Cloud this, cloud that

Is literally everything about the cloud? You’d think so, going by the chatter from the biggest industry players. It seems that every company that wants to talk to be is pushing something to do with cloud computing. New service offerings from hosting providers. New tools for optimizing the performance of applications, or for making it easier to migrate, or for making cloud-based development more agile.

The cloud sure is seductive. In our company, we’re considering a migration to cloud technologies within the next 12 months. BZ Media, the organization behind SD Times, is a small company, and frankly I’d rather not be maintaining server, either in-house or dedicated hardware in a collocation center. If the economics of cloud computer work out, and if reliability and scalability deliver what we need, then it’s a good thing.

Yet I’m puzzled. How much is cloud computing a software development conversation, rather than an operations conversation? Obviously the platforms are different: Windows Azure is different than Windows Server 2008. Microsoft’s SQL Azure is different than Microsoft’s SQL Server. The Java EE that VMware is pushing into Saleforce.com’s cloud isn’t the same Java EE that’s on your current in-house app server. Working with Amazon S3 is not the same as working with an EMC storage array. So yes, there’s an undeniable learning curve ahead. But that’s what you’d encounter in any significant server platform change, whether cloud, on-premise or collocated.

Therefore, my confusion. How much does a software development team need to know about the cloud, beyond how to deploy to it and integrate applications with cloud-based apps? Often, I believe, not much.


David Chou said...

Hi Alan, my opinion – cloud is indeed what everyone’s talking about right now; kind of like SOA during its heyday but even bigger in magnitude because barrier to entry to cloud computing is a lot lower than SOA and it can yield tangible short-term benefits.

To your last question “how much does a software development team need to know about the cloud, beyond how to deploy to it and integrate applications with cloud-based apps?”, it depends on what ‘cloud computing’ means to a development team. If cloud computing is just deployment and integration, more like outsourced hosting, then yes, there isn’t much a software development team needs to know.

However, we believe that is just the utility computing aspect, a delivery model, of cloud computing. To truly benefit from cloud computing, software development teams can look at cloud computing as a new paradigm, and leveraging it as a new paradigm and lead to differentiated value.

Specifically, software can be architected and written differently for the cloud than existing on-premise environments. Traditional n-tier development tends to focus on synchronous end-to-end transaction processing and locking concurrency control models, which typically lead to vertically integrated monolithic architectures that rely on clustering fewer and larger hardware to provide scalability/reliability. If we look at cloud computing as a development model, and design/architect towards distributed computing models, different design principles start to emerge. For example, multi-tenancy, eventual consistency (concurrency model), de-normalized and horizontally partitioned data, asynchronous and parallel distributed processing, process redundancy and idempotency, service-oriented composition, etc.; these lead to horizontally scaling architectures that are consisted of a larger number of smaller and distributed components.

Cloud computing supports this type of architecture (especially prevalent in large web applications such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and is required for applications that operate in Intenet scale – needing to process massive amounts of transactions or data. The ability to handle such high scale is not something that can be achieved with traditional monolithic architectures. This to me is the true differentiation of cloud computing, and is what software development teams need to know.

Just my thoughts. Best! –David Chou (Microsoft)

andrea.steyn said...

I'm with you on all the questions about Cloud Computing.
Hence my latest blog post all about it.
I would love to hear you write more about this (hint hint)


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Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.