CloudCamp returned to London yesterday, organised with the help of Skills Matter at the Crypt on the Clarkenwell green. The main topics of this cloud/grid computing community meeting were service-level agreements, connecting private and public clouds and standardisation issues.
The meeting was again organised as a set of lightning talks followed by a few open space discussions, with Alexis Richardson working as a host and keeping track of time. The length of lightning talks was halved to five minutes, but Simon Wardley again achieved an amazing feat – going through seventy slides in just five minutes. (At the first CloudCamp in London, he ran through a hundred slides in ten minutes). His talk was again a pleasure to watch, although it was mostly centred around the same issues as the last time: standards and avoiding a vendor lock-in. Trying to describe the risks involved in a vendor lock-in, he talked about a scenario when one company buys a huge number of machines, another provides a cloud on top of that, the third provides virtualisation to split the cloud into a number of “small” machines, fourth builds applications on top of that, fifth provides services based on those applications and so on. If the company that owns the hardware goes bust, the whole pyramid will collapse, affecting thousands of small companies that actually run applications on the fifth and sixth levels. He could not resist making a joke about sub-prime mortgage market, comparing this situation to one bank having a lot of houses, another packaging that into a financial instrument, third splitting that into lots of small instruments and so on. As a way to avoid system failure, Wardley again asked for more standardisation between vendors.
Joe Baguley from Quest discussed energy efficiency in a talk titled Virtualisation isn’t always green. He challenged the presumed model of virtualisation on blade servers as a way to save energy, showing research data which pointed out that an average server spends about 200 Watts when idle and about 300 Watts under full load (I did not get the exact figures from his slides, this is my interpretation). He also presented a comparison of several options to run an application. One hundred servers running a single application consumed 1MW, virtualised system built on top of 15 hosts consumed 260KW and 10 HPC grid servers consumed 150KW, making a grid much more energy efficient than a virualised cluster. There was not enough time to go into the details of this comparison, so I could not catch the actual source of the research and I am not really sure about the underlying measurements or whether this was really a like-for-like comparison. In any case, Baguley suggested that blade servers are not the answer for energy efficiency and called on companies to consolidate existing infrastructures and reuse them.
Paul Watson from Newcastle University then presented on the idea of Federated clouds. Most of the interest in cloud computing today centres around public clouds, but big companies have huge IT departments which can be used to gain similar benefits as well. Watson suggested an example of two departments in the same company sharing their infrastructure on demand based on cloud computing technologies, optionally scaling out to public clouds if there is no more internal capacity available. Watson’s vision of the future is that there is no single cloud but a multitude of private and public clouds and that the key challenge will be how to federate them together. He suggested service-level agreements as the key to a successful cloud federation, including scaling out to the infrastructure of other internal departments and scaling out to public providers. Watson then offered Arjuna Agility as a software solution for that challenge.
Duncan Johnson Watt from Enigmatec talked about Cloud-cover, the idea of using a public cloud for disaster recovery. He likened this idea to insurance policies, where companies would pay for reserving the capacity of a cloud for disaster recovery. Cloudcover would provide management of that, activating the cloud capacity or rolling back to normal infrastructure when the main data centre is online again. It seems as an interesting product, although the presentation was fairly ineffective. Watt used a pre-recorded video which did not really work as expected and did not fit into the rest of the talks.
Phil Dean, architecture manager at Cisco, presented a summary of discussions his group had with CIOs of various companies in a talk titled What CIOs are telling Cisco about the cloud. According to Dean, CIOs like the potential of providing a consistent service across the globe, service orientation and the potential to simplify services. On the other hand, CIOs were mostly concerned about the loss of control, business continuity and security strategies, migration and hybrid operation and the fact that clouds are today focused on technology, not on the business. As a key thing which clouds need to be more attractive to Cisco’s customers, Dean suggested a better a business focus: “put a business layer around the cloud to give it a meaning for your CIO “. According to Dean, CIOs envisage having a concept of a business broker which can select one of a number of available services in the cloud to get the best result. Other suggestions included strategies to cope with legacy system integrations, private services and upcoming private clouds. He gave an example of Gartner, which according to Dean have a private cloud growing fast.
