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Commentary on Computerworld’s “Stormy Weather: 7 Gotchas in Cloud Computing”

November 4th, 2008 by - 4,066 views

computerworld_logo Today I read Mary Brandel’s article in Computerworld titled “Stormy Weather: 7 Gotchas in Cloud Computing” which discusses some of the possible issues related to turning to the Cloud for your application or site hosting needs. First, I agree (and actually like) the reference to “Cloud Computing” being like a pop song getting stuck in your head…it is a frequently (over)used buzzword swirling around the media and blogosphere. The article goes on to discuss about some hurdles or pitfalls surrounding this evolving technology. (I almost added “trend” to that previous sentence but then reminded myself, this is not a trend but rather a solid alternative to traditional IT technology.)

To briefly recap the 7 Gotchas that Brandel discusses:

  1. Costs, Part I: Cloud Infrastructure Providers
  2. Costs, Part II: Cloud Storage Providers
  3. Sudden Code Changes
  4. Service Disruptions
  5. Vendor Expertise
  6. Global Concerns
  7. Non-Native Applications

So let’s quickly dive into each of these items from a Cloud Computing Vendor’s perspective, that of GoGrid.

Costs, Part I: Cloud Infrastructure Providers

At the end of this discussion of high CapEx via purchasing hardware infrastructures versus “pay by the drink” method of Cloud Computing, a hybrid approach was discussed. Putting all of your IT infrastructure physically in a datacenter that you manage, OR, hosting everything entirely “in the cloud” might not be the best option on their own exclusively. It does make sense from a cost perspective to put everything in the Cloud but there is a possibility (depending on the cloud provider) that the throughput of high I/O servers might not meet your needs. Thus, a hybrid infrastructure might be a more logical solution (put your high-performance DB servers in a dedicated, managed environment and your elastic or dynamic resources, such as web or app servers, in the Cloud). For example, take a look at GoGrid’s offering called “Cloud Connect” which give the ability to link dedicated environments with the Cloud.

Costs, Part II: Cloud Storage Providers

Some interesting points are brought up in this section, namely, alternative pricing models for Cloud Storage. While Amazon’s S3 service does offer tiered pricing based on the amount of storage used, some interesting ideas are presented around paying less for data that you don’t use frequently or that is very old. Having a “slower media delivery” method or reduced service level in exchange for less expensive storage costs is an intriguing idea. But before one jumps into this, be sure you weigh the costs of doing it yourself (via a dedicated solution) or simply archiving that old data onto physical media (e.g., DVD/BlueRay, Tapes, etc.). The Cloud is great for immediacy, convenience and redundancy but you do pay for that luxury sometimes. At GoGrid, we elected to have 2 tiers of pricing: FREE and paid (currently at $0.15/GB). Who knows if this will change, but for now, we chose to be one of the only Cloud Storage providers to give you some storage out of the box for free. Read more about it here.

Sudden Code Changes

Changes to the underlying code base of your Cloud provider can be devastating, especially if you are using a Cloud Platform provider like Google App Engine or even Force.com (SalesForce’s Development platform). If they change the way they architect or support something, you may suddenly be faced with having to update your code to support those changes. If you choose a Cloud Infrastructure provider (like GoGrid or Amazon’s EC2), you are less likely to run into these types of issues. With GoGrid, you have full root or administrator access to the Cloud Servers where you host your infrastructure or code. That means, if you want to install your own supporting software, you can do so if you want to. This is much safer and less prone to the problematic idiosyncrasies of Cloud Platforms.

Service Disruptions

Frankly, I don’t see why this is unique to Cloud Computing. Service Disruptions can occur with traditional hosting and especially with self-hosting (if not done properly). Computers do fail, power does go out, bad patches are released, you name it. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with any hosting environment. So, why the concern with disruptions in the cloud? Could it be that the Cloud is under more intense scrutiny than traditional data centers? I think so. But let’s think about it. Many Cloud Computing providers have numerous power and connectivity redundancies built in. They also have specialized, trained experts on-hand. There is more transparency in the hosting business (cloud or not) than the Finance sector it seems. Also look at the supplier’s Service Level Agreement (SLA). For reference, GoGrid has one of the most (if not THE most) comprehensive and robust SLA’s in the hosting industry in general. See it here.

Vendor Expertise

While I agree with the statement made in the article by Sr. VP of Serena Software Inc, Rene Bonvanie, that many of the Cloud Computing vendors are relatively new to the space, that doesn’t mean that they are inexperienced. Take Amazon EC2 for example. They trail blazed the way for the Cloud movement and now they are (one of) the biggest Cloud providers out there. A few years before that, they were selling merchandise via the web (and they still do). But their offering is managed by seasoned IT professionals who seem to really know what they are doing. GoGrid is a bit newer to the Cloud space, launching in March 2008; however the product was under development for several years prior to that. GoGrid also is built with hosting experience. Parent company, ServePath, has been in the managed hosting business for well over 7 years. So, building upon hosting and IT expertise, GoGrid directly contradicts Bonvanie’s statement about inexperience. Do shop around and look at the history of any provider.

Global Concerns

There is no better time than now for companies overseas to set up a US hosting presence for their business. The Dollar is weak and hosting is traditionally expensive overseas. European and Asian companies looking to establish an IT presence, whether it be for a US-based website or even a company IT infrastructure can now look more favorably at the US hosting market. Moving that structure into the cloud is also very cost effective. With the idea of “disposable IT,” satellite offices can be quickly built up (and torn down) using Cloud Infrastructure. Since the cloud is rather new, disparate networks or hosting facilities are new as well, but this will change over time. Of all of the “Gotchas” listed in the article, this one does seem to be the most significant though, especially around data and privacy concerns. Until the Cloud is established in the Enterprise however, there will still be some wiggle room around this concern.

Non-Native Applications

In my mind, this concern goes hand-in-hand with #3 above (“Sudden Code Changes”) and points to the limitations of Cloud Applications and Cloud Platforms. If you want a native environment for hosting web applications, developers and IT professionals should look to the lowest level of the Cloud Pyramid, specifically at the Cloud Infrastructure level where GoGrid and EC2 reside. With that layer, one has the most control and flexibility to create and maintain environments the way one wants them to be. The higher up the Pyramid one goes, the less control and more rigid, brittle and restrictive the environment. Also, with GoGrid, for example, one develops within a familiar environment (Windows or Linux cloud servers) which means that one pretty much knows what one is getting into. The higher up the Pyramid, the less sure one becomes about what you can or cannot do.

All in all, the article was a good read, however, it does already show its age. These “Gotchas” are more, in my mind, things to consider when evaluating your IT needs and requirements when moving to the Cloud. Use them more as a checklist to be sure you don’t get caught on the wrong side.

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

One Response to “Commentary on Computerworld’s “Stormy Weather: 7 Gotchas in Cloud Computing””

  1. Great post and a good set of observations. My comment, as most comments, was probably a bit too generic and I immediately admit that I’ve seen some great vendors with great expertise. But I can also tell you that in our quest to be a “server-free” IT organization, we have seen a rather unhealthy spread of service levels and expertise from our vendors. I applaud vendors like GoGrid who take the time and effort to really make their service production-quality, but the mad dash to SaaS/cloud computing (often driven by valuation expectations) have pushed many others to the point of near-recknessless. We have more than once found ourselves debugging and solving their problems, which wasn’t what we signed up for…ranging from having to provide DBA expertise to augment theirs, to network engineers to help solve the “last mile” issues to us and our customers.

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