Whirr + Spot Prices + Thanksgiving Weekend means that I can run large m1.xlarge instances on the cheap.

<griping>Also, Whirr is essential, but the project has a sort of “forgotten Maven site” feel about it. It’s annoying when an open source project has several releases, but no one bothers to republish the site.  It’s even more annoying when the “Whirr in 5 minutes” tutorial takes 60 minutes because it doesn’t work.</griping>

The Fall Guy (or Representing Open Source in the Business)

The problem with being the developer who can write at an open source company is that you end up being enlisted into the whole “Please explain how open source works” discussion when the company hires non-technical managers.  You end up as the representative of this strange thing called “open source.” A VP (not yours) calls you up and says, “Hey, could you explain what open source is to our sales team?”

You seize upon this as an opportunity to spread the Gospel of FOSS. You prepare elaborate slides that speak of Cathedrals and Bazaars. You turn some Lessig into an inspirational dramatic monologue that will inspire these non-developers to start thinking of OSS as the heroic effort we are mounting to take back control from proprietary vendors and create an even larger sharing economy. You think that maybe it is appropriate to introduce some of the developers that work on the project that company is currently making money…

…and then you show up at the “Sales Kick-off” meeting and you realize that this is more of a Glengarry Glen Ross joke festival than it is an audience receptive to the idea of profiting from a sharing economy.  You quickly try to revise slides about “Free as in Beer”, because you realize that any mention of beer is going to get this crowd derailed pretty quickly. They scheduled you at the end of the day, after the VP of Sales gave a speech that involved football metaphors and after the regional sales director had a loud fight about territory with the sales team.  You realize that no one really wants to hear about OSS because they are all about to go out on some sales team-building exercise that involves a lot of drinking and more discussion of sports.

You are summoned to present with “…Ok, some hippy developer is going to tell us what this freeware @#$# is all about anyway. Go ahead show ’em how to ‘make it rain.'”

If this is your job, you’ll find yourself in a room full of people asking you questions like “Alright, so do you geeks have anything better to do with your weekend?” and “Why are my customers getting all worked up over open source? I don’t get no commission on this crap.”

Some things that you’ll notice in the reaction:

  • People with a background in business and sales have no idea why you’ve been participating in open source for years.  Not only do they not understand it, some of them discount the entire idea (even if the company was built atop an OSS foundation).
  • Even if you think you’ve explained open source, there’s a large portion of the audience that either wasn’t listening or refuses to admit that it could ever work. (Someone will make a joke about how you are a communist.  It will be unclear whether that person was really joking or not.)
  • Jokes will be made about open source being about “free love,”, “hippies,” and “unicorns.”
  • Invariably, someone from the 1980s will show up and talk about how they once made a lot of money selling business software.  This will be used as an attempt to show others that your generation just has it all wrong.

If just the right kind of manager is there, everything you say about the “possibilities of open source” will be dismissed as over-idealistic nonsense.  Even though you might have just delivered a presentation on how Hadoop has created billions of dollars in value and how organizations like the Apache Software Foundation act as foundries for innovations that drive computing, someone will invariably stand up right after you and say, “Ok, enough about this open source crap, how are we going to make money?”

You realize that your “open-source” stuff is just going to be used as a scapegoat for a sales team that has no idea what OSS is.  This is the reason why you see headlines about large companies canceling support for OSS projects and products.  It isn’t because they couldn’t find a way to “monetize” – no it was often because they refused to understand the gold mine they were sitting on.

The Shift to Local Data Centers

In my post on Friday I wrote a fictional piece from 2020 predicting that the world’s IT infrastructure shifted to in-country data centers after the recent surveillance revelations.   It looks like this is going to happen faster than I expected.

What shall we name this trend?  How about “Jurisdictional Data Compliance” or “Jurisdictional Data Security”.  Walk up to your CIO today and ask what your JDC implementation plan is given your client’s new concerns about privacy.

