The Troposphere

August 25, 2011  3:49 PM

Will Verizon-CloudSwitch still support AWS?

JoMaitland Jo Maitland Profile: JoMaitland

Verizon’s acquisition of cloud computing software company, CloudSwitch, is a smart move by the telecom giant as enterprises look for hybrid cloud offerings, but will it continue the startup’s support of other clouds besides Verizon’s, and for how long?

CloudSwitch’s software lets users move applications, or workloads, between company data centers and the cloud without changing the application or the infrastructure layer. This notion of hybrid cloud, or connecting on premises IT with public cloud services, turns out to be the preferred approach for most companies considering cloud computing.

CloudSwitch has proven its software is an enabler of this model and has a dozen or so large enterprises, including Novartis and Biogen, using its product to move workloads to the cloud and back in-house, if necessary.

But a key selling point to CloudSwitch has been its multi-cloud, multi-hypervisor strategy and many users have downloaded its software to test Amazon Web Services.Verizon has been pretty gentle so far with its acquistion of Terremark, which is acquired for over a billion dollars last year, but will that extend to a small software acquistion?
“We will remain open and support multiple clouds,” said Ellen Rubin, founder and VP of products at CloudSwitch. “It’s resting on our relationships with Terremark … they told us not once but a dozen times that they want us to stay open.”
On the surface it’s a little weird to see Verizon buying a software company, but the cloud is all about developing APIs that let users request services, so it makes sense at high level. The CloudSwitch product will be part of Verizon’s Terremark division, under Kerry Bailey, group president of Terremark Worldwide.



July 18, 2011  4:54 PM

Is VMware’s new vRAM licensing private cloud poison?

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

It’s now clear that VMware did the math on their customers and the new vRAM+socket licensing scheme. But did they unintentionally screw themselves on a booming trend among their own customers?

Survey data from TechTarget’s Data Center Decisions questionnaire, which may be the industry’s largest impartial and sponsorship-free annual survey, with more than 1,000 IT professionals responding, both confirms VMware’s rationale behind the move, and points to a new trend that may indicate a future stumble on its part. The survey data will be published later this week.

VMware CTO Steve Herrod told us in an interview last week that VMware knew the changes would be deleterious to some customers but that VMware’s internal accounting showed that it wouldn’t be more than 10-20% of customers, and it was worth it to simplify licensing for the other 80%. We have some very strong circumstantial evidence that Herrod was right on the money, but historical data shows there’s a twist.

The survey says that 11% of new server buys are going to ship with 128GB RAM and another 11% with more than 128GB RAM. Depending on how many sockets, that’s at least 11% and potentially more server buyers that are going to feel the “OMFG VMware licensing” kick in. So Herrod was right on.

BUT, here’s the kicker: the number of people buying the high RAM density servers in both categories doubled(!) over last year, from 5.75% and 5.29% in 2010. 99% growth is a trend that’s hard to ignore.

Coupled with data about efforts and intentions to build private cloud environments, it’s pretty clear that a lot of IT shops are fully intending to build out cloud-style environments that can show a consolidated economy of scale. But the new licensing means that if you don’t have enough CPU sockets to go with your ocean of RAM, you’re going to get bit hard.

I am taking it as axiomatic here that pretty much all new server buys with a ridiculous amount of RAM per box are intended for virtualization; that VMware’s 85% market share ensures that those buyers are VMware users and not the outliers on Xen or whatever; and that the trend towards trying to consolidate into bigger and bigger boxes will continue to skyrocket.

VMware has posted a fairly silly ‘clarification’ about the new licensing where it attempts to convince the public that users are confused over whether the licensing is about the amount of physical RAM or the amount of vRAM. Nobody is confused about that- that’s why there’s a “v” on there.

