Ask you customers what IT projects they didn’t do last year?

Think of one of your customers. Do you think they are doing all the IT projects they would like to do?


Why not?

Could it be that the things they like to do require significant upfront investments? Do you think that he is affraid that he or she invests in something and after a while have to admit that it wasn’t a success? Are these investments so high because success requires a lot of scale?

Cloud platforms now make all these projects executable. The initial hardware investments are close to €0. You can start on a shoestring and if it is successful you can scale easily. If it fails you will fail cheap.

So let’s talk to our customers. Let’s ask the question:

What projects didn’t you do last year?

Posted: January 20th, 2011
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: No Comments.

Workload Patterns for cloud computing

Yesterday I was talking to one of our partners about cloud computing in general and more specific about Windows Azure . During the discussion I told them how I look at the workloads that are specifically suitable for running on a cloud platform. After I finished explaining and finally shut up the partner said: “That is a great way to look at applications or workloads and weather or not it makes sense to move them to the cloud! Do you have this in a whitepaper?”.

Eventually I found this blogpost  it is also from a Microsoft employee. In my opinion this post is essential when you are thinking about cloud computing and what workloads make sense to migrate partly or entirely to the cloud.

This will be the first draft of that document. I’ll be working with the partner to draft this into a formal whitepaper. If you have an opinion about this please leave a comment or send me a mail so I can incorporate it in the document. So here we go!

Before we can talk about workloads ideally suited for cloud computing we need to define cloud computing. Right now there are a lot of definitions of cloud computing flying around and everybody tries to define cloud computing in such a way that it fits their business model.

If you talk to VMWare cloud computing is virtualization, for Cisco it is all about the network, Google will tell you search is cloud computing and Microsoft is talking about software plus services to emphasize that all cloud computing is driven by software.

We want to say something about cloud computing in general so we want a source that is more or less independent. I personally think that the cloud computing definition of Gartner is a great one.

“Gartner defines cloud computing as a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies.”*

Cloud computing is a deployment model that has certain advantages in elasticity, connectivity and business model. Other deployment models are on-premise installation or outsource/hosted model. The following workload patterns have the greatest benefits of these cloud platform characteristics.

On and Off

Applications or workloads that have a relatively short period of activity and after they have produced a result can be switched of.

Batch processing, data crunching or calculations are typical activities of applications of this pattern. A real life example is a company called Riskmetrics.

This company runs Monte Carlo simulations for its customers. In stead of running these simulations in their own datacenter where the hardware is idle when they are not running a simulation they have build their application on a cloud platform. If there is work they start as many machines they need to perform the work in the time they have. They run the calculations and then switch them off again. They are only paying for these machines when they are actually doing work.

The obvious advantage for workloads with this pattern is that you don’t have to pay for hardware when it is sitting around idle. The other advantage is that you can scale a lot bigger than you would be able to in your own datacenter.

Bursting Predictable and Unpredictable

When you are running a successful web retail operation you probably have your peak demand during the holiday season. After a couple of years you will have a fairly good idea how much bigger the demand will be during this period than during the rest of the year. This can be up to 800% higher than any other day of the year.

What do you scale your infrastructure to? Of course to this peak demand because this is when the money is made. The downside of this is that the rest of the year 80% of your infrastructure is sitting idle taking up resources because this infrastructure has to be maintained.

This scenario is ideal for a cloud solution. We call it predictable bursting because you know when the peak demand will be. Come end of November the number of nodes running your infrastructure is increased to the required levels and mid January it is scaled down again. The resources required to maintain this infrastructure can now be used to build new features or add value to the platform.

The other bursting scenario is called unpredictable bursting. In these cases you don’t know when the peak demand will be. An example is a news site. They never know when the plane crash or terrorist attack will be. They do know that if that happens they require a lot more capacity.
A cloud platform allows you to scale your infrastructure when such an event happens.


Growing Fast or Scale cheap, Fail cheap

This is the scenario of the tech startup. Imagine a service that allows you in a very short message (say 140 characters) that allows people to know what they are doing or thinking. Suddenly your service becomes a great hit and the infrastructure you

are running it oncan’t cope. You are not able to scale your infrastructure to the demand and the service breaks when it is being most used.
The problem is that you never know if your service will be such a success. If the boys and girls at Twitter would have scaled for the demand that they are seeing now they would have never launched and their initial investment would be incredible high. So you want a platform that is able to scale fast and cheap but does not have the initial investment you would have if you were going to buy hardware.

