Tuesday Dec 11, 2007

NESSI's Research & Projects

There then followed a series of presentations about the current approach to research and most interestingly presentations from the leading strategic projects. These can be found on the NESSI's AGM page on their web site.

This was followed by cocktails. Very nice!

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Coming soon...servicenet

A EU funded attempt to create an academic Network of Excellence, led by University of Dusberg-Essen, called S\*Cube. There are 16 partner universities who will all participate equally, the UK partner is City University, London.

Dr. (Klaus) Pohl, predicted that the nature of the Internet was going to change so radically, that its name should be changed. His vision is of a network of services. Will the transition from a network of computers to a network of things require new network paradigms and protocols? Will it challenge the Atomic locking single write-ahead log database?

Dr. Pohl exposed a research framework, that analysed Service Technology as the existence and interfaces between business processes, Service Components and Service engineering. These need to be created which requires engineering knowledge and science and monitoring and adapting, which are classified as Service Engineering. It is felt that interfaces between these domains can also be developed and the S-Cube research is looking at developing knowledge from current intellectual property around BPM, grid, systems engineering and service management.

S-Cube have a web site coming on line with a pre-registration feature.

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The ambition of Open Systems

Prof. Carlo Ghezzi, of the Politecnico di Milano, presented on Academic/Corporate collaboration and among other things examined the drivers of macro-change in open world. He argued that inter-operability is not enough, and that both a series of what he called self-\* qualities are required such as self-healing, self-configuration etc. He also again identified the self-advertisement as a new problem to allow services to be discovered and used.

I wonder if these ambitions are contrary to the classic inspection and vote that takes place in today's clusters.

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Software, economics and society

We have just heard from Dr. Frans De Bruïne and Ken Ducatel, the former talked about the need for Security, to guard against global warming and the demographic time bomb; Europe is not just interested in health care because of the socialists. The ageing population is a jeopardy to the wealth engine of work and the various governments and commission all have different responses (Oh Boy!).

He stated that for instance in Holland, they're playing with a government 'Facebook' page. Will this lead to you having to document your car insurance, child support liabilities and private pension provision on-line in a government portal. The latter might help keep track of what the insurance companies owe you, but do you really want this hackable, or publishable at the will of politicians and civil servants? Despite these fears it is a possible first step to a real EU Web 2.0 and user created content, I am not sure what value one can create through communities in such a portal. It would also need some serious investment in reaching all the EU's citizens, both in the network and server infrastructure to reach everyone, but also in client access ubiquity. Not everyone has access to a computer, although most have phones and the ipod touch with its wi-fi is an interesting and probably popular innovation of the internet hand held device. Wi-fi is neither as ubiquitous, nor as cheap as in the US yet, and I suspect it varies massively with the EU.

He also spoke about how in Germany, networked medical care systems in the home allowed patients to be discharged earlier, thus saving money. Presumably the IT reduces the number of relapses.

Ducatel argued that the US uses its its (minimal, except for defense) public requirement to seed ICT innovation. I wonder if this is because US business has a greater appetite to build its own code. The flip side of this is that "Europe under uses Software". Its an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity for supply, but commercial stove piping inhibits the growth opportunity.

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Driving change on the internet

The first key note was from Dr. Joao Schwarz Da Silva, a Director from the Commission's ICT. He envisioned a network of services driven by trends easily observable today. These are,

  • Social Networks
  • Digital Production
  • Virtual Worlds
  • Internet of Things

Much of the consideration around social networks seems around how to monetise the size of the network. The value created by cooperation seems always to be under valued. Dr. Da Silva predicted that the growth of social networks and user created content would lead to the growth of what he calls Digital Production. At its most simple, this will be just allowing mashups on a home page, however more complex models such as the tools for machinima or audio manipulation are clearly here today, it'll be interesting to see where this goes.

I am more questioning that virtual worlds will become ubiquitous and powerful problem solving tools. It is clear that World of Warcraft is a hugely popular both social network and digital world, but we have spent 1000's of years devising two dimensional representations of most of the problems we seek to solve. We need new representational metaphors before 3D rendering and virtual worlds become serious problem solving devices. I mentioned this earlier in the year. These criticisms are before considering that a Social Network needs to leverage the wisdom of crowds, or at least the wisdom of huddles. Facebook's visual {book/DVD} shelf works because you can see what both your close friends and strangers say about the books and films you're interested in. You can see what everyone, or at least your friends recommend. An interesting counterpoint though is that if you consider electronic gaming to be a social network, then sharding reduces the wisdom of crowds; you can only learn  from the wisdom of a shard. There's lots of work to do before 3D and/or Virtual Worlds truly take off.

