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Posts Tagged ‘Amazon S3

Technologies I wish we had in 2001

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Music for 2001: A Space Odyssey album cover
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The best and worst thing about working in the technology industry is that you constantly build custom solutions to problems, sometimes quite expensively, and then years later see the same problems get solved through affordable (or free) off-the-shelf products.

Recently I’ve been thinking about solutions that we could have really used during my stint at FOXSports.com, but didn’t exist at the time (2001-2003).

Amazon Web Services (EC2 and S3): It was exciting to support interactive polls during major FOX broadcasts like Super Bowl and World Series, but a huge challenge for the technology organization, particularly in the areas of capacity planning and scaling.  We literally had our hosting provider bring in additional servers for these events, and then decommission them after the events ended.  If we had EC2 we might have been able to scale more flexibly during these events.  Also, we had loads of static content stored in our Oracle database, and served up by our web servers.  S3 would have allowed us to serve this content more effectively while reducing our reliance on a homegrown caching system.

Cloud integration (a la Boomi, CastIron Systems): As a sports website, we had a whole bunch of data and content feeds that we’d get from third parties.  Each feed was a custom integration using different protocols, authentication methods, and required specialized operations support.   If we had solutions like Boomi or CastIron available to us, we could have saved ourselves and our partners a whole lot of development time, and the end result would have been a more operationally supportable set of systems, with more flexibility to onboard new business partners quickly.

Application caching layer (e.g. memcached): We built our own caching platform within our app so that we wouldn’t hit our Oracle database so often with reads.  The cache logic was built in our app and the storage for the cache was an NFS shared volume sitting on a Netapp NAS device.  If we built the site today, we could have leveraged memached (or one of its commercial derivatives) and saved a bunch of dev, testing and debugging time.

Google Analytics: We spent a ton of money on web analytics solutions back in the day.  Google Analytics would have given us much of the same functionality, for free.  Enough said :)

All of these solutions would have addressed big pain points for our tech team, and consequently for our business as a whole.

Would love to hear any of your war stories related to this topic in the comments.

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Written by John Gannon

June 24, 2009 at 11:39 am

Three questions that need answers before enterprises will go to the Cloud

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Amazon has been making a variety of moves to make their AWS platform more palatable for enterprise hosting deployments.  New features like Oracle support and block level filesystems will cause enterprises to consider Amazon’s cloud in their list of potential vendors, but I think it will be hard for Amazon to get on the enterprise ‘short list’ of hosting vendors any time soon.  This is because it takes enterprise customers a long time to get comfortable enough to try a new technology, and still longer to move from pilots and proof-of-concept exercises to full-blown production deployment.

While at VMware, I often discussed customer concerns related to migrating to our technology platform.  These concerns typically boiled down to three key questions.  I believe these are the same questions that enterprise customers will ask before going into the cloud…

1.  “Will my current and future applications function, perform well, and scale in the cloud?”

Applications must be 100% guaranteed to work in the cloud, and to perform just as well as they would in a traditional datacenter environment.  Regardless of the amount of savings or additional efficiencies gained due to usage of cloud services, it is a non-starter if a customers’ applications lose functionality or do not perform as well in the cloud vs in the data center.  No amount of business case development or ROI/TCO analysis will get past this objection.

2.  “Which applications should I move to the cloud?”

Enterprises will need to identify which systems and process can be safely moved to the cloud.  They will likely take a phased approach where non-critical apps will be moved first, and then after a trial period, more important business applications will be migrated.  A proper assessment process will be needed so enterprise customers don’t stumble in their move to the cloud.  Just as server consolidation initiatives can grind to a halt if critical systems are migrated without proper planning, enterprises won’t move to cloud services if they encounter problems with early deployments.  New technology always gets blamed first, even if the technology wasn’t the root cause of a problem.  So, if you’re championing cloud hosting at your company, make sure you plan meticulously and minimize any business impact.

There are software tools like CIRBA and VMware Capacity Planner that help customers figure out which applications will play nicely in virtualized environments, but to my knowledge nothing of the sort exists in the cloud world.  This seems like an area that a startup might be able to address since the aforementioned vendors are focused squarely on virtualization as a software component within an infrastructure versus an outsourced cloud service.

3.  “Who can help me get my people, processes, and technologies to be ‘cloud ready’ ?”

Any time a new, disruptive technology comes on the market, there is huge disparity between the supply of skilled technologists with expertise in that technology and the demand for those technologists.  To fill the gap, enterprises tend to hire subject matter experts (in the form of consultants).  Although cloud computing certainly makes aspects of managing IT infrastructure easier, there is still no substitute for experts who can smoothly guide an enterprise through the migration process.  It will be interesting to see if the major consulting shops start to build practices around outsourced cloud services to address this need.

There is also an issue of “operational readiness”, a term coined by VMware to describe the challenges inherent in forcing traditionally siloed IT departments to work together in the management of a shared infrastructure where responsibilities overlap.  For example, is there a separate ‘cloud team’ or center of excellence within an IT department that is responsible for the performance of the cloud environment, or does that responsibility fall to the server team?  What about storage?  Are the SAN guys going to be expected to debug problems that might be related to Amazon S3? And don’t get me (or Hoff) started on security

These questions were often asked by my customers at VMware, and I think the cloud providers are going to face the same queries as they push furthur into the enterprise.

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Written by John Gannon

September 29, 2008 at 5:20 am

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