Will Cloud Computing Kill the Operating System? We’ll Debate That, and Much More, at Cloud3
Ever since Google released more details about its Chrome OS project last week, tech blogs and the Twittersphere have been burning up with arguments about the merits of Google’s idea for a Web-based operating system for a new generation of netbook computers. InfoWorld has already declared that “Chrome OS will fail—big time,” given that a Web OS will inevitably be far less flexible than Windows or Mac OS X. Rackspace blogger Robert Scoble, however, says critics don’t get it, and that Google is really out to promote a new kind of device—a lightweight, low-cost, cloud-powered computer that could live on your kitchen counter. “What will run on these new devices? A heavyweight OS like Windows 7 that takes me 40 seconds to boot up and does a ton of stuff I really don’t need, or a new OS that just has Google Chrome as its centerpiece?” Scoble asks.
Well, Boston is home to at least one company that’s already made the leap that Google is slowly preparing to take: Litl, the maker of the new Webbook, which we reviewed on November 4. The Webbook is a cloud computer for the home. It doesn’t have a desktop, files, folders, applications, or even a hard drive to store movies or MP3s—it gets everything through its built-in Web browser (which is based on the Mozilla Foundation’s open-source Gecko layout engine). In essence, it’s a “cloud computer.”
That’s conceivable today because computer users spend so much of their time working with cloud-based applications and services like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Mint, YouTube, Hulu, Picnik, et cetera (the list is already endless). Every computer still needs a basic OS to boot into Web mode—the Webbook uses Linux, as will future Chrome OS machines. But one result of the ascent of much heavy-duty computing into the cloud could be the emergence of an alternative style of personal computing, one that doesn’t require a heavy-duty OS of the kind that Microsoft or Apple have poured so many developer-years into.
“We’re trying to hit the reset button and build a personal computer that is designed from scratch for the Internet,” says John Chuang, Litl’s founder and CEO. “We don’t need any more operating systems that integrate with machinery. We need operating systems that interact with your life.”
Chuang is on the long list of innovators slated to speak at Xconomy’s Cloud3 Forum, coming up December 10. (Register now; our early bird discount ends at midnight tonight.) While much of the talk at the forum will revolve around cloud computing’s implications for entrepreneurs and big enterprises, the impact on consumers will also be high on the agenda. Chuang’s “cloudburst” talk will be one of six brief presentations from Boston-area startups using or offering cloud services, and it’s likely to touch on the power of the cloud—combined with redesigned hardware and user interfaces on the consumer’s end—to achieve “content ubiquity,” that is, putting people’s e-mails, photos, videos, and other digital collections within reach wherever they go in their homes.
To talk about the enterprise end of cloud computing, we’ll have an impressive lineup of industry executives, including the latest addition to our agenda, top EMC executive Howard Elias. As President and Chief Operating Officer for EMC Information Infrastructure and Cloud Services, Elias oversees the Hopkinton information management giant’s entire line of services. Those include new offerings like AtmosOnline, a cloud storage service based on EMC’s Atmos storage management software, and Mozy, the online backup service for home and business PCs from EMC’s Decho subsidiary.
EMC has also been working closely with other companies like Intel and Cisco—and, of course, its own quasi-independent virtualization subsidiary, VMware—to roll out better technologies for private clouds, fully virtualized data centers that give big-company IT departments the ability to offer “pay-as-you-go” computing to their constituents. Elias will likely have a lot to say about the brand-new Virtual Computing Environment Coalition, an effort by EMC, VMware, and Cisco to make it easier for enterprises to assemble private clouds from so-called “Vblocks” (processing, storage, network, virtualization, and security elements built to work together).
We published the entire, detailed agenda for Cloud3 on Friday, and I also worked with Schwartz Communications to put together a brief podcast previewing the forum. Download it or give it a listen here:
If you look closely at the Cloud3 agenda, you’ll notice some unusual features, including an hour-long “Unpanel.” Modeled after highly successful and popular events like Mass TLC’s recent Unconference, the Unpanel will be an audience-driven session moderated by Sim Simeonov, an Xconomist and founder and CEO of executive consulting firm FastIgnite. Its goal will be touncover and address forum participants’ burning questions about the nuts and bolts of cloud computing: Which cloud service vendors are easiest to work with? How does network latency affect the performance of applications running in the cloud? Who’s responsible when things go wrong?
No question about getting your company running on the cloud—or finding the next niche for new cloud services—will be out of bounds. With Sim as impresario, and a strong group of “cloud seeders” on hand from local cloud enterprises to answer audience questions and drive the discussion forward, we think the Unpanel will prove to be a successful and dynamic alternative to the traditional panel-discussion format. (But we admit it’s a bit of an experiment.)
We’ll also excited that Eric Nakajima will be joining us from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. He’s a senior policy advisor who has been closely involved in coordinating the Holyoke High Performance Computing Center initiative, a joint effort between government, university, and corporate players (including EMC, Cisco, and Accenture) to build a “green” computing center in western Massachusetts dedicated to exploring new applications in areas like life sciences and clean energy. Nakajima will talk about the project’s deeper economic-development goals and report on progress with fundraising, site selection, and the like.
On top of all that, we’ll have an opening keynote speech on Akamai’s cloud computing strategy from founder and chief scientist Tom Leighton. And event host Microsoft is flying Yousef Khalidi, a distinguished engineer in the company’s Windows Azure team, out from Redmond, WA, specifically to speak at Cloud3. Azure is the platform that Windows developers around the world are using to build, test, and deploy cloud-based Windows applications. During the recent Cash for Clunkers rebate program, for example, Kelley Blue Book, the famous provider of used-car price estimates, used Windows Azure to quickly scale up its website (which runs on Windows Server 2003, Microsoft’s SQL Server, and the Microsoft.NET framework) to deal with an onslaught of new users. In his keynote address, Khalidi may talk in part about Microsoft’s roadmap for adapting the Windows Azure public cloud model into an enterprise-oriented private cloud offering.
Register for Cloud3 today to take advantage of the early-bird price of $95. After midnight, the price goes up. And remember that a companion event, CloudCamp Boston, will take place in the same space right after Cloud3, offering a more technical look at many of the same questions (separate registration required).
Finally, for your education and entertainment, here are a couple of cloud-related videos— one from rPath giving a clear (and surprisingly non-commercial) overview of cloud computing, and one from Google explaining the vision behind Chrome OS.
Google Chrome OS Video
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