Cloud Computing

Ok, nerd time.

A new industry buzzword has finally raised from Ignore to Ridicule on my Ghandi scale. And that buzzword is "Cloud Computing." Does anyone here remember the 1970s? Great, because I don't. And that's the problem, we are going back in time to undo 40 years of progress.

What is Cloud Computing? Cloud Computing is taking all of your batch processing, and farming it out to a huge central computer. Technically, cloud computing can be done in-house, with a "private cloud." But that's not the snake oil being sold here. The industry shrills are mostly geeking out about outsourcing your computing needs.

Don't get me wrong, I have seen it work, and work brilliantly. It's ideal for a small firm that has to occasionally batch process a ton of calculations to produce a data product. Some friends of mine from the Tcl Community use it to great effect for scientific imaging. I can imagine cloud computing allowing a small art studio to compete with the likes of Pixar for producing computer animation.

But it is a step back to the days when you rented computer time.

It's not Magic.

Did you notice how they brush out a lot of details on a typical chart showing you cloud computing? As if there were challenges that they have "magically solved". Ok, that's great if I'm a small business owner and I really just have a demand that needs fulfillment. But they aren't targeting small businesses. They are targeting major corporations, large government bodies, etc.

Where the idea breaks down is when the proponents start talking about replacing your existing computer center. Now, if you are a firm that already has a large processing facility, all of the talented staff to operate it, and all of the heating and cooling installed, why on Earth would you throw it out at the point where computing power is getting cheap enough to hand out in boxes of cereal?

Well I can usually tell when something is rabidly cult like when someone talking to be about it is absolutely convinced it is appropriate for all cases, will cure cancer, and whiten my teeth. And for this article I've brought in the hive mind of Cloud Computing.

So, hive mind, what is the main reason to go with Cloud Computing?

"IT'S CHEAPER!"

Well what if I already have a computing infrastructure?

"OH ECONOMIES OF SCALE MAKE CLOUD COMPUTING MORE ECONOMICAL."

Ok, so how do the cloud computing people do it? They have large teams of talented people who work in large computing centers. There is no magic. They do it the same way that you would, only larger. That logic works for coal plants, or steel foundries where there *is* a pronounced improvement in performance with larger equipment. It doesn't work when you are talking about computing clusters though. They don't build "big" computers. They simply have a lot of them.

"VOLUME"

And as you geometrically expand the number of nodes in a supercomputing grid, you actually start spending more. Why? In a network-centric processing architecture, you are bound by network speed. And to provide sufficient bandwidth for large scale projects require far more expensive network infrastructure than if you were to build, say, a hundred node cluster using Gigabit ethernet.

"YOU SAVE WITH US ON MAINTENANCE"

You can't get something for nothing. And Amazon's and Google's hardware will break down at the very same rate as everyone else's. And sure, they may be saving some money by placing their data centers in regions that have cheap electricity, but of all the costs of running the data center, if your principle concern is utilities, you had better look twice at your business model.

"I DON'T FEEL YOU ARE FAIRLY REPRESENTING MY POINT OF VIEW."

I'm not arguing point of view, I'm arguing actual economics.

"AND THAT IS WHAT IS NOT FAIR."

Ok, let's look past the pure economics of it for a moment. What about us who have to live under the shadow of DSS?

"DSS? WHY FEAR WE HAVE MANY LARGE CUSTOMERS!"

Um, hello, the Defense Security Service. As in, we handle classified material. There are special rules...

"YOUR DIFFICULT QUESTION ONLY REINFORCES WHY YOU SHOULD JUST TRUST US ON THE REGULATORY STUFF!"

Okay, wait a minute! I have a sworn duty to protect classified information. I can't carry it out of a locked room, let alone send it over the net. And as onerous as DSS is, have the Cloud Computing folk thought their cunning plan through on HIPAA?

"OH HYPA.COM THEY ARE A LOYAL CUSTOMER"

No, HIPAA, the regulatory framework for protecting medical information. The long and short answers are no, you have not. Organizations that have to work with classified material or HIPAA really can't use cloud computing. It involves sending sensitive data over the Internet where it can, and will, mingle with un-sensitive data.

"OH BUT WHO NEEDS TO DEAL WITH THAT?"

Um, hospitals, doctors offices, anyone who works for the Department of Defense...

"BUT WE GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO PROTECT CUSTOMER DATA. WE HAVE IRON CLAD INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTIONS!"

Ok, but lets say I can't work with your scheme because of regulations. Or let's say I don't want my productivity to be hampered by little things like Fiber Seeking Backhoes.

"YOU COULD SET UP A PRIVATE CLOUD"

Isn't that the same thing as having my own data center?

"MUMBLE MUMBLE"

Is there any other point I'm missing.

"YOU DID NOT TALK ABOUT UTILIZATION!"

Tell me more!

"BECAUSE WE ARE RUNNING THOUSANDS OF CUSTOMERS JOBS THROUGH A COMMON INFRASTRUCTURE, THE SYSTEMS ARE UTILIZED TO THEIR FULLEST!"

Does everyone run 24/7?

"NO"

Is it fair to say you have more traffic during the day, and you use the evening hours to catch up on tasks?

"YES"

And, lets say I had a really demanding task that reliably occupied a processor's attention. Is it fair to say it could, theoretically, only end up running as fast as if I'd done it in house. And traffic effects mean it will never actually be that fast.

"BUT VOLUME!"

So if I had 9 women they could carry a baby in 1 month.

"WHY YES BUT...WAIT THAT WAS A TRICK QUESTION!"

Ok, Hive Mind, now you are right. That wasn't nice of me. Let's leave this on a high note. Can we agree the cloud computing is a no brainer for:

  • People who only need a supercomputer infrequently
  • People who don't work in a regulatory environment
  • People whose data isn't particularly sensitive
  • People who don't already have a computer center to call on

    "I STILL THINK YOUR TEETH NEED SOME WHITENING"

  • All content copyright 2017, Sean Woods | email: yoda@etoyoc.com | phone: 703-342-2662