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What's Happening at the Cloud Expo in Santa Clara?

What's Happening at the Cloud Expo?

Attending Cloud Expo 2011 West in Santa Clara requires a lot of stamina. The conference is a grueling 4 days long, and has a whopping 160 sessions and lectures. Quantity, however, does not always equal quality, and I was a bit underwhelmed by much of what was presented. Enough marketing fluff! I come to conferences to get to the core technical truths. Some interesting ideas were being discussed, of course, but weeding them out of the pitch and jargon was more challenging than I like to put up with. If I want a challenging search, I’ll go geocacheing!

Ok, so what were the interesting ideas? Well, for one thing, Open Source (capitalization is mine) is clearly in the forefront of innovation in the cloud space. I spoke with Krishnan Subramanian who contended in his talk that Stallman got it wrong and that cloud technology is not evil, or inimical to Open Source, and in fact that Open Source is a necessary counterpoint to the imminent consolidation of cloud vendors for the enterprise space. I thought it was interesting that Krishnan is admitting that companies (Rackspace for instance, with the release of OpenStack) are going to be developing Open Source, rather than relying on individual users to find and fix bugs. This means the Open Source software development model will change from the “with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” to a company-sponsored community feedback model. That’s not the “free software” model Stallman is talking about, but it’s still a viable one, or at least innovators had better hope it is. Greenqloud CEO Eirikur Hrafnsson was there, and we talked a bit about the relative merits of CloudStack and OpenStack, which Greenqloud is enhancing for use in it's environmentally optimized data centers.

Speaking of community development, it seems like there is a fair amount of thought going into this as well, with cloud computing offering some unique opportunities to leverage data that users input, or at least the way they use the data. In the traditional model of client-deployed software, the poor lonesome developers really had no easy way to see what the users were actually doing with their software, whereas if the users access a hosted solution, common use cases become obvious in the usage patterns. A SaaS vendor who can detect and capture this data can quickly adjust a difficult workflow, for example. Dell Boomi, a hosted solution for mapping data exchanges and workflows between enterprise applications, leverages the fact that their SaaS is actually a shared model, and so the data for such things as field mappings that users input can be used to “suggest” field mappings based on work done by other users. Cloud vendors could do the same but would need to do more to harvest that data across multiple instances. It’s easy to see how this helps developers and product managers do more to select popular features for focused development. Gandi does that: we choose the packages for the Simple Hosting offering based on what our cloud hosting customers are choosing most often.

On the show floor there were many examples of what I’ll term epiphytic businesses. Players like Teremark and PhoenixNap offer added value on top of VMware hosting technology. They pay VMware for that in license fees, of course. Terremark scored big by getting GSA listing and tapping into the billions pledged by the federal government to Cloud Computing, which is probably one good reason why Verizon Business bought them. Lest you be an American taxpayer and think this is yet another boondoggle, the case is really good for consolidation of many, many redundant federal data centers.

Apparently the hunt for differentiation on the basic value proposition of cloud computing is still going on, and some vendors are striking pay dirt. Other epiphytic businesses tackle areas that are key to cloud adoption, but that the main cloud technology providers don’t really want to mess with, like enhanced security, or end user support. CloudPassage has a way of dealing with security using agents deployed to instances. Perspecsys has a middleman security scanner that aims to protect data in the cloud from sloppy or compromised user systems. Appriver provides desperately needed end-user support and front-end sales to Microsoft’s nacent Office 360 packages.

Some of these business are dependent on the “mother” technology vendor, and others, trying to defend themselves from this risk are building interfaces to all the providers they judge to have staying power. One such is a cloud management platform called Abiquo that gives you a nice gui (of course) as well as an API on top of “all the major cloud vendors” offerings. This app lets you build, migrate, and monitor virtual data centers with your installed private and public clouds (where have I heard this before?).

Good ideas are being bought: Gluster’s cloud-based storage clustering solution was acquired by Redhat, and this made many sit up and take notice, I’m sure. Redhat has also entered the PaaS fray with OpenShift, which will presumably allow them to take advantage of the great work done to manage linux packages and, of course the JBOSS Java EE framework. Perhaps Gluster’s sauce will make that meat more savory?

What’s Still Missing?

Cloudbursting remains elusive, that is, the true, automated ability to augment private cloud capacity with public cloud resources to achieve higher scale for short periods.
Standards are lacking. APIs abound, like Amazon’s API for EC2, and despite efforts of well-intentioned people in places like the Open Data Center Alliance to come up with shared and complete models for us to work with, it will be a while before we settle on one (or two, or three) standards.

What's Next for Gandi in the US?

We are going to keep developing out cloud hosting offering at Gandi SAS, and Gandi US is going to make sure the American customers get excellent support. We will be expanding our US presence, so look for us in your town! See you at the LISA conference in Boston in December! Happy computing.