21st century alchemy: Spinning clouds and weaving magic

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Entrepreneurs have been around since the dawn of time. They are the engineers of innovation in each and every epoch. Contrary to popular belief, the modern concept of an entrepreneur is essentially European, derived from the French entreprendre (to undertake) in the late nineteenth century.

Turing – the entrepreneur

It won’t surprise you to learn that pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing was a classic entrepreneur, except that in his case there was rather more at stake than, say, investing in a Kickstarter project targeting the Internet of Cats. (If you think I am joking check out Tailio.)

Turing’s pitch to then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941 went something like this:

Problem statement: German U-Boats are destroying our supply chain and we are going to lose the war.

The solution: Build a Turing Machine to crack the Enigma code as no manual process can solve this.

The ask: It will cost us $500,000 to do this.

The upside: We save our supply chain and we go on to win the war.

Turing backed up his proposal with what we would now call a white paper, titled On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungproblem. I know it is hard to imagine but there was no PowerPoint or email in those days, so he put all of this in a letter to Churchill and convinced his co-founders to sign it.

Now, $500,000 was quite a hefty ask back then as it would be of the order of $250 million today. Nonetheless, Churchill was persuaded (like all good investors, it was the team that caught his attention) and the rest is, as they say, history—even though up until the 1970s no one knew anything about Bletchley Park or its code breakers and the full story only emerged in the 1990s.

Of course, in reality neither Turing or his team got any equity, but they delivered even though the post-war valuation of their work was undecidable.

Fast forward to 2015. What would Turing have to pitch to get the attention of the VC community today and raise a $250 million Series C? Uber, perhaps? On the basis that Uber is really a global experiment designed to generate enough data to solve the travelling salesman problem.

Turing – the alchemist

Turing was fascinated by alchemy. Alchemy has a long and distinguished scientific following. We know, for example, that Sir Isaac Newton devoted at least as much of his time to the pursuit of alchemy as he did to his research into what we now call Newtonian Mechanics.

So, what is alchemy, and is it alive and well in the 21st century? Let’s start with the Oxford Dictionary on alchemy. There are two definitions of note:

“The medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.”

“A seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.”

You could argue that Turing was an alchemist since he took plug boards, wires, valves and rotors—raw materials—and converted these into something quite wonderful in the Bombe. But the reality is that is is the second definition that intrigues me the most.

21st century alchemy

Open source practitioners are the 21st century’s alchemists. After all, it is hard to beat this definition:

“Open source is the seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.”

Everywhere we look there are stunning examples of 21st century alchemists at work, whether it’s the Open Compute Project, the Apache Software Foundation or brand new initiatives such as the Cloud Foundry Foundation and the Open Data Platform.

So, what does any of this have to do with us?

Spinning clouds …

We are 21st century alchemists. Cloudsoft is the founder of the open source project Brooklyn, which is now an Apache Incubator project. Brooklyn is a framework for modeling applications as blueprints, then deploying and managing these in any environment whether physical, virtual or, indeed, cloud.

Cloudsoft is also the founder of open source project Clocker, also known as the Docker Cloud Maker. Clocker uses Brooklyn to spin up and manage a Docker cloud, which Brooklyn can then treat as a first class location for blueprints just as it targets IBM SoftLayer, Azure, AWS, GCE, OpenStack and so on.

clocker 1

A key feature of Clocker is its SDN capability. Out of the box this is provided by Weave and (imminently) Project Calico, a brand new open source project from Metaswitch. Cloudsoft has also worked closely with the team responsible for IBM SDN for Virtual Environments, showcasing Clocker’s support for IBM SDN VE at IBM InterConnect recently.

In a nutshell, IBM SDN VE is a distributed overlay virtual network that virtualizes existing physical networks without changing the physical network infrastructure. This is a hot space and for this work to progress we believe it should be done in the open. Of course, this is not our call, but an earlier version was contributed to the Open Daylight project, so we are optimistic that it is only a matter of time before IBM SDN VE is open sourced in its entirety with IBM SoftLayer providing this as a managed service—a proven open source model.

… And weaving magic

We are a long standing supporter of the Apache Software Foundation. We have just joined the Cloud Foundry Foundation and in the past few weeks we have contributed a Brooklyn Service Broker and a Brooklyn Plugin to the Cloud Foundry community providing Cloud Foundry developers with access to a wide range of Brooklyn services and the ability to define new ones.

In the next few weeks you will find us at ApacheCon North America and the Cloud Foundry Summit where we will be weaving our magic.

We hope to see you there.

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