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Moving Targets: Developing Cloud Apps on Rapidly Evolving Platforms

What does engineering in a constantly changing environment really cost?

Butch Cassidy and Sundance are staring over the edge of the cliff:

Butch: Alright. I'll jump first.

Sundance: No.

Butch: Then you jump first.

Sundance: No, I said.

Butch: What's the matter with you?

Sundance: I can't swim.

Butch: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.

What's with the Butch & Sundance quote, you ask?  This classic scene from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" illustrates an issue I see every day when talking to customers: focusing so much on one problem, they fail to appreciate the magnitude of another.  As enterprises and software companies make the decision to migrate existing applications to the cloud, they are often so concerned with how to do the migration, they often don't appreciate the real challenges of the long-term impact of developing cloud applications.

In traditional enterprise application development, engineers don't spend a lot of their time adjusting to changes in the underlying systems and platforms.  The rate of change is relatively slow, and development teams retain a level of control over the systems and services that their applications leverage.  When moving to IaaS or PaaS environments, not only does most of that control disappear, but the rate of change increases substantially.  In 2012 alone, Amazon made over 159 changes to the AWS platform launching new services and additional features.  If your engineering teams are working on applications on the AWS platform, how much time would you think they spend keeping up with those changes, figuring out whether they apply to the application, and actually changing the application to optimize for the new changes?  My estimate is that a developer would have to spend at least 20% of their time studying and keeping up with platform changes.  I'm willing to bet that in most cases, that work is discarded in favor of more mundane application maintenance tasks.

It's the fall that's gonna kill ya.
And therein lies the rub: the cost savings and efficiency gains of moving to the cloud have hidden killers: either the development teams become less productive just staying educated on the platform, or the applications quickly fall behind the platform, victim to that old enemy of software: bit rot.  Applications that used to work, or work well, over time start to fail or perform badly in unexpected ways.

What's the solution?  Automation can make a big impact.  The same approach that security vendors use to find patterns in your code and match them to known vulnerabilities could instead find patterns that indicate areas to address cloud optimization.  We're working on an automated way to solve this dilemma, working with cloud providers to understand changes to the platforms, and automatically detecting when those changes impact your app and how to address them.  Learn more about this by visiting http://www.paaslane.com.

Does this issue affect you?  Did you account for it when you decided to move your app to the cloud?  Do you wish you had?

More Stories By Benjamin Grubin

Benjamin Grubin is a 15-year veteran of the technology industry with experience in security, software engineering, marketing, consulting and management. He is the Director of Product Management & Marketing for Cloud Technology Partners, overseeing products that accelerate cloud development and migration. Mr. Grubin has worked with Fortune 100 companies to modernize their infrastructure and support next-generation management and security technologies. He is also a frequent presenter at conferences, seminars and panels on topics including cloud computing, IT service management, virtualization, and IT security.

Mr. Grubin holds an MBA from Harvard Business School as well as both a Master of Science in Computer Science and Bachelor of Science in Economics and Computer Science from Tufts University. Follow Ben on Twitter at @bgrubin.