Cloud Computing and Barriers to Entry

Part two of my early December trip took to me Shefayyim, Israel, for the IGT 2009 World Cloud Computing Summit. I'll admit to being biased when visiting Israel for technology reasons, because the so much in the country convolves the best of hard-charging technologists, the "pioneer spirit" (what Americans would call entrepreneurial efforts, but applied from agriculture to housing to immigration), and some seriously spicy food.

I'll start with the food, where I managed to eat what I could say in Hebrew: ice coffee, eggs, blintz, cheese, grapefruit, and chareef (spicy pepper sauce). This trip I upgraded to Breakfast 2.0 and distinguished chareef adom (red pepper harissa) from chareef yarok (green Scotch Bonnet pepper condiments, assured to damage your taste buds). I also know the Hebrew word for "horse" but fortunately it wasn't a breakfast option.

Best part of the show around the show was spending time with MBA students from Tel Aviv University who wanted to understand the implications of cloud computing for Israeli companies. They seeded me with questions: Do Israeli companies have any advantages in the market and would cloud computing make it harder for new companies to enter the infrastructure markets?

I based my answer on my first visit to Israel in the 1980s, when finding a working pay phone to call back to the States was an adventure in locating special-purpose tokens for the phones, finding a phone that felt like working, and then hoping that the time zones aligned when I had enough coins for the call. Almost two decades later, I visited Israel again: everyone had at least one cell phone and I had my choice of cellular carriers -- at the top of Masada, on the edge of the desert. I believe the lack of a built-out landline infrastructure stimulated the mobile uptake, and as a result the Israeli consumer is much more used to the cell phone as an data access endpoint. Creating software as a service or applications delivered over wireless networks is much easier when it's ingrained in the social fabric of the developers and the more seasoned managers.

While my interviewers were looking for me to present challenges for new companies entering the market, I described why I think cloud computing may reduce barriers to entry. Abstraction (through virtualization) hides implementation details, making it easier for cloud computing providers to change, upgrade or extend implementations without disrupting the services running on top of them. Have a better idea for a router, storage switch, VPC manager, or other device that would sit in the consumer-to-disk data path? Provided that its provisioning, operation and installation are hidden through the virtualization engines exposed to the user, you're only dealing with the provider's installed base, not the installed base of the installed base of users.

Finally, I got the required question about military experience and any benefits it might provide in cloud computing. My view of defense-related applications (whether using or building them) is that they have three strong requirements: security, reliability, and correctness (auditability, consistency, and known failure modes, for starters). Those tend to be the same issues raised as concerns around cloud computing, so I see something of a natural fit between in-country expertise and in-cloud demands.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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