Friday, December 12, 2014

Interesting Videos from AWS Re:Invent 2014

There are too many, but here are the ones I've watched that I found particularly interesting. I'll add to this list as I find time to watch more of them.

To start with here's my own talk. I'm looking for feedback on it, as it's the first time I've tried this topic and I'm looking for more data to support the concepts I'm discussing.

The "must see" talk for Re:Invent is James Hamilton on Innovation at Scale.

The new EC2 Container Service that supports Docker, described by Deepak Singh

An excellent and entertaining talk on networking optimization by Becky Weiss - learn what SR-IOV means.

EC2 Instance Deep Dive by John Phillips explains HVM and storage path optimization.

The VPC Deep Dive by Kevin Miller talks about some long awaited features such as migration tools from EC2 Classic to VPC.

There were lots of Netflix talks, but from Asgard to Zuul by Ruslan included the announcement of Docker images to make trying out NetflixOSS tools trivial.

One of the most popular talks at the event was Brendan Gregg of Netflix on EC2 Performance Tuning

PFC305 Embracing Failure Fault Injection and Service Reliability - Monkeys and the new FIT failure injection system that replaces Latency Monkey.

More Netflix Talks
BDT403 Next Generation Big Data Platform at Netflix
ARC317 Maintaining a Highly Available Front Door at Massive Scale
PFC304 Effective IPC for Microservices in the Cloud
ENT209 Cloud Migration, DevOps and Distributed Systems
APP310 Using Apache Mesos in the Cloud

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Public Cloud Instance Pricing Wars - Detailed Context and Analysis

As part of my opening keynote at Cloud Connect in Las Vegas I summarized the latest moves in cloud, the slides are available via the new Powered by Battery site as "The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Critical Decisions for the Cloud Enabled Enterprise". This blog post is a detailed analysis of just part of what happened.

Summary points
  • AWS users should migrate from obsolete m1, m2, c1, c2 to the new m3, r3, c3 instances to get better performance at lower prices with the latest Intel CPUs.
  • Any cloud benchmark or cost comparison that uses the AWS m1 family as a basis should be called out as bogus benchmarketing.
  • AWS and Google instance prices are essentially the same for similar specs.
  • Microsoft doesn’t appear to have the latest Intel CPUs generally available and only matches prices for obsolete AWS instances.
  • IBM Softlayer pricing is still higher, especially on small instance types
  • Google's statement that prices should follow Moore’s law implies that we should expect prices to halve every 18-24 months
  • Pricing pages by AWS, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure, IBM Softlayer
  • Adrian’s spreadsheet summary of instances from the above vendors at
  • Analysis of the prices by Rightscale

On Tuesday 25th March 2014 Google announced some new features and steep price cuts, the next day Amazon Web Services also announced new features and matching price cuts. On Monday 31st March Microsoft Azure also reduced prices. Many pundits repeated talking points from press releases in blog posts but unfortunately there was little attempt to understand what really happened, and explain the context and outcome. When I wrote up a summary for my opening keynote at Cloud Connect on 31st March I looked at the actual end result and came up with a different perspective and a list of gaps.

I’m only going to discuss instance types and on-demand prices here. There was a lot more in the announcements that other people have done a good job of summarizing. The Rightscale blog linked above also gives an accurate and broader view on what was announced. I will discuss other pricing models beyond on-demand in future blog posts.

There are some things you need to know to get the right background context for the instance price cuts. The most important is to understand that AWS has two generations of instance types, and is in a transition from Intel CPU technology they introduced five or more years ago to a new generation introduced in the last year. The new generation CPUs are based on an architecture known as Sandybridge. The latest tweak is called Ivybridge and has incremental improvements that give more cores per chip and slightly higher performance. Since Google is a recent entrant to the public cloud market, all their instances types are based on Sandybridge. To correctly compare AWS prices and features with Google, there is a like-for-like comparison that can be made. AWS is encouraging the transition by pricing its newer faster instances at a lower cost than the older slower ones. In the recent announcement, AWS cut the prices by obsolete instance type families by a smaller percentage than the newer instance type families, so the gap has just widened.

Old AWS instance types have names starting with m1, m2 and c1, c2. They all have newer replacements known as m3, r3 and c3 except the smallest one – the m1.small. The newer instances have a similar amount of RAM and CPU threads, but the CPU performance is significantly higher. The new equivalents also replace small slow local disks with smaller but far faster and more reliable solid-state disks, and the underlying networks move from 1Gbit/s to 10Gbit/s. The newer instance families should also have lower failure rates.

