Licensing Commercial Software for Grids: A New Usage Paradigm is Required

In the Business section of last Wednesday’s Toronto Star, energy reporter Tyler Hamilton penned a column on power-based billing by datacenter services provider Q9 Networks Inc. Rather than bill for space, Q9 chief executive officer Osama Arafat is quoted in Hamilton’s article stating:

… when customers buy co-location from us, they now buy a certain number of volt-amps, which is a certain amount of peak power. We treat power like space. It’s reserved for the customer.

Power-based billing represents a paradigm shift in quantifying usage for Q9.

Along with an entirely new business model, this shift represents a calculated, proactive response to market realities; to quote Osama from Hamilton’s article again:

Manufacturers started making the equipment smaller and smaller. Customers started telling data centre providers like us that they wanted to consolidate equipment in 10 cabinets into one.

The licensing of commercial software is desparately in need of an analogous overhaul.

Even if attention is restricted to the relatively simple case of the isolated desktop, multicore CPUs and/or virtualized environments are causing commercial software vendors to revisit their licensing models. If the desktop is networked in any sense, the need to recontextualize licensing is heightened.

Commercial software vendors have experimented with licensing locality in:

  • Time – Limiting licenses on the basis of time, e.g., allowing usage for a finite period of time with a temporary or subscription-based license, or time-insensitive usage in the case of a permanent license
  • Place – Limiting licensing on the basis of place, e.g., tieing usage to hardware on the basis of a unique host identifier

Although commercial software vendors have attempted to be responsive to market realities, there have been only incremental modifications to the existing licensing models. Add to this the increased requirements emerging from areas such as Grid Computing, as virtual organizations necessarily transect geographic and/or organizational boundaries, and it becomes very clear that a new usage paradigm is required.

With respect to the licensing of their commercial software, the situation is not unlike Q9’s prior to the development of power-based billing. What’s appealing about Q9’s new way of quantifying usage is its simplicity and, of course, its usefulness.

It’s difficult, however, to conceive such a simple yet effective analog in the case of licensing commercial software. Perhaps this is where the Open Grid Forum (OGF) could play a facilitative role in developing a standardized licensing framework. To move swiftly towards tangible outcomes, however, the initial emphasis needs to focus on a new way of quantifying the usage of commercial software that is not tailored to idealized and/or specific environments.

Google Apps: Revised Software Stack

In a previous post, I shared a simplified software stack for Google Apps for Your Domain (GAFYD), and anticipated the existence of a Google API.

As anticipated, Google has a few APIs available. Not too surprisingly, the most-developed one is the Google SOAP Search API. Use of SOAP and WSDL means that the Google SOAP Search API is already based on Web Services. As a result, a more-accurate representation of the GAFYD software stack is shown below.

GAFYD2

In addition to the Google SOAP Search API, Google has other APIs available. Most of this can be leveraged by GAFYD.

For completeness, a revised version of the potential GAFYD stack is shown below. As noted in the previous blog entry, when emerging areas are factored in, the possibilities for GAFYD are compelling.

GAFYD+Grid2

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office: It’s All About Platform Dominance

Remember the browser wars? Netscape vs. Microsoft?

What was ultimately at stake technically?

Platform dominance.

Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen spoke frequently of browser-as-platform.

And let’s face it, the folks in Redmond have made a healthy business by owning the desktop platform. (In fact, based on the number of anti-trust suits against them, Microsoft may have been a tad too agressive in their quest for platform dominance.)

Why are software companies obsessed with platform dominance?

If you own the platform, you have a controlling influence in owning the software stack.

If you control/own the software stack, you own the customer.

How does this apply to Google Apps For Your Domain (GAFYD) vs. Microsoft Office?

Consider the Microsoft Office stack.

Microsoft

Individual applications like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are ultimately built upon the Microsoft Windows. Common functionalities, tools and utilities, plus the interoperability that exists between applications, is enabled by Microsoft’s Component Object Model (COM). (Object Linking and Embedding, OLE, was superceded by COM.) Although third-party software providers can and do leverage Microsoft Windows and Microsoft COM, in the case of Microsoft Office, this is a wholly proprietary, single-vendor software stack. Own the stack, own the customer. Note also that any Internetworking capabilities are inherited by the applications in Microsoft Office via COM and Windows. Unfortunately, I don’t know to what extent Microsoft Office Live modifies this stack.

Now consider the GAFYD stack.

[Update: I’ve misplaced this figure. Please see the revised stack referenced in the comments.]

GAFYD exist within the context of a Web browser. GAFYD likely leverages various Googlisms made available via a Google API. Analogous to COM in the Microsoft case, this API can be and is being leveraged by third parties. The foundation for Google is based on a number of open standards:

  • XML for expressibility
  • HTTP and SOAP for exchanges
  • URIs for addressing

In addition to these underlying open standards, GAFYD has the potential to leverage emerging Web middleware such as Web Services, the Semantic Web and Grid Computing.

[Update: I’ve misplaced this figure. Please see the revised stack referenced in the comments.]

Along with his co-authors, Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has recently framed this context more completely elsewhere. The last two schematics are interpolated and extrapolated from the figure provided in the Berners-Lee et al. Science paper. The resulting unbundled, open-standards software stack is Web enabled from the outset. In striking contrast to the Microsoft case, GAFYD will likely result in a software ecosystem completely analogous to that developing around the Linux operating environment. This means that Google will battle Microsoft with only limited control of the software stack. They’ll need to rely on leveraging the rest of the stack, and ensuring that the promise of the Web (e.g., Web Services, the Semantic Web and Grid Computing) can be realized in GAFYD.

Google Apps & Google Notebook

Although my enthusiasm for Google Apps for Your Domain (GAFYD) may appear lukewarm at best, I do hope that this venture leads to mass-market adoption.

Why?

Google’s intersection with office-productivity suites is likely to stimulate innovation.

For example, I’ve blogged a fair bit recently about annotation. Google has a mechanism for annotation in Google Notebook, as does Microsoft Word. GAFYD will allow annotations to be recontextualized for the Web-enabled office. In fairness, and to avoid the Google vs. Microsoft double standard, I expect all of this will also apply to Microsoft Office Live.

It’ll be interesting to watch this unfold.

Google Apps for Your Domain: The Browser-Based Version of the Network Computer?

Wikipedia states:

A network computer is a lightweight computer system that operates exclusively via a network connection. As such, it does not have secondary storage such as a hard disk drive – it boots off the network, but runs applications locally, using its own CPU and RAM. This set NCs as distinct from terminals, which act as a client for an application server.

During the mid to late 1990s, some commentators and industry players such as Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation, predicted that the network computer would soon take over from desktop PCs, and that many users would use applications loaded via a network instead of having to own a local copy.

So far, this has not happened, and it seems that the network computer “buzz” was either a fad or not ready to happen. The NC can be considered to be another computing paradigm. Just as PCs did not replace mainframes, so NC will not replace PCs. The new technology provides a more appropriate alternative in certain areas and can co-exist with established systems through open standards.

Google has just announced an even-thinner paradigm, Google Apps for Your Domain:

… a set of hosted applications for organizations that want to provide high quality communications tools to their users without the hassle of installing and maintaining software or hardware.

Given that GAFYD is a browser-based version of the network computer, one wonders if history is destined to repeat itself.