Thursday, August 20, 2009

The future of software development is cloudy!

This post was triggered by an article I read recently about Apple Inc's Cloud Ambitions. Apple is building one of the world's largest data centers' -- however they have not officially indicated a purpose or motivation. Microsoft has also embarked on a similar data centre venture (potentially to support their Azure platform). Google has its App Engine, Amazon has EC2. Adobe and Yahoo are wandering on the outer-rim, but with no firm roadmaps. There are a whole stack of other domain specific platforms out there as well (SAP, Oracle, SalesForce to name a few).

Currently, we are still in the pre-beta land for these cloudy ambitions. In another 5-7 years, these platforms will be mature. I'm going to be bold and predict that you will get the following from each vendor:
* A fully integrated IDE (one that will plug into the cloud, potentially running directly on the cloud -- i.e. runs within a web browser)
* A mature API stack (significantly more mature than what we currently have -- potentially domain specific maturity as well)
* A database system (to store/retrieve data -- file systems etc.)
* Language support for: Java, C#/, C and Python [others maybe -- but will certainly have to target either the JVM or the .NET CLI]. If Apple joins the fray at this level, expect Objective-C as well.
* Legal/deployment terms that will work for a number of different commercial domains (even finance and govt.).
* Services that will allow export of data stored on the cloud (e.g. GMail offers the ability to pull down all email to a local client if you want).

Why only a few languages? Cloud architectures rely on a method to distribute execution of code across multiple machines -- currently we have maturish platforms that will execute Java and C# applications. Support for other languages may never get the funding needed (esp. given the current financial climate) and hence will stay within academia or within a small group of enthusiasts. For a new language to take off, it has to offer something much much more. Java has a very large library pool built over the last decade (its core strenght), C# has 20k engineers just at Microsoft, it also has some strong language features.

What does it mean for software development? New projects will start to consider a cloud platform and very likely get locked in (kinda like they do now, if they choose SQL Server, .NET/Java, Oracle etc.). The key difference will be obvious in the Job ads -- companies will want Azure experience or Google App. Engine experience with knowledge of a certain set of API/libraries.

One of the largest change that I expect to see will be in the way we interact with database management systems. Currently, developers still have to be careful with the way they write queries and how they store data (i.e. the data structure). However, my personal experience has been that over the last 10 years -- developers have be able to get sloppy with the way they program because machines are fast and most developers are now able to get away with in-efficient code. This will now extend into the data-structure and query world in the cloud. If you have Google like retreival at your finger-tips, why bother thinking through your database schema at any level of depth? Do queries matter that much -- just throw keywords and guess till it starts to get the rightish data back. There are still going to be a few aspects that need a bit more attention, but nothing like we do now.

Once the clouds start to spread, the biggest change will be to current "PC" industry. In another 5-10 years, many more TVs, iPods, Mobile phones, Automobiles will have a full internet connectivity, quick CPUs, very likely a sizeable hard-disk and ability to hook into the cloud (turned on the default). The question is, will we still need a separate desktop PC at home?, for what purpose? If you thinking gaming ... consoles have already won this battle -- PC only games are no longer a growth market.

Good news: There will be plenty of work as we migrate legacy applications into the cloud. New innovations.

Bad news: More learning (hopefully, this will last our careers)


Daniel Chambers said...

I don't believe that cloud computing will make developers sloppier coders. At least for Azure, developers are charged via a pricing model that is very tightly bound to resource consumption. So if you consume more, you pay more. So it seems that being lazy and consuming just because you can will smack you right in the hip-pocket, which I doubt management will appreciate much.

Rajesh said...

Good point Daniel, I did think about this resource cost issue, but looking at how little Amazon EC2 is currently charging for CPU/Bandwidth/Disk use -- I fear that cost benefit issue will just not be worth it.

Interestingly, the scale is what eventually makes it worthwhile. Companies like Google count the number of bytes and continuously aim to keep that value low -- makes sense when your home page is served a couple of billion times every day.

-- rv

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