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Amazon AWS will continue to compete with its best customers…

If you thought Amazon’s Prime Instant Films is just an exception of Amazon trying to compete with its best customer then you are wrong. This is not an exception but a rule. Simon Wardley just explained why Amazon is fast following their best customers and why more companies should do it to, even in the physical world. The summary is:

If you don’t want to launch a 100 new services and assume failure on 90-95, then let others launch thousands and you commoditise the successful innovations.

So what does this mean?

It means that if you are a young startup that builds everything on AWS then they will just look at the traffic that goes through your servers. If all of a sudden they see that you are picking up more traffic then anybody else, then they will launch a competing solution shortly that commoditises your business. Since they have access to your solution they can actually look inside and see how it works and redesign a more optimised solution.

How to avoid your service to be commoditised by a fast follower?

First of all move faster than anybody else. Full automation is key. If you are faster to respond to customer’s needs then you will attract all customers in a winner takes it all market. Also follow lean startup and A/B testing. Do continuous experiments and only scale up engineering on a new feature after it was demonstrated to be successful with customers on a small scale test.

Second, don’t build for one cloud, build for multiple clouds. If you use cloud orchestration solutions that allow your solution to be moved from one cloud to another one then you are less likely to be trackable by one cloud provider. Treat the cloud providers like they are commodity and move your workloads where it makes more financial sense. Whatever you do, don’t get locked-in by some proprietary services because you will have a hard time moving out. Just ask Netflix how they feel about having their platform ran on top of their biggest competitor’s infrastructure without a chance of moving a way soon. Don’t want to be in their shoes? Use a cloud orchestration solution. Don’t know any open source? Check out Juju

Third, assume you will have fast followers when you start so try to put barriers of entry in place. A good strategy would be to build a business on top of a network effect. Examples: Facebook has over 1 billion users. The more users the more synergies. Even if you would steal away all the code from Facebook and launch Headbook you would not be successful. Network effect businesses tend to be a winner takes it all markets as a consequence. The other counter intuitive strategy is to strategically open source parts of your solution. If you open source parts of your solution then there is nobody that can offer a “cheaper” solution then your freely available solution. So the incentive of building another solution to compete with a free solution is low. Additionally you will get contributions from others hence your team will be able to run faster than anybody else. Finally open source does not mean zero revenue. Netflix has open sourced their architecture. This means they lower their cost and higher their innovation speed but since you don’t have access to their content library and the multiple content they create themselves, it is extremely hard to compete with them. So open source those parts that help your strategy…

5 Strategies for Making Money with the Cloud

January 22, 2013 1 comment

Everybody is hearing Cloud Computing on the television now. Operators will store your contacts in the Cloud. Hosting companies will host your website in the Cloud. Others will store your photos in the Cloud.

However how do you make money with the Cloud?

The first thing is to forget about infrastructure and virtualization. If you are thinking that in 2013, the world needs more IaaS providers then you haven’t seen what is currently on offer (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Rackspace, Joyent, Verizon/Terramark, IBM, HP, etc.).

So what are alternative strategies:

1) Rocket Internet SaaS Cloning

Your best hope is SaaS and PaaS. The best markets are non-English speaking markets. We have seen an explosion of SaaS in the USA but most have not made it to the rest of the world yet. Only some bigger SaaS solutions (Webex, GoToMeeting, Office 365, etc.)  and PaaS platforms (Salesforce, Workday, etc.) are available outside of the US and the UK. However most SaaS and PaaS solutions are currently still English-only. So the quickest solution to make some money is to just copy, translate and paste some successful English-only SaaS product. If you do not know how to copy dotcoms, take a look at how the Rocket Internet team is doing it. Of course you should always be open for those annoying problems everybody has that could use a new innovative solution and as such create your own SaaS.

2) SaaSification

During the gold rush, be the restaurant, hotel or tool shop. While everybody is looking for the SaaS gold, offer solutions that will save gold diggers time and money. SaaSification allows others to focus on building their SaaS business, not on reinventing for the millionth time a web page, web store, email server, search, CRM, monthly subscription billing, reporting, BI, etc. Instead of a “Use Shopify to create your online store”, it should be “Use <YOUR PRODUCT> to create a SaaS Business”.

