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…
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.
Cloudify, from the scalability experts GigaSpaces, is still its early stages. Unlike Google App Engine, Azure, Heroku, etc. this PaaS is more focused on the application life cycle and not on being a “transparent” application server and database. The main focus is automating application and services deployment, monitoring, autoscaling, etc. The closest competitor would be Scalr.
Unlike Scalr, Cloudify’s focus is on Cloud-neutrality. Cloudify is not focusing on using specific Amazon services for scalability but instead to make a neutral Cloud platform. The advantage is that every possible Cloud being it private or public can be used and scenarios like hybrid clouds with Cloud bursting from private to public cloud are possible. The deep understanding of large-scale architectures in a company like GigaSpaces is a guarantee that Cloudify will scale in the future.
Cloudify is still missing some important functionality like security, multi-tenancy, integrations with lower-level automation frameworks (e.g. Chef and Puppet), complex upgrade management [e.g. rolling upgrades, MySQL schema upgrades, A/B testing of new features, etc.], etc. However the roadmap is pointing towards most of these items.
Software architects should understand the possibilities Cloudify, Scalr, etc. bring. By having a reusable automation framework companies are able to spend more development and operations time on bringing new business features and less on reinventing the wheel.
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…
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?
Most operators have a mobile portal in which end-users can buy games, applications, ringtones, etc. Several operators have a legacy of server hosting, email hosting, and other business services. Some operators have a marketplace where small medium enterprises can buy SaaS. Others are thinking or building a private cloud and want to become an infrastructure as a service provider. Often to avoid legacy hosting to disappear.
There can be reasons why a small, medium or large enterprise wants to use the infrastructure from an operator compared to a public cloud: SLAs, quality of network service, security, etc. Price is very likely not going to be one of them. Neither will be innovation or flexibility because here the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft are almost impossible to beat.
So why is it that operators think that IaaS is their preferred strategy to enter the cloud? I have no idea but my opinion is that it is easier to start with SaaS and work down to PaaS then to start at IaaS and work upwards. IaaS will have hyper-competition and very small margins as a consequence…
An alternative telco cloud strategy
Operators often have a direct sales channel towards medium-sized enterprises. By offering a SaaS marketplace they could extend the amount of services they are providing towards these medium enterprises. After reaching a tipping point, smaller enterprises will likely follow via direct web-based purchases. However reselling SaaS can never be a long-term strategy.
SaaS should be an initial start of a new customer relationship. Operators should focus on selling complete solutions focused on a specific industry or problem domain. Examples:
* Healthcare – web, mobile, tablet, TV and SMS patient reminder & reservation system, health-care call-center as a service, farmacy locator,web-based medicine reservation system, etc.
* Restaurant – web, mobile, tablet, TV and SMS table reservation system, online menu web hosting, group-based or community food purchasing service, special deals á la groupon.com, etc.
* Car dealers – web, mobile, tablet, TV and SMS maintenance reminder & reservation system, parts-locator call-center as a service, etc.
The operator should not focus on inventing these services but instead on creating the tools, the eco-system and the community for smaller IT shops and other to come up with scalable niche services.
To fully utilize a SaaS an SME needs help: training, configuration, customization, integration, etc. For this you need a services marketpace closely linked to your SaaS marketplace. As well as a long tail support solution.
The Long Tail Telco PaaS
To be really able to offer long tail services, operators need to have a long tail Telco Paas. A Telco PaaS is like a Google App Engine, combined with Google App Marketplace, combined with Twilio/OpenVBX, combined with charging on your invoice, combined with open standards like OpenID, oAuth,SIP, etc.
Not clear??? A small company knows best what another small company need. However they do not have the infrastructure to reach and help thousands of other small companies in the world that have the same problem. This is where the operator should help both with global communication and IT solutions. A small company should not be focusing on installing a CRM, call center, ERP, etc. if they want to help others configuring and customizing a health care reminder service. They should have specialists in the health care reminder service and should be able to purchase the rest from the Long Tail Telco’s marketplace. They should also be able to auction a request for legal assistance, escrow-service, translation, etc., basically an all-in deal. The operator should focus on business communication in the broad sense, not the telephone service sense…