The current state of cloud computing

By Graham Oakes
06 Apr 2011 View Comments
Dr Graham Oakes is a systems engineer

There’s a reason few companies generate their own electricity. It makes a lot more sense to let a utility build the infrastructure and then share it across many customers. By using a common facility, we all benefit from greater reliability and flexibility at lower cost. The same reasoning applies to cloud computing. But can the suppliers deliver on the model? Here’s the current state of cloud supply:

• The technology is pretty mature. Virtualisation has been around for years. Some things, like APIs for provisioning, are still stabilising but the core is there and working.

Further reading

• The standards aren’t mature. Comparing cloud to the electricity grid makes sense, but only if you’re talking about the electricity grid of the 19th century. Some infrastructure-as-a-service vendors are on 220V and some are on 110V. Some are AC and some are DC. They’ll all charge different amounts depending on whether you’re running lightbulbs or heavy-duty motors, even if your total power consumption is the same.

• Without standards, a real marketplace can’t evolve. Given the range of different operating models, it’s extremely difficult to compare the vendors’ offerings and pricing. And the risks of getting locked in to a vendor are high. This is a long way from a transparent and efficient market.

• Most vendors are really selling hosting. A few “visionaries” are offering true cloud services, meaning an elastic service that’s independent of technical details, but most vendors still think in terms of servers and blades. When was the last time your electricity utility discussed generator design with you? It happens all the time with cloud vendors.

• Manageability matters as much as capacity. The visionaries are mostly selling to people who are happy to manage things themselves. If you want any level of managed service, then this is probably going to be a major driver to costs. So think carefully about just what level of management you need.

• Application licensing creates constraints. Many applications scale horizontally: they’re best deployed on a swarm of small machines. The cloud should be made for this. But when the applications are licensed on a per-server basis, this becomes uneconomic. You end up running a small number of large virtual machines, even though this uses resources inefficiently.

Some of this doesn’t matter. In the end, what you want is a solution that works, that delivers the service you need at a reasonable price. Whether this is really “cloud” or whether it’s just glorified

And remember that nothing is forever. The shift to green/renewable power means that many organisations are starting to generate their own electricity. The cloud may evaporate someday too.

Graham Oakes is a technology consultant and author

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