Saturday, July 24, 2010

Data Management in the Cloud

Over the last couple of years, I have seen several presentations on the computing Cloud and how it is the next big thing. I realized that I still have a lot to learn from Daniel Graham's presentation "Data Management in the Cloud" at the July meeting of the Business Intelligence SIG. Dan leads Active Data Warehouse marketing programs for Teradata. If you have been living under a rock and do not know what cloud computing is, Wikipedia has a reasonable explanation. Dan distinguished between the public cloud as a rentable computing resource like Amazon's Elastic Computing Service and a private cloud which is your businesses computing resources in a datacenter behind the company firewall which uses virtualization software like VMWare to allow many applications to share hardware.

The big picture that Dan painted is that cloud computing is coming and that you need to get ready for it. By 2015, 20% of computing resources worldwide will be in the cloud. Start now by getting experience with the cloud to find out what works, what needs to be changed to make it work and what does not work. Teradata has been experimenting with cloud computing and is working with hardware and software vendors like VMWare and Amazon to ensure that Teradata database systems work well in the cloud. Informatica is another example of a software vendor that is working to ensure that their data integration software works well in the cloud and between clouds. NetFlix is an example of a company that has adopted cloud computing and recently announced that they were moving all their movie hosting into the Amazon computing cloud. The US Government is the leading user of cloud services having moved much of their computing needs into the cloud.

Cloud computing uses commodity hardware, which combined with the overhead of virtual machine software will not give you the best performance, however it is "good enough" for most applications. Dan took the well known quote from the movie Forrest Gump and bent it to his needs. “Clouds are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” There is some high end software that is not suitable for cloud computing, the main problem coming from high IO requirements. The size and capabilities of a cloud computing host is often optimized to run a single instance Oracle database doing OLTP. In practice most applications are less demanding than this.

There were many other interesting tidbits in the presentation. Here are some examples. It is more expensive to get data out of a cloud than to bring it in. Why is unknown, but something to take into consideration when using a cloud. An interesting application for cloud computing is what Dan called "Workload Isolation". The idea is that when you have partners or consultants who need access to your data it is often preferable to put the data they need in the cloud rather than let them inside your firewall. In all the examples that Dan showed of Business Intelligence applications in the cloud, he talked about a Data Mart with the implication that a full Enterprise Data Warehouse was too large and demanding an application for the cloud for now.

The slides from the presentation are available at the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG web site.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another Angle on the iPhone Woes

In all the discussion over the antenna problems with the new Apple iPhone 4, there is one thing that I have not heard, and that is how few product lines that Apple has. The iPhone 4 is a prime example. It comes in two memory sizes and we are promised a second color real soon now. On the Apple site you can still buy the previous generation iPhone 3, but that still makes it 3 models available with another one or two to come. Compare this with BlackBerry which has six ranges and thirteen models. Blackberry is restrained in the number of models it offers compared to the likes of Motorola, Samsung or Nokia.

The same its true in other areas. With the Mac, Apple has three ranges of laptops, three ranges of desktops and one rackable server. Compared to HP, Dell or Acer this is a ridiculously small number of product lines. Again with the iPod there are 4 product ranges each with a couple of different memory size and and more variation on color.

There are a number of advantages in having a small number of product lines. Economy of scale will make the product cheaper to manufacture, however by the time you get to millions of devices, the additional advantage is not that great. More important are a brutally strong brand image and a lack of consumer confusion. There is no question about which version of the iPhone to get, the only question is whether you are willing to pay more for the extra memory.

However, there is one big disadvantage to having a single product line like the iPhone, and that is that you have all your eggs in one basket. If the product should prove to have a flaw, there is no other product line to take up the slack. If a consumer want to buy an iPhone now, they either have to go ahead and take the risk that it might be a lemon or wait until the problem is fixed. They cannot go out and buy the other Apple phone because it does not exist. For a big consumer goods company, Apple has had remarkably few dud products, but their life depends on getting each one right.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The HP Tablet and the Elephant

Recently HP bought Palm and in the acquisition press release announced that they are developing "... webOS based hardware products, from a robust smartphone roadmap to future slate PCs and netbooks". In all the discussion of this event, nobody seems to be discussing the elephant in the room, or more correctly, the elephant who is no longer in the room.

Ten years ago, HP would not have dared announce that it was going produce its own operating system (OS) in competition with the dominant Microsoft Windows OS. Then, most hardware developers had been cowed by Microsoft's aggressive and successful response to any attempt to develop a rival operating system. To give a couple of examples, in the early 90's the Go Corporation had developed its Penpoint OS for handheld computing. Then in 1992, Microsoft announced its own Windows for Pen Computing. Go Corporation faltered, was taken over by AT&T and then the project was shuttered. Another example is the fate of Be Inc. who had developed BeOS, initially to power their own hardware. In 2002, Be Inc. sued Microsoft claiming that Hitachi had been dissuaded from selling PCs loaded with BeOS, and that Compaq had been pressured to not market an Internet appliance in partnership with Be. The case was eventually settled out of court with no admission of liability on Microsoft's part. However by this time Be Inc had admitted defeat and sold its intellectual property to Palm Inc.

In the late 90's Microsoft was so dominant that no Silicon valley Venture Capital firm would fund a start up that would have the remotest chance of challenging Microsoft in any way. Since then Microsoft seems to have been transformed from a lithe competitor into a stumbling giant. The Vista version of the Windows OS is widely regarded as a failure, and was quickly replaced by Windows 7. While the Windows Mobile OS for smartphones has been around for a long time and gone through several versions, it has been losing market share for some time. Recently Microsoft introduced a new smartphone, the Kin with much ballyhoo, only to give up on it six week later. There are plenty other examples of Microsoft's left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing, like the PlayForSure debacle.

We have come to the point where Microsoft is so crippled by its own self inflicted wounds that one of its most important OEM customers is going to use its own operating system on future slate PCs and netbooks. The elephant is no longer in the room.