Jeff Boles

The Cloud - staking out the infrastructure paradigm

By Jeff Boles
April 17, 2009 3:35 PM EDT

In a previous post, I mentioned the industry as a whole can't quite come to grips with how to even use the word cloud, and meanwhile, we're missing some interesting innovations down in the infrastructure.  I pointed out one example in that post, but there are plenty of other technologies demonstrating how the concept of cloud is going to come to play in your enterprise tools.

While there are too many different technologies in the market to go into a master list, just the other day, I spent a little time with one vendor who will help illustrate my point.  Moreover, they are in Tempe, AZ and I'll confess, out here in the Arizona desert, there just aren't that many cool IT startups to hang with.  In a matter of minutes, Kimbro Staken and Sean Tierney over at JumpBox started spinning up completely configured servers on the Amazon infrastructure.  The coolest thing was how they've custom wrapped every image they package with a configuration "interface" that is pretty Mac like.  Need a LAMP setup and haven't monkeyed with the configuration before?  Good possibility you could muddle your way through in just a few minutes using JumpBox.  It simplifies matters so much you can just about consider it application virtualization, even though it is still a full hypervisor running underneath these machines.

Why is that cloud?  It isn't cloud because they ran it in a place on the Internet cloud (frankly, I'd call that hosted).  It is cloud because of the characteristics.  Cloud might be in your data center or on Amazon, or anywhere you want it to be.  Case in point, and my illustration - the JumpBox guys demonstrated taking down that Amazon image, saving off its configuration data (not just the image) then spinning a new image back up locally.  That is cloud.  Cloud is about an infrastructure that is more flexible and manageable than ever before, not just place.  When you have the ability to provision and move and reuse servers with more versatility, then peer more deeply into that infrastructure and use this as a basis for automatically managing performance and configuration, then you have a cloud infrastructure that can be the basis for pretty sophisticated things running on top of it.  For me, this is cloud, and it is a total set of infrastructure that creates a combined entity with cloud characteristics.  

We spend most of our time talking about things running on top of this type of cloud, but we need to think about standardization, portability, lock-in, security, and similar issues at this infrastructure layer, and recognize that upper level things will be highly diverse, highly proprietary, and can even easily be your own homegrown version of proprietary.  

For the cloud proprietary means differentiation.  For the enterprise,that proprietary layer may not matter that much.  Maybe it will boil down to proprietary enterprise applications that look very similar to the ones we have today, but more easily run on top of highly virtualized and orchestrated infrastructures, as well as on top of hosted infrastructures across the Internet.  But if you are a service provider, a hoster, or a business who will deliver something running over the Internet, supported by cloud technologies, then differentiation will be your lifeblood.  Standarization will never happen here.

Flexible cloud infrastructure with really interesting innovation (proprietary) on top is the game changer as far as I'm concerned, and frankly, I'm excited to see it happening.  I have utter confidence that this is an on-going paradigm shift that will fundamentally alter the way IT is done, whether you're a practitioner, an enterprise, a service provider, or an end user.