The EU cloud: Integrating the paradigms of cloud computing and sensor based interaction(Internet of things)

When I spoke at the TOWARDS THE DIGITAL WORLD IN 2025 event at the European parliament in Brussels last week , Prof Dr Lutz Heuser – Vice president SAP research and Chief Development officer of SAP mentioned the fascinating idea of an EU cloud

This vision is extremely interesting to me considering my interest in the ideas of beyond Web 2.0 – and the internet of things (a forthcoming book)

The idea of an EU cloud extends the ideas referenced from Tim O Reilly

As Tim said:

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And that of course is the future of mobile as well. A mobile phone is inherently a connected device with local memory and processing. But it’s time we realized that the local compute power is a fraction of what’s available in the cloud. Web applications take this for granted — for example, when we request a map tile for our phone — but it’s surprising how many native applications settle themselves comfortably in their silos. (Consider my long-ago complaint that the phone address book cries out to be a connected application powered by my phone company’s call-history database, annotated by data harvested from my online social networking applications as well as other online sources.)

Put these two trends together (sensor based interaction and cloud integration), and we can imagine the future of mobile: a sensor-rich device with applications that use those sensors both to feed and interact with cloud services. The location sensor knows you’re here so you don’t need to tell the map server where to start; the microphone knows the sound of your voice, so it unlocks your private data in the cloud; the camera images an object or a person, sends it to a remote application that recognizes it, and retrieves relevant data. All of these things already exist in scattered applications, but eventually, they will be the new normal. This is an incredibly exciting time in mobile application design. There are breakthroughs waiting to happen. Voice and gesture recognition in the Google Mobile App is just the beginning.

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A cloud set up by a company (unlike an EU cloud) has a flaw in the sense that it is not designed to be interoperable.

In contrast, a cloud set up by the EU if architectured correctly, can be invokable at a process level.

In that sense, it is like ‘powered by the EU cloud’ and that is a powerful paradigm especially when coupled with sensor integration at a device level

Thus, if we integrate the trends of sensor based interaction and cloud integration, we get a truly interesting phenomenon

The cloud needs to be invokable at a process level because then it is truly vendor agnostic (and hence a role for the EU)

This idea takes Web 2.0 beyond the business model of advertising because every device becomes the creator of metadata (just like Web 2.0 makes individuals as creators of metadata). Hence, in a world of beyond Web 2.0(Web 3.0/Internet of things model) – the concept of harnessing collective intelligence extends beyond individuals to devices.

Couple that with payments from mobile devices etc – then we have a truly stable business model based beyond advertising – but still extending the ideas of Web 2.0 like harnessing collective intelligence but to devices coupled with a cloud paradigm

Cloud or Fog? The battle for supremacy in the cloud is not a dogfight but will be fought in the trenches.

CLOUD OR FOG?

I have long been a fan of John Carpenter’s horror movies – and the Fog is a memorable one. You can see a preview above. If you have not seen it, the Fog is about a mist which slowly envelops a seaside village bringing with it ghosts of long dead sailors. The ghosts have a trademark metallic knock on the door (when you hear the knock, you know that they have come to get you!)

Cloud computing is slowly beginning to sound like the Fog.

That metallic knock on the door may be the Cloud vendors coming to get your business.

We saw this with Amazon with Amazon encroaching on the print on demand vendors like Lightning source

And last week, it was the Open source Mozilla browser folk who woke up to a metallic knock on their door in the middle of the night when we all heard the surprise announcement that Google wanted to be in the browser business with launch of the Chrome browser

Google had long supported the Mozilla browser. So, what happens to Mozilla now that Chrome is out? And more importantly, why did Google get into the browser business in the first place?

I believe that this is more than the aesthetics of the browser. Nor is it about the relative speed, standards conformance etc about browsers. The Chrome announcement relates more to Cloud computing – a topic I have been thinking of for a while now (and a looong blog coming soon).

WHOSE CLOUD DO YOU ORBITt?

If you compare Chrome to another browser, you are missing the point. In fact Chrome is less of a browser and borrows elements from the operating system in terms of its architecture.

Sam Johnston says this very eloquently in Google Chrome: Cloud Operating Environment .

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Chrome introduces a revolutionary new software architecture, based on components from other open source software, including WebKit and Mozilla, and is aimed at improving stability, speed and security, with a simple and efficient user interface.

The first intelligent thing Chrome does is split each task into a separate process (‘sandbox’), thus delegating to the operating system which has been very good at process isolation since we introduced things like pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection. This exacts a fixed per-process resource cost but avoids memory fragmentation issues that plague long-running browsers. Every web site gets its own tab complete with its own process and WebKit rendering engine, which (following the principle of least privilege) runs with very low privileges. If anything goes wrong the process is quietly killed and you get a sad mac style sad tab icon rather than an error reporting dialog for the entire browser.

