I know that both Microsoft and Richard Stallman have gotten a little older and a little wiser…but I certainly never expected a meeting of these two minds.
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to undergo corporate training about security, then you’ve missed the opportunity to be bombarded with outdated lessons about archaic technology and methodology. But aside from the irrelevant points about using Web Scarab on that hip new browser Firefox, you also haven’t been exposed to the plethora of ridiculous imagery that is supposed to illustrate the darker corners of the Internet. It’s comparable to images of the 1920s, where all bank robbers wore eye masks made from black cloth and carried money in bags with a huge dollar sign printed on the side.
But, thankfully, I’m not alone! Somebody has finally decided to do something about it. To that I say: huzzah! I wish them the best of luck.
Well, it’s that time of year again, where Redis Day storms the ports of New York, brandishing corporate video that implies Redis is the only hope for humanity’s salvation. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but like last year, they do know how to pick a location. In any case, the first of the 2-day event was an introductory session to Redis, not really necessary for those already familiar with the platform. I opted to go out of curiosity, and I’m glad that I did.
Even though most of the day was a rehash of what I already knew, the intro did point out to me some features that had been added with the most recent version, like the UNLINK command. (I’m not known for always reading release notes.) I also learned that the “master-slave” terminology has now fallen under, as Jacobins would probably describe it, the guillotine of progress:
Actually, I’m not sure if the new “master-replica” terminology is a better set of terms. If you still use the term “master” in this scenario, doesn’t it imply that the other party is a slave? And when I think of replica in this situation, the term replicant comes to mind, and that doesn’t really sound all that much better. But I digress…
The second day of the event was more interesting. To a small extent, some of that could be attributed to the general speakers. We heard from a few people about certain business cases, as they described how Redis was used beneficially in their work. But for me, the best parts of the day were the beginning and end, when we got to hear from the brilliant creator of Redis: Salvatore Sanfilippo (a.k.a., Antirez).
Since most of the time was spent more towards the corporate pitch, it was refreshing to hear Antirez talk about all of the technical features in the newest version of Redis and how the need and implementation for these features came about. All of which was told using his interesting drawing style, which I had never seen a presenter do before. But I definitely appreciated it, since I tend to do the same thing whenever I describe anything with precision. (Even how to properly build a sandwich.) I also appreciated it since he and I probably have the same skill level of drawing:
Even though some people might tune out during these kinds of events (especially at the end, when people are looking to beat the crowd by leaving early), I enjoy the technical presentation as a breath of fresh air. Who knew that a detailed explanation on the evolution of the Redis EXPIRE command could wake me up from my imminent coma? I was just as surprised…almost as much as Antirez was when I approached him later, to thank him for leaving Sicily to speak and to ask him some questions. (Note to self: pay attention to your surroundings and never ask questions of someone when they’re waiting to use the bathroom, especially a database guru. You may not get the best answers, and you will feel a tad awkward when you realize your mistake.)
So, what did I take away from that day? Well, I could say that Redis is definitely growing its user base. Just from a glance and a shoddy memory, I’d say that the crowd was nearly double the size of last year’s event. Plus, I heard about a more diverse set of projects using Redis than ever before. From all that, I would say that it’s becoming a bigger fish in the DB sea.
So I guess the ultimate question is: who’s going to try and eat the growing fish before it gets too big? My money is on Oracle.
Because, as it turned out, the person sitting inside the Microsoft booth was York Rhodes, one of the top-level managers pushing the blockchain efforts at Microsoft. And, evident from the various workshops and talks that included Microsoft’s presence, it was the intention of Mr. Rhodes to use this occasion as an opportunity. For what? Namely to declare the love shared between Ethereum and Microsoft, using various examples like the Starbucks project that had been revealed a few days prior:
It was obvious that unlike some of their other projects, Microsoft had decided to seriously invest in blockchain going forward. (And, in the days that followed, they made similar announcements that emphasized this reconsideration.)
As yet further proof, there was also an interesting workshop by Microsoft to describe their efforts binding Azure with J.P. Morgan’s Quorum:
For some, this kind of event (along with the discontinued funding of many projects for social good) was somewhat a disappointment, representing a turning point for Consensys and Ethereum where the ideals of hot air were traded for a cool breeze. Personally, though, as someone who’s seen this kind of thing before in the DotCom era, it’s part of the growing pains of any nascent platform. I listened to Rhodes’ lecture with the appreciation that comes from knowing how time moves us all along.