Most people are much more familiar with the old generation instance types, and competitors write their press releases they are able to get away with claiming that they are both faster and cheaper than AWS, by comparing against the old generation products. This is an old “benchmarketing” trick – compare your new product against the competitions older and more recognizable product.

For the most commonly used instance types there is a close specification match between the AWS m3 and the Google n1-standard. They are also exactly the same price per hour. Since AWS released its changes after Google, this implies that AWS deliberately matched Google’s price. The big architectural difference between the vendors is that Google instances are diskless, all their storage is network attached, while AWS have various amounts of SSD included. The AWS hypervisor also makes slightly more memory available per instance, and ratings for the c3 imply that AWS is supplying a slightly higher CPU clock rate for that instance type. I think that this is because AWS has based its compute intensive c3 instance types on a higher clock rate Ivybridge CPU rather than the earlier Sandybridge specification. For the high memory capacity instance types it is a little different. The Google n1-himem instances have less memory available than the AWS r3 equivalents, and cost a bit less. This makes intuitive sense as this instance type is normally bought for its memory capacity.

Microsoft previously committed to match AWS prices, and in their announcement their comparisons matched the m1 range exactly at it’s new price, and they compared their memory oriented A5 instance as cheaper than an old m2.xlarge, but the A5 is an older slower CPU type, more expensive ($0.22 vs $0.18) and has less memory (14GB vs. 15GB) than the AWS r3.large. The common CPU options on Azure are aligned with the older AWS instance types. Azure does have Intel Sandybridge CPUs for compute use cases as the A8 and A9 models, but I couldn't find list pricing for them and they appear to be a low volume special option. The Azure pricing strategy ignores the current generation AWS product, so the price match guarantee doesn’t deliver. In addition the Google and AWS price changes were effective from April 1st, but Azure takes effect May 1st.

IBM Softlayer has a choose-what-you-want model rather than a specific set of instance types. The smaller instances are $0.10/hr where AWS and Google n1-standard-1 are $0.07/hr. As you pick a bigger instance type on Softlayer the cost doesn’t scale up linearly, while Google and AWS double the price each time the configuration doubles. The Softlayer equivalent of the n1-standard-16 is actually slightly lower cost than Google. Softlayer pricing on most instances is in the same ballpark as AWS and Azure were before the cuts, so I expect they will eventually have to cut prices to match the new level.

Gaps and Missing Features

The remaining anomaly in AWS pricing is the low-end m1.small. There is no newer technology equivalent at present, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see AWS do something interesting in this space soon. Generally AWS has a much wider range of instances than Google, but AWS is missing an m3.4xlarge to match Google's n1-standard-16, and the Google hicpu range has double the CPU to RAM ratio of the AWS c3 range so they aren’t directly comparable.

Google has no equivalent to the highest memory and CPU AWS instances, and has no local disk or SSD options. Instead they have better attached disk performance than AWS Elastic Block Store, but attached disk adds to the instance cost, and can never be as fast as local SSD inside the instance.

Microsoft Azure needs to refresh its instance type options, it has a much smaller range, older slower CPUs, and no SSD options. It doesn’t look particularly competitive.


If you buy hardware and capitalize it over three years, and later on there is a price cut; you don’t get to reduce your monthly costs. Towards the end your CPUs are getting old, leading to less competitive response times and higher failure rates. With public cloud vendors driving the costs down several times a year and upgrading their instances, your model of public vs. private costs needs to factor in something like Moore’s law for cost reductions and a technology refresh more often than every three years. Google actually said we should expect Moore’s law to apply in their announcement, which I interpret to mean that we can expect costs to halve about every 18-24 months. This isn’t a race to zero; it’s a proportional reduction every year. Over a three-year period the cost at the end is a third to a quarter of the cost at the start.

I still hear CIOs worry that cloud vendor lock-in would let them raise prices. This ruse is used to justify private cloud investments. Even without switching vendors, you will see repeated price reductions for the public cloud systems you are already using. This was the 42nd price cut for AWS, the argument is ridiculous.

I’ve previously published presentation materials on costoptimization with AWS. I’m researching this area and over the coming months will publish a series of posts on all aspects of cloud optimization.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Speeding Up Innovation - Cloud Expo Europe and QCon London 2014

There is a huge transformation going on in enterprise IT at the moment. Decades old companies are discovering that IT which used to be a small side operation keeping track of things like employees and inventory, is now perhaps a thousand times more demanding and is central to their ability to compete.

