Cloud 2020: What are the barriers to the cloud?

Cloud 2020: What are the barriers to the cloud?

Summary: By 2020, cloud computing is set to become a standard part of enterprise IT - yet it faces a number of key challenges that need to be addressed before it can really hit prime time

TOPICS: Cloud, Emerging Tech

The low-power, scalable smart clouds of 2020 hold great promise.

By 2020 cloud computing is likely to be a standard part of enterprise IT; however, it faces a number of key challenges that will need to be addressed before it becomes pervasive.

Here are just some of the technical challenges ahead before the cloud hits prime time.

Lessons from supercomputing

So far we know that the following things are likely to happen: there will be larger clouds. Some of these clouds will link to others. Many services that businesses consume will sit on top of clouds. Software will be much, much larger.

READ THIS: Cloud computing: 10 ways it will change by 2020

The question is how companies can deal with this and what challenges they're going to face in getting these technologies up and running. In particular, operating at cloud scale means there will be more hardware and software failures and dealing with these failures will be an important issue.

To get an idea of the type of failures that cloud companies will be forced to deal with, it's helpful to look to supercomputing — an area that uses many of the technologies and methods that eventually make their way into the cloud.

What can the cloud learn from supercomputing? Pictured: the IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Image credit: Top500

"You're scaling up the number of cores, so the number of failures — hardware and system software failures — go up dramatically," says Richard Kenway, head of the Scientific Steering Committee of PRACE — a European scheme that aims to pool the resources of various supercomputers across the region to create a system capable of exascale computation. "I've heard claims it could be an undetected failure every few minutes."

This means new software systems will have to be developed to help deal with the likelihood of minute-to-minute failures in the underlying infrastructure.

The core failure rate will be compounded by a reduction in memory bandwidth to each core, Kenway says, as he expects the number of cores developed to outpace the rise in bandwidth. This will increase the software issues that programmers face, and could force them to have to think about new ways of developing software.

New ways of thinking about software development

What separates the cloud from supercomputers are the types of hardware choices that need to be made. With supercomputers, huge emphasis is placed on single-threaded performance, so we can expect these systems to focus on high-end chips (Xeons, for example), while clouds care more about 'dumb' workloads that require less single-threaded performance.

This means less capable — but lower-power — chips will start to make inroads into the cloud, hugely increasing the number of chips stewarded by clouds and causing a shift in software development strategies.

New software systems will have to be developed to help deal with the likelihood of minute-to-minute failures in the underlying infrastructure

By 2020, Fujitsu Technology Solution's chief technology officer, Josef Reger, expects the needs of the cloud will favour low-power chips with many cores. But that brings its own complications.

Companies will need to standardise infrastructures and bring their application development in line with the chips they use. They will also need to program their cloud operating systems to be much more parallel to deal with the memory crunch.

These two issues, combined with the larger scale at which clouds are likely to operate, could cause headaches for developers.

Though new networking technologies — faster interconnects, better on-chip communication, and so on — will go some way toward speeding the pace at which updates can ripple through a system, challenges will remain, especially around automating the update process within large applications.

Need for management efficiency

But there's not much point having these huge clouds running off low-power chips if silly mistakes mean you do not get as much efficiency out of them as you could, according to Facebook's VP of hardware design and supply chain, Frank Frankovsky.

"One of the big orchestration layer challenges that I think is interesting to me or anyone running a large-scale datacentre is not how you build efficient infrastructure, but how do you operate it efficiently?" he says.

Frankovsky believes capping and managing power consumption is an area that needs more investment. And while today vendors solve these issues at the server level or rack level, it will take an industry-wide open initiative to solve it for large datacentres, he says.

Facebook has embarked on the Open Compute Project, which hopes to standardise the chunks of infrastructure that go into the datacentre, to make life easier for people in charge of maintaining cloud datacentres.

Though hardware standardisation leads to an increased emphasis on software, which has benefits for management, the proliferation of hardware as clouds grow will mean serviceability will become ever more important.

"Because there's tens of thousands of devices, the ability for the technician to identify the faulty device, replace the component and get it back into operation is a really important part of operations at scale," Frankovsky says.

Vendors are already working to solve these problems. Some HP servers come with a technology HP has called a "sea of sensors" that lets them self-diagnose problems and specific equipment failures, while Facebook has created various software agents that let them reconfigure servers over the network, without having to physically go and manipulate them to modify their BIOS.

