SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

10 Things You Don’t Need to Do In the Clouds

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 25, 2009

Sometimes a breakthrough paradigm shift eliminates the need for all kinds of things.  Word processors and laser printers killed a lot of other things that were once thriving including typewriters, liquid paper, and Linotype machines.  So it is with the Cloud.  When I chat with my Director of Operations at Helpstream, we’re always chuckling about how much better life is in the Amazon Cloud for our company.

As I read through unread blog posts with Google Reader, I’m going to note 10 things we don’t need to worry about since we’re in the Cloud:

1.  NetApp’s new DataDomain data de-duping product.   NetApp bought a company with a cool technology.  Plug it in place of you tape backups and you can backup to hard disk because this thing eliminates redundant data–sort of a very backup-savvy compression algorithm.  But if you’re in the Cloud, who cares?  Your Cloud vendor worries about this stuff.  You just buy it by the gigabyte, as much as you like, and do whatever.  Backup already looks like it is a hard disk with S3 and especially Elastic Block Store.  This is one whole chunk of costs and complexity you can safely ignore because it just doesn’t matter to you and you couldn’t install it in your vendor’s Cloud if it did.

2.  Server power consumption.  It’s out of your hands.  Sure there are really cool new technologies, like Dell’s Fortuna server that is the size of a hard disk and uses 20-30W.  But it doesn’t matter.  You aren’t choosing the servers in your Cloud.  The good news is that any really large scale Cloud vendor like Amazon will be choosing servers with great performance per watt, because it lowers their cost basis.  If they’re selling a commodity, like EC2, they’ll have to pass those savings on to you too.  Best of all, you can feel good about these being more green solutions than you’re likely to have the expertise to create in your own data center.

3.  Worrying about big iron or little iron (or little big iron where a proprietary cpu is in a small chassis?).  Should I run the best servers Sun (or some other Big Iron vendor) can provide?  Or should I just run lots of little commodity “Lintel” (Linux + Intel/AMD) boxes?  Quit worrying about it, because you can’t affect this.  In all likelihood your Cloud vendor has Lintel.  You have no idea which hardware brand they use, so you can quit caring about that too.  All those specs, which rack form factor, yada, yada, just don’t matter any more.  You have a handful of virtual machines you can choose from.  There are relatively few specifications to focus on for those virtual machines.  Someone else has probably already figured out how to set up memcached or whatever on those machines and how to optimize the software for that footprint.  You should certainly try some experiments because your software may be different, but the search space is sharply limited.  That’s a good thing, isn’t it?  Now you can focus instead of poring over a gillion spec sheets outer joined to a gillion different purchase deals.

4.  Worrying about MIPs in general.  As Om Malik so correctly points out, its the megabits (of connectivity) not the MIPs that count these days.  We haven’t been able to get more MIPs like we used to for a while, because of the multicore crisis.  Sure, we get more cores, but we don’t get faster clock speeds.  Everyone is ooohing and aaaahing that the iPhone will get a 1.5x faster cpu.  Does anyone remember back when you got a PC twice as faster every 18 months?  They never felt twice as fast.  Most of the time you could only tell if you went back to the slower machine, which seemed sooooo slooooow.  People will hardly notice the faster iPhone, unless they go back to an older one.  Meanwhile, those in the clouds can get all the MIPs they want, provided they’re ready to use elastically scaled cores loosely coupled over a LAN.

5.  Wholesale bandwidth costs.  Why worry about it if all your data is in the Cloud?  All you care about is how fast an individual browser can access that Cloud.  Granted, a big office requires a fair bit of bandwidth, but nothing like a data center.  Moreover, your Cloud vendor probably has multiple data centers in multiple geographies as well as CDN capabilities, so you are now geographically distributed in terms of connectibility.

