Tag Archives: cloud computing

Clouds On A Plane: VMware’s Micro Cloud Foundry Brings PaaS To My Laptop

On the eve of this week’s VMworld conference in Las Vegas, VMware announced that Micro Cloud Foundry is finally available for general distribution. This new offering is a completely self-contained instantiation of the company’s Cloud Foundry PaaS solution, which I wrote about earlier this spring. Micro Cloud Foundry comes packaged as a virtual machine, easily distributable on a USB key (as they proved at today’s session on this topic at VMworld), or as a quick download. The distribution is designed to run locally on your laptop without any external dependencies. This allows developers to code and test Cloud Foundry apps offline, and deploy these to the cloud with little more than some simple scripting. This may be the killer app PaaS needs to be taken seriously by the development community.

The reason Micro Cloud Foundry appeals to me is that it fits well with my own coding style (at least for the small amount of development I still find time to do). My work seems to divide into two different buckets consisting of those things I do locally, and the things I do in the cloud. More often than not, things find themselves in one bucket or the other because of how well the tooling supports my work style for the task at hand.

As a case in point, I always build presentations locally using PowerPoint. If you’ve ever seen one of my presentations, you hopefully remember a lot of pictures and illustrations, and not a lot of bullet points. I’m something of a frustrated graphic designer. I lack any formal training, but I suppose that I share some of the work style of a real designer—notably intense focus, iterative development, and lots of experimentation.

Developing a highly graphic presentation is the kind of work that relies as much on tool capability as it does on user expertise. But most of all, it demands a highly responsive experience. Nothing kills my design cycle like latency. I have never seen a cloud-based tool for presentations that meets all of my needs, so for the foreseeable future, local PowerPoint will remain my illustration tool of choice.

I find that software development is a little like presentation design. It responds well to intense focus and enjoys a very iterative style. And like graphic design, coding is a discipline that demands instantaneous feedback. Sometimes I write applications in a simple text editor, but when I can, I much prefer the power of a full IDE. Sometimes I think that IntelliJ IDEA is the smartest guy in the room. So for many of the same reasons I prefer local PowerPoint for presentations, so too I prefer a local IDE with few if any external dependencies for software development.

What I’ve discovered is that I don’t want to develop in the cloud; but I do want to use cloud services and probably deploy my application into the cloud. I want a local cloud I can work on offline without any external dependency. (In truth, I really do code on airplanes—indeed some of my best work takes place at 35,000 feet.) Once I’m ready to deploy, I want to migrate my app into the cloud without modifying the underlying code.

Until recently, this was hard to do. But it sounds like Micro Cloud Foundry is just what I have been looking for. More on this topic once I’ve had a chance to dig deeply into it.

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Certificate Program in Cloud Computing

This fall, the Professional and Continuing Education division at the University of Washington is introducing a new certificate program in cloud computing. It consists of three consecutive courses taken on Monday nights throughout the fall, winter and spring terms. In keeping with the cloud theme, you can attend either in person at the UW campus, or online. The cost is US $2577 for the program.

The organizers invited me on to a call this morning to learn about this new program. The curriculum looks good, covering everything from cloud fundamentals to big data. The instructors are taking a very project-based approach to teaching, which I always find is the best way to learn any technology.

It is encouraging to see continuing ed departments address the cloud space. Clearly they’ve noted a demand for more structured education in cloud technology. No doubt we will see many programs similar to this one appear in the future.

Can’t See The SOA For The Clouds

It has been quite a week for SOA. First, TheServerSide published a presentation delivered at their recent Java conference by Rod Johnson from VMware in which he essentially accused SOA of being a fad. Normally this is the kind of comment people would overlook; however, Rod, who is SVP, Middleware and GM of the SpringSource division at VMware, is very well regarded in the Java community, so his comments certainly carry weight.

First to cry foul was Dave Linthicum writing in Infoworld, who made the important point that “SOA is something you do” whereas “cloud computing is a computing model.” Joe McKendrick at ZDnet quickly followed up, adding that “too much work has gone into SOA over too many years at companies to relegate it to “artificial fad” status.“

To be fair to Rod, his actual statement is as follows:

If you look at the industry over the past few years, the way in which cloud computing is spoken of today is the way in which SOA was spoken of four or five years ago. I think with respect to SOA, it really was a fad. It was something that is very sound at an architectural practice level, but in terms of selling product, it was really an artificial, marketing created, concept.

And in many ways, it is hard to disagree with him. As a SOA vendor, I’m as guilty as anyone of… um… perhaps being overly enthusiastic in my support of SOA. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it would all lead to an eventual backlash. Anne Thomas Manes was certainly the most effective at calling us all out a few years ago.

Putting hype cycles behind us though, it would be a shame to miss the real impact that SOA has had in the enterprise. I would argue that SOA is in fact a great success, because while the term may have gone out of fashion, we have absorbed the ideas it described. I don’t need to write about the vision of SOA anymore; my customers seem to know it and practice the concepts without calling it such. And I don’t seem to need to evangelize my own SOA products the way I once did, simply because people accept SOA Gateways as the architectural best practice for run time governance.

