Category Archives: cloud computing

How can we leverage the cloud?

I used to get this question a lot at my current old company.   How can we, as a user of several operational systems, take more advantage of The Cloud?  This is where the infamous Gartner Hype Cycle, of which there are hundreds of examples, comes into play.   In terms of The Cloud within this cycle, I’d say we are getting higher and higher towards the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’.  As more and more technology companies commandeer the term for marketing purposes or shove some new software package onto EC2, expectations get set.  Marketing philosophy aside, I find myself explaining what the cloud can do, what its used for, and why we should use it to more and more folks in my office.

I recommend starting here for a general semantics overview to describe all the aspects of the cloud.  There is no One Cloud for all people.  I agree with the 3 layers of cloud services comprising of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.  The mainstream cloud service of Amazon Web Services is a IaaS and PaaS model, depending on which service you buy.

I think for corporate entities that have applications that are not web properties or scientific/analytic computations, the options for leveraging the cloud are relatively slim.   I know of 2 basic services that our company could possibly leverage today for their “operational systems”.  Database Backup service similar to Zmanda(that Ingres would of course build our own) and Outlook attachment offloading.   Not necessarily game changing use of the cloud.

The other alternative is to simply put demo environments on the cloud for our field reps, allowing them to spin up an environment when they need it without crushing their laptops with VMware or similar memory hogging technology.  Again, sort of a ho hum advantage.  This is where the cloud and its messaging will need to go through a marketing maturity model of sorts.  The current drum beat that the Cloud could save energy issues, eliminate system admins, etc. etc. all need to be set in context to some real business value proposition.

A recent webinar I attended hosted by Information Week took a poll of the attendees asking their interests in cloud services.  50% said they were “checking it out, still waiting to jump in”.  For all the hype and attention, the cloud is still a new fangled technology trying to find its way into more and more use cases.  This will continue to take place, in my opinion, until applications have been (re)written to take advantage of the cloud seamlessly(like Mathematica) or ground up cloud apps will come to market(which, you could argue the first gen SaaS players are already there).

I attended a conference last spring(2008) where Simon Crosby(CTO of Citrix / Xen) spoke about the future of Hypervisors and why everyone else was doing it wrong.  Entertaining talk.  Virtualization is to clouds like water is to farming, its simply a must have.  The piece that stuck with me was the current lack of instrumentation and toolkits for Hypervisors to understand the resource load requests of applications *before they request it*.  He went on to say that in order for more packaged apps to work with VMs and Hypervisors intelligently, more sophistication(and a standard) are needed to collect the needed meta metrics for a true dynamic elastic response.  Some applications do this today, but there is no standard, no toolkit to effectively enable developers to write applications  to respond to the benefits of the cloud.  Just like the plug in the wall, the load ebbs and flows depending on what I do.  All the “apps” writing to those plugs fit a standard API and thus the grid can respond to it predictively.

The talk was ages ago, so I do wonder what new is happening in the application development space to enable ISVs and customers to write “cloud aware” applications?

I think time and start up investment will change this in 2009.

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The cloud is all hype – shock horror!!

Chuck Goolsbee wrote this article entitled ‘Don’t buy cloud computing hype – business model will evaporate‘.  Rather doom and gloom but catchy.  I guess that is half the art to pay the bills.  Unfortunately I think the hype of the title should be the thing evaporating.

The article examines the exercise of “What would I put in the cloud(as IT dude) if I had the opportunity to use it?”  So Chuck walks through a couple applications he’d like to push(payment card/ecommerce apps) out there and realizes that security and audit requirements will prevent any meaningful app from being deployed.  Case closed, clouds are hype.  But what Chuck doesn’t spend time on is innovation of auditing, processes, and all the parts in between when an overwhelming value proposition is materialized.

I can’t help but refer to one of my favorite books, The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.  The book points out that,

“Disruptive products are simpler and cheaper; they generally promise lower margins, not greater profits.  Second, disruptive technologies typically are first commercialized in emerging or insignificant markets”

The intrinsic value of an elastic compute platform is too early in its development to throw the whole concept out the window.  The cloud is of huge value for several (non) ‘insignificant’ markets(ie. google, facebook, adobe).  But the cloud for the enterprise?  I’d say thats a market that is in search of insignificance.  The use cases of apps to be deployed in the cloud for the enterprise market appears small.

But, value drives change, including those stodgy auditor processes and ITIL bigots, both influencers of the enterprise market.  Today, most cloud use cases for the enterprise seem to fall into scientific domains(drug computations, weather models, energy models) or SaaS applications.  In the scientific realm, most of these applications require bursts of compute power for relatively short periods of time. This is not the market that will be responsible for the broader adoption of cloud services.

Emerging technologies take time for customers to understand and adopt.  In software, the applications are always the last to emerge once the HW & software tools have been absorbed.  When the cloud is viewed as a new “software tool”, the innovative customers will define the use cases either through trial and error or real planned innovation.  We know enterprises move slowly and in times of financial uncertainty, this only adds to the uncertainty of “when will the enterprise use the cloud?”.  However, there are always first movers, and if you listen to what Tim O’Reilly is saying about cloud vendors selling the service as a commodity, trying it out might not be too painful.   The first movers will find the edge conditions, the ‘insignificant use cases’ that become real competitive or cost avoidance value and mainstream adoption begins.

Thus, if a compute cloud reaches a degree of value where it becomes a standard through industry examples or pure cost reduction value, how could a security process derail this inevitability?  Or even better, why wouldn’t a new feature enable this value from being realized?  Its way too early to throw the babe out.  There is also the concept of hybrid clouds where users can switch or be split(Data tier/application tier) between an on or off premise facility.  Options are wide and varied.

My interest in cloud computing is directly related to this question, the use case for enterprises.  I’m less interested to know how well Google can scale up and down or Amazon can provision Xen hypervisors for developers or Facebook can support photo sharing.  I’m more interested in how companies like FedEx, ETrade, and Walgreens will leverage the cloud.  The cloud-as-a-feature model might have some legs, which is what I’m currently researching.

So Chuck stirred the pot with a provacative title, here here!  Unfortunately, whats in the pot kind of smells.

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