Cloud computing - in your dreams

Cloud computing - in your dreams

Summary: A particularly odd bit of goofiness has hit the infosphere: cloud/utility computing mania. Nick Carr has written a book.


A particularly odd bit of goofiness has hit the infosphere: cloud/utility computing mania. Nick Carr has written a book. IBM has announced, for the umpteenth time, a variation on utility computing, now called cloud computing. Somebody at Sun is claiming they'll get rid of all their data centers by 2015.


You know the flying car in your garage? The syllogism is:

  1. Google-style web-scale computing is really cheap
  2. Networks are cheap and getting cheaper fast
  3. Therefore we're going to use really cheap computing over really cheap networks Real Soon Now

Can you spot the fallacies?

Fallacy #1: Google is Magick The world's largest Internet advertising agency does have the cheapest compute cycles and storage (see my StorageMojo article Killing With Kindness: Death By Big Iron for a comparison of Yahoo and Google's computing costs). But they do nothing that the average enterprise data center couldn't do if active cluster storage were productized.

Google built their infrastructure because they couldn't buy it. They couldn't buy it because no one had built it. But all Google did was package up ideas that academics had been working on, sometimes for decades. Google even hired many of the researchers to build the production systems. Happy multi-millionaire academics!

Blame vendor marketing myopia for missing that opportunity. But their eyes are wide open now. If your enterprise wants cluster computes or storage you can buy it. From Dell.

Fallacy #2: Networks are cheap Or they will be Real Soon Now.

10 Mbit Ethernet from Intel, DEC and Xerox came out in 1983. A mere 25 years later we have 1000x Ethernet - 10 GigE - starting down the cost curve.

About the same time a first generation 5 MB Seagate disk cost $800. Today a 200,000x disk - 1 TB - costs 300 vastly cheaper dollars.

Also in 1983 the "hot box" - a VAX 11-780 - with a 5 MHz 32-bit processor and a honking 13.3 MByte/sec internal bus cost $150,000. Today a 64-bit, 3 GHz quad-core server - with specs too fabulous to compare - is $1300. Call it 1,000,000x.

Networks are the bottleneck, not the solution. Hey, Cisco! Get the lead out!

What's really going on? There are - currently - economies of scale, which Google is exploiting and MSN and Yahoo! aren't. So the latter two are going out of business.

But when you look at the cost of going across the network compared to the rest of infrastructure you realize that local - what we used to call distributed - computing is the only way to go.

Ergo, cloud computing will remain in the clouds and real computing will remain local. Where you can kick the hardware and savor fan hum and blue LEDs.

Sure, some low data rate apps - like searching - can move to the web. But if you want a lot of data and you want it now, keep your processor close and your data closer.

Comments welcome, as always.

Topics: Networking, Google, Hardware, IBM

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Someone has some sanity left I see

    • Yup ....

      What I have been preaching for years now to nube's.

      Since I do custome programming and BUSINESS oriented software, most of my client base (100 Million a year in sales and less) are not interested in and have expressed NO interest in CLOUD type applications. Most of them in the Accounting end of applications do not even want a WEB based application and client/server seems to be such a PAIN to them.

      LOL - What would be NEAT for them would be some sort of TERMINAL emulator that could do GRAPHICS and be cross platform, and pretty MUCH all of them have said if such a beast existed they would use it ...
      • History will not be kind to those that gamble that Cloud Computing

        will never arrive. With the capacity of the Internet going up exponentially, the cost going down, and the reliability going up, that would be a bad bet. Also, with the coming 700 MHz spectrum auction, the ubiquity is also going to take a leap.
  • RE: Cloud computing - in your dreams

    I think the differentiators are virtualization and power consumption. It is virtualization that has turned academic exercises into real business prototypes. I may be wrong but I think the brick and mortar data centers are in for a rude awaking when investors start digging deeper into IT costs similar to what you did (google v yahoo). IMHO, I think cloud computing is much more than hype when I look at the following indicators...

