Monthly Archives: April 2007

Google Apps / Digital Ethnography

Last night, I attend the monthly meeting of SAGE-IE, the Systems Administrators Guild of Ireland (old website here).

The evening’s talk was on Google Apps, presented by Sam Johnston and Laurent Gasser of Microcost. I had only been peripherally aware of Google Apps, so I figured it would be a good chance to find out some more.

Sam & Laurent both gave engaging and enthusiastic presentations. Microcost is in the business of helping enterprises to move their internal services (e-mail, calendar/scheduler, collaborative document editing, etc.) to Google Apps, with the potential for both large cost savings and significant improvements in productivity.

Some random interesting titbits I took away from the evening:

  • Total cost of upgrading a corporate workstation to Windows Vista is estimated as €2,500 (Microsoft estimate) to €5,000 (independent estimate). This is enough to provide the same user with 50-100 years of Google Apps service. (Google Apps are $50 per user per year for a premium subscription).
  • Microcost use Amazon’s S3 to store enterprise’s back-end data, with another service encrypting the data to/from Amazon (to address any potential privacy concerns). Not clear to me how this interfaces with Google Apps, since this was glossed over.
  • There are significant productivity gains from having proper, shared document editing. When documents always live in the cloud, anyone (with appropriate authorisation) can access them from anywhere, anytime. Multiple users editing the same document can arrive at a final version much more quickly and effectively than the more traditional route of swapping Word and Excel files via email.
  • A big advantage of online apps, such as Google Apps, is that upgrades can happen completely seamlessly without the user having to do anything. Upgrades are small and frequent, rather than large and infrequent. Since everyone using the app is updated simultaneously, there is more scope for making fundamental changes to the underlying code without having to be as concerned with backwards compatibility.
  • One audience member was concerned that organisations could become dependent on certain functionality which might then disappear in a future release, with no control or comeback. Laurent conceded that this was a possibility for individual users, who may grow attached to some particular quirk of the system, but less likely to affect enterprises where Google (or whoever) track user preferences closely.
  • There was also some concern over whether organisations would be willing to move all their data into the cloud. Another audience member commented that larger organisations are already used to giving up control of some or most of their data, by way of internal data centres and outsourced IT support, so they don’t see it as a big leap. For smaller companies, this is a more significant hurdle.
  • Laurent mentioned that in over a year of using Google Apps, he has yet to find any signficant bugs or stability concerns. I think this is key: Google tend to make very reliable and solid web apps, which instill confidence in the user. They have a lot of experience building fault-tolerant systems. If the execution is less than 100%, I expect most users would lose confidence very quickly indeed.

Also, as an aside, Sam mentioned that Trinity College recently announced that they will be moving all student email to Gmail. He expects most other colleges to follow in their footsteps.

The presentation finished off with a look at Mike Wesch’s recent Digital Ethnography video which puts a lot of the Web 2.0 stuff into context. I hadn’t seen this before (though it’s been creating quite a buzz), and it’s well worth watching – download the 67 MB high-resolution version for the best experience.

Server room on a chip

Jon Stokes from ArsTechnica has a good article on Intel’s recently announced Terascale 80-core processor.

When you have so much processing power available, how do you make best use of it? One way is to treat it as a virtual server room, and run virtual machines on each core. For example, a heavily trafficed website, which is traditionally spread across multiple web & database servers, could be hosted completely on a single piece of silicon, with corresponding cost and power savings (especially power).

Then there’s the problem of how to keep such a fast chip adequately supplied with data, to ensure it doesn’t spend too much idle time waiting for new packets to arrive. There are some hints that Intel may be about to announce on-chip optical support.

I doubt we’ll see this technology on the desktop any time soon (though you never know), but in an era where datacentres are routinely sucking up megawatts of power, it’s useful to have a potential glimpse of a future where the entire room may be reduced to a single server cabinet.

(Let’s ignore storage, for now…)