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Posts Tagged ‘Amazon Web Services

Opening the cloud computing kimono

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One of the central tenets of cloud hosting (e.g. Amazon EC2) is that application owners no longer need to be concerned with the lower level underpinnings of the infrastructure.  Theoretically, the app owners can focus on their application code and then let the cloud provider handle the configuration and scaling of everything underneath (VM, server, network, storage).  This sounds great, but in practice, its just not the case, particularly in the enterprise world.

When I was running infrastructure operations at FOXSports.com, we used a managed services provider for a variety of our hosting needs.  They provided us certain services on a “cloud” basis, which meant that our servers could access these resources freely, but that we had very limited visibility into the infrastructure providing those services.  This made it very hard to debug issues related to this service since the MSP provided limited monitoring information for the systems providing the service.  I remember fighting very hard to get additional visibility into the service, and ultimately the MSP built some tools to support that need.

Fast forward to 2008…if I am an enterprise thinking about deploying anything remotely business critical to a cloud hosting provider, I will want to know (in gory detail) how the systems and networking supporting the infrastructure are configured and architected.  Why?  Because if something in the infrastructure breaks (and as we know, something always breaks), I am going to need to fix the issue as soon as possible.  With little visibility into the underlying infrastructure, I’m going to have a very hard time isolating and ultimately solving or working around the problem.

Where am I going with this?  For the larger clouds (like Amazon) there is a somewhat limited amount of information publicly available about how the underpinnings of their system works.  If I’m Amazon, for example, I probably have a great deal of know-how and trade secrets related to my cloud infrastructure that I’d like to protect.

The conundrum (I think) is that to see true success in the enterprise, the cloud providers will need to reveal a good deal of this information to potential customers in order to get them comfortable enough to move significant workloads and applications to their cloud.  Is it worth it for the cloud provider to give up some of that competitive advantage in exchange for more enterprise traction?

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Written by John Gannon

October 31, 2008 at 6:30 pm

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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