It seems likely this scheme will have traction. Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix's cloud architect, advocates exactly the same open source-esque hardware approach that Facebook has called for. He says when Netflix decided to build its own content distribution network (CDN) to make sure its online video service worked smoothly for users, it designed its own hardware as well.

Making sure everyone talks to everyone else

As with any technology, a lot of the true problems could come in implementation. Even large providers with a wealth of experience can struggle to deal with their scale. 

Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix
Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix

As Bryan Ford, a Yale academic who researches cloud stability, puts it: "Such risks are still extremely challenging, even with one organisation, because of the standard 'left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing' issue."

Cloud computing brings with it a whole new set of applications that will sit on multiple tiers of cloud infrastructure, so there will be a need for communication between all the parties involved in any one cloud. This is an organisational issue as much as a technological one, and some companies are already trying to solve it.

Netflix, for instance, has moved to a "no-ops" development strategy where each developer is responsible for their own code and making sure it can deal with failures in any of the other bits of code it talks to. This strikes Cockcroft as the best way to avoid problems of interdependency at scale.

"All of our components are designed to assume that the things around them will fail and they have to keep working," he says. "At any point in time there's a fair amount of stuff that's probably broken that customers don't notice because the service routes around [it]. I think probably in two years time you'll see that become relatively mainstream."

The thorny problem of multi-tenancy

Related to the problems of communication, both from an organisational and a technical perspective, is the challenge of developing true multi-tenant software applications.

As recent outages by Amazon have shown, developing this technology is non-trivial, even for the world's largest public cloud company, and it's going to get more difficult as more organisations consume multiple applications from multiple clouds.

"One of the big orchestration layer challenges is not how you build efficient infrastructure, but how do you operate it efficiently" — Frank Frankovsky, Facebook

John Manley, who runs HP Lab's automated infrastructure lab, says "the challenge ahead is going to be the production of true multi-tenant software by a software author."

This is because as multiple organisations access a single piece of software from one cloud, the developer needs to make sure that data is kept separate, and charge back is being handled effectively.

At the end of every session the instance needs to be torn down and returned back to the compute pool, Manley says, which can be tricky if companies are renting software for a large period of time.

Being open is the key, but will vendors resist?

Taken together, all the barriers to the cloud can be solved if industry adopts two things: standards and full technical disclosure. Standards will make it easier to manage software and hardware at scale, while full technical disclosure will stop interdependencies causing problems.

But enterprise incumbents are going to fight a pitched battle against both of these things. Standards beget commoditisation and have the potential to cut into the juicy profit margins that major vendors can charge for their proprietary technology. Combined with this, full technical disclosure of cloud architectures should make it easier for start-ups to enter into the market with technology on a par with incumbents, further disrupting the market.

Some vendors have acknowledged this threat; HP and Huawei have joined Facebook's Open Compute Project, though continue to try and carve off bits of the open technology and use it for their proprietary endeavours.

If the past is anything to go on, between now and 2020, we can look forward to a raft of conflicting standards from interested parties — and regular quibbling over exactly how open any one vendor needs to be.

Topics: Cloud, Emerging Tech

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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  • Right now...

    Right now, so very few companies are really serving CLOUD service, the mass of companies are serving hosting service that it is not CLOUD at all.
  • What of Data Security?

    Where are the guarantees that no one will ever look at my data, let alone copy or change it? Who will be the police? Who will be the judge? Who will be the jury for penalties? Who will get me the money for data disclosure?
    Except for data encryption, which can be broken over time, the only safe place is my USB hard drive that I can unplug from the web.
    • You have hit the bull's-eye UDHSS!

      Security of data should be the number one concern. And when you consider that the entity pushing the hardest for "cloud" computing is the same entity which uses their street view cam cars to hack into private networks and steal personal information [aka Google], it makes me dismiss any argument advanced in favor of cloud computing.
      Cloud computing and its merits [of which there don't appear to be any] should be determined by the free market and not foisted on us by corrupt entities such as google.
    • One of two huge points.

      The second being..."what if all my services are from the cloud and there is an internet outage...does this mean I now do not only lose all my abilities I normally use the web for to conduct business but I will also lose the capacity to even write up a report or work on a spread sheet until the net is back up?"

