CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- During this week's CloudCamp at Microsoft's New England research center, developers, architects and consultants gathered to discuss nagging application development challenges in the cloud. After spending 15 minutes overruling the necessity of discussing "What is cloud computing?" attendees got down to the hairy stuff.
"If you just put an existing application out there, you can say it's 'cloud,'" said Igor Moochnick, the founder and VP of engineering at IgorShare Consulting. "But it's basically just hosting."
Moochnick said what makes the cloud useful to application architects is its distributed nature. Distributed computing does have advantages in the degree of parallel processing it opens up. But while a native relational application can be tailored to run in a cloud environment, Moochnick said not converting an app to a distributed model makes a cloud provider little more than a glorified hosting company. That switch to distributed thinking can be a sizeable hurdle for development teams.
This set off a discussion on just what the benefits of cloud computing are. Other than advancing distributed computing, many attendees were excited to learn how cloud can turn the entire technological infrastructure into a black box.
"The commoditization we're going to see in the cloud is operations," said Mark Hadapp, a principal consultant at Cloud Savvy.
A few of the architects in the room chimed in here. They discussed the shift from spending time and money on obtaining specific hardware configurations. In the cloud, putting new systems online can take as little as 10 minutes or be completely automated. Where development teams have traditionally had to go through the corporate chain to purchase new technology, in the cloud they won't have to think much about IT operational infrastructure.
"We have this model in our head where hardware is expensive," said Uri Budnik, director of business development at cloud management vendor RightScale Inc. "That is, by and large, going away."
The group willingly admitted it was in the "Wild West" days of cloud computing. No one knows whether this new IT frontier will evolve into something standards based or whether a few proprietary giants will come to dominate the industry. But since cloud is so new, it may not turn out to provide the cost-saving one might expect.
"Because the model is not well-defined, the prices are outlandish," said Charles Wegrzyn, CTO at distributed storage provider Twisted Storage. "Don't be surprised if there are cases where it is not cheaper to deploy on the cloud."
Moochnick said some of his clients have already experienced some surprise with the cost structure. He said one client that moved to the cloud was unhappy when in the first month they got a bill for around $5,000 just for traffic.
The general consensus was that early on cloud would likely be more utilized by medium-sized enterprises. Generally, Fortune 500 companies have large technology infrastructures with on-premises data centers. With the cloud, smaller companies that could not even begin to afford a large data center will be able to develop their applications as though they had the same power – provided they are willing to pay for it monthly.