This seems to be supported by an article Forrester analyst Randy Hefner published in CIO later in the week. In it, he describes the results of a survey they conducted earlier in the year. Randy writes:

organizations that use SOA for strategic business transformation must be on to something because they are much more satisfied with SOA than those that do not use SOA for strategic business transformation.

Randy’s report examines the use of SOA—apparently in its full three letter glory—as a tool to transform business. It’s a good article because he manages to distill so much of the theory and hand waving that turned people off into some concrete, prescriptive actions that just make sense.

He closes with this insight:

SOA policy management is an advanced area of architecture design, and policy-based control of services is the business-focused SOA practice that takes the greatest amount of SOA experience and expertise. Forrester first published its vision for SOA policy management three years ago, knowing it would take a while to mature in the industry, and indications are that interest in SOA policy increased significantly this year over previous years.

Given my own experience over the last year, I would agree entirely, and suggest that we are there.

Amazon’s Mensis Horribilis

Hot on the heels of Amazon Web Service’s prolonged outage late last month, Bloomberg has revealed that hackers used AWS as a launch pad for their high profile attack against Sony. In a thousand blogs and a million tweets, the Internets have been set abuzz with attention-seeking speculation about reliability and trust in the cloud. It’s a shame, because while these events are noteworthy, in the greater scheme of things they don’t mean much.

Few technologies are spared a difficult birth. But over time, with continuous refinement, they can become tremendously safe and reliable, something I’m reminded of every time I step on an airplane. It never ceases to amaze me how well the global aviation system operates. Yes, this has it’s failures—and these can be devastating; but overall the system works and we can place our trust in it. This is governance and management and engineering working at the highest levels.

Amazon has been remarkably candid about what happened during their service disruption, and it’s clear they have learned much from the incident. They are changing process, refining technology, and being uncharacteristically transparent about the event. This is the right thing to do, and it should actually give us confidence. The Amazon disruption won’t be the last service failure in the cloud, and I still believe that any enterprise with reliability concerns should deploy Cloud Service Broker (CSB) technologies. But the cloud needs failure to get better—and it is getting better.

In a similar vein, overreacting over the Sony incident is to miss what actually took place. The only cloud attribute the hackers leveraged on Amazon was convenience. This attack could have been launched from anywhere; Amazon simply provided barrier-free access to a compute platform, which is the point of cloud computing. It would be unfortunate if organizations began to blacklist general connections originating from the Amazon AWS IP range, as they already do for email originating in this domain because of an historical association with spam.  In truth this is another example of refinement by cloud providers, as effective policy control in Amazon’s data centers have now largely brought spam under control.

Negative impressions come easy in technology, and these are hard to reverse. Let’s hope that these incidents are recognized for what they are, rather than indicators of a fundamental flaw in cloud computing.

NIST Seeks Public Input On New Cloud Computing Guide

What is the cloud, really? Never before have we had a technology that suffers so greatly from such a completely ambiguous name. Gartner Research VP Paolo Malinverno has observed that most organizations define cloud as any application operating outside their own data centre. This is probably as lucid a definition as any I’ve heard.

More formalized attempts to describe cloud rapidly turn into essays that attempt to bridge the abstract with the very specific, and in doing seem to miss the cloud for the clouds. Certainly the most effective comprehensive definition has come from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and most of us in the cloud community have fallen back to this most authoritative reference when clarity is important.

Now is our chance to give back to NIST. To define cloud is to accept a task that will likely never end, and the standards boffins have been working hard to continually refine their work. They’ve asked for public comment, and I would encourage everyone to review their latest draft of the Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendations. This new publication builds on the basic definitions offered by NIST in the past, and at around 84 pages, it dives deep into the opportunities and issues surrounding SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS. There is good material here, and with community input it can become even better.

You have until June 13, 2011 to respond.

Layer 7 to Demonstrate Cloud Network Elasticity at TMForum Management World in Dublin

I’ll be at the TMForum Management World show this May 23-26, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland to participate in the catalyst demonstrating cloud network elasticity, which is sponsored by Deutsche Telekom and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. For those of you not yet familiar with TMForum, it is (from their web site) “the world’s leading industry association focused on enabling best-in-class IT for service providers in the communications, media, defense and cloud service markets.” We’ve been involved with the TMForum for a couple of years, and this show in Dublin is going to showcase some major breakthroughs in practical cloud computing.

TMForum offers catalysts as solution proof-of-concepts. A catalyst involves a number of vendors which partner together to demonstrate an end-to-end solution to a real problem faced by telco providers or the defense industry. This year, we’re working closely with Infonova, Zimory, and Ciena to showcase a cloud-in-a-box environment that features elastic scaling of compute resources and network bandwidth on-demand, all of which is fully integrated with an automated billing system.We think this solution will be a significant game-changer in the cloud infrastructure marketplace, and Layer 7’s CloudControl product is a part of this solution. CloudControl plays a crucial role in managing the RESTful APIs that tie together each vendor’s components.

