Monthly Archives: October 2008

SaaS: Amazon EC2 for Windows == Disappointment

I’m currently working on a Windows PowerShell Snap-In for EC2 now that they have released “Windows” support. Note that the snap-in project is in very early stages of development and I should be publishing a preview release that supports running and terminating instances very shortly.

That said – I am largely disappointed that Amazon isn’t providing Windows 2008 support yet. I just used my Describe-Image Cmdlet to list out the EC2 images for Windows.

Ec2Windows2003

As you can see the images aren’t for Windows 2008, and from what I can tell they aren’t planning on supporting Windows 2008 until early next year. This effectively means that GoGrid is out in front of Amazon for support of Windows despite the fact that they don’t have the same feature set of Amazon.

Interesting Times Ahead

Interesting times indeed, especially in the context of what Microsoft is planning on doing with Windows Azure. My advice is to start getting your stuff into the cloud now with GoGrid and EC2, so that you are in a good position to leverage the Azure services platform – but plan on plugging into things like Live Framework in the medium term.

SaaS: Evolve business practices. Focus on value.

I am very fortunate that I live in Australia. Due to government regulations our financial system is actually in pretty good shape and while it is connected to the global economy I’m led to believe by people who know way more about it than me that we actually have real cash holding up the economy.

In the USA (and some other parts of the world), things aren’t quite as much fun and if you watch the news you’ll be led to believe that the the end of the world is nigh and giant kittens are going to start knocking down buildings. Well – for sure there are going to be a lot of people in for tough times and I feel for them, but the reality is that life will go on, people will still need to get up in the morning and go and do something productive – even if it wasn’t what they had initially planned.

For those of us in the I.T. sector, the last big event that we had was the dot-com bubble burst which saw a lot of us loose our jobs, but even that eventually turned around. For savvy players this downturn actually represents an opportunity to introduce some cost savings and come out looking like a hero to your management team.

For example, if you are currently spending wads of cash on computing hardware, network communications and even office space, look at:

  1. Reducing hardware acquisition costs by using services like GoGrid and EC2.
  2. Reduce office space by encouraging employees to work from home (see note).
  3. Move hosting facilities to cost effective locations (USA is much cheaper than Australia).

The key thing is that in everything we do we simply need to ask ourselves the question. Do we provide the company with value? If the answer is no then you need to start on initiatives that create the value rather than just ensuring that the company continues to spend the same amount on your IT services this year as they did last year (or more).

Let me ask you the question. Who is more valuable? A $120K employee that saves you $1M, or one that argues you need to spend another $500K on top of their salary?

Note: Employees working from home may cost more initially to ramp up that capability, but you may want to consider coming to arrangements with employees who truly can work full time from home where they take a lesser package, but you ensure that they end up paying less for public transport or fuel.

SaaS: Announcing Windows PowerShell Snap-In for GoGrid

I am very pleased to announce the first public BETA (BETA2) of Windows PowerShell Snap-In for GoGrid. For the past week I’ve been working away on a project that brings to of the things that I am passionate about, specifically PowerShell and GoGrid (and especially what GoGrid represents).

The PowerShell Snap-In is an open source project, hosted up on CodePlex under the MIT license. If you are interested in helping out with the project the main thing that I need is getting people using the Cmdlets and reporting bugs.

Getting Started

The first thing that you are probably going to want to do is view this screencast which walks through using the Cmdlets. If that appears then you will need to go and create a GoGrid account, and also download PowerShell to your machine if you don’t already have it – then of course you need to get your hands on the latest version of the snap-in.

Why is GoGrid exciting?

GoGrid is exciting because it allows those wanting computing resources to provision those resources on demand using a simple web-based console and then pay for those resources by the hour, instead of by the month. GoGrid is very similar to the Amazon EC2 offering except that right now it is the only one to offer Windows 2003/2008 hosting using this on-demand model (at least, it is the only one that I am aware of).

One of the neat things about GoGrid and EC2 is that they both provide an API (GoGrid, EC2) that developers can use. This is useful if you need a system that can automatically scale the computing resources at its disposal (for example a massive video transcoding effort).

Why did I build this PowerShell Snap-In?

The purpose of the Windows PowerShell Snap-In for GoGrid is to demonstate how useful it can be for infrastructure-level SaaS providers like GoGrid to expose an API for their customers to use. I am hoping that it will encourage those responsible for provisioning Windows boxes to experiment with using cloud computing resources. Some key scenarios that I envisage are:

  • Configure applications for performance testing.
  • Run load agents for performance testing.
  • Test disaster recovery scenarios.
  • Provision hardware for project work (i.e. development teams).
  • Support instructor led training with virtualised labs.
  • Host demonstration environments for presentations.
  • Controlling scale of your underling SaaS infrastructure.

There are probably lots of other scenarios that I haven’t thought of as well, if you can think of any please leave a comment.

Why is this relevant for SaaS readers?

If you are looking at using SaaS solutions or building SaaS solutions then you need to look at the technology stack that you are looking at. If you are sitting on a stack that doesn’t allow you to rapidly acquire more computing resources then you might get stuck not being able to access your services or service your clients. Services like GoGrid provide that scalable computing infrastructure without forking over big bucks. These PowerShell cmdlets allow your system administrators to scale your system and integrate that scaling function into their existing operations.

What is next?

I am hoping to provide PowerShell Snap-Ins for a variety of SaaS orientated services. I picked GoGrid first because it was useful to me, but when Amazon releases their Windows support for EC2 I will start investing more time on that Snap-In.

I’ve got a Twitter Ticket to PDC2008.