    1) Google processes about 20 petabytes of data per day
    2) Amazon has created a unique eco-system around cloud computing that is changing the SMB landscape.
    3) IBM has dedicated over 200 programmers to their Blue Cloud 2008 initiative.
    4) Universities around the globe are creating course ciriclum around the uses of MapReduce.
    5) Rackspace/Mosso seem to be doing pretty well in the clouds.

    I guess we will have to check back this time next year to see who was right.
    • For web services - sure

      Web services can be delivered from anywhere - and economies of scale matter.

      But for enterprise and personal computing the costs of running I/O across the
      network are just too high. Their problem is the lack of scalable commodity
      products - particularly in storage.

      I feel another post coming on.

      R Harris
      • Still, the capacity of the internet is going up exponentially at the same

        time, it is getting more reliable and cheaper. The time to be getting ready for cloud computing is NOW. Especially ANY large company selling enterprise software, had better be ready to offer it on the cloud (possibly with caching servers), sooner rather than later. All but the largest companies will be getting rid of server rooms. Generators and cisterns went out a long time ago.
      • We offer articles online 24x7, but people still like downloading a copy

        We offer articles online 24x7, but people still like downloading a copy from in PDF or DOC format so they can store it locally. Part of that is that they want to print it out, the other part is that they like having a local copy even though it's a quick download any time.
  • Still, the costs are going down, and the reliability is going up. It is

    only a matter of time before only the largest companies will have server rooms. Ok, they may have pre-configured caching servers that sync with the cloud so that you get faster access at your business, and also so that you can keep running when the net is down.

    And, LANs may not have gotten much faster, but that was never the bottleneck, the capacity of the Internet has grown exponentially, and will continue to grow exponentially.

    But, you points are well taken, it will take some time. But, those sitting on their hands right now waiting for cloud computing to catch on before doing anything will not be treated kindly by mother economics.
  • You left out the most important reason.

    Companies providing a service must make a significant profit, or it's a self-indulgence. Because of its inflated stock price and advertising revenues, Google can allow some employees to pursue their hobbies.

    When cloud computing is considered in future, the topic will be why people in the press allowed themselves to be persuaded that internet computing was significant. The chapter heading will be: Deluded hopes to reduce Microsoft dominance.
    Anton Philidor
    • And, how much per user does it cost Google to offer email compared to

      buying your own server and keeping it updated and patched.? How about the cost of the employees to keep up with spam, and keep it secure 24x7? How about the management distraction of managing those IT employees instead of focusing on their business?
      • You're discussing the customer.

        And arguing, Go Google, Fire IT. ... Unworthy idea.

        You're Google. You have to obtain $ billions in profit each year to make a significant effort worthwhile. What's your plan for web applications?
        Anton Philidor
        • And, what it costs the customer does not matter??? And, Google does NOT

          have to make billions charging for webmail itself. They are VERY happy to make money on advertising and also driving traffic to other properties. Sure, everybody would LOVE to hold customers hostage, jack up the prices, and make billions. That won't work in the age of cloud computing.
  • "Cloud Computing" is nothing but a high tech perpetual motion machine

    I see that Donnieboy is all fired up in sales to give us the latest BS of how wonderful central control is. He tells us that it is cheaper to let someone else do it for us and save the money. Problem is someone else has to do it and pass the costs on to us and charge us extra for the profit margin. Anyone can run their own data center and the retail customer is starting now with home servers. We also give up all control to let someone else do it. This is lost data, slow speeds, ransom, loss of service, theft and lower productivity that makes distributed systems quite attractive. We got away from this octopus 20 years ago because distributed computing lead to the PC instead of the IBM lock step total control. Can't wait for these IBM road kill to finally die off so we can move on to the next phase instead of hearing all this distraction of ancient technology, the ultimate rental ware with a price to match.
    • Cloud computing is not necessarily equal to central control. We are talking

      moving the same applications that are currently on the desktop to the cloud. And, which desktop applications you can use is already tightly controlled by enterprises.

