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The Future of the Internet: Pierre Gauthier and the G-Wan Web ServerErsun Warncke Salem-News.com Business/Economy Reporter
G-Wan is a revolutionary piece of software for the internet industry.
(SALT LAKE CITY) - The Internet has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade. It has gradually taken the place of older communications technologies such as Newspapers, Magazines, Books, Radios, and Television. As an interactive communications medium, the internet is qualitatively different than passive “broadcast” media, and consequently it is playing an even larger role in society.
One of the core technologies that underlies the internet is the Web Server or HTTP server. Hyper Text Transfer Protocol being the original name of specification for how web browsers connect to web servers. The familiar “http://” at the beginning of web addresses is what indicates that they are being served by an HTTP server.
As the Internet continues to grow, websites must serve millions and hundreds of millions of users. This has been accomplished by building massive “server farms.” Examples of these are the Google facility in The Dalles, Amazon in Boardman, and Facebook in Prineville.
Oregon happens to be an ideal location for building these data centers due to the abundance of cheap and reliable energy provided by our hydro-electric facilities.
Building data centers is massively expensive. Thousands of computers packed together produce immense amounts of heat, which must be dispersed with huge commercial air condition units. Power must be provided redundantly through both battery backups and diesel generators to insure 24 hour a day, 365 day a year operation.
Consequently, making Web Server software more efficient offers the opportunity to dramatically reduce both capital and operating costs in running the data centers that facilitate the internet's role as a primary medium for social communications.
The fastest and most efficient Web Server software in the world is called G-Wan. In comparison to Apache, which has a 54% market share, and Microsoft Internet Information Server, which has a 26% market share, G-Wan offers 100X to 1000X the performance.
G-Wan was created by Pierre Gauthier, an independent software developer based in Switzerland. He has just released G-Wan version 2.8.8. The latest version is 5-10X faster than the previous, which was already the market leader by multiple orders of magnitude.
What does a 99% reduction in capital costs mean for the Internet? How will offering the same services with 1% of the electricity used previously affect the industry? What does this mean for the companies that have invested billions in “server farms” to run software that is 100X less efficient?
G-Wan is a revolutionary piece of software for the Internet industry.
For investors whose brightest ideas are opt-in spam companies like Groupon and LivingSocial, or “social networking” sites like Twitter, true technological innovation on this scale is a powerful destabilizing force.
G-Wan is a piece of software that can actually save resources and increase profits for real businesses by cutting their capital and operating costs.
I have been testing and working with the previous version of G-Wan for the past several months.
With the release of G-Wan 2.8.8 I had the opportunity to interview its creator Pierre Gauthier and discuss how he came to develop such a revolutionary piece of software.
In a world where we are generally taught that everything great must be created by some giant corporation and accompanied by lavish media attention and stock market IPOs, it may seem a non-sequitur that a single individual has created a piece of software that is so dramatically superior to a half-dozen other corporate products, on which perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on their development.
This is a fascinating story, and it was an honor to have Pierre take the time to answer my questions regarding the development of G-Wan. I sent him some general topic areas that interested me via email, and I have printed his responses in their entirety below.
For those who use the Internet and are interested in technology, this is a rare opportunity to learn from a truly great innovator and engineer in this field. Pierre brings with him not only the highest levels of achievement in the field of software engineering, but also a great deal of practical experience in the business of technology.
Without further ado, I will leave you with our interview, and thank Pierre for taking the time to prepare these responses.
For more information on G-Wan, and to download it for free, you can visit: http://www.gwan.com
Interview with Pierre Gauthier
The problem of hitting a cliff in increasing processor performance.
Now, instead of running faster they have more capacity (think about 2 cars instead of one: you don't go faster anywhere but you can visit different places at the same time)
The challenge is for layman people to make use of this capacity which requires a non-natural way to think (all drivers have had problems with a map, so think about what it is to drive - without a GPS - in 64 different directions simultaneously).
Instead of planning a task as 1,2,3... we all will have to do the 3 steps at the same time.
Add concurrency (servers work for many clients while a client works for himself only) to this and very few products are able to resolve the problem in an efficient way.
G-WAN has been designed to address those challenges in a transparent way: people will just re-use their legacy knowledge and source code as usual - and G-WAN will make it fly.
