Meet Dr Gideon Greenspan: Developer, Entrepreneur and Lecturer

Today, we’d like to present before you an interview of an amazing person and one of the inspiring entrepreneur, Dr Gideon Greenspan.

He is the man behind many successful and of course profitable online ventures including Carbon Catalog, now part of Ecosystem Marketplace, Giga Alert, Magic Baby Names, Family Echo, Siteliner, Question2Answer, Web Sudoku, Copyscape a plagiarism search engine and Cloudlook. Currently he is working on a new idea related to bitcoin called Bitcoin Colors.

He is PhD in Computer Science from the Technion and teaches software entrepreneurship to undergraduate students.

We were able to get an in depth analysis and insights of the new IaaS industry, where some things were completely new to us. This interview helped us in gaining a better understanding of cloud computing as a service and of the entrepreneur within Dr Greenspan. Here is his story.

Gideon Greenspan

TechieTonics: Please tell us something about your new venture Cloudlook (cloudlook.com), I am sure our readers would find the equally interesting?

Gideon Greenspan: Cloudlook (www.cloudlook.com) is a simple benchmarking platform for cloud computing services. Actually it is two related products in one.

First, it provides a live league table of the performance of several popular cloud providers, based on sampling thousands of their cloud instances every week. By sampling each instance type a large number of times, Cloudlook shows the distribution of performance that can be observed, rather than just a single measurement. In many cases, there is a surprisingly high level of variation.

Second, Cloudlook offers a quick and easy way for users of cloud computing to benchmark the performance of their own server, if they are running PHP.

TechieTonics: What lead to the evolution of IaaS industry and where do you see its market heading too?

Gideon Greenspan: I have a slightly different perspective on this than most. Our research at Cloudlook has shown that, for general computing tasks, the price-performance of cloud instances is pretty poor compared to dedicated servers. In addition, the performance (especially for disk access) is highly erratic, depending on the behavior of other users who are sharing the same underlying hardware (the “noisy neighbor” problem). So I think much of the push towards IaaS is actually coming from the providers since it enables them to earn more per server than previously. Customers are being pulled along by marketing, misinformation, and the modern fashion of being “in the cloud”.

Of course, there are also some benefits to IaaS over traditional dedicated hosting, such as rapid deployment and the ability to have your own isolated operating system for just $10/month. But I question the most touted reason of “pay for what you use” scalability. Cost-wise you’re much better off using cheap dedicated servers, even far below capacity, than paying to scale gradually in the cloud. Many companies have discovered this for themselves and blogged about it.

As for where the market is headed, I think in the long-term cloud providers will have to focus on extra value services such as monitoring, analytics and integration with content delivery networks, since the infrastructure itself is not particularly good value.

TechieTonics: Which according to you is the best cloud service delivery models and why?

Gideon Greenspan: Notwithstanding what I wrote above, I do use cloud services myself for some applications. For testing and experimenting, my favorite provider is Digital Ocean, which provides extremely rapid deployment (under 1 minute), low prices, and solid state drives (SSDs) which provide superb disk performance.

Looking at the price-performance tables on Cloudlook, the HP Cloud is also shaping up to to be an interesting contender.

TechieTonics: What do you think has led to the acceleration of cloud trend does it have to do something with the emergence of smartphones? I mean with limited storage capacity the device still can tap into remote cloud-based data via high-speed mobile networks.

Gideon Greenspan: I think we need to differentiate between two different meanings of “cloud”.

First, the “cloud” as in IaaS and PaaS, which is a growing way to slice up computing resources for deploying network-connected applications. This is the type of “cloud” that Cloudlook is measuring the performance of.

Second, the “cloud” as in a place to store information away from end devices like computers and mobile phones. If you mean “cloud” in this second sense, then yes, smartphones are definitely responsible for a large part of the trend. But if you don’t mind me saying I think in this case the term “cloud” is a little overused, because it is really just a different name for “information stored in the network”. There is nothing new about that.

TechieTonics: Who or what are your target segment? What enterprises do you think will benefit most from the services you are providing? What and how are you solving your customers’ problems through this new technology?

Gideon Greenspan: At this point Cloudlook is just a preliminary product and I don’t have a fixed target segment or problem case in mind. My goal is to find the answer to your question over time, by seeing who uses the service and provides feedback on it. But still I think that the information Cloudlook provides can be helpful for many different types of user, from small website owners to large enterprises, who want to assess the true performance of the cloud infrastructure they are thinking of renting.

TechieTonics: Would you like to share the type of workload customers might like to move to the cloud?

Gideon Greenspan: I think the most suitable workloads are those which are very temporary or seasonal in nature. This might include large data-crunching operations at the end of a financial quarter or a temporary spike in website traffic around sporting or other events. For more stable and long-term processes I don’t think it makes sense to rent computing resources by the hour at all.

TechieTonics: Is cloud computing still maturing or how far is it to touch the zenith of the new technology?