6.  Which load balancing box to buy.   Forget about it.  Your Cloud vendor does this for you, and even if they didn’t, you’ll have to use software because you don’t get to install any custom hardware in their Cloud.  With the advent of Amazon offering load balancing as a service of their Cloud, all you need to think about is how to use it with your application.  Life gets simpler and more focused again.

7.  Hardware monitoring.  Amazon’s new CloudWatch service tracks all the usual low level monitoring (cpu load, disk i/o, network i/o, and so on) on one minute intervals.  The data is kept around for two weeks.  This is all stuff you’d have to monitor somehow.  You’d have to find some monitor software, install it, learn how to use it, yada, yada.  With CloudWatch, you just have to learn to use what’s already there.  Amazon had to get this and a lot of other things to work just to have a Cloud.  You get a handy assist from that.  People who want to compare Amazon on a raw server cost basis never look at these kinds of costs.

8.  Creating multiple data centers for redunancy and for multiple geographies.  Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, makes it sound so simple:

The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) embodies much of what makes infrastructure as a service such a powerful technology; it enables our customers to build secure, fault-tolerant applications that can scale up and down with demand, at low cost. Core in achieving these levels of efficiency and fault-tolerance is the ability to acquire and release compute resources in a matter of minutes, and in different Availability Zones.

Elastic availability of compute resources in multiple different Availability Zones (e.g. datacenters) in a matter of minutes?  First, it’s impossible for small companies to afford multiple redundant data centers.  They all reach a scale before dealing with that.  The Cloud levels that playing field so anyone and everyone can afford it day 1.  Just the sanity of having your data backed up to S3 with multiple copies in different physical locations is wonderful.  Second, even when you reach the size of being able to afford multiple data centers, it is a hugely expensive and complex undertaking.  Why would you ever want to deal with this if you didn’t have to?

9.  Exactly how to configure complex software like MySQL for my particular server instances.  Most of the Clouds have libraries of machine instances where somebody else (hopefully even the vendor who made the software) has set it all up, blessed it, snapshotted the image, and made it available.  Mount that image on an EC2 virtual server and away you go with something you know works.  Even if you are not on Amazon and don’t have Amazon Machine Instances like that, other clouds have these options too.  3Tera, for example, builds software for Cloud Owners and has what they call their Enterprise App Store.  These are pre-configured and ready-to-run instances. 

10.  Worry your engineers are spending valuable time worrying about infrastructure and worse physically visiting that infrastructure instead of doing something that gives your company a distinct competitive advantage.  Why build a datacenter if everyone else has one?  Let them make that investment while you invest elsewhere.  Werner Vogels gives a great example that is appropriate since the Indy 500 just ran Sunday.   Their site has a unique problem.  It requires a huge amount of resources to deliver a rich user experience:  multiple video streams including views from the cockpits of drivers’ cars with audio feeds and telemetry.  The challenge, as Vogel puts it, was that it isn’t used very frequently:

This is a high load application but it only runs three times a year. They found that they had to move a lot of engineers into data centers to keep their servers up. When they moved to cloud infrastructure they made 75% cost savings, the majority of which was on the people side; now they can manage everything from their armchair at home.

So there you have it.  10 things you don’t have to deal with if your data center is in the Cloud.  These are 10 things based on the pseudo-random collection of blog posts in my Google Reader RSS feeds.  There are many more out there, and I’m not even going to claim these are the 10 most important things.

Don’t you need fewer things to worry about so you can focus on what actually makes the difference?

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18 Responses to “10 Things You Don’t Need to Do In the Clouds”

  1. rnugent said

    Nice Post! Although i would argue you still have to do 7 and 9. 7 is now easier, you don’t have to install client software on your images or run naggios but you need to write code to the AWS API and you still need to watch your instances for performance or problems.

    9 could work if you can use off the self servers. However it’s likely you want to tweak or even roll your own.

