Book Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The latest in digital technology and Big Data in particular are increasingly fodder for novelists. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer is a wry story of mostly earnest millennials who end up in “pitched battle with a fascist consortium of data miners”. The Google–esque bad guys are too nerdy and tone-deaf to achieve full-on Bond villain status, but Google is inexorably becoming the template for the next generation of thriller/movie villains (after The Interview, the only villains left seem to be evil corporations lest we offend even the most backward of movie-going audiences and/or their hereditary dictators, although they pale in comparison with classic villains in their menace, reach and ambition).

Shafer has some great turns of phrase in addition to exploring the dark side of Big Data:

They call it the cloud, but that’s wrong, isn’t it? Their cloud is heavy and metal and whirring.

But maybe that’s not how life works at all. Maybe you’re not supposed to put up so much resistance. Maybe a lot of that is pride and ego and pointless in the end. In which case she’d been misled by all that required reading and by the Die Hard movies.

Besides, there is the scrape of luck in everything, from the missed bus, to the dinged chromosome, to the hurtling asteroid.

“Why the hell would you be collecting shit like this?” Mark said, looking straight at Cole. “It’s public. It’s over our network. We call dibs on it.” Dibs? They were calling dibs? “But it’s illegal, to spy on people like this.” “Information is free. Storage is unlimited,” said Cole, totally unbothered. “Our privacy policy is reviewed regularly, and our mandate to collect is spelled out in the implied-consent decree of 2001. We’re just keeping this stuff safe, anyway. The other server giants have terrible vulnerabilities; they could be erased so easily.” Did he just smirk? “But that’s not really my department.”

“And what is the product, exactly?” asked Mark, a little desperately. “It’s a product and a service,” said Straw proudly. “It’s order. It’s the safeguarding of all of our clients’ personal information and assets. But it may be a while before our clients discover that they are our clients.”

“And yes, right now this part runs up against something called the ‘right to privacy’”—she made air quotes—“which is a notion that hasn’t really meant much in thirty years and means less every day. You may as well defend people’s right to own steamboats. Someone’s going to control access to all the data and all the knowledge. All of it. Everything that every government, every company, and every poor schmuck needs to get through the day. You want that to be the other guys? Once everyone’s on our network, the old, unwired world will be worthless.”

A Dispatch from Cloud City

A few end of the year observations from Cloud City (aka Seattle):

Cloud City, Bespin by TK769

Image via TK769

Cloud Infrastructure

  • AWS remains a beast. Yet a chink in their armor is emerging…
  • Azure has become the clear challenger to AWS. The much maligned Mr. Ballmer is not getting credit for Microsoft’s embrace and execution on cloud. Unlike most of its cohorts rooted (mired?) in previous generations of technology, Microsoft is well on its way to making the cloud transition.
  • Despite very strong technology and an impressive operational footprint, Google Cloud Platform is still a hobby for Google. They are as yet unwilling to make the necessary non-technology investments to really compete to win here.
  • Private infrastructure clouds just aren’t happening – instead enterprises are both getting more comfortable (surrendering?) with public cloud and continuing to invest in virtualization (VMware obituaries were definitely premature).
  • OpenStack’s identity crisis is warranted. Without a credible ecosystem of OpenStack-based public cloud providers and little enterprise private cloud adoption, the OpenStack bandwagon is left providing ingredient technology to the industry itself, which doesn’t really need what the vendors are selling.
  • Rackspace’s OpenStack bet outcome is increasingly clear: they may not exit 2014 as an independent entity. They should have invested up the stack in higher value services like Amazon, not down (and to add insult to injury, I’ll wager their VMware business still is bigger than their OpenStack business). They’ve lost over half of their market cap this year. While they still sport a premium multiple, the overall trend is towards a SoftLayer kind of valuation which could put them in play for acquisition by the kind of legacy vendors who confuse hosting with cloud (isn’t HP out telling the world their balance sheet has finally recovered from Autonomy?).

Cloud Platform

  • PaaS is still a zero billion dollar category, but could PaaS end up being the level at which enterprises implement private cloud? I see more traction for PaaS than IaaS in the enterprise.

Big Data

  • In the absence of a strong set of customer successes, I think Hadoop may be spending some time in the trough of disillusionment. The challenge is not filling the data lake, the challenge is extracting meaningful and material business results from the lake. It is a data science problem far more than an infrastructure problem. How long will it take to transition to a Hadoop 2 that is robust, deployable, performance, has ecosystem support, etc.?
  • I continue to be amused that Google is so far ahead when it comes to big data that it is a material disadvantage for them. They get dismissed as proprietary while the rest of the industry is enraptured with Google’s technology from two generations back that has been awkwardly laundered through Yahoo.

What else is happening below the clouds on the ground?