On the early morning of April 21 (Pacific Day Time), Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) data centre in Virginia crashed, taking down with it several popular websites and small businesses that depend on it. These included favoured social networking destinations like Evite, Quora, Reddit and Foursquare, among others. This outage continued through to the next 3 days. The duration of the outage has surprised many, since Amazon has a lot of backup computing infrastructure. The online businesses affected by the EC2 outage lost that many hours of ad revenues, business opportunities and drops of the precious trust of many loyal followers, a primary pillar of social networking. These losses are hard to quantify. The question is being asked: if an Amazonian cloud giant can crash so badly, what about the rest? If Amazon can’t safeguard the cloud, how can we rely upon it so? So the debate begins on the future of cloud computing and what to do to make users and companies put their trust in cloud vendors such as Amazon.
The good thing about the cloud is that it protects users when their own home computers crash and lose data. But the rotten part about the crash of the cloud is that millions upon millions of users become helpless and any recovery of the data is beyond their control. Eventually, the cloud will become like a utility. You can get as much computing power as you want with the flip of a switch and you won’t have to worry about outages as much over time. But we’re clearly not there yet.
Cloud isn’t magic like they earlier thought it was. It is rather merely about viability and not about continuous availability. Continuous Availability sold cloud computing to many small businesses, including the ever-increasing social networking bandwagon. SMEs are now graduating to the next level of cloud computing, using it not just for storage, but also for active computing purposes like communication, sustaining remote workforces and deploying cloud services like remote IT help, cloud operating systems , and so on. The impact of such an outage, therefore, is felt even more.
Although Amazon will probably recover quickly, the event has damaged its credibility. Amazon has been a personification of the spirit of the Internet, which is one of true democracy, access to the means of distribution, and rapid evolution. However, in this case, Amazon has been cryptic about the cause and it has only said that matters are improving but were still not resolved. If Amazon can explain the problem and make a good case for why the damage may not be big, then it will be fine. If not, the work will go elsewhere. Amazon may be a big player, but there are other big players waiting to step into the game.These include the likes of Google , IBM , Cisco, RedHat and Microsoft (whose cloud ads are all over Silicon Valley), to name a few.
Even the darkest cloud has a silver lining and this outage will be critical in determining a lot of supporting factors which will be critical for customers/ Corporations to consider before they engage the cloud infrastructure.
• Some sites spend the money to run mirror sites on other cloud vendors, so the sites can remain functional even if one cloud vendor goes down. But that’s an expense that many web sites haven’t taken.
• Corporations will have to decide what computer operations to put on a cloud operated by external vendors and how much they should keep inside their own internal data centers.
• Customers will have to figure out the right policies for backup and recovery services. A right suite of legal conditions to serve disaster management situations such as these will be important.
• Businesses will have to decide whether to allocate more money to backup data centers in multiple locations.
I had written about Apple’s music subscription services from the cloud and Google Cloud Streaming Music services. With the launch of its Digital music locker service, Amazon has beaten beat Apple and Google in the race to the cloud. Amazon has also launched its own cloud drive which would be a personal data disk in the cloud. While Google has started testing its Music streaming internally, Apple is working ona complete overhaul of its MobileMe services and will not look at a launch till Q3, 2011!
The Digital Music locker, lets users store their music (AAC/MP3 formats in their original bit-rates) on the Web and then listen to their collections on computers (PC/Mac) with a Web browser or on Android devices. Consumers can store their digital songs, videos, photos, documents, and music. In addition, Amazon also rolled out the Cloud Player, which enables people to play the songs they uploaded to Cloud Drive.
The ability to access music across a range of devices from the cloud directly eliminates the need of music transfer from computer to music players and cell-phones etc. Amazon’s music locker can be accessed from all the major browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.The Cloud Drive also allows customers to upload photos, videos, and documents, but those digital files are accessible only via a Web browser on a computer.
However. Amazon is yet to license the rights from top Hollywood studios and music companies which would otherwise mount to violation of legal copyrights, licensing agreements and IPR for Amazon. Apple, Google, and Spotify appear to have put themselves at a disadvantage by waiting to roll out their cloud offerings until they obtained licenses.
What this means for the cloud and competition?
There’s nothing all that world-changing about Amazon’s announcements. Plenty of companies are already offering online storage for free, and music streaming services are also on offer by many. However its the mash-up of music streaming, cloud storage, cloud storage of e-books and movies which is suddenly making Amazon such a potent threat to Apple and Google. Movies you buy from its video-on-demand service, for instance, already stay on Amazon’s servers, so they’re safe and sound even if your hard disk crashes. And Kindle e-books automatically get shelved in an online archive, so you can download them to a Kindle e-reader, smart phone or computer — or all of the above.