    Ray

  2. Eddy said

    Unfortunately you are desribing a world that does not yet exist. For example:

    * Backup: What about revision control? There are so many new ways to consider “backups” besides file storage.
    * Hardware concerns: No one has yet made this transparent and there are limitations to a virtual “server” in the current cloud implementations. Maybe once there are real platform clouds, but not now.
    * DRP: Still an issue as is clustering since no one currently provides cloud high availability or DRP. Its still up to the implementor to solve these issues.
    * Tuning: You still need to tweek applications no matter what platform they run on – cloud or otherwise.

  3. brentos99 said

    I love this article. Having been in infrastructure for the past 10 years and worried about all of these things, i can see the potential of the cloud, if only application people see it this way too..

  4. Status said

    When does theory become practice?…

    In another “my technology solution is better than your technology solution” post, Bob Warfield lists 10 Thing You Don’t Need To Do in the Clouds, detailing a random top-ten list of advantages to the IT department that accrue from the adoption of clo…

  5. smoothspan said

    Ray, for both 7 and 9, MUCH easier to take something already working and tweak it slightly to you needs than to have to start from a blank canvas.

    Cheers!

    BW

  6. smoothspan said

    Eddy, let’s go over your concerns:

    * Backup: What about revision control? There are so many new ways to consider “backups” besides file storage.

    *** Sure. All I’ve said is that worrying about the fine details such as the de-duping box is neither necessary nor even possible. In Amazon’s case you have EBS and S3 from which to build your backup solution. Those are just the raw “drives”, though they do a lot more than most any “drive” you can buy. You still need the stacks that sit on top, though we’d have to expect firms will shortly deliver increasingly good solutions.

    * Hardware concerns: No one has yet made this transparent and there are limitations to a virtual “server” in the current cloud implementations. Maybe once there are real platform clouds, but not now.

    *** Not sure what you mean here exactly, but look at it this way. If you want to use the Cloud for all the advantages it offers, you have to get past worrying about what hardware you want. Each Cloud offers a limited set of choices. More Clouds may mean more choices, but in the end, Clouds will force ever greater commoditization. BTW, lots of SaaS vendors have already started backing away from vertical scaling anyway. It’s too expensive. Salesforce did this, for example.

    * DRP: Still an issue as is clustering since no one currently provides cloud high availability or DRP. Its still up to the implementor to solve these issues.

    *** Yep, but it is a lot easier to implement when all it takes is API’s ala what Vogels has said.

    * Tuning: You still need to tweek applications no matter what platform they run on – cloud or otherwise.

    *** You do, but it can be surprising less because it is easier to capture a nearly correct configuration when everyone is running the same infrastructure. We saw this pretty graphically at Helpstream. We started out tuning up MySQL from it’s base config, and then we got hold of a config that is used by one of the big Social Network sites and tried that out. Immediate dramatic improvement with very little further tuning needed. I see this sort of thing as very valuable IP for SI’s or someone similar to bring to the party. In this case, we used a well known MySQL tuning and consulting firm: Percona. Worth every penny!

    Part of what the Cloud brings is fewer choices. That can actually be a good thing, though we are trained to always view it as bad. Engineers love choices! It is a good thing because it means we converge to more optimal use of the fewer choices much faster.

    Cheers,

    BW

    • monicker2008 said

      I loved your article.

      To add support I would add the Google Apps program for education. The several educational institutions that have already hopped on board are not excited to tell their competitors how much they are already saving and the increases in customer support and productivity. However on the Google Apps website you can find comments from many CIOs who have provided some feedback.

      If you look at the costs of a Microsoft Exchange and all the additional supporting systems (including backup) to handle 10,000 active user accounts with geographic redundancy you could easily work your way up to a solution over $2,000,000. This would require at least two regular administrators depending on your service expectations maybe $110,000 or more. You could fit a SAN into this solution but how much space could you really get after all the other software and hardware purchases?

      Now my experience indicates that hardware and software support contracts and licensing will probably be in the area of 15% of the original purchase price so about $300,000 annually.

      Now factor in cooling, power and other environmental issues.