      All the cloud promises is that you will have to turn over your security interests to a third party in the clouds, and secondly that you are going to turn over your ability to do ANY real work to some third party software provider in the cloud and become totallt dependant on an internet connection to even work on the most simple of application based tasks.

      In my estimation its hardly worth it given the ultra low cost of storage these days.
    • Identity Management

      For cloud security, there are identity management offerings from multiple vendors, some of which are very efficient. Google is your friend...
    • "Openness" is as important as security"

      I think "Openness" is as important as security". No business wants to put all their eggs into one basket.
  • Precisely !

    Nothing more to add to the security concerns mentioned above.
  • Similar concerns to previous posters...

    My concerns relating to "the cloud" can be summarised in two sentences:-

    1. Complete lack of confidence in any of the major cloud providers to take care my data
    2. Woefully inadequate bandwidth, especially here in the UK.

    Best wishes, G.
  • You avoided the REAL issues.

    Not surprised but the real issues are

    1. Downtime of the servers or the connection between you and the cloud.

    2. Hackers waltz through security on a regular basis and steal customer data.

    3. A cloud in the US may as well be hosted by Homeland Security because anyone with a badge of any kind can show up with a letter and go through anything they want.
  • Clouds in reality are water vapor

    I will always remember the story of the professional photographer picture hosting site that gave photographers just 24 hours to retrieve their photographs as the site was shutting down the next day.

    How can any responsible IT department trust its precious data to some computer storage 'out their' in the cloud? The whole premise is nuts. These are people you know nothing about.
    • Spelling

      'out there' of course
  • Security, reliability and a lot more

    For much of the industry there are recognized best practices and proceedures so firms have a clue whether their IT is good. But wiht the cloud, you don't have a clue what the procedures, policies and infastructure really are.

    Until the cloud provides develop guidelines that allow sevices to be compared and an openess to what is going on so that the providers can be evaluated the cloud is a fools bet. This openess needs to include standards for cloud based data for many of the cloud hosted services, such that moving you infastructure to the cloud does not lock you into a situation worse than anyone who has ever complained about proprietary systems worst nightmare.
    • Cloud..!! It getting better :)

      I have been meeting to so many big enterprises to sell our own cloud "eNlight Cloud" in India and the first question comes in is from the CIO is, what about the security of our data...? To answer this question I gave him an example of bank, that why do you think that your money will be more safe in bank rather than in your own house.. it is because you think that bank has better facility to protect your wealth and it will be a lot more money for you to built that in house.

      In one of the summit I had a similar question and I gave similar answer but before I could convince the audience another person came up with this question..

      "When I loose something from Bank.. I come to know that someone has stolen my money but the problem with electronic data is you never come to know that your data is stolen..! how do you address that..?"

      It was a long discussion without any proper conclusion.

      The security will only get better when Cloud providers bring in more transparency to their client; after all, for everyone it is more important to have a sense of security rather than the actual security. 1000s of credit cards get stolen everyday but we still continue to use them thinking that it is still secure. I know some Cloud providers (include ourselves) who are working on to improve Cloud experience for users with high level of transparency but the change needs to be taken place at the lower layers of Cloud, that is storage. No matter how secure is the application people can still replicate the entire storage to another place in no time.. how does the client know about it. There comes in the SLA and standards of providing hosting. But who knows whether the SLA they have is sufficient to secure their data. There is long way to go.. but by 2020 things will drastically change.

      • Legal liability

        " is more important to have a sense of security rather than the actual security. 1000s of credit cards get stolen everyday but we still continue to use them thinking that it is still secure."

        Well, we think that it is *mostly secure*, not *all secure*. Credit card companies cover the costs of fraudulent use, so people are willing to take the tradeoff of a (small) risk for the convenience.

        For Cloud computing, it comes down to the same thing, just a lot bigger - the legal liability for stolen & fraudulent use of private information of major corporations, including covering all consequent costs and damages. If the Cloud providers do not provide this as a guarantee on their services, who is going to trust them with consolidated personal/private data? (Obviously, their are degrees of data sensitivity depending on industries, etc.)

        But how could you put a number on such potential losses? By 2020, a major breach could be worth a good chunk of the entire economy, which will be even more virtualized by then. All it will take is one huge (possibly class-action) lawsuit to make Cloud computing *all dead*, not just *mostly dead*. :-)

        Notwithstanding, I think Cloud is the way of the future. Perhaps someone will come up with a way to fragment & distribute the data in a secure manner, such that a breach could be localized and contained, like the sealable compartments in a ship's hull.
      • You've missed the point.