This is exactly what a cloud platform  can provide. You can scale your infrastructure very close to the actual load that is being used on the platform. If the application has been architected right this will keep the fail whale away without breaking the bank.

Connected applications

Another workload pattern I think has great benefits from running in the cloud are connected applications. The obvious reason is one of the characteristics Gartner attributes to cloud computing. “deliverd using internet technologies”. In other words most cloud platforms are located on the internet and are therefore easy to connect to from any other application or device that is connected to the internet.

There is a common knowledge in IT infrastructure which says:” If two systems need to communicate through organizational or network bounderies add a third system both can communicate to.” As an Example I would like to use Windows Live Messenger or Skype (whichever you prefer the pattern is the same). There are two clients running on a desktop. One running behind a corporate firewall and the other is running in a home network behind the home gateway. Think of the tasks you would have to achieve to setup a network connection between those two clients to exchange data (files, voice, video). The easier one is publishing an endpoint in the home gateway router and publishing it to the client. Now imagine the call to the corporate IT department: “Would you be so kind to open up the firewall to TCP port XYZ on my client?” So what do applications like Windows Live Messenger and Skype do? They add a third system. Both clients can hav outbound internet traffic so they connect to the third system. By setting up that connection the third system can patch them through so to say.

You can have your application connect to other applications (at your customer, business partner, affiliate network) using this pattern. The third system would be a cloud application.

Commodity workloads

The workloads described above are workloads of custom application that would be deployed to a platform as a service solution like Windows Azure, Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine. The final pattern isn’t really a pattern but I think that without it this article would not be complete. There are workloads that are so commonplace that migrating them to a cloud platform makes sense. E-mail is such a workload. There is nothing strategical about running your own E-mail platform so move it to the cloud. Buy it as a Service.

I think this is a useful yardstick when thinking about new IT projects. Cloud computing is here to stay but it is not the holy grail, neither the end to world hunger. It is a deployment model that has certain distinct advantages. Looking at these advantages there are 5 types of workloads that benefit most from migrating to a cloud platform. These are On,Off, Bursting, Growing Fast, Connected Applications and Commodity Workloads.

As I said at the beginning for me this is the starting point of more thinking in this direction so if you have an opinion about this please leave a comment.

*Gartner – Five Refining Attributes of Public and Private Cloud Computing – 5 May 2009

Posted: July 13th, 2010
Categories: Technology
Comments: 3 Comments.

4 Reasons why engineers must stay up to date on industry news?

I had a discussion with a former colleague over dinner. We were talking about staying up to date by keeping an eye on the industry news. He said that he was so busy and his work was so specialized that reading up on generic industry news is not interesting for him.

At first I was inclined to agree with him. His work is specialized and 90% of the information that is on the main websites like ZDnet, techcrunch, Mashable or Computable doesn’t help him in doing his day to day job. But when I was on my way home from the dinner location I reconsidered. I think there are 4 reasons why engineers should stay up to date on industry news.

  • You should be aware of patterns that are surfacing

    Especially the IT industry changes at a rapid pace. If you don’t keep your head up and look around now and then you might miss some new pattern that changes the way you work. Usually in our business it makes your live A LOT easier. Because someone fixed something that has cost you a lot of headache. You want to be the first guy that finds out something like that. It will get you the nice projects.

    • Before you know it you are like the COBOL programmers

      Keeping your ear to the grounds should put you in a position to see trends in the industry. Knowing these trends should help you to predict where things are going. It can be that you are in a position that will be not very relevant sometime soon. For example if you are managing hardware the trend of cloud computing might be worrying. If you are building websites now would be the time to start brushing up your HTML5, CSS3 skills. If you only start looking at developments like this the chance is big that you will end up like the COBOL programmer. Greatly skilled, highly specialized but in a field where there is no demand for.