      It’s not a far stretch to reach $500,000 annually for support and maintenance. Those 10,000 accounts can cost you $50 each. That is not even getting into the training and management costs.

      Just look at some early adopters who went from paying per user, to subscribing to a cloud that was near free.

      http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/edu/customers.html

      These are education users that have joined a cloud and are saving money, using a simple set of tools that many of their users already understand. They are getting up to 8 gigs of space for each user and have nearly unlimited access to grow. They are no longer concerned with backups, anti-spam, anti-virus. They have almost all the tools they had before for management of their users but now they have less headaches and costs.

      What is in it for Google? Additional subscriber base who learn to use their tools and later a larger subscriber base who read advertising. This is no different than the educational savings offered on software by Microsoft during the WordPerfect / Microsoft Word years. Even Beta vs VHS, of course there is more to it then good marketing, but good marketing helps. Simply put the more people subscribing and using that product in mass “now” will create additional usage in the “future”.

      Small business is adopting the apps program and other similar programs at fast rates. With a credit card you can have a fully functional business in less than 2-3 hours (potentially less then 15 minutes if you don’t bother reading terms and service agreements) using cloud services depending on the complexity of the model you are attempting to use. Internal Voice services for hundreds of users no problem thanks to the many Hosted VOIP providers. Of course some of this is just generalizing and depends on the knowledge you have in house or knowledge you have access too.

      I really feel that the many nay sayers to cloud computing have not spent enough time looking at the benefits or the many options. Thanks for the excellent article.

      DM

  7. [...] 10 Things You Don’t Need to Do In the Clouds « SmoothSpan Blog "I’m going to note 10 things we don’t need to worry about since we’re in the Cloud" (tags: cloud cloudcomputing saas) [...]

  8. baggyb said

    Good post Bob, thanks.

    Your point 9. It’s worth highlighting the cloud on-boarding software factory elasticserver.com.

    It’s a free web service that allows you to assemble your software stack(including software like MySQL), to your recipe (or Bill of Materials) and it takes care of the the fiddly configuration stuff so you can deploy ready to run instances to your cloud or virtual infrastructure of your choice in a few clicks. As well as giving you the cloud and virtualisation choices you also get to choose the guest operating system you want (currently Linux choices, Windows coming later this year).

    Whatever your software stack and whatever your virtualisation choice it is something you don’t need to do as the factory does it for you. Take a look, it’s free!

    Chris
    CohesiveFT

  9. bluelock said

    In the last few months we have been working on a series of Cloud Computing case studies, documenting projects as clients like ROI, WebLink International and Marian College move some or their entire infrastructure to an environment comprised of virtual servers. While each business and their applications presented unique challenges, there are several consistent themes which run through the cases studies: Someone else is worrying about their infrastructure so they don’t have to. While I am not sure I completely with your assessment that traditional servers and data centers will obsolete, we are certainly seeing an acceleration of acceptance across industries and applications.

  10. [...] 10 Things You Don’t Need to Do In the Clouds « SmoothSpan Blog Things that you no longer need to worry about when you outsource your infrastructure. (tags: saas) Posted by Sandy Kemsley on Wednesday, May 27, 2009, at 1:01 pm. Filed under Links. Follow any responses to this post with its comments RSS feed. You can post a comment or trackback from your blog. [...]

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  13. [...] 10 Things You Don’t Need to Do In the Clouds Sometimes a breakthrough paradigm shift eliminates the need for all kinds of things.  Word processors and laser [...] [...]

  14. [...] lunch earlier this week with Bob Warfield from a company called Helpstream. Smart guy. He wrote a great piece this week on the 10 things his company no longer has to worry about now that they operate in the [...]

  15. [...] I wrote about PaaS by Amazon – an no, as much as we like thinking of Amazon as the the key Cloud Computing infrastructure provider, it wasn’t about Platform as a Service.  It was about Pasta as a Service.  Yes, I am [...]

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