Bad Premise: Cloud Outages are *not* driving IT back to premises


I wrote this responding to Lauren Carlson‘s (Software Advice) Blog Post.  Lauren – I’d be more likely to agree with the statement that “SLAs are dead”  Here’s why…


Recent industry buzz about cloud service level agreements (SLAs) and reliability miss the core point about cloud.  Cloud is about agility, business models, consumerization of software and merciless pursuit of efficiency.

The fact that Amazon EC2 built its base without an “enterprise” SLA is exhibit #1 that the IT world changed and it’s not going back.

Here are my reasons why IT pandoras can’t get cloud back into the box.

#1. Cloud has vastly superior network connectivity

The concept of your users accessing your applications from inside your firewall is so 2005.  Today’s reality is that significant amounts of network access is externally routed means that applications need to live where they have excellent bandwidth to their users and to other applications.

#2. Cloud has elastic consumption of resources

Cloud is not less expensive infrastructure, it is mainly more flexible.  If you’re worried about an outage, then cloud is exactly the investment for you because you position a backup site at another location without having to pay for online resources.  It’s much harder to take down a site that invests the time to design a system that dynamically reallocates load between sites.

#3. Cloud drives more robust architecture

The fact that cloud delivery is more opaque and modular without a five 9s SLA has driven a cloud application architecture revolution (see CAP).  We have shifted the app paradigm from robust scale up hardware to robust scale out software.  Also significant, DevOps innovations have made deployments repeatable and adaptable.

The only “logical” argument for pulling applications back from the cloud is to assert control over more of the delivery chain for your application.  It the same reason that we think that driving is safer than flying – we’re the ones sitting behind the wheel when we drive.  News flash - driving is NOT safer than flying.

Cloud applications are not about hardware infrastructure, they are about SOFTWARE.  Perhaps one of the greatest disservices foisted on the market was saying cloud is synonymous with “Infrastructure as a Service” and “Virtualization.”  Cloud applications are powerful because we created ways that circumvent the limitations of IaaS and VMs!


Why cloud compute will be free

Today at Dell, I was presenting to our storage teams about cloud storage (aka the “storage banana”) and Dave “Data Gravity” McCrory reminded me that I had not yet posted my epiphany explaining “why cloud compute will be free.”  This realization derives from other topics that he and I have blogged but not stated so simply.

Overlooking that fact that compute is already free at Google and Amazon, you must understand that it’s a cloud eat cloud world out there where losing a customer places your cloud in jeopardy.  Speaking of Jeopardy…

Answer: Something sought by cloud hosts to make profits (and further the agenda of our AI overlords).

Question: What is lock-in?

Hopefully, it’s already obvious to you that clouds are all about data.  Cloud data takes three primary forms:

  1. Data in transformation (compute)
  2. Data in motion (network)
  3. Data at rest (storage)

These three forms combine to create cloud architecture applications (service oriented, externalized state).

The challenge is to find a compelling charge model that both:

  1. Makes it hard to leave your cloud AND
  2. Encourages customers to use your resources effectively (see #1 in Azure Top 20 post)

While compute demands are relatively elastic, storage demand is very consistent, predictable and constantly grows.  Data is easily measured and difficult to move.  In this way, data represents the perfect anchor for cloud customers (model rule #1).  A host with a growing data consumption foot print will have a long-term predictable revenue base.

However, storage consumption along does not encourage model rule #2.  Since storage is the foundation for the cloud, hosts can fairly judge resource use by measuring data egress, ingress and sidegress (attrib @mccrory 2/20/11).  This means tracking not only data in and out of the cloud, but also data transacted between the providers own cloud services.  For example, Azure changes for both data at rest ($0.15/GB/mo) and data in motion ($0.01/10K).

Consequently, the financially healthiest providers are the ones with most customer data.

If hosting success is all about building a larger, persistent storage footprint then service providers will give away services that drive data at rest and/or in motion.  Giving away compute means eliminating the barrier for customers to set up web sites, develop applications, and build their business.  As these accounts grow, they will deposit data in the cloud’s data bank and ultimately deposit dollars in their piggy bank.

However, there is a no-free-lunch caveat:  free compute will not have a meaningful service level agreement (SLA).  The host will continue to charge for customers who need their applications to operate consistently.  I expect that we’ll see free compute (or “spare compute” from the cloud providers perspective) highly used for early life-cycle (development, test, proof-of-concept) and background analytic applications.

The market is starting to wake up to the idea that cloud is not about IaaS – it’s about who has the data and the networks.

Oh, dem golden spindles!  Oh, dem golden spindles!

Just Striping in the RAIN

Or “behold the power of the unreliable”

In a previous post, I discussed the concept of a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Nodes (RAIN) as a way to create more reliable and scalable applications.   Deploying a RAIN application is like being the House in Vegas – it’s about having enough size that the odds come out in your favor.  Even if one player is on a roll, you can predict that nearly everyone else is paying your rent.  Imagine what would happen if all the winning gamblers were in your casino!  If you don’t want to go bankrupt when deploying a RAIN app, then ensure that the players spread out all over the Strip.

One of my core assumptions is that you’ll deploy a RAIN application on a cloud.   This is a significant because we’re assuming that your nodes are

  1. idle most of the time because your traffic loads are cyclic
  2. unreliable because the cloud provider does not offer much SLA
  3. divisible because renting ten 1/10ths of a server costs roughly the same as a whole one
  4. burstable because 1/10th servers can sometimes consume that extra 9/10th server

The burstable concept is a dramatic power multiplier that tips the whole RAIN equation heavily towards clouds. 

Bursting means that under load, your 10 1/10th servers (roughly 1 server in cost) could instantly expand to the power of 10 full servers!  That reflects an order of magnitude spike in demand without any change in your application.

In the past, we’ve racked extra servers to handle this demand.  That meant that we had a lot of extra capacity taking up rack space, clubbing innocent migratory electrons for their soft velvety fur, and committing over provisioning atrocities.  

Today, multi-tenant clouds allow us to average out these bursts by playing the odds on when application bursts will occur.  In this scenario, the infrastructure provider benefits from the fact that applications need to be over provisioned.  The application author benefits because they can instantly tap more resources on demand.  Now, that is what I would call a win-win synergy!

All this goodness depends on

  • standard patterns & practices that developers use to scale out RAIN applications
  • platform improvements in cloud infrastructure to enable smooth scale out
  • commercial models that fairly charge for multi-tenant over-subscription
  • workable security that understands the underlying need for co-mingling workloads

The growing dominance of cloud deployments looks different when you understand the multiplying interplay between multi-tenant clouds and cloud-ready RAIN applications.