View from 2020: American Complacency on Surveillance Ruined the Internet

Assume we’re in year 2020, we can all remember a time when Google was the largest internet company in the world – the #1 ranked search engine everywhere (well, everywhere except China). In 2020, this is no longer the case, because of a continued stream of revelations about government surveillance, just about every country in the world decided to enact regulations that encouraged (if not required) services like Email, Advertising, Social networks, and IM to be served from an in-country data center.

In 2020, if you are in Russia you use the Russian social network (already happening), if you are in Germany you use the German email provider, and if you are in China you use the Chinese version of Twitter (already established).  In seven years we went from these ubiquitous internet companies all having a global reach to a reality that encourages providers to confine themselves to a “state”.  The transition was difficult, a number of large internet companies stocks tanked in Q3 and Q4 of 2014 for a number of reasons, but one of the driving factors was that earnings suffered greatly when large portions of the EU and Asia lost trust in anything related to US-based internet providers.  Many of these companies were banking on international expansion as a source of growth. The free lunches and massive campuses in the Bay Area were built on a vision of linking the world’s populations together. Those went away when the promise of a global user base evaporated.

The period of time between 2013 and 2020 was about more than just businesses being affected by the surveillance fallout, after the surveillance scandals of 2013, people started putting up more walls to international cooperation.  This wasn’t an overnight decision, but over years and years as new projects were being implemented both in the private and public sector people who had to make decisions about where to host servers, what cloud providers to use, they all tended to opt for hosting something “in-country”. It wasn’t about which cloud provider had the easiest API any more, it was about a German company hosting a Germany web site in Berlin because of pressure from German customers.  All across the world, companies started to say things like, “Your data doesn’t cross any national boundaries” in marketing materials.  Jurisdictional Data Security became a selling point.

Companies made a mint over compliance with a series of laws passed in the EU, but this new “local-only” approach to services resulted in the creation of isolated islands of activity. In 2020, there’s no more “Internet” really.  The “Baidu-ification” of the internet influenced culture broadly as there is far less cross-cultural exchange.  In 2020, K-pop is confined to Korea, Russian dash-cams of insurance fraud are confined to Russia, and Australian Reddit users no longer salute the North America users during the wee hours of the night.  Nations and regions keep activity to themselves.  Advertising networks (these great vacuums of data) had a much more difficult time operating across networks, and companies started aiming at a target an order-of-magnitude less than multiple-billions of users.

Without thinking about the ramifications to US-based businesses, the government just decided to start using its leverage over US-based internet companies to compel compliance with a collection of secret laws. In an effort to protect us, they ended up sapping energy from one of the only sectors of growth in the economy.  They ended up ruining the global surveillance network they had so successfully established.

Back in 2013, even after the stories broke, most of the American public was still complacent.  Only a tiny percentage of people were paying attention in this country, and of those that were, a sizable portion just thought, “Oh, well, we have to keep track of the terrorists.”   It isn’t like the public was in the habit demanding swift action for anything really, as a nation we had decided to stop electing effective representatives years ago and both of the branches of government they had any control over were locked in an endless battle over Bread and Circus.  Poll random people on the street about FISA in 2013, and they’d probably tell you it was a European soccer league.

The public was complacent, even accepting of this new reality.  The Patriot Act was passed in a time of great fear and an anticipation of constant threat.  Our collective complacency with surveillance and our inability to stand for core values like privacy were the competitive disadvantage that ruined Silicon Valley.   In an effort to protect ourselves, we ended up doing more harm than good.  Some blamed the NSA and CIA, but these people were just implementing policy enacted into law by the public’s representatives.  The real source of the problem was the American public. We were complacent with surveillance.

In 2020 people say things like, “Remember when Google was a global company?  They had an entire campus in Mountain View.  Those were the days.” Google started having problems after 2013, they had to spend so much time at the executive level dealing with high-level negotiations with governments that they took their eye off of the local competition. Yes, America has the best capital markets in the world, the largest economy, and a strong national defense, but the loss of trust trumped all of that.