I am Joannes Vermorel, founder at Lokad. I am also an engineer from the Corps des Mines who initially graduated from the ENS.

I have been passionate about computer science, software matters and data mining for almost two decades. (RSS - ATOM)


Entries in business (25)


Round Table about Windows Azure

Microsoft just published a 3-min video extract from the round table about their "Software+Services" strategy. My own interventions were mostly centered on Windows Azure. Check the original page on the MSDN.


Cloud computing: a personal review about Azure, Amazon, Google Engine, VMWare and the others

My own personal definition of cloud computing is a hosting provider that delivers automated and near real time arbitrary large allocation of computing resources such as CPU, memory, storage and bandwidth.

For companies such as Lokad, I believe that cloud computing will shape many aspects of the software business in the next decade.

Obviously, all cloud computing providers have limits on the amount of resources that one can get allocated, but I want to emphasize that, for the end-user, the cloud is expected to be so large that the limitation is rather the cost of resource allocation, as opposed to hitting technical obstacles such as the need to perform a two-weeks upgrade from one hosting solution to another.

Big players arena

Considering that the ticket for state-of-the art data centers is now reaching $500M, cloud computing is an arena for big players. I don't expect small players to stay competitive for long in this game.

The current players are

  • Amazon Web Services, probably the first production-ready cloud offer on the market.

  • Google App Engine, a Python cloudy framework by Google.

  • Windows Azure just unveiled by Microsoft a few weeks ago.

  • VMWare specialist of virtualization who unveiled their Cloud vService last September.

  • Salesforce and their Platform as a Service offering. Definitively cloud computing, but mostly restricted to B2B apps oriented toward CRM.

Then, I expect a couple of companies to enter the cloud computing market within the next three years (just wild guesses, I have no insider's info on those companies).

  • Sun might go for a Java-oriented cloud computing framework, much like Windows Azure, leveraging their VirtualBox product.

  • Yahoo will probably release something based on Hadoop because they have publicly expressed a lot of interest in this area.

There will most probably be a myriad of small players providing tools and utilities built on top of those clouds, but I rather not expect small or medium companies to succeed at gaining momentum with their own grid.

In particular, it's unclear for me if open-source is going to play any significant role - at the infrastructure level - in the future of cloud computing. Although open-source will present at the application level.

Indeed, open-source is virtually nonexistent in areas such as web search engines (yes, I am aware of Lucene, but it's very far from being significant on this market). I am expecting a similar situation for the cloud market.


Some people are about privacy, security and reliability issues when opting for a cloud provider. My personal opinion on that is that those points are probably among strongest benefits of the cloud.

Indeed, only those who have never managed loads of applications may believe that homemade IT infrastructure management efficiently address privacy, security and reliability concerns. In my experience, achieving a good level of security and reliability is hard for IT-oriented medium-sized companies and much harder for large non-IT-oriented companies.

Also, I am pretty sure that those concerns are among top priorities for big cloud players. A no-name small cloud hosting company can afford a data leak, but for a Google-sized company, the damage caused by such an accident is immense. As a result, the most rational option consists in investing massive amount of efforts to prevent those accidents.

Basically, I think that clouds can significantly reduce the need for system administrators and infrastructure managers by providing a secure and reliable environment where getting security patches and fighting botnets is part of the service.

Drawback: re-design for the cloud

The largest drawback that I can see is the amount of work needed to migrate applications toward clouds. Indeed, cloud hosting is a very different beast compared to regular hosting.

  • Scalability only applies with proper application design - which varies from one cloud to another.

  • Data access latency is large: you need data caching everywhere.

  • ACID properties of your storage are loose at best.

Thus, I expect that the strongest hindering factor for cloud adoption will be the technical challenges caused by the cloud itself.

If you don't need scalability, hosting on expensive-but-reliable dedicated servers is still the fastest way to bring a software product to the market. Then, if you have happen to have massive computing needs, then you probably have massive sales as well, and well, sales fixes everything.

Computing resources being commoditized? Not so sure.

With all those emerging clouds, will we see a commoditization of the computing resources? I don't expect it.

Actually, cloud frameworks are very diverse, and switching from one cloud to another is going to involve massive changes at best and complete rewrite at worst. Let's see

  • Amazon provides on-demand instantiation of near physical servers running either Linux or Windows. The code can be natively executed on top of custom OS. Scalability is achieved through programmatic computing node instantiation.

  • Google App Engine provides a Python-only (*) web app framework. Each web request gets treated independently, and scalability is a given. The code is executed in a sandboxed virtual environment. The OS is mostly irrelevant.

  • Windows Azure offers a .NET execution environment associated with IIS. The code is executed in a sandboxed virtual environment on top of a virtualized OS. Scalability is achieved by having working instances "sleeping" and waiting for the surge of incoming work.

  • VMWare takes any OS image and bring it to the cloud. Scalability is limited but other benefits apply.

  • SalesForce provides a specific framework oriented toward enterprise applications.

(*) I guess that Google will probably release a reduced Java framework at some point, much like Android.

Thus, for the next couple of years, choosing a cloud hosting provide would most probably mean a significant vendor lock-in. One more reason not to go for small players.

Since cloud computing will be an emerging market for at least 5 years. YAWG - Yet Another Wild Guess: 18 months to get the cloud offers out of their beta statuses, 18 months to train hordes of developers against those new frameworks, 18 months to write or migrate apps. During this time, I expect aggressive pricing from all actors, and little or no abuse of the "lock-in" power.

Then, when the market matures, I guess that 3rd party providers will provide tools to ease, if not to automate, the migration from one cloud to another much like the Java-.NET conversion tools.