It’s the tying of the licenses to CPU sockets that’s causing the heartburn and the outrage from a vocal minority, since so many(twice as many as last year-will it double again this year?) are buying servers with socket/RAM configs that fall outside the licensing norms. Forward thinking users, appreciative of commodity server power and the examples of massively consolidated, massively virtualized cloud computing environments are being told, in a word, they will be penalized for trying to achieve as much efficiency as technology will allow them.

And in case anyone is wondering, VMware cloud providers under the VMware Service Provider Program(VSPP) have been bound by vRAM licensing for some time now. But they’re not limited by socket, like enterprise users are.

Chew on that one for a while as you think about building out a private cloud on vSphere, enterprise IT guys and gals.

In the meantime, here is an incomplete roundup of blogs, back-of-envelope calculations, license calculators and reactions to the vRAM+socket scheme’t-that-bad-at-all/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=vsphere5licensing

July 12, 2011  7:05 PM

VMware pricing changes add cost to cloud

JoMaitland Jo Maitland Profile: JoMaitland

VMware’s controversial licensing and pricing changes in vSphere 5, leaked today are positively uncloud-like when it comes to cost, casting a shadow over the new features and functions in the product.

Offering pooled RAM as a licensing component instead of charging for physical RAM per host will take away some of the complexity of licensing in a virtual environment but it will increase the cost, according to some analysts and expert bloggers. According to this post, Enterprise vSphere 5 adds licenses every 32GB of RAM.

practically speaking, this may not mean much for a lot of VMware users, and will actually benefit many; anyone running multi-core CPUs in servers with less than 64GB RAM at a standard complement of 10 VMS/physical host might actually see their license pool shrink, something akin to the sun moving backward, according to many VMware users. This covers many kinds of data center operations, from normal workaday servers to blade clusters of many shapes and sizes.

However, this license scheme carries a sharp prejudice against the increasingly common practice of commodity servers with massive amounts of RAM and heavy use of high memory multitenancy and in-memory applications.

For example, provisioning an Exchange server with 64GB of RAM is fairly standard; a hosted exchange provider might run dozens of Exchange VMs across a few machines and giant pool of RAM- that operator is royally screwed. Likewise anyone running a content management or distribution application, or anything with large caching/forwardng requirements.

That’s a dominant model in the cloud world, less so in enterprise, but enterprises are rapidly adopting cloud computing tricks and techniques. Did VMware make the wrong calculation on favoring its majority current customer base over the customer base it’s probably going to have(or not if the licensing remians biased this way) in a few years?

VMware’s CEO Paul Maritz said to get to cloud, users have to have this kind of licensing in order to scale, but this doesn’t jibe with the success Amazon Web Services has had. AWS internal licensing = none, it’s open source and it’s the most proven, scalable cloud on the planet.

Microsoft bundles Hyper-V free with Windows Server. Virtualizing mission critical applications on “free stuff from Microsoft” was never a super attractive option for IT pros, but if the option is an order of magnitude jump in your VMware licenses, that could change.

The question going forward for cloud-style users will be are the features and functions in VMware’s software enough to justify the extra cost?

Most of today’s news was around vSphere 5, but the company also announced vCloud Director 1.5, which now includes the capability to support linked clones. This reduces the time to provision VMs down to 5 seconds, VMware claimed, and cuts the storage costs associated with these VMs as it’s thinly provisioned, meaning only allocated when actually used.

July 12, 2011  1:41 PM

Citrix acquires will it be enough?

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

Citrix will acquire platform startup to bolster its private cloud product line. is a three year old software startup that makes a cloud computing platform: management and messaging software to turn a commodity hardware stack of servers and virtualization into a cloud platform, like Amazon Web Services. Citrix will be integrating into its cloud product lineup, which is basically VDI, GoToWhatever and unicorn snot at the moment.

The Cupertino-based ex-startup is one of the more mature cloud platform gambits, like Eucalyptus. It was already a Citrix partner and has a string of decent names in its badge collection; online game giant Zygna is a customer, currently in the process of building out it’s own personal cloud after living on AWS for some time; it’s using’s CloudStack in both cases, a telling example of the software’s versatility.

