Interface to the World Wide Cloud?

By By Dennis Barker, GRIDtoday

June 23, 2008

Sure, it’s among the hottest computing trends around, but let’s face it: cloud computing can look kind of blobby. It’s amorphous, lacking solid definition, with inestimable girth. But this blob will shape up, and some proponents say it will shape up like the Web did: by letting smart people get in there and innovate.

This won’t happen, though, until there is a shared set of interfaces, simple interfaces, the cloud’s equivalents of HTTP, TCP and HTML, says Bert Armijo, senior vice president of product development at 3Tera. 3Tera, known for its unique virtualization and scalability technology, wants to provide some of those interfaces, some of the essential building blocks to get things going. The company’s Cloudware architecture, which it recently began rolling out, is about defining that first set of interfaces, Armijo says. It is an open framework that incorporates the basic elements — from computing to storage to software catalogs — and the ways in which they all work together.

“Those simple methods for pointing at and defining data on the Web allowed people to build things on top of it that no one had dreamed of,” Armijo says. “When Tim Berners-Lee was developing the Web, he didn’t necessarily envision Akamai coming along, or YouTube or Amazon. All these things were made possible because of the very open nature and simple nature of the protocols that supported the Web.”

“What we’re tying to do with Cloudware,” he says, “is to provide some of the interfaces so that the cloud can do with infrastructure what the Web did with information — make it possible to express infrastructure in such a way that it’s extensible and fluid.” One way to think of it, in very simple form, is that infrastructure becomes like a Web page consisting of a bunch of different components, possibly served up from a bunch of different places, and coming together to display a cohesive piece of information.

Cloud Logic

The core of 3Tera’s approach is its established grid operating system, AppLogic, which enables users to scale applications up and down on demand across commodity servers, without having to modify their code. Since AppLogic is chugging away behind so much of what Cloudware will do, it’s worth recapping what it can do: scale applications from a piece of a server to the whole server farm; add or drop servers or storage without interrupting the running application; automate failover; and simplify management of servers, storage and applications from a browser. With AppLogic as its sort of magic center, Cloudware will dynamically create virtual appliances that build the “disposable” infrastructure an application needs to run.

3Tera just released beta version 2.3 of AppLogic, “the first step toward Cloudware,” Armijo says. The biggest addition probably is support for Open Solaris and Solaris 10. The virtual appliance catalog now includes Open Solaris-based appliances, but not Solaris 10 appliances because of Sun licensing requirements, the company says. The core system also now supports 64-bit applications. Windows support is planned for August, Armijo says. (“No way you can do cloud computing without supporting Windows,” says Armijo.)

Other planned additions include pre-fabricated MySQL clusters, database replication appliances and the ability to choose multiple centers worldwide.

However, while AppLogic is a significant component of Cloudware, it is not Cloudware itself. “We’re taking AppLogic and breaking it down into its vital pieces,” Armijo says. One of those pieces is ADL, or application descriptor language. “Just as the Web had HTML,” he says, “the cloud can have ADL. It has been part of AppLogic since day one, but we haven’t exposed it until now. People will be able to see how AppLogic builds applications. Lo and behold, it’s very much like what we see with HMTL. Just as HTML tells your browser how to build a Web page, ADL can tell the cloud how to build infrastructure. With an ADL file, we’re going to be able to describe a service.”

Cloudware is designed to provide the necessary elements for scalable cloud computing, including: AppLogic, the execution engine, which creates resource pools of computing, storage and networking capabilities; a global catalog where developers can publish their appliances and applications for other cloud users; a control interface, including monitoring screens, dashboards, design and development tools, and a Web services API for adding features to the cloud; the infrastructure delivery network, which provides authentication, resource registration, control interfaces and catalogs; and client software that will enable users to connect to the cloud and run applications as if they were on a regular network.

“We want to offer our components and open all the specs for the cloud, and make sure they’re defined well enough so that people can build to them,” Armijo says. “Cloudware is about going way beyond an API to describe infrastructure at a higher level and being able to piece together large services, like we do with information today on the Web.” 3Tera will start publishing specifications as to how the different components interact, as well as the specs for ADL, and at some point approach standards bodies, he says.

In the open cloud 3Tera envisions, AppLogic and other Cloudware elements will enable the system to build the different components needed for infrastructure. “An ADL descriptor will build the application or service for you, and that application will be to move and use resources anywhere,” Armijo says. “In Cloudware, you wouldn’t have to establish a relationship with a datacenter when you suddenly need resources to handle an increase in traffic, or to provide disaster recovery. You would create instances that could then run on any other services. You can even publish your application as a service. People will be able to publish very complex infrastructure.”

3Tera says Cloudware will simplify cloud development and deployment for many organizations. Any company that needs the infrastructure to run Web applications and services would benefit from not having to invest in servers and other datacenter equipment. These types of subscribers can run whatever applications and middleware they need, scale up and down as needed, and pay only for what they use. One customer 3Tera says is planning a move to Cloudware is DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit site where people can help high schools in need.

Software developers could publish virtual appliances or complete, ready-made applications in the resource catalog. By way of example, Armijo says Oracle could offer an Oracle RAC instance that anyone can use for a subscription fee.

Datacenter operators and service providers will be able to publish resources such as servers, firewalls, load balancers, and network connectivity and make them available to customers on a subscription basis. Because this published infrastructure will be shareable — open source infrastructure — cloud users can take advantage of the proven efforts of others rather than have to build or buy every piece themselves.

“Fundamentally, cloud computing is about making self-service IT systems by combining grid computing and virtualization,” says Alistair Croll, an analyst who covers emerging Web technologies for Bitcurrent and posts at bitcurrent.com. “This is great for operations, and it’s what 3Tera addresses. But there’s also a layer of services atop that, which makes things work better or makes it easier to develop applications rapidly. And that’s great for engineering.”

An open, Web-like cloud with a layer of innovative services has been one of 3Tera’s big messages with Cloudware. The company is providing hooks into the cloud, underlying technologies and potential standards, along with a philosophy for the way forward. 3Tera execs like to note that when big cloud vendors say “cloud,” they mean their cloud. In a Cloudwarian cloud, except where users want it, there will be no “their.”

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