Two! Two! Two! Two great Overcast podcasts for your enjoyment

November 29, 2008 Leave a comment

It’s been a busy week or so for Geva Perry and I, as we took Overcast to a joint podcast with John Willis’s CloudCafe podcast, and had a fabulous discussion with Greg Ness of Both podcasts are available from the Overcast blog.

The discussion with John focused on definitions in the cloud computing space, and some of the misconceptions that people have about the cloud, what it can and can’t do for you, and what all that crazy terminology refers to. John is an exceptionally comfortable host, and his questions drove a deep conversation about what the cloud is, various components of cloud computing, and adjunct terms like “cloudbursting”. It was a lot of fun to do, and I am grateful for John’s invitation to do this.

Greg Ness demonstrated his uniquely deep understanding of what network security entails in a virtualized data center, and how automation is the lynch pin of protecting that infrastructure. Topics ranged from this year’s DNS exploit and the pace at which systems are getting patched to address it, to the reasons why the static network we all knew and loved is DOA in a cloud (or even just a virtualized) world. I really admire Greg, and find his ability to articulate difficult concepts with the help of historical insight very appealing. I very much appreciate his taking time out of his busy day to join us.

We are busy lining up more great guests for future podcasts, so stay tuned–or better yet, subscribe to Overcast at the Overcast blog.

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Is IBM the utlimate authority on cloud computing?

November 24, 2008 Leave a comment

There was an interesting announcement today from IBM regarding their new “Resiliant Cloud” seal of approval–a marketing program targeted at cloud providers, and at customers of the cloud. The idea is simple, if I am reading this right:

  • IBM gets all of the world’s cloud vendors to pay them a services fee to submit their services to a series of tests that validate (or not) whether the cloud is resiliant, secure and scalable. Should the vendor’s offering pass, they get to put a “Resiliant Cloud” logo on their web pages, etc.

  • Customers looking for resiliant, secure and scalable cloud infrastructure then can select from the pool of “Resiliant Cloud” offerings to build their specific cloud-based solutions. Oh, and they can hire IBM services to help them distinguish when to go outside for their cloud infrastructure, and when to convert their existing infrastructure. I’m sure IBM will give a balanced analysis as to the technology options here…

I’m sorry, but I’m a bit disappointed with this. IBM has been facing a very stiff “innovator’s dilemma” when it comes to cloud computing, as noted by GigaOm’s Stacy Higgenbotham:

“IBM has been pretty quiet about its cloud efforts. In part because it didn’t want to hack off large customers buying a ton of IBM servers by competing with them. The computing giant hasn’t been pushing its own cloud business until a half-hearted announcement at the end of July, about a month and half after a company exec had told me IBM didn’t really want to advertise its cloud services.”

She goes on to note, however, that IBM has some great things in the works, including a research project in China that shows great promise. That’s welcome news, and I look forward to IBM being a major player on the cloud computing stage again. However, this announcement is just an attempt at making IBM the “godfather” of the cloud market, and that’s not interesting in the least.

Still, I bet if you want to be an IBM strategic partner, you’d better get on board with the program. Amazon, are you going to pay the fee? Microsoft? Google? Anyone?

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Do Your Cloud Applications Need To Be Elastic?

November 22, 2008 Leave a comment

I got to spend a few hours at Sys-Con’s Cloud Computing Expo yesterday, and I have to say it was most certainly an intellectually stimulating day. Not only was just about every US cloud startup represented in one way or another, but included were an unusual conference session, and a meetup of fans of CloudCamp.

While listening in on a session, I overheard one participant ask how the cloud would scale their application if they couldn’t replicate it. This triggered a strong response in me, as I really feel for those that confuse autonomic infrastructures with magic applied to scaling unscalable applications. Let me be clear, the cloud can’t scale your application (much, at least) if you didn’t design it to be scaled. Period.

However, that caused me to ask myself whether or not an application had to be horizontally scalable in order to gain economically while running in an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud. The answer, I think, is that it depends.

Chris FlexFleck of Citrix wrote up a pretty decent two part explanation of this on his blog a few weeks ago. He starts out with some basic costs of acquiring and running 5 Quad-core servers–either on-premises (amortized over 3 years at 5%) or in a colocation data center–against the cost of running equivalent “high CPU” servers 24X7 on Amazon’s EC2. The short short of his initial post is that it is much more expensive to run full time on EC2 than it is to run on premises or in the colo facility.

How much more expensive?