The deal is a nice exit for, founded by virtualization veteran Sheng Liang; it was rapidly able to collect and deliver on big customers and apparently the platform is solid, technologically. But it’s a bigger deal for Citrix, which has been, if not exactly sinking under the waves, not making a great deal of progress.

Now it has a valid, honest to goodness cloud stack to offer users that’s compatible to a T with Citrix’s Xen hypervisor and the crowd-pleasing OpenStack project. has said it is merging its code base for CloudStack with OpenStack, so Cirtix gets a double whammy with this buy. This won’t rock the cloud boat all that much; mostly it means Citrix isn’t doomed to being adonut spare fifth wheel on the HP, IBM, Microsoft and EMC/Cisco/VMware cloud wagon.

July 6, 2011  5:51 PM

vFabric Hyperic plugin surfaces for Cloud Foundry

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

A new plugin has been developed that connects part of VMware’s vFabric middleware to its Cloud Foundry Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, according to a post last week on the SpringSource Hyperic blog.

vFabric Hyperic, which monitors performance in custom Web applications, can now be integrated through the plugin into Cloud Foundry’s VMC command-line interface to monitor applications running on the PaaS platform. Features include auto-discovery, event tracking and metrics collection on Cloud Foundry system and account usage, as well as Cloud Foundry provisioned services. The new integration will also allow for starting, stopping and restarting Cloud Foundry applications, updating reserved memory, and scaling up or down by one application instance to meet performance demands.

Meanwhile, Hyperic is just one part of vFabric; other components include the Apache Tomcat-based tc Server; RabbitMQ messaging; GemFire distributed data management; and the vFabric Enterprise Ready Server for Web server load balancing. There have been hints from VMware that RabbitMQ will also make its way onto the Cloud Foundry platform — the Hyperic blog post refers to RabbitMQ, “once available,” as a provisioned service the Hyperic plugin will be able to manage.

But there have been hints about RabbitMQ since the launch of Cloud Foundry, and actual integration has yet to see the light of day. GemFire is another application that could lend itself to cloud-based deployment and development, and broadly, VMware says it would be the ‘natural evolution’ for such offerings to become services offered on the Cloud Foundry platform. But the devil’s in the details, and a detailed strategy for integration between the overall vFabric and Cloud Foundry platforms has yet to be publicly voiced by VMware.

Instead, with the latest release of vFabric, version 5, VMware deepened integration between vFabric and the vSphere hypervisor, rather than with Cloud Foundry — users can now change the ‘identity’ of VMs running different components of vFabric within a given block of vSphere licenses according to demand, and vSphere’s dynamic memory feature has been added to tc Server.

In the spirit of true open source, which Cloud Foundry aims to be, it would be helpful if VMware published a roadmap for integration plans, which would give confidence to developers interested in using the platform. Instead, as it stands today, Cloud Foundry has an experimental air –- in Paul Maritz’s words at the Structure conference last month, it’s a “calculated risk” at this point — and VMware could at least theoretically pull the plug on it at any time.

June 30, 2011  11:01 PM

OpSource exit shows the power of the platform

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

OpSource has been bought by ICT and IT services giant Dimension Data. This tells us several important things about the cloud computing market when we look at some of the details. It’s mostly positive unless you’re a private cloud cultist or one of the vendor giants enabling private cloud cargo cults in various areas of IT.

OpSource likely made out here, too; Informa analyst Camille Mendler said NTT, which now owns Dimension Data and was a 5% equity investor in OpSource, is well known for piling up money to get what it wants. “NTT was an early investor in OpSource years ago. They always pay top dollar (see DiData price, which turned off other suitors)” Mendler said in a message.

Mendler also pointed out the real significance of the buy: the largest providers are moving to consildate their delivery arms and their channel around cloud products, becuase that’s where the action is right now. Amazon Web Services is an outlier; private cloud in the enterprise is in its infancy; but service providers in every area are in a wholesale migration into and delivering cloud computing environments. OpSource already runs in some NTT data center floor space; DiData has a massive SP/MSP customer base and it’s OpSource’s true strength as well.

