A breathtaking trip to the Parallels Summit

Serguei Beloussov flew a million kilometres in 2012. This probably explains why the founder and still active chairman of Parallels held his annual Summit in Las Vegas this year - he probably did it purely on the Air Miles.

Before he got up on stage, some of the Parallels team had verbally labelled his session Serguei Unplugged, meaning that nobody really knew what he was going to say or how he was going to relate it to the core business that Parallels has decided is its home turf - namely, providing cloud hosts with a toolbox to move from the old Linux http-only web hosting universe, over to a much more complicated and powerful suite of services.

A man after my on heart, Serguei's slide stack included a "Strategy Bird" sagely advising some beleaguered mice, a nuclear icebreaker, references to Richard P Feynman and David Deutsch, and even some Sim City-like graphics to refer to instant teleportation - pretty much everything except web hosting software platforms.

There are some startlingly smart bits to the Parallels icebreaker

His interests have clearly moved on, and possibly as a result of all those Air Miles, he wanted to talk about the quantum world and how his venture capital roots had led him onto being involved in the setting up of "quantum centres" in places such as Singapore, and even presenting at Buck House on the topic: he related a Prince Andrew quip about how quantum state superposition allowed HRH to be simultaneously listening to the presentation, and asleep...

Eventually it all came back down to Earth. The exciting part was his friend the quantum mechanic who had demonstrated teleporting 10^12 atoms (or was it atom states?) between two metal canisters about a foot apart. The less exciting - but more relevant - part was more or less recapitulating a critique I'd heard from an industry analyst at the start of the show: that Parallels was suffering from a disconnected and unfocussed set of products, leading some people to be confused about its focus. This is where the nuclear icebreaker comes in. Just because an icebreaker has curtains, and a hot shower, and possibly a ship’s cat (no, not called Schrodinger) does not make it any less of an icebreaker.

And there are some startlingly smart bits to the Parallels icebreaker. In particular, its take on making unused server disk space into a fault-tolerant file store is a frightfully smart, low-impact, low-customisation solution to an age-old problem. If your data is very web-centred and very Linux-friendly then Parallels’ demonstrations of stitched-together disk arrays and moving running VM containers between participating hosts is, while a little rough around the edges, certainly very well aligned with the reality of the existing kit out there in server-rack land.

A couple of asides to the effect that half a dozen commodity SATA disk-based servers in a rack could be linked together with a decent switch and all their drives "exported to iSCSI" as an aggregated ultrafast storage pool had me wondering if the true impact of Parallels’ work - most of which is being fed into the open source movement - could actually land in some completely unexpected market sectors, quite distinct from the small business web hosts at the conference.

The quantum thing, though, that was properly intriguing. Having sat through and heckled the fault-tolerant server pool based storage demos ("just pull the power out!") , I did end up thinking to myself: when Serguei demonstrates his prototype, Air Miles-destroying Star Trek-style transporter, maybe I will let someone else be the tester.

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