Category Archives: Web 2.0

So you want to start a web 2.0 startup?

The web is a new platform, especially the new modern web-2.0-AJAX platform. It has only started featuring in the public knowledge for five years. Five years! Windows has been around, since its 3.11 incarnation, for over twenty years. At long last, however, we have what the computing world has been dreaming about for decades — a ubiqutiuous platform to write applications which can utilize the network natively. From “communicate with people everywhere” (Gmail and other through the web mail services) to “buy anything from anyone” (eBay and other online shops), we have a new platform with infinite new possibilities, many of them unexplored, simply because there has not been enough time to do so.

The barrier to entry are practically non-existant. One programmer, less money per month than what the programmer drinks in coffee per day, and a little time invested can bring a new web 2.0 application on the web. The platform may have its problems (Javascript compatibilities, an awkward communications protocol), but it is out there, and it is the great equalizer between multi-billion dollar behemoths to the lone programmer in the garage. And so, there’s only one thing standing between the new web 2.0 thing and huge, Facebook-level, success. Well, actually many things. All the other new web 2.0 things, which utilize the same low barrier to entry to compete for the same users.

There is only one way to beat the others, to be the first, to be the Amazon that everyone remembers, and not the million of other web stores that vanished away into obscurity, and that is to make things fun and easy for the user. In turn, that means three things — features, features and features. Great UI design and ease of use only look simple, like a juggler’s trick. Inside, they are composed of lots of features which often need the extra smarts of knowing when to turn themselves off, or to change dynamically. This means programming the next web 2.0 success is hard. The only way to stay ahead is to implement more and better.

There is one things your users do not care about. They do not care about how many web servers you have, or how you scale your applications. If you spend too much time scaling the “right way”, if you “keep it clean and orderly”, you are spending valuable engineer time, time that your competitors are spending on making the web 2.0 applications they write better than yours. Their datacenter might feature five layers of interleaved load balancers, they might need twice as many servers as you, but if you do not have any users for your application, that doesn’t help you.

After a few phases of competition, the successful web 2.0 startups seem like a mess inside. They hired a lot of software engineers, who worked nights and weekends delivering the features needed. They needed to scale up as fast as they could which meant patching things as they go, with little room for planning and fixing problems as they went. Some startups have documented their scaling travails (YouTube being one) which are fascinating reading — but it always come down to the fact that scaling fast is always possible if you work hard and don’t care about how clean it is.

In the end, it is hard for anyone to know what is happening inside the application. The features were written fast, with little design or documentation. The servers were connected together in whatever way seemed most expedient at the time. As the company grows, and users call in with more and more problem tickets, managing the issues and finding the problems gets to be an exercise in voodoo and futility, with too many rules of thumb and folklore, and too little organized procedures. To reiterate: getting to this stage is *necessary* if the venture is to succeed in a world filled with competitors.

Network performance solutions must fit into this environment. An environment where nobody has time to spend configuring them, if indeed the person configuring them even knows those parameters. They must be able to map the structure of the data center — both physical and at the application level — themselves, and to give high-quality feedback which allows the operations group to pin-point issues in a way that the RnD group can respond to them. A network performance tool that needs to be heavily configured, or even worse, reconfigured as the structure of the data center or application changes, is not a solution — it is a new problem.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Psst… want to know what’s going to happen in the data center in 2008?

We at B-hive spend a lot of time helping customers achieve optimal service levels to their business applications while improving the cost effectiveness of their data center operations. That gives us good insight into what is happening inside the data center and what things are going to happen in the near future.

I thought an appropriate way to start this post is by sharing our predictions for 2008 as we see it from the fluorescent lighten, cold, floating floors of our customer’s data centers.

This post will tackle the future of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 – there has been much talk recently about the end of the Web 2.0 world as we know it. That sentiment has been exemplified by two recent events – media anti-sentiment towards the web2.0 poster child, (probably peaking with the Beacon story) and the VC community’s declining interest in financing new Web 2.0 ventures, illustrated recently by one of the largest Silicon Valley VCs, Kleiner Perkins, stating that they will not finance any new Web 2.0 companies.

From the way I see it, Web 2.0 is here to stay – the concepts of user generated content and social connectivity are just a technological adaptation to some of the most basic human traits (we share information and we have the need to belong to groups that define who we are and who we aren’t) and as such we will see the same technology making its way into the enterprise (my CRM could use some more collaboration tools and I am sure that crowd wisdom will turn to be a very important information source in virtual financial trading floors) or as a progression of any online application today (Fantasy Baseball, Mommy Groups). Sure, some of the recent users in Facebook might stop using, but that would be mostly the users who were not supposed to be on it in the first place (that includes most of the media writers covering Facebook today and all of my mom’s co-workers who are poking me on Facebook so they can see some baby pictures of my 7-month old).

Facebook’s target audience will just keep on using it in the same way we didn’t stop using IM or shopping online after the .com bust . On the contrary, the number of users will continue to climb and I am sure that given enough time, the financial model behind it will be fine-tuned.

As for the VC angle, yes VCs make it easier for new companies to launch, especially when they have a long technology development period. Guess what? Launching a web2.0 application today has been quite commoditized with platforms like Ning and many others allowing users to focus on creating the community and the rest is up to that magic viral touch. In the same way that anyone today can open an online-shop in Yahoo! or eBay without the need to get Web-Van style funding (more than $800m raised and they didn’t even have a sock-puppet on the payroll!). Web 2.0 is now a commodity application maturing from a hit driven market to a long tail eternal phase.

Next week – The future of the virtualized data center.

Add to Technorati Favorites