Users today have multiple computers, smart phones, tablets and even Internet-connected TVs.They had want personal digital media content to be accessible on all of them. Keeping it on the Internet makes that possible.Amazon is thus quickly moving to be the one stop shop for all “digital belongings” which were earlier a part of the local computer hard drive and will in future be available across devices and platforms.
The Cloud computing potential in India is estimated at Rs.4500 crore over the next 5 years and is expected to mainly benefit enterprise SMB (small and medium business), SOHO (small office, home office) and consumer segments. This would be seeded by a rising growth in the digital information space would create a significant market opportunity for both the cloud computing and storage. Digital information in India will grow from 40,000 petabytes to 2.3 million petabytes (one petabyte equals 1,000 terabytes) over the next decade (2010 to 2020), twice as fast as the worldwide rate.
Cloud computing has come a long way from being a nebulous idea to a proper defined science and future in computing. Cloud computing works, essentially, by allowing users to stop running computing applications on their own computers and have them run, instead, by large data centers which benefit from economies of scale. These data centers, achieve operational efficiencies beyond what even large corporate IT departments can achieve-and the smaller the business, the more it energy it can save.
A study conducted by Microsoft and conducted by Accenture and WSP Environment & Energy, assessed the carbon footprint of server, networking and storage infrastructure for three different deployment sizes (100, 1,000 and 10,000 users). For large corporations, the study showed typical savings of 30 percent or more in energy consumption and carbon emissions using cloud applications, while small organizations (100 users) showed a effective carbon footprint reduction of as much as 90 percent, simply by using a shared cloud environment instead of their own servers. Thus, it is an opportunity for businesses to effectively ‘outsource’ their IT efficiency investments while working towards achieving sustainability goals.
The enterprise interest in cloud computing is not limited to large businesses only. Small and medium businesses are showing interest in adopting cloud computing model as they can dispense with issues of maintaining data centers and software upgrades. Also high IT-CAPEX investments are not required since and there are cost-efficiencies in terms of metered pay-as-much-as-you-use plans.
While we had discussed the differences between Cloud Computing and Virtualization in my earlier post, this post is about Cloud Computing being the next level of Virtualization. Virtualization in its existing avatar is just the bare bones structure of the cloud. Once you add scalability, efficiency, global scale and “bill”ability, Virtual transcend into cloud!
Many cloud solutions, both public and private, leverage virtualization to deliver their functionality. Amazon’s EC2 is all about virtualized infrastructure. Microsoft’s Windows Azure uses virtual instances of a customized version of Windows Server. Thus, Cloud computing either Private or Public requires virtualization to meet the rapid scalability of the Cloud definition.
Interdependent and Independent
Cloud Computing is a mechanism, an approach, for the delivery of services. Virtualization is one possible service that could be delivered. However, like most services, virtualization can be delivered via mechanisms other than cloud computing.
A virtualized server, wouldn’t have the bulk of the attributes listed by Cloud Computing Definitions. It’s just a box sitting out there on a network that can be accessed remotely. It’s not inherently scalable or elastic. Its use is not metered, and it only lives where it is running. However, various services allow to create virtualized resources. And these services demonstrate the various attributes of Cloud Computing. So while Virtualization may be both a means to deliver cloud computing and a solution delivered by it, virtualization is not inherently, in and of itself, a cloud computing solution.
Virtualization leads to Cloud Computing, but cloud computing is more than just virtualization
Cloud computing (Public or Private) produce virtual servers or applications, virtualization does not create clouds. The important point is a Cloud network (public or private) requires virtualization. From a user’s perspective the benefits are well known, much less cost, much more reliable, more efficient to manage.
Virtualization is a Mechanism
Virtualization is a mechanism used in a data center to consolidate and fully use phiscal devices. For example, a single server for each processing application performed then would be make the proposition very expensive. The CPU of each machine would usually not be fully utilized; resulting in wasted resources. In addition the size of data centers and the growth would be difficult, at best to manage. Virtualization can place several virtual servers on a single physical device, minimizing the need for physical devices; thus lowering cost in processing resources, space in the data center, environmental conditioners and overall power usage. Virtualization allows for consolidation and cost savings.
Cloud Computing is a Business Model
Cloud Computing is a business model. One can lease time in someone else’s data center so that they are paying for a peice of time rather then maintaining a data center of their own. Virtualization would also possibly solve the purpose. However it would be costly as described in the example of using a server per processing application and not practical. It would be too expensive to maintain such a data center, especially for Part-load computing purposes.
