Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Larry Rains on the Cloud Parade

At Oracle world last week, Larry Ellison derided the current “cloud” craze, likening the technology industry's obsession with “fashion” to the women's apparel industry. In a sense, he is right. Everything is being labeled cloud these days. New datacenters from IBM – cloud. New browser from Google – cloud. New strategy from VMware – cloud. I myself commented to Ben Worthen of the Wall Street Journal that I too feel the cloud craze is a bit “nutty.” At the same time, I believe there is some real change underfoot in the industry, and I believe that Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is leading the way in capturing the imagination about what is possible with a new approach.

The reason EC2 has captured the imagination of so many people in the industry is because it offers the possibility of closing the painful gap that exists between application development and production operations. Promoting applications from development to production has typically been a contentious negotiation between the line of business application developers and the IT production operations management crew. It is a difficult process because the objectives of apps and ops run orthogonal to one another. Apps is about new features to quickly respond to market demand, and ops is about compliance, stringent change control, and standardization to assure stability.

With EC2, developers don't negotiate with operations at all. They simply package up the innovations they want inside a coordinated set of virtual machines (virtual appliances in the case of the ISV vernacular), and deploy, scale, and retire based upon the true workload demands of the market. No requisitions for hardware. No laborious setup of operating environments for new servers. No filling out waivers for using new software components that are not production approved yet. No replacement of components that fail the waiver process and re-coding when the production components don't work with the new application features. No re-testing. No re-coding. No internal chargebacks for servers that are not really being used because the demand for the application has waned. No painful system updates that break the application – even when the system function is irrelevant to the workload. No. No. No.

The on-demand, self-service datacenter architecture of Amazon's EC2 is going to put huge pressure on the operations organization to respond with an internal “cloud” architecture – or lose the business of the developers who would rather “go to the cloud” than negotiate with ops. Here at rPath, we believe that the ops folks are going to need to provide the apps folks with a release (rBuilder) and lifecycle management system (rPath Lifecycle Management Platform) that enables the self-service capability and rapid promotion of EC2 while preserving compliance with operating policies that assure stability and security. And, if an application really takes off, you don't have to build a new datacenter to respond to the demand. Just scale out the workload onto Amazon, or another provider with a similar cloud architecture. IT operations now has a way to say “yes we can” instead of “no you can't.” Getting to “yes” from your IT ops provider by closing the gap between apps and ops is what the excitement of cloud is all about.

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