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Jun 29, 2008

Structure 08 - Cloud, EaaS, Server/Client

Cloud computing hangover

After attending GigaOM's Structure 08, I came away with a cloud-computing hangover. Just trying to define cloud computing is daunting given all the hype and companies thunderclapping...

I prefer the way Sun Chairman Scott McNealy talks about cloud computing. Ten years ago he was calling it the "big freakin' Webtone switch." Following is how he described it in December 2001:

That is the server, the storage, the operating system, the monitoring software, the clustering, the alternate pathing, multiple domaining, dynamic reconfiguration--and then it has a mail tone, a calendar tone, a news tone, an app server tone, and a directory tone. It has all of the different features of a big freaking WebTone switch and allows you to create this big jukebox. You can buy that all complete. Or you have one throat to choke and you can buy it all through a service provider that is SunTone certified. Or you can do what many IT directors do and they go out and buy the telephone switch by buying the chip from Intel, the operating system from Microsoft, the disk drive from EMC, the Compaq power supply, the Oracle database, the Novell directory, the BEA app server, the SAP, ERP, and CRM from here, blah-blah-blah, this, that, and the other thing, a SoundBlaster card from somebody else, the anti-virus uninstaller from Norton, and then go bring in IBM Global Services to try to make the whole thing work. Buy the big freaking WebTone switch.

At that time McNealy was talking about how enterprises provision their data centers and user services. Now we are seeing Amazon, Google and others take their data center expertise and make it available to developers and companies. Enterprises will be slower to move to the cloud, but they will eventually get there. Software-as-a-service providers are flourishing, and increasingly enterprises are considering off-premises, hosted solutions.

In essence, we are at the beginning of the age of planetary computing. Billions of people will be wirelessly interconnected, and the only way to achieve that kind of massive scale usage is by massive scale, brutally efficient cloud-based infrastructure.

Microsoft's big switch to server/client computing

Speaking at Structure 08, Debra Chrapaty, corporate vice president of Global Foundation Services at Microsoft, shed some light on the cloud-based infrastructure supporting Microsoft's online services.

Despite characterizations that Microsoft is stuck in the client/server world, the company is spending billions to apply the cloud, or server/client, model, where most of the computing happens in the cloud and some small amount on the client (offline support for applications). But until Microsoft Office and other applications are built for the cloud, the laggard characterization will continue to stick to the company's forehead.

Debra Chrapaty, corporate vice president of Global Foundation Services at Microsoft.

(Credit: Dan Farber)

Microsoft has one of the biggest collections of Web sites, with 550 million users, 2 billion search queries, and 10 billion page views per month, as well as 8 billion messages on Microsoft Messenger per day. The company deploys 10,000 new servers per month on average to keep up with demand, Chrapaty said. She broke down Microsoft's model for building infrastructure into a three-letter acronym.

The cloud is all about GET--Growth, Efficiency, and Trust, Chrapaty said. In terms of growth, data centers are a $300 million to $500 million investment. "You have to make every kilowatt count," she said, noting that Microsoft has 35 criteria, such as network egress, power, and available staff, to determine locations for data centers.

Efficiency involves tools for manageability, operability, and sustainability, which translate into cost savings. "It's nice to go to Steve (Ballmer) and say you can save millions of billions of dollars," she said. Trust is having the security, reliability, availability, performance, and familiarity with the local languages and markets, Chrapaty explained.

Trust is also the user community feeling that privacy will be respected as people live their lives on line. That is a challenge that every large site will have to grapple with long after technology issues are resolved.

The new geek chic: Data centers

... Jonathan Yarmis, vice president of advanced, emerging and disruptive technologies at AMR Research, said changes in the next five years will make the past Internet revolution feel like child's play. He didn't explain exactly how the next five years will be more revolutionary than evolutionary, but outlined the convergence of several technology trends.

The combination of social networking, mobility, alternative business models (advertising and different license and revenue models) and cloud and stream computing are mutually reinforcing trends that are driving innovations. The average life of a cell phone is 21 months, which allows users to take advantage of improvements in infrastructure.

"Cloud computing is not just for software as a service, but EaaS--Everything as a Service. Many things as discrete products become cloud-based offerings. It offers us an independence of device and location that is profoundly important," Yarmis said. Spoken like a true analyst--come up with another way to market a concept that is also known as on demand, cloud, SaaS, or utility computing.

One of the infrastructure challenges is not just storing and analyzing the growing body of data but reading, reacting, and responding in real time to disposable streams of data, Yarmis explained. The network and software needs to get much smarter and faster to enable real-time filtering and streaming for every user...

Amazon's blueprint for cloud computing

... Werner Vogels, vice president and CTO at Amazon.com, is talking about why Amazon is in the cloud computing business, how it got there, and why customers should want it. Instead of every company or developer doing the heavy lifting, dealing with the "muck" as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to say, Amazon opened up its software-as-a-service stack (Amazon Web Services) and infrastructure (Elastic Compute Cloud, S3, and SimpleDB) to external parties.

I've heard the Amazon story many times, but Vogels offered a few new tidbits, such as S3 is storing 18 billion objects and how Amazon thinks about building to its 1,000 services.

"Amazon built these services internally as tools, not as a framework. Each team can use whatever development tools they need. Infrastructure services need to be very generic and people can switch to competing services internally," Vogels said. For example, users could work with Amazon EC2 and a different storage service than S3...

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