Edinburgh Web Development

FOWA to the Future

by Iain Wilson

28 May 2009

Blot attended the Future of Web Applications (FOWA) event this month, and very interesting it was. Held at the Sun Microsystems building in Linlithgow, FOWA is an event for the web developer community that looks at what's happening in the industry and what might happen in the future.

This is the first year that they have taken FOWA to Scotland, I believe, and hopefully they will continue to do so. The day was made up by a procession of speakers from the industry, mostly from some sort of software development background, but there was some marketing oriented content, too.

10 laptops tweeting

At these types of events, you hear 'cool' and 'awesome' as part of the standard vocabulary and sure enough there were lots of Apple Macs open with people tapping cool things into them as people were talking. I remember first coming across this phenomenon working for Cisco in San Jose a few years ago, and thinking how hard my first sales manager would have slapped me if I had started typing away when he was talking to me.

What was new here was that one of the presenters actually encouraged everyone to tweet on Twitter during his presentation - real time posts about his talk appearing all over the internet. Cool and awesome.

Cloud computing

Much to the fore was discussion on the concept of 'cloud computing'. What's that, you say? Well, simply put it's when you (and lots of others like you) are using an application that doesn't reside on your computer but on the internet somewhere (the 'cloud'). You might already be using a cloud application without knowing it - for example Google's Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are good examples of cloud computing.

Most cloud applications are likely to be large scale developments built by teams of developers but they don't have to be. The thing is, the whole point of them will be to attract a certain number of (probably paying) subscribers. The application will need to be sophisticated enough to deal with these multiple numbers of customers and able to handle it when a lot of them are using it at the same time. And because the developers will probably be hoping to make money from the development, the application must be providing some valuable service, which will usually translate into complicated software. Freeagent's online accounting software is a good example of that - a great niche cloud application which manages to make the process of financial accounting relatively simple through very sophisticated software. On the other hand, we have Twitter - massively popular but essentially quite simple from a purely software point of view.

Scaleable hosting

A successful cloud application is not like your average website - potentially it is going to have thousands of concurrent users (think of how many people might be using Gmail at the same time). Your average web server is just not going to be able to cope. What you need is a hosting service that can scale to whatever resources it needs automatically, or under program control. We heard how Microsoft's Azure services platform provide an environment for cloud applications running on Microsoft datacentres and also from Amazon Web Services who have a scaleable infrastructure for big cloud applications. With these platforms, the application administrators can add additional server and storage resources at the click of a button or even under the application's own control.

Do you need a cloud application?

If you've got a great idea that might appeal to a lot of people, maybe. Like most things though, it's best to start small, understand where the money is going to come from, market the solution properly, prove the concept, then improve and invest. A successful cloud application will likely cost a lot of money both in development and hosting costs and for all the great successes there are loads of failures.

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