When cloud computing isn’t all about scale

So many conversations about cloud computing focus on Amazon Web Services, Google and which is the biggest company that can drive down prices the most. But there’s a whole other group of people and companies not running webscale applications, people who just want a virtual server that’s inexpensive, runs well and, most importantly, they don’t have to manage.

Linode is one of the better-known providers of that type of service, and its founder and CEO Chris Aker came on the Structure Show this week to tell us about the other side of cloud computing. Here are some highlights, but the whole thing provides a good look into how one starts and runs a successful cloud company that doesn’t have billions in its coffers or spin up thousands of servers at a time.

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IS a virtual private server even cloud computing?

“I think, largely the difference between a VPS and a cloud server is all marketing. But it also is how people consider them, how they consume the service,” Aker said. When people think cloud, they think ephemeral, scale-out, highly flexible infrastructure. “But really,” he added, “at the essence of it, what you’re getting out the end of either one of those is a Linux virtual machine.”

Everyone isn’t Netflix

Linode does have some large customers, including satirical news site The Onion, but its business is split roughly 50-50 between businesses and individuals. And while some have thousands of servers and grow weekly, Aker said, “By far, the majority of people, have one, maybe two instances. I would suspect that they’re running websites, hosting their email, putting their blog up there, pictures, that kind of stuff.”

Linode Founder Chris Aker.

Linode Founder Chris Aker.

Really, he continued, there’s some serious wishful thinking that appears to go on with a lot of young companies. They host their applications on AWS in the hopes they’ll need to scale to epic proportions in a hurry, but that’s often overkill. If they don’t architect for that type of scale, it doesn’t matter where they’re running.

“I think plenty of people get sold on the promise of Amazon,” Aker said. “Cloud isn’t magic, you can’t just put your application in the cloud and expect it to scale to a billion users. It just doesn’t work like that … it’s not a magic button.”

We’re finally getting over server hugging and security delusions

About 10 years since Aker started Linode, we’re now getting to the point where people don’t need to be educated on what cloud computing is and why running their own servers isn’t inherently more secure, or even better.

“[C]loud is a ubiquitous term these days,” he explained. “It means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in general people get it — it’s stuff out on the internet. And they understand that in the server context, your state is not going to be running on hardware. People already come to us and they understand that’s how things work.”