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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Alan Perkins, CIO of Altium (Part 6)

Posted on Tuesday, Dec 28th 2010

By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini

SM: Yes, right. Let me switch to the next topic which is in the context of our 1M/1M initiative whereby we are trying to help entrepreneurs looking especially to deliver solutions in the cloud domain. Where do you see opportunities for such entrepreneurs in this shift of IT to a cloud paradigm?

AP: Well, speaking more generically and not about our business, I think the notion of the Internet opened enormous opportunity for people to look at, say, designing products that collaborate with each other. That opens up enormous potential for building things that plug in into the ecosystem such as a device A and device B to communicate with each other using the Internet – that is a huge topic in itself. But more generically, I think the cloud provides people with the ability to scale all sorts of ideas. Say you have an idea. Whatever that idea is, the idea has certain limitations in terms of how am you going to deploy and scale it or what is going to happen if you choose one design or the other. Do you have to build from day one to cope with, say, 2 million people using your product, or maybe 20 million people? I think, with the advent of cloud computing, you don’t have to deal with all those restrictions. You can basically start with something very small, test it, and make sure that it works in a very small environment. The cloud paradigm then lets you scale it up or scale it down. Let me give you a tiny example of this kind of approach that I recently used when I was testing the design of a database structure for this vault world. In the end I decided not to pursue that design, but I needed to see what it takes to cope with billions of records and so forth, and that was fine. I needed to figure out whether it was going to be able to cope with thousands of concurrent users on a very low-end chip database instance, some sort of a generic database access design. What I did was, I wrote a database design, put it up into an Amazon EC2 instance, and tested it on a scale that simulated real-world use cases with about 15 different tasks. These tasks that tested this database, some of those tasks were comparatively rarer but were very expensive, other tasks were very common but relatively low cost in terms of computing time and resources required to deal with those tasks. I replicated that across 100 threads on a machine and then replicated it across 10 machines that simulated thousands of simultaneous, concurrent users. I could have kept scaling this up, but I didn’t need to because I got my answer. Rolling out a test like that across tens of machines, doing it with a traditional in-house approach is problematic, obviously. You have to spend a lot of time and money setting up the machines to be able to do that level of scaling up and verification. But in this cloud-based approach, I had the entire thing set up and running in less than an hour, and the total cost of running it, forgetting the labor cost, was about five bucks! Being able to test designs, ideas, and concepts extremely quickly to see whether they are going to work through the cloud- based paradigms opens up the doors to many entrepreneurs who can explore different designs and different concepts very quickly.

SM: Are you seeing that happen in the electronics industry today?

AP: Well, we are certainly experiencing it ourselves, but I’m not seeing it across the board.

SM: Let me ask you a specific question about the electronics industry in general. In the electronics design industry (EDA) today, how are electronics designers leveraging cloud computing? Are there any entrepreneurial opportunities that are opening up as a result of increasing adoption of the cloud in EDA related to EDA workflow?

AP: The first thing is that it is the very early days of cloud computing in EDA, surprisingly. A lot of designers are thinking in a very proprietary sense with their interfaces and their connectivity. If you consider things like fridges and freezers, for example, they talk to each other, but they talk to each other using proprietary connection ideas. It is still very early days for a lot of these things. When we talk about these things with our design community, a lot of them still say, we don’t see the value proposition in the cloud for us. Others are saying that cloud computing is very exciting, maybe they can grab this, and they do forsee future opportunities in their business with cloud computing. But I think once people start to appreciate the fact that they can have useful products that leverage cloud computing, adoption will grow. If you think of a printer that when its toner is low can tweet to a central bureau, or if the drum cutting needs replacing, or when a consumable product like biscuit wrappers and such things can have an RFID chip interface to the radar and the rubbish bin or a security system alarm system that can interface right through to the trucks so the packages are tracked by security system out into the field and directly into the delivery and into the recipient’s warehouse as it passes through a radar that indicates that your shipment is in. Once you see these concepts maturing, you start to see the benefits of collaborations come to the fore.

In terms of opportunities, it is really going to take a paradigm shift for people to start to see how does having a particular device, whether it be whatever headphones, a spoon, or anything, how can this device benefit from knowing about other devices? It is those synergies that we are going to see in the days to come. It is with such a nexus between the devices that we will see the real value from this stuff. In a sense, we are seeing that with things like iTunes and the App Store from Apple, where people are starting to reap benefits. For example, the Genius concept, where content is being streamed based upon or delivered based upon suggestions that are cloudsourced or crowdsourced from looking at various different parameters.

SM: You still haven’t answered my question. Let me answer my question myself, and maybe it would be helpful to you to listen to that answer!

AP: Okay.

SM: The question that I am asking you is, What is happening to electronics designers and their lives and work flow with the advent of cloud computing? iTunes does not impact the life of the electronic designer per se, right?

AP: No, it doesn’t. But the concepts do. What I’m trying to say is that the notion of an iTunes Genius concept for electronic design components is a real possibility. Why should somebody have to reinvent the wheel on a design component that should be made available to everybody? Whether it is open sourced or charged is moot.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Alan Perkins, CIO of Altium
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