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Is PHP the Answer to Interoperable Cloud Computing?

Sun's Tim Bray: ""There is already sort of a cloud ecosystem out there in the world of PHP"

"There is already sort of a cloud ecosystem out there in the world of PHP," notes Sun's Tim Bray in a recent post. "There are a whole bunch of competitive vendors where you can upload a bunch of .php files and database dumps and with only a moderate amount of twiddling, get your app running," he adds.

"I’m simply not interested in any cloud offering at any level unless it offers zero barrier-to-exit," declares Bray, who as the co-inventor of XML has been a lifelong proponent of standards.

The opportunity presented by the advent of pay-as-you-go infrastructure, Bray says, is substantial:

"[T]he current economic climate is going to get in the way of anything that requires laying out capital. In this light, cloud computing starts to look good for the same reason that Open Source looks good: low up-front costs. So, just like everyone else, I think technology providers and consumers need to be looking really hard in this direction."

But he sees two flies in the ointment:

"The small problem is that we haven’t quite figured out the architectural sweet spot for cloud platforms. Is it Amazon’s EC2/S3 “Naked virtual whitebox” model? Is it a Platform-as-a-service flavor like Google App Engine? We just don’t know yet..."

And the big problem?

"[I]f cloud computing is going to take off, it absolutely, totally, must be lockin-free. What that means if that I’m deploying my app on Vendor X’s platform, there have to be other vendors Y and Z such that I can pull my app and its data off X and it’ll all run with minimal tweaks on either Y or Z."

In Bray's view, at the moment anyway, he dopesn't think either the Amazon or Google offerings qualify.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
ericnovikoff 11/07/08 12:01:16 PM EST

I am impressed to see a simple and fresh perspective on the cloud. Notwithstanding all the hype about the cloud, I see the minimum value that it has to provide is "hosting done right." If we face the facts, most if not all of the "hosting" advertised on the internet is oversold, resulting in hosting getting a bad rap, and certainly only of interest to small businesses or low-end consumers. Cloud computing has the opportunity to go beyond that bad rap, and embracing Bray's tenets is one way to do that. Vendor-independence certainly will lead vendors to clean up their acts!

There are other potential (and mostly unrealized) advantages of cloud computing as well which I think will give it a better name than hosting:
- Less cross-customer side-effects from sharing of resource pools, resulting in predictable performance
- Better uptime due to published uptime statistics which drive vendors to improve (by shaming them!)
- Development of reference architectures or deployment platforms that improve interoperability and portability, including the virtual private data center model that some cloud vendors use
- Improved vendor transparency so businesses will trust their crown jewels to the cloud
- More focus on the customer due to a more competitive market

I'm not convinced PHP is the only way to go here. Once you bring a language into the discussion, you bring religion into the discussion! There are other languages that would easily quality as "cloud ready" including Google's choice of Python. And let's not forget Java, which our customers have been very successful with. What's more important is the quality, interoperability, and portability the service provides - in other words, the value. This is because ultimately value is measured in the people-time and organizational effort required to deploy to the cloud, not just the cost per CPU-hour.