Monday, December 08, 2008

The Wisdom of Clouds is moving!!!

Finally! It's been a long time coming, but the "morphing" of The Wisdom of Clouds I've hinted at a couple of times in the last month is finally here. Dan Farber and Margaret Kane, the good editors the CNET, have agreed to publish this blog (with a slight name change) on the CNET Blog Network. Hence forth the blog will be titled "The Wisdom of the Clouds", and located at Please go there and subscribe today.

CNET is one of the most respected IT news sources, and with about 15 million unique visitors a month this is a huge opportunity to broaden the cloud computing discussion to the mainstream IT community. The other members of the CNET Blog Network include such thought leaders as Matt Asay, Gordon Haff and Peter N. Glaskowsky, and I am humbled to be listed among them.

However, I also want to recognize and thank each of you for helping to make The Wisdom of Clouds what it is today. At the beginning of 2008, I had a little over 120 subscribers. This last week saw a record 948 subscribers, with over 200 of you reading each new post within 24 hours of it hitting the feeds, and about 50 more reading the same on the blog pages itself. It has been tremendously enriching to see the uptake in interest, and I am grateful to each of you for your interest, attention and feedback. Thank you.

Unfortunately, this transition will not be without its inconveniences. As you may have guessed, I will no longer be publishing to this site; for now will become an archive site for the two years or so of posts that I've written since early in my Cassatt days. I will frequently reference back to those posts initially, but all new material will appear at CNET. If you want to follow where the conversation goes from here, it is important that you go the the CNET URL and subscribe.

I will probably continue to publish my bookmarks to the existing feed for a while, but I want to consolidate that traffic with the article publications over time. Stay tuned for how that will work out. I won't be bookmarking my own posts as a rule; thus subscribe to the new feed.

Please let me know if you have any problems or concerns with the transition, and I hope that each and every one of you will continue to be a part of my own education about the cloud and its consequences. As always, I can be reached at jurquhart at (ignore this) yahoo dot com.

Again, thank you all, and I'll see you on The Wisdom of the Clouds.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Two Faces of Cloud Computing

One of the fun aspects of a nascent cloud computing market is that there are "veins" of innovative thinking to be mined from all of the hype. Each of us discover these independently, though the velocity of recognition increases greatly as the effects of "asymmetrical follow" patterns take effect. Those "really big ideas" of cloud computing usually start as a great observation by one or a few independent bloggers. If you are observant, and pay attention to patterns in terminology and concepts, you can get a jump on the opportunities and intellectual advances triggered by a new "really big idea".

One of these memes that I have been noticing more and more in the last week is that of the two-faceted cloud; the concept that cloud computing is beginning to address two different market needs, that of large scale web applications (the so-called "Web 2.0" market), and that of traditional data center computing (the so-called "Enterprise" market). As I'll try to explain, this is a "reasonably big idea" (or perhaps "reasonably big observation" is a more accurate portrayal).

I first noticed the meme when I was made aware of a Forrester report titled "There Are Two Types Of Compute Clouds: Server Clouds And Scale-Out Clouds Serve Very Different Customer Needs", written by analyst Frank E. Gillett. The abstract gives the best summary of the concept that I've found to date:
"Cloud computing is a confusing topic for vendor strategists. One reason? Most of us confuse two fundamentally different types of compute clouds as one. Server clouds support the needs of traditional business apps while scale-out clouds are designed for massive, many-machine workloads such as Web sites or grid compute applications. Scale-out clouds differ from server clouds in five key ways: 1) much larger workloads; 2) loosely coupled software architecture; 3) fault tolerance in software, not hardware; 4) simple state management; and 5) server virtualization is for provisioning flexibility — not machine sharing. Strategists must update their server virtualization plans to embrace the evolution to server cloud, while developing a separate strategy to compete in the arena for scale-out clouds."
Get it? There are two plans of attack for an enterprise looking to leverage the cloud:
  • How do you move existing load to the IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS providers?
  • How do you leverage the new extremely large scale infrastructures used by the Googles and Amazons of the world to create new competitive advantage?
Around then I started seeing references to other posts that suggested the same thing; that there are two customers for the cloud: those that need to achieve higher scale at lower costs than possible before, and those that want to eliminate data center capital in favor of a "pay-as-you-go" model.

