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The next IT revolution: micro-servers and local cloud

Have you ever counted the number of Linux devices at home or work that haven’t been updated since they came out of the factory? Your cable/fibre/ADSL modem, your WiFi point, television sets, NAS storage, routers/bridges, media centres, etc. Typically this class of devices hosts a proprietary hardware platform, an embedded proprietary Linux and a proprietary application. If you are lucky you are able to log into a web GUI often using the admin/admin credentials and upload a new firmware blob. This firmware blob is frequently hard to locate on hardware supplier’s websites. No wonder the NSA and others love to look into potential firmware bugs. They are the ideal source of undetected wiretapping.

The next IT revolution: micro-servers
The next IT revolution is about to happen however. Those proprietary hardware platforms will soon give room for commodity multi-core processors from ARM, Intel, etc. General purpose operating systems will replace legacy proprietary and embedded predecessors. Proprietary and static single purpose apps will be replaced by marketplaces and multiple apps running on one device. Security updates will be sent regularly. Devices and apps will be easy to manage remotely. The next revolution will be around managing millions of micro-servers and the apps on top of them. These micro-servers will behave like a mix of phone apps, Docker containers, and cloud servers. Managing them will be like managing a “local cloud” sometimes also called fog computing.

Micro-servers and IoT?
Are micro-servers some form of Internet of Things. Yes they can be but not all the time. If you have a smarthub that controls your home or office then it is pure IoT. However if you have a router, firewall, fibre modem, micro-antenna station, etc. then the micro-server will just be an improved version of its predecessor.

Why should you care about micro-servers?
If you are a mobile app developer then the micro-servers revolution will be your next battlefield. Local clouds need “Angry Bird”-like successes.
If you are a telecom or network developer then the next-generation of micro-servers will give you unseen potentials to combine traffic shaping with parental control with QoS with security with …
If you are a VC then micro-server solution providers is the type of startups you want to invest in.
If you are a hardware vendor then this is the type of devices or SoCs you want to build.
If you are a Big Data expert then imagine the new data tsunami these devices will generate.
If you are a machine learning expert then you might want to look at algorithms and models that are easy to execute on constraint devices once they have been trained on potentially thousands of cloud servers and petabytes of data.
If you are a Devop then your next challenge will be managing and operating millions of constraint servers.
If you are a cloud innovator then you are likely to want to look into SaaS and PaaS management solutions for micro-servers.
If you are a service provider then this is the type of solutions you want to have the capabilities to manage at scale and easily integrate with.
If you are a security expert then you should start to think about micro-firewalls, anti-micro-viruses, etc.
If you are a business manager then you should think about how new “mega micro-revenue” streams can be obtained or how disruptive “micro- innovations” can give you a competitive advantage.
If you are an analyst or consultant then you can start predicting the next IT revolution and the billions the market will be worth in 2020.

The next steps…
It is still early days but expect some major announcements around micro-servers in the next months…

The next communication challenge: making money with WebRTC

At TADHack some months ago it was clear that SMS and phone calls are out and WebRTC is the new hot technology for developers. Via your browser you can talk to your salesman, doctor and coach. Your browser can be mobile. This means that video calls will be universal as soon as 4G is everywhere. Bad news for operators that will see data on their networks balloon without new revenues. Good news for users that will have a whole new world of communication opening up with voice, video, screen sharing, web apps, etc. all seamlessly integrated.

How can business be generated with WebRTC?

Per minute call billing is out. Unless of course you are talking to a highly paid consultant that charges you by the second or minute. One time payment like mobile apps are only viable if you can embed WebRTC technology in a mobile app, not if you need to support an ongoing business. This means that we need a new subscription model for WebRTC. We need a micro subscription model. Especially for services that will be used on a long term basis, e.g. conference facilities, next generation voice mails, etc. As always operators will be hesitant to cannibalise a juicy per minute business for a low margin 1-99 cents per months subscription service. So are there others that could bill micro-subscriptions? The obvious choice would be cloud providers. They can already do hourly micro billing on monthly cycles hence adding some recurring element would be straightforward. So my prediction is that WebRTC will see operator’s problems accelerate whereby cloud will no longer deliver you only IT solutions but also your communication services.

Why VCs should no longer invest in mobile apps or social networks…

July 22, 2014 1 comment

The “Yo” app is a clear sign that there is a mobile bubble. If an app that is created in an afternoon and only says Yo gets $1M in funding then you know VCs are running out of good investment options. Also social networks are loosing steam because there are only so many you can be active on.

