Friday, October 9, 2009

Welcome to the Cloud Everyone!

I find it interesting how some of us have always envisioned a computing world based on "cloud" technologies while others are just figuring out what cloud means. I started getting into virtualization technologies back in 1993 during an internship in the Artificial Intelligence Group at Eaton/Cutler-Hammer. A student in Computer Engineering at MSOE at the time, I used the FIDE package (Fuzzy Inference Development Environment) to do research on fuzzy logic. I could mimic the Motorola MC68HC11 micro-controller which opened my eyes to the realty of our compute stack. Each layer is an abstraction not for the benefit of the machine, but for the benefit of the human. A CPU cannot differentiate between code at the micro, operating system, or application levels. Packages, libraries, databases, user interfaces all look the same.

About this time I was asked by our neighbor back at home, President of Ameritech's business services division, what I felt the next big thing in computing would be in ten years. I was off on the timing but I replied "Hey, you guys in the phone company have lots of big computers. I think the future is running the applications I want on those machines and charging me only for what I use. You have way more power than I could ever afford because I only need it for a few nanoseconds at a time." My father, a first generation Computer Engineer, reminded me of the conversation earlier this year.

Post-graduation I worked for General Motors via EDS on the Powertrain Embedded Sytems and Controls team where I developed and managed the teams developing components of the Engine Control Module code as well as development utilities such as Cal-Tools and WinVLT. Again we used software to emulate hardware further cementing my belief that the hardware was, in some form, a commodity.

Fast forward to the Linux movement around 1996 when I saw the value of open source as a form of virtualization; consolidating the logic of various systems into a common, open application for everyone to learn and expand. Open source had few proponents in business but that didn't stop friends and I from trying to move an outdated call center outsourcer out of the mainframe age into the internet age. We didn't succeed, not for a lack of technical capability, but for a lack of salesmanship but that's another story for another post. We did succeed in demonstrating the value of open source, and once we did there was no going back (at least for us, the company, sadly regressed to a number of failed implementations including Lotus Notes - whose idea was that!?!?! - and eventually folded into the pages of history being acquired by an Indian firm).

So around 2002 I ran smack into an idea I called serverless computing. The idea is based upon that fundamental realization that most constructs of computing are for our benefit. So why, then, do we need servers? We invented the idea of a server to help us branch out from one system to two. Client. Server. Easy! But what if the client also acts as a server? Preposterous everyone told me. Crazy. Insane! Never! I submitted a paper to multiple outlets, including my employer IBM, but nobody would give it a second look (honestly I bet most didn't look at it a first time either).

Ok. I took a step back, did some research on grid computing and peer to peer networks and realized I wasn't wrong, simply nobody I talked to could see the light.

Well I welcome those who do. Important people like those at Cisco and EMC who have finally understood the operating system is a limitation. I expect now that they're thinking, that thinking will evolve and they'll realize it's not just the OS but how development environments, platforms, and the very concept of a centralized data center are significant limitations with inherent cost disadvantages. Let's move to a new model which frees us from the limitations of the physical which has always been the interface boundary for innovation!

Welcome to the Cloud! Welcome to the Party!

For more on Serverless Computing read the unpublished paper Serverless Computing.

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