It pays to have your head in the clouds: Google’s Glotzbach

Cloud computing will have as profound an impact on IT, business, and life in general as the invention of the “power grid” at the turn of the last century, says a top Google executive.

“It will change the fundamental economics of enterprise computing,” said Matthew Glotzbach, product director, enterprise at Mountainview, Calif.-based Google Inc. during his keynote at the IT360 Conference and Expo in Toronto, Wednesday.

But the Google executive wouldn’t hazard a guess as to where this phenomenon would take us in the next 10 years.

“The pace of change is too rapid for predictions.”

It was Nicholas Carr – author of controversial article “IT Doesn’t Matter”, who first drew the analogy between the invention of the power grid and the evolution of cloud computing in his book The Big Switch:Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google.

In that volumeCarr notes how with the invention of the power grid, electricity went from being something individual factories generated for their use, to a centralized utility powering entire cities.
In much the same way, he argues, computing is moving from a process on your computer’s hard drive, to something that happens remotely on server farms.
Glotzbach said Carr’s historical parallel is very apt.

Much like the power grid did in its day, cloud computing is also bringing about massive and irrevocable changes in life and business, the Google executive said – specifying four ways this is already happening:

1. Democratization of information – Let freedom ring

The Internet allows us to provide unprecedented and widespread access to information, and “Google and other search engines are just a piece of it,” Glotzbach said.

He cited Wikipedia – the user created online encyclopaedia – as an example of how large-scale collaborative initiatives are adding to the pool of available information at a mind-boggling pace.

“It’s clear people have a lot to say. English language entries in Wikipedia are 15 times the number of entries in encyclopaedia Britannica.”

And the volume of entries, he suggested, is not necessarily at the expense of accuracy, as “studies show Wikipedia provide a [similar] or higher degree of accuracy than encyclopaedia Britannica.”

In the blogosphere, he noted, 120,000 new blogs are being added every day. “This means in one hour 5,000 new blogs will be added in one hour.”

Blogs are being used for collaborative R&D and as a tool to comment on issues and events. So much so, “you can even debate who is a journalist today.”

The creation of common standards – such as SOAP or CORBA – are a corollary to this “democratization” process, Glotzbach noted, because it enables disparate machines to talk to one another.

However, he said, when it comes to standards, “simple” always wins because everybody can understand and use it.

That’s why all public APIs for Google Apps are RSS-based, he said. “So anyone can use them.”

RSS, short for really simple syndication, is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts.

Glozbach cited how Google used RSS to solve the problem of how to keep customers up to speed on new features and capabilities being constantly added to Google Apps.

“This was a common customer concern as there are half a million businesses using Google Apps for mail, calendaring and so on – and we keep adding new features to the applications.”

So he said Google created a simple RSS feed that customers could subscribe to. “That instantly solved the problem. Nobody asks for more features, or a different implementation any more.”

Another breakthrough in this “democratization” process, he said, will involve real-time translations that enable Internet users speaking different languages to communicate instantly.

“We’re working on it.”

The Google executive noted that two-thirds of the Internet population doesn’t speak English – and yet, 80 per cent of the information on the Web is in English.

“Larry Page (Google co-founder) realized this said we have to figure out a way to solve this problem.”

To do that, Glotzbach said Google hired a bunch of scientists to do work on machine translation – and they came up with a system that “won hands down” in a comparative evaluation held by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

(NIST tests were designed only to look at how well the software translates from Chinese and Arabic into English. In the four tests that Google participated in, it beat out Systran, IBM, Sakhr Software, and a number of universities by a wide margin).

Glotzbach said in Google Chat this capability is already available.
“You use a bot in the chat that can translate, for example, between Chinese and English. The cloud provides the processing power.”

Down the line, he said, it’s likely we will see such these technologies embedded in e-mail, voice translations and so on.

2. The information supply chain – scaling new heights

The corporate IT landscape needs a transformation similar to what we experienced 20 years ago in manufacturing, Glotzbach said.

In the 80s, he said, the manufacturing industry revolution streamlined supply chains, led to lean manufacturing process and more.

