Cloud Connect: Evening Panel Woos IT Managers

Much of what happened today, such as the Obama inauguration, happened in the cloud, panel moderator David Berlind said in his introduction to the <em>Evening in the Cloud </em>event on Jan. 20 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Roger Smith, Contributor

January 21, 2009

5 Min Read

"Much of what happened today, such as the Obama inauguration, happened in the cloud," panel moderator David Berlind said in his introduction to the Evening in the Cloud event on Jan. 20 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.Berlind, general manager of the free, hands-on Cloud Connect event for IT professionals interested in cloud computing that runs Jan. 20 to Jan. 22, described the panel format as that of a "customer visit" during which representatives of Google,, and Amazon Web Services would pitch the following four potential cloud 'customers' on the idea of running all of their IT services in the cloud:

  • Tim Crawford, director of IT operations, Stanford University's Graduate School of Business

  • Carolyn Lawson, Chief Information Officer, California Public Utilities Commission

  • Ronald Smith, director of IT customer enablement, Cadence Design Systems

  • Robert Woolley, Chief Technical Architect, Utah Technology Services

The cloud vendor representatives were:

  • Adam Selipsky, VP of product management & developer relations, Amazon Web Services (AWS)

  • Rajen Sheth, senior product manager, Google .

  • Peter Coffee, director of platform research,

Amazon's Selipsky began by showing a slide of the well-known AWS hockey stick graph that describes the bandwidth growth in AWS cloud computing demand over time in comparison with "regular retail" Amazon. Briefly detailing the types of Web services that make up AWS (EC2 elastic compute power, S3 elastic storage, CloudFront content delivery, FPS/DevPay payment and billing, and Mechanical Turk, AWS's on-demand workforce), Selipsky said that AWS currently has 490,000 registered developers who were using AWS for a number of reasons, including reliability, scalability, low-latency, ease of use, as well as the fact that AWS is inexpensive. He said that AWS developers were learning the elasticity lessons that Amazon's internal developers had learned several years ago, namely to scale up for large retail volumes in November and December, then to scale back down and to turn off capacity you don't need. Showing a photo of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in front of a vintage 1890s electric generator in a Belgium beer factory, Selipsky described in-house enterprise IT infrastructure as similarly archaic since a more reliable and scalable infrastructure is available in the cloud. He cited the example of the Animoto Facebook app that ramped from 25,000 users to 250,000 users in three days -- scaling from 50 instances of EC2 usage up to 3,500 instances -- something practically impossible to do in an internal data center.

Google's Rajen Sheth followed up Selipsky's point about the inefficiency of enterprise IT spending, citing a 2007 Gartner study that said $8 of $10 dollars enterprises spend on IT is "dead money," meaning that, while it is keeping the lights on, it's money that isn't directly contributing to your business growth or enhancing your competitive advantage.

"We're in the business of scale," Sheth exclaimed. "This is why we can offer these economies of scale, of $50 per user per year for Google Apps versus $300 to $1,000 if you did it yourself. Plus you get to tap into something else Google does really well: innovation."

Salesforce's Peter Coffee emphasized's online application services in addition to the scalability of cloud platform.

In response to Cadence Design Systems Ronald Smith's latency concerns, which he said made the use of design tools in the cloud impractical, Coffee pointed to third-party vendors like Akamai who have perfected ways of geographically caching content to speed up responsiveness. Echoing Coffee, Amazon's Selipsky said AWS has worked with the several clients, including Autodesk and Render Rocket to cut latency from 80-millisecond round-trip down to single digits. Sheth said Google has similar low-latency solutions that cut the browser time to access Gmail, Google Apps, etc.

Tim Crawford, director of IT Operations at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, expressed concern about cloud vendor lock-in, which prompted Selipsky to say AWS is agnostic on languages and operating systems. "It's your data. If you want to move from our cloud to another cloud, just point to another URL."

Panelist Carolyn Lawson, CIO of the California Public Utilities Commission, was similarly concerned about cloud vendors keeping backup copies of customer's data after switching clouds. "Scalability or latency issues aren't as important as data security. California law says PUC data must stay in the U.S." Selipsky responded that AWS API's are geographic specific and server data is wiped before provision to another customer. Coffee replied that Salesforce had considerable expertise in a multitenet environment and its customer experience very little data loss or data leakage.

Robert Woolley, chief technical architect for the state of Utah Technology Services, wanted to know if cloud providers kept application event logs. Both Coffee and Selipsky responded that and AWS provided extensive logging and tracking services.

Google's Sheth said Google offered e-mail archiving options for up 7 years for additional security. Coffee pointed out that the granularity of security permissions is easy to control in the cloud, since fired employees can have their access to all apps cut off by running a simple macro. "This is not the way it is now, when 1 out of 10 laptops get stolen and 66% of thumb drives are either stolen or lost."

In response to a question from the audience, Google's Sheth said that moving your enterprise e-mail servers and applications like MS Exchange to the cloud is a good place to start in moving your IT infrastructure to the cloud. Salesforce's Coffee concurred. "Content management, collaboration, using a content repository, these are the low-hanging fruit," he said. "Stop sending content around as e-mail attachments. I would start with your most frequently updated Web site, that's where you'll get the biggest payback."

Moderator Berlind concluded the discussion with the comment that while there is increasing acceptance of "canned cloud apps" like Salesforce's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Google's gmail, there is still considerable skepticism about "custom cloud apps." By the end of the next couple of days of hands-on instructional sessions, Berlind said, attendees may discover that it's possible to move most and maybe all their IT into the cloud. "What you may find out," he said, "is that there's more to the cloud than meets your IT."

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