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Building a House in the Cloud – Cloudcenters vs. Infrastructure Web Services

January 14th, 2009 by - 44,113 views

Last week, my colleague Randy Bias, introduced the concept of the “cloudcenter” and it has gotten some good commentary, traction and feedback. Most basically put, a cloudcenter (e.g., GoGrid) is a “datacenter in the Cloud” with features, systems, processes and functionality that sysadmins and IT Operations folks are accustomed to. But I feel that the concept needs to be explored a bit more as well as from some different angles.

cloudcenter-diagram

I attended a technology meetup on Tuesday night in San Francisco where GoGrid is a sponsor. People were packed elbow-to-elbow in the space and I had lots of time to talk about GoGrid and our vision of Cloud Computing to many. A few times, I was asked the common questions “How do you compare to Amazon EC2?” as well as “Are you a competitor to Amazon Web Services (AWS)?” To those people who asked, I gave the following answer (probably not as well articulated though):

Both Amazon and GoGrid are Cloud Infrastructure or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers. We both reside within the bottom layer of the Cloud Pyramid, a term I coined last year to help explain Cloud Computing in an “over simplified” way. Both of our companies do essentially the same thing: providing elastic and dynamically scalable computing resources and infrastructure that is consumed on a self-service basis billed by usage. But how this infrastructure is provided is nuanced differently.

This broad definition warrants further explanation. First, my answer to the “competition” question. Personally, I don’t view AWS exactly as a competitor. They have provided incredible space validation as well as attracted new users to the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model. In fact, I would almost go as far as to categorize them as a “soft partner.” Here are a few reasons why I think this:

  • we share the same generalized space of Cloud Computing,
  • we offer similar feature-sets and functionality within the Cloud, and,
  • we are driving towards a common goal of moving IT infrastructure into a “greener,” more cost-effective and much more efficient environment.

By sharing similar ideas and broad goals, GoGrid and Amazon play off each other well. So, if you group our marketing, sales and engineering efforts and pit them against more traditional infrastructure deployments, we are working together on this front: Cloud vs. self-hosted, traditional datacenters. We are an unofficial and non-formalized “soft-partner.” But that is the 10,000 foot view (from way up in the Clouds).

Let’s bring this down to a 100 foot view. This is where differentiation begins. As Randy outlines, there are two segments within the Cloud Infrastructure layer: Infrastructure Web Services and Cloudcenters. Infrastructure Web Services are characterized by specific Cloud services that can be consumed together or individually. That is to say, you can use EC2, for example, for raw compute power on its own, or couple it together with S3 for dynamic storage. The key here is that you have to work to integrate the two as a single offering, which requires programming and non-standard “glues” or protocols to connect it all together[1]. I like to describe this as an a la carte offering, you essentially pick and choose what Amazon Web Services you want, develop the integration points and proceed from there.

On the other hand, the idea of cloudcenters is that the “solution” is provided for you, in the manifestation of “a datacenter in the sky.” Within the cloudcenter you are presented with tools, infrastructure and environments that are familiar to sys-admins and IT operations folks, but with all of the benefits of the Cloud: dynamic, pay-as-you-go, scalable hardware infrastructure that YOU are in full control of and can manage easily through a Web GUI or programmatically through an API. At the core of a datacenter or cloudcenter is the idea that you have various components available for managing your “physical” infrastructure (albeit “in the cloud”):

  • hardware-based load balancers[2]
  • hardware-based firewalls[3]
  • Windows Server 2003/2008
  • Linux Servers[4]
  • Persistent Storage[5]
  • Cloud Storage[6]
  • Dedicated Private Networks (VLANs)
  • Hybrid Infrastructure connections (Cloud Connect)
  • Infrastructure management (DNS, DHCP, etc.)

The distinction is clear, right? Or still “cloudy”? Let’s think of it a bit differently in terms of building a house. Using Infrastructure Web Services is akin to working with several contractors to put together different portions of your house (e.g., electrical, plumbing, sheet rock, etc.). YOU act as the general contractor to pull it all together, manage the process, identify what item needs to work with the other, etc. A cloudcenter, on the other hand, acts as the “general contractor” for you by telling what options are available and then seamlessly engineering and integrating these items within a single point of reference and management.

house_construction

Geva Perry had some good commentary on Randy’s initial post on the idea of cloudcenters. I’m intrigued with the idea of a “Cloud Spectrum” which does work with his idea about the blurring of the Cloud with regards to the various offering.

