Cloud Computing’s Identity Crisis: Does a Definition Matter?

By Derrick Harris

June 30, 2008

Cloud computing … what the heck is it? Not only do I not possess the magic definition (and I talk about it nearly every day), but I’m not convinced anyone does.

Structure 08, held last week in San Francisco, offered attendees the opportunity to wrap their heads around the idea of cloud computing, bringing in some of the biggest names and companies in the industry — Amazon, Google, Microsoft, GigaSpaces, Salesforce.com, etc. — to try to clear up the picture. But therein lies the rub: everyone does “cloud” differently, and depending on your semantical leaning, anyone can be found to offer more true-to-definition cloud computing than the other guy. Is cloud computing open? Should it be? Well, that depends on your definition of “open.” You get the point.

Actually, this very question (of cloud openness) stole the show in a panel discussion featuring: Christophe Bisciglia, senior software engineer with Google; Jason Hoffman, founder and CTO of Joyent; Tony Lucas, CEO of XCalibre Communications; Lew Moorman, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Rackspace; Geva Perry, chief marketing officer of GigaSpaces; and Joe Weinman, vice president of strategic solutions at AT&T. But the discussion didn’t limit its mixed definitions to the realm of openness.

The discussion kicked off with a question by moderator, and BitCurrent analyst, Alistair Croll asking the panelists about the differences between cloud computing and grid computing. Joyent’s Hoffman answered that grid computing is about batch jobs, I guess inferring that cloud computing is inherently more on-demand. While the latter might be true, the distinction can’t be that clear. After all, banks are increasingly using grids for algorithmic trading — a practice that cannot rationally be described as batch processing. AT&T’s Weinman, for his part, drew the line at billing. A cloud that isn’t billable, he said, is a grid. Again, it cannot be — and, indeed, is not — this easy.

One of the biggest arguments in cloud computing is whether it must involve an external service, or if internal platforms can be considered clouds. If the latter is true, as companies like GigaSpaces, Appistry and even IBM believe to be the case, then the difference between clouds and grids cannot be broken down to billing, or to a case of private versus public. Blurring the lines even more is the case of a company using a grid infrastructure with a billing mechanism to charge the individual departments within the company. What do we call it then? It’s internal, it’s a grid, but it’s billable, so it must be a … cloud?

No one with whom I spoke at Structure (or elsewhere, for that matter) seems to have a definitive answer to this question. I posit that there is no blatant distinction between grid computing and cloud computing because the latter represents the service-oriented evolution of the former. Especially given the wont of marketing departments to stretch the definitions of buzzwords to fit whatever they’re doing, I predict we can expect to see almost every service-oriented distributed platform described as a cloud — even if we would have called it a grid just a year ago at this time. My advice: deal with it.

As noted above, the highlight of this panel was a lively, at times heated, debate about whether cloud computing is (or should be) open, or whether it is subjecting users to the type of lock-in we have decried in traditional models. XCalibre’s Lucas and Joyent’s Hoffman called out Google, claiming that its use of Big Table as the database layer of App Engine forces users to abandon existing databases and write only with Big Table in mind. Google’s Bisciglia defended these allegations deftly, stating that the App Engine API works best with Big Table, but doesn’t require developers to use it. He added that there are competitive reasons for not completely opening up the Big Table code.

Let’s be frank, though. Google most likely created App Engine with the thought that users would leverage Big Table; openness probably wasn’t a big concern. Is this such a problem? As Bisciglia put it, Big Table is something that has worked very well for Google, so it just logical Google would make it the database component of any cloud computing platform. The bottom line is that it is the best choice right now. This sentiment was echoed by Rackspace’s Moorman, who noted that cloud computing sometimes is about trade-offs, wherein customers wanting the best tools might have to make some sacrifices. It’s not necessarily that Big Table is competing with Oracle, but rather that Big Table is just a part of the App Engine platform. Mosso, the cloud computing division of Rackspace, offers a similar platform, where, in the name of optimal performance, users are relegated to porting only applications written in languages that best mesh with the Hosting Cloud platform.

While everyone agreed that cloud standards and interoperability are noble goals that would solve many of the problems relating to cloud provider lock-in, I don’t necessarily see them as too important just yet. Just like everyone seems to have different definitions of cloud computing, so do people have different ideas of what it will take to get enterprises on board. I tend to agree with Moorman in believing that trade-offs are not necessarily such a bad thing, and that the optimized tools (and, thus, limited flexibility) of highly managed offerings like Google’s App Engine or Mosso’s Hosting Cloud actually make life easier for newcomers. Once they experience positive results with minimal effort, maybe they will feel comfortable diving a little deeper, taking advantage of solutions like Amazon EC2 or GoGrid, near-bare-metal offerings which allow greater flexibility in terms of programming language, operating system, database, etc.