3) Mobile & Cloud

Everybody is having, or at least thinking about buying, a Smartphone. However there are very few really good mobile services that fully exploit the Cloud. Yet I can get a shopping list app but most are just glorified to-do lists. None is recommending me where to go and buy based on current promotions and comparison with other buyers. None is helping me find products inside a large supermarket. None is learning from my shopping habits and suggesting items on the list. None is allowing me to take a number at the seafood queue. These are just examples for one mobile + cloud app. Think about any other field and you are sure to find great ideas.

4) Specialized IaaS

I mentioned it before, IaaS is already overcrowded but there is one exception: specialized IaaS. You can focus on specialized hardware, e.g. virtualized GPU, DSP, mobile ARM processors. On network virtualization like SDN and Openflow. Mobile and tablet virtualization. Embedded device virtualization. Machine Learning IaaS. Car Software virtualization.

5) Disruptive Innovations + Cloud

Selling disruptive innovations and offering them as Cloud services. Examples could be 3D printing services, wireless sensor networks / M2M, Big Data, Wearable Tech, Open Source Hardware, etc. The Cloud will lower your costs and give you a global elastically scalable solution.

Mobicents ‘ Restcomm is to Twilio what Eucalyptus is to Amazon

December 10, 2011 3 comments

In recent weeks I had the pleasure to talk to the team behind Mobicents. I have been pleasantly surprised by Restcomm. Restcomm is Twilio for the Private Cloud. Telco 2.0 SaaS for private cloud. Tropo APIs are also on the roadmap. Mobicents is starting a revolution by moving away from telecom standards and moving to the new Cloud telecom standards. Telecom engineers are no longer needed to make enticing value-added services. Any web developer can make telecom apps in minutes and integrate them with Web 2.0 and social networks.

Is Restcomm a threat for Twilio? Quite the contrary. Many larger companies did not want to move to Amazon because of fears of vendor lock-in. Eucalyptus brought a way for public cloud apps to move to a private cloud. Restcomm will allow companies to move their telco apps to the private cloud when they become a large hit. Developers could even start from a private cloud deployment and move apps to Twilio when spikes in demand happen, a.k.a. cloud bursting. In general Twilio is very likely going to get more customers instead of less by having a valid open source alternative.

Mobicents is also undergoing large changes. There has been a shift in direction at Red Hat and the Mobicents team started their own company called Telestax. The company is independent from Red Hat, however it will partner with Red Hat for telecom opportunities involving RHEL and JBoss products.

How to avoid becoming a bad Amazon-clone when doing IaaS?

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

In previous posts I already expressed my doubt about telecom operators getting any real benefits from offering virtual servers and other IaaS aspects to their customers. It looks like “a 2000 déjà vu” in which operators started to offer hosted email after Yahoo and other showed them the way…

So if you don’t want to be a bad clone of Amazon AWS what can you do?

Alternative 1: The Mobile IaaS

Operators are all about mobile communication. However creating mobile applications is hard. Testing them is even harder. Let alone testing them on different hand-sets in a continuous automated testing approach.

This is exactly the type of services that a mobile operator can offer:

  1. Mobile hardware virtualization – instead of virtualizing an x86, why not virtualize the phone hardware, e.g. Nvidia Tigra2. A mobile operating system (MOS) developer could choose which hardware to virtualize: the amount of ram, which sensors, which CPU, which graphics card, etc. Afterwards different flavors of operating systems can be ran on this hardware: iOS, Android, Blackberry OS, Symbian, Windows Phone 7, etc.
  2. Mobile operating system virtualization – For less experienced developers they can already pick a pre-configured phone, e.g. iPhone 4. Afterwards a developer can launch applications on the phone.
  3. Automated mobile phone testing – After installing the application on the phone or using the build in browser to access a remote application, a developer should be able to run automated tests. This would allow for a continuous testing approach whereby a new version of a mobile app or an HTML5 application can be automatically tested by a whole set of mobile devices.

The business model would be the same as virtual servers: you pay by the hour.