He then looked at how in a network of services, one discovers anything useful. So this is partly how does one discover any content, such as images (tags), houses (attributes) etc., but for services we expect a directory solution. There isn't yet a directory of internet services.

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Tuesday May 22, 2007

New Business Models for the Particpation Age

Today, Don Tapscott, author of "Wikinomics" presented a keynote about how mass-collaboration is changing the way that value is created in the world economy. This stems from both software functionality and network economies of scale. Obviously the enablement of new forms of economic co-operation is also a factor at continuing to drive specialisation. Tapscott quotes Carr's "IT does matter" and mentions that he has often debated with him, which is hard because Carr is good, but he (Tapscott) says "I have an advatage in this debate, he's wrong". The last three days has made me question about how one can innovate in corporate IT.

He told a story about being on TV, "Surfing the Net" and his kids cut him down to size by suggesting it was on par with surfing the TV or fridge. "I'm browsing the fridge for content!". (I thought this was really funny, but my kids tell me its not!) Amongst the younger generation, time online is at the expense of TV, and online activity is today a more creative & participatory act than watching TV, going to the Movies or a Play, or using the early web. The drive to participation makes all content collaborative and he has banned the term "web site" due to the owning author implications.

He then examined what Google, Ebay and Amazon really are, and argued that they are digitial conglomerates. Google sells ads, which makes it a media company, but its also a retailer, broker and bank. "This is not a bubble!". The creation and existence of new-age conglomerates, requires the examination of why a firm exists. Classically, its about transaction costs and the benefits of specialisation. As people cease to be labour in a knowldege economy and accounting costs drop to zero, the costs of doing business across the corporate firewall drop and business have created extended enterprises and latterly business webs. The next transformation will be mass collaboration and peer-production. (Interestingly, Tapscott quoted a mutual fund example of a folksonomy based co-operative, but I didn't write it down. Can any readers add those they know as comments?)

He summarised his presentation with an examination of the seven new business models he's identified as enabling in the new world of mass collaborations and pointing to his use of a Wiki to develop the ideas, much to the chagrin of his publishers, who are trying to work out how and if they can publish a volume two. They shouldn't worry, I certainly intend to check out the wiki and probably get the book.

This article was written over time from contemporaneous notes and back dated to near the time of occurance.

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More Futurology, Gartner's "Emerging Trends"

I am in Barcelona, attending Gartner's European Symposium and Expo. They have two of these each year and the spring event is positioned as broader and more forward looking. It was opened by a tour de force from Peter Cole, (CEO) and six of their top researchers. Later discussions brought home to me that one needs to be very carefull when listening to clever people, as sometimes one (i.e. I ) can assume that they mean the same things as yourself, this isn't always so.

I do wonder however whether their Macro-economic analysis is based too strongly on financial volume and on their boundary definition of IT. Just because our children don't see what they do as using IT, doesn't mean that it is not IT.

Another key insight I obtained here, is that there is a debate between those who think that IT as an industry is entering a maturity stage and those who don't. I should really have known this. Some IT companies are (very successfully) betting their future on the first view. I believe that because IT is dependent on software, which is not constrained by the laws of physics, it will continue to evolve rapidly and that its evolution will remain a source of value and wealth creation in the developed world for a while to come. This means that IT and most importantly, company's software portfolios will remain a source of differentiation and competitive advantage. Another point made to me is that peer based collaboration or community development may inhibit, ignore or exclude the genius that provokes radical change. It's an interesting point of view and one that community wranglers may need to think about.

A fair amount of time has been spent talking about "Green IT". Gartner's late arrival to this issue can be forgiven due the bravery of launching thier programmes in the USA, where they may be able to begin to remove the partisanship from the issue. 

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Friday Mar 30, 2007

Sun's Connected Customers

Steve Wilson led a presentation about the changing nature of Sun's connected customer response and where the provisioning and image maintenance tools now sit. This means that he's responsible for network support, subscription services and what's left of our N1 management suite.

