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)”

The cloud’s most important equation

Picture by Kevin Trotmann on Flickr used under Creative Commons license., I’m going to write about an equation. I’ll try to make it easy to follow, but it’s still stats and graphs. Stay tuned and I’m convinced it will be worth your while, because in my opinion, it’s the most important equation in cloud computing. It’s what drives your market, your customers, and your burn rate.

If you build a traditional data center platform for your application, you worry about three variables: The amount of traffic to your site, your capacity to handle that traffic, and the user experience they get, such as latency. The equation looks like this:

User experience = Traffic / Capacity

As traffic increases, user experience gets worse and delay goes up. This is because each visit to your site consumes resources on your infrastructure, and some users wind up waiting for the app to respond. Networks get full; databases encounter record locking; message queues back up; and so on. Ultimately, some of your visitors have a lousy experience.

On-demand computing platforms fundamentally change how you deal with this, because as far as you’re concerned, they have infinite capacity.

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Have MS management tools forced VMWare's hand?

Reading the buzz coming from VMWorld in Vegas toay, it’s clear that VMWare is finally embracing management tools. This has been an interesting road for the company, and I believe Microsoft is forcing their hand — something CEO Paul Maritz is painfully aware of.

A major problem with virtual machines is sprawl. They’re so easy to create, anyone can do it. And they do — leaving hundreds of orphaned virtual machines and thousands of license dollars in VMWare’s pockets. David Lynch of Embotics alluded to this when I spoke with him last week. Why would a company that sells licenses want to help people manage that sprawl?

The short answer is Microsoft. If you’re building a cloud, you’re going to use something that’s free and open for you to hack around with. In other words, Xen. And if you’re an enterprise, you’re going to use a VM that includes machine, OS, and application licensing. In other words, triple-threat Microsoft.
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SANs in the cloud

Amazon has publicly released a new Amazon web service called Elastic Block Store providing up to a terabyte per volume of persistent storage and allowing you to run your database in their cloud with the advantages of snapshots and flexible attachment to servers.

Rightscale, who offers a management and automation system based on AWS, has an excellent article explaining how Amazon’s Elastic Block Store works. In testing they report over 70 MB/s (that’s over half a gigabit per second) and over 1000 IOPS or input/output operations per second which is the ballpark equivalent of a dozen 7200rpm hard drives serving your data in tandem. They also report “it is possible to mount multiple volumes on the same instance such that file systems of 10TB are practical.” No doubt much more detailed performance and feature analysis will ensue shortly.
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Don't judge a cloud by its cover

I just finished watching a presentation on Eucalyptus, an open source layer for cloud computing that emulates Amazon’s EC2.

The Eucalyptus team replicated nearly all of EC2. They know this because they pulled down Amazon’s Web Services Description Language (WSDL), which describes the various function calls someone can make to Amazon, and made sure Eucalyptus could do the same thing. It’s not a secret; in fact, you can check it out here.

This raises an interesting point. For a traditional desktop developer, if two interfaces are identical, then writing code to one means it will work on the other just fine. But there are two other things to consider if you’re choosing a cloud platform: Operational reliability, and network effects.

The first one’s pretty basic: Don’t use someone who can’t keep their cloud running.

The second one is less obvious: The value of a cloud service isn’t just what it does; it’s also how many people use it.

For example:

In other words, when considering a cloud’s services, we can’t just look at the richness of the APIs it offers. We have to also consider the network effects it enjoys.

Future of computing: Forecast calls for partly cloudy

Cloud computing is the hottest Internet insider buzzword since the technologies to which it owes its existence: Virtualization and Grid Computing.

In May’s Interop Unconference, we explored their intersection in an informal jam session with enthusiastic audience participation starring Jinesh Varia (Amazon), Kirill Sheynkman (Elastra), Rueven Cohen (Enomaly), Jacob Farmer (Cambridge Computer), and Louis DiMeglio (ScienceLogic).

It’s taken some time to fully digest the results.

To many of us, the cloud is that amorphous blob of semicircular squiggles the IT crowd has been using on whiteboards to represent the internet since the mid-nineties. Clouds mean we don’t care what’s in them.

Cloud Computing - everything and the kitchen sinkOnce upon a time, that cloud in the middle of the whiteboard used to just represent the network — how to get from here to there. All the interesting stuff happened outside its borders. More recently, however, we’ve started moving the rest of the shapes on the whiteboard into the cloud. Applications and infrastructure are now drawn within the borders of that formerly ill-defined and anarchic etherspace.

If you listen to some overzealous cloudnuts, you’ll will hear that pretty much everything is rushing headlong into the Internet’s troposphere. But the truth is much more complex, and rational opinions seem to favor a hybrid future of rich clients, hardware, and software. We’ll have a hugely diverse mix of private and public cloud-based services providing both a back-end and a matrix for device interaction.

Aside: I’ll leave defining cloud computing ad nauseam to other bloggers. For our purpose it is the trend of outsourcing what you would normally run in your datacenter to an indefinitely flexible computing platform which is billed to you as a utility. Traditional hosters don’t count (for me) as cloud providers, but newer managed service hosters might, depending on the level of automation and scalability they employ.

So what did the Interop crowd conclude?

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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?

Feedback on the Cloud Computing track

intunconf.jpgI’ve been incredibly lucky this week: Awesome panelists and great discussions (several of which have run over) at Interop. The conclusion: Cloud computing is still cloudy, and if you want reliable on-demand computing, get it from a SaaS provider who can worry about the cloud on your behalf.

The Register and Infoworld, both of whom covered the events, seem to agree: There’s a lot of hype around on-demand computing, but it’s not fully grown up yet. Nice to know we’re trying to keep things honest. 😉

While lots of folks are dabbling with cloud computing and on-demand infrastructure, it’s not really ready for business yet. Some of the cloud users we had — folks from Napera, Syntenic, and Kaazing — are using the cloud for “bursty” capacity or as a way to prototyping nascent applications. But what do the operators think?

Continue reading “Feedback on the Cloud Computing track”