Coffee, the Cloud, and Computing at the edge|A new Structure delivers solid Content
If the number of coffee houses is any indication of the climate for competition in the Bay area, then my brief trip out west to check up on the “Cloud Tech” scene was a perfect parallel. On one corner in SOMA I had to choose between Peet’s, Illy, Starbucks, and a jam-packed Mexican breakfast café with its own brew. Further down the peninsula, my meeting location was dictated by the coffee house that had the “right beans” roasted in the right location, brewed for the appropriate type of coffee.
The 9th Structure Conference, under its new owners, Newsweek was quite a different animal than the one I recall from the GigaOM days. Stripped back in sizzle, held at the S. San Fran conference center near the airport, it was easy for speakers to come and go just in time for their talks but lacked the space and aura for serious networking. The old Structure was highly produced, snappy, and had many fine touches (even an emcee with a POV) that both attracted and captured the attention of industry execs who have to be picky about where and how to spend their time, talent, and treasure. The contrast was stark and though many supporters did come out to give this one a try, things would need to go up many notches to stay competitive in the conference-sphere. Kudos to the speakers who delivered “content-in-the-raw” despite the less glamorous surroundings.
The program itself focused on infrastructure imperatives and shifts critical to supporting overloaded networks and devices that are running the world. As a former telecom industry native, it was fabulous to witness the momentum around “networks” to rise to the occasion and take their proper place in the uber-connected universe. Now out of their traditional comfort zone, into the software “fray” – AT & T makes the shift to the edge while Cisco grows its Developer Zone and spins out a new sub-culture.
Having sat out the last few Cloud events, it took some adjustment to incorporate the next wave of acronyms into my tech vocabulary. I was relieved when a few veterans, like Tom Siebel – a straight shooter reminded us that the edge is the next wave of distributed computing and Barb Darrow cited that inside of seven years we have gone from little understanding of the cloud to vendor “lock-in.”
Few marketing folks were present or on stage, so the omnipresent CTO’s had a field day with buzz words. Full disclosure, I missed a few talks, but of the 75% I heard, special acknowledgements go to the exceptional presentations by Amy Wheelus (AT &T), Mark Russinovich, (Microsoft), Julia Grace (Slack), Susie Wee (Cisco), and Raffi Kirkorian (DNC). It’s a true skill to present complex information in a digestible way, inject some humor and maintain technological relevance for a diverse audience.
Speaking of audience: I heard some whispers from insiders that were pleased with the density of “end users” in the audience. The post-panel discussions in the back of the venue were vibrant with exchanges; tech squads made their shopping lists of new products and startups checking out the competition. To break this down to my own language, I spun up an old wedding proverb, so here goes:
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, SomeTHINGS Blue…..
The tone was set by Dell. The Cloud “edge” now populated by “things,” gateways, machine-to-core, plus on-premise; requiring more power, more security, less latency, tighter privacy, and overall more robust connectivity. Jason Shephard, Dell, remarked that 5G is so fast and powerful, you could drive your car with the Cloud. So stepping up to the challenge, AT&T’s Amy Wheelus detailed the “3 year journey” to completely re-engineer the network to put resources closer to the end-user with goals to provide simplicity and scale. (see chart).
A conference coup to hear from investor/futurist Vinod Khoshla who clarified that he “speculates” vs. predicts – and that was a paradigm for AI – the fine line between humans and machines respectively. Among his drivers for the future – AI and Security challenges driven by “too much data” potentially getting into the wrong hands. He cited that the government is the largest buyer of Bitcoin and pinned his hope on a future of distributed “trust” powered by the same block-chain technology and a bright future for Cyber Insurance.
Vinod’s thinking is influenced by consumer at home-behavior. Using Alexa as an example, he believes that the “enterprise” version should produce 10x the applications of what we see here and that we need a “knowledge graph” to harness the learning. The big data tsunami will then drive the next generation of data handling post-Hadoop to address the variety of types of data emerging from all the devices and environments. He also speculated on “cloud independence” beyond the purview of the current big four providers – referencing the recurring conference theme of “lock-in.”
Microsoft’s Mark Russinovich tackled the “hybrid” cloud discussion and the evolution of the robust Cloud Eco-systems that have evolved to support the global public cloud and Microsoft’s commitment to open core. He also reminded the audience that there is still a deep and active on-premises market to be supported beyond the public cloud.
Soundbites from Sessions:
Accenture: Addressing challenges to workforce; as networks evolve = programmable, elastic, new skill sets are evolving alongside the legacy skills required for existing infrastructure. This doesn’t happen overnight.
VC Perspective: To bridge the IPO gap, seeing more Private Equity interest, International Buyouts, Verticals (non-standard buyers). WRT to Docker – not enough “economic velocity” – difference between a great technology and great company
Intel: Jason Waxman – working toward a future powered by AI that can accelerate, personalized medicine, genome sequencing, and other human challenges.
Adobe: Defines “cloud native” more as an approach and design philosophy vs. infrastructure. Looks to highly curated data sets as critical success factor for AI
DNC: Democrats, the oldest political party unfortunately using relatively old technology. Goal now is to use data science to understand real communities.
Rackspace: The edge is a paradigm for “where the work gets done” – multi-cloud resembles multi-vendor and have to make it easier for people to move data, etc..
Slack: Presented a myriad of workforce related factoids & best practices around new technology applications in their biz. The driving force is their customers who stay connected for 10 hours/day. They are “rebuilding the empire while flying the plane” – using these top picks to solve old problems with new solutions: Stack, Hack, Kafka, React, Vitesse – cache data closer to users. Once they nail what works, they will embrace a move to open sourcing.
Cisco: Launched the developer network (people, team, culture) four years ago with no expectations and were met with a “DevZone” packed with infrastructure engineers hungry for opportunities to participate. DevNet is a key to evolve the programmable network at two levels of programmability: ASIC packet push-out protocol and compute/CPU/GPU at router level. This also sets the stage to understand how many “devices” there are in the market and change the “rent” accordingly for customers. Dev/Ops and DevNet put Cisco in the fast lane to meet the network demands competitively.
ClearSky Data: Ellen Rubin’s latest venture confirms that storage is still relevant (due to expectations around latency and bandwidth) and Back-up is “hot again.” Drivers are Object Storage; Pressure to move the cost of data to zero (but pay for access!); Super high performance archiving of historical data – access only when there is a breech; optimal “management” of storage.
Just for fun:
Back to the British Victorian custom – my picks for “SomeTHINGS” to wrap up the event:
- Old = Networks, Backup, Lock-In!
- New = a Future powered by Knowledge Graphs and AI; highly curated data sets
- Borrowed = Distributed Computing
- Blue = AT & T, Dell making leaps forward
And finally, a sixpence in your shoe – think globally to understand the next generation of cloud growth, movement of data, and security. I hope I passed the test of active listening and that this post serves as a thank you to the speakers and the organizers.