Google made a lot of noise earlier this month when it announced the Chrome OS pilot program. Given the fanfare, you would think the world had never seen a cloud-based operating system before. In fact, the concept has been around for years, but this was Google so it made a big splash. It also had an important difference from the other offerings in that instead of being just a portal to cloud apps, it was attempting to be the underlying software controlling the computer as well.
I’ve yet to see the offering, but Chrome OS appears to be a browser–Google Chrome of course–and a front-end to Google services all sitting on top of Linux desktop. According to an initial review by Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal, the underlying bits that are supposed to do the actual operating system work don’t functional all that well yet. It’s admittedly Beta software, but we already knew that Google gets how to make a browser and online applications. We didn’t need an experimental computer to figure out that part. What they are attempting to do is adapt desktop Linux much in the same way they created Android to run mobile phones. So far, it needs some work.
From an IT perspective, however, Chrome OS has the potential to be the Holy Grail of laptops (if you don’t mind using all Google all the time). That’s because users can’t add any external programs. You get to use whatever programs are in the portal and that’s it. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols pointed out, it also protects even the stupidest user from malware.
In addition, it solves the problems of lost or stolen laptops because the data itself is not tied to the physical device, but lives in the cloud. That of course is the beauty of the cloud whether you’re using a laptop running Chrome OS, Windows or OSX, but is it enough for many users or even IT?
For some users, it may be a great idea, that is if Google can figure out how to create a desktop operating system that actually manages the underlying functionality. If you have a very limited set of tasks to do each day, a machine that manages those tasks for you could be a good idea. I have the feeling that most users including executives, knowledge workers and just about anyone who uses a computer for more than the most basic tasks, will balk at this idea.
You don’t need a locked down machine to give you the benefits of the cloud. Regular backups to the cloud, for instance, will give you the same advantages of using a machine that operates exclusively there. In fact, I’m not sure what advantages Google operating system provides, except that it gives Google the opportunity to go after Apple and Microsoft in a big way and tie down those who buy a Chrome OS machine to Google services.
In the end, I don’t necessarily see Chrome OS being as successful as Android has been in the phone market. I’m sure it will find its niche, but not necessarily a mass market because whether you’re an IT pro or a clueless end user, you may not be comfortable operating in Google’s world 24/7.
I don’t tend to go negative when it comes to the cloud, but the story earlier this month that Amazon Web Services cut off WikiLeaks for “violating the terms of service,” gave me pause. Instead of running scared, however, it could be a good ‘teachable moment’ about understanding your Terms of Service.
In a post on the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Europe blog, Ben Rooney reported that Dr. Joseph Reger, who is CTO at Fujitsu Technology Solutions, said that Amazon’s response to WikiLeaks showed a need for industry standards around the cloud. That’s because in his view, if it could happen to WikiLeaks, it could happen to you, and he has a point.
I’m sure Amazon feels it was in the right because it says WikiLeaks was using content that didn’t belong to it. Well, yes, technically it was, but it wasn’t a pirate site by any means Would Amazon have shut down the New York Times web sites if it had been using Amazon Web Services? I think not. So while Amazon’s lawyers are probably off the hook, as Dr. Reger pointed out, what they gained in legal points, they lost in public perception.
That’s because they played into the biggest fear that cloud critics have, and that’s the general sense of unease when your content sits on somebody else’s server and is in another company’s control. If Amazon decides you aren’t playing by the rules, you could be in the penalty box and your business severely compromised.
What’s most disconcerting about this action was the arbitrariness of it. It wasn’t a law enforcement official or a court ordering the content be taken down (although there were reports of State Department pressure). No, it was the lawyers at Amazon making the decision, and that should be frightening to everyone.
What this shows is the importance of understanding every word in your Terms of Service (ToS). In the new brave new world of IT responsibility, negotiating the ToS with cloud providers like Amazon is going to be Job One. Don’t rubber stamp it. Make sure you and your organization’s lawyers understand every word.
If you’re not happy, negotiate. And one point you should always place in the ToS is that under no circumstances will they shut you down without written notice and sound legal reasoning (meaning a court or legal authority has ordered it),
There really are a lot of positives about going to the cloud. This idea of only paying for what you use is very attractive, but there have to be clear rules about up time, governance and who can take your service down (and as Reger said, these should be codified into an industry standard). In my view, if you haven’t received a court order, you better keep me running. You don’t ever shut me down because you feel uneasy about my content (as with WikiLeaks).
WikiLeaks has been an object lesson on so many levels and the shut down at Amazon just provides one more–this time for IT professionals. The cloud has positives and negatives like any other approach, but you can reduce those negatives with smart planning and a clear ToS. If you haven’t learned this by now, you never will.
Meanwhile, cloud data vendor Factual received a whopping $25 million dollars in venture capital to continue its work in providing data as a service in the cloud. What do these announcements have in common?
For one thing, it shows that data management is moving to the cloud in a big way, whether that’s providing pre-populated databases as with Factual or an environment for building database applications as with Database.com.
In both instances, they take direct aim at Oracle. An ironic side story here is that while all of this was happening Apache walked away from the Java committee. Oracle now controls Java after purchasing Sun earlier this year. The fact that Salesforce bought an alternative development platform to Java couldn’t have been a coincidence. Both moves were aimed at Oracle’s core database business.
As for data in the cloud, one key venture capitalist, Mark Suster writing in his Both Sides of The Table blog suggested that data is the next major layer in the cloud. He articulately lays out the evolution of the cloud stack (I encourage you to read this; it’s a well written and fascinating post).
