By Werner Vogels, Amazon 03-Aug-2010
There has been a lot of buzz about cloud computing. Almost every IT vendor claims to have some kind of product or service for the cloud. Some have even created terms like “private cloud” and “hybrid cloud” to add to the complexity. So, what is cloud computing and what does it mean for businesses, governments and organizations of all sizes?
|"You interact with those resources via the Internet, and you can grow and shrink capacity instantly without spending capital on them, so it feels like all the computing resources are in a cloud." |
-- Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon
A simple way to explain cloud computing is that instead of buying, owning, and maintaining your own data centers or servers, you buy the compute power and storage services from third party infrastructure providers as you need the capacity and leave the management and maintenance of that infrastructure to them. You interact with those resources via the Internet, and you can grow and shrink capacity instantly without spending capital on them, so it feels like all the computing resources are in a cloud.
For an offering to truly be “cloud computing”, it needs to have the following five characteristics:
1. No capital expenditure. You do not have to spend capital expenses on servers or data centers. You get to turn capital expense to variable expense, which is a huge advantage for companies that either do not have a lot of capital or those who simply do not want to tie capital to infrastructure.
2. Pay for what you use. There is no upfront fee, no contract or commitment. You only pay for what you actually consume and have the flexibilities to choose the pricing model that best meets your business requirement.
3. True elastic capacity. You can scale both up and down, and not sit on unneeded, excess capacity. Also, a cloud allows your applications and your business to seamlessly grow as quickly as you need. When you no longer need that capacity you can shed it just as quickly.
4. Fast time to market. You can move much more quickly with whatever projects you have. You can spin up large amounts of server capacity in minutes instead of waiting for days or weeks for capacity to be assigned to you.
5. Focus on your core competence. You can take scarce engineering resources and instead of applying them to running infrastructure which is undifferentiated for most companies, you can spend time on projects that add value to your customer offerings or areas that differentiate your business.
If one or more of the above benefits do not exist, then it is not really cloud computing.
Now, there has been so much noise and skepticism about the cloud. Let’s cut through this noise and demystify a few of the common myths:
Myth #1 - Cloud isn’t secure. For any cloud provider, security is always the top priority. Most companies don’t have the luxury of dedicating resources on security. Cloud uses all the same security tactics and strategies that enterprise data centers have used for the last 30 years, and in fact invest a lot more. Companies found that when they put their infrastructure on cloud platform, their security actually improves.
Myth #2 - Cost is the only cloud advantage. The reality is cost is just one of them, the more important advantage is the ability to move more quickly and accelerate time-to-market. If you ask software development engineers at enterprises, how long does it take to get a server if they want to do an experiment or just expand a project? The answers range from four weeks to three months just for a server. That is frustrating for engineers and it stifles innovation. With a cloud you are able to spin up large amounts of server capacity in minutes to expedite development work.
|"For enterprises with many legacy applications and systems, it is not advisable to move everything at once." |
-- Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon
Myth #3 - You should move all infrastructure to the cloud in one fell swoop. If you are a start-up, that is what you should do. It makes no sense to build on top of the old world model of buying infrastructure that you may or may not need.
For enterprises that have new development, it is easy to build it on top of the cloud and quickly take advantage of those benefits. For enterprises with many legacy applications and systems, it is not advisable to move everything at once.
Most enterprises move more methodically by picking a diverse set of initial applications to try as proofs of concepts in the cloud. They run them from a few weeks to a few months to see how the cloud is different and understand how to operate in the cloud before moving more of their applications. This will be followed by a 12-to-24-month migration plan.
Myth #4 - I can get all the benefits of the cloud with my own private cloud. The reality is when you really dig into the details of these private or internal clouds, they are usually very expensive fixed cost, private installation of infrastructure which lacks all the key benefits of the cloud.
Companies that build these types of internal clouds still own all the capital expense at the data centers and incur ongoing high maintenance costs. Companies should consider the notion of what really is private cloud because it is a term with ‘cloud’ in it but lacks all the key benefits of the cloud.
Cloud computing enables IT to be truly the business enabler. It allows companies to focus their capital and resources on innovations to accelerate their time to market, rather than running and maintaining the undifferentiating heavy lifting of infrastructure.
Think about what had happened over 100 years ago when most companies generated their own electricity. They had to install and operate generator in their premise to generate electricity to run the factory. Over time the electricity grid evolved, the economies of the grid were just too good for companies to continue running their own electricity generator and it eventually became obsolete.
This same analogy could happen to computing. In fullness of time, very few companies will own their data centers and those that do own it will have tiny footprints. That is because the economies of the cloud are too great for any forward-looking companies to ignore.
Werner Vogels is vice president and CTO at Amazon. He is responsible for driving the company's technology vision, which is to continuously enhance the innovation on behalf of Amazon's customers at a global scale.