Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Part II - The Confluence of Cloud Computing & the Semantic Web - Heavy on the Semantics

The nuances of the dance between these two trends is indeed promising. The more I understand and learn about the Semantic Web from experts like Dean Allemang, and understand the utility of the Cloud, the more I appreciate the potential of these trends to shape distributed computing.

Recently, I have had the privilege off getting my hands dirty in supporting a client to develop, what they have termed, a Semantic SOA. The idea being that the discovery, governance and the structure and content of the payloads of the web-services within the architecture, are based on semantic models (ontologies). The underlying language of these models (Resource Description Framwork/RDF Schema/Web Ontology Language) explicitly support another important quality of SOA - semantic interoperability; which ensures that consumers and providers within the Cloud share germane and appropriate information in a consistent manner.

The big promises of Cloud Computing: economies of scale and improved resource utilization, align artfully with semantic principles and supporting features. Migration to the Cloud for many will be incremental and include the distribution of information across a virtualized infrastructure. Features of the technologies/specifications underlying the Semantic Web (RDF/RDFS/OWL) lend themselves to these requirements. They are intended to formally describe information concepts, terms and relationships within a domain. These specifications allow your subject-matter-experts to incrementally model their areas of expertise and because of their structure and underlying rules these domains/concepts can be easily combined to represent a verbose information model representing your data architecture. This model can then be used to aid discovery, invocation, XML Schema Defintion (XSD) / Web Service Definition Language (WSDL) definitions and integration in an incremental and unambiguous fashion.

Additionally, these features help describe entities and provide clear, non-ambiguous, semantics of a service offering. Service discovery and composition within the Cloud can all be supported by the features and standards of the Semantic Web.

Higher order specifications like RDFS and OWL support the concepts of inferencing. Inference relationships provide an eloquent and human understandable way to define and describe robust relationships between information concepts and data. Machines that consume these models will be able to infer additional information that may be useful to the consumer or application residing within the Cloud. The reality of it is, more and more of our data is going to be living in the Cloud and this data will be distributed. Pushing our data and applications out from internal information silos to Cloud based silos, has some benefits – reduced IT costs, support, maintenance, scalability, etc… But to have a virtualized infrastructure with scalable resources with applications and information distributed across the computing grid is a real benefit. With distribution comes complexity. We need our data to more useful to our business, our partners, anyone who might utilize our information. For it to be useful, it needs to maintain its integrity, its purpose and its meaning when combined with other data from other sources within the Cloud. Semantic concepts, like inferencing will do just that. Using a semantic model (metadata) we can start with some stated information and determine related and relevant information as tough it had been explicated stated. In the Cloud we need our data to more consistent and connected. With the distribution and virtualization of our systems, it will become imperative that our data become “smarter.” Semantic models will allow us to focus on informational concepts and smarter business processes and applications that reside in a scalable virtualized environment – the Cloud.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cloud Computing Mindshare by Region

A few days ago Peter Laird posted an interesting note to the Cloud Computing group. He took his raw analytics data for his blog and posted the percent of visits by continent. Soon after both John Mills and I did the same for our respective blogs. I thought it would be interesting to aggregate the information together and see what falls out.

This is by no means scientific - more indicative than definative - but it does give an idea about where the Cloud Computing interest is coming from.

The Americas are obviously the MindShare leader (at least for 3 blogs written here in the U.S) - with Europe and Asia coming in next.

When we look at which countries are driving the traffic within the regions a few stand out. The U.S. and Canada are driving the Americas Traffic. In Europe it seems to be the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Asia is Japan, India, South Korea and China. Oceania is primarily Australia.

I'm still trying to decide if this is just interesting information or tells me something. I wasn't surprised by anything other than South Korea. The methodology is also somewhat biased because of the regional nature of the Blogs.

However some indicative information is better than none.

The other blogs used to help pull this information together -

John M. Willis
IT Management and Cloud Blog

Peter Laird
He has a great entry that delves much deeper into the details behind his numbers.
Comparing Cloud Computing Mindshare Levels Between the U.S., Europe, and Asia

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Computing Cloud - Do Consumers Lead the Way?

On September 12 the Pew Research Center published a study on Cloud Computing and it's adoption within America. You can see the study here.

After reading the study my first thought was - great information too bad it doesn't help me understand adoption rates within Large Enterprises, Mid Size Enterprises and Small businesses. The markets that I typically care about on a day-to-day basis.

