WeTransfer Moves Toward File Transfer as a Microservice

It shouldn’t be news that enterprise file storage, sync, and sharing software and services (EFSS) have largely become a commodity. Prices continue to fall, in part because providers’ storage costs are still decreasing. More importantly, their cost to actually transfer a file has always been negligible, even with the application of strong encryption.
With costs low and decreasing, it’s fair to ask which of the aspects of file storage, sync, and sharing creates enough value for customers that providers can charge for the service. When you stop and think about it, the sharing or transfer of the file has always been the action that the rest of the bundled offer hangs on, especially for cloud-based services. A file can’t be stored on a provider’s servers until a copy has been transferred there. Similarly, changes to files must be transferred to keep copies in sync. The vast majority of the value proposition clearly lies in the transfer (sharing) of the file.
So it makes sense for the file transfer element to be the focal point for providers’ monetization strategies. If you accept that premise, then the next logical conclusion to be made is that file transfer can be monetized as a stand-alone service. In today’s world, that service would be built and licensed as a microservice, which can be used in any application that can call a RESTful API.
WeTransfer, a company based in Amsterdam (despite claiming San Francisco as its headquarters), has announced today the first step toward the creation of such a commercially-available file transfer microservice. A new partnership makes WeTransfer’s file transfer service an option (alongside Dropbox) for delivering photos and videos purchased from Getty Image’s iStock library. WeTransfer works in the background while the customer remains in iStock.
WeTransfer has exposed its file transfer API to Getty Images only at this point, but will be able strike up similar partnerships with other providers of graphics services. Of course, WeTransfer could also license API access to any developer looking to incorporate file transfer into an application. While it isn’t clear from their statement today if and when that will happen, the possibility is very real and quite compelling.
It’s important to note that both Box and Dropbox have made their file sharing APIs commercially available to developers for several months now, so WeTransfer is playing catch up in this regard. However, WeTransfer has emphasized file sharing almost exclusively since its founding in 2009 as a web-based service that only stores a file being shared for seven days before deleting it from their servers. Dropbox, on the other hand, originally was popular because of its simple-but-effective sync feature, and Box was initially perceived as a cloud-based storage service.
The potential market for file transfer microservices is so young and large that no provider has a clear advantage at this point. The recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement (PDF) between the European Union and the United States also presents a significant challenge to file services vendors that provide file storage for a global and multinational customer base. If WeTransfer emphasizes its legacy as an easy-to-use, dependable file transfer-only service with its newly-created microservice, it could gain a larger share of the market and expand well beyond its current niche of creative professional customers.

SmartThings hires ex-Googler to manage dev platform

SmartThings, Samsung’s hope for a unified smart home platform, has hired Dora Hsu, a former Google executive, as chief platform officer to lead its developer platform. Hsu, who was formerly the senior director of Google Cloud Solutions for the Google Cloud Platform business, will be responsible for getting developers to buy into SmartThings‘ and Samsung’s idea of an open ecosystem for the smart home by convincing them to use the SmartThings’ developer environment and to integrate devices into the SmartThings ecosystem.

Dora Hsu headshotSmartThings has long positioned itself as an open platform for the smart home, and after it was purchased last summer by Samsung, that hasn’t changed. In fact, Samsung Electronics president BK Yoon gave a somewhat overwrought keynote at International CES pleading for openness in the internet of things. But that openness may be hard to come by.

While Samsung’s purchase of SmartThings helped many companies finally feel comfortable with SmartThings as a mature platform, I’ve also heard from others — notably large appliance and TV vendors — that they will not integrate with a potential rival. So Hsu may have her work cut out for her in enticing developers to build for what is likely to be a large but never fully complete platform.

When it comes to the tools to court developers, Hsu may have better luck. SmartThings last month updated its Integrated Developer Environment so it runs smoother and faster, and I expect more updates to come. Hsu’s experience at Google heading up the technical teams that managed some of the cloud business will certainly help here.

SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson said that developers can expect more investment from SmartThings in the platform, beyond just making it faster. That will include adding analytics, certification and more. “We will also be making investments in certification, marketing, and monetization support to help developers and device makers to reach significant numbers of new customers through SmartThings,” he told me in an email. “The goal is to not just help developers to rapidly innovate, but to also help them to improve the lives of many consumers while building a great business in the process.”

Hsu will essentially build the business and infrastructure to create SmartThings’ App store model. So far SmartThings supports over 150 devices, with more in the works. It doesn’t disclose the number of developers working on the platform.

Hsu reports directly to Hawkinson, and is based in the SmartThings HQ in Palo Alto, California, with her new role effective immediately.

Batman & Robin: How DevOps pairings can succeed

Part 1 of 4 in an analysis series sponsored by CenturyLink.

Making Development & Operations Partners

DevOps, while a big topic for most enterprises today, is often misunderstood and not approached well. This usually leads to a lack of success in implementing and using DevOps or not fully gaining the benefits DevOps brings. Many of the common approaches that fail involve putting a developer into an on-call rotation; this doesn’t work because the developer doesn’t have a stake in Operations.

One of the best ways to learn about DevOps is to look at an organization that has already successfully implemented it. CenturyLink’s Cloud team is an example of such an organization.

Why did CTL Cloud choose DevOps?
Jim Newkirk, VP of Engineering, joined Tier 3 in 2012 – prior to its acquisition by CenturyLink in 2013. Jim has been a Board Member of the Agile Alliance since 2009. Jim saw DevOps as a way to avoid fluctuations and chaotic behavior within the Engineering team whenever important bugs came in.