DiData is already actively engaged with customers that are doing cloudy stuff, said Mendler, and they basically threw up their hands and bought out the best provider focused cloud platform and service provider they could find. “There’s a white label angle, not just enterprise” she said.

And it’s not the only deal for cloud for providers, by NTT either: It bought controlling interest in an Australian MSP with a cloud platform in May. gathering in OpSource means NTT have a stake in most of the world in a fairly serious fashion when it comes to the next wave of public and hosted cloud providers.

What else?

Well, DiData is a huge firm in IT services. They have all the expertise and software they’d ever need, but instead of developing a platform or an IaaS to sell to customers, they bought one outright and are starting up a cloud services business unit to sell it pretty much as is. That means, as has been pointed out so many times before, building a cloud is hard work, and quite distinct from well understood data center architectures around virtualization and automation as we used to know them.

It also means there was a pressing need for a functioning cloud business today, or more likely yesterday. “Essentially, what Dimension has said is ‘nothing changes with OpSource'” said OpSouce CTO John Rowell.

Rowell’s a bit giddy; he said with access to DiData’s partnerships and customers, OpSource gets a fast track to global infrastructure growth in a way it couldn’t before. “We believe we can go head to head with Amazon and we‘ll be better than them,” he said. He might not be far off, at least in the MSP sector; OpSource does have a few pieces of the puzzle AWS doesn’t, like a working support system, mature networking (mature networking features in the cloud=hosting circa 1999) and a very slick interface that is pig easy to use or extend.

Overall though, it tells us the real action is behind the scenes for enterprise IT- cloud computing is on fire in the service world; it’s still mostly smoke in the enterprise world.

June 28, 2011  8:34 PM

What the heck is Office 365?

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

Office 365 is live. Read the fluff here, or watch videos all day of Microsoft SMB customers. But what exactly is Office 365? Let us hove to established tradition for “WTF is this thing” stories and start with what it is NOT:

Office 365 is not Microsoft Office software. Not Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook. If you do not have those things, signing up for Office 365 will not get them for you (you can buy them at the same time you sign up, however).

It is not compatible with Microsoft Office 2003. You need to be on Office 2007 or better, because Office 365 needs Office “Open” XML (OOXML) to do most of the neato-burrito online stuff. The Microsoft how-to’s (LGT to the guide for enterprise) say it will pretty much work with MSO07 or MSO10, but you will need MSO10 Professional Plus to use all the Office 365 features.

It is not an Exchange Server, a Communications (now Lync) Server or SharePoint server. It is also not like anything you would consider a hosted Exchange server, nor is it an online email/app suite like Gmail or Zoho. It is not an browser-based online service.

It is not cross platform. This is for Windows and Internet Explorer. It lives on ActiveX and Silverlight.

It is not anything whatsoever to do with mobile devices or mobile apps, except for delivering Exchange mail and using SharePoint Mobile (one of those things is very useful, the other one is SharePoint Mobile)

It is not Google Docs.

It is definitely not iCloud.

What it is:

Office 365 is a replacement for your Exchange and Sharepoint servers that comes as a monthly subscription service from Microsoft, and it is an add-on software pack to your Office installation. It also runs Communications Server (now Lync) as a service, but I’m not sure anyone’s ever actually used Lync. It’s not like hosted versions of these products, nor is it like running them yourself- Microsoft does 100% of the admin and you get zero access except to an identity and management layer for adding and managing users and mailboxes to some extent. This is the cloud computing part of Office 365. It is better known as BPOS.

Inboxes are 25 GB and message size limits are 25 MB, the signal benefit here is that you will only intensely annoy the recipients of your 25 MB emails and no longer your IT admin as well. Admins everywhere are chuckling in anticipated schadenfreude at the thought of Microsoft operators trying to unstick Exchange queues full of 25 MB attachments going to 25 GB mailboxes instead of them.

