Real-world cloud computing

Sunday 7 June 2009This is 14 years old. Be careful.

I attended an interesting panel discussion the other night about cloud computing. Six startup CTO’s were there to talk about their experiences with Amazon’s services:

I really liked this panel because they were all technical and heavily involved in real day-to-day dealings with cloud computing. It’s easy to find breathless hype about how EC2 is going to revolutionize startups. This was a much more balanced view of what it’s really like.

I took some sketchy notes. Perhaps because the speakers knew everyone had heard the positives, or perhaps because I already knew the positives, these notes skew toward the negatives.

  • All used Amazon services, and most if not all of them seemed to use RightScale to manage them.
  • Cloud is great for quickly deploying new servers.
    • Load testing: set up two machines, let them pound each other.
    • Handling unexpected demand.
  • It’s scalable, but not like normal computing:
    • Higher latency.
    • Higher error rates.
    • You have to pay much more attention to your error handling code.
  • Cloud limitations:
    • Can’t send lots of emails, since you need a spam-whitelisted server.
    • Disk I/O in the cloud is a lot slower than in real machines (“punishingly slow”).
    • Want a db server with 32Gb RAM? Amazon doesn’t offer it.
    • Want dual hardware load balancers? Amazon doesn’t have it.
    • PCI (credit card) compliance is a problem: use a 3rd-party cart or PayPal instead of doing it yourself in the cloud.
  • Amazon is clearly the leader.
    • Microsoft has a service (Azure) in beta, but it’s very Microsoft-specific.
    • Intuit is creating a service.
    • No one mentioned Google App Engine.
  • The lock-in is latency:
    • Transfering data within the Amazon services is free.
    • Transfering data to an Amazon competitor: not free.
  • Cost: cloud is more expensive than real machines.
    • Cloud is good for elastic computing, not for high constant demand.
    • Cloud is good for getting started without capital outlay. Many of the six startups represented got started before being funded.
  • Cloud further enables virutal companies. A bunch of guys with laptops can move office wherever they want, don’t worry about where the servers are.
  • They all muttered knowingly about the day Amazon’s cloud was down.
    • “You could read about it on Twitter, but all the avatars were missing, because Twitter kept them on S3.”
  • Cloud encourages queue architectures.
    • Pipelined role-based “machines”.
    • The work of the app is broken into smaller pieces, distributed onto a broader network of virtual boxes.
    • Number of machines in each role can be altered dynamically to deal with the actual load right now.
  • You need monitoring services external to your cloud!

One interesting side-node: the panel was at the Vilna Shul, a historic temple on cramped Beacon Hill. They could invest in some cushions for their 1840 high-backed pews, but other than that, it was a nice change of pace to be hearing tech discussion not among monitors and keyboards but torah holders and time-worn paint.


Interesting to hear they all use RightScale. Did they talk about why?
I went to an Amazon Web Services event on Friday 5 June and heard similar things from the customers who presented there.

One thing that was different:
> Cloud is good for elastic computing, not for high constant demand.

One of the companies, Melodeo (aka, keeps a constant 40 or so machines up. Their hey seemed to think it was worth it.
heard a lot about rightscale lately - it would be nice to see/hear more about why these guys are all using it, as parand mentions.
EC2 != cloud. If Disk IO is slow on EC2, that's Xen and virtualised storage and virtual HDDs for you, combined with the fact that S3 is a remote filesystem.

MxM is a service dedicated to email delivery for cloud computing. You simply have to point your SMTP to us and we take care of everything else: compliance, unsubscription management, bounce processing.

Of course we are whitelisted and we ensure to stay as such.

Complimentary test accounts.
Interesting. My podcast with Michael Vizard on eWeek gets more into the question of how to develop for the cloud using a SaaS and RIA enabled application platform.
Interesting, I wish I'd known the panel was going on. I have some recent experience with RightScale as well, after some roll-your-own EC2 in the past.

Benchmarks show that I/O performance of Elastic Block Store is considerably better than on-instance storage, and if you want to spend some time reading, there are a number of people out there setting up RAID and writing about it. But it ain't no SAN yet.

Maybe I'm not dealing on the level of folks who really need F5 load balancers and have the capital for them, but a couple of instances running haproxy can go a long way. Pretty remarkable piece of software. AuthSMTP is one option for the email issue, but I'd like to see others.

Just a few counterpoints, I could share some negatives too but it's discussion better suited for, say, a panel :-) Worth noting that some other cloud platforms are starting to gain traction, and from big names like Rackspace. Sheerly from a geek fun perspective though, it's been really exciting to watch Amazon unroll unique and unexpected answers to market demands since AWS launched.
Thanks for sharing your notes. Parand and Joe, you can find cloud computing uses and how our customers are using the cloud today on the RightScale website. Feel free to drop us a line if you would like to find out more about the RightScale Cloud Management Platform.
For the small-medium businesses who are struggling with server issues, think about investing in a load balancer.
I agree that this panel was interesting for the in-the-trenches view of cloud computing, with none of the hype. Thanks for your review. I also wrote about the panel on my blog, including photos showing the interesting venue:
On the topic of cloud computing, I see this as a vision rather than just a hype. This vision has been steam-rolling for over a year now, and is continuing to steam-roll. Many companies have tremendously cut their operational expenses owing to their decision to do away with their hardware and shift to cloud computing. The trend will

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