Squaring the cloud

Squaring the cloud

Summary: AppEngine flies the Google coop, Rackspace gets SaaS billing, and Amazon puts storage volumes into EC2. Yesterday was quite a day for cloud computing, ending with a warning that SaaS providers must adapt or be swept aside.


Hosting your application in the cloud got a lot easier yesterday — but there are still some gaps to fill for hosted application providers. Referring to Amazon's introduction of persistent storage volumes to its EC2 cloud computing service, Rightscale CEO Thorsten Von Eicken declared "clearly the cloud has just squared in size!" I'll return to Van Eicken's posting in a moment because he does a helpful run-through of some telling use cases for EC2's new storage offering, as well as making some pretty strong claims for the significance of the announcement. But first I'd like to mention a couple of other developments.

First, there's the interesting news that Google App Engine is more open than people first imagined. Over the weekend, developer Chris Anderson — who says he'd "never touched" the Python language before — implemented AppDrop.com, an Amazon EC2 instance where developers can host applications developed with the Google App Engine SDK. Writer and programmer Andy Baio explains how it works. Meanwhile, stack-as-a-service provider CohesiveFT has introduced a similar service that allows you to build your own App Engine virtual server, but this time deploy it to the cloud platform of your choice — whether Amazon EC2 or your own VMWare, Parallels or Xen system.

Amazon Web Services logoThese options are highly reassuring to developers wanting to use App Engine to build and host applications, but worried about lock-in. It gives them an escape route, from Google's own servers to an Amazon alternative, or even onto their own servers. Taken together with yesterday's Amazon announcement, they provide ample evidence that the cloud, as measured by the number of options available out there, is getting exponentially bigger.

That's all very well for experimentation or in-house deployments, of course, but if you're an ISV that wants to offer an application commercially as a paid service, the cloud still needs squaring. At present (with the singular exception of Amazon DevPay), you have no choice but to build and implement your own infrastructure for billing, performance monitoring, systems management and reporting, customer service and so on.

The second item of news yesterday that caught my eye therefore was the announcement of an alliance with hosting provider Rackspace by billing and customer service provider Aria Systems, whose offering I covered a couple of weeks ago. Although other aspects of service delivery management still need to be brought in, this is a welcome acknowledgement by Rackspace that ISVs who want to host their applications for delivery as a service are looking for a lot more help than they'll typically get from most hosting companies.

Such help is not readily available on Amazon EC2, although Von Eicken's company Rightscale at least helps with deploying and managing Amazon instances, as I described in a posting last November. He emailed me yesterday to alert me to the huge impact he believes Amazon's latest announcement will have, particularly on SaaS businesses:

"With the addition of the storage volumes there's no doubt in my mind anymore: the cloud adopters will have much more computing horsepower and flexibility at their fingertips than those who are still racking their own machines. Cloud computing is going to be as significant for deployment as agile is for software development. You either compute in the cloud or you'll be left behind by your competitors because they can deploy faster, better, and cheaper than you can."

His blog posting yesterday outlined some of the new capabilities that Amazon is introducing:

  • "Basically you can create storage volumes in the cloud next to the server instances you launch in the cloud. Think of having a really big SAN in the cloud in which you can create volumes of up to 1TB each with a single API call ...
  • "The feature that really makes the storage volumes sizzle is the ability to snapshot them to S3 and then create new volumes from the snapshots ... This essentially solves the whole backup issue with one simple API call ...
  • "It is now possible to host the data for a single-tenant virtual appliance on a storage volume and mount it on an instance. What's really cool is the decoupling of the data from the instance. It means that you can start a customer on a small instance and if they outgrow it, you can migrate them almost seamlessly to a large and later an x-large instance, all using the same storage volume."

The thrust of Van Eicken's line of thinking is that cloud computing may have started out looking inferior, but with the rapid evolution going on at the moment, any disadvantage will rapidly fall away. If he's right, that spells massively disruptive consequences for anyone whose livelihood depends on applications that run in a data center.

Topics: Storage, Amazon, Cloud, Hardware

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Nobody cares...

    about the cloud. Individuals will eventually be its only users.

