Category Archives: Uncategorized

PaaS lets you pick the right tool for the job, without having to worry about the additional operational complexity

In a recent blog post, Dan McKinley explains “Why MongoDB Never Worked Out at Etsy“. In short, the usefulness of using MongoDB in addition to their existing MySQL didn’t justify the additional operational complexity of managing another infrastructure service.

This highlights the least appreciated benefit of PaaS: PaaS lets you pick the right tool for the job, without having to worry about the additional operational complexity.

I tried to explain this a year ago in this InfoQ article. But the title was cringe-worthy and the article was too long.

So this blog will be short. I even made the main point bold; and put it in the title.


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Filed under Cloud Computing, PaaS, Uncategorized, Utility computing

Will Clouds run on Clouds?

Or, more precisely, will enterprise Solution Clouds run on Deployment Clouds?

I’ve previously made the case that we shouldn’t include SaaS in the “Cloud” (rather, it’s just Web apps). Obvioulsy my guillotine didn’t cut it against the lure of Cloud-branding. Fine, then let’s agree that we have two types of Clouds: Solution Clouds and Deployment Clouds.

Solution Clouds are the same as SaaS (and I’ll use the terms interchangeably). Enterprise Solution Clouds provide common functions like HR, CRM, Financial, Collaboration, etc. Every company needs them and they are similar between companies.

Deployment Clouds are where you deploy applications. That definition covers both IaaS and PaaS, which are part of the same continuum.

You subscribe to a Solution Cloud; you deploy on a Deployment Cloud.

Considering these two types of Clouds separately doesn’t mean they’re not connected. The same providers may offer both, and they may be tightly packaged together. But they’re still different in their nature.

The reason for this little lexicological excursion is to formulate this question: will enterprise Solution Clouds run on Deployment Clouds or on their own infrastructure? Can application-centric ISVs compete, in the enterprise market, by providing a Solution Cloud on top of someone else’s Deployment Cloud? Or will the most successful enterprise Solution Clouds be run by full-stack operators?

Right now, most incumbent enterprise software vendors (Oracle, SAP…), and the Cloud-only enterprise vendors with the most adoption (SalesForce, WorkDay…) offer Cloud services by operating their own infrastructure. On the other hand, there are many successful SaaS vendors targeting smaller companies which run their operations on top of a Deployment Cloud (e.g. the Google Cloud Platform or AWS). That even seems to be the default mode of operation for these vendors. Why not enterprise vendors? Let’s look at the potential reasons for this, in order to divine if it may change in the future.

  • It could be that it’s a historical accident, either because the currently successful enterprise providers necessarily started before Deployment Clouds were available (it takes time to build an enterprise Solution Cloud) or they started from existing on-premise software which didn’t lend itself to running on a Deployment Cloud. Or these SaaS providers were simply not culturally or technically ready to use Deployment Clouds.
  • It could be that it’s necessary in order to provide the necessary level of security and compliance. Every enterprise SaaS vendor has a “security” whitepaper which plays up the fact that they run their own datacenter, allowing them to ensure that all the guards have a  CSSLP, a fifth-degree karate black belt, a scary-looking goatee and that they follow a documented process when they brush their teeth in the morning. If that’s a reason, then it won’t change until Deployment Clouds can offer the same level of compliance (and prove it). Which is happening, BTW.
  • It could be that enterprise Solution Clouds are large enough (or have vocation to become large enough) that there are little economies of scale in sharing the infrastructure with other workload.
  • It could be that they can optimize the infrastructure to better serve their particular type of workload.

Any other reason? Will enterprise Solution Cloud always run on their own infrastructure? The end result probably hinges a lot on whether, once it fully moves to a Cloud delivery model, the enterprise SaaS landscape is as concentrated as the traditional enterprise application landscape was, or whether the move to Cloud opens the door to a more diverse ecosystem. The answer to this hinges, in turn, on Cloud application integration, which will be the topic of the next post.

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Filed under Business, Cloud Computing, Everything, Uncategorized, Utility computing

Joining Google

Next Monday, I will start at Google, in the Cloud Platform team.

I’ve been watching that platform, and especially Google App Engine (GAE), since it started in 2008. It shaped my thoughts on Cloud Computing and on the tension between PaaS and IaaS. In my first post about GAE, 4.5 years ago, I wrote about that tension:

History is rarely kind to promoters of radical departures. The software industry is especially fond of layering the new on top of the old (a practice that has been enabled by the constant increase in underlying computing capacity). If you are wondering why your command prompt, shell terminal or text editor opens with a default width of 80 characters, take a trip back to 1928, when IBM defined its 80-columns punch card format. Will Google beat the odds or be forced to be more accommodating of existing code?

This debate (which I later characterized as “backward-compatible vs. forward-compatible”) is still ongoing. App Engine has grown a lot and shed its early limitations (I had a lot of fun trying to engineer around them in the early days). Google’s Cloud Platform today is also a lot more than App Engine, with Cloud Storage, Compute Engine, etc. It’s much more welcoming to existing applications.

The core question remains, however. How far, and how quickly will we move from the abstractions inherited from seeing the physical server as the natural unit of computation? What benefits will we derive from this transformation and will they make it worthwhile? Where’s the next point of equilibrium in the storm provoked by these shifts:

  • IT management technology was ripe for a change, applying to itself the automation capabilities that it had brought to other domains.
  • Software platforms were ripe for a change, as we keep discovering all the Web can be, all the data we can handle, and how best to take advantage of both.
  • The business of IT was ripe for a change, having grown too important to escape scrutiny of its inefficiency and sluggishness.