But all good news doesn’t have to come from the corporate overlords. In fact, Gitcoin delivered some informative updates about their platform, especially in relation to their integration with Ethereum:
And it was amusing as well as informative, since Kevin Owocki acknowledged Microsoft’s presence by both congratulating their progress in the last few years and by reminding us how we used to think of them.
In the end, this summit was a good indicator of what was to come, of the maturity that must be embraced by the developers of a platform and by the platform itself. And we’ll be all the better for it. Both Gitcoin (which I wish had been around when I was young) and Microsoft are two side of the same “coin” (see what I did there?), showing how the same platform can advance in parallel with the right kind of collaboration and vision. I left the summit surprisingly a bit more optimistic than before, which I can say hardly happens these days.
So, I got an opportunity to attend the Ethereal Summit this past week, and I’m glad that I did. It was my first time, and it was worth it. Why? For a number of reasons. Also, strangely, I found it interesting to see Joe Lubin casually walking down a street in Red Hook, especially when I remember how the ‘hood used to be when the movie Made was shot. In addition to surreal imagery, it was a pleasant experience for the exposure to all of the different projects. Plus, it didn’t hurt that The Red Hook Lobster Pound was just a few doors down.
On the first day, I attended a few workshops, but the one that especially caught my attention was an Ethereum-based platform for VPN called Orchid. Some people might chastise me for not knowing about it, saying that it’s been around for years. But I’m an old man who lives under a rock, so many “ancient” things are new to me. In any case, it was one of those ideas where you say “Oh, yeah, of course that makes sense! Why didn’t I think of that?” After listening to the presentation for only a few minutes, I was sold on the idea. I only wish that I had taken a better picture (which is the one shown below):
I listened to a few presentations from the main stage, but they seemed rather short and bit rapid in pace. Afterwards, I decided to visit the exhibition area with all of the vendor booths. (Which, I was told, had sadly shrunk to a fraction of its size from last year and its crypto “good times”). I walked past the free candy stand, drank my cucumber water with my pinkie out, and checked out the nearby booths. It was then that one booth and its XBox caught my eye:
The gentleman sitting down seemed oddly familiar to me, but I had a hard time placing where I had seen him before. Little did I know at that moment, he was more or less the guest of honor at this summit. Because this event was mostly about one major player who had now taken a profound liking to the Ethereum platform: Microsoft. As I would soon learn during the course of the next day.
So, until there’s a Kubernetes Operator for an Ethereum test chain (or something comparable where you click a button to get everything running and perfect), it seems like you’ll have to do things a little more manually when it comes to setting up an Ethereum development environment in the cloud. Why’s that? Because with a nascent tech like Ethereum, everything keeps changing rapidly, and a Docker image with an embedded Ethereum testchain and dev tools will be outdated in just a few months. So, in the end, you’d have to do the same thing anyway with just a basic Docker image: download the latest packages, make any needed adjustments to get a testchain working, and then refactor your code (Solidity, etc.) so that it’ll now compile without warnings or errors.
So, when I heard that Microsoft had created a service that would wrap around Ethereum, my eyes started to sparkle. Finally, I wouldn’t have to worry about playing the role of admin or devops, so that I can just develop…
…but then I promptly stopped and thought “Wait a minute? Microsoft? Creating a PaaS with Ethereum? Hmmmm…I don’t know about that…” Still, though, I’m willing to try anything once, so I decided to give Blockchain Workbench a chance.
So, I tried out Workbench to get a quick impression, and after a few hours, I think that I have a fair assessment of it. Now, if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend it: it’s a good place for an Ethereum beginner with an Azure account. But (and I’m trying not to be too harsh here), I would say that’s where its potential would be maxed out. Beyond being interactive teaching software for enterprise officers to learn about blockchain, I doubt that it’s something Ethereum developers or proponents would ever use. Not only is the Ethereum node completely hidden and inaccessible, the Workbench is an abstract wrapper around the node, so abstract that it becomes an hindrance to even communicate with the node. In the end, it’s completely unfriendly to a developer, an opinion which seems to be shared by others.
However, I will agree with Dimitrios on a second point: Microsoft’s template for Ethereum PoA could be useful. After experimenting with that one for an hour, I could totally see a consortium opting to try it out as a shared Ethereum solution.
Plus, there’s another addition to the family. In order to demonstrate its abilities when integrated into web services, there’s also now the new project WonkaRestService, a ASP.NET REST service that showcases how to use the Wonka library. Perhaps, one day, it might even become an Azure Logic App Connector. I know, it’s a lofty goal…but let a kid dream.