Entering Enterprise Territory at Cloud Expo 2010: Notes from the Show Floor

By Nicole Hemsoth

November 3, 2010

Greetings from Cloud Expo in Silicon Valley where HPC in the Cloud is spending the week finding interesting people to talk to about what’s going on in the enterprise cloud space.  I probably don’t need to reiterate that it’s not as similar as one might think to what’s important for high-performance computing in the cloud; it’s apples and oranges — but thus far it’s been quite an experience.

On a side note, it was even more exciting to be in town when the Giants won the World Series. For those who weren’t here, there was a moment where it seemed like the whole valley echoed with one unanimous roar of delight; cool stuff.

But back to the clouds, since that’s why so many gathered…

According to Expo personnel, around 5,000 registrants, from end users, speakers and vendors, were expected to attend. It might not seem like that many were here just by walking around, but the event has been spread over several days and the Santa Clara Conference Center is a rather large venue, so it’s difficult to get a feel for how accurate those numbers are.

Sys-Con Media, organizers of the conference, started the series back in 2007, “the day the term ‘cloud computing was coined” and held an event that same year in New York with 450 delegates that has now grown significantly across their series, which includes other cities and regions. It will be interesting to chart the growth of the event with each passing year in contrast to how the term “cloud” as a buzzphrase (albeit a long-lasting one thus far) fares on the hype cycle. According to some, it’s already peaked.

While there were a few occasions when I actually had to explain to folks what the HPC acronym stood for — an unexpected issue since most conferences I’ve attended have had high-performance computing either directly or indirectly in the title — there has been plenty of food for thought to be found. I expected there to be some separation between what we cover here and what I was going to find in the sessions and conversations with vendors, but I didn’t realize the extent of the disparity, especially for newer companies who are not targeting HPC in any way — between what’s meaningful for cloud discussions for enterprise versus technical users. There’s quite a chasm.

There are some pronounced differences in how the scientific and technical computing folks view cloud computing versus how it’s portrayed here, which didn’t come as a surprise in itself to say the least. It’s just that there are far different approaches, at least from the vendors, when they’re targeting small to mid-sized business with the occasional mega-enterprise score thrown in. I didn’t hear much about latency this week; instead, key words that I kept hearing were “ease of use” and “simple to manage” and the ubiquitous, vague term “solution.”

As you can imagine given the enterprise focus on the conference, many of the sessions at this event were geared toward the CIO-level executive or others who were considering making the move to the cloud. From those potential end users I was able to find and talk to, a common theme was that they had been sent to investigate the clouds based on directives from non-technical personnel at their respective companies since the promise of clouds has been reaching the mainstream business media in a way that’s almost impossible to ignore. Some had already implemented private cloud solutions of one kind or another but I was unable to find anyone who was using the public cloud for any mission-critical applications, only an occasional user who discussed the benefits of using the “cloud-bursting” model to push out into Amazon’s cloud for extra capacity on an infrequent basis.

Speakers were gearing their sessions toward this audience; these groups of scattered enterprise IT folks who wandered through the sessions clutching their notebooks and iPads, tenuously taking notes and walking away in small clusters, talking into the broad range of other topics that were organized by interest “tracks.”

Sessions Upon Sessions

For these enterprise IT professionals, there would have been a number of valuable sessions, indeed. Some did stick to working with definitions of clouds and providing the basics, but others took a more focused approach and delivered some keen insights. For instance, Dave Malcom from Quest delivered a “Masters Class in Enterprise Cloud Automation” and Peter Nickolov, senior vice president of software engineering at 3Tera Cloud Division/CA Technologies, presented a session on advanced cloud architectures.

Of particular interest was a talk given by John Monson called “The Impact of I/O Performance on Cloud Service Level Agreements” and as well as Gunther Schmalzhaf’s presentation, “Integrating Heterogeneity: Managing Applications in Virtualization and Cloud Infrastructures.” Vineet  Tyagi from Impetus presented another great session (we have a video interview with him that will be posted soon) covering the Hadoop ecosystem entitled “Deriving Intelligence from Large Data — Using Hadoop and Applying Analytics” which ended up being one of the few that was very focused on the kinds of issues we cover here.

Otherwise, there was quite a large collection of presentations from across the vendor community that could have all read as “How to Make the Cloud Work for You” whether that was in the cost or efficiency sense or simply for the purposes of selling the cloud idea to those who showed up only because they wanted to learn more about what this catch-phrase “cloud” had to do with all that infrastructure they’d pumped hundreds of thousands (if not more) into throughout the years.

This is a great conference in terms of serving as an “on-ramp” to the cloud for enterprise leaders who are wary or haven’t done much due diligence to find out if the clouds are a good fit for their business. However, if they were on fence before, walking around the vendor booths would certainly leave them feeling that if they hadn’t done something cloud-related, they were somehow missing the boat.

There’s no denying that it’s exciting to be here, even though I’m trying to stay neutral and not forget my high-performance computing roots as I stroll about, investigating what the lower end cloud services are providing and to what types of customers. If nothing else, it lends quite a bit of perspective on what some of these smaller vendors are missing (and why they could never have offerings to match the needs of HPC applications) and conversely, what some in HPC might be overlooking when it comes to their consideration of clouds, particularly on the management level.

I am curious about this hype issue and again, wonder how long the term will remain valid enough to support a conference series and range of solutions that oftentimes, even with some of the bigger players in the computing market, seem a bit underdeveloped and thrown together. Only time will tell.

For now, we’re presenting all of you who couldn’t make it with some video treats to give you a feel for what’s going on in the enterprise cloud space and what folks are talking about. More updates coming today so stay tuned…

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