Other Structure Highlights

  • Jonathan Yarmis, vice president of disruptive technologies for AMR Research, described cloud computing as a real paradigm shift, insinuating that this is not a “boy who cried wolf” situation. The next five years could make the Internet revolution “feel like child’s play,” he said, with cloud computing and stream computing enabling EaaS — everything as a service. He added that with the explosive growth in data, especially of the disposable variety variety, cloud computing will be called upon to manage and process it. Yarmis concluded by answering an audience question about how the economic downturn could affect cloud computing. With its higher efficiency and cheaper entry points, “I think an economic downturn, in fact, could accelerate cloud computing,” said Yarmis.

  • Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels led off his keynote by stating that, “At Structure 10, the whole discussion will be different. All the things that now seem new will be established.” If Amazon’s history is any indicator, Vogels’ prediction will be spot on. He noted how Amazon’s infrastructure was a “duct tape and WD-4- operation” until 2001, when a project to optimize Target’s retail Web site helped transition Amazon’s platform into the service-oriented (currently housing about 1,000 services) we see today. Last quarter, he said, Amazon Web services bandwidth flew past the company’s e-commerce bandwidth, adding credence to a ZDnet quip that with its Web services, Amazon is like a bookstore selling cocaine out the back door. Guess which one is the real business. (Other points of Vogels’ keynote were the same as his Next Generation Data Center keynote last year.)

  • Sun Microsystems CTO Greg Papadopoulos took advantage of his afternoon keynote to plug Sun’s Project Caroline, which is described on the project site as: “a research program developing a horizontally scalable platform for the development and deployment of Internet services. The platform comprises a programmatically configurable pool of virtualized compute, storage, and networking resources. Project Caroline helps software providers develop services rapidly, update in-production services frequently, and automatically flex their use of platform resources to match changing runtime demands.”

Papadopoulos also predicted that by 2010 (curiously, the same year noted earlier by Vogels), Web, HPC and SaaS workloads will comprise the majority of system volume.

  • Mendel Rosenblum, co-founder and chief scientist of VMware, provided some of most insightful nuggets of the day, particularly as they relate to VMware’s vision. In an on-stage interview, Rosenblum said that server consolidation was just an entry point, but the real vision of VMware always was about decoupling all computing from specific hardware and experiencing dynamic allocation via a distributed system running your entire datacenter. You can basically run your own cloud now, he said, and (thanks in part to multi-core processors) it “doesn’t even make sense” to run a machine without a virtual layer.

Speaking of cloud computing, Rosenblum says people are free to have “cloud visions” where no one is managing machines, but VMware sees users being a little more conservative. He sees companies building their own little clouds, maybe migrating if they get comfortable with large-scale providers. And if they do decide to make the move, Rosenblum said that by the end of next year, VMware should have the technology to allow for seamless switching between in- house and external clouds. Adoption, however, will be more gradual, he believes.

  • Ot notable absence from the stage was IBM, who some would say is leading the enterprise cloud computing charge with its soon-to-come Blue Cloud line of solutions.

Final Structure Takeaways

Although Structure failed to give attendees a clearer understanding of what, exactly, cloud computing is and is not (if that even was one of its goals), the event certainly was full of excitement and full of optimism. If Structure continues in the years to come, and if more events spring up with the goal of highlighting what we are today calling “cloud computing,” I have to think a definition will firm up right along with it. Of course, as long as users are excited and actually adopting these technologies, whatever we call them, a definition might not matter. And as I heard analogized by several speakers and attendees, deciding to adopt cloud computing is a lot like deciding where to put your money: people initially were skeptical about putting their money in the bank until they realized that the bank was a better option than sticking it under the mattress. As cloud services and their respective providers continue to evolve, the IT community will make the same determination.

Elsewhere in the Issue

For an in-depth look at Hyperic’s new tool for monitoring the status (availability, throughput, latency, etc.) of Amazon’s stable of Web services, be sure to check out Dennis Barker’s feature article “Shining a Light into Amazon’s Darkness.” Many are skeptical about what is happening within EC2 in terms of performance, etc., and Hyperic’s CloudStatus.com is among the best tools available for looking into this cloudy area. In time, Hyperic plans to offer similar capabilities for Google’s App Engine and Salesforce.com’s Force.com platforms, and also hopes to incorporate application-specific performance metrics.

