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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…

Instant Ruby on Rails – Instantly deploy and scale your rails app on any cloud

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Many developers and devops are doing a lot of repetitive tasks every day. One of them is deploying a web app and scaling it. We all know the theory for deployment: install an app server, install a database, deploy your app on the app server and your data on the database.

Scaling is also a common problem however several people already have answers for it: put a load balancer in front, duplicate your app server, create database slaves for read only data, create a database cluster for high volumes of writes, use in-memory or NoSQL databases for extremely high write volumes, use memcached for avoiding to go to the database, use Varnish to avoid going to the web server, etc.

So these are not new problems, more like common recurring tasks for devops and developers. What if instant solutions could be made available hence anybody in the world, independent of their level of knowledge, can instantly install a scalable solution?

At Ubuntu we think Open Source blueprint solutions for these common problems should be within everybody’s reach. Instantly deploying and scaling a rails app on any cloud is already a reality: https://juju.ubuntu.com/docs/howto-rails.html. The next step is to make it even easier. One command or drag-and-drop to deploy a complete stack in high-availability. Even one command to have continuous deployment + high-availability at once. This is exactly why we are organizing a contest to win $10,000 with 6 categories. Two of them should be familiar to you now: high-availability and continuous deployment.

Can you imagine the extra time you will gain if all common recurring problems would instantly disappear? Especially if you think what is common and recurring for some experts might be rocket science for the rest of us. If you haven’t played around with Juju, then this is the best time ever…

 

Startups: Want to launch new features hourly?

If you read sites like highscalability.com you will have certainly read about those big name dotcoms that deploy new features to production up to tens of times a day. For most startups bringing features to production is still a manual, at best semi-manual process. You have the odd start-up that has it all automated, but unfortunately this is often a signal that they have too much time on their hands which points towards more critical problems.

What if startups would not have to worry about how to set-up hourly feature deployment? What if they could get an open source solution that delivers them flexible and highly scalable continuous deployment in minutes?

What if Startups could launch new features faster than the top DotComs and scale almost as good?

If this sounds attractive to you or you know a start-up to whom it would be, then you should visit this blog post. Ubuntu has launched a beta program and if enough startups sign up, then they will build an instant and scalable open source continuous deployment solution for them.

A Big Data-Base that is fast but inaccurate: BlinkDB

April 6, 2013 2 comments

The idea might sound strange at first. Why would you want a database that delivers inaccurate data? However BlinkDB trades accuracy for speed. When you query data you can specify when you want the answer, e.g. within 2 seconds, or how accurate you want the answer to be, e.g. 1% error with 95% confidence.

So if you have very large amounts of data (10-100s of Tera Bytes or even Peta Bytes) and you want quick good enough answers then BlinkDB is for you. An early adopter is Facebook. Would you rather have Justin Bieber‘s followers count exactly right in minutes or 99% right as long as your page loads almost instantly? So if you need fast reasonably accurate answers over slow correct answers, BlinkDB is worth checking out.

What can you use BlinkDB for?

  • The obvious use case would be real-time reporting? If you need to take decisions in the blink of an eye, e.g. day traders, and 5-10% error is acceptable, e.g. what is the average change of all commodity prices in the last 2 seconds.
  • Real-time bookings or price comparison in which users want to know the best possible offer but accept some small error margin, e.g. mobile bar-code scanners that deliver product price comparisons in 1 second instead of 10 will dominate the App Store.
  • Any visitor, friends, tweets, total search results, etc. counter on a large website in the world.
  • Any Power Law or Long Tail data in which there are some extremely popular cases, e.g. Justin Bieber followers, or a very large set of infrequent cases, e.g. the number of blogs that have under 1000 visitors per month.
  • Machine Learning solutions and recommendation engines that are using Collaborative Filtering and other types of algorithms that compare an item or user with large groups of other items and users.
  • and many other use cases…

Real-Time Hadoop queries will be a reality in 2013

December 5, 2012 7 comments

Real-Time Hadoop queries will be a reality in 2013 thanks to two new projects from Cloudera: Impala and Trevni.

Impala is the open source version of Dremel, Google’s proprietary big data query solution. A first beta is available and the production version is foreseen for Q1 2013.

Impala allows you to run real-time queries on top of Hadoop’s HDFS, Hbase and Hive. No migrations necessary.

However the real revolution will only get better when Doug Cutting [the creator of Lucene, Hadoop, etc.]’s Trevni is integrated into Impala. Trevni is a new columnar data storage format that promises superior performance for reading large columnar stored data sets.

