Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Mehdi Daoudi, Pat Romanski, Flint Brenton, Gordon Haff

Related Topics: @CloudExpo

@CloudExpo: Article

A Brief History of Cloud Computing: Is the Cloud There Yet?

A look at the Cloud's forerunners and the problems they encountered

Paul Wallis's Blog

In order to discuss some of the issues surrounding The Cloud concept, I think it is important to place it in historical context. Looking at the Cloud's forerunners, and the problems they encountered, gives us the reference points to guide us through the challenges it needs to overcome before it is adopted.

Nick Carr recently commented on IBM's new initiative called Project KittyHawk, which sets out to use their Blue Gene technology. The project aspires to create a “global-scale shared computer capable of hosting the entire Internet as an application”.

There have been a range of online discussions on the back of the article as, once again, Nick Carr manages to hit more than a couple of raw nerves.

The premise of the article is that IBM Blue Gene technology is creating computers of such power that data centres can offer vast amounts of computational power that businesses can plug into and use according to need at a particular time.

These supercomputers can emulate many individual smaller servers (virtualisation) so businesses can migrate their IT services to this new model.

Rather than data centres just offering a place to put your own servers, they can start to offer virtual servers or services, enabling new business models to be adopted.

The IBM technology is so fast that Project Kittyhawk can emulate the entire internet.

In the past, there have been two ways of creating a supercomputer. Firstly, there is the Blue Gene style approach, which creates a massive computer with thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of CPUs. The other approach, as adopted by Google, is to take hundreds of thousands of small, low cost, computers and hook them together in a “cluster” in such a way that they all work together as one large computer.

Basically, supercomputers have many processors plugged into a single machine, sharing common memory and I/O, while clusters are made up of many smaller machines, each of which contain a fewer number of processors with each machine having it's own local memory and I/O.

There have always been advocates on both sides of the fence, and Nick Carr's article has done a fine job of stirring them into action again - but this time it has become clear that the concept of “The Cloud” is gaining momentum, a concept whose origins lie in clustering and grid computing.

John Willis seeks to 'demystify' clouds and received some interesting comments. James Urquhart is an advocate of cloud computing and thinks that, as with any disruptive change, some people are in denial about The Cloud. He has responded to some criticism of his opinions. Bob Lewis, one of Urquhart's “deniers” has written a few posts on the subject and offers a space for discussion of Nick Carr's arguments.

In order to discuss some of the issues surrounding The Cloud concept, I think it is important to place it in historical context. Looking at the Cloud's forerunners, and the problems they encountered, gives us the reference points to guide us through the challenges it needs to overcome before it is adopted.

In the past computers were clustered together to form a single larger computer. This was a technique common to the industry, and used by many IT departments. The technique allowed you to configure computers to talk with each other using specially designed protocols to balance the computational load across the machines. As a user, you didn't care about which CPU ran your program, and the cluster management software ensured that the “best” CPU at that time was used to run the code.

In the early 1990s Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman came up with a new concept of “The Grid”. The analogy used was of the electricity grid where users could plug into the grid and use a metered utility service. If companies don't have their own powers stations, but rather access a third party electricity supply, why can't the same apply to computing resources? Plug into a grid of computers and pay for what you use.

Grid computing expands the techniques of clustering where multiple independent clusters act like a grid due to their nature of not being located in a single domain.

A key to efficient cluster management was engineering where the data was held, known as “data residency”. The computers in the cluster were usually physically connected to the disks holding the data, meaning that the CPUs could quickly perform I/O to fetch, process and output the data.

One of the hurdles that had to be jumped with the move from clustering to grid was data residency. Because of the distributed nature of the Grid the computational nodes could be situated anywhere in the world. It was fine having all that CPU power available, but the data on which the CPU performed its operations could be thousands of miles away, causing a delay (latency) between data fetch and execution. CPUs need to be fed and watered with different volumes of data depending on the tasks they are processing. Running a data intensive process with disparate data sources can create a bottleneck in the I/O, causing the CPU to run inefficiently, and affecting economic viability.

Storage management, security provisioning and data movement became the nuts to be cracked in order for grid to succeed. A toolkit, called Globus, was created to solve these issues, but the infrastructure hardware available still has not progressed to a level where true grid computing can be wholly achieved.

But, more important than these technical limitations, was the lack of business buy in. The nature of Grid/Cloud computing means a business has to migrate its applications and data to a third party solution. This creates huge barriers to the uptake.