“In corporate IT, it’s still a craftsman type landscape with difficult to manage technology stacks and highly proprietary products.”

“Scale” is what will enable us accomplish this metamorphosis in the IT industry – and that can be provided “in the cloud.”

“The cloud allows us to do things on a scale we never thought possible,” Glotzbach said, citing the example of Google’s g-mail offering – that currently offers consumers 6GB email storage, and businesses 25 GB.

He said he has never deleted an e-mail since he started at Google – and can still search instantly find any e-mail written or received at any point in his entire career with the company.

“That’s impossible with traditional on premise software.”

The dire need for storage in the cloud is even greater when it comes to video, the Google exec said.

“A staggering10 hours of video get uploaded to Google every minute. That’s a fraction of the video being produced every minute. It all takes massive storage space. But cloud enables this.”

In Google’s case, he said, the scale at which such storage is being offered is “driving unit costs towards zero,” citing the example of Google’s g-mail offering.

The cost curve, he said, is declining, while the revenue curve – driven by “unobtrusive little ads” that run on the side – has risen steadily.

“What if you could put your corporate IT on similar curve?”

3. Consumer innovation sets the pace – Darwin revisited

A decade ago, Glotzbach said, the best technology would come from the corporate side of things.

Now that’s changed and “it’s the consumer space that’s driving innovation and cool new products.”

He suggested that the consumer market is Darwinian in nature, in that only the best products survive – and the end user determines what’s best.
“In the consumer world if you don’t like something get something else. You can switch providers easily. Vendors on consumer side to survive have to serve needs of end users.”

But in corporate IT, he said, it’s different. Vendors design products to serve the business – but have “lost sight of end user.”

He said in cases when vendors – such as Apple with the iPhone – did focus on end users the results have been noticeable. “In the U.S. smart phone market Apple has gained a 28 per cent marketshare in less than a year.”

The same is true, he said, of the Safari browser, which has a 71 per cent share of the mobile brower market. “Through the iPhone Apple was able to create a market for Safari, and now through that browser you can get at all of your cloud apps.”

4. Barriers crumbling…going, going, gone

With the last remaining barriers to adoption of cloud computing falling away – widespread adoption is imminent, Glotzbach said.

While in the mobile space broadband connectivity remains a challenge – that’s changing very soon.

Quality of user experience has been one of the biggest barriers to adoption of to Web-based apps.

“Traditionally, when you moved to browser-based apps, you had to sacrifice user experience,” Glotzbach noted.

Now he said, Web based apps are not just on par, but leapfrogging desktop software.

For instance, he said, the fact that a business can search through several gigabytes of e-mail in the cloud means a better user experience, and greater functionality than the desktop.

Lack of offline access to Web apps is also one of the challenges that’s going away, he said – citing the example of Google Gears that enables off-line access to services that normally only are available online.

He noted that just last week his company also offered offline access to
Google Docs – Google’s free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application that allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.

Cloud computing, Glotzbach said, actually disposes of one of the biggest challenges faced by businesses today – data security.

He cited certain ominous statistics:

  • More than two million laptops stolen in N. America every year – and one in 10 laptop computers will be stolen within 12 months of purchase, Glotzbach noted.
  • Sixty-six per cent of thumb drive owners lose them, while more than 60 per cent of the lost drives have business data on them.

“Everybody still wrestling with this problem.”

The end point, the Google executive noted, is one of the weakest links in security.

He suggested it’s a fallacy to believe that “data in the cloud” is more or less secure than data in the enterprise.

On the contrary, he said, in cloud computing offers you greater control over your data. “You send people links to documents, and at any time you can monitor who is looking at them.”

Welcome to the cloud generation

The rise of cloud computing doesn’t mean that on premise software is not going away, Gotzbach clarified.

“Everything is additive in corporate IT.” But he predicted that usage models would change quite a bit.

“High usage apps will move to cloud. And the most interesting innovation happening in software and technology will be in the cloud.”

In this cloudy future, he said, there would be lots of competitors. “The cloud is big space – and in it many players will be successful.”

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