A Q&A on cloud computing

Recently, some journalism students from the American University in DC asked if they could interview me about cloud computing. As I wrote back to them, I realized that the discussion was different from what I usually talk about when it comes for clouds. These are journalism students, and they likely have a different view of “cloud computing” from the technobabble we technologists enjoy. It’s also about how schools will use on-demand applications. So I figured I’d re-post the thread here.

One of the biggest things I realized was that “clouds” can mean “elastic, on-demand compute platforms” or just “stuff that runs on the web” depending on who you’re talking to. And while these seem like two separate definitions, ultimately, they’re the same thing.

The Q&A, below the fold.

Continue reading “A Q&A on cloud computing”

The ROI of clouds, from IGT09

I’m at IGT09 this week, put together by the energetic Avner Algom. Yesterday, I gave a presentation on the ROI of cloud computing (including some data that IDC and Peter Van Eijk were nice enough to let me use.) We started off with a panel on enterprise cloud use, with four panelists from very different backgrounds:

  • Steve Rubinow, EVP and CIO of NYSE Euronext
  • Yosi Shneck, CIO, Israeli Light Company
  • Eyal Waldman, Co-founder & CEO, Mellanox
  • Liam Lynch, Chief Security Strategist, eBay

Here are the slides, including panel questions.

Getting ready for the Future of Clouds with Dr. Bob Marcus later today. Should be fun; he has a lot more useful information than I do to share with the crowd, so I’ll try to make vague, generic comments that can’t be proven instead.

Conclusions from the Hybrid Cloud panel

Lots of good conclusions from the Hybrid Cloud panel at Interop; too many to see on one slide, so here they are.

  • Hybrid isn’t one app in two places; it’s internal and external apps talking to one another
  • Migrating for new apps is easy; for already deployed ones, it’s much harder
  • In the new world, the developers are the admins and ops toolsets are changing
  • The 2010 platform will be
    • Infrastructure-aware; parallel; split between dev and ops
    • Not really PaaS; but not IaaS either
    • Runs both in-house and externally
  • Increased focus on making it easy for developers to transition to on-demand environments
  • Portability becomes a bigger concern (in/out and between clouds)
  • Where enterprises will initially embrace it:
    • Collaboration, messaging, things “just above” infrastructure
    • Areas that don’t add strategic value
    • Leverage utility model of what’s there now (apps with inherent burstability)
  • Ideological battle in infrastructure
    • Bottoms-up focus on primitives (storage, queue, compute); we build things from easy-to-connect, RESTful functions
    • Top-down modelled approach, which we reduce down to the underlying patterns and can generate code from them (policies, etc.)
  • Growth of 2 kinds of technologies
    • That make this easier for developers (Ruby on Rails) ➜ This will win
    • That help to migrate legacy systems into cloud-compatible containers
  • Enterprises about 5-7 years behind consumer/public Internet (Web tech, Hadoop, enterprise mashups)
  • Let us not forget: All big web businesses use a ton of Oracle
  • Huge $ to be made solving enterprise migration: Discrete components or specific apps
  • Standardization is 15% of the problem; standards bodies are still arguing taxonomies
  • Internet standards are built on rough consensus and running code; whoever produces a useful product that is available to many people quickly will win

Why elasticity, performance, and analytics will change how Webops is judged

I got to Velocity this morning, and Jesse asked me if I wanted to get on stage for five minutes to talk before lunch. Given that I’m doing a session in the afternoon called What The Rest Of Your Company Knows About Your Website, I figured I should make something new.

One of the things that’s abundantly clear — echoed in presentations from Shopzilla, Google, and many other excellent speakers — is that performance matters. It affects your conversion rates; it even changes your Search Engine Marketing ranking (which was news to me.)

Continue reading “Why elasticity, performance, and analytics will change how Webops is judged”

GigaOm Structure: What's next in clouds

My friend Om Malik and the GigaOm crew have been hard at work on a few things. First, there’s the new GigaOm Pro, a paid offering that’s part analyst firm, part intrepid reporter, and part real-world clue-check. This is a good thing.

Done wrong, analyst firms can sometimes look like the protection rackets of the attention economy — a pay-to-play pact. This is a trap many traditional firms fall into; it’s inevitable that the biggest paying customers expect more love.

But a blog as an analyst firm has built-in honesty. The GigaOm crew has a pedigree of reporting that goes back to TV and print journalism, and anyone who reads Om knows he’s unflinchingly honest, even when that means breaking some glass. So GigaOm Pro looks like a refreshing change.

That’s not all GigaOm has been up to. Their Structure conference, now in its second year, is fast approaching. Last year, I helped with the conference and moderated some great panels — including one where Google was summarily attacked by a bunch of other cloud vendors for not being open. This was the first real debate on a subject that’s come to dominate cloud computing in the past year.

Which is typical GigaOm. Structure was ahead of its time last year — for example, while others were just talking about Green Computing, they brought in Jonathan Coomey to talk about his first-hand research.