At the centre of the proposed customer solution is the N1SM satellite server. (I say at the centre, arguably the centre is in Sun's Data Centres, at the centre of the customer deployment.) The next release due over the summer re-architects this. It has become multi-process, with a central core with proxy agents. This permits its deployment and operation within complex network topologies and so it can support complex data centre networks architectures. i.e. This introduces firewall support. Communication between the satellite and its proxies is over https/RSS. In my mind this is mega! Together, which Richard McDougall's insights, about host and guest properties (which I have not yet published) of the operating system there is an opportunity to continue to innovate the Solaris code lines to deliver huge benefit, to the discomfort of other os developers.

The remote connection will have discovery capability and will permit data centre managers to control their engagement with their support vendors. These are designed to upload limited information to Sun's Asset Portal. Today and tomorrow, the customer located technology will remain available as a technology i.e. it can be bought, and the last word in customer privacy will remain with the customer. The hope is that Sun's support will be more effective as we know more about the customer's supported assets and some ways, the conversational relationship is the same as explorer.

The third product talked about in detail was Sun MC, the management centre, this now includes container manager which is the "simple" GUI interface into the virtualisation technology. Its a technology Sun's had for a long time, and some long due maintenance is being undertaken. Version 4.0 will be released some over the long summer, and will include replacing Oracle with Postgres, and the expansion of the platforms supported to reflect the development of Sun's product line. This will therefore include the X86/x64 systems.

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Monday Mar 26, 2007

The Future of Solaris, by the man that makes it happen

Jeff Jackson, VP of Solaris opened our conference. He's now been in the job for a while and is beginning to stamp his own ideas on the future of Sun's implementation of OpenSolaris. He characterised his view as moving from function to velocity; velocity has a direction. He wants Solaris releases to meet a customer constituency rather than become the result of a race between his developers.

Another key direction, in meeting our "best on Solaris" goal, his different teams are being asked/told to align with each other, commit to and utilise each others products to ensure our most committed customers get synergy from our developers and development budget.

He announced that Sun is going to place more of its system software into open source, including both Sun Ray & Cluster and that this should be happening soon.

He spoke about the need to strategise around open source. I'm not a fan of the word strategy, it tends to be overused and is often very obviously about knowing what you want and measuring your actions against it. However it also means understanding your choices and their consequences; we need to know what are we looking for, how do the communities govern themselves, how do co-developers join in, how do we empower our customers and collaborators & how do we monetise the open source.

Jeff spoke to us about the consequences of the Sun/Intel agreements. Intel are going to OEM Solaris and they endorse it as the operating system of choice for mission critical applications. This would be less important if Intel weren't the source of the infamous white boxes. Its obvious that their competitors will need to respond and we should watch this space.

It's clear to me that Rich Green, who is interviewed here on www.sun.com is beginning to make a difference, we're finally fixing our arrogance, a fact re-inforced by Ian Murdock, who recently joined Sun, you can't have missed it and also spoke this a.m. He emphasised that he's hoping to help Sun learn from the Linux community because people still choose it and there remain some good reasons to do so. It worked for me; on reflecting what he said, I came to the conclusion we need to do better. Its about substance not presentation.

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Thursday Dec 14, 2006

The Future for HP/UX is dull

I have been researching Sun's competitive position against HP. It's clear to me that HP, when they think about IT as opposed to ink, agree with Nick Carr and his thesis "IT doesn't matter". Mark Hurd (HP CEO) in the highlights of his keynote speech [.mp3] to Oracle World earlier this year (November) stated that their IT would contain

no proprietary infrastructure...... consisting of proliant and "c" class blades, linux, network storage, dynamic smart cooling, integrated racks

No room for HP/UX! Nor for Itanium! No wonder the HP/UX roadmap is so ephemeral. My colleague Matias Alonso, has also written about this direction from HP and finishes his article with the comment that even HP prefer the cost of open source to their own proprietary fees, which presumambly they rebate, so the TCO must be pretty poor.

It's already been damaged as a platform by the requirement to recompile or develop in order to transition from HP PA RISC to Itanium, and neither HP/UX nor Itanium have the volumes to retain and recruit developers. This discontinuity is a true tippining point; if you have to spend money on the application, you'd prefer (as Hurd himself says earlier in the speech) to spend it on improving the business logic, not extending its life.

