May 26 2009

Cloud Computing - Virtual Environments - Observations

Posted by Mike Brunt at 1:15 PM Web Servers | .NET | DataBase | CloudComputing | ColdFusion | JRun-J2EE

During webDU here in Sydney, I got into several conversations centered around ColdFusion-CFML in cloud computing environments.  I have not yet had any client use any of the cloud computing offerings for production, I have had one client I worked with who moved from a dedicated server environment to a fully virtual one, with VM Ware ESX and another client who moved from dedicated SQL Server boxes to an Storage Area Network (SAN) environment.  Both are mildly related to cloud computing and in both cases these two different clients had performance degradation after the move.  Where I see these as being "mildly related" is that there was a loss of actual physicality (NIC's, Hard Drives CPU's etc) and these were substituted by virtual equivalents.

In one of the conversations, which related more to virtual environments at webDU, we got talking about what we actually get in a virtual server.  Well we get a defined CPU with a defined amount of RAM, we get an amount of storage space but what we don't get are defined, unique, dedicated hard-drives.  We share storage space and I personally do not like that, it is in fact, the very reason that the two clients I mentioned above both had problems.  So in cloud computing, I imagine the abstraction from resources is, at the very least, similar.  As I spend most of my time troubleshooting issues I always want to investigate everything, network layer detail, hard-drive configuration and controllers etc. 

Another element in all of this relates to accountability and auditability. I have helped several clients who fell into PCI and/or Sarbanes Oxley compliance requirements.  Both of these sets of needs impose many clear levels of responsibility and procedures.  Client data is largely seen as belonging to the client and not to the company that holds the client data (this is simplistic I know but it is a mind set that is often not present).  So in my opinion both virtual and cloud computing obscure/blur the pristine element of dedicated hard-drive storage.  Unless my experiences so far are not typical, cloud computing seems to, at best, cause confusion about PCI-SOX compliance in a cloud.

My last issue with cloud computing, in particular, relates to getting out of a cloud offering, there are several vendors of course, easily and having portability to go to a rival vendor.  This is more of a concern than something I have seen clients experience. However, there are several documented issues that address this problem around the Internet.

There is no doubt that cloud computing and the ability it gives to grow and shrink, at will, is powerful and pervasive.  We will be impacted by it and I am sure it will continue to grow in terms of usage, at this point, however, were a client to ask me if I would recommend it for production I could not recommend that they use cloud computing for production purposes with any great level of confidence.  

Just adding this, IBM does not recommend using virtual environments for sensitive production applications such as those needing to achieve PCI compliance.

If any out there have direct experience using cloud computing for production and know that they are well covered in terms of PCI-SOX compliance, I would be interested to know.




Brett wrote on 05/26/09 3:10 PM

We've tried about 10 cloud computing options. Problem is latency (particularly in aus), the RAM you get with most plans (Amazon is better for this), and speed. I've also had reliability issues with the mosso cloud offering from rackspace. In then end we pride ourselves of a reliable system and we would rather control that in-house with our own high performance servers then trust a virtualized system.

Seems like the same hurdles web services initially had. Performance, trust, reliability.
Mike Brunt

Mike Brunt wrote on 05/26/09 8:28 PM

@Brett thanks for taking the time to comment on the real world experience you have had so far. This morning we had a client in a typical high end data center location with their own servers, with a problem. They had a network failure which triggered a preemptive DB failover which for reasons of close coupled code caused another problem. It took us around 5 minutes to diagnose the issue and another 3-4 minutes to fix it. All the client knew was that they had a web application. In a virtual or cloud situation I wonder how long it might have taken to correct the problem?
Mike Brunt

Mike Brunt wrote on 05/26/09 8:36 PM

@Indy, thanks for your comments and it was great to meet with you at webDU. I totally agree that cloud computing has its place and I am sure we will be increasingly exposed to its usage. One thing that is thought provoking is how little VM environments get mentioned in comparison to, let's say, 12 months ago when they were a very hot topic. As an engineer rather than a software developer I just like to be able to see/touch all the moving parts.
Vince Bonfanti

Vince Bonfanti wrote on 05/27/09 6:25 AM

Hi Mike,

You raise some very important questions regarding data ownership, security, and PCI-SOX compliance that need to be addressed by cloud vendors. (There is a very good article about this in the May 15, 2009 issue of SD Times, but unfortunately it's not posted on their web site).

However, you should take a closer look at both Google App Engine (GAE) and Windows Azure, which offer very different virtualizatoin models than Amazon EC2 and similar VM-based cloud vendors. The basic "unit" of virtualization in GAE and Azure is your web application, not a VM. You simply deploy your web application and don't worry about CPUs, memory, disks, redundancy, scalability, reliability, etc.

Think of it this way: what if you had an infinitely scalable, infinitely reliable computer on which to deploy your web applications? And, what if that infinite computer was free to use in small quantities, and then you only paid for the resources (CPU, storage, network bandwidth) that you actually used? This is what GAE and Azure are promising: you never have to worry about any hardware at all. Your "network failure which triggered a preemptive DB failover" would simply never happen.

If GAE or Azure (or both) can deliver on these promises and solve the issues you raise, it will be truly revolutionary. In the mean time, I see offering such as Amazon EC2 to be merely transitional towards the GAE/Azure model.
Mike Brunt

Mike Brunt wrote on 05/27/09 7:37 PM

@Vince as always thanks for your insights and of course I realize one of the effects of cloud computing is to obfuscate all hardware devices. As I state in my main article here, I have no doubts that cloud computing or any derivatives from that will stay, grow and impact us all. I think the issue for me is having spent years troubleshooting applications with some form of hardware issues and knowing that under it all we still have hardware I do not have enough faith in the cloud vendors to have clients literally risk their literal business survival on what cloud vendors are claiming to offer in terms of reliability.

jolen wrote on 05/19/10 1:04 AM

firstly very nice job mike... you always come up with something new, something very interesting... keep it up

now coming to the topic, I personally think that cloud computing is our future... who knows what will be developed in future to replace this one too, but for now, it is a revolution, If we talk about windows azure, and GAE, as vince discussed, they have made their place , and because of them, we have got rid of massive hardwares and softwares problems too. reliability is somewhat an issue, but many of the sites switching to cloud, and working pretty fine ..

I always love to experiment , and cloud made it easier to me , then before :)
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