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IT pros ready to combat cloud concerns in 2011

Attendees at the Cloud Computing Expo and RightScale user conference had much to say about their cloud plans for the coming year.

Weekly cloud computing update

Between sessions at the Cloud Computing Expo and RightScale user conference in Santa Clara this week, I talked with IT pros about their plans for cloud computing in 2011.

Many still have security concerns and few were comforted by Amazon security architect Steve Riley's claims that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is more secure than their own data centers.

"His talk was like a slap in the face," one data center architect said, preferring to remain anonymous. Referring to AWS' security policy not to let customers inside its data centers to inspect its procedures, Riley said, "Even I'm not allowed in."

That didn't seem to mean much to this audience, most of whom had never heard of him before. "You can't keynote your way into this business," said the same user.

AWS is hoping its Virtual Private Cloud service, which sets up a secure IPSec tunnel between the customer and Amazon's cloud and allows users to operate virtual machines (VMs) on AWS as if it was on their own corporate network, might resonate more with traditional IT shops. So far though, there hasn't been much uptake.

Meshing cloud with in-house processes
The security talk was a bit of a snoozer, as it seems to be the same argument over and over again about perception versus reality. The more interesting conversations were with IT pros that are figuring out where cloud makes sense and already have a grasp of the benefits and downsides.

One of the dicey elements of cloud computing involves merging in-house IT processes with cloud processes, according to David Lowe, senior technical director at Electronic Arts (EA).

As EA moved its Pogo casual gaming service to AWS, it was using different deployment scripts for workloads being moved to the cloud versus workloads being deployed in-house.

"Problems occur in the gaps, but hopefully you catch them in testing and not production," Lowe said. EA's answer is to make sure everything deployed is contained in an OS package that includes version information and all dependencies, internal and external.

The notion of getting applications to work that rely on elements both in-house and in clouds came up with other users. The Associated Press runs its News Registry, a content usage tracking service, in the cloud. It uses Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Simple Storage Service (S3), CloudFront and CloudWatch, along with Microsoft Azure Tables, Queues and SQL Azure. It also uses a private cloud for the production data warehouse, News Registry portal and data archive, as well as development, QA and test.

Should you turn to cloud management services?
Similarly,, an SEC reporting service, uses Google App Engine for primary server processing and storage and AWS for supporting processing of data. It also has lots of systems internally, like my MySQL, that need to hook into its cloud services.

Managing across clouds prompted both The AP and WebFilings to bring in RightScale to help manage and monitor their use of the different clouds. RightScale's management software helps AWS users keep track of what's happening with their servers in the cloud.

Some users, however, caution not to become too reliant on RightScale or any other cloud management portal.

Lenin Gali, director of business analytics at Share This (makers of the little widget that lets you share Web content), runs over 1,000 AWS instances, with up to 400 managed by RightScale. "It's a great product, but you never want to put all your eggs in one basket," he said. Share This uses WebMin and MonIT in addition to RightScale to keep an eye on its cloud infrastructure.

This dual-sourcing strategy is a signal that, within some sectors at least, cloud computing is not only entrenched but crucial to company operations.

Jo Maitland is the Executive Editor of Contact her at

If you are looking for information about user groups you can find a UK directory for server, platform users: Windows, Unix, Linux and AWS user groups.

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