  • On-premises: $7800/year
  • Colocation: $13,800/year
  • Amazon EC2: $35,040/year

I tend to believe this reflects the truth, even if its not 100% accurate. First, while you may think “ah, Amazon…that’s 10¢ a CPU hour”, in point of fact most production applications that you read about in the cloud-o-sphere are using the larger instances. Chris is right to use high CPU instances in his comparison at 80¢/CPU hour. Second, while its tempting to think in terms of upfront costs, your accounting department will in fact spread the capital costs out over several years, usually 3 years for a server.

In the second part of his analysis, however, Chris notes that the cost of the same Amazon instances vary based on the amount of time they are actually used, as opposed to the physical infrastructure that must be paid for whether it is used or not (with the possible exception of power and AC costs). This comes into play in a big way if the same instances are used judiciously for varying workloads, such as the hybrid fixed/cloud approach he uses as an example.

In other words, if you have an elastic load, plan for “standard” variances on-premises, but allow “excessive” spikes in load to trigger instances on EC2, you suddenly have a very compelling case relative to buying enough physical infrastructure to handle excessive peaks yourself. As Chris notes:

“To put some simple numbers to it based on the original example, let’s assume that the constant workload is roughly equal to 5 Quadcore server capacity. The variable workload on the other hand peaks at 160% of the base requirement, however it is required only about 400 hours per year, which could translate to 12 hours a day for the month of December or 33 hours per month for peak loads such as test or batch loads. The cost for a premise only solution for this situation comes to roughly 2X or $ 15,600 per year assuming existing space and a 20% factor of safety above peak load. If on the other hand you were able to utilize a Cloud for only the peak loads the incremental cost would be only $1,000. ( Based on Amazon EC2 )

Premise Only
$ 15,600 Annual cost ( 2 x 7,800 from Part 1 )
Premise Plus Cloud
$ 7,800 Annual cost from Part 1
$ 1,000 Cloud EC2 – ( 400 x .8 x 3 )
$ 8,800 Annual Cost Premise Plus Cloud “

The lesson of our story? Using the cloud makes the most sense when you have an elastic load. I would postulate that another option would be a load that is not powered on at full strength 100% of the time. Some examples might include:

  • Dev/test lab server instances
  • Scale-out applications, especially web application architectures
  • Seasonal load applications, such as personal income tax processing systems or retail accounting systems

On the other hand, you probably would not use Infrastructure as a Service today for:

  • That little accounting application that has to run at all times, but has at most 20 concurrent users
  • The MS Exchange server for your 10 person company. (Microsoft’s multi-tenant Exchange online offering is different–I’m talking hosting your own instance in EC2)
  • Your network monitoring infrastructure

Now, the managed hosting guys are going to probably jump down my throat with counter arguments about the level of service provided by (at least their) hosting clouds, but my experience is that all of these clouds actually treat self-service as self-service, and that there really is very little difference between do-it-yourself on-premises and do-it-yourself in cloud.

What would change these economics to the point that it would make sense to run any or all of your applications in an IaaS cloud? Well, I personally think you need to see a real commodity market for compute and storage capacity before you see the pricing that reflects economies in favor of running fixed loads in the cloud. There have been a wide variety of posts about what it would take [pdf] to establish a cloud market in the past, so I won’t go back over that subject here. However, if you are considering “moving my data center to the cloud”, please keep these simple economics in mind.

Reuven Cohen Invents The "Unsession"

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Gotta luv the Ruv. One of the highlights of this week’s Sys-Con Cloud Computing Expo was Reuven’s session on World-Wide Cloud Computing, “presented” to a packed room filled with some of the most knowledgeable cloud computing fans you’ll ever see–from vendors, SIs, customers, you name it.

Reuven got up front, showed a total of two slides (to introduce himself, because if you’re Ruv, it takes two slides to properly introduce yourself. 🙂 ), then kicked off a totally “unconference” like hour long session. The best way I can think of to describe it was it was that he a) went straight to the question and answer period, and b) asked questions of the audience, not the other way around. Now, he may just have been lazy, but I think he took advantage of the right sized room with the right subject matter interest and expertise at the right time to shake things up.

The result was an absolutely fascinating and wide ranging discussion about what it would take to deliver a “world wide cloud”, a dream that many of us have had for a while, but that has been a particular focus of Reuven’s. I can’t recount all aspects of the discussion here, quite obviously, but I thought I would share the list of subjects covered that I noted during the talk:

  • federation
  • firewall configuration
  • data encryption
  • Wide Area Network optimization
  • latency
  • trust
  • transparency
  • the community’s role in driving cloud specifications
  • interoperability
  • data portability
  • data ownership
  • metadata/policy/configuration/schema ownership
  • cloud brokerages
  • compliance
  • Payment Card Industry
  • Physical to Virtual and Physical to Cloud
  • reliability
  • SLA metadata
  • data integrity
  • identity
  • revocable certificates (see Nirvanix)
  • content delivery networks (and Amazon’s announcement)
  • storage

Now, I’m not sure that we solved anything in the discussion, but everyone walked away learning something new that afternoon.