    I guess the large number of talkbacks indicates just how popular it is.
  • Totally dangerous idea.


    This is what users of google apps can expect. Unsecure data.
    • Tend to agree

      Cloud sounds sexy, but with security being hard to control no matter how careful one is, I am guessing its going to be even harder to control when ones information is not completely in ones own control.

      Cloud as you have said is fine for individuals, I'm not so sure how fine it is for mission critical data. I'd also have to wonder how it would hold up under search and seizure law. Theres lots to be considered, I don't think another boom.bust knee jerk reaction to the latest tech sparkly thingy should be the common reaction. Time will tell, same holds true for Live Mesh as well.
  • So who takes the call when the Cloud is down?

    The ISP? Google? Who is responsible for uptime? What if the Cloud performs slowly unlike the demo? What are the penalties if my data is lost or compromised by those who maintain the data storage facility in the Cloud? It can't be any worse than a Microsoft EULA or can it?
  • RE: Squaring the cloud

    These innovations by this big players are obviously very well thought out. They are clearly the product of a great deal of academic style discussions and are visionary in the way they are shaping the internet. I watched the Google camp fire introduction for app engine and was blown away. Again they offer something we didn't know we wanted, but very clearly do.
  • RE: Squaring the cloud

    Cloud computing is obviously here to stay, and excellent articles like this will undoubtedly help shape its development and error-corrections along the way.

    Now that the "Grid" concept is approaching as the new Internet backbone, cloud computing will no doubt become extremely powerful and most likely the standard in a few short years..

    Bill Burke
  • "I work in a cloud..."

    I know it's too early yet to know how this will pan out, but I'm of the mind that says 'wait for the bugs to get worked out'

    I'm just thinking how this new way of computing will affect the bot masters. Will this mean that they will start to leave our machines alone? I'm just thinking of the advantage of having a super-fast virtual bot platform. Just how fast could a small program replicate itself inside of the cloud? Will the cloud become as slow as the net after all the old-school virus scanners get loaded into the cloud? What kind of security will there be in the cloud that will make it a better place than the net?
    Shadetree Engineer
    • Good questions - and you will probably not

      get any real answers. These types of questions will keep the large enterprises away. The un-tethered issues are still huge in my mind.
  • RE: Squaring the cloud

    The cloud, or virtual environment, or however it plays out, is more of a threat to the corporate IT factories and their techies than it is to the business. Better to start figuring out how to utilize it to best advantage, like setting up a complete DEV environment in hours rather than months.
  • The program resides in Google?

    Somebody writes the application with the SDK then instead of the software being in my computer it sits in a Google site?You pay money to use the program while it runs in Google?This takes the world by storm?
  • I think the Fed Torrent runs like this

    When you operate the OS in the CPU at a high clock speed from the computer's BIOS the memory space in the CPU becomes gigantic.This is smaller bits and it can be selected in the BIOS of the CPU.The CPU is a piece of mylar with a BIOS recorded in it!This would be instantaneous file transfer.All of the programs that you would be using are copied to your CPU.Think of the show South Park as being done in the Torrent.
  • RE: Squaring the cloud

    The use of the cloud is the next step in innovation for technology. Amazon, Google, and even Microsoft and others are providing a platform that is allowing a rapid decrease in "time to market" for scalable web based platform providers. This is all goodness. There will undoubtably be some hiccups and changes as we move forward, but the innovation is the key. I am personally not as worried about the support issues that have been raised in other comments. I think that choices will be made to move to these platforms based upon cost and reliability of service. Cloud service providers will no doubt be duking it out to gain your trust. And with hundreds of thousands of customers on a single cloud... you can bet if there is a problem, everyone will know. Watch for SLAs in some form or fashion to start weaving their way into the mix.

    Troy Tolle
    • Good points, and I like the SLA idea.

      SAP (we are a huge shop) is also looking at this but the cloud (for lack of a better term) is within the enterprise control. I just cannot see large enterprises putting their data on someone elses hands let alone in 3rd world countries. I like the cloud concept, but right now I see a lot of "vapor" comments and promises and Googles alternate name - Beta - everywhere. It will be fun to watch, and see how some of these Amazon and Google handle large enterprise demands and SLA's.