This view was reinforced by the types of Cloud Computing applications they polled on: Online Email, Videos, Photos and data backups. All consumer - not business - oriented activities.

After lamenting for a bit about ever finding true market data for Cloud Computing I'm beginning to wonder if I'm thinking about the market in the right way. Is there a difference between the Enterprise and the Consumer? How many of the people within this study were using online Email applications either from work or for work related activities? The Pew report says that 56% of Internet Users have a Yahoo, Google, Hotmail or other account. 5% pay to store documents online - and another 5% use the Internet to backup their hard-drives.

Now I realize that there is a big difference between a large Multi-Global enterprise adopting or leveraging computing cycles from Amazon's EC2 and a consumer accessing their online Email account. But what I question is - how much Cloud Computing adoption has occurred from within large Enterprises - without the Enterprise explicitly acknowledging or paying for the service? Are large Enterprises already leveraging and gaining benefits from the Cloud simply because their people are adopting the technologies in order to simplify their day-to-day activities.

Now looking at the Pew study it seems to indicate something very different. It shows that Americans are adopting the Cloud in large numbers. Enterprises are already seeing increased productivity due to this adoption. While most companies have not even heard of the Cloud or put in place any formal procedures or projects to adopt Cloud computing, their employees are already using it.

This reminds me a bit of when Web browsers first started to gain traction. Enterprises did not immediately see the benefit of using a browser to access core Enterprise applications. Instead their users were off looking up information and browsing the web - in order to help them make their job's easier. The employees were the early adopters and the Enterprises only later realized they could take advantage of the same technologies to improve their bottom line.

I don't think the Pew study is a big shock. None of their findings seemed to be way off what I would have assumed based on anecdotal evidence. However it does crystallize for me that the Cloud Computing wave might be more than just hype - and the start of another transformation of the Enterprise.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CherryPal vs. the Laptop

They other day my wife's laptop died. This is a serious inconvenience to her, as she uses her laptop for both work and home. As a medical practitioner she often has to look up drug interactions, print off medical forms, and investigate new treatments. At home she looks up recipes, watches movies, plays sudoku, authors documents in MS Word and reads her Email.

So after reading about the new CherryPal, "Get onto CherryPal's 'Cloud Computer'", I started wondering if a Cloud based computer could replace her need for a laptop?

My first premise is that the computer will be hooked up to our HDTV as the monitor with a remote Keyboard and Mouse. That way we don't incur the additional cost of a monitor. Using this premise I can figure out the cost differential between the new CherryPal and a basic home laptop, say the Dell Inspiron Dual Core with 2GB RAM and 160GB Hard Drive.

As you can see the CherryPal comes in about $300 lower than the Laptop, not bad. So now to the real question - can it replace the laptop for functionality?

* Only Streamed Videos, this precludes iTunes and Amazon UnBox
** Their web-site claims that "We provide drivers in the cloud to support printers", I am dubious about how this works and how well
*** Documents will have to be converted from MS Word to Google Docs

So is it worth it? No movies, not portable between home and office. Saves us about $300 over the laptop. For us the answer is - No. The inability to truly play movies is a killer. Given that our premise is to hook up the laptop to our HDTV so that we don't incur the cost of a new Flat-Screen Monitor (and have to find someplace to set it up) - not being able to play Amazon Unbox or iTunes movies would be crazy. If I go and buy a new flat-screen monitor I wipe out the $300 price savings and still can't move the system from home to work.

I think the concept of a truly web based Cloud Computer is cool. I have thought so since Sun Microsystems tried to produce their first "Java only" desktops in the late 90's. However, as a consumer machine it falls short of the need. For certain Enterprise applications, especially enterprises that run almost all of their applications in a web model, the device might have a good fit. But for me - I'll stick with the Laptop for now.

So the real question is - stick with Microsoft or jump ship and get an Apple?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Confluence of Cloud Computing & the Semantic Web – Part 1

In the following series of blogs I will attempt to capture the nuances of the dance between these two major mega trends – Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web.

For purposes of this blog, it is suffice to say that these emerging trends have yet to realize mainstream adoption. In fact, we are still grappling with the concepts and clarity of the real value.

Just in the last couple of days I have been exposed to surveys and articles that suggest cloud computing is low on the priority list for CIOs and not well understood Study: IT jobs will drop in 2009, and the real value of the Semantic Web is suspect - The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview.

Despite the skepticism and adoption rate, both of these mega trends promise to have disruptive influences on the way we do business. These mega trends are taking well established computing ideas, and expanding them and making them work across the Internet. For many, cloud computing is an extension of grid/utility computing, software as service (SaaS), managed services platforms, web-services and platform services – What cloud computing really means.

