Monday, June 15, 2009

The cloud isn't just vapour.

I was recently asked whether I thought cloud was vapour, whether open sourced cloud systems could solve many of the adoption concerns over cloud computing, whether it was likely that such systems would appear, what standards would they support and which distribution would make the first move? I know I haven't been blogging much recently but I was surprised by the questions.

First, regardless of whatever definition you use to describe cloud computing (a fairly hopeless task in my view), the term merely identifies an underlying shift of I.T. from a product to a service based economy. It's a consequence of :-
  1. Certain I.T. activities becoming suitable for service provision through volume operations (i.e. those activities are well defined and ubiquitous
  2. The existence of mature enough technology to support this (Popek et al wrote the book on virtualisation back in 1974)
  3. A change in business attitude towards I.T. (Carr and others, namely Strassmann, pointed out that much of I.T. is simply seen as a cost of doing business.)
  4. The concept of utility computing provision (i.e. the provision of suitable I.T. resources much like other utility providers, as forecast by McCarthy back in the 1960's.)
Take away any of these elements and cloud computing wouldn't represent the upheaval and the disruption that it does today. As for trying to precisely define it, try first coming up with a short and punchy description of industrial revolution without hand-waving and referring to numerous tomes. The problem with cloud computing is that it isn't one thing, it's a transition caused by many factors.

I do believe that open source reference models (or what I used to call open sourced standards) are key to the development of the cloud industry because of the second sourcing concerns of enterprises. I strongly believe that private and hybrid clouds (using both private and public resources) will help develop this industry in the short term. Open source should also dominate this change as it is the only viable route to utility computing marketplaces with competition based upon services rather than lock-in. I've not changed my tune since 2006, I see no reason to change now.

During this time of transition (which is after all what is happening) standards will be incredibly important. Despite all the noise we already have a defacto standard at the infrastructure layer of the computing stack - it's called the Amazon EC2 API.

As for when open source systems will appear that match such emerging standards, the first truly credible system was released almost a year ago. It's called Eucalyptus and it's backed by a commercial company.

As for which distribution would make the first move. Well Ubuntu Server Edition has included Eucalyptus since 9.04. Building a private cloud using open source technology that matches the EC2 API is almost as easy as apt-get install and it's going to get easier. We call this concept Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud and you can find details here.

It's also worth noting that Ubuntu Server Edition is also provided as official images on both UEC and on Amazon EC2, so you can run the same base image in both environments. Matching standards and using uniform images brings us a step closer to portability between environments but most importantly simplifies the process of bursting. It takes us a step further away from the dangers of the cloud net neutrality style argument that I highlighted at E-Tech'07.

It's also essential to build ecosystems around open source cloud computing which is why we work with companies like RightScale and CohesiveFT as well as our own tools like Landscape. Everything we do is around openness and freedom in the cloud computing space. This is not some ideological pursuit but simply a realisation that the future cloud markets will depend upon such openness to form. There is plenty of revenue opportunity without the need to tie people down in an old product mentality.
In short :-

  • You can already build clouds with open source technology matching the emerging standard of EC2.
  • You can already use single images across both private and public environments.
  • The technology is entirely open sourced technology and there exists no lock-in to a proprietary framework or solution.
  • It's free.
  • It's supported.
  • It's already in a distribution, go check out Ubuntu Server Edition.
  • You can already use a range of different management tools.

Ubuntu already dominates the linux desktop market, and from the reports I've seen recently we're going great guns on the server market as well. As far as I'm aware, we're the only distribution which provides you with a simple means of creating an open source private cloud and images spanning both private and public environments. Maybe we should get a bit better at shouting about it.

Well, I'm going to be speaking at Velocity and then I have a keynote at OSCON. I was thinking of a tag line for what we've being doing and a friend of mine, Alexis Richardson, chipped in with the following :- "Ubuntu is Cloud for Human Beings"