  • From tracking inventory levels at sales outlets to handling web based sales directly.
  • From managing a few employees to managing huge numbers of connected devices and mobile applications.
  • From placing print adverts in newspapers and trade journals each month to using big data analytics to do real time bidding on internet adverts and sales force optimization.

Technologies and practices that have been developed in the leading web scale companies are finding their way into cloud based services that address the broadening of demand for these technologies, while packaging them to make them easier to implement. In addition, the pace of product development has greatly increased, and the ability to get faster feedback from customers and act on it conveys a significant competitive advantage.

The opening keynote talk I gave at Cloud Expo Europe on Feb 26th is aimed at setting the context and explaining why management needs to act. It ends with a few pointers towards next steps. The slideshare below doesn't include the builds that unfold with the explanation, and there isn't a video of the event, but I will be giving similar talks at other events in the coming months.

On Thursday next week I will be giving a developer oriented talk at QCon London "Migrating to Microservices". The talk goes into details on transitional techniques, architectures and tools that can be used to move a product development organization from the old world to a highly agile and innovative cloud based operation. This is an excellent conference and registration is still open, so I hope to see you there.

In my new role at Battery Ventures, we are looking for opportunities to fund companies in the enterprise IT space that can support the transition to this new world.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Battery Ventures at Strata, Santa Clara

Strata’s theme this year is “Making Data Work”. The conference is sold out, but some of the sessions will be available as a live stream so you can follow along at home.

Battery Ventures kicked off the conference the night before, with friends and portfolio companies getting together nearby.  For me attending Strata is a great way to keep track of what is going on in the rapidly developing Big Data space.

On Wednesday at 1:30pm Mike Dauber of Battery Ventures is moderating “Not your typical VC panel”. (Follow Mike @dauber)

A group of VCs who invest from very early, through later stage investments talk about all things Big Data. There will be no “3 Vs” discussion here. The Panelists are committed to making this a lively discussion about topics ranging from the typical (what sectors do they want to invest in) to the atypical (what’s out there that they don’t like? Which Hadoop Distros are in trouble? Should any entrepreneur care about Data Scientists?).

Is technology creating new jobs, and ridding us of drudgery? Or is it spawning an era of rampant unemployment and class divides? That’s what we’ll be debating.

Strata also features Battery Ventures portfolio companies as sponsors:

Platfora masks the complexity of Hadoop, making it easy for customers to understand all the facts in their business across events, actions, behaviors and time.

Continuuity makes it easy for any Java developer to build, deploy, scale and manage Apache Hadoop and HBase applications in the cloud or on-premise.

We look forward to catching up with everyone and finding new and interesting people and products to discuss.

Coming up next for me is a trip to the UK. I'm presenting at Cloud Expo Europe and QCon London. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Latest Local Music - Fractal, Beautiful Machines, Cash Pony, Moetar and Atomic Ape... and Mirthkon!

There is a huge amount of good original new music that is looking for an audience. Most of what I listen to is from bands you've probably never heard of, so I'm going to share some updates and some local gigs that are happening over the next few days in the SF Bay Area. I encourage you to go to the gigs and buy a CD, or buy the album online to support local musicians. There is a Facebook group for Bay Area Prog rock that's worth tracking.

Earlier this week Fractal released the first track of a free album of improvisations. They plan to release the tracks on soundcloud around once a month. It's hard to categorize what they sound like other than excellent musicians composing instrumentals in real time. They tend to have interesting sound effects, looped phrases and are known for using odd time signatures. I've been a non-playing member of this band since they started, helping in various ways including naming this album "Fractiles".

I've been meaning to write this for a while, and my deadline is that tonight (Thursday Jan 30th) there is a gig including Beautiful Machines in San Francisco. I can't attend, but I do have their first album and have been listening to it a lot over the last few months. They write songs with influences from 80's synth-pop bands, and remind me of Japan or Duran Duran perhaps. Their bass player Van is one of my favorite local musicians, he used to play in Headshear and has a unique and interesting style on fretless bass. Here's a trailer for a video of Animammal from their album "Disconnect :: Reconnect".

On Saturday I will be in Oakland for a gig with three of my favorite local bands. Please come along!