cloud_spectrum

However, I still stand by the distinction between Infrastructure Web Services as a “pick & choose” offering and Cloudcenters being an “all-in-one” model. Providing “raw infrastructure” within a controlled environment presents time and cost-savings that are visible on the other end of the spectrum. That is to say, Cloud Applications (SaaS) & Cloud Platforms (PaaS) are easy to use because the functionality is siloed¬† in a restrictive feature set. If you follow Perry’s spectrum model, the further left you go (towards SaaS), the higher the ease-of-use and time savings. The further to the right, the more flexibility your Cloud environment is, but the harder it is to “put together.” However, I would like to offer a slight twist to Perry’s Cloud spectrum idea because the idea falls apart a bit due to the multi-dimensionality of the axes. Obviously depending on the cloudcenter provider, ease-of-use does factor in, forcing the spectrum to become somewhat bent. GoGrid provides Cloud Infrastructure with the same characteristics of that of SaaS and even some PaaS vendors in terms of ease-of-use. So, while the spectrum idea works as you go towards the right with complexity and flexibility increasing, it splits apart as you move toward (and hit) EC2 and GoGrid. This is probably the subject of another post as I would like to explore this concept in greater detail. The bottom line is, with a GoGrid cloudcenter, you not only get flexibility and full control of your Cloud Infrastructure, but you also receive it “wrapped up” within a cohesive and easy interface normally present within the SaaS end of the spectrum.

What is your read on cloudcenters vs. Infrastructure Web Services? I would love to get your view on this.

  1. S3 not accessible via CFS/NFS; SQS doesn’t all for JMS or STOMP protocols []
  2. Currently available & free []
  3. To be released in 1Q09 []
  4. RHEL, CentOS and soon Ubuntu and others []
  5. Available on every Cloud server []
  6. Dynamically scalable, 10GB Free, mountable storage []

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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.

13 Responses to “Building a House in the Cloud – Cloudcenters vs. Infrastructure Web Services”

  1. Dmitriy says:

    Could you please maybe talk a bit more about "pay-for-actual-use" attribute of the "cloudcenter?" For example, with AWS user pays for what they actually use – a certain number of EC2 instances, or a certain number of Gigabytes stored on EC2. But in your setup, does a customer pay for a hardware load balancer that they are not yet using even though they requested it? Can you unrequest one if you no longer need one? Can you request it only for 2 hours during an expected marketing campaign? I do realize that these could be planned features, just wondering what your vision of a cloudcenter is.

    Same with infra mgmt (DNS, DHCP), VLANs and so on. These are things that I might not be using all the time, but when I do need them, I will need them configured a certain way. So this configuration must be somehow preserved between my "use windows" and you incur cost (unless you solved this problem in software – which would be very very cool).

    Any thoughts on that? I loved Randy's and your posts, and I like the distinction between a cloud web service and a cloudcenter.

    • @Dmitriy

      Similar to EC2, GoGrid bills on a usage basis. Currently, there are a few different areas where you would be charged: 1) RAM usage on your deployed GoGrid Cloud Servers, 2) Outbound bandwidth – Inbound is free, 3) Licensing for some Microsoft SQL Server products and others potentially in the future and 4) Disk usage on GoGrid’s Cloud Storage. Some things to remember, the first 10 GB’s on GoGrid Cloud Storage is free. Load balancing is free. Persistent storage within a GoGrid Cloud Server is included. You can use the Cloud Servers as “disposable IT.” If you want to use them, deploy them and when you are done, delete them. The entire GoGrid infrastructure is controllable via the API as well. We will be rolling out hardware-based firewalls as well and are determining the pricing structure on that offering as well. Each Cloud Server within the cloudcenter is configured with both public and private NICs. All bandwidth within your private network is free. DNS management can be done within the GoGrid web portal as well.

      I would recommend contacting a GoGrid Sales representative who can give you a promotion code good for $100 off a GoGrid cloudcenter. With that, you will have ample time to experiment and test it out. Be sure to mention that you were referred from the blog (grin).

      Hope that helps. If you have additional questions, please let me know.

      -Michael

    • randybias says:

      Most cloudcenters are going to pre-bundle an entire datacenter for your usage, but follow a utility charge model just like that of AWS. Much like a 'general contractor' in Michael's example you still only use the materials and subcontractors that you decide when building your house. It just happens that they are already pre-bundled and designed to work together, so there is much less work on your part.

      For a large house, you'll use it all. For a smaller house, maybe only pick and choose what you need.

