We’re introducing a new event to Cloud Connect this year, and it’s an indication of how much utility computing has matured since last year’s inaugural event. Here are some thoughts on the Cloud Performance Summit, and why performance may be this year’s hot topic for on-demand computing.
In the early stages of any industry, the discussions focus on the “why” and “what.” Clouds are no different: we wanted to know what clouds were—with the inevitable debate over taxonomy and definition—and we hunted for reasons to embrace them, or to refuse them, depending on our own agendas.
But by now, most enterprise IT professionals have accepted that cloud technology is inevitable, and that third-party cloud providers deserve a place in their toolbox. Put another way, we’ve moved from tender embraces and heated arguments to the dispassionate world of the prenup. We want to know, can clouds deliver, and if they can’t, what can we do about it?
Performance is a tough subject. For one thing, cloud providers offer a shared resource. It’s the basis of their economic value proposition. And a shared resource means things like oversubscription, badly-behaved neighbors, and having to fight for service quality.
But it’s not just about sharing computing resources with others. For decades, IT has worked with a simple equation, namely, that the performance of a system is a function of how many people use it, and how much capacity it has. Roughly speaking, more users means a slower application, and more computers means a faster one.
Clouds offer capacity on demand. They’re elastic. Which means that in the demand/capacity equation, capacity is effectively limitless. If you want things to go faster, you can pay for additional capacity. And that’s why performance matters: it’s directly tied to your costs.
Consider air conditioning. With your own power, there’s a limit to how much you can cool a house. If you want it colder, you don’t have enough electricity to run your appliances; if you add a bigger generator, you can cool it more. But once you’re hooked up to an electrical grid, you can cool the house far more—and your bill will show that. With clouds, it’s not cooling, it’s performance.
Badly written code costs money, too, when you’re paying by compute cycle. Amazon’s Cloudfront CDN is forcing other application accelerators to offer pay-as-you-go pricing, which means more and more of the performance problem is now a billable cost.
At Interop New York, a panel of performance experts concluded that performance may in fact be a bigger problem than security—after all, there are security certifications on which customers can rely, but there’s precious little guidance when it comes to outages and latency. A Queen Mary University study concluded that the vast majority of cloud providers offer no guarantees in their terms of service, and if they do, then compensation is limited to a refund of service costs.
Making things even worse is the complexity of cloud deployments, which often involve many providers and components, and are harder to diagnose and instrument than in-house, centralized applications.
So we’re really excited about the summit. It’s bringing together vendors, end users, and performance experts in a relatively informal, open format to discuss some of these hard issues. It’s the first time we’re running it, but we’re already certain it won’t be the last.