      And, there will be multiple providers of cloud based applications, just as there are multiple vendors of desktop applications, so, there is no more control than with desktop applications.

      And, you can create you own cloud application using Amazon.

      With cloud computing, we will be free, not controlled!!!
      • You must be reading the demo brochure.

        I know what you are talking about. The same BS that IBM 20 + years ago tried to keep going but lost out to computer liberty. I wasn't talking about software control. I am talking about data control.

        Yeah right. Just like there are quite a few cable news channels and they all deliver the same bunk. But that is what I was talking about. It is still the data.

        I don't want to create any application. Just use them and deploy them.

        Any time you give up for perceived convenience, you give up control. I bet they said the same thing during the October Revolution only to have Stalin bump them off a few years later.

        Also forgot to mention privacy were the gumbmint will rifle thru you data to help keep us safe.

        But do keep us entertained with your naivety.
        • They may restrict which cloud applications you can use in the enterprise,

          but, they also restrict which desktop applications you can use right now. Desktops are locked down and restricted in the enterprise RIGHT NOW. Either way, you are locked down. This is policy, not cloud vs desktop.

          On the consumer side, you will be completely free to choose your cloud applications just like you choose your desktop applications right now. You will also be able to create your own little mashup applications as well.

          What happened at IBM 20 years ago is completely different.
          • Not talking about the enterprise.

            The enterprise is someone else's property and you have to do as you are told at work no matter what. But corporations will not sign onto the cloud for it introduces other problems like IP control and trade secrets and loss of productivity due to insufficient bandwidth.

            Yes you will and they will all suck. That is because rich applications will suck all of the bandwidth out and only simple less convenient applications will only be able to run. You say bandwidth will improve but this will benefit distributed computing also so people will not move toward it. As for creating mashups, it is only a GUI trick that allows you to add function buttons to the same program using up the same CPU cycles. The masses are really not programmers nor are they interested.

            Not really. IBM is a main player of open source and it is a trick to lure us into the services trap so they can re-screw us all over again. They are just using OSS as the tool to get us onto their expensive packages and this old fart can see them for what they truly are. Anyone that believes differenty is a salesman or a youngster. Koolaid must be grape flavored today.
          • Still, the cost saving of centralized computing are so HUGE that they can

            not be ignored. The cost of having a team to keep your servers and applications patched, updated, and secure 24x7 is astronomical compared to doing it centrally. And, for all but the largest companies that can really afford to do it right, and hire the best people, it will be hands down more secure on the cloud. With bandwidth prices falling, and capacity rising exponentially, the hand writing is on the wall.

            There will be just as many if not more choices for cloud computing as there are now for legacy desktop applications. There will be no central control except at the enterprise, and the enterprise is already forcing central control for legacy desktop applications. No difference due to the cloud model.
          • That isn't true. Centralized computing is more expensive.

            The network infastructure is more expensive than distributed hardware and software over long distances. You can buy a complete computer for around $500. I pay $540 annually for my RR broadband. That $500 computer will last about 4 years bring that cost down to $125 per year. Now software licensing will cost you about $360 per year per application. Any solution from MS is cheaper than that. $400 for 4 years for Office is only $100 per year. You really are a fibmeister.

            No there will not. I know that any graphics applications will not work due to enormous bandwidth requirements. There will be central control if you let others do it for you. At work this is a good thing to control data that belongs to the company. For Joe retail this is not a good thing for any web service will tell him to go to hell if there are snafus. Just like the cell phone industry.

            You really ought to quit pushing the cloud for this idea should have died a long time ago. The cost will be too high and the service will be lousy. Tell your masters to drop dead for this SOB is onto them.
          • So, in your world, you do not need a network connection if you use Windows

            and office? Last time I checked, people still want internet connections, even if they have fat clients. And, we are not just talking office suites, we are talking things like CRM, ERP, SCM, etc. To to those things in house, keep them patched, secure, 24x7 costs a small fortune. It is a huge management headache.