  2. Chris S says:

    I've been wanting to try Windows Server 2009. Should be a major improvement over 2008. : )

  3. Clinton Fein says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    Having turned to your service in a crunch recently, the obvious focus on user experience made all the difference in the world.

    The UI was elegantly simple, intuitive, and free of any distraction, and the functionality well executed. It was exactly what we needed, hoped for and got. I have already recommended you guys to people in my network on that basis alone.

    The fact of the matter is I watched an engineer fly through your sign up and set up at the speed of light, and the fact that he could do it, and that the experience was so predictable, is a testament to designing the appropriate interface for the correct target.

    Environments that are familiar to system admins and IT operations folk are only part of the equation. I'm frequently amazed at how often user experience is ignored when it comes to content administrators, let alone engineers or system administrators. However, the fact that you're not only engaging in this thought process, but already implementing accordingly, is a key differentiator.

    Good luck.

  4. Doug Ford says:

    Great post. I admitedly breezed through it, but I was eager to learn more about your Cloud Center idea. I think the name is fantastic. The first question that comes to my mind is "how is the cloud center different from Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)?" Maybe they're are the same with two different names? If so, I like Cloud Center a lot better than IaaS! I am interested because I have been searching for an IaaS vendor to partner with rather than building out our own IaaS environment. So far, I've been disappointed at the countless limitations on cloud providers that limit memory, CPU, and disk. Not to mention the deficiencies in backup and recovery. The customers I want to put in the cloud are going to need Terminal Server(s), VDI server(s), Application Server(s), SQL Server(s), Exchange Server(s), and File Server(s). All of these servers will require a minimum of 4GB of RAM and most will require 2+ CPU's. Is your vision of Cloud Center to support a complete infrastructure with configurations that make sense in the world of small businesses?

  5. randybias says:

    Doug, thanks for your question. Cloudcenters are a type of IaaS. We discovered the distinction while trying to understand why our service looked so different from other IaaS platforms, specifically AWS. I strongly recommend reading my early posting (http://blog.gogrid.com/2009/01/08/cloudcenters-ar… which goes into some detail on cloudcenters.

    I am not aware of any significant blockers to your requirements using GoGrid as it is very much a standard cloud infrastructure. Perhaps the primary issue is that VDI is another virtualization technology. Generally speaking you cannot deploy virtualization inside another virtualized system; however, it would be possible to use our CloudConnect offering to deploy VDI on dedicated servers (ServePath) or colocated servers (ColoServe) that were attached to your GoGrid cloud offering.

    FYI, larger virtual machine sizes were quietly deployed today and are available now on GoGrid. We'll have a full press release on Tuesday. The new larger virtual machine sizes have 2+ cores.

  6. [...] An emerging trend pioneered by GoGrid and also pre-announced by RackSpace Cloud is the “cloudcenter“, a datacenter-in-the-sky.¬† Cloudcenters are an intermediate step between no virtualization [...]

  7. A question – how does GoGrid compare to Amazon's API driven ability to (if admittedly you program this) to provision additional capacity as your systems detect the need (i.e. as usage spikes over certain levels your systems could via API calls provision additional servers – and likewise turn off instances when the usage spike passes)?

    As I think about scaling via utilizing the cloud I see a few distinct & different dimensions:

    Compute capacity (i.e. resolving requests & service as user increase in numbers and frequency of use)

    Storage capacity – an issue if your specific application has storage needs on a per-user basis

    Bandwidth – again highly application dependent but often needs to also scale with growth (and can in some cases grow quite large & pricy quickly)

    Shannon

    • randybias says:

      Shannon,

      You can also program elastic scalability using GoGrid API functionality just like Amazon's EC2. In fact, our partner, RightScale currently supports this kind of scalability on both GoGrid and Amazon.

      –Randy

  8. [...] are too narrow end exculpatory in definition when you consider that you are omitting solutions like GoGrid’s CloudCenter concepts — extending your datacenter via VPN onto a cloud IaaS provider whose infrastructure [...]

  9. villa stone says:

    Most cloudcenters are going to pre-bundle an entire datacenter for your usage, but follow a utility charge model just like that of AWS. Much like a ‘general contractor’ in Michael’s example you still only use the materials and subcontractors that you decide when building your house. It just happens that they are already pre-bundled and designed to work together, so there is much less work on your part.

    For a large house, you’ll use it all. For a smaller house, maybe only pick and choose what you need

    Read more: http://blog.gogrid.com/2009/01/14/building-a-house-in-the-cloud-cloudcenters-vs-infrastructure-web-services/#ixzz0Q87uopUM

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