Look into the sky and tell me what you see… a cloud?

No, look into the sky and tell me what you really see.. a whole bunch of clouds.

Exactly the same for the phenomenon applies to the Internet Cloud, in that there isn’t one cloud, but many clouds of all different shapes and sizes. A very simple statement on the surface, yet confusion arises when people don’t properly appreciate this, or simplify cloud into a one size fits all, or worse still cloud and software vendors bend the definition to leverage their own competitive advantage.

Let me give you some examples that I have come across:

  • Cloud is merely another method of delivery -things that you would normally use on premise delivered over the internet.
  • Cloud is using the internet to store and access dataYouTube, Dropbox, Skydrive, Itunes etc.
  • Cloud Computing is using the Internet to run your applications and store and access your data – a subtle twist on the above -Facebook, Twitter, WordPress etc.
  • Cloud is an easy way to outsource IT infrastructureyes it can be, and IT directors are slowly starting to adopt where appropriate, but mostly towards private rather than public clouds, and they still prefer to think of it as outsourced hosting.
  • Cloud comes in at least four flavours, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service and Development as a Service – yikes, run for cover, the techies have entered the room.
  • Cloud comes in Public and Private formsnow we’re compounding the issue on the basis of class… although purists might have you think that private clouds are in some way inferior to public clouds, most commercial apps are running on private clouds today.
  • Cloud is a pay as you go ‘utility’, like gas or electricity; you just pay for more as you consume it – isn’t this just a payment model, I’m aware of one cloud application vendor that promotes themselves as a utility, but mandates a 3 year fixed term and backs this off to a finance company that collects monthly payments… doesn’t sound like a utility model in the true sense to me. However, like any utility, just makes sure you don’t leave the lights on when you go on holiday.
  • Cloud definitely isn’t virtualisationalthough some would say if you look closely you might find the main technology that underpins the cloud is server virtualisation, not in the shape of VMware or HyperV or Citrix… more the technology that drives server farms.
  • Cloud is defined by running multi-tenant applications only –no single tenant allowed here, oh no never, single tenant is old fashioned, isn’t efficient and is costly to run… I read a quote that “single-tenant cloud is like welding a number of Taxis together to make a Bus”… playing that analogy out multi-tenant is a Bus where everyone gets picked up and dropped off at the same place, the fares are economical but the destinations are limited… whereas single-tenant is a Taxi that will pick you up at the front door and drop you wherever you want…. Yes it costs more, but if you can afford a Taxi then why take the bus?
  • Cloud gives all users the latest software updates at the same timeexcellent if it doesn’t create business disruption, otherwise a pain in the backside.
  • Cloud can be configured to do everything a bespoke or customised application can dofor smaller businesses possibly, but go speak to some high end businesses with complex needs and tell me if they think this is still the case?
  • Cloud is not web hostingon the basis that a website is a collection of files then some might argue it is!
  • Cloud definitely doesn’t come in a box – it lives in a box somewhere even if it’s made of 2ft thick concrete and called a datacentre.
  • Cloud includes support with software licencethe good ones do, as long as you can phone someone when the cloud knowledgebase stops working.
  • Cloud isn’t secureoh yes it can be, the banks have shown this can be achieved, but it has to be engineered in and it’s not cheap.
  • Cloud doesn’t give you an adequate Service Level Agreement  – oh yes it can, it depends on which application vendor/cloud provider you choose… hopefully they can do better than Twitter, which is up and down like a yo-yo.
  • Cloud isn’t just a modern version of the emperor’s new clothesyou do see it don’t you??

Those are just some examples; there are many more definitions, new ones being made up by the industry every day. However, go ask a consumer of so cloud computing what they see and they’ll give a completely different perspective…

  • An internet banking customer doesn’t see a cloud, they see their bank accounts, transaction details and a way to move money around.
  • An ipod/iphone/ipad user doesn’t see a cloud, they see songs, movies and applications.
  • An on-line shopper doesn’t see a cloud, they see things to buy and ways to pay.
  • A business software user doesn’t see a cloud, they see ERP or a CRM system or whatever.
  • A twitter/facebook/linkedin  user doesn’t see a cloud they just see people to collaborate and share information with.
  • A hardware supplier doesn’t see a cloud, they see processors and disks and switches and cables.  

I could go on and on but you probably get the picture… consumers don’t see clouds and consumers don’t buy clouds, they buy the applications and services that the cloud delivers… so why does the industry keep confusing consumers by trying to sell the cloud?

Answers by “Cloudmail” please, or the old fashioned email will do if you don’t have Cloudmail yet.

2 replies on “Look into the sky and tell me what you see… a cloud?”

We came out and joined a wave for the first time last year when we said we were No 1 Cloud Platform in the UK. We avoided the Software As a Service wave, the Application Service Provider wave, but we decided to endorse the cloud wave.

Why, the open cloud standards bun fight (vendors trying to recreate open unix) bunch of stuff that is as closed as possible, and a few other indicators that this was not just hype but a change in the way we do things.

My view is it is a mixture of user communities.

We have 1 million users, and about 10,000 applications, would you like your app to work with our community.

PS It works out the box with most major finance systems and it routing transactions in both directions.

Using someone else’s infrastructure
We have multiple everything, feeds, firewalls, routers, switches, web servers, database servers, data centres etc. with proven failover, DR etc etc etc. that have been checked by all our paranoid customers over the past 10 years.

Using someone else’s expertise.
We have done 1,000’s of updates, with no downtime, switched data centres, upgraded databases, webservers etc etc. on a 99.999% availability including scheduled downtime. Scheduled downtime is not an option if you make money off your site 24×7 like we do, and if you do not what is wrong with your site!!

We had our first penetration test back in 1999, it was an eye opening experience, and we got a better firewall immediately. The best security standard is PCI/DSS (Payment Card Industry/Data Security Standard), it is very clear about what is required, everything plus regular testing. Rather than ISO 27001, which is decide your risks, an your mitigations and so everything is voluntary and you can accept risks. Nothing is acceptable under PCI/DSS, you implement their rules as a minimum or fail.

The problem as you said is cloud is lovely and vague just like the little white things floating in the sky.

In our case you get

A rapid development environment that will allow your customers to create prototype applications that can then be made more sophisticated with back end logic, these then run on a proven scalable software platform and hardware infrastructure with a set of pre plumbed integrations and users.

I am pretty sure that our new system will cope with over 100 million users, and if I find time I will write up how we do it.

High speed patched webserver > in memory compressed content > disk cache for what is not in memory

I think is was around 2004 that we managed 100,000 websites off a pentium desktop, that was running our entire web system. It was a scalability test and stability test that was meant to last a day or two we ended up running for 6 months since it was nice and stable and no downtime, before we repartitioned everything back across about 6 pairs of servers back then.

It is amazing what a properly tuned webserver can handle, with optimised content, and our system has improved a lot since 2004.

One of the pair of virtual webservers that provide
top – 20:13:28 up 127 days, 8:34, 2 users, load average: 0.04, 0.02, 0.00
Tasks: 71 total, 1 running, 70 sleeping, 0 stopped, 0 zombie
Cpu(s): 0.5%us, 0.5%sy, 0.0%ni, 99.0%id, 0.0%wa, 0.0%hi, 0.0%si, 0.0%st
Mem: 1042596k total, 805436k used, 237160k free, 136992k buffers
Swap: 131064k total, 680k used, 130384k free, 317852k cached

As you can see, about 800 meg of stuff in cache, and 0 load the other has the same negligible load (It only has 600 meg in cache, because I have not run a link checker against it). The host spends most of its time filtering out spam. We are trying to build up our email services to use the spare cpu cycles.

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