Does scaling, the ability to run massive numbers of servers in a productive and efficient way, still cause problems for people building clouds? Amazon turned heads with its Web Services (AWS) platform in 2007, a giant and ever growing operation. Much hay was made about economies of scale and its absurdly cheap and flexible service offerings.
The ability to get more virtual infrastructure hasn't been an issue. Separate from that, moving applications through the lifecycle has been.
Jeff Schneider, CEO of MomentumSI
Many tried to figure it out, but they hit snags. Startup Eucalyptus and cloud platform maker Enomaly had notorious issues trying to replicate AWS' technology and deliver those vaunted economies of scale that made cloud computing financially attractive.
They could produce an environment that looked like AWS, but it inevitably got bogged down and ran too slowly to be useful with more than a handful of servers. However, users and integrators now say that the wide array of choices in cloud platforms and early growing pains are over.
"Scale is an issue for somebody like NASA," said Melanie Posey, research director of Web hosting services and telecom services at IDC. It's also an issue for service providers and hosters, the major consumers of cloud right now, in that they are growing fast and want to show off efficiency and profits. But it's not an issue for enterprises who are building private clouds.
Posey said that technology-heavy industries like global banking and insurance have been playing around with cloud for a while. Most have settled on the obvious use cases for running a cloud environment, like software development and number-crunching applications that show elastic levels of use. Enough of the cloud technology out there has come of age, and these enterprises are ready to see results.
"When you look at the bottom line, you don't want to have this endless, perpetual growing number for R&D," said Posey. "At some point enterprises want to focus on accomplishing what the goal of IT is for, not the technology."
Posey said that technology maturation had made it possible for software like Eucalyptus to build functional and valuable private clouds for the enterprise, but unlike hosting providers, cloud environments were isolated from the rest of IT. Even a large software development cloud, thousands of nodes, is just a chunk of what IT delivers.
Issues around scale will really begin to rear their head again, according to Posey, when cloud infrastructure practices gradually take over the rest of IT, which is years away. Aches and pains will also show up in unexpected places as applications with extremely diverse requirements start to bump shoulders. But for now, the technology picture is pretty clear on cloud.
What will replace scaling as major cloud concerns?
"It's still difficult to get applications into the cloud, but layer one feels solved," said Jeff Schneider, CEO of MomentumSI, a consulting firm that builds private clouds. Schneider said his firm has served major financial institutions that run private clouds with thousands of nodes.
MomentumSI has a cloud stack of its own that uses Eucalyptus as the cloud platform, newScale for a graphical user interface (GUI) and rPath for managing development projects. He said that cloud was effectively limited to software development for the enterprise in the near term, because that's where management can see provable return on investment (ROI).
He said office politics and enterprise IT culture were far bigger headaches for him than issues of scaling cloud platforms to large environments. That's why he's trying to move away from labor-intensive, individually constructed cloud environments to stitching together vendors for the MomentumSI Self-Service Private/Hybrid Cloud bespoke offering instead.
Schneider said that change was coming, as people got very comfortable with cloud very quickly, but agreed with Posey that migrating applications into cloud environments was going to pose strange and new problems in the process. He saw that especially as developers wanted to get work out into line of business systems.
"The ability to get more virtual infrastructure hasn't been an issue," he said. "Separate from that, moving applications through the lifecycle has been."
Scale is an issue for somebody like NASA.
Melanie Posey, research director of Web hosting services and telecom services at IDC
Eirikur Hrafnsson, CEO of startup cloud provider GreenQloud, said the biggest headaches are on the business side, not with technology. Based in Iceland, GreenQloud started building its cloud environment with early versions of open source Eucalyptus, but eventually settled on open source competitor Cloud.com.
He said that early efforts proved impossible to scale, but newer versions of Eucalyptus didn't have the problem; he stuck with Cloud.com because it did a better job on outreach and features.
"It comes down to the way it's architected, not only Cloud.com but our own systems, like our storage architecture," he said.
Hrafnsson said he was far more worried about dealing with nitty-gritty hardware supply chain and data center management than he was about his cloud platform software.
He concluded that there were many viable options for cloud platforms at the moment. His initial beta environment will be small, but by next April he expects to be scaling up to 10,000 nodes without significant challenges.
Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.