What should VCs focus on instead?
The answer: enterprise.
If all the UX, mobile, social, engagement, etc. experts of this world would focus their energy on making exciting, beautiful, easy to use enterprise applications and solutions then lots of new billionaires will be around in 3 years.
However enterprise software is hard. It needs to be rock steady, always available, easy to integrate, etc.
So what is the trick?
Easy: use a plugin mechanism and focus on a platform that handles 80% of the use cases with 20% of the features. All other 80% of the features can be added as plugins from external companies. The Accenture’s of this world will come up with plugins that will beat your wildest dreams. Especially if they have an easy way to sell them. Talking about price. Your platform should be open source. It is the only way to avoid the RFP hell. If you want to be compared to SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, etc. solutions then charge at least $1. If you make it open source then procurement has no say. Business managers and solution architects will try your software. They will show their managers solutions based on your software. The director will get involved. As will the CTO. They will all love it. When finally things go to production somebody will say “we need support!” and you can sell them a support contract. This is also the moment to sell them some plugins.
Now make your software super easy to integrate, e.g. via Juju, and make sure the software is scale out. This means that you can just install it on more virtual or commodity machines instead of needing bigger more expensive servers.
Finally in addition you need to add something innovative that other solutions in the same space don’t have and would have a hard time copying.
Use lean methodology to make sure you are building a solution for a real problem. Offer an on-premise version and a SaaS version.
Now you are set to become the next billionaire. At least your chances will be so much bigger than creating yet another mobile app or social network…

Why you should care about Kubernetes, Juju, Mesos, etc.

Every day a new orchestration solution is being presented to the world. This post is not about which one is better but about what will happen if you embrace these new technologies.

The traditional scale-up architecture
Before understanding the new solutions, let’s understand what is broken with the current solutions. Enterprise IT vendors have traditionally made software that was sold based on the number of processors. If you were a small company you would have 5 servers, if you were big you would have 50-1000 servers. With the cloud anybody can boot up 50 servers in minutes, so reality has changed. Small companies can manage easily 10000 servers, e.g. think of successful social or mobile startups.

Also software was written optimised for performance per CPU. Many traditional software comes with a long list of exact specifications that need to be followed in order for you to get enterprise support.

Big bloated frameworks are used to manage the thousands of features that are found in traditional enterprise solutions.

The container micro services future
Enterprise software is often hard to use, integrate, scale, etc. This is all the consequence of creating a big monolithic system that contains solutions for as many use cases possible.

In come cloud, containers, micro-services, orchestration, etc. and all rules change.

The best micro services architecture is one where important use cases are reflected in one service, e.g. the shopping cart service deals with your list of purchases however it relies on the session storage service and the identity service to be able to work.

Each service is ran in a micro services container and services can be integrated and scaled in minutes or even seconds.

What benefits do micro services and orchestration bring?
In a monolithic world change means long regression tests and risks. In a micro services world, change means innovation and fast time to market. You can easily upgrade a single service. You can make it scale elastically. You can implement alternative implementations of a service and see which one beats the current implementation. You can do rolling upgrades and rolling rollbacks.

So if enterprise solutions would be available as many reusable services that can all be instantly integrated, upgraded, scaled, etc. then time to market becomes incredibly fast. You have an idea. You implement five alternative versions. You test them. You combine the best three in a new alternative or you use two implementations based on a specific customer segment. All this is impossible with monolithic solutions.

This sounds like we reinvented SOA
Not quite. SOA focused on reusable services but it never embraced containers, orchestration and cloud. By having a container like Docker or a service in the form of a Juju Charm, people can exchange best practice’s instantly. They can be deployed, integrated, scaled, upgraded, etc. SOA only focused on the way services where discovered and consumed. Micro services focus additionally on global reuse, scaling, integration, upgrading, etc.

The future…
We are not quite there yet. Standards are still being defined. Not in the traditional standardisation bodies but via market adoption. However expect in the next 12 months to see micro services being orchestrated at large scale via open source solutions. As soon as the IT world has the solution then industry specific solutions will emerge. You will see communication solutions, retail solutions, logistics solutions, etc. Traditional vendors will not be able to keep pace with the innovation speed of a micro services orchestrated industry specific solution. Expect the SAPs, Oracles, etc. of this world to be in chock when all of a sudden nimble HR, recruiting, logistics, inventory, supplier relationship management solutions, etc. emerge that are offered as SaaS and on-premise often open source. Super easy to use, integrate, manage, extend, etc. It will be like LEGO starting a war against custom made toys. You already know who will be able to be more nimble and flexible…

Chief Disruption Officer

An online bookstore did not only redefine retail, content distribution and gave the postal services a second chance, it also is becoming the world’s data centre. The best way, to find out if the hot school girl is open for a new relationship, is now showing IT companies how to build servers & routers and telecom giants how people like to communicate. An online search and advertisement company has revolutionised how you find anything from text, images, location, etc. It redefined mobile computing together with a fruit-like branded company. It has global networks that even the biggest telecom incumbents can only dream off. It has cars that drive alone. Body accessories that puts science fiction authors next to historians.

