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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
Cloud Computing: The Clouds Are Coming
From my point of view, clouds are still not for production

Gojko Adzic's Blog

The last talk by Alan Williamson was the most interesting for me. He was from a company that, if I understood correctly, provides web site caching for big media companies. Alan’s talk was focused on problems that they experienced when moving to a cloud infrastructure, and how things are not as nice and clean as the providers would want us to think. From his experiences, it looks to me that the clouds are still only for early adopters, not ready for mass production.

I attended CloudCamp last week in London. CloudCamp was a mini-conference for people interested in cloud computing, and turned out to be quite interesting.

Simon Wardley’s presentation on the trends in cloud computing was very interesting, both in terms of content and presentation style. He ran through a bit more than 100 slides in 10 minutes, but all those slides were photos or movie screen grabs that added a bit of humour to the talk and made it even more interesting to watch. Simon compared IT infrastructure to the invention and adoption of mass-distributed electricity, claiming that the recent events in the IT industry signaled a shift from a product based to service based economy.

He then pointed out that vendor lock-in, competitive pricing and being left with no choice to migrate are the challenges that we’ll need to face in the future. What happens if the infrastructure provider goes bust? In-house APIs and standards more or less force us to develop applications for individual provider environments, so migration today could host a lot of time and money. Simon suggested that the users should form some sort of a syndicate and demand that vendors start offering a uniform standardised service. His idea is to mitigate risk with compatibility and interoperability between providers, using use opensource and open standards, and making providers compete on price and service rather than on products. He also mentioned Eucalyptus as a possible common standard for the future. I never heard of that product before, so I definitely plan to look into that now.

There were three or four other talks by commercial vendors trying to plug their service which I did not find especially interesting. The only important fact I took from that part was that Amazon is building an infrastructure in Europe, which might make it much more interesting for the things that I’m involved with as US companies generally will not touch anything related to betting or gambling.

The last talk by Alan Williamson was the most interesting for me. He was from a company that, if I understood correctly, provides web site caching for big media companies. Alan’s talk was focused on problems that they experienced when moving to a cloud infrastructure, and how things are not as nice and clean as the providers would want us to think. From his experiences, it looks to me that the clouds are still only for early adopters, not ready for mass production. His main message was that with cloud infrastructures problems don’t magically go away, they just shift. You don’t have scalability or storage problems any more, but you need constantly monitor the cloud and your application in it. Alan pointed out examples when Amazon’s cloud failed and their applications got cut off from the Internet. As a solution, he proposed deploying the application on more than one cloud so that you have resilience. This requires writing the application in a way that can be easily ported to different providers, which in itself might be a challenge. One idea that was really striking was their analysis of getting off the cloud to a dedicated infrastructure again — apparently it would take them about three weeks of full-bandwidth transfer to download the data that they have in the cloud, making it virtually impossible to go back.

Adil Mohammed from Entrip pointed out an interesting example of Animoto, which grew from 25000 users to 250000 users in three days, scaling from 50 to 4000 servers in that time and growing at peak 20000 users per hour. The cloud deployment made it possible to do that, since growing that fast on a dedicated infrastructure would simply be impossible even if already purchased the hardware.

However, from my point of view the clouds are still not for production. Most of the companies I work with have to keep their data in-house for legal reasons, sometimes even to process it in-house. But clouds and on-demand infrastructure may be very interesting for development and testing. Instead of waiting three weeks for new hardware to come in for a stress test, we can get a few systems instantly and run the tests. On-demand infrastructure may be interesting for heavier builds or grid UI testing. At the moment, I’m working on a way to split a bunch of selenium tests that run for thirty minutes across ten or twenty boxes so that they results come back quicker. Instead of actually buying the hardware, we might just get it from a cloud.

[This appeared originally here and is republished in full with the kind permission of the author.]

About Gojko Adzic
Gojko Adzic is a software architect and the founder of SwingWiki, one of the leading online resources for Java/Swing development. He runs Neuri Ltd, a UK-based consultancy that helps companies build better software by introducing agile practices and tools and improving communication between software teams, stakeholders and clients.

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