Saturday, October 10, 2009

A "Cloudy" day at CSI Annual Convention 2009

I had a very interesting opportunity to be one of the speakers on the panel discussion on cloud computing at CSI Annual Convention 2009. As it turned out the entire day was "cloudy" with most topics and discussions being centered around cloud computing. Most people agreed that cloud is the next generation of computing but there are still doubts as to which form of cloud computing will take off. The conclusion is that there IS a lot of hype and when that has died down, the products and companies who solve real problems will survive. People who try to monetize the medium instead of the product, might end up failing. Here are some of the excerpts from the day.

The day started with a keynote address on "Cloud Computing - Challenges and Opportunities" by Girish Venkatachaliah from IBM. His take was that about 20% of IT will move to the cloud in next few years and currently its more hype than substance.

Dr. Srikanth Sunderrajan from Persistent gave a great talk on Google AppEngine, a Platform-as-a-Service offering. His company recently implemented a product on top of Google AppEngine. His take was that AppEngine lacks many features and is a strait-jacket environment with almost no flexibility. They had to write complex libraries to enable file-system like storage and ended up using Amazon EC2 to aid the short-comings of AppEngine. His take was that Google needs to open up the platform and be more like Amazon's cloud offerings. One good thing about AppEngine is that development and deployment is fast and easy.

The panel discussion on cloud computing included Monish Darda from Websym, Karan Gujral from BMC , Gireendra Kasmalkar from SQS, Vikram Rajkondwar from Microsoft, Samir Bodas from ICERTIS and yours truly. The discussions covered PaaS, IaaS, SaaS, testing for the cloud, how can startups leverage the cloud, managing the clouds and much more. Vikram's views which stemmed from his experience working on Microsoft Azure were extremely insightful.

Here are some of the take-away points from the discussion:
  • The cloud phenomenon has been seeded due to the economies of scale. The cloud infrastructure providers use commodity hardware and use complex software to manage redundancy. The savings are passed on to the consumer making the cloud a very cost effective platform.
  • Evolution of virtualization technologies has enabled cloud data centers to increase efficiency. All parts of the stack will be virtualized as we progress.
  • Storage is an important aspect of the cloud. 3 copies of data are maintained by the cloud vendors so in terms of reliability to cost ratio, cloud storage is on par or cheaper than local storage. And unlimited storage is available on a completely pat as you go model.
  • Cloud is very interesting medium for testing and QE since these phases are needed late in the SDLC and require investment in terms of hardware and provisioning. Clouds make it possible to do functional and scale testing without upfront investment.
  • The most compelling use of cloud computing is when load and usage cannot be predicted. Cloud can be used to augment local data center - for scaling out when load exceeds certain levels. Such hybrid clouds will be the future of data centers. Another prime usecase is when loads are periodic - in-case of on-premise data centers this leads to low utilization and hence lesser ROI. Clouds can be provisioned as needed improving the ROI for such companies.
  • Today even a 1-person startup can compete with Google and IBM in terms of infrastructure. If a good revenue model is in place, then startups can use the pay as you go model to their advantage. Companies like SmugMug, ElephantDrive has done just this to keep up with their phenomenal growth. Without clouds, their growth would have stymied as they would not have had scale out capability.
  • The data center management companies will need to upgrade their products to manage the clouds. They will have to look at provisioning, job scheduling, profiling for the cloud along with the on-premise data center.
  • Everyone agreed that on-premise data centers will never be replaced by the cloud. They will be augmented. A lot of web hosting will move to the cloud though.
The conclusion was that companies and consumers should try to look through the hype and try to identify solutions that actually solve their problems. Every little software when provided as Software-as-a-Service does not become a better solution. If you find your sweet spot in the cloud, you are poised for phenomenal growth.

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