      • It will keep your enthusiasm in technology

        Especially if you are doing highly specialized engineering work you can sometimes loose the broader picture of technology. If you are buried in in debugging a problem for three straight days it can happen that you loose tech as a hobby and only see it as work. To keep motivated it is a good idea to read some articles about cool new stuff that will be released later this year.

        • Search engines favor the old stuff

          I think this is the most important one. Engineers in IT spend a lot of time in search engine results. The thing with search engines is that they favor stuff that has been around for a while. Search engines loves stuff that has been linked to a lot. Especially if you are in deep stuff (like identity or security) the articles that hold very interesting information isn’t linked to a lot. Therefore these articles will not surface soon in the search engines.

          • (extra reason) It takes your mind of the problem at hand

          When I was still in engineering I sometimes was banging my head at a problem for a couple of days. It helps me to take my mind of for a couple of minutes and reading up on stuff did just the trick.

          So I don’t think RSS is dead I think it is still a good way to stay up to date (next to whatever realtime social network you follow) and I think that Engineers must find the way

          Posted: June 28th, 2010
          Categories: Technology
          Comments: No Comments.

          What do you do for a living?

          Bram what are you actually doing for a living?

          Every couple of months my mother asks me this question and to be honest I find it hard to explain what I’m doing  now and then.

          Where do you work?

          This is a much easier question to answer. I work for Microsoft. Microsoft is a company that creates software and we create a lot of software. I work for the Dutch subsidiary of Microsoft which is located in at Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam. Within the Dutch Sub I work for our Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) division. Within that group I hold the position of Web Platform Architect.

          Ok so you built web platforms?

          Uhm well no. I actually don’t built anything. It is just a title within DPE titles don’t really mean a lot. I run programs and engage specific audiences and try to get people to build stuff with our stuff.

          So this DPE is the department you work for?

          Yes 🙂

          What does this DPE do?

          DPE stands for Developer and Platform Evangelism DPE is just an acronym.

          At Microsoft we create two kinds of software. Software that can be used as it is (Office, Windows) you can compare this with GI-Joe toys and software that can be used to build other software (Visual Studio) this can be compared to Lego. At DPE we are responsible for all our Lego like software. This category of software is called developer tools. Next to that we show people you can also build upon the GI-Joe tools as a platform. We are working very hard to show the world this platform and the tools and show that they are great. I sometimes call it technical marketing because DPE is a technical content department.

          Ok I get that so what do you do? Do you sell these tools or platforms?

          No I don’t sell anything. Within DPE we all have focus areas. Personally my focus areas are Web, Windows Phone and Windows Azure or cloud computing. I don’t really want to talk about the difficulties of each area but want to focus on the work I’m doing around these areas.

          For each area we try to figure out what the market dynamic and maturity is. Who is buying what and who is influencing this decision. This can be extremely different in different markets. The person who is buying a website is a completely different kind of person compared to the person who commissions a mobile app. But sometimes they are very similar. Once we have identified them we are looking for their pain points and we build content and programs to address that.

          So what does your day look like?

          Things that I do in a regular day could be. Figuring out new technology. Since we are always responsible for the latest and the greatest we have to be on the bleeding edge. Stay up to date with the industry and see what is happening with competing technology. Meetings with customers that want to start using our new technology. Supporting customers and partners that have started with our latest technology. Doing project management on projects like portals, newsletters, events we are organizing or participating in. Visiting events both about Microsoft and Competitive technology. It depends a lot what time of the year it is which activity has the upper hand.

          Posted: June 23rd, 2010
          Categories: Microsoft, Private
          Comments: No Comments.

          Setting up a new blog hopefully for the last time


          Welcom to this new blog. I’ve been moving around my blog quite a bit. From the Dutch Microsoft Blogging Server to the international MSDN blog server. My Microsoft Blogs were mostly business related sharing news that was comming from our mothership. Then twitter came. I noticed that all these announcements could be very well dealt with in a tweet. If I had a thought for a blogpost I was wondering if it would fit on my Microsoft blog.

          So this blog will be a bit different from my previous blogs in the way that there won’t be that many product/announcement related posts. I don’t expect a lot of readers but hopefully I’ll find a tone that will amuse a few.

          I’ll keep you posted.


          Posted: June 21st, 2010
          Categories: Private
          Comments: No Comments.