Office 365 lets you send email from and not; it supposedly will do single sign-on if you let it sync with your AD. It requires Active Directory Federation Services 2.0, so Windows 2003 Server support is out the window for that feature.

It DOES NOT integrate any further than syncing users, addresses and the Global Address List. You CANNOT UNSYNC your AD, and it is in no way shape or form a tool for managing ADs. You’ll still do all user management from your domain server and you’ll manage Office 365 users on Office 365, unless you migrate completely to Office 365 and stop using local directory services (because all you use your ADs for is email, RIGHT?) Microsoft says you can do a standard cut-over or partial migration if you want to stick your entire email infrastructure in the Microsoft cloud.

The add-on part is a download called the “Office desktop setup.” Run it on each machine that will use Office 365 after installing Office 2007 or 2010. Once you’ve done that and set up your users, they can use Office WebApps to edit and share .doc files from their PC in a browser. Apparently it’s not too hot on mobile devices, though.

That’s what Office 365 is, in sum. Is it a Gmail/Google Apps killer? Not at any entry point that is not equal to “free,” it’s not. Its also clearly not set up to be used the same way. Where’s SkyDrive, by the way? Where’s the cross-browser support?

Is it pretty cool and does neat stuff, like real-time collabo on documents and websites with multiple editors (no more email chains of these: “pls rvw chnges and snd back asap thx attached” hooray!) Sure. and like it or lump it, the world pretty much runs on Office.

But will it upheave the Office desktop landscape? Not even a little bit.

June 22, 2011  8:48 PM

The FBI is coming to get your cloud (or not)

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

Hooray! Another “public cloud is ridiculously dangerous and will eat your babies” news item. Or not. Maybe both. Don’t worry but lock up your babies, is more or less what I’m saying. Lets break it out.

In conjunction with the LulzSec raids on the Web farms of the body politic, the FBI seized servers in Virginia. This, of course, knocked out a number of perfectly innocent websites and services that were on the same servers as whatever the FBI was after.

This has happened before. In 2009, minor hoster Core IP was raided by the FBI and dozens of the company’s customers were suddenly high and dry. The FBI took servers willy-nilly, not caring who or what was hosted on them.

The end of the story is this: Core IP was, among others, implicated in widespread telecom fraud and probably dirty. All the innocent customers who hosted in good faith? SOL, according to the FBI. Whether they knew about it or not, if they partook of a service that was used in conjunction with criminal activities, they were on the hook.

That’s a bit bizarre to anyone even slightly familiar with technology who understands how multitenancy works and does not believe in guilt by association, but it has real world parallels — a distribution center being used for smuggling gets shut down even if legitimate goods are going through and everyone suffers.

But it does seem particularly awful in the virtual world, since incriminating data can so easily be identified and passed to authorities without burning the entire operation to the ground. It’s just so stupidly, pointlessly destructive that it makes the nerd in us grind our teeth in frustration.

Anyway, it’s either spite, pre-trial collective punishment or willful ignorance by the FBI, but two’s enough for a trend. The implications for cloud computing are clear, since they are almost by definition multitenant environments; host in public and you are at terrible risk from naughty neighbors. The whole thing can blow up in your face overnight, and then the FBI has all your junk. Therefore, private cloud is way to go, right?

Wrong. “Do not host with small-time operators” is the lesson here. Until the day the FBI marches out of Equinix trundling a rack or two or Amazon’s gear, I will not believe that this risk will ever touch service providers over a certain scale. The limit on that scale is an in-house legal department (or a law firm on retainer), if I’m not very much mistaken.

Much for the same reason they don’t sent SWAT teams to rich people’s houses, the FBI does not flash into Google or Microsoft or Amazon data centers and start kicking things over. They engage in protracted, legally sanctioned and highly specific co-operation with those providers, because the FBI does not want to dragged into court and possibly curtailed in its ability to abuse those without the legal resources.

