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My view of “cloud computing”

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

This past Thursday, I was on a panel discussing “the state of cloud computing in India” with a very distinguished group.

  • Entrepreneurs: Suresh Sambandam of OrangeScape, Narasimhan Mandyam of ImpelCRM
  • Market makers: Abhishek Bapna of Google, Rajnish of Microsoft
  • Investors: Alok Mittal of Canaan Partners, Dr. Ashish Gupta of Helion, and myself

For days before the panel met, we had been airing our views via e-mail under the able leadership of Ashish Gupta who moderated the event.  It was clear that a variety of perceptions of cloud computing existed in the group and I was reminded of the six blind men feeling different parts of an elephant.    My views follow.

What “cloud computing” is not?

The term “cloud” is used in many different ways in the context of computing so it may be worth examining two of the most rampant misappropriations.

  • The entire Internet: we speak of things running in the “cloud.”  We all experienced the agony of Blackberry outages recently and  WordPress (where this blog is hosted) was down just this past week.  In both instances fingers were pointed into the ether implying that something in the cloud, meaning the giant web of connected servers that forms the Internet, had failed.   In a way the cloud is used to denote the entire Internet. However the Internet is not “cloud computing.”
  • SaaS (software as a service):  Would you call a multi tenant hosted application like CRM running on one (or ten) dedicated servers cloud computing?  It could run in the cloud but it is not necessarily cloud computing.  Software can be delivered as  a service without a comprehensive cloud setup but having one makes it much more scaleable.   SaaS and Cloud Computing were destined to get married at birth but are not one and the same and nor are they siblings.

The Cloud is Infrastructure

My view: cloud computing is essentially about infrastructure, that is set up as a pool of resources managed so any application that needs it can use it.  The resources are available as pools of:

  • server infrastructure: compute power, storage, media streaming, network infrastructure, collectively called Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
  • software infrastructure: platforms like LAMP (linux+apache+mysql+perl/php/python) or .Net or J2EE, collectively called Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  • other infrastructure: like operating systems or desktops delivered as a service

A critical component of this infrastructure is an ability to monitor usage, allocate and reallocate resources almost at will, bill for usage with fine granularity – in essence, reducing anything other than applications to be a utility much like electricity or water supply is billed for.

An ideal cloud infrastructure will also allow portability at every layer, so you can move from one cloud provider to another seamlessly and in parts if required (e.g. you could migrate just the data storage needs from one cloud to another).

The state of the cloud is now defined by offerings from service providers like Amazon AWS,  SalesForce’s Force.com, Google App Engine, and Microsoft Azure.  This supports my views but my thoughts are  possibly colored by my association as an investor with India’s leading cloud infrastructure provider.  Netmagic Solutions has top class datacenter facilities in major Indian cities and supports both public and private clouds in addition to more traditional hosting and managed services.

The panel discussion brought out several interesting points from the others in the group which are  summarized at “Your Story”. A more thorough treatment of the discussion and the state of the cloud in India merits another post.

Categories: Technology
  1. March 3, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I think there will emerge another layer of cloud services. Positioned just above Platform as a Service, it might be called Scalable Platform as a Service.

    Today most users of existing clouds are responsible for building in the scalability of ther applications (possibly with management assistance with offerings like RightScale or Amazon elastic load balancing). An opportunity exists to standardize scalability at the programming and management layers and then provide a platform where the cloud provider offers true high level auto-scaling.

    Offerings like Amazon Elastic MapReduce are a start in that direction although they are limited in application scope and still require too much effort on the part of the applicaiton developers.

    Real opportunities exist in this area (at least until Amazon figures it out).

  2. Shyam Kamadolli
    March 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Agree completely Rich. App developers should not have to worry about the ramifications of scaling on demand.

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