API Economist: When it comes to cloud computing, what’s the future of data sovereignty and the need for data to reside in-country?
Jonathan Murray: It all boils down to political economics. A very good friend of mine is Professor John Zysman at UC Berkeley. John's a political economist and he spends his life thinking about what's the intersection between government institutions, policy, regulation, and how economies develop. One of the things John told me very early on, when I first met him, was that you can look at the world in two ways: there's the potential of technology, where we can see this bright future and all the opportunity, and then there is the regulatory environment, social context, and the economic context that technology has to fit into. Ultimately, the pace at which technology is adopted and the degree to which technology is adopted is driven by both government regulation and cultural frameworks, and not by the desires and the interests of the technology industry.
Microsoft found that out early in its career when it ran into problems with the U.S. Department of Justice. Google is facing challenges with government regulation around the world. Ultimately, governments have the power to regulate markets. Data sovereignty is a real issue. There are regulations and laws in various countries that state how data should be treated, including privacy regulations and different laws about disclosure to security agencies. No matter who you are, whether you're a technology company or an adopter, you're going to have to comply with those regulations, and ultimately that is going to constrain the degree to which technology becomes pervasive and the different ways in which it gets used.
I think all of us have a role to play, both as citizens and as participants in the technology market, in the dialogue with government leaders and policymakers. This involves understanding why they're regulating, and what they think the issues are from a survival or an economic perspective. This means educating policymakers about the opportunities technologies create in terms of economics and in terms of social development. The ultimate goal is to find that balance between the need to regulate and the opportunity that the technology's going to deliver.
API Economist: You recently wrote in your blog, Adamalthus, about the idea of the composable enterprise, where its end state is this concept of enterprise-as-a-service. People have been talking about this for the last 10 years. It just never really came to fruition. What's changed now?
Jonathan Murray: Some things haven't changed, you're quite right. There's a note of skepticism there and we should always be skeptical about these things. What hasn't changed is that people and organizations have inertia, and change inside very large organizations is still a very difficult thing to accomplish. What has changed in a pretty profound way are the technology platforms. I think the new generation of loosely coupled architectures that we call clouds provide us with the ability to create systems and architectures that are much more modular, much more flexible, and much more elastic.
I see the next generation of technology and next generation of applications being built in a much more agile way. We now have technology platforms that have that characteristic of being very modular, very adaptable, and composable. What would it take for an organization to structure the people side of the business to marry to that? How would you arrive at the most optimal environment, where you had a business that was as flexible and as responsive and as changeable as you need for today's really dynamic markets?
In my article on the composable enterprise, I outlined some general principles that I think you'd have to have from an organizational perspective. Whether they're possible or not, and whether anybody can adopt them, is another thing. I was trying to be provocative. That was the point of the article. As I said, I think this new generation of technology will create some really interesting opportunities for organizations.
API Economist: Is software eating the world?
Jonathan Murray: I tend to think about automation eating the world. Software, in a sense, is just the language of automation. My high-level view is that with increased computational power comes the opportunity to automate things that previously required human beings. I think there are enough current examples now.
If you look at Amazon buying Kiva Systems to put robotics into their distribution centers, that's a really good example. I have a personal example. I've been thinking about this for quite a while, since about 2005. When I was with Microsoft I visited a company called Codelco, which is the largest mining company in Peru. They are a traditional minerals extraction company. I spent some time with their senior leadership team and with their CIO. My staff and I got taken around the mine to look at what they were doing. On the same tour, there was a group of Japanese researchers from NTT. They were doing leading‑edge research work on photonic networks in noisy industrial environments. It became clear they were embarking on a very, very deep investment in automation.
They were automating all the in‑mine escalation equipment. They were able to remotely control all that equipment from control centers outside of the mine, so you didn't have to put miners in the mine anymore. That was the first time I have really seen automation. I've seen it on factory floors in car factories and things. But that's the first time I've really seen it in what you would have thought of as a very manual, very labor‑intensive industry.
When I saw that, that was the first time for me that this "software was eating the world" idea really came to the fore. I don't think there's any industry today where you don't have to be thinking profoundly and deeply about how automation is going to transform your business. I'm not the first to say this. Other people have said it, to be sure. Every industry, every sector of the economy is going to have an Amazon at some point–a company that will enter your sector, will disrupt it fundamentally, through the broad use of technology and software. The only question for companies is, are you going to be the Amazon, or are you going to let somebody else be the Amazon?
The world is changing. Automation is going to change it. It will continue to do so. I, as everybody else does, see no end in sight. It's Moore's law. It just keeps on trucking.
API Economist: Mobile app development has not traditionally been a competency in the typical enterprise. Where do you see this going?
Jonathan Murray: The “bring your own device” movement is real. The IT department can no longer control it, because users just come walking in and say, “I want to consume stuff on this device that I have.”
You can outsource mobile app development. There are plenty of companies that have that expertise. But, from a core competency perspective, if you've got a development shop, if you're an IT organization and you are building a line of business systems, then you're going to have to be able to develop for mobile. That's a reality.
API Economist: How have mobile devices impacted your life?
Jonathan Murray: I'm definitely a device geek. I run my life on my iOS devices: my iPhone and my iPad. But that's not unusual these days. I love the devices that are pushing the boundaries. I think there is so much interesting work going on in the maker space today. I love what the Arduino guys are doing. I love the new generation of Arduino stuff. The Arduino Robot that came out last week is just unbelievable.
What those guys have been able to do with that Atmel ATmega32u4 platform is build a whole ecosystem around it, and bring a new generation of kids and teenagers and even adults into the world of automation and writing software. It's making writing software fun. Essentially, Arduino is the Lego of today—it's the toolkit that allows kids to experiment, to build things, and to do interesting stuff with software.
I think the more of that, the merrier, bluntly. That's going to create the next generation of entrepreneurs. It's going to create the next generation of kids who get into science, who understand math, and who basically love programming. That whole hacker, maker community is the thing that I love. That's the news I consume. That's the stuff I play around with. I have the Arduino stuff myself. In the spare time that I’ve got, that's the stuff I love to play around with.
From a devices perspective, just following the stuff that goes on at Kickstarter in the hardware space, I saw there was a group that is looking for funding called bladeRF. These guys are making a world‑class radiofrequency experimentation platform that goes from 30 MHz to 5 GHz. It's completely programmable. You can build your own RF toolkits. You can build your own radio transceiver. You can create your own wireless protocols. The platform is going to cost like $100 or something. To do that five years ago, you would have had to buy an RF setup from HP for about $30,000.
API Economist: How about your favorite app?
API Economist: Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to talk with The API Economist!
Jonathan Murray: It was my pleasure!