Tag Archives: managing innovation

The Cloud is Dead! Long Live the Cloud!

The last few months have presented several large “black eyes” for cloud computing. In March, access to Google Apps (including Gmail) was interrupted for over 136,000 users. Last month, 13% of Amazon EC2 and RDS customers in the US Eastern Region had a complete service outage, affecting a range of well-known companies.

As a result, the cloud computing pundits have brought out the knives, attracting a lot of questions regarding the readiness of enterprise cloud computing. The gist of all of these arguments is that cloud computing is not something for mission-critical enterprise applications.

Many cloud computing advocates have countered these attacks by citing reliability statistics. For example, Google’s outage affected 0.02% of users for five days. This equates to 99.9997% up-time on an annualized basis—a statistic far better than that achieved by nearly all enterprises.

The Cloud: Dead or Alive?

Sunrise or sunset?
Sunrise or sunset?

So who is right? Is cloud computing “dead” for important use? Or is cloud computing better than anything enterprise management teams can provide?

They are both right… and both wrong.

How can this be true? A simple reason: enterprise (or business) computing is not simply provision of processing cycles or storage; it is a provision of a full range of computing services: systems engineering, processing, storage, customer service, technical support, backup and recovery, etc. It not simply a commodity transaction, but instead an ongoing business relationship managed by a human being and bound by service level agreements.

Those that view cloud computing solely as remote provision of computing resources are missing “The Big Picture.” Cloud computing is a service model for delivery of computing infrastructure, platforms and/or software. Those who wish to be successful providers of cloud computing for business need provide everything an internal enterprise computing provider would provide: computing resources and managed computing services—at higher quality and lower price.

The Cloud is Dead

This is why “The Cloud is Dead!” Companies who only provide remote processing cycles and storage are not providing enough for mission critical business use. They are simply providing the asset side of the equation—minus the controls critical for enterprise survival. Many of these providers—especially after the last two months—will soon be “dead” to enterprise buyers.

The Cloud is Alive

However, this is the very reason I say, “Long Live the Cloud!” The recent cloud computing problems highlight the huge market demand to add systems engineering, customer service, technical support, backup, recovery, and other human-oriented services to the cloud. (Imagine the benefits that businesses can gain by being able to “rent” the entire range of services and infrastructure their Internal Computing departments currently provides—but working from a more efficient, higher reliability infrastructure.) Cloud providers who meet the combined demand for lower-cost/higher-reliability computing AND managed services will make cloud computing a reality for big, mainstream enterprises—and do so very successfully.

The New, Complete Cloud

The nice thing—for business enterprises and cloud providers—is that there are so many ways to do this. Cloud computing providers can augment themselves with professional services teams, becoming “all in one” providers. Or they can remain focused on what they do best and partner with IT service providers who already have staff on hand and established procurement relationships with enterprises. Just imagine the ecosystems of cloud provision we will see arise over the next few years, competing with each other to provider better technology and service at a better price.

The Old Cloud is Dead! Long Live the New Cloud!

The simple feature needed to take location-based services mainstream

Location-based services offer amazing future possibilities. Restaurants can offer just-in-time discounts to people nearby fill empty tables. Similarly, People can pick a restaurant where their friends are currently enjoying “Happy Hour”. Stores can offer targeted coupons to browsing customers based on their buying habits. Meanwhile, I can find a nearby store that has that hot Christmas gift in stock while I am shopping.

The success of companies like FourSquare demonstrates the potential of these possibilities. However, right now early adopters are the primary users of location-based services. Many mainstream consumers refuse to use them. Why? Because they do not trust location-based services (yet).

Why many still fear location-based services

What is the cause of this mistrust? Fear of losing control of offline privacy. Most of us now accept that information they post to the Internet could likely be publicly available (how much Generation Y cares about this vs. the Baby Boomer generation is an entirely different debate). However, very few want their offline activities (which stores they visit, where they are driving, etc.) to be readily available as well. minority-report-monitoring_280px-sqThis is an understandable fear as this information could be exploited for a variety of very bad purposes: from thieves breaking into your house while you are away to the scary advertising future depicted in the movie Minority Report.

This fear and mistrust will only increase as many new players enter the location-based services market. Some will only use your location services when you explicitly approve this; others will “store your approval” using your information without explicit notice (you can see this already in many location-based apps). Some will carefully protect it; others will have data breaches that disclose months of data on what you were doing, when, and where. Some will even sell your data to third parties (perhaps not initially, but when new sources of revenue are needed, after “notifying you of changes to their Terms of Service”). The consequences of these disclosures on privacy are enormous.

A simple way to address these fears

There are many ways to address these fears: industry (or legal) standards for use of location information, creation of registry of trusted location-based applications, etc. However, these means of protection are complicated (wherever there is complexity, there are many sources for unexpected outcomes). They also require consumers to trust location-based service providers to do the right thing, without error.

smartphone_switch_180pxHowever, there is a simple way to give back consumers assured control over when their smartphones are sharing location information with apps: the physical on/off switch. Give people an easy way, with the flick of a switch, to turn off sharing of location data with any applications. Let them check whether they are sharing or not with a simple, binary glance. Don’t make people navigate through multiple menus. Make it as simple as a light switch.

There is a well-known precedent for this: the silent/vibrate button. When mobile phone came out, people needed to make them silent when they went into meetings, movies and restaurants. Those mobile phones that made this simple were loved; those who didn’t were not. The love of the physical toggle switch reared its head again a few months ago when Apple removed the ability to lock iPad rotation with it’s physical switch (they restored the feature after much uproar in the next point-release).

This is NOT a placebo

I know, many of you are saying this is a simple placebo. Mobile phones already broadcast your location to your telecomm provider. However, the sharing and management of this location information is different than that used by location-based service application. It is not broadcast over the Internet (“Jim just check-in to…”); it is only attainable via search warrant or similar legal procedure. In addition, it is approximate (Verizon knows my location, plus or minus X meters; I do not positively confirm which store I am in); location-based app data is tagged with metadata that makes it much more exploitable.

Instead it will let location-based services “Cross the Chasm

Putting a location services on/off toggle switch into the next major release of smartphones will make it far less scary for mainstream consumers to adopt location-based service. Having this physically in smartphones will create infrastructure from which application developers and consumers will all benefit. The first mobile provider who does this will definitely gain an advantage, especially if it does so in partnership with an App Store-delivered application provider. Will it happen first on Android (due to its openness) or it will happen first on iOS (as part of Apple’s holistic user experience)? Or will Nokia’s sufficiently influence Microsoft to provide this (Finland is known for its strong privacy protection)?