How the cloud (kinda) changes (sorta) everything
August 12, 2011 —
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Last and largest, there is the federal government. Launched in 2009, the Obama administration’s Federal Cloud Computing Initiative and online cloud computing storefront were the first salvos.
“The U.S. Government is the largest buyer of IT on the planet," said Vivek Kundra, former federal CIO, in a July 2010 Congressional hearing on moving costly federal IT systems into the cloud. "We spend approximately US$80 billion annually on information technology systems.”
According to Kundra, the number of federal data centers has gone from 432 to 1,100 in a decade. “That is not sustainable in the long-term as we continue to plow capital in data center after data center,” he said.
While no one expects the U.S. government migration to public, private or hybrid utility computing models to be nimble or quick, the imperative has spurred a wave of procurements (including $2.5 billion for consolidated e-mail services), and savings, such as plans to close nearly 100 data centers this year. That’s had a ripple effect, with the General Services Administration vetting vendors both familiar and “disadvantaged” to offer on-demand IT resources through Apps.gov. These include Amazon, AT&T, Autonomic Resources, Computer Literacy World, Computer Technologies Consultants, Dell, Alaskan-native-owned Eyak Technology, General Dynamics Information Technology, Microsoft, Savvis and Verizon.
Blurring the view
“ ‘Cloud’ is, shall we say, not exactly the most well-defined term in the world,” said Slashdot cofounder Jeff Bates, now the head of Perforce’s cloud and community initiatives. “There are lots of different ways our customers describe their interest. To some, it means Perforce is hosted at their company, but we’re somehow doing the maintenance—but we’ve offered that for years; it’s P4Admin. Others want private cloud, or are interested in cloud bursting that may or may not be related to Perforce at all.”
Linthicum concurred: “We’re kind of in a hysteria now where customers are looking for apps to be delivered in ways they think they should be based on the hype they’re hearing.”
Semantic subtleties aside, there’s no denying application development will change. As with the Internet, cloud computing puts individual developers and small businesses on par with multinational corporations, and in an agile world, smaller entities may be better prepared to leverage the cloud. Microsoft, for instance, recommends against migrating existing applications to Azure in most cases. It simply doesn’t make sense yet to take significant investment in technology and legacy software off-site.
And cloud computing may be poorly defined in terms of market size thanks to the inclusion of private clouds, which sometimes do nothing more than leverage virtualization on existing internal IT resources. A good guess at the percentage of all applications that are currently cloudy? Ten percent.
“Some would say that an enterprise virtualizing its existing IT resources doesn’t make any difference in what we call cloud computing. But that’s only if you’re trying to define the market size," said John Rhoton, author of "Cloud Computing Architected" and "Cloud Computing Explained: Implementation Handbook for Enterprises."
"I don’t mind it because I see it more as a journey. Cloud is going to gain, but it’s never going to be a point where it takes over existing IT."
"I don’t think it will be significantly above 50% in next 10 years,” said Linthicum, which would also explain why platform-as-a-service is destined to be a niche market. “PaaS is fairly new and not a huge deal. A lot of people are using it, but it’s not a huge inflecting market. If you consider it’s aimed at software developers, you realize it’s like the software development tools market, and it will grow in a similar way.”
It’s not just about infrastructure
But software developers can’t complain that the cloud doesn’t portend big changes. It is a revolutionary convergence of technologies, policies, standards and architectures. In fact, despite rumors of their death being greatly exaggerated thanks to the utility computing model, software developers might be best poised to evolve the cloud market.
It’s been 16 years since the Internet began to have a visible effect on the world. Last year marks that point for the cloud. According to a 2010 Price Waterhouse Coopers report (“The cloud you don’t know: An engine for new business growth” by Vinod Baya, Bud Mathaisel and Bo Parker), the big opportunity for cloud isn’t IT infrastructure, it’s the extensible enterprise. In that sense, Amazon EC2 is an example of exposing latent value to other businesses, which symbiotically built on that infrastructure, drove additional traffic to it and created new value around it.
That’s why a key requirement for cloud-based applications is to “architect for scalability," said Rhoton. "Even if you think your app is only going to be serving a few thousand users, you never know where it’s going to go. But if it’s successful, people tend to repurpose it.
“So it’s wise to implement in a way that will allow it to self-scale easily in two directions: one, for a whole bunch of users, and two, for multi-tenancy, such as multiple admin domains, different security boundaries, or catering to different user groups.”
Elasticity is not optional, said Rhoton. “If you look at any successful app today, the people who developed it didn’t know it was going to be that successful."