The Semantic Web, as described by Tim Berners-Lee is an extension of the existing web paradigm, where the target audience is the human. The new extension is intended to develop languages for expressing information in a machine processable form; interoperability taken to a new level.

Tim Berners-Lee defines the Semantic Web as a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines. “The Semantic Web is a web of data, in some ways like a global database.” - Semantic Web Road Map. The promise being that computers can search, acquire, present, filter, and manipulate data in a useful way based on the data’s meaning and its relationships. This is accomplished by defining structured sets of information and inference rules that allow machines to understand the relationship between different data resources.

One of the promises of the Semantic Web is ease of integration of information across a wide spectrum of data artifacts and systems. There are solutions to the data integration challenge but require extensive transformations and one-to-one mappings between elements across systems and repositories. What puts the promise of the Semantic Web above the fray is the ability to allow a machine to connect to any other machine and exchange and process data efficiently based on built-in semantic information that describes each resource. Metadata that allows machines to understand relationships and context. This semantic information allows disparate data sources to become compatible through adopting a consistent relational model across structured and unstructured information.

Conceptually the cloud represents a ubiquitous set of computing services that are interconnected and seamlessly exchange and process information. But as Galen Gruman accurately states, in his article, What cloud computing really means, “Today, with such cloud-based interconnection seldom in evidence, cloud computing might be more accurately described as "sky computing," with many isolated clouds of services which IT customers must plug into individually. On the other hand, as virtualization and SOA permeate the enterprise, the idea of loosely coupled services running on an agile, scalable infrastructure should eventually make every enterprise a node in the cloud.”

As these mega trends mature the confluence of the two may indeed bring to fruition the promise of loosely coupled ubiquitous services that have context and are ultimately understood by machines.

In the blogs that follow I will explore what all that really means and what is the real value?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Recent Posts

Some great new articles over at InfoWorld on the Cloud -

The dangers of cloud computing

What cloud computing really means

Early experiments in cloud computing

A step closer to the integrated cloud

Amazon's cloud computing service fuels startup's launch

Amazon adds resilience to cloud computing service

Adoption of the Cloud

There is an interesting article over at Infoworld talking about the dangers of cloud computing. It is an intriguing read about how cloud computing infrastructure is not secure enough for the Enterprise - but more secure than existing mid-size enterprises probably have in place.

The premise is that cloud vendors don't put as much investment and resources into security as do large Enterprises - but more than small companies. This might well be true. Ephraim Schwartz, the author of the piece, goes on to talk about the what applications truly belong in the cloud, and which don't. Non-mission critical applications belong within the cloud, and mission-critical applications do not.

I tend to agree. However, there is another classification of applications that will not readily map to the cloud - ones that support business processes that differentiate an organization.

Companies gain competitive advantage in the marketplace through many factors. I would argue that many companies today have only a small number of factors to play with - Service, Quality, Price, and Availability. The way they deliver these four factors is their competitive advantage. This competitive advantage is built into their internal business processes, culture and approach to the market. All of which are supported by technology.

The way a company uses technology to create business advantage, link internal processes, communicate, share information and support their business - is the competitive differentiator most companies have.

Many business critical applications will not move to the Cloud - not because of a concern about security - but because of it's inability to enable differentiation. Based on some of these assumptions I believe that we can map out, to some level of accuracy, the types of applications that different businesses will adopt.

Large Enterprise
- Early adopters of Transactional Service, Moderate Adopters of Infrastructure (for non-critical applications), and late adopters of SaaS applications.

Small to Mid Size Enterprises - These folk will also be early adopters of Transactional services, and medium to early adopters of Infrastructure. They will view the cost savings related to using infrastructure services as a competitive advantage. They will also adopt SaaS applications, but at a slower rate - and for specific types of applications that are either commodities, non-critical or require a level of B2B collaboration. For instance Sales Force Automation, Supply Chain Demand Planning and Business Process Hubs.

Small to Mid Size Businesses - Early adopters of Applications (SaaS) due to it's cost benefit, pricing flexibility and low up-front cost structure. They will also take advantage of Cloud Infrastructure capabilities - but only as they are wrapped with business friendly applications. Don't look for this group to directly write web services that take advantage of Amazon S3, they will wait for the application they can install on their Windows XP Server. Low adopters of Transactional services - due to the IT requirements around the data integration.