The difference between G-Wan and the competitors is on a scale of 10X to 1000X depending on the conditions.
The more G-WAN is involved in the whole task, the more it can optimize it.
I have measured that removing the network bottleneck (by using localhost or a 100 GbE LAN) lets G-WAN outdo other servers by a factor greater than 100,000!
This leads to significant savings in terms of number of servers, network equipment, electricity, cooling systems, floor space, staff to maintain all this, etc.
But it also opens new horizons about what can be done in terms of low latency (fast trading, real time systems, remote control, etc.).
What led you to pursue the creation of G-Wan?
I reached the point where I could no longer ignore the Web as a development platform and I did not find any development tool able to take the load for the type of applications I had in mind.
For an engineer, the conclusion was easy: build your own system.
For an entrepreneur, such a big gap on a so strategic market sounds like a big opportunity.
Having spent decades in both roles, the choice was easy.
What has made it possible for you as an individual to create a piece of software that is so far superior to such a wide range of commercial and open source competition?
First, I love what I do. I started coding at the age of 11 (in asm) [Assembly Language … The core underlying language used to program computers on top of which other “abstract” languages are created.] and you just cannot teach passion. Most employees work because they need to earn money, not because they like what they do.
This project took a tremendous amount of work because I had no experience about the Web, its protocols, the problems caused by concurrency, etc.
But at the same time, the personal challenge was extremely exciting. I am a kind of sponge, I just love to learn new things, constantly, this is very stimulating.
And when my first version was much faster than the market leaders, then I was encouraged to push the animal to its limits (I should rather say to my limits because our work ultimately reflects our limits).
Now, about why the industry did not do something similar, well, that's easy to understand: when a problem is already solved, why bother to waste more time on it?
People tend to add yet another layer on existing systems rather than restart from scratch.
The same goes for development: Nginx is relatively recent, and its design is modern (as compared to the venerable Apache for example) but Igor, its author, did not question whether or not it was worth developing new data structures and new tools for Nginx. He just re-used familiar tools he used for other projects, or the tools he had learned at school.
Engineers are often not looking at the ultimate ends of what they are creating. In the Internet and software world especially there is a lot of focus on "numbers" (sales, downloads, etc) but very little attention paid to real things, like value being created, efficiency, social function, etc. (one can speculate as to why these things are not focused on)
Right. We all have heard someone yelling "Time to market! Hurry!".
Short-term profit and engineering do not mix very well. This is also why people re-use tools without wondering if it still makes sense.
There are other satisfactions than immediate profit, like looking at your work and seeing that no other tool ever allowed people to do so much work with so little efforts.
I like the mix of efficiency and minimal design. This is like art, I remember people talking about the wing of a plane like if it was a masterpiece. And for some, it really is.
What do you see as the role for the Internet in society and how does G-Wan play a part in that?
As always, you have what a thing is and what it could be.
But I believe that the Internet will become ubiquitous and useful for everyone on the planet.
It will just take time.
As G-WAN is making it easier to make difficult things, it will help people build, communicate and advance the state of things.
I also hope that G-WAN will help people to make a decent living - me included!
You write about your tangles with Microsoft. Microsoft is but one example of a large company in the tech sector doing some nasty things.
Microsoft is just the caricature of what can be done wrong when people start defending a position which does not sustain itself naturally.
History repeating itself: the incumbent does more and more harm to itself for the sake of saving the view it has about its identity.
This is typically a question of persons. When the top management goes away, a company can find a new life if middle-management is also replaced (this is needed because directors do not select people who challenge them, creating a compact core which will fight change).
The story of car manufacturers like Nissan has been a brilliant (and successful) illustration of this case: not only the sick man re-gained the respect of its (Japanese) workers, but it became more relevant than its new owner in the global market!
I would propose, somewhat crudely, that 1000 idiots will never add up to 1 genius.
Hmm... when I was an employee at SPC (the 5th software publisher worldwide, that was 20 years ago) I was frustrated by the management which acted only in its personal interest instead of in the interest of the company. SPC died soon after that.
I guess that today this feeling is shared by many in companies like Microsoft or Nokia.
