Well, Hurricane Irene has come and gone: Rain, wind, a disrupted vacation, power out for a day. All-in-all, not too bad an experience for our family. My heart goes out who were more dramatically effected by the storm.
What I want to talk about here is why Hurricane Irene demonstrates that the “Cloud” will become ubiquitous (and we’re not talking cumulus here).
It just so happens that at the height of Irene, a customer of mine was having some issues with deploying a software solution for distributing video content. With no power, no landline, no cable connection I was able to do the following:
- Fire up the old generator and get enough circuits active in my house so that I could run a laptop.
- Tether my laptop to my iPhone so I could have Internet access.
- Launch a couple of instances on Amazon EC2
- Download the latest release from Subversion hosted on Codesion.
- Build the software
- Deploy the test system through our automated Amazon test system
- Send E-mail that the problem is solved
The only local resources are my phone and a laptop, electricity and cell connectivity. The laptop is only for connecting to my real computing environment in the cloud. See https://mfktech.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/calling-all-human-interface-engineers-or-why-honeycomb-might-be-a-bad-idea/ for a discussion of what the ultimate client might be: It is not the laptop and it may not be a tablet either!
The upshot of this is that with fairly minimal resources (a generator, a cell phone), I could do all the work that I could with my “fully connected” office, except maybe play video. With LTE, that limitation will give way as well.
The “extreme mobile” worker is not new. What is newer is that:
a) Connectivity is becoming more ubiquitous
b) The availability of “cloud” resources is growing
c) Tools are now web-enabled (and HTTP is becoming the lingua franca for transport – see https://mfktech.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/http-as-a-storage-transport/)
In short, it is easier to be a Hurricane Worker.
What still needs to be done?
- Connecting to the cloud is still fairly clumsy. I authenticate a different way to each service: name/password for E-mail, public key authentication for my Amazon instances, a different name/password for my Codesion account. What we really need is the ability to launch windows just like I do on my laptop (or tablet for you iPad types), and have all the cloud brokering happen in the background.
- Lower costs. In two weeks I burned through 1.75GB of data across my tether. Over 2 GB and I pay surcharges. While data costs will undoubtedly drop as the LTE infrastructure is capitalized, the proliferation of WiFi also goes a long way to bringing down costs. But again, it is a hodge podge of infrastructures with different use policies and logon mechanisms.
- LTE may make the performance issue moot; it will be about as fast as “normal” cable, though not as fast as 100 Mbps Coax (at least not for a while) or 1 Gbps Optical (e.g., FIOS). It will be up to the telco’s to see how much they gouge the customer (At 10x the speed do I reach my GB/month limit 10x faster?).
- Better battery life! I long for the day when you can work for 24 hours on a single charge (or maybe a single refill of a micro-fuel cell).
- Integration between the local state of my computing device and the cloud would be nice. Ultimately all the state may be in the cloud. Today I still need to edit “stuff” locally and upload (Google docs not withstanding). We want to get to the point where there is virtually no state locally.
This last point is particularly challenging when you consider how easy it is to put state on a device (e.g., a 32 GB iPhone can hold a lot of state). What we really want is to make that state a bidirectional cache of the cloud state. That is a blog entry for another day.