Thursday, 11 March 2010

Time For Ubuntu to Fork Evolution

No one can deny the current face of Linux to the masses is Ubuntu. It’s massively more popular than any other distro which makes it the flagship for breaking existing market strangleholds.

Take the Enterprise server OS market for instance, a traditionally strong area for Linux anyway, Canonical (the controlling company of Ubuntu) have rightly seen where they need to position themselves to gain the advantage with Server OS’s and have gone down the Cloud route with Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud. Also - beefing up the support options and the packaging to at least align themselves with the normal market leaders Suse and Red Hat helps to gain further server adoption by to using the momentum of all the other Ubuntu areas and user allegiances.

The personal desktop / netbook area is the next to be tackled. Obviously Ubuntu has been trundling along as the best choice for the tiny personal Linux desktop market for a while but it has needed to really stand-out to do battle with Windows and the latest player (rising on the back of the i[Pod|Phone] wave) Mac OS. Again Canonical have pulled the rabbit out of the hat and pointed Ubuntu desktop in exactly the right direction – Social Networking. With Ubuntu Lucid having fully integrated Social Networking and chat they’ve shown they know how people actually use their computers. 9 times out of 10 someone is turning their computer on to participate in Facebook or make Tweets on Twitter, or for the Old-Skoolers chat on MSN. To make the desktop OS actually part of this is exactly the best way to position it and ensures it’s already ahead of the opposition when they realise they need to do the same thing.

Finally, there’s an area that Ubuntu is very weak on and it’s where efforts need to be concentrated next - The Enterprise Desktop.
Novell have previously tried to leverage that market but did it all wrong. They didn’t understand that there is just one killer feature (just as with integrated desktop social networking) that needs to be in there which is Exchange support. Outlook and to a lesser extent Office keeps Windows XP / 7 firmly planted on the Enterprise desktop purely because of its ability to work perfectly with Exchange. Businesses now (rightly or wrongly) revolve around shared mail, contacts, calendaring and scheduling, and Exchange shows no signs of being supplanted yet as the default choice for this functionaility.

With all this in mind I present my recommendation for Ubuntu: Fork Evolution.

Evolution has some good MAPI functionality but for every step forward, it takes 2 steps back. The functionality is very buggy but at the same time is almost there and some real concerted structured development would see it work very nicely and be a drop in replacement for Outlook.
Also, Evolution needs all of this Social Networking goodness that is present in the me menu in Lucid to be integrated into Evolution too. One place for all messaging/contacts/calendaring with Social Networking in there too and we’re getting very close to a framework that supports the multitude of communication mediums we use today.

So in my mind, Ubuntu and Canonical can move one major step forward by leveraging Evolution. Make it fit the new Ubuntu desktop ethos better and make it work properly with Exchange. Once you do that, world domination for FOSS will follow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Future of Web Services / The Plight of the Infrastructure Techie

The landscape for Internet Infrastructure is changing, and it may be quite scary for techies..

Currently, we have quite a supply-chain in web service hosting. We do everything ourselves and that means lots of skill-sets in various places such as:

Linux/Windows SysAdmin
Networking SysAdmin
HA/Load-Balancing Specialists

Typically, management instruct developers to do something and this something needs to be consulted on from conception to delivery. The developer needs to make it in such a way that the DBA and SysAdmins are happy that it will scale and perform. If it’s business critical the HA people get involved and ensure development is geared around being resilient too. The whole thing creates an infrastructure ecosystem of staff because it’s all very DIY so lots of diverse skills are required.

What happens when all of that is someone elses problem, without the disadvantage of outsourcing costs?

Using Cloud Computing you can build web applications to be self-aware. All of the nasty stuff that you used to have to worry about is gone:

Scaling – Amazon Elastic Compute lets you boot loads of instances of your pre-configured application OS images (read-only) manually or automatically. Because the booting of extra instances is web service controlled your app can decide if it needs more power or not.

Load-balancing – Single IP endpoints now control this. No more multiple servers with non-ARPing interfaces and virtual IPs. Amazon Elastic Load Balancing distributes load depending on instance issues, load metrics etc. OR you can plug it into Amazon Cloudwatch which monitors certain metrics and load-balance depending on that.

Hardware – It’s all virtual innit? It’s no longer our problem.

Database Scaling and Capacity – Apps just abstract DB API’s these days anyway. All apps ever do is ask the connector to pull data out into an object or insert data in, or do stuff with the data that’s there. If all you ever see is an interface into a limitless space of data then all you have to worry about is what you do with the data. Amazon SimpleDB does this for you.

Shared data storage – Amazon Elastic Block Storage behave like a SAN where you can have data sat on a filesystem to be accessed by apps on multiple instances. Again, any problems with this are someone else’s. All I care about is accessing my data.

Data mining – If you have lots of data to interrogate you can use Amazon MapReduce to process it.

There are lots of other ways you can use elastic cloud computing to remove a LOT of current infrastructure costs and concerns, eventually leading you to just have to worry about the application. Once you get to that stage you can just concentrate on making it work and doing it right. For a business, it’s a non-decision – or at least it should be. Without all the associated costs of infrastructure and infrastructure people a business can save obscene amounts of money and be a lot more efficient to boot. So why aren’t they?

Well, businesses are just scared of anything new. Elastic computing has to continue to innovate and provide something all-in-one and pre-packaged that it makes a lot more sense (not just a bit more sense) to migrate. Also business don’t like the idea of their data being somewhere they can’t control. That mindset just has to change, and it will as more and more large enterprises get on the cloud application bandwagon and start using tools such as Google Calendar / Mail / Contacts for company business. SLA’s give some peace of mind to directors but not quite yet enough.

But once the scales start tipping, the only people safe are developers.