Engineers may have bright ideas, but they are told what to do by the upper floors. If they do not abound in the official direction then they are fired.
Those who climb the corporate ladder are more skilled in the area of politics than anything else.
This may explain this sorry state of things that you are describing.
This is really the core problem with corporate activities. It is possible to amass great armies of people, which looks very nice on paper, but the skill and craftsmanship of the individual artist always outshines the collective. Consequently, people who put a lot of faith in these corporations tend to get a bit jealous of their competition.
If you do not understand a field, how can you find if someone is competent?
When top-management is made of vendors or people from finance, they rely on head-hunters, who themselves rely on 'experts'. But no *real* expert will waste his time in the Human Resource dept. if he feels that he can change the world in his own field of expertise.
The result is mediocrity, with consultants who happily trade skills for nice-looking Armani suits and royal fees.
Corporations isolate themselves from the market by erecting barriers against challengers, by getting (at a price) a preferred treatment from the Press, by lobbying too much to get public contracts, etc.
This is easy to lose contact with what exactly your business is about.
As an individual craftsman, could you share your thoughts on the comparison in practice and discipline in your work, and that in the corporate world, either from experience, or observation.
I have sometimes spent 15 days to write 15 lines of code for G-WAN.
Not because I was taking a pause, but because I wanted the code to fit the task.
This would not be acceptable for a manager because he is expecting you to 'deliver'.
But if you check the facts, in less than 2 years G-WAN has outdone all other servers.
So, it has delivered very unique value in a time that many big corporations would consider more than acceptable.
This is just an example, but it tells a lot about what the corporate machine is wasting.
People's contribution should be measured by their results rather than by the objectives defined by someone who reads management books and plays golf as his sole areas of competence.
The 20th century is all "progress" but in many ways I think that history may more likely regard it as a "dark age" for humanity. The role of technology in society and in the human experience is a tempestuous one. Could you share your thoughts on this topic, especially with respect to education.
Technology makes it increasingly easy to create global disasters with instant effects, whether in the area of climatic or geologic events, or with biologic or electromagnetic advances, or even emotional manipulations of the masses.
This is shaping a different kind of society, just like when new "memes" were invented to secure the long-term position of a new ruling-class (instead of serving the common good by spreading information useful to everyone).
People were reformatted so well that they happily traded their actual life for an imaginary one.
We can see the same thing happening now. I wonder how many teachers or journalists are conscious of their responsibility in this global picture.
Could you share your thoughts on the relationship between engineering and other intellectual and social pursuits.
Engineering is the endless pursuit of reality. You can't make something work if you don't understand the what the problem is.
Many other human activities benefit from ignoring or even travesting reality.
This may explain why engineers are sometimes known for being a bit 'squared' or 'rigid' on subjects that others consider as benign.
But respecting reality helps to take relevant decisions - and it pays on the long-term.
How were you trained as an engineer and what led to your developing such a high level of skill?
Practice. We all become what we do.
Tiger Woods did not play golf like a champ at birth. An athletic morphology may help but not all athletes make decent golfers.
The same goes for any human activity. And to really become good at something (as compared to all others) then you have to wish it much stronger than everyone else.
I think that this is was defines success - far before it is revealed publicly.
There's a quote from Mark Twain:
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."
There is nothing to add to this sentence. Those who feel it inside understand what it means.
This energy is priceless. It must be used. In a sense, constraints cause that we fight to escape them - and the effects of the fight itself are priceless so we end up loving what we fought in the first place.
This is all the dignity of being human: it comes at a price.
Salem-News.com Business/Economy Reporter Ersun Warncke is a native Oregonian. He has a degree in Economics from Portland State University and studied Law at University of Oregon. At a young age, his career spans a wide variety of fields, from fast food, to union labor, to computer programming. He has published works concerning economics, business, government, and media on blogs for several years. He currently works as an independent software designer specializing in web based applications, open source software, and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications.
Ersun describes his writing as being "in the language of the boardroom from the perspective of the shop floor." He adds that "he has no education in journalism other than reading Hunter S. Thompson." But along with life comes the real experience that indeed creates quality writers. Right now, every detail that can help the general public get ahead in life financially, is of paramount importance.
You can write to Ersun at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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