Large Crowd Gains Insight into Future of Cloud Computing

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-11-03

Large Crowd Gains Insight into Future of Cloud Computing

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-There may be a worldwide recession that is cutting back travel for many people, but don't tell it to the organizers and attendees of the fourth annual Cloud Computing Conference & Expo, which opened Nov. 2 and is being held here at the Convention Center through Nov. 4.

Most of the 30 or so sessions on Day 1 were well-attended, and the three main presentations in the late afternoon were packed to standing-room-only status. That there exists plenty of hunger for information on this topic is a no-brainer.

General-session speakers Tony Bishop of Adaptivity ("Understanding the Relationship Between Workloads and the Cloud") and Jason Waxman of Intel ("Unleashing the Economic Benefits of Cloud Computing") had to be pleased with the large crowds they addressed late in the day.

However, a "power panel" discussion on "Where's the Cloud Headed Next?" was the most popular of all, with people sitting along the walls and in the aisles to hear what a panel of industry CTOs had to say on the topic.

Cloud, or utility, computing serves up computing power, data storage or applications from one data center location over a grid to thousands or millions of users on a subscription basis. This general kind of cloud-for example, services provided online by Amazon EC2, Google Apps and known as a "public" cloud because any business or individual can subscribe.

Industry observers are expecting big things from cloud computing. Gartner analysts in March 2009 said global cloud services revenue could move beyond $56.3 billion this year-from $46.4 billion in 2008-and grow to $150.1 billion in 2013. IDC was more tempered in its projections, calling for worldwide spending on cloud services to reach $42 billion by 2012.

One key topic in the panel discussion was about the coming improvements in scalability of cloud systems-both in capacity and in power usage-and how important that is to the overall operation of the data center.

Jonathan Bryce, CTO and founder of The Rackspace Cloud, likened cloud computing to an elastic waistband because of its agility.

"Elastic waistbands fit you," Bryce said. "When you have a big meal and you put on a little weight, the elastic still fits you. If you go run a few miles and lose some weight, it still fits. Before, in order to scale up, it took an investment [in an IT infrastructure] that you couldn't just trim off with a little bit of exercise.

"With the cloud, it's not just scaling up or out, but it's also scaling back down. Before clouds, you always had to buy more infrastructure than you needed; you could never buy just the right amount. That's what elasticity in waistbands and in the cloud is all about-the right fit."

There are a lot of tools available that can help you scale up or out with your IT capacity and power/cooling usage, Bryce said.

"What we're seeing now with new cloud systems is the ability to only grab those resources when you need them, and then turn them loose," Bryce said.

This is what we'll be seeing more of in the future, he said.

3Tera CEO Barry Lynn agreed with Bryce but added that he thought it wasn't "scaling up or scaling out that was easier, but in my estimation if the cloud is done right, it's just 'scaling' that's important. It's scaling to what you need, and it's all kind of the same thing."

Lynn echoed the ideas of others by saying that he thought cloud computing will eventually become the next utility-and that it will continue to need open standards to support this.

In particular, he said, open APIs (application programming interfaces) between clouds will become more important.

"You can pick up the telephone now and call Bulgaria, and that call is going to traverse God-knows-how-many different telephone companies with different infrastructures, and you don't have to understand how it's done. You just know you're calling Bulgaria, and this is the way it has to be done," Lynn said. "It just works. That's the way the cloud should work.

"I don't think there will be cloud winners and losers in the future, just a cloud that everyone will be part of."

Cloud Computing Security Concerns

Security will always be a concern for application services and storage deployed in the cloud, most panelists agreed.

"Perception is absolute reality, and the perception is that security is still an obstacle, and we cannot deny it," CTO Irfan Kahn of Sybase said. "Most of these situations arise from internal understanding of the context of your own data, and that if you offset it to a hosted environment, the chances are that they could really care less about your information.

"I would say that this [good security features] need to be talked up more, and talked up to a point that people don't see it as such an up-front barrier [to investing in a cloud system]."

You can never talk too much about security, Lynn said.

"In fact, people are very nervous about clouds and giving up security, but I would claim that cloud computing will add a lot of security," Lynn said. "Think about applications becoming portable; you can move them at will. You can always move them to a place that's more physically secure. You can turn sitting ducks into moving targets."

This debate has been going on a long time, Lynn said.

"I've been around a long time-39 years in IT-and I remember when people said, 'A computing cycle on a workstation is 2 percent of the cost of a mainframe, but we'll never put mission-critical stuff there,' and now 70 percent of Fortune 500 computing cycles are on workstations and servers.

"I also remember when people said, 'Oh, that Internet thing is cool, but we'll never run a financial transaction on it!'  Need I say more?"

Cloud computing is the next big paradigm shift in IT, Lynn said, "and security's not going to stop it."


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