March 18, 2016

“How crazy is your imagination? Can we evolve to support that craziness?” – Founder of Canonical (Ubuntu)

Exclusive interview with Mark Shuttleworth, Founder of Canonical (Ubuntu) and Founder of Thawte (acquired by Symantec) at 2016

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cloud connectivity

Apple envisioned a world with a computer on every desk. Mark Shuttleworth has played just as substantial a role in advancing that cause around the world. Through the creation and development of Ubuntu, he has been building on open source, free tools that everyone everywhere can not only afford, but also intuitively use. His impressive work brings the world together. Founder of Canonical Ltd.,Mark recently became the first citizen of an independent African country to travel to space. Whether donning a space suit or giving free, easy to use computing to the world, this impressive individual knows no boundaries.

Mark was a keynote speaker at 2016 at Europa Park, Germany and spoke exclusively to after his speech titled “Charting New Territory”

Mark, you drew a nice parallel in your talk about how hardware used to be in its own silos back in the day, before the massive growth in scale forced it to integrate and make the industry more modular. You spoke about how something similar is happening with a move to software models and how it is important to quickly model, configure and deploy managed applications in the cloud with a few commands. Why do you think it’s such a game changer?

Well, people may be familiar with packages in Linux as a way of getting software on or off a single machine. The need of the hour is to take that idea and extend it to a cluster or a set of machines. Because today, a lot of software isn’t just run on one machine, its software that you run as one instance but across 5, 10 or even 500 machines – be it for big data, for analytics, for PaaS (Platform as a Service), for machine learning, for infrastructure services like OpenStack. All of those are what we call scale-out service oriented applications. And this is where Juju comes in.

Juju essentially is a packaging system that enables you to have a very clean experience of saying “I want these pieces of software, I want them across those 50 machines and all integrated automatically” So it takes the base packaging idea and extends it towards integration, extends it to cover operations like how to install, remove or upgrade software. It extends it to cover the idea of operations that are specific to a piece of software; how to backup a database, for instance. It gives us a language to crowd source all of that operational knowledge as code. Instead of hiring people who happen to know different ways to backup a database, we can now have code that is shared by everybody that is the professional way to backup a database. And that’s a whole new level of working, a whole new level of automation, of collaboration around open-source or proprietary software.

That’s interesting. How would you advise smaller business – for them to do something like this even a few years ago would have been a massive challenge – how can they use Juju and others Openstack platforms to deploy their ideas and applications?

Well one way to do that would be SaaS. There are some very smart people at Google, Microsoft and Amazon who are working out how to offer you amazing services for machine learning, analytics and so on with a single API call. The downside of that is that you’re effectively locked into that service now and it’s hard to know if that’s really going to be in your interests forever. Juju lets you get that SaaS experience, in other words you say that you don’t really need to invest in that or in the operations of that, you just want to get the same operations that everyone else is getting but it lets you do that on your cloud of choice and it lets you move. So Juju and Charms are ways of getting the SaaS experience for small business for the pieces of the infrastructure they don’t want to differentiate on while still preserving their ability to operate it themselves on the cloud or datacenter of their choice.

Right at the end of your talk you spoke a little bit about the future and you gave a little bit away about how you’ve been seeing people get into miniature devices like Raspberry Pi and the excitement that they feel when developing something for themselves. What trends do you see within that in the next few years that excite you?

Well you can now effectively get a fully functioning PC for $10. So now the question is what would you do if you could get 100 PCs for $1000 and stick them anywhere. They use virtually no power, what could you invent? What could you do? And that’s really an imagination question – like how crazy and interesting is your imagination? What I do is I think about how the platform has to evolve to support that craziness. So think about it, if you suddenly have 100 PCs for the price of 1, you now have to manage 100 PCs! Your management cost went up a 100 times. The cost of hardware is cheap but suddenly the cost of management becomes much much higher.

So I look at it and say “It’s fantastic that we could put Ubuntu on all the Wi-Fi access point on campus or we could put it in all of the climate control or air-conditioning units, all of the smart displays. But now we’d have to manage all of those instances and the reality is that it’s quite expensive to manage Linux. If you want to manage 1000 Linux machines then you need to have at least 1 System Administrator so that’s $100/year per machine just for the System Administrator. So when I think about how we can change the platform from a developer point-of-view, it’s still Ubuntu – you can have fun with it, still tinker and go fast, but from a management point of view it still super-cheap, super-efficient and super-reliable.

And so that’s why we’ve done a lot of work with what we call Snaps. We have 2 packaging systems in Ubuntu now, Debs and Snaps, where Snaps are more focused on the device-type use cases. They’re very transactional, update-rollback, all of those mechanisms. Things we can’t do with Debs, all of those become possible and that I think is very interesting.

What are people going to do with it? That I can’t predict. I couldn’t have predicted that when we started working with the cloud that we’d get Netflix all on Ubuntu or a 100% on the cloud, but it was still interesting because smart people were interested in that field and now I feel the same way about these new small devices.

That’s great. I have one last question. On a slightly lighter note, every time someone searches for you online or reads about you, one of the first thing that pops up is space tourism…

Space Cadet!

Yes! It came up during your talk and was even referenced after the next speaker came on. So was that always a dream of yours?

It was. You know as a kid growing up, I was just always fascinated by science, by discovery, adventure, by exploration.

Did you read a lot of science fiction growing up?

I still read a lot of science fiction! Its fascinating to think about what might be and how society has to change as technology changes. We don’t realize that technology is hugely important in designing society and what’s possible in society. So those things are very interesting. If you want to change the world that people live in everyday, technology is an interesting way to do it. So yeah, being part of the commercialization of space was very interesting.

I also got to live and work in the place that launched human spaceflight. Star City in Russia is the place that it happened first. You may know about the Mercury 7 and the NASA astronauts – all amazing guys – but they did it first over there. And they really had quite a tough, independent way of doing it. And a lot of the people who were involved in those early days were still in Star City when I was there 12 years ago. So it was an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by these amazing human beings, people who are very focused, diligent, conscientious, hard-working. Very passionate about the human frontier effectively and pushing that.

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