HP-UX 11i v3 has slipped again to next year [1] and is now over 2½ years late. Given it only runs on HP's Itanium, perhaps the demand's not there! A prediction of this sorry state of affairs was made Sun when it published over 15 months ago an article "Reality Check: HP-UX has no future!", on its web site.

The chart below has been built from an article at IT jungle, analysing HP's most recent earnings call. Now that HP/UX is only available on Itanium, it is part of 'Business Critical Systems' (which is the extruded segment.)

 

 

HP's results last quarter 

 

Business Critical Systems (BCS) earned $987m during the quarter selling Itanium, PA-RISC, MIPS and Alpha based systems The Itanium revenues grew (representing 45% of the revenue) but HP do not publish the Linux/HP-UX breakdown any more. These earnings represent a year on year decline because the growth in Itanium systems is insufficient to compensate HP for the decline in the older proprietary PA-RISC and Alpha systems. The one thing we do know is that HP-UX only represents a part of the BCS revenues. Is this enough to keep HP interested? Is it enough to keep the ISVs interested? ISV's that want an Itanium port, will probably choose Linux. I think HP-UX's future is destined to add to HP's growing reputation as the IT industry's operating systems undertaker and join Ultrix, True64 and VMS in the hospice.

Hurd's Oracleworld speech streaming audio [.mp3]: the quote is at 3:10, you can find the whole speech with other keynote speakers on the Oracle World 2006's keynote speaker page. We can see HP's historic delivery of their roadmap,  HP's recent release history.

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Thursday Jun 15, 2006

Can we "commoditise" computing?

Again reflecting on some of the ideas generated from last week's Enron film; Enron's domination of the creation, distribution and exchange of gas and electricity created a vertically integrated monopoly. These require regulating or breaking up (or taking into public ownership). Also it seems to me that when trading becomes the 'raison d'etre' of a market, it offers very little value to the primary players. It made me wonder how the roles of primary provider, primary consumer, secondary traders and an exchange can be organised to enable a market, rather than distort it and if this can be applied to both bandwidth, which Enron experimented with, and CPU cycles. I've no real answer's today! More reading and listening....

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Derivative Trading or Gambling

I also discovered that Enron experimented with trading in weather and I'm not sure what they did, but its reminiscent of some ideas expressed in James Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds" where he explored the remarkable prescience of the University of Iowa's Electronic Markets for the prediction of political events, most obviously elections but also other political futures. (I read somewhere, during the last {UK} general election, that the most effective forecast for the result was the bookmaker's odds, this must be very disappointing to the polling organisations, but it seems a financial interest sharpens the mind.) Its also a fact that if you want to trade in weather, at least in the UK you have to go to Ladbrokes to bet on snow at Xmas.

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Wednesday May 31, 2006

Green Futures

I also looked through Green Futures, a magazine about sustainable development which I picked up at one of the Sun offices. It has attracted a number of corporate sponsors, including a number of energy companies and telcos (inc. BT) and surprisingly "First Choice" (one of the UKs biggest travel agents). One of the articles was about Holiday's in 2020 (see also this article..., I wonder if they're linked in anyway?).

The main feature was an article by Anthony Lovins, arguing that green energy is cheap energy and that nuclear is both poor environmentally, but also bad economics. (See http://www.rmi.org).

I may have to subscribe to this, and I don't see an RSS button. I was surprised when I first heard that Charles Andrews, had been talking to a UK Bank's board members about the brand value of a green data centre, but senior business executives are running with this stuff and I for one need to catch up.

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Thursday May 18, 2006

Food for Thought

Just looking back on Tuesday reminded me of various science fiction films and books. From William Gibson who in particular wrote about the Network, bio-feedback systems and AI, and obviously influenced the Wachowski Brother's Matrix, to James Cameron in Terminator 2: Judgement Day also spoke about how the network came alive. Marginally more benignly, Heinlen wrote about another computer that woke up in "The Moon is a harsh mistress". Some of John Ames presentation brought "Minority Report" to mind, at least the scene where John Anderton (Tom Cruise's character) is using the computers, but not anything to do with precognition.

It just goes to show, some of this is a lot closer than you might think.

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Monday May 15, 2006

The Wireless Doctor

We then visited a demonstration of the Healthcare supply chain, showing the use of database and proximity technologies (RFID & Barcode) for people, data and drugs. The real interest here is how the proximity technology enables cleverer and new applications which reinforces the demonstrations given by John Ames (See here...).

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