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Dispatches from Structure cloud conference

Cloud leaders were out in force at the Structure conference, presenting concrete ideas that might make cloud computing a bit more manageable.

SAN FRANCISCO -- For a who's who of cloud industry bigwigs debating how to do cloud computing versus the standard...

"what is" cloud computing blah-blah, this week's Structure conference was the place to be. Let's face it, that "what is" debate is seriously old.

Try turning off payroll and tell me if that's not mission critical.

Dave Hitz, founder of NetApp, on mission-critical apps in the cloud

Unfortunately, Amazon's Werner Vogels didn't get the memo. Or maybe that was a hologram of him on stage from 12 months ago? Same speech, different year. We get it Werner: Cloud, Day 1…

Simon Crosby introduced a new way to resign, on stage, announcing his departure from Citrix Systems where he ran the data center and cloud business. He's started a new company in the security market called Bromium, with his co-founder from XenSource, Ian Pratt, and Gaurav Banga, previously CTO at Phoenix Technologies.

Crosby was tight-lipped about the company's plans, except to say that Bromium will get more granular than existing VM-centric protection strategies. For that, he'll have to take it to the hardware. George Kurtz, CTO and EVP at McAfee/Intel, is on the Bromium board, so the company could be working on some kind of hypervisor plug in that'll work with TPM/TXT. Meanwhile, Crosby's departure leaves big shoes to fill on the data center and cloud side of the house over at Citrix.

Anyone who thinks cloud isn't displacing jobs should talk with Dries Buytaert, co-founder and CTO of Acquia, a Drupal-based PaaS. During a panel on the future of cloud, he said one of the largest media and entertainment companies has moved a bunch of sites to the Acquia service and let go the "entire IT team" that was running those sites. Word to the wise: If your job title is "Web master" at Acme Corp., watch out.

John Dillon, CEO of Engine Yard, described the current bubble in cloud computing as "funding pollution." We'll see if his company avoids getting lost in the fog. VCs at the conference said that we're in the middle of the cloud bubble now and the inevitable burst is on its way.

Meanwhile, the world's increasing appetite for compute and storage will keep Microsoft afloat as its business model shifts from selling shrink-wrapped software to SaaS. At least according to Microsoft's new Azure chief, Satya Nadella.

"As long as our software operating system at the cloud level or the server level is something customers are willing to write to and use, we will be competitive," he said. How the mighty have fallen, from global IT domination just a few years ago to fighting for a place in line for cloud compute services. And Satya, in case you're reading, lose the snoozer PR spin. If you want the Valley crowd to look up from TweetDeck, you better say something that's not already plastered across the Web.

Structure talk on taking the next step in cloud
Moving on, there was a lot of talk about the use of solid state drives (SSDs) to accelerate performance. It was all about beefing up boxes and not that interesting. I am intrigued, though, by Nasuni's plans. CEO Andres Rodriquez says to understand what Nasuni is doing next, look no further than the Apple iCloud logo. It's a simple drawing of a cloud on brushed aluminum, meaning the cloud is not something out there and unknown, like the Microsoft's ubiquitous "To the Cloud" campaign. Instead it's right there, in your hand, on your Apple device. Bye bye to fears and anxiety about moving to the cloud.

As long as our software operating system at the cloud something customers are willing to use, we will be competitive..

Satya Nadella, President of Server & Tools Business at Microsoft

Nasuni aims to achieve the same effect with its cloud file server by taking full responsibility, through service-level agreements (SLAs), for the entire service, from its filer inside your data center out to either Amazon S3 or Microsoft Azure on the back end. Previously, the company left the cloud component of its product up to the customers to figure out, offering them a choice of cloud providers to connect with. Taking on responsibility for the cloud end, with SLAs around the whole service, will certainly ease enterprise IT fears about moving to the cloud. But unlike Apple, Nasuni doesn't own the cloud it's selling, so it can only hope Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure do a good job. It's a bold move though, and worth watching.

Another interesting tidbit from a storage luminary came by way of NetApp founder Dave Hitz, who said he's fed up with hearing that nobody's running anything mission critical on the cloud.

"Try turning off payroll and tell me if that's not mission critical," he said. Payroll is perhaps one of the oldest SaaS apps around. He's got a point; thank you, ADP.

And last but not least, there's an "open hardware" movement gathering in cloud that involves bundling the OpenStack software with commodity hardware, that companies in this space say will enable true cloud-to-cloud portability. Randy Bias's company Cloudscaling is working on something in this area, as is former NASA CTO Chris Kemp's company, funded by Kleiner Perkins and possibly called Piston? Ssssh! They are both in stealth mode, and we aren't supposed to know about them yet.

Jo Maitland is the Senior Executive Editor of Contact her at

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