In 2002 I had many long conversations with the European grid specialist for the leading vendor of grid solutions. He was tasked with gaining traction for the grid concept with the large financial institutions and, although his company had the computational resource needed to process the transactions from many banks, his company could not convince them to make the change.

Each financial institution needed to know that the grid company understood their business, not just the portfolio of applications they ran and the infrastructure they ran upon. This was critical to them. They needed to know that whoever supported their systems knew exactly what the effect of any change could potentially make to their shareholders.

The other bridge that had to be crossed was that of data security and confidentiality. For many businesses their data is the most sensitive, business critical thing they possess. To hand this over to a third party was simply not going to happen. Banks were happy to outsource part of their services, but wanted to be in control of the hardware and software - basically using the outsourcer as an agency for staff.

Traditionally, banks do not like to take risks. In recent years, as the market sector has consolidated and they have had to become more competitive, they have experimented outwith their usual lending practice, only to be bitten by sub-prime lending. Would they really risk moving to a totally outsourced IT solution under today's technological conditions?

Taking grid further into the service offering, is “The Cloud”. This takes the concepts of grid computing and wraps it up in a service offered by data centres. The most high profile of the new “cloud” services is Amazons S3 (Simple Storage Service) third party storage solution. Amazon's solution provides developers with a web service to store data. Any amount of data can be read, written or deleted on a pay per use basis.

EMC plans to offer a rival data service. EMCs solution creates a global network of data centres each with massive storage capabilities. They take the approach that no-one can afford to place all their data in one place, so data is distributed around the globe. Their cloud will monitor data usage, and it automatically shunts data around to load-balance data requests and internet traffic, being self tuning to automatically react to surges in demand.

However, the recent problems at Amazon S3, which suffered a “massive” outage in February, has only served to highlight the risks involved with adopting third party solutions.

So is The Cloud a reality? In my opinion we're not yet there with the technology nor the economics required to make it all hang together.

In 2003 the late Jim Gray published a paper on Distributed Computing Economics:

Computing economics are changing. Today there is rough price parity between (1) one database access, (2) ten bytes of network traffic, (3) 100,000 instructions, (4) 10 bytes of disk storage, and (5) a megabyte of disk bandwidth. This has implications for how one structures Internet-scale distributed computing: one puts computing as close to the data as possible in order to avoid expensive network traffic.

The recurrent theme of this analysis is that “On Demand” computing is only economical for very cpu-intensive (100,000 instructions per byte or a cpu-day-per gigabyte of network traffic) applications. Pre-provisioned computing is likely to be more economical for most applications - especially data-intensive ones.

If telecom prices drop faster than Moore's law, the analysis fails. If telecom prices drop slower than Moore's law, the analysis becomes stronger.

When Jim published this paper the fastest Supercomputers were operating at a speed of 36 TFLOPS. A new Blue Gene/Q is planned for 2010-2012 which will operate at 10,000 TFLOPS, out stripping Moore's law by a factor of 10. Telecom prices have fallen and bandwidth has increased, but more slowly than processing power, leaving the economics worse than in 2003.

I'm sure that advances will appear over the coming years to bring us closer, but at the moment there are too many issues and costs with network traffic and data movements to allow it to happen for all but select processor intensive applications, such as image rendering and finite modelling.

There has been talk of a two tier internet where businesses pay for a particular Quality of Service, and this will almost certainly need to happen for The Cloud to become a reality. Internet infrastructure will need to be upgraded, newer faster technologies will need to be created to ensure data clouds speak to supercomputer clouds with the efficiency to keep the CPUs working. This will push the telecoms costs higher rather than bringing them in line with Moore's Law, making the economics less viable.

Then comes the problem of selling to the business. Many routine tasks which are not processor intensive and time critical are the most likely candidates to be migrated to cloud computing, yet these are the least economical to be transferred to that architecture. Recently we've seen the London Stock Exchange fail, undersea data cables cut in the Gulf, espionage in Lithuania and the failure of the most modern and well-known data farm at Amazon.

In such a climate it will require asking the business to take a leap of faith to find solid footing in the cloud for mission critical applications.

And that is never a good way to sell to the business.

[This appeared originally here and is republished by kind permission of the author, who retains copyright.]


More Stories By Paul Wallis

Paul Wallis is Chief Technology Officer at Stroma Software Limited. He blogs at www.keystonesandrivets.com, where he tries to bridge the understanding gap between business and IT.