Suster outlines how as each layer of the cloud has developed, the cost of starting a new technology business has dropped. He believes that data is a long missing piece and he points to more recent startups like Yelp and foursquare as examples.
These sites started with some core data provided by the developers, but in most cases they relied on users to enter data about places to really take off. With a service like Factual, these companies could buy the data about all the restaurants in NYC or the country for that matter and seed their databases before launching.
They could buy storage from Amazon S3 and server space from Rackspace. They could build a database application with Database.com and all for a fraction of the cost of delivering a comparable product from startup in 2000 when a company had to buy almost all of the hardware and software at tremendous up-front cost.
As I wrote last week, when I first read about Database.com, I saw it as a logical step for Salesforce.com, but I didn’t necessarily see the full implications of it until I read Suster’s excellent blog post.
As we sit here all of this is coming together, seemingly in a single week, and having a potentially huge impact on the future of IT. Instead of dealing with expensive hardware and software solutions to implement database applications, you could provide the same services with cloud applications at a fraction of the cost.
What’s more you could get that same economy of scale and efficiency that Suster spoke of for start-ups, regardless of the size of your business or where it is in a business maturity model. IT Pros need to be paying attention because these trends matter. Otherwise, that flexible startup started on a shoe string using cloud services from Day 1 could be passing you before long.
For the first release, this will work on Android, but there’s nothing to stop VMware from developing this for additional phone operating systems as demand requires. Certainly from an enterprise perspective Windows would make sense since lots of companies remain Microsoft shops.
The way this works is IT creates a virtual work environment using VMware and installs it on each user’s phone. Instead of having to carry two separate phones–one for work and one for play–users can have the two phones on a single device.
The virtualized work environment is essentially a complex app that sits on the phone. When the user taps the work phone app, the phone switches into work with all of the work applications, contacts and so forth that are related to work.
When the user wants to return to their non-work phone, they tap back into their personal environment and their personal contacts, music, videos and other content are all there waiting for them. It’s the best of both worlds in a single phone.
It should please IT departments who can ensure that the work-related content and apps will not mix with whatever else the user is doing on the device and this should help bring some peace of mind to IT. Meanwhile end users should love having a single device that supports both their lives, yet keeps them separate and distinct.
As VMware sees it, this solves a fundamental support issue for IT departments who are faced with increasing demand from end users to let them use a wide array of mobile devices. While organizations increasingly recognize the value of providing access to corporate data on mobile devices, there are a host of security and governance problems associated with that.
By giving these shops the ability to build an isolated, secure environment; VMware is helping solve this fundamental enterprise mobile dilemma.
Meanwhile employees want to use the phones they want to use. While this is initially an LG-VMware Android phone initiative there is little reason that VMware couldn’t extend this to other handset makers across multiple operating systems. I could even see instances where different phone operating systems worked on the same device via virtualization . After all, I can run multiple operating systems on my Mac Book Pro, so why not potentially running multiple operating systems on my iPhone.
It’s an elegant idea that opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities for both consumer and enterprise users, and any solution that can combine work and play into a single phone is certainly well worth exploring. It should be interesting to see where this goes and if it catches on in a big way or not.
You can see a video of a dual virtualized phone in action on Engadget.
Word has it that billionaire businessman Marc Benioff was a starving entrepreneur in 1999 when he came up with the idea for Salesforce.com in a rented apartment in San Francisco. At the time, if you asked most IT professionals if they would be willing to put all of the details of their company’s customer data on somebody else’s servers they would have looked at you like you were daft.
Sure, maybe it was possible such an idea could work for small businesses who don’t have to deal with the sensitive security matters of a larger enterprise, but the big boys would never go for it.
Yet Salesforce.com grew into a billion dollar business, and not just with those small businesses, but with plenty of big ones too. Turns out the idea of putting a service up on a web site and charging far less than the comparable installed software made a lot of sense for a lot of companies.
In the introduction to Benioff’s book, Behind the Cloud, Dell CEO and chairman Michael Dell writes that much like how his company, Dell Computers, had done with PCs, Salesforce rooted out the inefficiencies inherent in traditional enterprise software design. As Dell wrote:
“Enterprise software was exorbitantly expensive and onerous to implement, and, in the end, it didn’t work very well.”
When you add to that the ridiculously long upgrade cycles that took up to several years, and that when you did upgrade, it tended to break what you had in place, you might be wondering why IT wasn’t looking for a better way.
Once Salesforce proved the model could work without the sky falling (if you’ll pardon the expression), other IT pros had to at least take notice (or at least you would think they would). And if you could put your customer data in the cloud, why not other sensitive data?
Yet even today in 2010, more than 10 years after Benioff launched Salesforce.com, we have lots of push-back about cloud computing. There are of course some legitimate concerns around governance, data ownership and security, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but the fact is that there are many rock-solid cloud businesses out there today managing lots of data beyond just customer information including files, content, project data, and more.
It’s surely not a perfect solution (but show me one that is), but if offers regular upgrades (sometimes weekly or monthly) behind the scenes for free without breaking what’s in place (most of the time). That alone in my view makes cloud computing worth considering.
You still have a neck to throttle as the folks in IT are fond of saying because if that service goes down or has a security breach, the whole model is at risk. Salesforce and Google and Box.net and so many others understand that better than anyone.
Whatever your feelings about cloud computing or Salesforce.com at this moment in time, you have to admit that it pioneered the idea of storing enterprise data outside the firewall, and what was once considered a radical notion is a mainstream concept today.