Moetar are a pop band with a unique sound that blends jazzy female vocals and prog rock instrumentation into some very commercial sounding songs. They don't sound like Muse, but if you like Muse I think you will like Moetar. They have a unique mix, and I've played their first album regularly over the last year or two. Their second album has been recorded and is due for release soon. I've seen them live several times, and try not to miss a gig, they are awesome and deserve to be a big hit. Here's a video they made for Butchers of Baghdad from their first album From These Small Seeds.

Cash Pony have played with Moetar several times, and I bought their CD at a gig, then just kept playing it. It's an interesting mix of instruments, with a bass sax and an electric sitar on some songs. It's interesting uptempo pop songs, and they have a very smooth sound on the CD, but I can't figure out what to compare it to. Take a listen to a live version of 1000 Layer Curry Dawg and get their Carpal Tunnel Vision Quest album.

Years ago, there was an amazing local band called Estradasphere. They released several albums that I still listen to regularly. They have dispersed, and the guitarist Jason Schimmel has a new band called Atomic Ape with a new album, Swarm. I haven't heard them before, but am looking forward to seeing them live for the first time on Saturday. Here's a rather dark video of them playing for a radio show.

Update - I just found out that on Feb 15th MirthKon and Secret Chiefs 3 are playing a gig in San Francisco. Not yet sure if I can make it to attend. Yet another of my favorite local bands, intensely complex virtuoso playing. Matt the bass player in Mirthkon is also the keyboard player in Moetar. If you like Frank Zappa you'll like MirthKon, and you should give the video below a listen.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Starting a new role at Battery Ventures

Careful what you wish for. Take some side interests and activities that aren't central to your real job, have a bit too much fun with them, mention to a friend that it would be cool to do them for real, and have him convince his company to create a completely new position tailored for you that they've never had before, and haven't heard of anyone else doing. In a week.

Over the last few years I've given a lot of talks, and the industry reaction to Netflix's all-in public cloud strategy has evolved from "It won't work" through "It only works for unicorns like Netflix" to "How do we get there?" My answer to that question is the Netflix Open Source Software (NetflixOSS) platform, consisting of around forty distinct projects shared at that provides an on-ramp for applications to move to a cloud native architecture.

I have presented aspects of this work to different audiences at public conferences, private events and directly within companies. For developers, I concentrated on explaining the NetflixOSS components, DevOps and continuous delivery patterns. For managers I concentrated on how an open source and cloud native strategy delivers rapid product evolution, scalability and high availability. As interest from individual companies grew it became clear that there was an opportunity to take what I had learned and apply it directly to a wider audience.

In my new role at Battery Ventures I will be continuing my conversations with large enterprise companies planning a move to cloud native, and SaaS vendors who are re-architecting for scale, to understand the gaps and demands of this market. With that context I will work in the Battery Ventures team that is looking for opportunities to fund companies who are enabling the transformation of enterprise IT, and I will also provide advice and mentoring for portfolio companies.

The role is called Technology Fellow. It's different to the short term Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) position, and is similar to full time investing staff. Battery just raised their tenth fund, and have a total of $900M to invest. My job is to help spend that wisely and get the best return. That also means even more conference presentations, more international coverage, and a broader range of subjects to discuss.

I will no longer explain how Netflix works, so the starting point for my new presentation materials is going to be something like my Flowcon talk with the Netflix specific parts removed. If you still want a Netflix Architecture overview talk, start with @jedberg, he's a very highly rated speaker, and he can also connect you to the many excellent speakers at Netflix that cover their own specific areas.

It¹s going to take me a little while to figure out the new role, but a big part of the job is meeting lots of people. I'm taking bookings for February...

Press Coverage

Press Release by Battery Ventures
The Full Stack blog post by Mike Dauber of Battery Ventures
Business Week story by Ashlee Vance
GigaOm story by Stacy Higginbotham
Reuters story on Yahoo UK
Boston Globe story by Michael Farrell
Wall Street Journal story by Deborah Gage
The Register story by Jack Clark
Venture Beat story by Jordan Novet

About Battery Ventures

Battery invests in cutting-edge, category-defining businesses in markets including software and services, Web infrastructure, e-commerce, digital media and industrial technologies. Founded in 1983, the firm backs companies at stages ranging from seed to buyout and invests globally from offices in Boston, Silicon Valley and Israel. To learn more, visit and follow the firm on Twitter @BatteryVentures.