        I don't believe your analysis for one second. Data and money are fundamentally different things. If someone were to make a perfect copy of your money the 'loss' falls on society as a whole - not so with data.

        No amount of so-called security will ever change this. A company that places it's valuable data into the hands of a 3rd party is taking a risk that cannot be insured against.
      • @Moosaz19

        I can only reiterate what 4johnny & Pastabake have said already:-

        1. Your trust in the banks is entirely misplaced. Banks are not secure. They get hacked and ripped off on a fairly regular basis. I should just add that our current economic recession is largely due to failures in the banking system.

        2. Your notion that banks are analogous to cloud providers is daft. Money in the bank and one's personal or business data are totally different issues. If the bank loses my money due to some system/security failure, then after some legal wrangling, I can normally get my money back. However, if a cloud company loses or corrupts my data, or reveals sensitive information to one of my competitors, then the damage *cannot* be undone.

        3. You claim (and I quote from your post) :-

        "The security will only get better when Cloud providers bring in more transparency to their client; after all, for everyone it is more important to have a sense of security rather than the actual security."

        This is as ridiculous as it is insulting to one's intelligence! And frankly it sums up everything that is wrong with cloud computing providers. I want *actual* security, not your flaccid reassurances!

        TBH, if I were at one of your "summits" and you made statements like these, then I would laugh, perhaps heckle a bit, then walk out and go down the pub instead. Sorry mate, but you will have to do *much* better than this before I would trust you with my data!

        Best wishes, G.
        • I would say Hmmmm....

          Yeah, practically money and electronic data are 2 completely different stuffs. As one is almost virtual and the other one is physically present. Plus money (currencies) already have standards to maintain its uniqueness. I completely agree to what you all say and really don’t want to go into an argument.

          However, logically, when we talk about internet banking (assuming that there was no physical presence of money) this example really works. Internet banking has taken its time to get accepted (atleast in India) and the resistance that people to accept Cloud today is similar what it was 7-8 yrs back for internet banking.

          @4johnny, Pastabake & mrgoose: I appreciate your comments. Perhaps, I am not trying to argue saying Cloud is very secure and has no flaws in it. It will take time for things to improve.

          I have been thinking to get to the bottom of what would make Cloud acceptable, so that even if we know that it is not secure people would still use it, just like credit cards. One thought that popped up was; transparency and as you guys said “ownership”. The provider will have to show transparency for every bit of user’s data along with strong encryption methods and also take the responsibility in case the data gets stolen. This look every much possible if a provider is able to maintain logs at micro level and make it available for users to review it, ofcourse in a way that users can understand them.

          Cloud is a combination of Hardware, Software, Electronics and Internet with regulations over it and I don’t see any chance in the span of my life for everything to get secure. We should also not ignore the fact that by 2020 there would be a new generation of humans for whom these problems might look very small in front of challenges they might face. Maybe by that time world would be struggling to store or minimize the amount of internet data that it would generate every day. It is a matter of time.. :-)

  • Cloud Computing is for the Birds

    I work in Graphic Design and VFX and NOBODY wants to use ANY type of Cloud service outside of a private one. We have enough problems with projects being leaked by employees (the old Incredible Hulk film was leaked before the CGI character even had clothes), but letting someone outside of the company oversee storage of sensitive material is outrageous. This is an issue that would effect almost any type of company when you think about it. It also affects consumers. I can see why people are behind it though. If ALL of our media is streaming then you have no need of a hard copy - therefore anyone selling or buying a hard copy could be seen as dubious. Same goes for software. The simple fact of the matter is if Apple can't keep their home office secure, why would I think that they could keep my data secure? Why would I even take the risk? Having a computer with a hard drive and an external back up is, and will always be, the safest place to store data.
  • Multitenancy

    Multitenancy is more about security than the reasons the blogger describes. The main challenge to support multitenancy is to make sure one cloud customer can't access another cloud customer's data in the same cloud environment. Metering, on the other hand, is very easy to address.
  • Only When Software Becomes Unhackable...

    ... (and the Google-like are off the planet) will enterprises start considering cloud computing as a standard. Otherwise, local storage or private clouding will always be the standard.