Chris Anderson on Free

Chris Anderson was first a physicist, then an editor for the Economist. Now he’s the editor of Wired. He also has some interesting hobbies, including a startup based around open source airborne drones. In other words, he’s uniquely qualified to talk about how “free” is transforming the software industry.

Opening up day 2 of the SIIA Software Summit, he presented some exerpts from the forthcoming book Free: The Future of a Radical Price (quite a lot of which is outlined in a series of Wired stories.) Chris was kind enough to give me an uncorrected proof a few weeks ago, and having read that, it’s clear this will be a juggernaut of a book. Free is a disruptive idea resulting from an economy where many of our marginal costs are falling to zero.

There are few places it disrupts more than the software industry, and Chris didn’t mince words with a roomful of industry executives: “The three technologies you guys depend on are becoming too cheap to meter.”

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Judy Estrin says we take innovation for granted

Watching Judy Estrin at the SIIA Software Summit.

She thinks we’re taking innovation for granted. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, particularly with the Internet. Breakthroughs like the Internet beget smaller innovations like the web browser; but we’re neglecting disruptive innovation and focusing on incrementals.

In a metrics-driven, measured, KPI-centric world, it’s harder to spawn massive breakthroughs because they’re more speculative and harder to justify with a priori knowledge.

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Interop Las Vegas: Cloud Week

Interop Vegas is turning into cloud week. I put together a quick schedule of the event, spanning four days in Las Vegas.

The week includes:

  • The Enterprise Cloud Summit, a 2-day paid workshop on how enterprises can use cloud computing.
  • The Interop General Conference, which includes a Cloud Computing and a SaaS track–the latter being run by Jeff Kaplan and Scott and Chris at Tripletree.
  • A CloudCamp event that Interop and Bitcurrent are sponsoring which will bring in Dave Nielsen and some of the other CloudCamp creators.
  • An Unconference event open to all attendees, which has become an Interop tradition.

If you want to attend Interop, we’ve got a $100 discount code for the general conference. Expo passes, which will get you into CloudCamp and Unconference too, are free.

Google prepared to put all the meat in the spit

I wrote a piece for GigaOm on the gradually forming Google strategy for applications. Here’s the short version: Google Apps + App Engine + Chrome + Marketplace = Appexchange for small businesses.

The piece got referred to in a post by Enrique Dans, who blogs in Spanish. Naturally, I wanted to see what he’d said in the post, so I figured I’d put it into Babelfish and get a translation.

Sometimes the Internet says it better than you can: “Google has had 95% good news and is prepared to put all the meat in the spit.” I might stop and reflect on just how much technology was involved in that — writers in two countries, RSS feeds and linkbacks, translation.

Nah, putting all the meat in the spit is just awesome.

Human 2.0 is the Next Big Thing

We’re about to upgrade the human race. It’s more than a technology shift, it’s a cultural one. And it’s perhaps the first step on the singularity. This is most of what I’ve been thinking about lately. We’re sliding into it day by day, without noticing. I firmly believe it is the most significant change the human race faces, and it’s going to drive a tremendous amount of business and fuel wide-ranging ethical discussions. Most of the other technologies we cover here and elsewhere are simply building blocks for Human 2.0.

This is the first of many posts on the subject, and it sounds a bit muddy. Hopefully we can clarify that in the coming months. But if you’re willing to wade through some still-addled thinking, read on.

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Vertical clouds start to form – Fedcloud

We speculated on vertical stratification of clouds at Interop Unconference back in May: demand for specialized cloud platforms will arise despite the availability of highly centralized low cost utility computing (i.e. Google, Amazon) since specific requirements of privacy or business process will require value added services and specialized architectures. Could one imagine a cloud provider specializing in HIPAA compliance?

Well an example just hit our radar: Fedcloud offers “Federally Compliant Trusted Cloud Computing.” (thanks Data Center Knowledge!) “A Trusted Cloud Computing Environment: Apptis and ServerVault combined our capabilities to provide you computing in an on-demand infrastructure that enables you to acquire, utilize, and disengage without contractual dependency (subscription fees, licenses, or long-term commitments). This extraordinary capability offers a utility bundle inclusive of hardware, software, personnel (24x7x365 engineering and operations, and application management) all with federally compliant security, processes, and procedures.”

Why this verticalization? Architecture and operations can matter a lot when specific requirements are introduced. There is an opportunity for premium margins for utility computing that addresses specific industries. You may need to be in a very narrow geographical area, or need technologies specific to your trade to be running in the cloud data center. Perhaps you aren’t allowed to share a hypervisor with other organizations? Or you might need on-site staff trained in particular arcane skills. Some types of vertical clouds could theoretically rest on top of infrastructure service clouds in the same way that Rightscale and Elastra sit on top of AWS, others will need to have an entirely difference architecture. Look for wide diversification and layering of these “vertical clouds” in the next few years, and a healthy ecosystem of options for cloud consumers!

While on the topic of cloud computing, Todd Hoff has an excellent short list of other cloud computing blogs to check out!

IT needs to stop being so Canadian

In modern companies, information drives everything from product planning to sales to finances. The flow of knowledge throughout a company is a critical asset.

