“Open Innovation” was a strong theme running through today’s MIT Cloud Workshop, attended by industry, academics, and students.
Hosted by The Industry-Academia Partnership (IAP), the event featured talks on a range of nascent initiatives including The Massachusetts Open Cloud Initiative and IBM’s OpenPower Ecosystem.
A new model for cloud innovation
“Today’s clouds are owned, operated, and controlled by a single provider, and those companies -- you know who they are -- are highly secretive about how they do their innovation,” said Orran Krieger, founding director of the Center for Cloud Innovation (CCI) at Boston University.
The consequences, he said, are severe. “We can’t innovate. Performance-sensitive applications are locked out because one can’t analyze what’s in the funnel. Worse yet, because these companies all have their own data platforms, when people try to innovate above the cloud data platform their stuff performs terribly, because they can’t optimize across these layers.”
Security is another beast.
“In the area of healthcare privacy, for example, existing cloud providers say, 'If there is a breech in this layer we will pay the cost, but if there is penetration above this layer you pay,' ” said Krieger. “That’s not the best security practice. Ideally, you want to audit the entire stack, but today there’s very little insight into how they are operating.”
Stakes are high in the cloud arena because a lot of people believe that in the future on-demand access to inexpensive computational capacity -- i.e., paying for what you use -- will be the model that dominates, potentially eliminating the need for personal computers.
Frustrated at what they see as a cloud model that stifles innovation, Krieger and fellow BU professor Azer Bestavros envision a new model -- a kind of public cloud marketplace they call the Open Cloud eXchange (OCX) in which an ecosystem of companies would jointly participate in implementing and operating the cloud.
“The idea seemed really naïve when I first thought about it,” said Krieger. “How would we build a model whereby each service provider determines how to charge for their services, operational data would be visible among stakeholders, customers can select and move between services, and academics and researchers could freely innovate?”
Naïve, possibly. But their idea is now one step closer to reality, through the Massachusetts Open Cloud (MOC) project. Founding vendor partners include Cisco, EMC, Red Hat, Juniper Networks, Dell, and Mathworks.
A public and privately funded initiative, the first step for the MOC will be to build a computing infrastructure based on an OCX framework that will serve as a kind of petri dish for researchers and innovators to start experimenting and getting real data about an operational cloud. The goal isn’t to compete with the cloud incumbents, but rather to prove the feasibility of an alternative model.
The first big technical challenge will be in building up that infrastructure. “We want people to use what they want to use, but the way things work today is based on the assumption that one landlord stands up the whole cloud,” said Krieger. “We have to find a model whereby different partners own different pieces of the cloud.”
The Smart Cities initiative may be one of the first applications for a public cloud. Krieger pointed out every municipality has big silos of information. “What if we could build a common platform on top of all those silos and place actuators inside the traffic lights so that you could send a police car from Newton to Brookline to Boston without ever hitting a red light?” he speculated. “To do that you require the ability to modify the infrastructure that’s running in the cloud and do it with a high degree of security. You can’t do that today.”
At the conclusion of the talk, an attendee asked whether the OSX cloud framework would provide better insight on operational data, so that his company could perform more analytics on the data.
“That’s why I created OSX,” said Kreiger. “If all this computing is going to the cloud, and we can’t actually see inside of it, then a lot of our research becomes irrelevant.”
ARM not the only game in town
Arguing that the innovation needed to bring down the future cost/performance ratio of computing will not be owned by any single company in the future, IBM’s Dr. Brad McCredie laid out a case for IBM’s OpenPower Alliance.
Formed last year, the Consortium brings together 35+ companies and universities to cooperate on hardware and software for IBM’s Power architecture, found inside servers that power the cloud.
“Unlike in the past, when if you were a smart guy you just waited for the next microprocessor to be announced, there will be a smorgasbord of things taking cost down and performance up -- one day virtualization, the next day flash,” said McCredie. “But in order to foster innovation among a large group of disparate players, you need APIs, bus standards, hardware standards. Basically, you need a different kind of open consortium that spans hardware and software.”
While skeptics have questioned whether IBM can ultimately woo away server customers invested in Intel’s x86 processor, McCredie said that the point of opening the interface was to let innovators play and experiment in an open environment. “We don’t know which ideas will stick, but we know that we want to get a lot of innovative ideas going, and we want them going in parallel.”
— Karen Field, Editorial Director, EE Times