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.
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.
Every company is using Microsoft Office and especially Excel to do some sort of data analytics. However data volumes have grown exponentially and have outgrown Spreadsheets. You need experts in the business domain, in data analytics, in data migration/extraction/transformation/loading, in server management, etc. to get data analytics done on Big Data scale. This makes it expensive and only usable for the happy few.
Why? There must be easier ways to do it.
I think there are. For those unfamiliar with data analytics but eager to learn, you should take a look at a product called RapidMiner. It is close to amazing how a non-expert is able to use Neural Networks, Decision Trees, Support Vector Machines, Genetic Algorithms, etc. and get meaningful results in minutes. The amazing part is also that RapidMiner is open source hence for usage by 1 analyst it is free.
Rapid-i.com, the company behind RapidMiner, also offers server software to run data analytics remotely. It is here where big data opportunities meet easy data analytics. What if RapidMiner data analytics could be ran on hundreds of servers in parallel and you pay by usage just as you pay for any Cloud compute and storage instances?
RapidMiner as a Service
RapidMiner as a Service, RMaaS, would allow millions of business people to be able to analyse Big Data “without Big Investments”. This type of Data Analytics as a Service would provide any SME with the same data analytics tools as large corporations. Data could come from Amazon S3, Amazon’s DynamoDB, Hosted Hadoops, any webservices, any social network, etc.
Visual as a Service
RapidMiner as a Service is only one of the many domain specific tools that could be offered as a visual drag-and-drop Cloud service. VAS as a Service is another example in which complex telecom assets can be easily combined in a drag-and-drop manner. There are many more. These services will be the real revolution of Cloud Computing since they combine IaaS/PaaS/SaaS into a new generation of solutions that bring large savings for new users and potential large revenues for their providers…
When the first television shows were made they used one camera to record a theatre play. It was only after some time that the real potential of the television became clear.
Virtualization and IaaS is like a one-camera-theatre-play-broadcast
Yes it is great to be able to put software on virtual hardware and as such save some money in hardware costs. But it will not change anybody’s life because renting a virtual server full-time is more expensive than renting a physical hosting server. Companies that focus too much on virtualization and IaaS are not seeing the full potential of Cloud Computing.
Multi-tenancy – a game changer
Cloud Computing without mult-tenant solutions is like a race car without an engine. Making one solution that fits many and installing it once and managing it in one place is the real game changer.
How much time and money is lost in a per customer install? Ordering and installing hardware (4-6 weeks); paying for base software (OS, Cluster, Database, etc.); installing the total software stack; integration with back-up, fault management, single sign-on, performance management, third-party systems, etc.; upgrading and bug fixing; data migrations; etc.
All this can be drastically reduced if the software is installed once and designed for multiple companies and customers.
Best-In-Class solutions used to be those solutions with most features from market-leading companies like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, etc. However most of these solutions are unnecessarily complex. There is a simple rule to check if you will be overpaying for unnecessary features: Do my business users need training? The more, the worst.
Apple has demonstrated that simplicity and easy-of-use are real demand creators. The real revolution of Cloud Computing is starting now. The real revolution is that business users can ignore the legacy corporate IT systems and use alternative solutions to get things done faster and more efficiently. The Appstore concept of “There is an app for everything”, will now be translated into “There is a SaaS for everything”.
Project managers will stop asking the IT department to install a shared project management server to synchronize their MS-Projects. Instead they will simply use a SaaS solution for project management. The same will be happening for other disciplines.
IT departments can fight this trend, just like they can try to stop people from bringing smartphones and tablets to work. However smart IT departments see a clear opportunity. Corporate systems are very expensive and often their implementation fails. This wastes a lot of time and money. By letting business users choose the SaaS solutions they want to use, IT departments will see the risk of project failures due to change management issues almost disappear. Using SaaS solutions however does not mean that IT departments are no longer necessary. Once users are over their honeymoon period they will want these SaaS solutions to use Single Sign-on and be integrated with corporate systems and other SaaS solutions.
The next steps in the Cloud Revolution
The next step in the Cloud revolution will be solutions that make easy integration between on-site systems and between different SaaS solutions possible. Project managers will love to manage projects via a best-in-class project management SaaS. However they will still need to get time reporting info, travel expenses, resource allocation, etc. The reality will be that some of these systems can be offered via other SaaS solutions and some will be local. All of them will need to be integrated if the enterprise wants to get real benefits. History has a tendency to repeat itself. Middleware and EAIs are not death because of the Cloud. They just will become EAIaaS.
The other Cloud revolution is likely to give business users tools to create their own applications in the Cloud. This does not mean programming tools but instead drag-and-drop wizards and dynamic data storage solutions. There are millions of business critical applications stored in Excel and Access files. It is time that business users get the proper Cloud tools to convert these into social corporate solutions. Google Apps and Force.com are ahead of the rest but they are far from being the winner yet. The war has just started…
In previous articles I wrote about automating cloud operations as a key to successfully and quickly launching new services.
You can use Chef or Puppet to automate the deployment of servers. However neither solves some of the other problems with cloud operations: autoscaling and disaster recovery.
Scalr is relatively new and still a bit rough around the edges. However it has great promises to simplify deployment, automate scaling and quickly recover from server outage. Scalr uses the out-of-the-box functionality from Amazon to quickly bootstrap an environment via AMIs. Afterwards it implements an alternative autoscaling that does not rely on Amazon’s. Disaster recovery depends on the type of server but it can automatically recover from master database failure and other elements in a typical scalable web architecture.
Scalr is not only a good sample of the 80-20 rule in which they focus on the most common scenarios. However via a plugin mechanism it is very easy to extend. I expect other public cloud providers to contribute plugins in the near future.
At the moment Scalr is still rough around the edges but definitely with the right push of some startups and public cloud providers it should quickly mature. With some custom plugins a telecom operator that is thinking about IaaS and private clouds should definitely look at it and inspire themselves…
If you are trying to find out what the right hypervisor is for your private cloud or IaaS then you might be asking the wrong question…
Do most applications really need an OS and hypervisor is a better question?
One company of the companies that is exploring this area is Joyent. Thier SmartOS is like the mix between a virtual machine and a combined OS + hypervisor. Instead of installing a hypervisor, on top an operating system, on top an application server or database, the Joyent team thought it would be more efficient to try to remove as many layers as possible between the application/data and the hardware.
According to publicly available videos and material, their SmartOS is based on a telecom technology for high-scalable low-latency application operations. Unfortunately Google does not seem to be able to answer which telecom technology it is. So if you know the answer, please leave a comment.
The idea of running applications as close to the hardware as possible and being able to scale an application over multiple servers is the ultimate goal of many cloud architects. Joyent claims that their SmartOS runs directly on the hardware. On top of SmartOS you are able to install virtualization but ideally you run applications and data stores directly.
The next step would be to combine the operating system with the virtual machine/application server or database server into one. Removing more layers will greatly improve performance as can be seen by Joyent’s performance tests.
So the real question is: do we need so many extra layers?
A distributed storage system, a virtualized webserver, a virtualized app server, a distributed SQL-accessble database or NoSQL solution that would run straight on hardware with a minimal extension to distribute load over multiple machines would be the ideal IaaS/PaaS architecture. It would give customers what they really need: performance, scalability, low-latency, etc. Why add a large set of OS and hypervisor functions that at the end are not strictly necessary?