Impala+Trevni is promising real-time big data queries with multiple joins that are on par in performance but have more functionality than Google’s Dremel…

Mesos: Your next highly distributed Cloud architecture framework

August 21, 2012 2 comments

I initially complaint about the complexity of installing Mesos when I was playing around with Spark and Shark. However
when I saw the Twitter Mesos and Framework presentation, I understood why Mesos can be disruptive to how you architect applications in a highly distributed manner typical for Cloud Computing.

You can see the presentation here.

The key is that Twitter combined Mesos with Zookeeper, Linux Control Groups and Google’s Protocol Buffers as well as Spark, Storm and Hadoop. This provides them with a way to easily program services that can be scaled to hundreds of mesos nodes, automatically upgraded and restarted in case of failure. Also resource usage can be controlled via the control groups. Zookeeper manages the configuration. Protocol buffers assure efficient communication between nodes. Services can use Spark and Storm for real-time operations and Hadoop for batch. Developers do not have to worry about scaling the services, deploying them to different nodes, etc. This is handled by the Twitter Framework and Mesos master.

There is only one thing to add: “TWITTER PLEASE OPEN SOURCE YOUR TWITTER FRAMEWORK” or in Twitter language: “#mesos please #opensource #twitterfw now @telruptive “…

Hadoop for Real-Time: Spark, Shark, Spark Streaming, Bagel, etc. will be 2012’s new buzzwords

August 15, 2012 5 comments

The website defines Spark as a MapReduce-like cluster computing framework designed to support low-latency iterative jobs. However it would be easier to say that Spark is Hadoop for real-time.

Spark allows you to run MapReduce jobs together with your data on distributed machines. Unlike Hadoop Spark can distributed your data in slices and store it in memory hence your processing and data are co-located in memory. This gives an enormous performance boost. Spark is more than MapReduce however. It offers a new distributed framework on which different distributed computing paradigms can be modelled. Examples are: Hadoop’s Hive => Shark (40x faster than Hive), Google’s Pregel / Apache’s Giraph => Bagel, etc. An upcoming Spark Streaming is supposed to bring real-time streaming to the framework.

The excellent part

Spark is written in Scala and has a very straight forward syntax to run applications from the command line or via compiled code. The possibilities to run iterative operations over large datasets or very compute intensive operations in parallel, make it ideal for big data analytics and distributed machine learning.

The points for improvement

In order to use Spark, you need to install Mesos. Mesos is a framework for distributed computing that was also developed by Berkeley. So in a sense they are eating their own dog food. Unfortunately Mesos is not written in scala so installing Spark becomes a mix of make’s, ant’s, .sh, XML, properties, .conf, etc. It would not be bad if Mesos would have consistent documentation but due to incubation into Apache the installation process is currently undergoing changes and is not straightforward.

Spark allows to connect to Hadoop, Hbase, etc. However running Hadoop on top of Mesos is “experimental” to say the least. The integration with Hadoop should be lighter. At the end only access to HDFS, SequenceFiles, etc. is required. This should not mean that a complete Hadoop should be installed and Spark should be recompiled for each specific Hadoop version.

If Spark wants to become as successful as Hadoop, then they should learn from Hadoop’s mistakes. Complex installation is a big problem because Spark needs to be installed on many machines. The Spark team should take a look at Ruby’s Rubygems, Node.js’s npm, etc. and make the installation simple, ideally via Scala’s package manager, although it is less popular.

If possible the team should drop Mesos as a prerequisite and make it optional. One of Spark’s competitors is Storm & Trident, you can install a Storm cluster in minutes and have a one click command to run Storm on an EC2 cluster.

It would be nice if there would be an integration SDK that allows extensions to be plugged-in. Integrations with Cassandra, Redis, Memcache, etc. could be developed by others. Also looking at a distribution in which Cassandra’s Brisk is used to mimic Hive and HDFS (a.k.a. CassandraFS) and have it all pre-bundled with Shark, could be an option. Spark’s in-memory execution and read speed, combined with Cassandra’s write speed, should make for a pretty quick and scalable solution. Ideally without the need to fight with namenodes, datanodes, jobtrackers, etc. and other Hadoop hard-to-configure inventions…

The conclusion is that distributed computing and programming is already hard enough by itself. Programmers should be focusing on their algorithms and not need a professional admin to get them started.

All-in-all Spark, Shark, Streaming Spark, Bagel, etc. have a lot of potential, it is just a little bit rough around the edges…

Update: I am reviewing my opinion about Mesos. See the Mesos post.

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