Alternative 2: Telecom Infrastructure as a Service

Why not offer telecom infrastructure as a service instead of pure virtual servers? Admitted, the boundry between IaaS, PaaS and SaaS might be thin but ideas can be the following:

  • Billing as a Service: this can go from offering a complete billing system as a service to MVNOs or other industries that need real-time billing capabilities. To the other extreme whereby you would only offer APIs for partners and developers to charge.
  • Numbering Plan as a Service: more then just offering DIDs, you should be able to create services and associate them to a number formed by shortcode+mobile phone+app id => 12367012345601 => calling this number would forward the call to the application 01 belonging to the mobile subscriber 670123456 and 123 means the owner pays the call. 234 could mean caller pays. 345 could mean caller pays premium call and gives revenue share to owner. This could allow every subscriber to have multiple applications without having to pay €1-€5 for a virtual phone number.

Alternative 3: Mobile Development IaaS

Different from the mobile IaaS in the sense that we focus on facilitating the development and hosting of applications for mobiles. Developers would find tools to develop mobile application interfaces very easily. You write it once and run it on a large set of different mobile devices. Services like mobile push notification, device detection, charging, etc. should also be available. Also the hosting is optimized for mobile applications in which you have very strict low-latency and unreliable connectivity requirements.

Alternative 4: Beat Amazon AWS at Bootstrapping, Configuration Management, and other cloud operation automatization

If you are going to offer virtual servers, focus enormously on the bootstrapping and configuration management. Amazon and others have virtual images that allow a quick deployment of an existing configuration. However that is good if your application is stable and your software stack needs few modifications. Real-life applications and business solutions need a lot more flexibility. Setting up a database cluster, a webserver/proxy/memcache farm, a high-availability loadbalancer, an application server cluster, etc. are very manual tasks on most public clouds. True you can get an image with an apache, tomcat and mysql pre-configured, but you do not get a multi-node cluster image. To solve this you could use software like Chef or Puppet for provisioning and ControlTier or Capistrano for command & control. See my other blog post

Alternative 5: Be the Salesforce for Telecom & Mobile Applications

This is more PaaS then SaaS but being a Telco PaaS in which in a Salesforce.com style you can use Web 2.0 and drag-and-drop to create mobile and telecom applications. Instead of having to code, people can create application via visual designers.

Alternative 6: No.de/Heroku/etc. alternative for quick web & mobile front-ends combined with custom protocols and on-site systems

No.de is PaaS for applications written in Node.js a javascript language that allows for massively scalable applications to be quickly developed.

Heroku is a PaaS for Ruby applications.

These are language specific PaaS that are similar to Google App Engine (GAE).  Where GAE allows Java and Python, No.de has Javascript and Heroku has Ruby. Developers can very easily create applications. However GAE falls short writing front-end applications: Web GUI/Mobile HTML5 quickly. Also integration with non-HTTP protocols is not offered. Although the Internet lets you believe HTTP and FTP are the only protocols out there, there are literally thousands of binary, alternative standards and proprietary systems that large enterprises can not do without. Examples in the telecom industry are RTSP, SS7, etc.  If you can combine the speed of developing modern front-end together with the integration with legacy systems, binary protocols, on-site systems, etc. then you can have a large advantage when corporations want to move their back-office to the cloud.

Alternative 7: The Zoho/37 Signals for Telecom Applications

Zoho and 37 Signals are companies specialized in creating one-purpose mini applications for small and medium enterprises. Instead of a Siebel, Zoho will give you a basic CRM that works out of the box and has virtually no learning curve.

Zoho allows others to build applications on their infrastructure as well and resell them.

The same concept could be applied to telecom. Mini telecom applications like a PBX in the Cloud, SMS marketing, etc. are build on a common infrastructure. Externals can extend the application portfolio and resell them.

Alternative 8: Hosted PaaS

Instead of offering PaaS you offer a hosted PaaS infrastructure for enterprises. Each enterprise gets their own PaaS. Companies like Longjump and WSO2 are in this market. Be sure to add in some telecom assets…

Puppets on the wire – Automatic Cloud Operations

January 29, 2011 2 comments

In the past automatic deployment of software was something that a handfull of data center specialists dominated. However the cloud is changing this needs. If you need to deploy a battery of web servers, application servers, database clusters, nosql farm, etc. then you need to think of automatic software deployment from day one. Additionally you might have to deploy applications on Google App Engine, Azure, Amazon EC2/S3/etc., Rackspace, GoGrid, etc.

