Defining cloud computing: It's all about the layers

Cloud concepts can be pretty confusing. But when you tell a small business owner or early-stage startup it means not having to spend a lot of money, it gets simple fast.

Denise Deveau wrote about this recently in the Globe and Mail (and I got quoted a bunch, which was nice.) But defining what “cloud” really means is a contentious subject. At the upcoming Cloudcamp in San Francisco (running before Structure, and organized by the energetic Reuven Cohen) this is sure to be a subject of debate.

My overly simple soundbite for the Globe article was that cloud computing was “having computing resources available to you when you don’t own the machines.” But that might get me into trouble: There’s a taxonomy of on-demand services, from platform-as-a-service to hardware-as-a-service. And then there’s grid computing. And of course SaaS gets lumped in with this.

So I’m going to try a more detailed description:

Cloud computing means having a set of abstracted resources available to you, and not worrying about what’s below that abstraction.

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Cloud security blog launches to cover a growing issue

Craig Balding recently launched a blog, cloudsecurity.org, looking at the intersection of cloud computing and security.

The challenges are significant: The concept of cloud computing is that you’re a tenant within someone else’s world (which is generally achieved through virtualization.) Consequently, you can’t ever see your entire environment down to the hardware; that would defeat the economics.

Being a virtual machine is like being Neo in the Matrix: You don’t know if the machines are benevolent or not.

Wonder if Craig runs his own machines?

Power panels at Structure '08

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to moderate a panel on next-generation databases at Web2Expo. Having database greats Brian Aker, Dave Campbell, and Matt Domo in one place made for great dialogue. In addition to finding out whether RDBMS is dead, we looked at the big challenges of data storage (synchronization, working offline, and a shift towards specialized data models.)

We even found out how these three datascenti track their contacts (MySQL’s Aker uses scripts he wrote; Microsoft’s Campbell uses Outlook.)

Then last week at Interop, I had folks from platform companies like Google, Amazon, and Opsource together with a number of startups and virtualization tool makers. Again, great dialogue, even on the five-person panel that ran over. This time, the consensus seemed to be that on-demand computing was great for bursty capacity and highly parallel tasks, but lacked the controls, management tools, and SLAs to be a production platform for enterprises at the moment.

But Structure promises to be the most compressed discussion yet. Om Malik, the guy behind the event, says it’s about two things: Learning how the new web is built from the architects that built it; and networking with investors who “are looking to place their bets on cloud computing” and see it as a huge opportunity. “Structure 08 is about Getting Web Done,” says Malik.
I have two panels on the same day to moderate:

  • Cloud Computing: Infrastructure for Entrepreneurs, featuring Geva Perry, CMO of GigaSpaces; Jason Hoffman, CTO of Joyent, Tony Lucas, CEO of XCalibre; Lew Moorman, SVP Strategy of Rackspace; Christophe Bisciglia, senior software engineer at Google; and Joseph Weinman, corporate development and strategy at AT&T.
  • Scaling to Satiate Demand: Tactics from the pioneers, with Sandy Jen, co-founder and VP Engineering of Meebo; Akash Garg, CTO of Hi5, Jeremiah Robinson, CTO of Slide; and Jonathan Heiliger, VP Technical Operations of Facebook.

Each of these will be a fast-and-furious fifty-minute discussion around on-demand computing and the ability to scale. Time to come up with some pithy questions and awkward follow-ups.

Any sugggestions?