What excites me about this catalyst is that it assembles best-of-breed vendors from the telco sector to create a truly practical elastic cloud. Zimoury contributes the management layer that transforms simple virtualized environments into clouds. We couple this with Ciena’s on-demand network bandwidth solutions, allowing users to acquire guaranteed communications capacity when they need it. Too often clouds elasticity starts and stops with CPU. Ciena’s technology ensures that the network resource factors into the elastic value proposition.

The front end is driven by Zimory’s BSS system, ensuring that all user actions are managed under a provider-grade billing framework. And finally, Layer 7’s CloudControl operates as the glue in the middle to add security and auditing, integrate disparate APIs, and provide application-layer visibility into all of the communications between different infrastructure components.

Layer 7's CloudControl acts as API glue between cloud infrastructure components.

I hope you can join me at TMForum Management World this month. We will be giving live demonstrations of the elastic cloud under real world scenarios given to us by Deutsche Telekom and Commonwealth Bank. This promises to be a very interesting show.

VMware’s Cloud Foundry Ushers In The Era Of Open PaaS

Mention VMware to anyone in IT and their immediate thought is virtualization. So dominant is the company in this space that the very word VM has a sense of ambiguity about it: does it refer specifically to a vmdk, or another hypervisor image like Xen? As with Kool-Aid and Band-Aid, there is nothing better for a company than to contribute a word to the English lexicon, and while VMware may not completely own virtual machine, they command enough association to get passed the doorman of that enviable club.

Strong associations however, may not translate directly into revenue. From open source Xen to Microsoft’s Hyper-V, virtualization technology is rapidly commoditizing, a threat not lost on VMware. Hypervisors are now largely free, and much of the company’s continued success derives from the sophisticated management products that make mass virtualization a tractable challenge in the enterprise. But for every OpenView, there is ultimately a Nagios to content with, so the successful company is always innovating. VMware, a very successful company, is innovating by continuing its push up the stack.

Last week VMware introduced Cloud Foundry, an open Platform-as-a-Service product that represents an important step to transform the company into a dominant PaaS player. You don’t have to read any tea leaves to see this has been their focused strategy for some time; you just have to look at their acquisitions. SpringSource for Java frameworks; RabbitMQ for queuing; Gemstone for scalable, distributed persistence; and Hyperic to manage it all—it’s basically the modern developer’s shopping list of necessary application infrastructure. The only thing they are still missing is security.

Cloud Foundry assembles some components of this technology in a package that enables developers to skip the once-necessary evil of infrastructure integration and to instead concentrate fully on the business problems they’ve been tasked to solve. It is a carefully curated stack of cloud-centric frameworks and infrastructure made available by a cloud provider as a service. Right now, you can use Cloud Foundry in VMware-managed cloud; but the basic offering is available for any cloud, public or private. Applications should be easily portable between any instance of Cloud Foundry. VMware even promises a forthcoming micro-cloud VM, which makes any developer’s laptop into a cloud development environment.

All of this reduces friction in application development. Computing is full of barriers, and we often fall into the psychological trap of perceiving these to be bigger than they actually are. Barriers are the enemy of agile, and basic infrastructure is a barrier that too often saps the energy out of a new idea before it has a chance to grow. Make the plumbing available, make it simple to use, and half the battle for new apps is over. What’s left is just fun.

Cloud Foundry is important because it’s like a more open Azure. Microsoft deserves credit for keeping the PaaS dream alive with their own offering, but Azure suffers from a sense of lock-in, and it really only speaks to the Microsoft community. Plus the Microsoft ad campaign for cloud is so nauseating it might as well be bottled as a developer repellant for people who hate geeks.

Cloud Foundry, in contrast, goes far to establish its claim to openness. It references the recently announced Cloud Developer’s Bill of Rights, another initiative spearheaded by VMware. Despite being a Java-head myself, I was encouraged to learn that Cloud Foundry offered not just Spring, but Ruby on Rails, Sinatra for Ruby and Node.js. They also support Grails, as well as other frameworks based on the JVM. Persistence is handled by MySQL, MongoDB, or the Redis database, which is a decent range of options. So while VMware has’t quite opened up all their acquisition portfolio to the cloud community, they have assembled the critical pieces and seem genuine in their goal of erasing the stigma of lock-in that has tarnished previous commercial PaaS offerings.

I’m a fan of PaaS; I’m even a member of the club that believes that of the big three *-as-a-Services, PaaS is destined to be the dominant pattern. Managing and configuring infrastructure is, in my mind, pretty much on par with actually managing systems—a task I consider even less rewarding than shoveling manure. And I’m not alone in this opinion either. Once PaaS becomes open and trustworthy, it will be an automatic choice for most development. PaaS is the future of cloud, and VMware knows this.