Thursday, May 14, 2009

After the Cloud: Open Heaps


After the Cloud:
  1. Prelude
  2. So Far
  3. The New Big
  4. To Atomic Computation and Beyond
  5. Open Heaps
  6. Heaps of Cash
  7. Epilogue

Refresher

Up to now, we've considered technical explorations and possible related future directions for the technology surrounding the support of distributed applications and infrastructure. This post takes a break and returns to thoughts of provisioning resources on small devices such as mobile phones. As stated in To Atomic Computation and Beyond:
This could be just the platform for running small processes in a distributed environment. And making it a reality could prove to be quite lucrative. A forthcoming blog post will explore more about the possibilities involved with phone clouds...
But first, I'm so tired of the term "cloud," so I did some free-association... from cloud to clouds to "tons of little clouds" to "close to the ground" to cumulus to heap (Latin for "cumulus"). Heap! It's irresistible :-)

"Open" is such a terribly abused word these days (more so than cloud), but using it as an adjective for a wild collection of ad-hoc, virtualized process spaces satisfies some subtle sense of humor. Open Heaps it is.


Starting Points

Let's think about the medium in our example: cellular telephony. Is there a potential market here? Here are some raw numbers from Wikipedia:
By November 2007, the total number of mobile phone subscriptions in the world had reached 3.3 billion, or half of the human population (although some users have multiple subscriptions, or inactive subscriptions), which also makes the mobile phone the most widely spread technology and the most common electronic device in the world.
I think we can count that as a tentative "yes."

Can we do this the easy way and just use TCP/IP? In other words, what about using WiFi phones or dual-mode mobile phones as the communication medium for devices in our open heaps? Well, that would certainly make many things much easier, since everything would stay in the TCP/IP universe. However, the market penetration of standard mobile phones is so much greater in comparison.

That being said, how many currently operating phones are capable of serving content on the internet, running background processes, etc.? Maybe only a small fraction, perhaps even enough to justify supporting only devices such as handhelds, smartphones, MIDs, UMPCs, and Netbooks.

Two possibilities for ventures here might be:
  1. A startup that developed an Open Heap offering for any Internet-connected device.
  2. A company that formed a partnership with one or more mobile carriers, acting as a bridge between the carrier-controlled network/device-management capabilities and the Internet.

The Business Problem

So, let's say we've got the technology ready to go that will allow users to upload a process hypervisor to their phones, and that this technology provides the ability for users to allot process resources (e.g., RAM, CPU, storage). There are still a couple basic principles to address to justify a business in this area:
  1. How will people be better off with this than without it?
  2. How will this technology generate revenue?
In general, I believe that consumers are always better off with more choices. I also believe that balanced systems run better than those that are rigged to benefit just one group. As such, I have an idealist's interest in things like Open Heaps, as they will empower interested consumers to earn revenue (however small) on their own property (mobile phones and other devices with marketable resources). What's more, if there are billions of devices available as nodes in Open Heaps, and there is a computing demand for those resources, then there will inevitably be competitors aiming to capitalize on them. Generally speaking, I also believe that increased competition provides a better chance for improved quality of service.

Conversely, imagine that Open Heaps don't happen, that the idle resources of mobile devices (or any other eligible equipment) either remain untapped of their potential or, worse, are put to use by corporations that only desire the end consumer to have limited power over their own property and how it's used. Dire scenarios aren't difficult to imagine, thanks to various examples of anti-consumer behaviour we've seen from large corporations and special interest organizations in the recent past.

So, yes -- I think we can make a case for this being of benefit to consumers (and thus a marketer's dream!). The more prevalent mobile devices become, the more they will integrate into our daily lives... and the more important it will be that these are managed as the rightful property of the consumer, people that have the right to rent or lease and profit from their property as they see fit.

But, how could this generate revenue?

Next up: Gimme da cash!



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