These three transformations didn’t have to take place at the same time. But they are, which leaves us with a fascinating multi-variable equation to optimize. I believe Google is the right place to crack this nut.

This is my view today, looking at the larger Cloud environment and observing Google’s Compute Platform from the outside. In a week’s time, I’ll be looking at it from the inside. October me may scoff at the naïveté of September me; or not. Either way, I’m looking forward to it.


Filed under Cloud Computing, Everything, Google, Google App Engine, Google Cloud Platform, People, Uncategorized, Utility computing

Notes from buying a new car online for the second time

In case you’re in the market for a new car, these few data points about a recent on-line buying experience may be of interest.

Here’s an interesting view of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) from the perspective of a car dealership. I mention this for two reasons:

a) The article is from AutoNews, a site which mostly caters to dealers and others in the car business. Its RSS feed is worth subscribing to in the few months that precede a car purchase. It’s a very different perspective from the consumer-oriented car sites out there.

b) I find it hard to reconcile this article with my experience, as I’ll describe in more details below.

To a large extent, car dealers’ interest in SEO is unsurprising. What business doesn’t care about its Google rank? But, having just bought a Toyota Sienna on-line last week, I have a hard time reconciling dealers’ efforts to get shoppers to their site with how bad the experience is once you get there.

Try and find an email address on the site of a Toyota dealership in Silicon Valley. I dare you. So, forget the email blast. Instead, you have to use stupid “contact us” forms in which you have to copy/paste multiple fields to simply describe what car you’re looking for. And they must know you’re copy/pasting, otherwise would they make the “comments” section so ridiculous small? And the phone number is a “required” field? As if.

I understand that it makes it easier for “lead tracking” software if the transaction starts with one of these forms, but after spending money on SEO do you really want to refuse to talk to customers in the way they prefer? Compare this to going to a dealership in person. They’ll talk to you in their office, they’ll talk to in the showroom, they’ll talk to you in the parking lot in the rain and, gender permitting, they’ll probably talk to you in the bathroom.

I know there are sites (including manufacturer sites) which propose to email local dealers for you, but I don’t know what arrangement they have and I don’t want to initiate a price negotiation in which the vendor already owes a few hundred dollars to a referrer if we strike a deal. I want to initiate direct contact.

At least this year I didn’t have to convince vendors to negotiate the price over email; unlike the first time I bought a car in this manner, three years ago, when over half of the dealers I corresponded with had no interest in going beyond an over-inflated introductory quote, followed by efforts to get me to “come talk at the dealership”. With comments such as “if I give you a price, what tells me you’re not going to take it to another dealership to ask them to beat it?”. Well, that’s the whole point, actually. Nowadays (at least among Toyota dealership in the San Francisco Bay Area) they have “internet sales managers” to do just that.

Once you clear the hurdle of contacting vendors on their web sites, the rest of the interaction is quite painless. “Internet sales managers” deserve their title. In my experience, most of them have no problem doing everything over email and respond in a straightforward way as long as you’re specific in your requests. I never once talked to anyone on the phone. And when I came to take delivery of the car, all had been agreed and my entire visit took one hour, most of it spent doing email while they cleaned the car. I don’t know why anyone would buy a car any other way. The total amount of time I spent on the whole process is less than it would have taken me to go to the closest dealership and negotiate one price.

As a side note, I used TrueCar (under a separate email account, of course) to get an idea of the price and I ended up paying $450 less than the TrueCar proposal. When contacted via their web site, that dealer initially gave me the same offer they had submitted via TrueCar, and we went down from there, based on competing offers from other dealers. I never mentioned the TrueCar offer to them.

Another side note: MSRP is actually very useful. Not as a an indication of the price to pay, of course, but as a checksum on the level of equipment of the car. It doesn’t change between dealers and allows you to ensure that you’re comparing cars with the same equipment level. Of course any decent programmer would scream that it’s a very bad checksum, if only because two options could cost the same, but it worked just fine for my purpose.

I still think that the whole third-party-dealership model is fundamentally broken. The on-line buying process doesn’t fix it, it’s just an added layer that hides some of the issues. As we say in computer science, there’s no problem that can’t be solved by adding another level of indirection. We say this tongue-in-cheek because it’s both true (in the short term) and horribly false (in the long term). The same applies to the US car sales process.

As a side note, now that the family is equipped with an admiral ship I have a 2001 VW Golf Turbo (manual transmission) to sell if anyone in the Bay Area is interested…

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Filed under Off-topic, Uncategorized

Puns on demand

The downside of the rise of PaaS is the concomitant rise of bad PaaS puns. I noted a few recent ones (one of which I committed):

  • “PaaSive Aggressive” [link]
  • “Everything is PaaSible” [link]
  • “You bet your PaaS” [link]
  • “The PaaSibilities are endless” [link]
  • [Added 2012/2/24] “PaaSengers” [link]

And these are just PaaS puns in blog titles, I’ve probably missed a bunch buried inside other entries.

This must stop. It’s time for the people of the Cloud to stand up and say: ¡No PaaSarán!

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Filed under Uncategorized