Chrome enforces a simple computer security model whereby there are two levels of multilevel security (user and sandbox) and the sandbox can only respond to communication requests initiated by the user. Plugins like Flash which often need to run at or above the security level of the browser itself are also sandboxed in their own relatively privileged processes. This simple, elegant combination of compartments and multilevel security is a huge improvement over the status quo, and it promises to further improve as plugins are replaced by standards (eg HTML 5 which promises to displace some plugins by introducing browser-native video) and/or modified to work with restricted permissions. There are also (publicly accessible) blacklists for warning users about phishing and malware and an “Incognito” private browsing mode.

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But as Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner points out .. “the focus is on keeping different processes for different windows – that’s a very heavy duty thing to do. It’s an OS approach rather than a browser approach.” And something not considered worth following.

Jon is correct of course …

Let us not forget that Google already had Gears as an offline component. There was increasing support from the industry and from browser vendors like Opera for Gears. So why seek to totally dominate the (universal) client i.e. the browser as we know it?

The reason is simple ..

It’s because the cloud is fragmenting whether we like it or not.

Amazon S3, EC2; Google AppEngine, Facebook and Salesforce.com are not interoperable and are not likely to be as well. Differentiation will be based on service (cloud i.e. serverside) but ALSO on the client.

Google simply could NOT afford to leave a critical part of the user experience i.e. the client out of it’s control.

It is as simple as that.

So, what is missing? Again, as Sam Johnston says in the same article .. – just add Linux

Just add Linux and cloud storage and you’ve got a full blown Cloud Operating System (“CloudOS”)

What is perhaps most interesting though (at least from a cloud computing point of view) is the full-frontal assault on traditional operating system functions like process management (with a task manager that allows users to “see what sites are using the most memory, downloading the most bytes and abusing (their) CPU”). Chrome is effectively a Cloud Operating Environment for any (supported) operating system in the same way that early releases of Windows were GUIs for DOS. All we need to do now is load it on to a (free) operating system like Linux and wire it up to cloud storage (ala Mozilla Weave) for preferences (eg bookmarks, history) and user files (eg uploads, downloads) and we have a full blown Cloud Operating System!

Ironically, it validates Ray Ozzie’s strategy for Windows live services where he essentially redefines the SAAS paradigm to Software plus service – in effect incorporating the role of a client for the cloud.

The Google Chrome announcement is a tacit admission of the need for a client for the cloud

INTERESTING MOVE – BUT STILL SOME QUESTION MARKS ABOUT THE U TURN

With a mobile hat on .. For a company that does no evil and has been historically developer friendly; I must admit I was a bit disappointed in this U turn. I have been pro-Google overall however .. essentially .. Google was telling us that we should develop for webkit but at the same time was working on a product that was changing the architecture in a big way.

What does this mean for Android and indeed for timeframes of Android?

If Webkit relevant anymore – or not?

Google still has many challenges to address before it wins in the mobile space(the radio layer integration for one). We don’t need more ambiguity with Android and certainly don’t need major U turns.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MOBILE

And what does this mean for mobile?

We need a simple, universal thin client that integrates with Internet based services and with a small footprint. I had always believed that browsers with offline browsing mechanisms like Gears could be as close to a universal client as we can get. Now it seems; apparently not.

If we are now going to talk of a weird hybrid of a browser and an operating system (an ‘Owser’?) – then all hell breaks loose and old paradigms do not apply as I said at beginning of this blog – you cannot compare a browser to Chrome

Sergey Brin has already said that Chrome may well be the Brower for Android . This fits in well since the Linux component already exists(and consequently the components to make the Owser exist)

But the real question is: Who ELSE can provide a universal cloud client for the mobile device?

We can now agree that a client is needed (with architectures from both Google and Microsoft heading in that direction). We discussed this question at Mobile Web Megatrends and there were some interesting possibilities. These include Nokia (who could also now merge the browser (webkit) and the Operating system(Symbian) through open source(which is conceptually the same strategy as Chrome . But from an Operator standpoint – the talk by Gemalto offered a very interesting solution as well with the SIM / SCWS being the universal client for the cloud managed by the Operator.

CONCLUSIONS

To conclude, the cloud is already fragmented. And the battle for supremacy of the cloud may well not be a grand dogfight in the clouds like the Red Baron aka Baron Manfred von Richthofen fought in the skies but also a protracted ground battle (client side battle) fought in the trenches .

The boundaries between online and offline applications were already getting blurred with features like Gears and now to make matters interesting(or worse depending on your standpoint) – boundaries between browsers and operating systems themselves are blurring.

And this, to me, is highly disruptive .

Expect many more industries to be disrupted and many more such knocks on the door.

As usual, comments and feedback welcome.

Note re references to World War One history: I am not that old :) but I do like history and given more time would read a lot more of it!