Linuxworld in San Francisco

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Linuxworld is a meeting place between corporate IT departments and businesses trying to make a buck with Linux / Open Source.

I had the chance to attend Simon Crosby’s keynote – he’s the CTO of Citrix, and used to be the CTO of Xensource before it was gobbled up. Although I was disappointed to hear the words “drive innovation”, the kernel of his talk highlighted an interesting trend – the migration of large corporate IT to cloud computing.

It’s an old story. (Remember the NC?) Unsurprisingly for a Citrix guy, he talked a lot about thin client computing. As anyone who’s used a corporate thin client knows, it’s kinda slow, printing to a local printer / reading from local drives is a pain, and so on. (From the IT side, licensing is a pain in the arse, you have a central point of failure, and you need to find a bunch of people with more expensive skill sets to get it working.) One hopes that bigger pipes will make it workable, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when the tipping point on generally available bandwidth is reached to make this type of stuff truly practical. There is a pot of gold here – centralising IT infrastructure makes sense to a lot of corporate IT departments. Companies with a large mobile sales force and minimal applications spring to mind.

More widely, he talked about the advantages of bringing cloud computing into a data centre. I suppose that means using your browser to get at web-based corporate stuff rather than a Citrix / RDP client to get at a virtual desktop. The line is fuzzy somewhere. Here’s the Xen angle – he can get the requests for computer power abstracted from the hardware, just like in a cloud like EC2. (It turns out that Amazon use Xen all over the shop for EC2.)

Isn’t EC2 neat?

One interesting case study: it turns out that the NY Time “time machine” was constructed by converting their old TIFFs to PDFs and doing OCR, and it cost $240. Here’s how: they outsourced the horsepower to EC2. (Of course, I imagine they spent a hell of a lot more than that setting the run up.)

Is that really relevant?

Probably not. But here’s the bit that I think is important.

As clouds wander into the corporate data centre, they give us the opportunity to centralise a bit more of the computing stack. Right now, we usually centralise files, emails, printing queueing and that sort of thing. These things enable us to also centralise processing power & storage. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but I can see it making sense for some folks. (Banks and academia spring to mind, as they both routinely solve computationally hard problems.)

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