Gideon Greenspan: This is a really interesting question. Looking at the numbers it’s clear that the market is still growing rapidly. But as a user of cloud computing myself, I have to say that I haven’t seen much innovation in the past few years that is actually making my life better as a software developer, deployment engineer or business owner. In some cases, things are even going backwards, for example, Rackspace Cloud’s new Performance servers which cannot be dynamically scaled after their initial setup. This is a really odd product choice for them.

TechieTonics: I am curious to know the converging points of your thoughts, if we talk about the standards in cloud computing interoperability.

Gideon Greenspan: Having just developed a service which automates the deployment and decommissioning of cloud computing instances via many different provider APIs, I can tell you that this issue is a huge headache. While I did not write the code myself, I’m aware of endless problems that we experienced along the way, in terms of API reliability and departures from the documented functionality.

We tried using Apache libcloud but in most cases it just didn’t cut it. RightScale looks frighteningly expensive. Puppet and Chef both look like interesting solutions but didn’t support all the platforms that we wanted. So in the end we had to roll our own solution.

I think it would be much better for developers if all cloud computing providers supported a unified interface along the lines of OpenStack. However I am not sure they really want to go in this direction, since it risks turning them into a commodity that ends up competing on little more than price.

TechieTonics: In order to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced IT sector, organizations must embrace cloud security, what is your take on this?

Gideon Greenspan: I think this depends on the type of organization. Banks and governments are never going to want their data sitting outside of their firewall, because of the risk that a disgruntled employee of their computing provider could reveal or sell that data to malicious parties. For these organizations the only solution is a private cloud within their physical facility, over which they have complete control.

But for more general purposes I don’t think the risks of the cloud are any higher than other types of outsourced computing services. This is true so long as the cloud provider carries out their basic responsibilities to isolate cloud instances which are running on the same host hardware and to securely erase hard disk space upon decommissioning. I would be surprised if any serious cloud provider is not already doing these things.

TechieTonics: Please, acquaint our readers with your other remarkable areas of interest and ventures that you have been a part of so far, including your global warming mitigation journey?

Gideon Greenspan: By “global warming mitigation” I assume you are referring to Carbon Catalog (www.carboncatalog.org). Actually in mid 2011 I donated the site to Ecosystem Marketplace, an environmental non-profit, so that I could focus my efforts elsewhere.

Over the past few years I’ve lead the development on many other projects, including Question2Answer (www.question2answer.org), an open source platform for Q&A-style forums that is now running on almost 12,000 sites. Recently I also started teaching a course in software entrepreneurship to undergraduate students of Computer Science here in Tel Aviv, which is very satisfying for me, because it’s exactly the course that I was missing when I studied CS in university myself.

But right now the main thing I am focused on is the world of bitcoin, which I am sure some of your readers are familiar with. I am specifically interested in ways that the bitcoin technology and network can be used for things other than transacting in bitcoin (the currency). I am in the process of founding a company to develop and commercialize a number of protocols on top of bitcoin, to enable it to be used for the full lifecycle of regular commercial transactions. For those who are interested, here is description of Bitcoin Colors, the first protocol: http://goo.gl/g1Ydhf

TechieTonics: Any words of wisdom, you’d like to shed before wrapping up?

Gideon Greenspan: If you’re looking for words of wisdom I guess I would say that even though the space of Internet and software entrepreneurship is now incredibly crowded, there is still plenty of room for creativity and innovation. While it’s tough to come up with new ideas, they are definitely out there to be discovered. From my experience it helps to focus on fundamental problems and technologies, rather than copying the types of solutions that everyone else is building.

Rapid fire round:

TechieTonics: What websites and magazines do you read on a regular basis?

Gideon Greenspan: I have little time so get my online information almost exclusively from Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com) and the sites that it links to. As for magazines – The Economist (sometimes) and MIT Technology Review.

TechieTonics: Your favorite piece of music would be?

Gideon Greenspan: From recent music, Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey. Apart from that my all-time favorite group is Faithless, who have unfortunately disbanded.

TechieTonics: If you had to walk in another man’s shoes for a day, it would have to be?

Gideon Greenspan: Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin (the name is fake), whether a man, woman or group. To know that you created something so brilliant yet maintain the humility and willpower to keep your identity hidden from the entire world.

TechieTonics: If you have been bestowed with one super power, it would be?

Gideon Greenspan: The power to enable people in a conflict to understand the perspective of the other side.

TechieTonics: If you were a historical person, it would have to be?

Gideon Greenspan: It would have to be one of the pioneers of modern science, but there are too many possibilities for me to give a specific name 🙂

This surely is one of the remarkable interviews, thank you Gideon Greenspan for taking our time in doing a rendezvous with us. Before wrapping up, we’d like to wish you luck and success for all your future endeavors.

About Pooja Kashyap

A CPD certified Fitness Trainer, Pooja also likes to spend time reading and blogging the latest research and discoveries in science and how technology is shaping the world. Besides writing, she enjoys reviewing books and taking interviews of creative/innovative people. Currently, she is located in Noida, India, where she actively participates in marathons as well. She is also on Quora l Twitter and LinkedIn.