If you’ve been watching broadcast television anytime over the past few months you’ve most likely come across the Microsoft “To the Cloud” commercial. Microsoft does their best to bring complex technologies to the mainstream, but sometimes … For most people, the Cloud is something they will never directly touch, but instead will be exposed to applications deployed in the Cloud with the key value being accessibility from multiple platforms, e.g. laptop, mobile phone, iPad, etc. However, for a small percentage of us that are engaged in analyzing the requirements for and designing those environments that the multitudes will access their applications in the market is expanding as fast as the galaxy.
In the old days, bringing a product to market was an expensive proposition that required development, packaging and distribution, which was typically only undertaken once a year at a maximum. However, today, a small group of engineers in a backroom at Google or Amazon can spend five months on a novel concept and the next thing you know there’s an entire new product (service???) that requires, at a minimum, an understanding of the new service’s features, and in the worst case, traversing enough of the learning curve to actually gain hands-on understanding of how this new service fits into the rest of the existing ecosystem of services.
On top of understanding the platform-as-a-service service offerings, the variants of Cloud infrastructure options are also emerging at an unbelievable rate. Moreover, the options here are multiplied by the need to satisfy the public, private and hybrid models of Cloud Computing. For example, the number of storage options alone keeps teams of industry analysts’ fingers close to the keyboard.
Clearly, for us, living in the Cloud has a whole different meaning than just accessing our data and applications over the Internet. The Cloud is driving convergence at an extremely rapid pace. The last major convergence of this ilk in IT was centered around telecommunications. The emergence of technologies that facilitated voice, video and data being delivered over the same network connections changed the telecommunications industry in a major way and forced integration, brought about a need for retaining, fostered a need for infrastructure changes to support increased bandwidth requirements, and drove consolidation of vendors.
Cloud is now driving the next phase of convergence, which interestingly, is also being driven by advancement in networking capabilities. The Cloud would certainly not be as attractive as it is if the speed of data over a network had not increased to current levels. However, with 10Gb Ethernet moving quickly toward even faster options, the network is now capable of being the bus for the networked computer. This means speeds that used to be reserved for direct attached cables to a motherboard can now be achieved over a network.
The faster the network, the more we can do and the faster we can innovate. Some believe that advancements in virtualization have been the major driver of Cloud Computing. However, without the ability to reach the Cloud and move data in and out of the Cloud at an effective rate to maintain a reasonable user experience, greatly diminishes the utility of virtual machines. Additionally, once again, the advancement in networking speeds is what allows pooling of resources under a virtual umbrella to make virtualization as useful as it has become.
Ultimately, the question comes down to what’s the value? To this, we have seen many answers; cost savings, energy efficiency, elasticity (ability to scale up and down based on demand), redundancy/enhanced availability, speed to market, and many others. All of these are accurate answers. So, for each person and each business, the reason to chase Cloud Computing is different. Moreover, it could be multiple of these factors.
For me, I liken it to the power of the Cloud to a familiar old meme from the original Star Trek, “transferring power from engines to life support”. When I was kid watching these Star Trek episodes, it was understood that the Enterprise could shift power to where it was most needed to support the mission. With Cloud Computing, we are starting to see the realization of this concept. Using the same infrastructure, we can shift compute cycles to big data analysis, desktop emulation, database management, etc. Moreover, if we are lucky enough to find more dilithium crystals and we don’t allow the matter and anti-matter to mix, then we can increase our compute cycles and do all these things at once!