17 July 2014

I’m currently reading Cloudonomics by Joe Weinman. I frequently find myself nodding in approval as his conclusions either parallel mine or provide deeper insight into what I’ve seen when working with and consulting customers on “the cloud”. I’m not through the book yet, but I do like his insightful and deeply thought out arguments and counterarguments on what cloud is or is not and how it changes or might not change companies. Sometimes I mentally argue against Weinman’s conclusions but that’s a good thing — the book makes me think about my own assumptions and views.

Regardless I’m not going to review this book. Go search the Internet or read it yourself for that. I’ve got something else.

The opening of chapter 10 got me thinking. Weinman’s going through whether “cloud is like electricity” or “cloud is not like electricity” and what these differences are — also why we should not extend the “electricity utility” metaphor too much.

Anyways, I’ll quote a short passage (actually a recursive quote, since it in itself is a quote):

Security issues in the cloud are very different: As Brynjolfsson quipped “No regulatory or law enforcement body will audit a company’s electrons.”

That got me thinking. (If you want the full argument why electrons and CPU cycles are different, read the book.)

So today’s companies cannot differentiate by the use of computing, but by how it is used. That is, business practices and models, which are in turn encoded in software. (If the business model requires scalability, then scalable software.)

What does this computing make (cloud or no cloud)?

To me it sounds a lot like grey goo aka programmable matter aka utility fog. Okay, computing operates in a virtual reality instead of physical, but apart from that tiny teeny little difference the basic idea is the same: both can be programmed to do anything (within some limitations, within their realm).

Then … If there ever was a cornucopia machine (a nanomachine assembler from Singularity Sky by Charles Stross) then what would that mean to businesses?

In the real world some of my purchases are for convenience: instead of cooking a meal, I eat out. I can cook. I buy a soft drink — I believe I could look up a recipe, just-and-just construct a CO2 injection system and if I found some limestone, might even be able to generate CO2 and liquefy it, but hey, why? (Of course, where would I get the tubing and machinery to do those… see the toaster project on where this train of thought would lead you.)

Yet while a soft drink might be a borderline case, most of my purchases are purchases not because of convenience but by necessity. I do not have the skills or the resources needed to construct a cell phone or a computer. Then think how a cornucopia machine would change that. Recipe for cell phone + cornucopia machine = new physical cell phone. (Next exercise: think how it will be prevented by legislation and control mechanisms mostly not because of safety concerns, but because of protection of “intellectual property”. Just like copyright extensions to protect certain exclusive exploitation rights to a big-eared cartoon mouse.)

Given the proliferation of open source components, cloud services and software production and operating knowledge (high scalability, stack overflow etc.) there is less and less “secret sauce” in how software operates. The difference is more and more in how software is operated.

Just think all of this, including the cloud, as the equivalent of a cornucopia machine for virtual reality. You literally can create a load balancer or a scalable web server cluster out of thin (virtual) air, with publicly available recipes.

Then what’s the big conclusion?

None. I just think there are some conceptual (surprising?) similarities between the fictional cornucopia machine (smart matter) concept and now-and-current cloud computing.

Or maybe this: what if real live physical cornucopia machines existed, how would that affect your business?

Devastate? No effect? Then try the same with a virtual cornucopia machine, one that can re-create any computing infrastructure from a recipe. Including yours.

(Note: I’m using the term “infrastructure” in a broad sense here. I think that any computing service that does not operate in the “core” of the service, or in the left side of a Wardley map is just a supporting element — infrastructure. This is a distinction between “infrastructure” when discussing business vs. technology. In the business sense Salesforce is infrastructure but in the technology sense it is software-as-a-service, not infrastructure-as-a-service. Yes, confusion.)

Of course, an upstart competitor probably will not copy a cranky old HR or ERM system but will opt for easier to use, easier to deploy cloud service versions. So instead of copying your computing infrastructure as-is, think it as someone else making a better copy of it.

Anyway it is summer and I don’t think I have any need to be consistent in this post. Just thinking aloud, pies in the sky etc. etc. :-)

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