April 7th, 2012

What the Heck is Cliff Up To?

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I finally “Got With The Program” – the standard Silicon Valley program that is – and founded a new startup, 0xdata. That’s zero-ex-data like hexadecimal but with ‘data’ instead of ‘decimal’ – and pronounced “hexdata”.  I’ve been having a blast doing all those things founders do.  In particular, I’m hacking code seriously again for the first time in years.  It’s green-field hacking and I’m pumping out the code.  I hacked a Paxos algorithm over the weekend, directly writing bits into UDP packets… fun!  We’re doing distributed systems stuff and using Paxos for auto-Cloud-discovery.  I tested with Paxos by randomly killing JVMs with “kill -9” and re-launching in a tight loop.  Nodes come & go, but the Cloud remains.  Paxos Rocks!
Today I did Yet Another Interview, 5th or 6th this week, in RedRock, Mountain View.  Sharp guy, but well encased in Generic Big Company… and bored silly.  We’ll see.  Did I mention we have office space now (I mean besides RedRock)?  And basically for free?  The owner took a modest amount of stock in lieu of rent.
We went furniture shopping… at the “startup furniture store”.  This guy cycles used office furniture in and out through startups.  Interesting business model and he had the Right Stuff for us, for cheap. The guy was hysterical!  He was cracking a joke every few seconds, and any possible straight-line was immediately played on.  I think he’s seen one too many startups in his time; once he sold some furniture to a startup guy, bought it back 6 months later on fire sale, then sold it again to the same guy again.  His business model must be one of the more reliable ones around, sorta like the gold-rush merchants who made it rich selling shovels to miners.
What am I doing technically?  Alas, that mostly has to remain quiet for a bit longer.  But the Universe has a ‘hole’ in it, a vacuum, an imbalance of available fast cheap fragile X86 servers with plenty of DRAM, big disks and fast networks – and on the other side a real absence of easy-to-use programming tools.  Those big disks have filled up over the years with Big Data, and thanks to MapReduce, Hadoop and NoSQL we are able to store and address a bunch of connected machines as a single resource.  In other words: we got plenty of unreliable CPU, memory, disk & network… but we can’t get at with the same ease the hardware guys made possible when going to dram from multiple CPUs connected over internal buses.  Until we break that ease-of-use barrier, we’ll never get every-day programmers coding distributed systems as easily as we do single machines now.
Programmers are crying out for a Better Answer, a better way to convert Big Data into Knowledge.  This is the beginning of a the next epoch in distributed computing – and it is only in its first generation.  The best is yet to come.
I’m On The Job.
Cliff

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