My startup at the Incubator of Telecom Paris

For over a year, I have been working on The project has been growing nicely, and last week, Lokad has been accepted at the Incubator of Telecom Paris. The incubator of Telecom Paris is the largest incubator in France with some nice success stories (such as Netvibes).

Thus, for the next 18 months, Lokad will have nice offices in Paris (in the 14th arrondissement).

For a young company, an incubator is probably the nicest way to smooth all the mundane details (yet critical) that become unavoidable as soon your company grows beyond the stage of the 1-man company. Details include getting an office, a phone, a network connection, a lawyer, a copy machine, a coffee machine, an accountant, a meeting room, ...

Since we have a couple of investors too, Lokad is now hiring. In particular, I am looking for top notch developers. Do not hesitate to apply or to forward the link.


Hard times ahead for shopping cart providers

Since my μIVS is providing sales forecasting services for eCommerce, I have been spending a considerable amount of time reviewing the market of eCommerce frameworks and providers. I did come up with a few conclusions that may be of interest for people considering developing business in this area.

The first shocking element when I did start to review the online shopping cart market is the insane amount of competing software solutions. Based on my own market survey, I roughly estimate that the market includes roughly 1000 companies actually trying to provide shopping cart solutions of some sort. More over, in 2007, there was almost one major entrant per month in this market. Microsoft is, most probably, planning to make its own entrance through Microsoft Office Live in 2008.

One can argue that the eCommerce market needs a large amount of specialized solutions to fit all the market niches. But I think the reality is quite the opposite: the best shopping carts are the ones that stick to the mainstream design. As a result, most shopping carts provide nearly identical features : catalog management, check-out process, payment provider integration, ... I can't think of any other software area with so many competitors providing nearly identical products.

I see a few reasons that could probably explain such a situation

  • designing some (naive) e-commerce solution is easy, and can be done in 3 months by an experienced programmer. In addition, there are plenty of open source software packages to get you inspired.

  • getting your first ten customers is relatively easy. Just prospect your neighborhood, and you will probably find a few retailers that would accept to get an online front-end for their existing business.

  • e-commerce is hype and all major media are promising a huge business growth for online transactions in the next few years.

Yet, all those positive elements seem seriously flawed to me. Although, a minimal shopping cart can be designed in 3 months, a practical one needs to support virtually all payment providers and all shipping providers (and probably many accounting, ERP solutions as well, if you wish to catch successful e-commerce owners) . And then, it's not any more a 3 months project, but requires some major development efforts.

Then, as getting your first few customers might be (relatively) easy, because you can leverage your immediate neighborhoods, this approach does not scale at all. Considering the decreasing costs of the e-commerce hosting, I don't think that any e-commerce provider business will be sustainable within a few years with less than a couple of thousands of customers. In order to scale-up on such a market, you need a huge online presence, that will drive huge amount of customers to your website. But considering that most e-commerce provider websites already have a Google PageRank of 7 or above (osCommerce has 8 ), competition is clearly super-tough in this area.

Finally, although the e-commerce market is promised to grow, I suspect that most of the growth of the retail activity is going to be absorbed by a few hundred companies. Beside those leading online retailers, there will probably be some room for a few thousands online retailers operating in niches. Even if we assume that the web can sustain 100.000 profitable web shops worldwide (which looks already quite an optimistic estimate to me), it clearly won't sustain the 1.000 shopping cart providers that currently exists. Thus, I would expect 90% of those companies to either disappear or merge in the next decade. Since it does not cost much to maintain an online business, the process can be quite slow though.

Finally, if the shopping cart software itself may have been an issue in the past to create an online store, it is not anymore (unless you have to deal with millions of customers, because most e-commerce solutions don't scale, but very few online businesses end up with such issues). And the amount of money that needs to be invested in the e-commerce software is now ridiculously low compared to the other - non software related - areas such as creating textual content and marketing.


Migrating to a DNS hosting provider

I have recently migrated all the DNS data of toward DnsMadeEasy, a provider specialized with DNS hosting. For a long time, it did not even crossed my mind that such low cost independent service would actually exists.

DNS stands for Domain Name System. In simply words, the DNS converts the domain name address into a IP address. Look for the DNS wikipedia, if you want to know more.

Why do I need to know anything about DNS?

As a webmaster, DNS are most usually completely handled by your hosting provider. If your web requirements are simple, you might not even cross DNS settings, everything being completely handled by the hosting provider.

Yet, if you start to rely on 3rd party hosted services such as blog hosting and forums hosting, you may have to update your DNS settings so that the URL is instead of With those 3rd party hosted service, your internet domain becomes a patchwork that includes machines owned by various hosting providers. For example, both and are hosted by 3rd party companies.

Why should I bother about DNS?

At present time, there are many dirty cheap hosted services. Lokad is still a uISV but relies already on almost a dozen of various hosted services providers. And, in very center of this small network lies the DNS. If the DNS go wrong, then the whole network is going to be in deep trouble.

Until very recently, Lokad was relying on the DNS management provided by a low cost regular hosting provider. The DNS hosting was really reliable, we never encountered any issue at that level. Yet, I was a bit concerned by the fact that the "Lokad network" was dependent on a regular hosting provider to manage all the information related to the other hosting providers. This situation was making this particular hosting provider much more critical to the whole network than it ought to be.

Thus, I have decided to migrate everything to DnsMadeEasy. As a result, I am gaining flexibility for potential further hosting migrations. One might argue that I have simply moved for critical node for my previous hosting provider to DnsMadeEasy. That's true. But DnsMadeEasy is completely dedicated to DNS management. Thus, they are not competing with other providers that are referred by the DNS.