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QCon - Situation Normal, Everything Must Change

Simon Wardley from Canonical explored how IT must change in particular in light of multi-core computers and cloud computing. He covered why IT is changing and how cloud computing impacts IT.

He had a very interesting presentation style and I would recommend that if you get a chance to see one his talks, that you do.

The initial theme of his talk was about IT commoditisation, how today's cutting edge and hot topics are tomorrow's boredom. That software (and indeed anything) goes through a process from innovation, bespoke implementations, products and finally ubiquitous utility-like services. All business services exist somewhere on the curve from innovation through to commodity.

This lead him to ask the question of how this impacts IT. Well, in order for one to innovate in the first place then you need build on top of stable components. Without ubiquitous Internet access then one couldn't have a Google. So as we see ubiquitous services, such as Infrastructure as a Service, then we will see innovation that can build on that, such as Sales Force as Software as a Service.

He also pointed out that as the industry moves forward and commoditises then you need to move forward otherwise you're facing a competitiveness gap. One has to keep moving just to stand still, the Red Queen Hypothesis.

Simon discussed how cloud computing and the "as a service" industry is a consequence of this commoditisation. There are of course many benefits to making use of the "as a service" providers, such as economies of scale, pay per use economics, outsourcing of non-core functions and speed to market.

He compared and contrasted how CRM systems have moved from innovation in the 80s to commodity services today.

There are also risks. There are lots of relationships and the end customer may only have a relationship with the software as a service provider, but if their infrastructure as a service provider goes bankrupt then the end customer loses there service. Unlike for example a ubiquitous electricity service, one can't just shift to another utility supplier, this is because there is as yet no standardisation for these services.

So how do we manage these risks? He went on to talk about what we as an industry need to provide. The main mitigation is that we have to provide standard "output" at each of the tiers so that there can be a competitive market. In the product stage of maturity, companies compete on features and standard behaviour is often the antithesis of what the companies what. However, once we get to commoditisation, then standardisation is key. Companies provide standard services and compete on price or customer service and not on features. For example, in electricity supply, there is no feature differentiation between suppliers they all provide the same voltage, they differentiate and compete on price and quality of service.

As part of this standardisation he talked about the importance of openness. If the service is proprietary, then you are locked into the provider of that service, and one can't move to another supplier in the event of problems with the original supplier. Hence we must have a open standard that anyone can implement, and as importantly that one cannot proprietarily extend and therefore once more force lock-in once more.

Clearly he has a vested interest in open source and open platforms since he is from Canonical, but to me he makes a lot of sense. He wants to see a creation of a marketplace in cloud computing.

He described three rules that need to be met for cloud computing to move to the commodity end of the spectrum:

1)You must be able to run the system on your own systems 2)You must be able to easily switch to cloud provider 3)You must be able to easily switch between cloud providers

Finally, he talked about how Canonical and Ubuntu 9.04 is aiming to meet the first two of these based on Amazon's EC and they will be promoting these standards so that a competitive market can be produced.

It was a very interesting talk with lots of things to think about and challenges to be addressed.