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January 2, 2008

Computing Clouds

Google, Amazon and several others have announced availability of renting space on there servers. Not just space as in disk storage space but actual computing time. These systems that allow this are referred to as Computing Clouds (CC)

The hot trend in software for the last 2 years has been the idea of SOA or Service Oriented Architecture. Instead of allowing your customers to take a copy of your software and run it on their own machines, you can run the software yourself on some machine under your control and just rent the usage of your software to your customers. They interact with your software only over the internet, either by a web page or via some sort of internet protocol web service. This moves the worry of configuring and maintaining the hardware that the software product runs on from the customer to the service provider or software vendor.

Another related term used for this concept is SAS (software as a service).

Sounds like a great idea. You don’t actually have to own lots of computer equipment, you can just rent big machines on the internet as you need them. So do we get rid of our home/personal computers ? That has some great benefits but also some drawbacks. One big one is that you lose some control over the data. Companies can get sold, go out of business, change their pricing/policies at any time without asking you. Having a trusted home server might help to balance out those issues.

The concept of computing clouds is similar and complimentary to SOA. This allows a third party to enter the picture. The computing cloud now provides the platform and hardware for the software to be run. It creates a set of standard OS environments for the software to be run. The cloud provider maintains the hardware and provides a set of standard API’s to run whatever software the users might want. In the SOA case, neither the customer (end user) or the software vendor (service provider) needs to worry about the physical hardware the is running their service (SOA) software.

Imagine for instance you have created a software product as a SOA that has heavy usage but only during certain hours of the day. Before CC you had to own as much hardware to support the maximum load that you would imagine you needed, plus a little more to allow for failures. With computing clouds you now just need to trust the CC provider to provide you with this hardware when you need it. This can provide theoretically infinite scalability.

Amazon seems the farthest along on providing these services with a workable pricing model. They have data storage called S3, virtual Linux machines called E2, and even billing services.

I am in the process of evaluating this technology for my current projects. I’ll update this post when i get more information on it.

Some possible issues:

Monitoring tools.

API wars between CC standards

Internet lag, latency – with little control over where the servers are physically located.

Pricing – If you have 100% utilization of a server, does the price of CC compare to the price of a traditional dedicated server. For instance running a small scale windows Amazon server for a full month costs ~$90 and renting a dedicated equivalent server at is ~$40. So the key is that if you know you are going to fully utilize a dedicated machine then traditional hosting still makes sense.

Filed under: News,Research,Unfinished — admin @ 2:04 pm

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