To sum it up Virtualization is a service or application, which consolidates and reduces cost of a data center. Cloud is a model that uses that service and makes it availible to others how are want to rent it.
Cloud Computing and Virtualization are two key technologies that are likely to influence the technology scene with all might in the next 2-3 years horizon. However, there is a certain bit of confusion between what each of this means and sometimes they are almost used interchangeably (Which is not the real case). Here’s deciphering these technologies in simple terms.
Virtualization is the creation of a virtual (rather than actual) version of something, such as an operating system, a server, a storage device or network resources. Virtualization is a computing technology that enables a single user to access multiple physical devices. This paradigm manifests itself as a single computer controlling multiple machines, or one operating system utilizing multiple computers to analyze a database. Virtualization is about creating an information technology infrastructure that leverages networking and shared physical IT assets to reduce or eliminate the need for physical computing devices dedicated to specialized tasks or systems.
Virtualization is the use of virtual machines to let multiple network subscribers maintain individualized desktops on a single, centrally located computer or server. The central machine may be at a residence, business or data center. Users may be geographically scattered but are all connected to the central machine by a proprietary local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN) or the Internet.
Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Through cloud computing, a world-class data center service and collocation provider offers managed IT services through a hosted or “Software as a Service (SaaS)” model. A server or database can be physically located in a highly-secure, remote location while the data is accessed from a client’s computer, using the database’s server to retrieve, sort, and analyze the data. This arrangement eliminates the need for a costly in-house IT department and hardware and the associated capital expense. Instead, a cloud computing provider owns the hardware while providing hosted, managed services to its clients on a usage basis. Cloud computing generally utilizes virtualized IT resources such as networks, servers, and computing devices.
In terms of a definition, Cloud Computing is an On-demand self-service coupled with Ubiquitous network access (internet standards based) and location independent resource pooling. Rapid elasticity (hence supply scalability and measure/metered service are the cornerstones of the Cloud Computing phenomenon. As a Platform Cloud Computing is very flexible in terms of Usage and Cost, enables to control and monitor infrastructure and services without needing to invest upfront on expensive infrastructure. Pay only for what is being used, scale up when there is a need capacity and pull it back when you don’t — all in a secure environment with over 99.9% uptime.
A key difference in virtualization and cloud computing from a user point of view as virtualization helps him is consolidating and sharing physical data servers and infrastructure but cloud computing helps in reducing the CAPEX involved in virtualization and it offers flexibility and scalability at an ease
Google Music was announced in May 2010 and it is expected to be up and running by the end of this year. As always, Google finds it looking into the eye of Apple Inc. with its iPods and iTunes dominating digital music space in US, accounting for 28% of all music purchased by US consumers in Q1,2010. Currently, Apple holds more consumer credit cards than any other company besides Amazon. Google Checkout in comparison is not put to pace.
In order to stand up to the Apple iTunes, iPhone and iPod, Google will need to look at the drawbacks of Apple as a music platform and must position itself as an alternative to the Apple Music platform. A few pointers to Google to get a march ahead of Apple in the digital music space:
1.Leverage Cloud Computing
Making an iTunes clone is one thing, making an iTunes alternative is completely another. Google with its expertise in cloud computing has the best opportunity to be the iTunes alternative. This is especially true in face of the trend where Smartphones are becoming primary storage devices. Even then, music storage on phones is not a realistic and sustainable alternative. Google must focus on cloud storage, which users will sync/access to music files.
2. Streaming Media
Streaming media synched to the cloud is the future of music.Music companies like Rdio, Spotify and Rhapsody already offer subscription based services for music on Mobile. Google’s opportunity would be to create a hybrid service that offers synching, streaming and purchase of music. That is where Google Checkout checks in.
3.Cross Platform Integration
While Apple specializes in selling all inclusive content packages, Google’s USP of being “Open” can help them make a music platform which is cross platforms. The acquisition of Simplify Media by Google in May is a good measure in this direction. Google already has plans to make their Google music available across a range of devices through the Android platform. The next frontier is to make Google Music available on all platforms whether Google or not.
4.Leverage vendors and music companies currently not on iTunes platform
Getting a sign-on on the Google platform with music labels and companies will allow Google to access popular content that is still not available in the iTunes store (eg. Beatles). Many such blank spaces exist where iTunes has not been able to establish themselves. Music will be a key factor in smartphone sales success, but with 75 to 85% of the catalogues still untouched by iTunes, there’s plenty of room for Google to step in.
Thus the positioning of Google Music is thus not just an iTunes+, that is open across platform hosts more labels and has new cloud based services and streaming that leverages Google’s “Open Technology”