It was the PDC in 2000 where .NET was first unveiled to the world, and a later PDC when we first saw the previews of the pillars of Longhorn. Needless to say I’ve always expected big things to come out of every conference – PDC2008 is no exception, I think this time we are going to see a lot of threads that have been dangling in the wind be drawn together into a very pretty tapestry.

Of course, like all other other PDC events since I’ve known about their existence, I’m not going to be able to attend this one due to prior scheduling commitments, however I am fortunate enough to have picked up a Twitter Ticket for this years event.

A Twitter Ticket, for those of you know don’t know about it is all about using social networks to keep up with what is happening at the event. Specifically if you follow this Twitter user you’ll get the official scoop, but if you go digging you’ll be able to track those individuals who are actually going to the event and get a more grassroots perspective. You may also want to follow this Tweet Scan feed.

While I am bummed that I can’t go to the PDC, I think that the Twitter Ticket is going to be particularly good this year.

MSBuild Extension Pack

Always happy to see more people taking Microsoft kit and extending it. In thise case Mike Fourie has created a new project up at CodePlex which aims to create a definitive list of MSBuild extensions. This is a consolidation of the effort from FreeToDev MSBuild Tasks Suite and SDC Tasks Library.

Since I’m more about users getting their stuff done rather than randomly supporting a new project, I think you should also check out the MSBuild Community Tasks project over at Tigris.org. If you are like me you’ll probably end up using both at various times.

Good to see more innovation!

SaaS: The importance of providing an API.

One of the key learnings that has come out of the whole Web 2.0 experiment (can we still call it an experiment?) is that organisations building solutions to be comsumed across the Internet have realised that they need to expose an API.

Once upon a time organisations would fear exposing entry points into their applications because this could lead to users exploiting their system in unpredictable ways. These days we build the API and pray that people will do just that.

The reason is that rather than create an undesirable problem, exposing an API encourages users to create “stick” to your solution because you provide them the level of integration they require to make your system more useful. In a world where we are trying to do more with less, having an API means that you can eliminate that manual data entry/integration task.

Some recent examples that I’ve seen are:

  1. Saasu. Saasu is an online accounting system which exposes an API called “Connect”. I already know of one individual (happens to also work at Readify) who is using it with one of their businesses. One of the things that I like aobut Saasu is that it is build on my platform of choice (.NET) but can basically be used by anything with an XML parser and a TCP/IP stack.
  2. GoGrid. GoGrid is a SaaS orientated hosting company that can dynamically provision servers in about fifteen minutes. GoGrid provides an API which allows you to provision servers from your own code.
  3. EC2. I’ve blogged about EC2 before, and during my talk at SBTUG I demonstrated a few PowerShell Cmdlets which assist with the provisioning of an EC2 instance. I think the differences between EC2 and GoGrid are that EC2 has a more complex API (so I like GoGrid for that), but EC2 is a bit cheaper. Amazon is also providing a more complete range of platform services.

We all know however that the number of applications out there providing an API are virtually unlimited, but these ones are interesting because they are squarely targeted at the business space.

Nothing is new about providing APIs in applications, what is new that it is becoming a key factor in decision making.

SaaS: Exploring the TBAURL idea.

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I have lots of ideas for online product ideas. One of those ideas is TBAURL. The idea behind TBAURL is quite simple and builds upon what the existing URL shrinking services like TinyURL and Shrinkster do by becoming an intermediary between the user and the final destination URL.

Unique Features and Benefits

What would be different about TBAURL is that in addition to shrinking URLs you could choose a date when the generated URL would link to the final destination and until that point in time it would display an expression of interest page where visitors could input their e-mail address.

Once the final URL is specified and the “release” date has passed the URL would then redirect to the ultimate site and the person who created the link would have the opportunity to send a one time broadcast e-mail to all of those people who expressed an interest in the product.

Typical Usage Scenarios

I would imagine that the typical usage scenarios for this offering would be varied, but these are the ones that seem most obvious to me:

  • Bloggers building buzz.
  • Marketing staff writing newsletters.
  • Web masters preparing for a new launch.

The system would have to be pretty simple to use so I’m imagining some pretty simple pages (lots of white-space). For the person creating the TBAURL, I would imagine that they just visit a page, enter some descriptive text as well as some other simple options and then click “create”. The would be shown the generated TBAURL instantly but also e-mailed a management URL where they could change it and coordinate the response to the various EOI’s.

For the end-user, their experience would be even more simple. They click a TBAURL somewhere and get bounced to a TBAURL landing page. They can read the descriptive text provided by the TBAURL creator and then just punch in their e-mail address. They would be sent an e-mail thanking them. When the final destination URL is provided they may be contacted again.

Commercialisation

Good question. I’ve been careful not to use the word monetisation here (a not because it isn’t actually a word anyway). The reality is that this service would really only be able to make money off advertising, or, by extension the disablement of advertising (where TBAURL creators may a small premium for a page without advertisements).

Still – it would be interesting to understand the kind of revenue that a site like TinyURL makes off its Google banners.

Initial Thoughts

I think the usefulness of this site is moderate. I’ve had a need for something like this a few times myself as I’ve been blogging. The cost of setting up something like this would be relatively low, but the reward from a commercial point of view could also be low (pending more research). Another angle on this is the SaaS perspective. Building something like this would help debug some aspects of pulling together a SaaS offering around provisioning hosting with a service like GoGrid or EC2 and integrating that with payment services (like Paypal or FPS) and flowing that information back into a hosted financial package like Saasu.

As a demonstration I think that I’ll walk through the process of setting up an online entity (at least from an Australian point of view).