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Cloud Computing is Coming of Age

Mar 4, 2008
By

Robert McGarvey






We are not quite at the point where Microsoft feels desperate enough to loudly license the Rolling Stones’ “Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud,” but the headline news is that, truly, data are galloping from the desktop into the “cloud” and this heralds a new day dawning in IT management. “Cloud computing is now a real phenomenon. Yes, it is still in its infancy,” said Mark Herring, senior director, Sun Microsystems’s Network.com, a cloud offering. “But the interest is growing sharply.”

 

“This is emerging as a huge opportunity,” agrees Ariel Kelman, senior director, Platform Product Marketing at Salesforce.com, which is building out an aggressive cloud offering.


 

Bottom-line: once pure hype the cloud is becoming irresistible to at least some companies and this is why a swarm of big players, from Amazon to IBM, are ramping up cloud packages.

 

Adam Selipsky, vice president of Product Management and Developer Relations for Amazon Web Services, wraps numbers around the growth of Amazon’s cloud. In March, 2006, Amazon Web Services launched its storage offering, the Amazon Simple Storage Service. In July, 2006 it contained 800 million objects put up by clients. In April 2007, that number grew to 5 billion objects. In October of  2007, the number climbed to 10 billion objects, and in January 2008 there were 14 billion objects put up by Amazon's 330,000 registered developers.

 

While the briskest adoption of cloud computing unquestionably is by smaller organizations, big companies aren’t entirely sitting this out. For example, the New York Times uses Amazon’s cloud for a massive data archiving project, said Selipsky. “We always knew this would appeal to start-ups. The value proposition is strong. But we have been pleasantly surprised to see take-up by larger companies, too.”

(Editor's Note: Corrections to the numbers in the preceding two paragraphs were made on March 19, as well as to the type of project being conducted by the New York Times.)

For companies that are rapidly exhausting their inhouse datacenter capacities, going to the cloud just may look appealing. Ditto for start-ups and Web 2.0 offerings which may find themselves dealing with intermittent avalanches of data. View cloud computing as the coming to the digital world of the just-in-time philosophy that has reshaped manufacturing over the past generation and that is not far off.

 

Another driver is cloud computing may seem the “greener,” more environmentally sensitive solution, particularly for companies that traditionally have operated their own data centers in regions with high electricity costs.

 

Eye of the Beholder

 

One fact: in this immature sector, the offerings are oftentimes strikingly different. IBM, for example, through its so-called Blue Cloud, has struck a deal with the government of Vietnam, where Vietnamese communities and entrepreneurs will dream their Internet dreams inside IBM’s cloud architecture. Sun, on the other hand, is enjoying success directly catering to the needs of mainly small companies with large data processing needs. Case in point: a Sun hit on the cloud is an application called Blender that allows for fast creation of sophisticated 3D content (for use in films, for instance). Doing this on a desktop computer just isn’t realistic. Jobs that takes hours on a desktop can be done in minutes accessing the massive computing power assembled in Sun’s cloud.

 

Cloud players differ in other fundamental ways. Pricing models, for instance, are all over the board. Amazon, for instance, charges by requests (commands such as Delete Message, Send Message cost one cent) and data transfers (10 cents per GB for transfers in, up to 18 cents per GB for transfers out). Sun, meantime, charges $1 per hour for each CPU that is tapped to execute a task for a customer. In both cases, when you are not using the cloud, the meter is off, no charges accrue.

 

While the briskest adoption of cloud computing unquestionably is by smaller organizations, big companies aren’t entirely sitting this out. For example, the New York Times uses Amazon’s cloud for a photography sales initiative, said Selipsky. “We always knew this would appeal to start-ups. The value proposition is strong. But we have been pleasantly surprised to see take-up by larger companies, too.”

 

Strong as enthusiasm may be for cloud computing, “We are not at the place where a company would typically want to put everything in the cloud,” said Herring. Some applications—word processing, for instance—just may happen better on the desktop. But surprises are transforming parts of that world. Start-up eXpresso Corp. offers an Excel tool that lets multiple uses collaborate on the same spreadsheet in the cloud. Company CEO George Langan said there is a cloud-based Power Point collaboration tool in the development pipeline.

 

Does all this add up to a cloud revolution? The biggest hurdle to cloud computing just may be IT, which continues to fret about computing and data storage that occur on the other side of the firewall. That may be changing, however, as IT wrestles with ever escalating data storage needs and a flattened IT budget, say the cloud proponents. “A lot of barriers will fall down in the next few years,” predicts John Engates, CTO of Rackspace, a provider of hosted IT services.

 

“The paradigm shift is now happening,” adds Bob Zurek, CTO of EnterpriseDB, a cloud database. “Companies want elasticity and that’s what the cloud gives them. That’s why demand just keeps growing.”


Tags: services, Microsoft, IBM, datacenter, Sun Microsystems,
 

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