Comments (1)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
"We started a Master of Science in business analytics - that's the hot topic. We serve the business community around San Francisco so we educate the working professionals and this is where they all want to be," explained Judy Lee, Associate Professor and Department Chair at Golden Gate University, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
For over a decade, Application Programming Interface or APIs have been used to exchange data between multiple platforms. From social media to news and media sites, most websites depend on APIs to provide a dynamic and real-time digital experience. APIs have made its way into almost every device and service available today and it continues to spur innovations in every field of technology. There are multiple programming languages used to build and run applications in the online world. And just li...
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
The general concepts of DevOps have played a central role advancing the modern software delivery industry. With the library of DevOps best practices, tips and guides expanding quickly, it can be difficult to track down the best and most accurate resources and information. In order to help the software development community, and to further our own learning, we reached out to leading industry analysts and asked them about an increasingly popular tenet of a DevOps transformation: collaboration.
We call it DevOps but much of the time there’s a lot more discussion about the needs and concerns of developers than there is about other groups. There’s a focus on improved and less isolated developer workflows. There are many discussions around collaboration, continuous integration and delivery, issue tracking, source code control, code review, IDEs, and xPaaS – and all the tools that enable those things. Changes in developer practices may come up – such as developers taking ownership of code ...
Cloud Governance means many things to many people. Heck, just the word cloud means different things depending on who you are talking to. While definitions can vary, controlling access to cloud resources is invariably a central piece of any governance program. Enterprise cloud computing has transformed IT. Cloud computing decreases time-to-market, improves agility by allowing businesses to adapt quickly to changing market demands, and, ultimately, drives down costs.
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
How is DevOps going within your organization? If you need some help measuring just how well it is going, we have prepared a list of some key DevOps metrics to track. These metrics can help you understand how your team is doing over time. The word DevOps means different things to different people. Some say it a culture and every vendor in the industry claims that their tools help with DevOps. Depending on how you define DevOps, some of these metrics may matter more or less to you and your team.
"CA has been doing a lot of things in the area of DevOps. Now we have a complete set of tool sets in order to enable customers to go all the way from planning to development to testing down to release into the operations," explained Aruna Ravichandran, Vice President of Global Marketing and Strategy at CA Technologies, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"We are an integrator of carrier ethernet and bandwidth to get people to connect to the cloud, to the SaaS providers, and the IaaS providers all on ethernet," explained Paul Mako, CEO & CTO of Massive Networks, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Grape Up leverages Cloud Native technologies and helps companies build software using microservices, and work the DevOps agile way. We've been doing digital innovation for the last 12 years," explained Daniel Heckman, of Grape Up in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"NetApp's vision is how we help organizations manage data - delivering the right data in the right place, in the right time, to the people who need it, and doing it agnostic to what the platform is," explained Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate for NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"Outscale was founded in 2010, is based in France, is a strategic partner to Dassault Systémes and has done quite a bit of work with divisions of Dassault," explained Jackie Funk, Digital Marketing exec at Outscale, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"I focus on what we are calling CAST Highlight, which is our SaaS application portfolio analysis tool. It is an extremely lightweight tool that can integrate with pretty much any build process right now," explained Andrew Siegmund, Application Migration Specialist for CAST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Let's do a visualization exercise. Imagine it's December 31, 2018, and you're ringing in the New Year with your friends and family. You think back on everything that you accomplished in the last year: your company's revenue is through the roof thanks to the success of your product, and you were promoted to Lead Developer. 2019 is poised to be an even bigger year for your company because you have the tools and insight to scale as quickly as demand requires. You're a happy human, and it's not just...
The enterprise data storage marketplace is poised to become a battlefield. No longer the quiet backwater of cloud computing services, the focus of this global transition is now going from compute to storage. An overview of recent storage market history is needed to understand why this transition is important. Before 2007 and the birth of the cloud computing market we are witnessing today, the on-premise model hosted in large local data centers dominated enterprise storage. Key marketplace play...
Cavirin Systems has just announced C2, a SaaS offering designed to bring continuous security assessment and remediation to hybrid environments, containers, and data centers. Cavirin C2 is deployed within Amazon Web Services (AWS) and features a flexible licensing model for easy scalability and clear pay-as-you-go pricing. Although native to AWS, it also supports assessment and remediation of virtual or container instances within Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or on-premise. By dr...
With continuous delivery (CD) almost always in the spotlight, continuous integration (CI) is often left out in the cold. Indeed, it's been in use for so long and so widely, we often take the model for granted. So what is CI and how can you make the most of it? This blog is intended to answer those questions. Before we step into examining CI, we need to look back. Software developers often work in small teams and modularity, and need to integrate their changes with the rest of the project code b...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...