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…
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.
We all have “enjoyed” working with some software that was purchased because “You can’t get fired because you bought…”. This software is known for being the industry leader. Not because it is easy to use, easy to integrate, easy to scale, easy to do anything with,… It often is quite the opposite.
So why do people buy it? First of all it is easy to find experts. There are people out there that have been “enjoying” working with this solution for the last 10 years. It is relatively stable and reliable. There is a complete solution for it with hundreds or thousands of partner solutions. People have just given up on trying to convince their bosses on trying something different.
5 steps to disrupt the Dinosaur
Step 1: the basic use cases
The Pareto rule. What are the 80% of the use cases that only reflect 20% of the functionality.
Step 2: the easy & beautiful & horizontally scalable & multi-tenant clone
Make a solution that reflects 80% of these use cases but make it beautiful and incredibly easy to use. Use the latest horizontally scalable backends, e.g. Cassandra. Build multi-tenancy into the software from day 1.
Step 3: make it open source
Release the “improved clone” as an open source product.
Step 4: the plugin economy
Add a plugin mechanism that allows others to create plugins to fill in the 20% use case gap. Create a marketplace hence others can make money with their plugins. Make money by being the broker. Think App Store but ideally improve the model.
Step 5: the SaaS version
Create a SaaS version and attack the bottom part of the market. Focus on the enterprises that could never afford the original product. Slowly move upwards towards the top segment.
The expected result
You will make have a startup or a new business unit that will make money pretty quickly and will soon be the target of a big purchase offer from the Dinosaur or one of its competitors. You will spend a lot less sleepless nights trying to make money this way then via the creation of the next Angry Bird, Uber 0r Facebook clone.
How do you know if your company is making billions but is about to be disrupted? Imagine you were working at Nokia some years back and you just made a record year but at the same time both the iPhone as well as Android were going viral. If you would have known back then what the future had in store, then you would have switched to Samsung, Google or Apple and would now be an affluent star instead of a jobless dinosaur. What are the 5 signs you should have picked up?
1. Viral competitors
If your competitors are having more potential customers than they can cater for and your company hasn’t: red alert.
2. Lack of leadership
Can you name any Nokia CEO before Elop? [Author of the worst CEO email ever, the one about leaving the burning oil platform but offer no place to go].
3. Many new products but no successes
Remember the first touchscreen Nokia phone. I can not belief anybody liked that product.
4. Growth by expansion
Nokia was growing revenues not because they sold more units in Europe or the US but because they expanded very aggressively globally. Their money maker was their most basic product line that was sold in developing countries. This was in contrast with their competitors that were growing like crazy in Nokia’s key markets.
5. Old technology that is not user friendly
Remember those J2ME times. You wrote apps and packed them in a format that in theory could work everywhere. However users would have to be very persuasive to actually install your application because they would go through several scary dialogues about them really being sure they wanted to install this package.
Who is working in the next Nokia?
Any telecom employee!
1.Viral competitor: viral Facebook/WhatsApp and Google/Hangout
2. Leadership: Except for Cesar Alierta, name 3 telecom CEOs?
3. New products: any new products your operator launched that you were not ashamed to show your friends? Anybody???
4. Growth by expansion: Telefonica’s cash cow = Latin America. Spain is economically dead for them. WhatsApp is growing strong in Spain.
5. Old technology: SS7. No further argument needed.
Any other industries?
Retail vs. eCommerce [Bezos against the world]. Retail banking vs. PayPal/Stripe/Square/etc. HP/Dell/IBM vs. AWS/Azure/etc. VMWare vs. OpenStack.
If you think/know your company or industry is on the list, then nothing better to do then to start crafting your CV and to get up to speed on the competitor’s innovations. Several ex-Nokia experts found good jobs at Apple and Google in the early days. Waiting means you get to see how a new CEO can burn down a successful empire in 24 months…