As a result, as new bugs are being reported, they are assigned to an individual developer — building empathy for customers and a better partnership with Operations. Developers stopped seeing themselves as performing Operations functions and Operations started seeing themselves as Developers too, since both sides are working on things that relate to the CenturyLink Cloud Platform.

Whilst good leadership can help organizations make any type of cultural shift deliver value, it is only a beginning. In this case, it required both the Development and Operations teams to work together. This initiative was started as a way to create developer accountability.

The Dynamic Duo – Batman & Robin

DevOps is the system of cooperation and participation by both the Development (Batman) and Operations (Robin) teams of an IT organization with the shared goal of delivering high quality, easily maintainable software to users. Batman and Robin (the characters from DC Comics fame) are an inspiration behind an analogy that CenturyLink uses to describe how they use DevOps internally.

Who is Batman?
Batman is a Developer on-call.
Batman is a detective and a problem solver.
Batman is also responsible for stability – to the point of asking for better logging and better data points in order to troubleshoot customer issues.
Batman now understands user issues and customer side use-cases.
Batman is driving innovation and the customer on-boarding process onto the CenturyLink Cloud platform.
Batman is not a specialist. He is a generalist. Batman has to work with many different technologies and learn many techniques in order to do his job.
Batman is constantly taking on new challenges that are thrown at him.

New Developers are put onto the front line call rotation after three weeks on the job. By giving Developers direct interaction with end users, Developers gain an appreciation for how their software is being used and where the operational pain is. This is what creates an empathetic cultural shift for Developers in understanding Operations by allowing the Developers to “get into the minds” of Operations. Developers also need to be accountable for their solutions in production, when the user is using them.

Developers need to be generalists as well, being able to debug code, run and understand SQL queries, and scripting, as examples, because without broad breadth, you cannot be Batman. This generalist approach allows many people to effectively solve problems across the entire stack, instead of creating a dependence on a single individual to solve a specific class of problems. The generalist can solve most problems because of their full understanding of how the system as a whole works, giving them the insight needed to get to the root cause of the problem and fix it.

Where does Robin fit in?
Robin is a customer service-centric thinker
Robin is a consumer of Development – a Systems Developer
Robin uses APIs – a functional programmer.

Operations figures out how to streamline the deployment and automation of applications written by the Development team. To do this, they write their own code against APIs supplied by the Development team, making them users of the code and platform as well. Because Operations is actually using the code and not just Operating the systems running code for end users, they are exposed to any weaknesses much earlier and understand how the applications and systems actually work. This is why Operations is Robin. Batman (Developers) can only do so much, often times Batman needs Robin to help him solve many of the problems that an individual can’t solve alone. Robin has the authority to make fixes live to solve customer issues.

What about the Utility Belt?

Batman relies on his skills, but he also takes full advantage of his Utility Belt. Batman’s Utility Belt is purpose built to solve a large number of general limitations that he faces as he tries to solve problems. In DevOps there are a large number of tools that can be used to automate and solve problems in both Development and Operations activities.

Here are some examples of items in CenturyLink’s Utility Belt:

Source: Gigaom Research

Source: Gigaom Research

Benefits

The CenturyLink Cloud team already had good structure in place before adding DevOps practices into their organization. For the purposes of this report, we are considering a very small subset of the prior structure:

  • Knowledge Base for support
  • Deployment time of 5 hours over 3 data centers

Since adding the DevOps-Batman & Robin ethos:

  • Knowledge Base has grown by 4x in 12 months
  • 40% of tickets are solved immediately through the Knowledge Base
  • Deployment time of 1 hour over 12 data centers
  • Still 1 Batman/Dev on-call with 3x VM inventory in 12 months and 4x Cloud capacity

The Knowledge Base is fed Batman (Dev) & Robin (Ops) teams. Better operational efficiencies have been realized through this new process even with the CenturyLink Cloud’s VM inventory tripling in last 12 months and capacity has quadrupled.

This same team now also owns infrastructure engineering – further removing dependencies on a separate a team for the CenturyLink Cloud platform.

Both Batman and Robin are key to keeping the CenturyLink Cloud growing and running and its customers happy – regardless of whether they are internal groups such as Savvis, or external groups such as partners or a customer of the platform.

Everyone is an Engineer.

Join me and the CenturyLink Cloud team this week on a webinar where we will discuss this post and other findings.

iOS enjoys 3-1 advantage over Android in app starts, revenue

Despite the confident words of Google chairman Eric Schmidt, who predicted that Android would be the primary platform for developers, the current trends are still decidedly leaning toward iOS. Mobile analytics firm Flurry found that developers are picking iOS over Android by a 3-1 ratio.

IOS 5.1 beta hints at iPad 3, iPhone 5 and new Apple TV

The iOS 5.1 beta software from Apple was released Monday afternoon for developers, and while at first it didn’t appear to add much, investigations by users have produced a few interesting tidbits about what’s new. Most interesting of all could be references to the next iPad.

Apple brings Tech Talks back, coming to 9 cities

Apple launched a new page today that announces the Tech Talk World Tour 2011 for iOS 5. These developer-focused events haven’t been put on by Apple since 2009, before the introduction of the iPad. Apple previously held Tech Talk World Tours in 2008 and 2009.

After developer outcry, Facebook softens app spam controls

Last month, Facebook came under fire for enacting new spam controls that disabled developer apps without prior notification. Facebook has softened its spam control policy and is now giving developers tools with more insight into when their apps are setting off spam alarms.

With APIs It’s Caveat Structor – Developer Beware

Twitter unleashed a firestorm of concern and criticism last week with a change to its API policy for apps that enable users to read and write tweets. But this is always the case with platforms – they focus on what is core, and over time that grows.