International Conference on Data Engineering 2008

I was on a panel at the International Conference on Data Engineering yesterday morning in Cancun, Mexico but I was only there for Friday. You’re probably asking “why would someone fly all the way to Cancun for one lousy day?” Not a great excuse, but it goes like this: the session was originally scheduled for Wednesday and I was planning to attend the entire conference since I haven’t been to a pure database conference in a couple of years. But, it was later moved to Friday mid-morning and work is piling up at the day job so I ended up deciding to just fly in for the day.

It was such a short trip that I ended up flying both in and out of Cancun with the same flight crew. They offered me a job so I’ve now got a back-up plan at Alaska Air in case the distributed systems market goes soft. Actually, I had some company. Hector Garcia-Molina and I arrived at the airport at same time Thursday and went out at the same time Friday. Hector was flying in for his Friday morning keynote PhotoSpread: A Spreadsheet for Managing Photos.

The panel I participated in on Friday was “Cloud Computing-Was Thomas Watson Right After All?” organized by Raghu Ramakrishnan of Yahoo! Research. The basic premise of the panel is that the much of the current server-side workloads are migrating to the cloud and this trend is predicted by many to accelerate. I partly agreed and partly disagreed. From my perspective the broad move to a services-based model is inescapable. The economics are simply too compelling. But, at the same time that I see a massive migration to a service based model, the capabilities of the edge are growing faster than ever. One billion cell phones will sell this year. Personal computer sales remain robust. The edge will always have more compute, more storage, and less latency. I argue that we will continue to see more conventional enterprise workloads move to a service-based model each year. And, at the same time, we’ll see increased reliance on the capabilities of edge devices. More service based applications will be dependent upon large local caches supporting low latency access and disconnected operation and deep, highly engaging user interfaces. Basically service based applications exploiting local device capabilities and interfaces (Browser-Hosted Software with a “Real” UX ).

My summary: the edge pulls computation close to the user for the best possible user experience. The core pulls computation close to data. Basically, I’m arguing both will happen.

Looking more closely at the mass migration of many of the current enterprise workloads to a services-based delivery model, the driving factor is lower cost and freeing up IQ to work on the core business. When there is an order of magnitude in cost savings possible, big changes happen. In many ways the predicted mass move to services reminds me of the move to packaged Enterprise Resource Planning software 10 to 20 years back. Before then, most enterprises wrote all their own internal systems, which were incredibly expensive but 100% tailored to their unique needs. It was widely speculated that no large company would ever be willing to change their business sufficiently to use commercial ERP software. And, they probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the several-factor difference in price. The entire industry moved to packaged ERP software at an incredible pace. Common applications like HR and accounting are now typically sourced commercially by even the largest enterprises and they invest in internal development where they need to innovate or add significant value (generally, ignoring Enron, you don’t really want to innovate too much in accounting).

The same thing is happening with services. Just as before, I frequently hear that no big enterprise will move to a services-based model due to security and privacy reasons and a need to tailor their internal applications for their own use. And, again, the cost difference is huge and I fully expect the results will be the same: common applications where the company is not doing unique innovation will move to a services-based model. In fact, it’s already happening. Even as early as a couple of years back when I led Exchange Hosted Services, I was amazed to find that many of largest household name enterprises are moving some of their applications to a services-model. It’s happening.

The slides I presented at ICDE: JamesRH_ICDE2008x.ppt (749.5 KB).


James Hamilton, Windows Live Platform Services
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