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John Foley
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Five Key Developments In Cloud Computing

Google News offers thousands of headlines on the topic of cloud computing. With so much happening in this emerging market, which developments are the ones that really matter? Here are a handful of recent events with long-term implications.

Google News offers thousands of headlines on the topic of cloud computing. With so much happening in this emerging market, which developments are the ones that really matter? Here are a handful of recent events with long-term implications.Cloud operating systems emerge. Google disclosed its Chrome operating system on July 7, the same week that Microsoft announced pricing and availability of its Windows Azure cloud services. Chrome and Azure represent new and potentially better ways of building, running, and accessing applications, albeit from different ends of the computing spectrum. Chrome OS will be a cloud OS for netbooks and PCs, while Windows Azure is developing into a cloud OS for the data center. What's the big deal? Consider this: Beginning in November, developers will be able to rent a Windows Azure virtual computer from Microsoft for 12 cents an hour, or $2.88 a day. Google's goal is to develop a cloud OS for client devices that boots in a few seconds for a rich array of Web applications that tap local processing power. On the historical timeline of operating systems, both will be milestones.

Steps toward standardization. Representatives from various standards organizations met in Washington D.C. this week to devise a strategy for getting cloud computing technologies to work together and, hopefully, avoid the kind of spec splintering that has hampered the IT industry so many times in the past. The newly formed Cloud Standards Coordination Working Group plans to tackle security standards, interfaces for infrastructure-as-a-service, management frameworks, data exchange formats, and cloud taxonomies and reference models. This isn't the industry's first or only interoperability effort; rather, it's an attempt to coordinate the work that's taking place at new and established standards groups such as the Cloud Security Alliance and the DTMF.

New tools for hybrid clouds. BMC on July 15 made two announcements that show that hybrids clouds-those that span both corporate data centers and public service providers-have advanced beyond concept and into the realm of the possible. BMC has deep experience in automating data center operations, and it's been moving in the direction of private clouds with its IT service management and service automation capabilities. Through an agreement with Amazon, BMC has made it possible for IT departments to create self-service portals where internal developers and business units can request virtualized IT resources that get delivered from their own data centers or Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud. EC2 resources (either existing Amazon Machine Images or custom-built stacks) can be configured and provisioned in minutes.

The rise of APIs. Rackspace, an early leader in the cloud services market, has exposed its Cloud Servers API, making it possible for developers to plug into Rackspace's cloud to do things such as launch and control servers, create custom software stacks, reboot servers, inject files into a file system, and more. Cloud APIs simplify what are otherwise complex processes, speeding the development of new services and capabilities and hastening adoption. They also facilitate the creation of hybrid clouds by providing an interface between corporate data centers and public cloud services. Rackspace plans to submit its API as an open source project. Many in the industry would like to see Amazon open up its AWS APIs in similar fashion. In the meantime, Rackspace's Cloud Servers API serves as an example of the direction things are heading.

Weaknesses exposed. Despite all the progress, cloud computing can be unreliable and insecure, as recent events have once again demonstrated. In June, Amazon's EC2 got zapped by a lightning strike that knocked some servers offline for a few hours. Rackspace recently had two data center outages a few days apart, causing the company's share price to drop. And Twitter, whose cloud-based service fails frequently, suspects that the Yahoo and Google Apps accounts of some of its employees were hacked, exposing sensitive internal data. Such breakdowns and break-ins are a reminder that, despite all of the signs of progress, cloud computing can also be risky if not done right.

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