Monday, July 21, 2008

BYOS - Build Your Own Startup - on the Cloud! - Issue 2

The geek world is aglow, but business world is cool

Ask any geek what is new in the world today, and he may drown you with excitement about cloud computing. But ask a technical manager about it, and he will cool you with his talk about the total cost of ownership. Ask a business man, and you may get a "huh?" We are forced to admit that there is a disconnect between the geeks and the business world. Why is this - that is what we have set out to investigate.

Conversation at dinner

I was recently invited to a dinner with two friends, Bernard, a business and startup veteran, and Pleemo, an enthusiastic geek. They kept discussing the news about cloud computing, but this time Bernard, in exchange for the meal, demanded the basic definitions. He got them. Let us hear.

Pleemo: Well, Bernard, the chicken was delicious. Both me and Mark feel very satisfied and grateful to the host. But tell me please, how did you learn to cook so well?
Bernard: Pleemo, I love to cook, and I love to read about it. I also wanted to make my guests happy. These are the three ingredients. And here is the recipe. Do not get scared away, preparing it took me no more than 10 minutes. If you can manage the cloud, then you can surely manage this.
Pleemo: Very well, perhaps some other
time. But now, Bernard, please tell us how do you want to proceed.
Bernard: As I said, I am very curious about the cloud. But I am afraid that I may be missing some of the basics in the understanding of it. Besides, I have been talking to some of my friends, and I can not even explain to them what I am talking about. They tell me that I loose them pretty fast. So be so kind, Pleemo, and repeat the terms. What is the cloud, and why do you think it is important.

Pleemo: I will be happy to. Cloud computing is a nice term. Many claim to have invented it, but it was most likely thrust into the public light by Amazon, who called their offering Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2.
Bernard: Yes, I agree, it sounds very futuristic.
Pleemo: Okay, then, let us talk about the EC2. As you probably know, Amazon has a few hundred thousands of computers. Companies keep their ammunition numbers secret, but I
think that they are all nearing or surpassed a million. They call those computers servers, or blade servers, but this simply means that they are made 1-2 inches high and can fit on a rack.
Bernard: I can imagine these racks, and in fact I have seen them in some magazines.
Pleemo: Imagine then that you got access to a number of these machines.
Bernard: I can't! What would I do with them?
Pleemo: Okay, your programmer got access to them. You see, before you had to buy a computer, wait for it to arrive, then select a place to put it - usually a hosting company - and then put the computer on a rack there. By the end of this process you would have been out of a few thousand dollars and of a couple weeks worth of time.
Bernard: But this only some time and some money.

Pleemo: Yes, Bernard, but let us take the next step. When you want an Amazon computer from the EC2 cloud, all you need is your credit card. The same one that you use to buy books on Amazon. Your programmer accesses the computer remotely, in the same way as he already gets to most of the other computers that he controls. Furthermore, you pay only 10 cents per hour for the computer you use, and we you do not need it any more, you should it down and stop paying.
Bernard: Okay...
Pleemo: So instead of a couple weeks and a few thousand dollars, you can try something out in 1 minute and for 10 cents. You may say that the programmer still needs to crank out the code - and we will talk about this another time - but can you imagine what industrial creativity fountain would if you could build factories in one minutes, pay for the time you use them, and freely destroy them when you do not need them anymore?

Bernard: I begin to see. I would still need creative engineers, but if I had them, or could hire them, then I could give them access to these virtual factories. Then I could watch them create and destroy worlds, and the process of evolution would speed up enormously.
Pleemo: Now I have to cool you
in turn. This has not happened yet. In fact, a latest review of IT directors tells us that most of them are putting cloud projects on the back burner. But some say that this is because they do not know what cloud computing is.
Bernard: now I see at least your point of view. It is the education that is lacking, and this is what you are providing for me today.

Pleemo: Right. And once we educate the business people and the entrepreneurs on the advantages of fast prototyping of business ideas with the cloud, we are going to see a revolution.
Bernard: Let us summarize then, so that I do not forget till our next meeting. Cloud computing is a nice term, but I will not be confused by it. It simply means that I can rent computers with my credit card. I will still need programmers to help me try out my ideas, but they can be anywhere in the world, and I can provide them with computers for their work in no time. I need to think of what business ideas I had but thought impossible.
Pleemo: Yes, Bernard. There are other forms of cloud computing, and we will talk about them later.
Bernard: Please, Pleemo, give me at least two weeks to get used to what you have just said.

Pleemo: And do not forget to think of a new recipe. I am less ready to start cooking than you to start programming.
Bernard: Very good, for now. But tell me, Pleemo, how do you know all the news. You see to know what happened any day. You can not be reading the news all, you must also do you programming!
Pleemo: You are right. I have a source of information called RSS. It collects all the news that I am interested in and serves them to me on a single screen. If a news source is silent for a week, I do not get any feed from it, but when it publishes anything newsworthy, then right away I see it in my reader.
Bernard: And that too is very interesting, my friend. I will have a few questions about it next time. For now, adieu!

Pleemo: It is getting late indeed, adieu!


I did my fair share of reporting, and I had my fair share of a wonderful chicken. What I heard reminded me of a book a read lately, "The Big Switch" by Nicholas Carr. There the author was comparing cloud computing with electricity as utility. Regardless of how you viewed the comparison, just as a fountain of creativity was opened by the availability of electricity, so too the multiple fountains seemed to be in sight for cloud computing. Besides, I liked the meal. I decided to keep researching and to join the friends for the next meeting. I hope my readers will do the same.

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