Got a session to present to a room of 100 or less? Not sure how to capture attention in a set of slides? The heck with it, pull a “Reuven” and turn the tables. If you have an audience eager to give as well as take, you could end up enlightening yourself as much as you enlighten everyone else.

Thanks, Ruv, and keep stirring things up.

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Amazon launches CloudFront Content Delivery Service

November 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Quick note before I go to bed. Amazon just announced their previously discussed content delivery network service, CloudFront, tonight. Jeff Barr lays it out for you on the AWS blog, and Werner Vogels adds his vision for the service. To their credit, they are pushing the concept that the way the service is designed, it can do much more than traditional content delivery services; potentially acting as a cacheing and routing mechanism for applications distributed across EC2 “availability zones”.

I think Thorsten von Eiken of RightScale gives the most honest assessment of the service tonight. He praises the simplicity of use, noting that his product supports all CloudFront functionality today. Noting that CloudFront is a “‘minimum viable product’ offering” at this time, he also notes that there are several restrictions, and that there are some features that leave a lot to be desired. That being said, both Amazon and RightScale are clear that this is a necessary service for Amazon to offer, and that it is indeed useful today.

More when I’ve had a chance to evaluate it, but congrats again to the Amazon team for staying a few steps ahead.

Update: Stacy Higginbotham adds some excellent insight from the GigaOm crew on CloudFront’s effect on the overall CDN market. The short short is that Amazon’s “pay-as-you-go” pricing severely undercuts the major CDN vendors for small and medium businesses.

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Why the Choice of Cloud Computing Type May Depend On Who’s Buying

November 15, 2008 Leave a comment

Thanks to Ron K. Jeffries’ Cloudy Thinking blog, I was directed to Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady (who I now subscribe to directly) and his excellent post titled Cloud Types: Fabric vs Instance. Stephen makes an excellent observation about the nature of Infrastructure as a Service (called increasingly “Utility Computing” by Tim O’Reilly followers) and Platform as a Service (that one remains consistent). His observation is this:

“…Tim seems to feel that they are aspects of the types, while I’m of the opinion that they instead define the type. For example, by Tim’s definition, one characteristic of Utility Computing style clouds is virtual machine instances, where my definitions rather centers on that.

Here’s how I typically break down cloud computing styles:


Description: A problematic term, perhaps, because a few of the vendors employ it towards different ends, but I use it because it’s descriptive. Rather than deploy to virtualized instances, developers building on this style cloud platform write instead to a fabric. The fabric’s role is to abstract the underlying physical and logical architecture from the developer, and – typically – to assume the burden of scaling.
Example: Google App Engine


Description: Instance style clouds are characterized by, well, instances. Unlike the fabric cloud, there is little to no abstraction present within instance based clouds: they generally recreate – virtually – a typical physical infrastructure composed of instances that include memory, processing cycles, and so on. The lack of abstraction can offer developers more control, but this control is typically offered at the cost of transparent scaling.
Example: Amazon EC2″

I love that distinction. First, for those struggling to see how Amazon/GoGrid/Flexiscale/etc. relates to Google/Microsoft/, it delineates a very clear difference. If you are reserving servers on which to run applications, it is IaaS. If you are running your application free of care about which and how many resources are consumed, then it is PaaS. Easy.

However, I am even more excited by a thought that occurred to me as I read the post. One of the things that this particular distinction points out is the likelihood that the buyers of each type would be different classes of enterprise IT professionals.

Its not black and white, but I would be willing to bet heavily that :

  • The preponderance of interest in IaaS is from those whose primary concern is system administration; those with complex application profiles, who want to tweak scalability themselves, and who want the freedom to determine how data and code get stored, accessed and acted upon.

  • The preponderance of interest in PaaS is from those whose primary concerns is application development; those with a functional orientation, who want to be more concerned about creating application experiences than worrying about how to architect for deployment in a web environment (or whatever the framework provides).

In other words, server jockeys chose instances, while code jockeys choose fabric.

Now, the question quickly becomes, if developers can get the functionality and scalability/reliability/availability required from PaaS, without hiring the system administrators, why would any enterprise choose IaaS unless they were innovating at the architecture level? On the other hand, if all you want to do is add capacity to existing functionality, or you require an unusual or even innovative architecture, or you need to guarantee that certain security and continuity precautions are in place, why would you ever choose PaaS?