So if you can make it to Structure 09, do so. The GigaOm folks passed along a discount code for Bitcurrent, so if you’re thinking of going, now you have no excuse; they sold out last year and likely will do so again.

A new take on cloud taxonomies: Migration

I was on a panel in the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago at Cloudconnect. As always, the topic of cloud taxonomies came up. It’s hard to discuss clouds without having a framework about which to discuss them. But taxonomies abound (with good ones from James Urquhart, Peter Laird, David Chappell, John M. Willis, Christopher Hoff, and Sam Charrington) and there’s no clear winner.

I came up with a new way to look at them, which didn’t immediately embarrass me. So here it is, for you to tear apart.

The problem with clouds, you see, is that  criticism levelled at one kind of cloud is a strength of another. For example, infrastructure-centric clouds where IT operators still need to add machines to grow aren’t inherently scaleable; whereas service-oriented clouds that “just work” aren’t as open.

So this model — which I’ll call the “cloud migration taxonomy” for want of a better label, looks at the issue in a way that matters to enterprises: How do I migrate to the cloud?

Here’s how to read the diagram:

  • If you have an existing data center application (say a WordPress instance, or a JBoss server) you can migrate to an infrastructure-centric cloud such as EC2 by simply building a machine image in the cloud. There are companies like rPath that can help with this, and Amazon has a payment system that lets firms like Red Hat get a share of the proceeds from your cloud usage.
  • If you have app code you like, and want to simply “paste” it into a form, you can do so with a service-centric cloud. If you wrote something in Python, you can take that code, tweak it (to remove cloud-incompatible functions such as RDBMS joins) and paste it into App Engine. Microsoft is betting that legions of Windows developers will take the server code they’re familiar with and port it to Azure. This is also why Joyent bought Reasonablysmart, so it has a service-centric cloud offering.
  • The next level of cloud use is to rewrite the process. If you have an in-house process — say, trouble ticketing — that was written on a legacy system (Fortran on a mainframe) you can’t just move it to the cloud. Instead, you’re going to map the business process, and then use a tool to recreate that process in the cloud. This is where Platform-as-a-Service companies like Coghead, Quickbase, Longjump, and many others can play. The app won’t be sexy; but then, neither was your legacy one.
  • At the highest level is Software-as-a-Service. Here, you’re simply copying your content to the cloud app. You might be saving your directory full of Word documents to Zoho, or Google Apps, or Microsoft Office Live. The only thing you’re migrating is the content itself.

When you’re trying to figure out how to embrace the cloud, these are your four options. The lower down you go, the more control you have (and the more work and testing you need to do); the higher up you go, the more turnkey (but the less flexibility and customization you get.) It’s that simple.

There are vendors who blur these lines, of course. Salesforce has SaaS, PaaS, and (arguably) a Service-centric cloud. Google certainly offers Apps, App Engine, and a number of tools like Googlebase that sit in the middle.

Anyway, I’m kinda sick of taxonomies, but what I like about this perspective is that it’s oriented to the issue of enterprise cloud migration that we’re all going to deal with in 2009. It’s going to be front and center at the Enterprise Cloud Summit (ECS) in Vegas (where, amazingly enough, most of the people who’ve been driving the taxonomy debate will all be gathering.)

The Enterprise Cloud (part 1.5)

There was a question from the audience: “Gee, Steve, what’s the difference between what you’re proposing and straight up virtualization?”

Good question. Glad you asked. Good enough question in fact to insert part 1.5 inbetween parts 1 and 2.

The definition of cloud computing remains nebulous at best. We’re entering a phase where everything is claiming to be a cloud — if you offer something hosted, it’s a cloud. By such a loose definition, the tech biz has been selling clouds since we’ve been renting mainframe time. To offer a little contrast, Amazon EC2 is a huge cluster of virtual machines that you rent a-la cheap dedicated virtual servers. Continue reading “The Enterprise Cloud (part 1.5)”

The Enterprise Cloud (part 1)

I was hassled by Alistair last year about the infrastructure choices at my company because I chose not to leverage the capacity and cost benefits of EC2. The reason, I explained, had everything to do with SLAs. My servers dish up content and application flow for phone calls. Jitter and delay are everything in that scenario because unlike web browsers that give visual cues to show they’re working, a phone call just gives dead air. And dead air is dangerous. Continue reading “The Enterprise Cloud (part 1)”

Are clouds less secure?

There’s an interesting response from Chris Hoff over at Rational Security to my GigaOm piece about cloud computing and security. Chris makes some great points (and flagged a good study on computer fraud that refutes some of what I said.)

Worth a read. What do you think? Are clouds less secure than in-house computing? The usual answer seems to be “it depends” — but what does it depend on? Can we come up with some rules for what’s safe to do in a cloud and when?

Maybe I can convince Chris to come to Vegas and get into a pointed argument about cloud computing risks.