There’s gold in that traffic—real-time business intelligence, risks and threats, customer insight. IT is custodian of that information, but most of the time it simply passes on raw data to the rest of the company. And that’s wrong.

If it is to remain relevant, IT must stop being a resource economy and become a producer of finished goods. This has happened before, and it’s a history lesson anyone in information technology needs to study.

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SANs in the cloud

Amazon has publicly released a new Amazon web service called Elastic Block Store providing up to a terabyte per volume of persistent storage and allowing you to run your database in their cloud with the advantages of snapshots and flexible attachment to servers.

Rightscale, who offers a management and automation system based on AWS, has an excellent article explaining how Amazon’s Elastic Block Store works. In testing they report over 70 MB/s (that’s over half a gigabit per second) and over 1000 IOPS or input/output operations per second which is the ballpark equivalent of a dozen 7200rpm hard drives serving your data in tandem. They also report “it is possible to mount multiple volumes on the same instance such that file systems of 10TB are practical.” No doubt much more detailed performance and feature analysis will ensue shortly.
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What Kitchen-Aid taught me about cloud computing

If you’re even slightly interested in utility computing — the move towards on-demand, pay-as-you-go processing platforms — then Nick Carr’s The Big Switch is a must-read. You may not agree with everything he says, but his basic thesis is compelling: Just as we went from running our own generators to buying electricity from the power company, so we’re going to move from running our own computers to buying computing from a utility.

Because I spend a lot of my time writing, I’m constantly trying to out-guess the future. And something I’m obsessed with right now is appliances. Not virtual appliances, or network appliances, but simple appliances like pasta makers, bread machines, meat grinders, blenders, and so on.

If you look at the history of the electrical industry, the businesses that became interesting immediately after ubiquitous power was available were those you could plug into it. Generators were boring; but fans, irons, and fridges were really, really cool.

I touched on the topic back in May at Interop (there’s a Slideshare of the deck here on Bitcurrent.) And I think it’s worthy of a lot more consideration because, well, Costco had a sale on Kitchen-Aid mixers.

My wife is an extraordinary cook and an even better baker. And she’s long lusted after a Kitchen-Aid. They’re something of a cult, with a powerful motor, a custom-fit bowl, and dozens of attachments. Most people are happy with a hand-mixer, or a whisk, but there’s an obsessed segment of the market, the Really Serious Home Baker, full of those who simply must have a Kitchen-Aid. So this grey, intimidating, vaguely Cylon-like appliance dominates our countertop.

The Kitchen-Aid is at its core a motor. Its most common use is as a mixer, whisk, or dough hook. But it has attachments that can grind sausage, make ice-cream, roll pasta, shuck peas, and so on. It was conceived in an era where motors were expensive, and attachments were cheap. Here’s a great photo of a precursor to the modern Kitchen-Aid.

Today, motors are cheap. We don’t even think about them. We build them into everything, which is why gift tables at weddings are festooned with single-purpose appliances. And the Kitchen-Aid is the workhorse of near-professionals who demand a 600-watt motor that can tug even the toughest foods into submission.

User interfaces are the modern equivalent of appliances. Until recently, the Internet’s user interface was a desktop computer. Connecting to the Internet was a lot of work for a device: Network signaling, properly rendered graphics, keyboard and mouse, a display with enough resolution, and so on. It required a dedicated machine. The “motor” was expensive, the attachments were cheap. So we put many applications on our PC: Mail, Instant messaging, games, document viewers, file storage, mapping software, videoconferencing, and so on.

But all that has changed. We now have set-top boxes, game consoles, PDAs, cellphones, book readers, SANs — hundreds of devices, all able to access the Internet, all purpose built. That PC in the room is increasingly the jack of all trades, and master of none. The motor is cheap; the attachments matter now.

There are things the PC is still best for: Workstation tasks, like graphic design or software development. But if you want to understand the future of consumer electronics and user interfaces when CPUs are ubiquitous, consider what happened to kitchens when the motor was everywhere.

Self-powered appliances were all about convenience and portability: You don’t have to set up, dismantle, and clean your Kitchen-Aid every time you want to do something, and you can use an immersion blender single-handed over a hot stove-top. In other words, while many cooks crave a Kitchen-Aid, few use it to grind their morning coffee.

We still have to deal with gadget sprawl. Just as everyone has spare hand mixers and blenders secreted away at the back of their kitchen cupboards, so we’re struggling with multiple devices and seeking a way to reduce them. Certainly, high-end PDAs like the Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile devices or the Nokia N95 are tackling this challenge.

It’s also important to remember we’re not just dealing with physical devices, we’re dealing with information. Having multiple blenders isn’t bad–it just wastes space. But having multiple gadgets, each with a part of your digital life on it, is horrible. Which is why synchronization and architectures like Microsoft’s Live Mesh, Google Apps/iGoogle, and Apple’s Mobile Me are so important: It’s not just about decentralizing the physical interface, it’s about decentralizing the information.

When I talk with people about cloud computing and SaaS, I’m always surprised how little mention is made of mobility and ubiquitous computing. To me, these are as big a driver of on-demand platforms like Amazon Web Services or Google App Engine as any of the cost savings or fast development cycles that a cloud can offer.