Will Enterprises Get Lost in the Clouds?

Arthur Cole

Is the future of enterprise computing to be found in the cloud? That's the conclusion many vendors and service providers have reached, judging by the rapid pace of cloud-based developments so far this year.


But cooler heads are urging caution on this one, with the general consensus being that cloud-based computing certainly has the potential to live up to its promises, after overcoming a few barriers first.


One of the more definitive examinations of the current state of the cloud came from Forrester Research's James Staten, who turned the common question, "Is the enterprise ready for cloud computing?" on its head by asking instead "Is cloud computing ready for the enterprise?" He concludes that current offerings are better suited to small businesses and start-ups but aren't quite ready to meet the QoS levels required by large enterprises. Still, with Microsoft, Google, IBM and other heavy hitters gearing up cloud services, it might not be long before both the cost and reliability of clouds starts to out-perform in-house enterprises. You can get a copy of the full report here.


But how will we ever know whether cloud services are performing as they should?, asks Janice McGinn on CIO.com. Without a clear definition of what cloud computing is, any service will lack transparency, making it nearly impossible to establish test metrics and measurement benchmarks. Before you start undoing years, if not decades, of technology infrastructure and business processes, it might be wise to wait until you know exactly what you'll get in return.


Nevertheless, the fact is that cloud services are in high demand. Amazon reports that the majority of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud customers are large financial, pharmaceutical and other firms that test out the service on a limited basis and then get hooked. GigaSpaces quietly offered some of its middleware products on Amazon's Elastic Compute Clout (EC2) service and is already courting more than a dozen clients, without even formally launching a service.


But even though cloud computing seems simple on paper, in practice it can be rather complicated. That's why many enterprises are turning to middlemen to smooth over the rough spots. Firms like RightScale are doing a brisk business offering software packages designed to quickly shift applications and resources over to the major cloud platforms. Among the key benefits are simplified management of the cloud and the ability to test out new platforms without setting up and tearing down numerous machines.


Like most new technologies, there is a tendency to view the cloud as an all-or-nothing proposition: Either it will take over the IT industry or fizzle into obscurity. While the latter happens quite often, the former is exceedingly rare. At the moment, at least, it seems the cloud will serve as one of many options as the enterprise searches for new ways of doing business.

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Apr 30, 2008 12:53 PM Neil Mansilla Neil Mansilla  says:
There's no question that Amazon's infrastructure is enterprise class. I'm talking about what drives their e-commerce back-end, middleware, and front-end. The hardware is fault tolerant, redundant, scalable, everything you could want in an enterprise class hardware deployment. I'm under the impression that this same hardware, including everything from the networking, storage, servers, and power management, is what's behind AWS.We call it a cloud, which sounds quite lofty and ethereal... But.. is it important to discuss the software architecture of the AWS EC2 virtual servers (instances)? I think so. EC2 is based on Xen virtualization. So if you're responsible for deploying or managing an enterprise-level application, and you're thinking of deploying on EC2 -- internally, run your load and stress tests on Xen virtual servers. Or, dish out $0.10 to $0.80 per instance-hour, launching your own Xen virtual server image right on EC2 (yes, you can).Start-ups choose AWS EC2/S3 because it's affordable, easy, and runs on better hardware than we've ever run on before. EC2 isn't magic.. it's similar to any virtual server solution that's been around since the beginning of virtual servers; however, it is reliable and high performance (based on the hardware described above). I chose to deploy my latest startup, ahTXT.com (free real-time mobile notifications for eBay sellers - questions, sales, best offers, feedback, etc. sent via SMS) on Amazon's EC2/S3 because of the instant scalability.. and guess what? I chose wisely.As soon as ahTXT.com caught some blogs and reviews, the amount of transactions went through the roof. In heavy spikes we've been able to easily (but not automatically [yet]), deploy additional instances and load balance the Web traffic and internal processing. My application is ready for a slashdot, techcrunch, or digg flood.. the initial spike of traffic, and the residual processing that follows account registrations. It's ready because at my disposal are virtually an unlimited amount of instances running on truly enterprise-class hardware, and when needed, I can take advantage of them.It really is about management tools, either self-developed (like my own rudimentary ones), or using well designed ones, like RightScale, that will determine whether or not you are properly leveraging the power and reliability of the "elastic cloud". Because without proper management, it's just another virtual server.. a reliable one, no doubt, but just another virtual server. Reply

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