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Weekly Column

The Future is Cloudy: Google's plan to host ALL our applications.

Status: [CLOSED] comments (62)
By Robert X. Cringely
bob@cringely.com

When Google this week announced IMAP support for Gmail, it really got me thinking about finally outsourcing my e-mail. At $50 per year per address, Google Apps Premier Edition is pretty compelling. For one thing, there are only three cringely.com addresses, and though $150 per year sounds like a lot, I'm sure it costs me as much or more to run my own server with less reliability and backup. Remember Premier Edition will allow me to use my own domain, not just one of Google's. The storage limit is currently 25 gigabytes per address "and growing," according to Google, and a look at my server shows that by keeping every message since 1992 (remember that when you sue me) I have so far used only about 20 gigs, so 25 would do for now. Throw in Postini mail security tools and I am convinced, which was exactly Google's plan. In fact they want to take over ALL my applications (yours too), except perhaps my web browser. It's a Google strategy that should become big news in early 2009 when MySQL 6.1 ships. Am I talking about this too early?

It is one thing to threaten Microsoft Office with Google Apps like Gmail and Google Docs, but Google has so much more in mind and what's key are Google extensions being placed in MySQL, the open source database that has Google, by far, as its largest user.

Google Apps, however well designed, have appealed mainly to casual users sharing documents from home or on the road. The apps are inherently slower than Office and unable to be used when away from an Internet connection (like on an airplane). But even as those limitations are being solved, Google Apps still don't do anything for users of corporate or custom software. Google Apps have been meaningless to organizations that use a lot of Visual Basic or .Net, for example, but that appears to be about to change.

MySQL AB, the Sweden- and Cupertino-based primary developer of MySQL, recently laid out its development road map all the way through 2009, and this includes code specifically contributed by Google, which signed a contributor agreement with MySQL last fall.

Here is what's significant about Google putting code into MySQL: they haven't done it before. Google has been a MySQL user from almost the very beginning, customizing the database in myriad ways to support Google's widely dispersed architecture with hundreds of thousands of servers. Google has felt no need previously to contribute code to MySQL. So what changed? While Google has long been able to mess with the MySQL code in ITS machines, it hasn't been able to mess with the code in YOUR machine and now it wants to do exactly that. The reason it will take so long to roll out MySQL 6.1 is that Google will only deliver its MySQL extensions for Linux, leaving MySQL AB the job of porting that code to the 15 other operating systems they support. That's what will take until early 2009.

Then what? I think the best clue comes from the agreement Google recently signed with IBM to co-promote cloud computing in universities.

Cloud computing is, of course, the ability to spread an application across one or many networked CPUs. You can think of it as renting computer power or having the ability to infinitely scale a local application without buying new hardware. Cloud computing can be anything from putting your entire business on other people's computers to running a huge Photoshop job from the lobby computer at Embassy Suites before jumping on the shuttle bus to Disney World with your kids. For all its promise, though, cloud computing has been pretty much a commercial failure so far.

By failure I mean that the companies who have made significant investments in cloud computing -- Amazon.com, IBM, and Sun Microsystems -- haven't made much, if any, money from it. Amazon's EC2 and S3 web services were intended to leverage unused capacity in the company's huge server and storage infrastructure, while IBM and Sun have purpose-built data centers intended to be rented by the CPU-hour, though with few takers. Google wants to get into this business, too, but in order to make it a success they'll have to do some things differently, hence the MySQL extensions.

Here's the grand plan: By working with IBM to promote cloud computing to universities, Google is accomplishing two very important goals. It will first put them in touch with every graduate student doing work Google might find interesting. So it is first a hiring tool. But by teaching students about cloud computing Google and IBM are also seeding the technology in the companies where those students will take their first jobs after graduation. Five years from now cloud computing will be ubiquitous primarily for this reason.

But Google wants us to embrace not just cloud computing but Google's version of cloud computing, the hooks for which will be in every modern operating system by mid-2009, spread not by Google but by a trusted open source vendor, MySQL AB.

Mid-2009 will also see the culmination of Google's huge server build-out. The company is building data centers large and small around the world and populating them with what will ultimately be millions of generic servers. THAT's when things will get really interesting. Imagine a much more user-friendly version of Amazon's EC2 and S3 services, only spread across 10 or more times as many machines. And as with all its services, Google will offer free versions at the bottom for consumers and paid, but still cost-effective versions nearer the top for businesses and education.

Google's goal here is to help us, of course, but along the way the company will have marginalized most higher-end computing vendors, especially Microsoft. They will have also made us totally dependent on Google services in such a way that we'll never, ever, be able to extricate ourselves. We'll be slaves, but happy slaves, and Google will come to dominate all computing for the next generation.

Take the $100+ billion that U.S. industry currently spends each year on data center-based computing, cut that price in half and send it straight to the Googleplex.

Maybe I'll keep running my own mail server after all.

In other news I promised a big announcement last week concerning Team Cringely's attempt to win the Google Lunar X Prize by landing a rover on the Moon and driving it around. We've made great progress in a short amount of time and the X Prize Foundation is probably sick of us already because of the way we pored over the contest rules last week, asking a total of 36 highly detailed questions, more than any other team.

No answers yet from the X Prize, nor from Sri Lanka where our other bit of news was to come from. You see we've been in discussions with Sir Arthur C. Clarke and the Clarke Foundation about joining Team Cringely as an adviser. I am hopeful that we'll get Clarke, who was the first person to write about communication satellites and many other space technologies and would provide a HUGE boost to our knowledge base, not to mention our prestige. Right now we're still "those yahoos who think they can land on the Moon for $3 million," while we aspire to become "those yahoos and Arthur C. Clarke who think they can land on the Moon for $3 million."

It just sounds better.

Comments from the Tribe

Status: [CLOSED] read all comments (62)

I like Google. But your commentary has me thinking that I am like the man who poke his stick into The Blob and became part of The Blob.

Brent Jones | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:50PM

I like Google. But your commentary has me thinking that I am like the man who poked his stick into The Blob and became part of The Blob.

Brent Jones | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:50PM

and after the cloud... what?

gregory | Nov 08, 2007 | 4:38AM