The three core areas to automate are:

  1. Cloud Provisioning
  2. Configuration Management and Automation
  3. Monitoring

Cloud Provisioning

The main advantage of the Cloud is its capability to autoscale. If you get more requests during the day, you turn up more machines. If you get less during the night then you switch some off. You can even do autoscaling by the hour or less. Since you pay by the hour, your costs will match your revenues.

There are many tools available to provision a Linux machine: Cobbler, Kickstart, OpenQRM (includes Windows), Spacewalk, Viper, xCat, Fully Automated Installation (FAI), etc.

These installers can be handy when we are talking about a private cloud. However in case a public cloud is used, we are more likely to want to use the public APIs offered by public Cloud providers to provision machines. Unfortunately there are no standard APIs in public Cloud land yet. The best option is to use tools or APIs that can handle multiple clouds: e.g.  Openstack, JClouds, Fog, Deltacloud, etc. Using one API to deploy on multiple clouds is key to avoid vendor lock-in.

The truth to be said, there is no clear winner in this space yet because most solutions have limitations and customization will be required. However expect very active development to happen in the coming months.

Configuration Management and Automation

The clear marketleader in this area is Puppet, which becomes even better when combined with mCollective. Puppet is a client/server configuration management solution that allows you to describe what you want to install and configure in a abstraction language. mCollective adds real-time notification. The whole solution is very powerful, although some learning will be required before you are up and running.

Other solutions in this space are: AutomateIT, bcfg2, cfengine, chefSmartFrog, etc.

Additionally there are tools whose focus is not on the software installation but instead on the deployment of applications once the main software stack is installed. Examples are: ControlTier, Capistrano, Fabric, etc.

Monitoring

With multiple servers, solutions and applications spread over multiple cloud providers, you need to monitor. Monitor to see if they are available, but also monitor to see if you need to switch on extra capacity or if it is safe to switch off some capacity.

The main solutions in this domain are: Nagios, Zenoss, OpenNMS, Zabbix, etc.

Other thoughts

Creating an automatec stack of tools to provision, deploy and monitor is an initial investment that will pay itself back very quickly. Other systems could be added to the stack like inventory and asset tracking, software version control, build automation, etc. In general there is no easy solution that gives you everything and this is where open source communities should focus their attention: bringing it all together and simplifying so we do not need experts…

Creating Telecom Network Apps the Cloud Way: Telephone 2.0!

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Ask a Telecom architect how you create a telecom network application, often dubbed as value-added services. He or she will focus on SIP/SS7 standards, service delivery platforms, etc.

The future of cloud-based telecom network apps, let’s call them tapps, is going a totally different direction. For the former telecom architect they probably like open source solutions like Mobicents that allows you to create SIP-based applications on Java. The Asterisks and other types of VoIP application servers are other alternatives.

However for a new generation of Web-based programmers this is all too complex. These are the programmers that like Javascript, Ajax, JSON,  PHP, Ruby, etc.

The majority of them will be fine with whatever Twilio or Tropo offer via easy to use REST APIs or embedded in their favorite scripting language. Which cloud-based application needs more than calling, SMS, answering the phone, getting feedback from the user, telling the use what to do, putting multiple users in a conference, transcribing what the user does, forwarding a call, etc.? 95% of the functionality is covered with a handful of REST APIs.

For business developers that are more used to Java, they can also use Java APIs to access for instance Twilio. To be able to cheaply launch an application and scale it afterwards they could deploy it on Google App Engine. A new alternative has just come around from Amazon: Elastic Beanstalk. A developer can write their app and deploy it on Beanstalk. They no longer have to worry about monitoring, scaling, opening firewalls, etc.

Other alternatives are to extend Cloud-ready telecom applications via plug-ins. An example here could be Twilio’s OpenVBX in which you can easily add new plug-ins.

The conclusion is that 2011 will be the year in which Web 2.0 and the Cloud meet the Telephone 2.0. However the Telephone 2.0 will unlikely pass through Bluevia and other operator initiatives given the fact that they are running about two years late and are very scattered, slow-moving initiatives.

Operators should embrace the new reality and try to help these new applications find new users. The Appstore brought a new eco-system to life. Millions of small and medium-sized Telephone 2.0 applications are waiting to be discovered by Billions of users. Remember that not everybody can pay an expensive mobile with an expensive data plan. However there are billions that can pay for cheap call and SMS-based applications. We need to help the billions find those tapps that are useful to them…

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