There also were many big announcements across the cloud computing and broader virtualization market. For the sake of brevity, I’m only noting the following, but there are several others of some import, so be sure scan the entire issue: “Yahoo Realigns, Focuses on Cloud Computing”; “IBM Opens Cloud Computing Centers in Africa, China”; “Univa UD Unveils New Datacenter Automation Strategy”; “Microsoft Deploys IBM iDataPlex in HPC Labs”; “GigaSpaces Offers Scale-Out App Server on EC2”; “Symplified Intros Grid-Based Identity Management for SaaS”; and “DynamicOps Intros Unique VM Management Software.”

—–

Comments about GRIDtoday are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Derrick Harris, at [email protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Hyperion: AI-driven HPC Industry Continues to Push Growth Projections

November 21, 2019

Three major forces – AI, cloud and exascale – are combining to raise the HPC industry to heights exceeding expectations. According to market study results released this week by Hyperion Research at SC19 in Denver, Read more…

By Doug Black

At SC19: Bespoke Supercomputing for Climate and Weather

November 20, 2019

Weather and climate applications are some of the most important uses of HPC – a good model can save lives, as well as billions of dollars. But many weather and climate models struggle to run efficiently in their HPC en Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Microsoft, Nvidia Launch Cloud HPC Service

November 20, 2019

Nvidia and Microsoft have joined forces to offer a cloud HPC capability based on the GPU vendor’s V100 Tensor Core chips linked via an InfiniBand network scaling up to 800 graphics processors. The partners announced Read more…

By George Leopold

Hazra Retiring from Intel Data Center Group, Successor Not Known

November 20, 2019

Rajeeb Hazra, corporate VP of Intel’s Data Center Group and GM for the Enterprise and Government Group, is retiring after more than 24 years at the company. At this writing, his successor is unknown. An earlier story on... Read more…

By Doug Black

Jensen Huang’s SC19 – Fast Cars, a Strong Arm, and Aiming for the Cloud(s)

November 20, 2019

We’ve come to expect Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s annual SC keynote to contain stunning graphics and lively bravado (with plenty of examples) in support of GPU-accelerated computing. In recent years, AI has joined the s Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Data Management – The Key to a Successful AI Project

 

Five characteristics of an awesome AI data infrastructure

[Attend the IBM LSF & HPC User Group Meeting at SC19 in Denver on November 19!]

AI is powered by data

While neural networks seem to get all the glory, data is the unsung hero of AI projects – data lies at the heart of everything from model training to tuning to selection to validation. Read more…

SC19 Student Cluster Competition: Know Your Teams

November 19, 2019

I’m typing this live from Denver, the location of the 2019 Student Cluster Competition… and, oh yeah, the annual SC conference too. The attendance this year should be north of 13,000 people, with the majority attende Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion: AI-driven HPC Industry Continues to Push Growth Projections

November 21, 2019

Three major forces – AI, cloud and exascale – are combining to raise the HPC industry to heights exceeding expectations. According to market study results r Read more…

By Doug Black

At SC19: Bespoke Supercomputing for Climate and Weather

November 20, 2019

Weather and climate applications are some of the most important uses of HPC – a good model can save lives, as well as billions of dollars. But many weather an Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hazra Retiring from Intel Data Center Group, Successor Not Known

November 20, 2019

Rajeeb Hazra, corporate VP of Intel’s Data Center Group and GM for the Enterprise and Government Group, is retiring after more than 24 years at the company. At this writing, his successor is unknown. An earlier story on... Read more…

By Doug Black

Jensen Huang’s SC19 – Fast Cars, a Strong Arm, and Aiming for the Cloud(s)

November 20, 2019

We’ve come to expect Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s annual SC keynote to contain stunning graphics and lively bravado (with plenty of examples) in support of GPU Read more…

By John Russell

Top500: US Maintains Performance Lead; Arm Tops Green500

November 18, 2019

The 54th Top500, revealed today at SC19, is a familiar list: the U.S. Summit (ORNL) and Sierra (LLNL) machines, offering 148.6 and 94.6 petaflops respectively, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ScaleMatrix and Nvidia Launch ‘Deploy Anywhere’ DGX HPC and AI in a Controlled Enclosure

November 18, 2019

HPC and AI in a phone booth: ScaleMatrix and Nvidia announced today at the SC19 conference in Denver a joint offering that puts up to 13 petaflops of Nvidia DGX Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This