the money”. When William Francis Sutton Jr, aka Slick Willie, was asked why he kept robbing banks, he answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” As the money moves to the cloud in the form of Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, crime will follow – if not to steal it, at least to use it. The cloud will also help us protect our money through an allegedly unbreakable federated ledger technology, spread out across the cloud, called the blockchain, a technology many traditional banks are now investing in.

2. Cloud surveillance
When we first saw Enemy of the State, starring Will Smith in 1998, many dismissed the intense and all-seeing surveillance by a national security agency as dystopian science fiction. We just didn’t know how real those practices had become – in the cloud – at least until the 2013 release of thousands of secret documents by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

3. Virtual reality
A cloud-based virtual world like The Matrix, with Keanu Reeves in 1999, was clearly science fiction up until this year. That is if you believe the reports coming back from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where new 3D virtual reality (VR) goggles were all the rage. One review even predicted this year would see the first real-life VR casualty. Likely someone tripping over his living room coffee table while immersed in a virtual trip through a gaming combat zone.

4. Social privacy
Social media gives new meaning to the word privacy. In his 2013 book The Circle, Dave Eggers gave us a taste of how it will feel to live in a world where sharing is the new mantra and privacy is considered theft. Maybe we all just have to get used to a cloud-based future where, as former Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy once put it so eloquently, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

5.Future of work
The “future of work” sounds a lot better than “no work, no future”, but the realisation that cloud-based automation and smart algorithms will drastically reduce the demand for labour, and thus the opportunities for work, has even reached the Swiss mountains of Davos and this year’s World Economic Forum. The 2008 Disney/Pixar Wall-E gives an animated, but still disturbing, impression of the inactive and consequently obese lifestyle that could await many, unless society finds a better way to allocate work and income.

6. Robots at home
Lack of work outside the house might imply we will become much more active at home. But as we already saw back in 1962 in The Jetsons, produced by Hanna-Barbera, the fact that George Jetson’s job consisted merely of pushing one button once a day did not stop him from hiring Rosie, the charming robot that travelled by public transport to the Jetson family home each morning. Our home automation and personal assistants will be more stationary, but largely powered by cloud-based intelligence.

7. Time travel
Unlike the 1985 blockbuster Back to the Future, starring Michael Fox, in which the future actually was last year, the closest we’ve got to time travel is being able to generate better predictions about the future, like we do through evermore accurate weather reports. However, in the 2006 thriller Déjà Vu, we saw scientists cause the US Northeast blackout of 2003 to create a worm hole big enough to slip Denzel Washington through. So when the next big cloud outage hits, we may want to check what Denzel is doing that day.

8. Streaming music
Not many artists are as vocal about cloud-based music streaming’s “race to the bottom” as Taylor Swift, but nobody has proven as visionary as the late David Bowie about the phenomenon. Not only was he among the first, in 1996, to release songs online only, he even started his own internet service provider venture. He also predicted, long before anyone else realised it, that touring would be the only viable remaining method for artists to monetise their works and with perfect timing cashed in on his own music rights through a bond-based IPO.

9. TV bingeing
Anyone with teenagers around them will be aware they can watch TV anytime and anywhere. Up until Netflix used the cloud to enable this new reality, the closest we got to binge-watching was sitting through all three DVDs of The Godfather in a row. The only kink still needing to be worked out is that the funding model of most of the world’s TV programmes, namely commercials, is obliterated by the binge phenomenon.

10. The name is James…
For some reason it is always the villains who are building the type of cloud-like globe or even universe-spanning megalomanic technological ventures, while our hero 007 depends on an endless supply of smart but largely standalone gadgets from his ever-reliable source Q. It’s a romantic but unfortunately increasingly unrealistic scenario. Combining evermore data and evermore processing power – in the cloud, where else? – creates advantages that no solo hero, no matter how smart or sexy, will be able to combat.

The Times They Are A-Changing’ is a 1964 song by Bob Dylan written during a time of significant social and societal change.  It has subsequently been covered by artists varying form Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and our own “Dutch Dylan” Boudewijn de Groot and ranked #59 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Times.  

WordPress Featured Image by JMortonPhoto.com & OtoGodfrey.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44599375

Tune into the Cloud: The Circle

Tune into: Social Privacy

Time for a blog about personal privacy, before we all have forgotten about the concept. The Circle is both the title of an 2009 album by Bon Jovi as a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers. A novel relevant for a cloud blog because it describes a future in which one company (the Circle) largely controls the nexus of information, social, mobile and cloud.

The use of a novel as medium for the communication of ideas regarding business or politics is not new. Think of examples as “The Goal” (about manufacturing management), “The Phoenix Project” (about IT Management), “Animal Farm” (about politics) and of course “1984” (about society). The Circle remind us of 1984, although in The Circle citizens opt-in voluntarily to life under an all seeing and omnipresent authority. An authority which, incidentally, is not a government, but a commercial social media and cloud services outfit.

The question is whether the outlined utopian (or dystopian) future – where people live their lives guided by slogans such as “Privacy is Theft” and under an absolute ban on removing any information once shared – is a realistic future scenario. But when realising that motorists in Russia have started to capture every kilometer they drive on video dashcams and most conference calls are recorded by default for “training and dispute resolution purposes” it does not seem that far fetched. And although most of us may not feel directly inclined to stream our whole life to the world, it is technically absolutely feasible to capture your entire (working) day to video. And simply  recording everything – just in case – is significantly more convenient than trying to selectively capture the parts that may be needed later in handwritten notes.  For sure once someone figures out how to efficiently and effectively search through large quantities of such captured materials  (something several companies are working on). In Europe, where our “right to be forgotten” may collide with ideas like “Privacy is Theft”, it may (again) happen a bit slower here than in other places of the world, but still.

The eye-opener of this book is not so much the extreme social sharing society it depicts. The thing that is much more realistic and scarier is the picture it paints of future work environments. An environment where everything – I mean literally everything – is captured, measured and compared.  Right from the moment our protagonist starts working in the customer support department of the imaginary Circle, all her interactions, questions, responses, lead times, breaks are recorded and analysed. And of course every customer she deals with is asked to fil out a short survey and score right after.  The target score that employees are measured against is BTW 100%. But as the scoring is not anonymous, going back to the customer to inquire “What was wrong?” when receiving a 95% or otherwise non satisfactory score tends to fix this instantly: “Sorry, my mistake, I changed it to 100%”. Somewhat like how AirBNB and Uber customers are hesitant to score apartments or drivers too low in fear of not being accepted next time around.

Not that the staff of The Circle are assessed solely – as a kind of robots – on primary output. Participating in corporate events, forming a personal relationship with customers through social media and ‘spontaneous’ blogging and tweeting (in the book referred as zing’en) about personal and leisure activities also gets measured in detail. Amusingly each additional app that captures such activities is installed on a separate monitor, leading to our protagonist having about 8 different screens on her desk pretty soon after joining. To keep up with the expected timeliness of these interactions many of the Circles employees relocate to the campus, to more seamlessly merge work time and free time (by always being at work). An alltogether somewhat disturbing interpretation of the workplace of the future and the idea of telecommuting but never the less an amusing and thought provoking read.

Bon Jovi’s album The Circle at first sight has no relationship with the book of the same name, although the song “Live before you die” may ring home for the protagonist who’s so busy with social media that real live increasingly gets neglected.  Any social media addict would better take Bon Jovi’s opening and closing of the album to hart: “We were not born to follow”.
This Tune into the Cloud post was originally published in Dutch in July 2014 (following some vacation reading), but had enough signs of becoming more – not less – relevant as technology advances for a recircle.