Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Mano Marks, Harry Trott

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) View Comments

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.


Most Recent Comments
Virtualization news for the channel community and you ! 06/08/08 04:59:13 PM EDT

Trackback Added: From Virtualization to cloud computing?; Over the last months, years (as virtualization grew big) more and more people started thinking again about Cloud Computing. Now cloud computing has been around for over decades, yet it has not been able to become mainstream. Possibly with the trend to ...

@ThingsExpo Stories
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus o...
The Internet of Things can drive efficiency for airlines and airports. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Sudip Majumder, senior director of development at Oracle, discussed the technical details of the connected airline baggage and related social media solutions. These IoT applications will enhance travelers' journey experience and drive efficiency for the airlines and the airports.
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
"LinearHub provides smart video conferencing, which is the Roundee service, and we archive all the video conferences and we also provide the transcript," stated Sunghyuk Kim, CEO of LinearHub, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Things are changing so quickly in IoT that it would take a wizard to predict which ecosystem will gain the most traction. In order for IoT to reach its potential, smart devices must be able to work together. Today, there are a slew of interoperability standards being promoted by big names to make this happen: HomeKit, Brillo and Alljoyn. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Adam Justice, vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, will review what happens when smart devices don’t work togethe...
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Discover top technologies and tools all under one roof at April 24–28, 2017, at the Westin San Diego in San Diego, CA. Explore the Mobile Dev + Test and IoT Dev + Test Expo and enjoy all of these unique opportunities: The latest solutions, technologies, and tools in mobile or IoT software development and testing. Meet one-on-one with representatives from some of today's most innovative organizations
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and E...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, introduced the technologies required for implementing these idea...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud enviro...
"A lot of times people will come to us and have a very diverse set of requirements or very customized need and we'll help them to implement it in a fashion that you can't just buy off of the shelf," explained Nick Rose, CTO of Enzu, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web co...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.