I'm not sure how revolutionary this observation is (obviously many people noticed it before it clicked with me), but it is important. Where is it most obvious? In my opinion, the three PaaS members of the "big four" are good examples:
  • Google is the sole Scale-out vendor on the list...for now. I hear rumors that Microsoft may explore this as well, but for now it is not Mr. Softy's focus.
  • Microsoft's focus is, on the other hand, the enterprise. By choosing a .NET centric platform, Azure, complete with Enterprise Service Bus and other integration-centric technologies, they have firmly targeted the corporate database applications that run so much of our economy today.
  • is perhaps the most interesting in that they chose to compete for enterprises with and Sites, but through a "move all your stuff here" approach. Great for the users, but perhaps a disadvantage to those wishing to build stand-alone systems, much less those wishing to integrate with their on-premises SAP instances.
The point here, I guess, is that comparisons between Scale-out and Enterprise clouds, while sometimes tempting (especially in the Google vs. Microsoft case), are rather useless. They serve different purposes, often for completely different audiences, and enterprise IT organizations would do better to focus their efforts on the specific facet of cloud computing that applies to a given project. If you are a budding PaaS vendor, understand the distinction, and focus on the technologies required to meet your market's demand. Don't try to be "all cloud to all people".

Except, possibly, if you are Microsoft...

Monday, December 01, 2008

The enterprise "barrier-to-exit" to cloud computing

An interesting discussion ensued on Twitter this weekend between myself and George Reese of Valtira. George--who recently posted some thought provoking posts on O'Reilly Broadcast about cloud security, and is writing a book on cloud computing--argued strongly that the benefits gained from moving to the cloud outweighed any additional costs that may ensue. In fact, in one tweet he noted:
"IT is a barrier to getting things done for most businesses; the Cloud reduces or eliminates that barrier."
I reacted strongly to that statement; I don't buy that IT is that bad in all cases (though some certainly is), nor do I buy that simply eliminating a barrier to getting something done makes it worth while. Besides, the barrier being removed isn't strictly financial, it is corporate IT policy. I can build a kick butt home entertainment system for my house for $50,000; that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

However, as the conversation unfolded, it became clear that George and I were coming at the problem from two different angles. George was talking about many SMB organizations, which really can't justify the cost of building their own IT infrastructure, but have been faced with a choice of doing just that, turning to (expensive and often rigid) managed hosting, or putting a server in a colo space somewhere (and maintaining that server). Not very happy choices.

Enter the cloud. Now these same businesses can simply grab capacity on demand, start and stop billing at their leisure and get real world class power, virtualization and networking infrastructure without having to put an ounce of thought into it. Yeah, it costs more than simply running a server would cost, but when you add the infrastructure/managed hosting fees/colo leases, cloud almost always looks like the better deal. At least that's what George claims his numbers show, and I'm willing to accept that. It makes sense to me.

I, on the other hand, was thinking of medium to large enterprises which already own significant data center infrastructure, and already have sunk costs in power, cooling and assorted infrastructure. When looking at this class of business, these sunk costs must be added to server acquisition and operation costs when rationalizing against the costs of gaining the same services from the cloud. In this case, these investments often tip the balance, and it becomes much cheaper to use existing infrastructure (though with some automation) to deliver fixed capacity loads. As I discussed recently, the cloud generally only gets interesting for loads that are not running 24X7.

(George actually notes a class of applications that sadly are also good candidates, though they shouldn't necessarily be: applications that IT just can't or won't get to on behalf of a business unit. George claims his business makes good money meeting the needs of marketing organizations that have this problem. Just make sure the ROI is really worth it before taking this option, however.)

This existing investment in infrastructure therefore acts almost as a "barrier-to-exit" for these enterprises when considering moving to the cloud. It seems to me highly ironic, and perhaps somewhat unique, that certain aspects of the cloud computing market will be blazed not by organizations with multiple data centers and thousands upon thousands of servers, but by the little mom-and-pop shop that used to own a couple of servers in a colo somewhere that finally shut them down and turned to Amazon. How cool is that?

The good news, as I hinted at earlier, is that there is technology that can be rationalized financially--through capital equipment and energy savings--which in turn can "grease the skids" for cloud adoption in the future. Ask the guys at 3tera. They'll tell you that their cloud infrastructure allows an enterprise to optimize infrastructure usage while enabling workload portability (though not running workload portability) between cloud providers running their stuff. VMWare introduced their vCloud initiative specifically to make enterprises aware of the work they are doing to allow workload portability across data centers running their stuff. Cisco (my employer) is addressing the problem. In fact, there are several great products out there who can give you cloud technology in your enterprise data center that will open the door to cloud adoption now (with things like cloudbursting) and in the future.

If you aren't considering how to "cloud enable" your entire infrastructure today, you ought to be getting nervous. Your competitors probably are looking closely at these technologies, and when the time is right, their barrier-to-exit will be lower than yours. Then, the true costs of moving an existing data center infrastructure to the cloud will become painfully obvious.

Many thanks to George for the excellent discussion. Twitter is becoming a great venue for cloud discussions.