Cloud Computing Comes Down To Earth

Emerging tech always comes with a learning curve. Here are some real-world lessons from early adopters.
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Businesses are testing cloud computing and, in a few cases, beginning deployment. They're after increased flexibility, agility, and economies of scale, but IT veterans know such gains won't be effortless. There's a steep learning curve with this new computing model.

One of the biggest lessons so far is that it's hard to know precisely what your systems are doing in a public cloud environment. Yes,'s CloudWatch and services like it will tell whether your workloads are operating, but they don't tell how well apps are performing, such as if they're choking on I/O overload.

Even when there's an outright failure, it can be hard to get the information you need. When part of an Amazon data center in northern Virginia suffered primary and backup power failures on Dec. 9, it took 34 minutes before the news was posted on Amazon's Service Health Dashboard. Amazon acknowledged the outage and offered updates, but it was up to customers to assess the impact. To know whether their workloads were down, companies had to subscribe to CloudWatch--not everybody does--or a service such as VMware's CloudStatus or Alternate Networks' network monitoring, or check directly if a failover activated backup servers, which Amazon encourages you to set up for each workload.

Cloud computing service providers, like their customers, are in learning mode during this break-in period. They include infrastructure veterans Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Terremark; outsourcers such as CSC; telecom giants Verizon and AT&T; and newcomers, Engine Yard, Heroku, and many others. If they're candid, they acknowledge they're venturing into unexplored terrain.

Microsoft, which started charging for its Azure cloud services in February, admits it still has work to do, especially in the area of cloud monitoring tools. Enterprise early adopters are in a position to shape how vendors build out these services. A private cloud appliance recently launched by Microsoft is being co-developed with eBay, which will initially use it for the relatively low-volume Garden by eBay service, where it tests partner's ideas and new applications, and eventually for basic auction services, says VP of technology James Barrese.

Even if companies are only testing cloud services, they should explore the inevitable problems that go with an emerging technology, as well as the potential competitive advantages. InformationWeek sought out early adopters to gauge how they're doing in both respects.

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