Grappling with PaaS

In The PaaS market is stranger than you think, David Linthicum, the curator of Gigaom Research’s analyst blog for cloud, has an interesting perspective on the challenges in understanding the Platform-as-a-Service market.

Poor market definition, segment overlap, more of the big boys and other new playersit’s all there, along with the value realized by some early adopters tapping the benefits of the technology.

Microsoft quandary: Can Windows-first policy work in the iPad era?

A report that Microsoft will hold back on Office for iPad and Android devices until it’s out on Windows tablets and phones illustrates Microsoft’s quandary. Office is its cash cow and solidifies account control. The danger is people may like iPads more than Office.

Another take on the cloud-jobs debate

Whether you think cloud computing creates or kills jobs depends on what kind of jobs you’re talking about and how companies will use the IT savings they reap in moving to the cloud. Consultant David Linthicum sees validity in the cloud-as-jobs-creator argument.

Today in Cloud

It’s been fascinating to see the flurry of attention over the past few days for a piece of Microsoft work that was first reported months ago. The New York Times appears to have started the ball rolling, with a piece by Randall Stross. Brad Feld, Rich Miller, Heather Clancy and David Linthicum were amongst those to pick the piece up again. And the basic premise? That computers running in or near domestic properties could be used to heat those homes. So far, so good… but how do we get power and cooling to those machines, and how do we ensure that data moves quickly enough between them? There’s a reason we cram racks close together, and it’s not just to save money on the surface area of a data center building.

Verizon’s acquisitions provide an enterprise path to the cloud

At the end of last month Verizon acquired CloudSwitch, adding value to Verizon’s January acquisition of cloud data center provider Terremark. Around the world, big telecommunications providers such as AT&T, BT, Telstra and Verizon have been hard at work, diversifying and seeking new business opportunities as revenue from domestic and international voice traffic continues to decline. While existing expertise and infrastructure made networking and data hosting a logical new endeavor, recent moves such as the Terremark and CloudSwitch acquisitions tap into a growing enterprise requirement for easy and controlled paths out of the legacy data center and into the cloud.

The world’s biggest telephone companies are increasingly well established providers of co-location and hosting services, typically serving large international corporations with deep pockets and widely distributed workforces. Although smaller data center companies such as Savvis and Rackspace have successfully diversified from simple hosting to the provision of cloud computing solutions, the telcos have typically proved less able to manage the transition on their own.

InfoWorld’s David Linthicum commented at the time that Verizon acquired Terremark that “Verizon has the same problem as many other telecommunications giants: It has fat pipes and knows how to move data, but it doesn’t know how to turn its big honking networks into big honking cloud computing offerings.” Verizon is not alone. Elsewhere, Orange (a subsidiary of France Telecom) is simply reselling a GoGrid product to deliver a private cloud solution to customers, removing the need to develop and deploy a solution of its own.

NPRG Senior Analyst Ed Gubbins notes that

locating and building data centers, outfitting them with the necessary equipment, efficient energy supplies and software and building a capable staff is no small task for a company like Verizon with lots of other business segments it must attend to. “It takes time,”‘ Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s chief operating officer said . . . “That’s not our core competency.”

Terremark and competitors are proving more nimble and more able to adapt to changing data center usage patterns. It seems likely that Terremark executives will gain increasing control over Verizon’s existing data center facilities, accelerating the speed with which these can be transformed for the cloud. It remains to be seen, though, whether strategies that worked for Terremark will prove as successful when transplanted into Verizon’s very different organization.

Verizon’s $1.4 billion acquisition of Terremark in January gave the company a cloud computing capability and, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported, access to new markets. Although almost certainly requiring much less cash (terms were not disclosed), last month’s acquisition of Massachusetts startup CloudSwitch may ultimately prove more significant to Verizon’s ambitions. CloudSwitch, the winner of the LaunchPad showcase at GigaOM’s 2010 Structure conference, sells software to simplify the process of moving applications from an enterprise data center to the cloud.

Combining CloudSwitch software with existing Verizon data centers and bandwidth creates an increasingly compelling proposition. Customers no longer simply buy the pipe down which their data moves or access to the server on which their data or application is hosted. Instead, they are buying into a complete package, including networking, hosting and the software that links all of it to their existing on-premise data center. Each of these pieces may exist separately elsewhere, and each of those individual components may be cheaper or better than Verizon’s. But Verizon’s ability to package and brand a rounded set of services is likely to prove compelling, especially in industries where IT is simply a necessary cost of doing business. Verizon isn’t just selling bandwidth or storage or data processing; Verizon is selling peace of mind, and at the moment no other data center provider offers quite the same combination of capabilities.

With CloudSwitch, Verizon is no longer simply one choice among many for networking or hosting. Verizon has become a compelling choice for any enterprise that wishes to explore a hybrid environment in which existing on-premise applications are gradually transitioned out to hosting partners and, ultimately, the cloud.

Question of the week

Is acquisition the only way for telcos to compete in the cloud?

What Amazon and Its Customers Can Learn From Last Week’s Outage

Last week’s Amazon Web Serivces outage unleashed a torrent of speculation from technology pundits and the mainstream media, and opinion appears surprisingly divided as to where any blame should lie. Problems, which affected part of one of AWS’ five global data centers, began early on Thursday, and, thanks to a lack of detailed information on what was wrong or how it could be fixed, a small number of companies were still struggling days later as Amazon attempted to restore data from backups.

There doesn’t seem to be much room for doubt that Amazon is at least partly responsible. The failure should never have cascaded as far or as long as it did. Amazon describes its Availability Zones, into which it divides each of its Regions (data centers), as “distinct locations that are engineered to be insulated from failures in other Availability Zones.” Yet this outage initially affected at least two of these zones. Information dissemination was poor, and normally vocal champions within the company went silent. At the time of writing, the Amazon Web Services Blog still doesn’t even acknowledge that there was ever an issue.

But while Amazon may be responsible for the initial failure, and for a lack of communication while it was being resolved, it’s also clear that a number of its customers had a far harder time than they needed to because of how their services are designed and operated. As Derrick Harris noted earlier this week, Twilio, SmugMug and Netflix were among those companies to emerge almost unscathed, and this wasn’t due to luck. It was a philosophy of system design that understood the power — and the limitations — of using a commodity service like Amazon’s. Cloud computing consultant Ben Kepes notes that “highlight has been made of the need to think beyond one zone, one data center, one region and one provider to build a robust and resilient service.” InfoWorld columnist David Linthicum, meanwhile, agrees: “You have to plan and create architectures that can work around the loss of major components to protect your own services.” This is simply good practice in designing any IT system, which is why it is bizarre that so many simply abdicated their responsibility and left it all to Amazon. Foursquare, Reddit, Quora and hundreds more suffered greatly because of failings in Amazon’s data center. Might their suffering have been lessened if they’d planned ahead in a similar way to Netflix or Twilio?

Amazon has said it is reviewing last week’s outage in order to understand what went wrong. But the company must also play a far more proactive role in teaching its customers about ways applications can cost-effectively take advantage of the cloud, as well as how to respond to outages, failures and other problems in the underlying infrastructure. Whatever mistakes Amazon’s customers may have made, whatever penny pinching they attempted to cut cloud services down to the cheapest, least fault-tolerant configuration they could get away with, the initial fault must lie with Amazon. Poorly architected customer systems would not have been pushed to failure if Amazon’s underlying infrastructure had continued to perform as expected. Maybe some long-term good can come from short-term pain and embarrassment.

Question of the week

Does the Amazon outage make you less likely to use the cloud?