Monday, February 11, 2013

Software, Cars, Planes and Cloud Computing

“Software” is a term that is fairly abstract and distant (although, more and more, that’s not the case) from the everyday reality of most people – or, at least, for many people who aren’t aware of just how “normal” and “everyday” technology  is in our everyday lives. That’s not only true when we buy the latest gadget, but also anytime that we plug something in – which means using energy taken from thermal generating plants or solar panels or wind farms – all of which are monitored and controlled using software. It’s also true when we take the car (with its onboard computer) out for a drive, or when we take any other mode of transport, like a train or a plane, both of which are almost totally controlled by software systems (and, for sure, the hardware, meaning PCB design, on which this software runs.)

In this post, we’re going to examine what software is, the ways in which it’s sold, rented or licensed… all of which can be explained by using the example of cars, which are much more familiar to the majority of people to whom we try to explain what we do.

1. Free software. In this case, “free” is a synonym for “liberated”, not “low-cost” (and certainly not “free” as in the sense of “you don’t have to pay for anything.”) In this case, free software is like buying a car and being able to handle and fix the engine yourself if you’re good at that kind of thing. You can also choose who fixes it for you (and that’s where the idea of freedom comes from.) Proprietary software (or private software) means that the motor is closed off from the car and you can’t select the mechanic who fixes it because the manufacturer does that for you (and that is supplied by the network of partners chosen by the manufacturers of that particular proprietary software.).
The free software, or open source software model, (with differences they are very similar) have also been taking to hardware design and there are initiatives like PCB Design reuse.

2. Development of Value-Added Software modules and System Integrators. The development of modules based on a product (such as Moodle, Nuxeo, Alfresco, Magento or any other solution) is like developing the wheels or radio (the extras) of a high-end vehicle. In the end, we’re like “tuners” of cars (like McLaren, Williams) who take a car, put the best extras available on it, and then fine-tune it for clients who want the most personalized treatment.

That said, Google Docs, DropBox or would be like lower-end vehicles: a service that doesn’t offer the chance for any kind of personalization at all. This kind of personalization is normally carried out through Systems Integrators; but the development of modules (which are themselves products) would correspond to other manufacturers, strictly speaking. What happens is that each of them works in different layers (similar to what happens with wheels, the engine or the radio of a car: these parts may not be up to the same level as the car, but it still forms part of the entire thing.)

3. The “gasoline” of the business. If you think of the business as a vehicle, money is its fuel. When a business starts to run out of money, the same feeling exists: you can have a fabulous engine (human resources), a talented pilot (the CEO and, generally, great senior managers), great tech and aerodynamic parts (great ideas) – but if you run out of money, you’re not going to even leave the parking garage. And just like owning a hot car, the feeling’s just as frustrating with money: “If we had everything ready to succeed, how, exactly, did we end up getting stuck halfway through?”

4. One free software, many uses. Free software is like a “specific car with a low price tag and high value”. Instead of investing in SAP-type software that does it all (which would be like buying a Hummer: it costs a fortune and is only really good for one specific thing), you can choose between having different tools and interconnecting the tools, which would be like having a Ferrari that you only take out for Sunday drives (CRM, to bring clients along), a Jeep for Saturday activities (the ERP for the tough stuff), AND a BMW that you use on a daily basis (a powerful intelligent document management).

5. Cloud computing is like airplanes. Cloud computing would be like airplanes, while solutions solved on-site would be like cars. This idea comes from with the same title of Error 500:

“Errors in cloud computing are, at times, a matter of perspective: a problem in Gmail is very noticeable because it affects tens of thousands of user, and that is something that can contribute to losing perspective if it really has more problems of data loss or disruption in services that are run locally or within the business.”

To put it plainly: Even though accidents in the cloud are more obvious, it’s certainly safer to travel by plane than it is by any other means of transport. That said, even if something could happen to you when you’re flying, many times we feel a lot safer in our own cars because we have the feeling of being in control, having everything at your fingertips and being able to direct where you’re going – and all that, in spite of knowing that, as far as numbers go for availability, security, scalability, our infrastructure can’t compete with the Cloud from Amazon, Rackspace or Google.

In much the same way, our car (even if it’s the best Ferrari going) still can’t compete with a commercial airliner.

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