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Rich Wolski on the difference between data centers and clouds

I’m working up an article about EUCALYPTUS and Eucalyptus Systems, cf. my earlier post on’t.

Leaving aside the giggles over nomenclature, I had quite a nice talk with Dr. Rich Wolski, the lead scientist on the original open source project (also with CEO Woody Rollins and the VP of marketing).

Anyway, Wolski had an interesting and quite succinct definition of the differences between a data center employing virtualization in its currently accepted form and a cloud infrastructure, because, on paper, the two share enough common elements that lots of people (and marketers) are happy to fuzz the two together.

I didn’t think that was quite right, and neither does the Good Doctor, (ha! like I’m the expert over here). Otherwise, why get excited over cloud? If that were true, then it’s just re-packaged old news, and nobody needs to do anything but change the badges and maybe dice up the trim package, if I may borrow from the big book of automobile industry metaphors. But cloud is fundamentally something different, and new, and it’s worth knowing why.

He says it’s down to access and the control structure. The major difference between a data center and a cloud is access- a cloud is set up so anyone can drop a penny in the slot and start up a server or six- in a data center, you ask, and someone does it for you, then hands over the steering wheel.

He said something like, pardon the paraphrasing, “in a data center, virtualization is the grease that lubricates resource management” for the admins; it allows the guy in charge to move his resources around- “it’s a reconfiguration mechanism,” but “in a cloud, [virtualization] is a fence.” it separates and protects resources and lets everyone have their own private playground without knocking over the other kids’ toys.

A subtle difference? Wolski says it’s down to a bedrock set of premises and assumptions that drove the development of the cloud model.

“We tried to look at the cloud paradigm from an analytical perspective,” he explains, and “cloud is an ecommerce model-it’s a transactional model [in a] distributed system”.

Did that sink in? At its most basic, cloud is not about computers. It’s about sales. Start with the premise that you have a product (server instances/CPU time/bit buckets), you want to sell them to any and all comers over the internet (ecommerce) and you want to do a lot of it. What you get is “cloud computing”, and logically, it’s no surprise that Amazon pioneered it commercially. They didn’t assume they needed a resource farm and a way to sell access to it- they assumed they had servers and needed to sell those instead.

So that’s interesting to me. Cloud is not a utopian access opium dream- it’s a logical outgrowth of commodity commerce.

UPDATE:Story’s done, look for it soon. One more little nugget from Wolski on defining cloud computing: When he and his crew started thinking about the project in 2007, they found it was “utterly impossible to get a consensus” on what cloud was, so they “decided to sidestep the debate by picking the thing that was demonstrably was a cloud — the one thing no one could say was NOT a cloud.” Their answer? Amazon Web Services.

So there you have it – not sure what an elephant is? Look around; you can’t miss one if it’s in the room with you.

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