At the same time stamps, travel agents, maps, telephone books, book publishers, bill boards, broadcasters, movie theatres, journalists, photo film, media storage, video cameras, taxi services, estate agents, high street shops, etc. have changed and not always for better.

If you work for a “traditional” company are you sure that in five years your company still is in business or can it be that some unknown small company launched a product that makes your company’s best products look like they belong in the history museum? Remember Nokia phones!!! Five years ago they had record sales…

If software disruptors have so much power, why aren’t companies hiring chief disruption officers. Senior executives whose goal it is to setup disruptive new product families that are owned by traditional players but are allowed to question any industry rules and launch cannibalising offerings often as independent companies.

It is a lot better that a big bank owns a bit coin exchange, a peer to peer lender, a crowd funded venture capitalist, a mobile payment provider, a micro payment cloud broker, a mobile app currency exchange, a machine learning financial adviser, etc. then being put out of business by any disruptive challenger.

Of course you can always copy the telecom model. Have everybody in your company look for potential cost reductions in the form of virtualized networks, squeezing (and killing) suppliers, etc. while your (mobile) broadband network is 12-36 months away from a data tsunami in the form of 4k streaming video, free mobile video calls, fitbits telling the cloud every minute (or second) your average heart beat and twenty other vital signs, free frequency crowd sourced mobile networks, etc. At a time where your business model has not seen a margin improvement in 10 years, your costs are exploding and your revenue will melt faster than ice in the Sahara.

Why don’t you think about hiring a chief disruption officer before you need to hire a chief miracle officer…

Why is IT solving problems people haven’t experienced yet?

May 13, 2014 2 comments

Normally I write blog posts in which I answer questions. This time I would like to have somebody else provide the answer. Why is IT solving problems nobody has experienced yet?

I attend a lot of professional events around cloud, big data, IoT, etc. Hardly do I meet customers there. Mostly I meet suppliers that show me the solution to a problem that perhaps Google will experience in 5 years. I am overreacting but most IT problems are about scaling beyond terabytes. The problem is that most enterprises can’t find a quick way to setup a sub domain or to provision a new user in a central identity management system. Most enterprises need weeks if not months to do tasks that IT companies solved 5 or even 10 years ago in minutes. So why is it that trivial problems seem to capture enterprise attention? Just look at what is currently hot! Tableau software, Amazon Redshift and Dotcloud Docker. You would say that SAS, IBM, Teradata, Canonical, RedHat, Solaris/Sun/Oracle, etc. would have solved reporting, data storage for analytics and packaging Linux software. The market does not seem to agree. Can it be that the initial problems where aimed at early adopters and more and more features where added? The result is that by the time the majority started to use the “solution” it was already to complex?
Why do companies like complex solutions? Why are early adopters the drivers of people’s roadmap and not the majority? What does the IT industry need to do to better understand its enterprise customers? What are enterprise customers telling the IT industry? Are they saying one thing and doing another?

Telco innovators and the rest…

November 24, 2013 Leave a comment

2014 will be the year in which telecom will be split into two. The ones that understand iCommunication and the ones that don’t. iCommunication is about giving a personalized communication experience to consumers and enterprises. Low cost subscription models and freemium will be the main business models. Low-cost pay per use is still possible but not for messaging or voice traffic. The value proposition needs to be higher.

What will this mean?
Bit pipes will become a reality in Europe and possible in the US (mainly dependent on what Google and others do). Telecom operators massive head count reductions. Nokia & Blackberry will be joined by other one time big telco names. The end of the world for some. Especially for those that belief telecom is a dividend generator or a bottomless pit for license taxation…

For consumers and enterprises there will be a new world of communication possibilities. Communication will be fully integrated into back office systems, e.g. CRMs like Salesforce store all calls. Improvements in voice recognition will make talking to machines a natural interface. Managing contacts will become a breeze. Forget memorizing phone numbers…

Communication as a Service will be the big innovation. The Cloud, Big Data, IoT will meet IP communication. Whatsapp will have a bigger brother for voice and video. Unless Google and Apple surprise the market with joint IP-based communication over LTE and WiFi. Asia, Africa and Latam will have two more years but most of their operators will make the same mistakes as the European ones.

Bit pipes are not even a safe business because the Ryanair of telecom will be able to quickly pickup mobile licenses and networks of the third/forth player, the one that goes bankrupt.

Things will not look nice for the next three years for some but we all knew that it was going to come for the last 10-15 years. Any CxO that calls this an unforeseen disruptive technology should be fired on the spot. The next edition of the Innovators Dilemma does not have to go back to the last century for examples. This is a textbook case for MBA students for years to come…

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