This, in turn, boils right back down to the PaaS spectrum I spoke of recently. Choose your cloud type based on your true need, but also take into account the skill set you will require. Don’t focus on a single brand just because it’s cool to your peers. Pick IaaS if you want to tweak infrastructure, otherwise by all means find the PaaS platform that best suits you. You’ll probably save in the long run.

Now, I’ve clearly suppressed the fact that developers probably still want some portability…though I must note that choosing a programming language alone limits function portability. (Perhaps that’s OK if the productivity values out weigh the likelihood of having to port.) Also, the things that system administrators are doing in the enterprise are extremely important, like managing security, data integrity and continuity. There are no guarantees that any of the existing PaaS platforms can help you with any of that.

Something to think about, anyway. What do you think? Will developers lean towards PaaS, while system administrators lean towards IaaS? Who will win the right to choose within the enterprise?

In Cloud Computing, a Good Network Gives You Control…

November 13, 2008 Leave a comment

There is a simple little truth that is often looked over when people discuss “moving to the cloud”. It is a truth that is so obvious, it is obscure; so basic, it gets lost in the noise. That truth is simply this: you may move all of your servers to the cloud, you may even move all of your storage to the cloud, but an enterprise will always have a network presence in its own facilities. The network is ubiquitous, not only in the commodity sense, but also in the physical sense.

To date, most IT folks have had a relatively static view of networks. They’ve relied on networking equipment, software and related services to secure the reliability of TCP/IP and UDP packets moving from physical place to physical place. Yeah, there has been a fair measure of security features thrown in, and some pretty cool management to monitor that reliability, but the core effort of networks to date was to reduce the risk of lost or undeliverable network packets–and “static” was very “in”.

However, the cloud introduces a factor that scares the bejeezus out of most IT administrators: a dynamic world that gives the appearance of a complete lack of control. How does IT control the security of their data and communications between their own facilities, the Internet and third party cloud providers? How do they secure the performance of systems running over the Internet? Is it possible to have any view into the health and stability of a cloud vendor’s own infrastructure in a way meaningful to the Network Operations Centers we all know and love?

When it comes to infrastructure, I have been arguing that the network must take more of a role in the automation and administration of public, private and hybrid clouds. However, let me add that I now think enterprises should look at the network as a point of control over the cloud. Not necessarily to own all of that control–services such as RightScale and CohesiveFT, or cloud infrastructures such as Cassatt or 3TERA have a critical role to play in orchestration and delivery of application services.

However, their control of your resources relies entirely on the network as well, and you will likely have federated and/or siloed sets of those infrastructure management systems scattered across your disparate “cloud” environment. The network remains the single point of entry into your “cloud”, and as such should play a key role in coordinating the monitoring and management activities of the various components that make up that “cloud”.

Greg Ness outlined some of this in his excellent post on Infrastructure 2.0, (and this recent one on cloud computing in the recession), a theme picked up by Chris Hoff and others. All of these bloggers are sounding a clarion call to the network vendors, both large and small, that have a stake in the future of enterprise IT. Support dynamic infrastructures–securely–or die. I only add that I don’t believe that its enough to make dynamic work, I think it is critical to make sure the enterprise feels they are in control of “their own” cloud environment, whether or not it contains third party services, runs in dozens of data centers, or changes at a rate to quick for human decision makers to manage.

What are some of the ways that the network can give you control over a dynamic infrastructure? Here’s my “off the top of my head” list of some of the ways:

  • There needs to be a consistent way to discover and evaluate new VMs, bare metal deployments, storage allocations, etc. and the network can play a key role here.

  • There also needs to be consistent monitoring and auditing capabilities that work across disparate cloud providers. This doesn’t necessarily have to be provided by the network infrastructure, but network-aware system management tools seem as logical a place to start as any.
  • Networks should take an active role in virtualization, providing services and features to enable things like over WAN VM migration, IP address portability and discovery of required services and infrastructure during and after VM migration. Where your servers run should be dependent on your needs, not your network’s abilities.

  • At times the network should act like the human nervous system and take action before the “brain” of the cloud is even aware something is wrong. This can take the form of agreed upon delegation of responsibility in failure and over-utilization situations, with likely advancement to an automated predictive modelling approach once some comfort is reached with the symbiotic relationship between the network and management infrastructures.

Believe me, I know I have much to learn here. I can tell you that my soon-to-be employer, Cisco, is all over it, and has some brilliant ideas. Aristra Networks is a startup with a pretty good pedigree that is also aggressively looking at cloud enabled networks. I can only assume that F5, Nortel, Extreme and others are also seriously evaluating how they can remain competitive in such a rapidly changing architecture. What exactly this will look like is fuzzy at this point, but the next few months are going to be monster.

In the meantime, ask yourself not what you can do to advance your network, but what your network can do to advance you…

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