What WORA can tell us about the future of the cloud

Sun Microsystems’ slogan, “Write once, run anywhere,” (WORA) was hot stuff in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Today, a new technology wave is forming, “Deploy once, scale anywhere,” or DOSA. So why should we care about WORA now? By understanding the evolution of Java and the emergence of WORA, we may discover insights into how the various cloud computing paradigms will evolve in the coming years.
As an enterprise architect with multiple large Java and cloud deployments, I have been intimately involved in both technology waves. Based on this experience, I can see the parallels and I believe that the various cloud platforms will ultimately provide the equivalent of the Java virtual machine (JVM) and create infrastructure independence that will enable new architectures.
As cloud computing platforms start to mature and the seeds of interoperability begin to sprout, the days of DOSA are not far away. The Eucalyptus-AWS API compatibility deal is one way this could be accomplished. Another might be the ubiquitous availability of OpenStack-enabled cloud services from such providers as HP, RackSpace and AT&T. VMWare’s recent acquisition of DynamicOps also points in this direction. These are just some of the developments that are happening every day. DOSA looks even nearer with PaaS technologies, such as CloudFoundry and OpenShift, providing elastic application containers the same way that Java promised ubiquitous availability of Java virtual machines 15 years ago. Clearly, key industry players are starting to get ready.
My bet is that cloud computing’s chaotic landscape (especially IaaS and PaaS) will evolve into a more nuanced DOSA message. Enterprise IT will have the ability to shrink and surge based on open and flexible infrastructure platforms. These infrastructure platforms will largely consist of commodity hardware and smart software that ensure interoperability across service providers.
Here are three key WORA and DOSA parallels:

1. New way of running apps 

Just as organizations in the late ’90s struggled with how to build new applications for the Internet and Web era, companies today are looking for new ways to build Web-scale systems. And just as Java was seen as the new way of building applications that could be deployed on any operating system, the next generation of cloud apps can be dynamically deployed on any cloud platform. Driven by the explosion of mobile devices and resource rich apps, companies are now moving away from expensive specialized servers to a more commodity based scale-out model. A logical extension of these scale-out models is the ability to easily pick and choose infrastructure service providers and thereby reduce vendor lock-in.

2. The surge of open systems continues

The idea that software should be open without the need to pay huge licensing fees really took off during the mid-1990s, fueling both Java and Linux. This wave is now percolating into the infrastructure space. The old big box enterprise data centers with hundreds of millions of dollars of expensive gear from the “old” IT providers must now move to an open and interoperable model with usage based pricing.

3. Infrastructure standardization

The WORA phenomenon spawned a thirst for standardization and led to the emergence of the Java ecosystem. Similarly, cloud computing has catalyzed a massive effort to modernize and standardize IT infrastructure technologies. This will ultimately enable interoperability between internal and external cloud services, including the whole suite of systems and software — security, applications, hardware, virtualization software, monitoring and management.
So who are going to be the DOSA enablers? This is an emerging space, but a couple of tiny specks are starting to appear on the horizon, e.g. Gartner has been talking a lot about cloud brokers. And many interesting models are starting to emerge:

  • Companies such as Jamcracker and Virtustream are innovating in the cloud broker space.
  • Players in the content delivery network and telco arenas are starting to pivot and emerge as cloud-interconnectors. For example, Akamai’s Global Traffic Manager (GTM) allows organizations to automatically direct traffic between work load centers.
  • Existing cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure are beginning to differentiate by exploring interoperability across platforms.

The ability to seamlessly move workloads among various centers in a hybrid cloud configuration is an emerging architectural blueprint. “Deploy once, scale anywhere” shifts the power back into the hands of the enterprise that is looking to innovate, move quickly and not get locked into expensive proprietary data centers.
Although Sun invented Java, the biggest beneficiary ended up being IBM. I wonder who the emerging DOSA winners are going to be?
Gaurav Pal (G.P.) is the director of strategic programs at Smartronix, Inc. As an entrepreneur and innovator, G.P. has developed and supported large enterprise systems. He has broad domain expertise in the public sector, healthcare and financial services. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of any company with which he is or has been affiliated.
Image courtesy of Flickr user slopjop