Philipp Huber from Zimory then talked about Pervasive cloud computing. He focused on a common comparison between energy utility and cloud services, trying to answer why does the energy market run so smoothly and comparing that to today’s cloud market. As the reasons why the energy market functions well, he listed multi-tier supply (different companies are energy producers, distributors and resellers), having more than a century of development to get where we are today, demand, customers that are well educated about the offering and well established standards. In today’s cloud computing, Huber argues that there is a lot of supply with new cloud providers emerging every day, but the technology is still new and everything happens in a frenzy. The demand is, according to Huber, constantly increasing although the technology is still predominantly used by early adopters, while the wider public still has major concerns about security and stability. Huber pointed out that standardisation is probably the weakest point in today’s cloud market and that full interoperability is “still in the clouds”, as it works against the interests of individual cloud providers. As ways forward, he suggested improving security and compliance, making the billing models more unified and transparent and introducing standardised service level agreements. As some of the things that cloud users want, he suggested hybrid cloud models which would allow people to get the best of both worlds and seamlessly moving between public and private clouds.
Rhys Johnes from RBS then presented a talk titled Clouds are cool, so why aren’t we using them yet? focusing on opinions of banking IT sectors about cloud and especially why banks have still not started adopting clouds. He said that cultural change is the biggest issue today, with the requirement to give up control as a major hurdle to cloud adoption. Unlike a lot of other presenters who were enthusiastic about the idea of companies building private clouds, Jones thinks that internal clouds are unlikely as they don’t provide the same flexibility as public clouds. As a key advantage of clouds over private infrastructure, Jones pointed out that you can easily scale down with a cloud.
Wayne Horkan, CTO for UK and Ireland at Sun Microsystems, discussed the surge in data centre infrastructure capacity. In a talk titled The global cloud infrastructure build out, he said that datacentre buildouts are getting larger and larger and envisaged a massive adoption of clouds in the near future. Horkan compared the process to the Internet adoption: large corporations were forced to go online because of small competitors who were more flexible, moved online first and started stealing their business. Talking about the current cloud landscape, Horkan cited a research by IDG stating that the biggest benefits of cloud/on demand infrastructure are still easy test and deployment of applications. Citing Highscalability.com, he said that most companies run some form of opensource software wired together. Sun’s big for the cloud will focus on offering software which enables customers to run “compatible services”, and Horkan gave examples of MySQL and OpenSolaris which have versions adopted for the cloud. He then started advertising Network.com, Sun’s cloud service, but was interrupted as his five minutes were up.
Neil Hutson, senior director at Microsoft briefly talked about Microsoft’s cloud offering announced earlier this month at the PDC conference. In a talk titled Head in the clouds, feet on the ground, he said that Microsoft already has lots of infrastructure to run global applications such as Hotmail and Live search, but did not allow other companies to utilise that infrastructure until now. Windows Azure is Microsoft’s “operating system in the cloud”, offering virtualised computating environment based on windows server, durable storage and a range of application services. He again suggested that people might want to combine cloud and private infrastructures, giving an example of using the cloud as just data storage.
The meeting continued with open space sessions. One was focused on persistence in the cloud, one was focused on Microsoft’s cloud offering and one was focused on standardisation and interoperability. In my opinion, this was not organised as well as it should have been. The slot for sessions was short and we did not have enough time to start a meaningful discussion on persistence. I’m not sure how the other sessions got along. I could not help overhearing quite a lot of the discussion in the other session held in the same room. For the next time, I would really suggest separating these into different rooms and giving people more time for the discussions.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening and I think that events like these are crucial to help the cloud/grid industry get a wider adoption, so I am looking forward to the next cloud camp. The event was filmed, so all the videos will probably appear online soon on the Skills Matter web site.