When the feds need data or user information or evidence from MS/Google/etc, you can be sure that it is an employee of one of those providers handing it over to them. Hey, it’s plainly stated in most web services and cloud providers SLAs — “We fully co-operate with legal investigations” or something.

So don’t worry about this happening to you if you use Amazon Web Services or Rackspace Cloud. Worry about encrypting your data. And this certainly doesn’t do a thing to change the current calculus on on enterprise data security and the cloud (which is “MONGO SAY CLOUD BAAAAD!!!”).

Or instead, worry about what your lemur-brained development crew is doing on Amazon’s cloud. There we find a rich source of security delights, from crappy apps running in public to this little gem: The pool of publicly available, user created Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) is riddled with highly insecure, vulnerable virtual machine images, according to new research from Darmstadt Research Center for Advanced Security (CASED) in Germany.

Out of 1100 user created AMIs they tested, 30% were vulnerable to compromise right from launch. Don’t you feel better now?

June 15, 2011  10:22 PM

LexisNexis throws hat in big data ring

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

Premier data analysis and records search firm LexisNexis has dropped a large rock into the next generation database pond: it’s releasing the core of its own data management and search technology as an open source software (dual license: free/community edition and paid-for pro edition).

HPCC Systems is three major components, according to Armondo Escalante, CTO at LexisNexis. The data processing engine (“Thor”) that organizes and stores the data is a massively multiparallel batch processing server written in C++ that runs on Linux and commodity x86 servers.

“That gives it a big advantage at run time,” said Escalante, over Hadoop, the open source offshoot of Google’s MapReduce platform written in Java. Escalante claims Thor is four times faster than Hadoop when running certain queries. It functions much as Hadoop does; it’s a distributed file system that requires several nodes and runs inquiries in as many parallel jobs as possible.

“Roxie” is the data delivery engine; Escalante says it, like Thor, is a clustered architecture running on Linux, for delivering transactions. Point your front end at it and connect with SOAP or JSON to interact. The third element is the interface language used to control these engines, call ECL.
Escalante says that there is no practical limit to how many nodes or how much data these tools can scale to, which makes sense; this kind of architecture is familiar territory for grid and HPC users doing massive data processing jobs. This is not for processing math problems and crunching datasets, however- it is for long term storage and access to a dynamic pool of unstructured data in very large amounts; amounts that would seem utterly ludicrous when LexisNexis began building out this platform a decade ago.

“Ten years ago we were doing big data. 18 terabytes online serving to our customers,” said Escalante. “Ten years ago that was big data. Not so much now.” Today firms like Google, LexisNexis and Microsoft casually talk about storing petabytes of data and the need to sort through it all. Large enterprises are also sitting on exponentially expanding stores of business data even if they aren’t in the Information game or the online ad business.

Escalante says LexisNexis’ motivation for this was twofold: one, was the desire to get free innovation from the scientific and database communities that have a need for operations on this scale and the other was to tap into the trend for data management at very large scale and with unstructured data stores. “Three years ago we started going to the Hadoop conferences and said finally someone’s talking about this, and we’ve seen the growth [and] we believe our software is superior,” he said.

That’s not an absurd claim; While not the household word that Google is, LexisNexis is the leading research and data location service in the world, and stores and searches truly vast empires of publications and data, including sources deliberately not able to be searched by Google and data stores that Google doesn’t bother to make available. LexisNexis is a serious research tool with serious performance and charges a pretty penny for the privilege too. Google makes its search results available for free because it sells ads around them, although both firms derive their value from correctly linking disparate kinds of data together.

Google is also famously secretive; whatever it’s using for MapReduce is years ahead of Hadoop. LexisNexis, also justly famous for tight lips, claims that the open source HPCC will be developed just as its internal platform develops. The pro edition gets you LexisNexis’ other managment tools it has developed around HPCC and support. Escalante said the original driver of HPCC was to get out from under the thumb of Oracle and other “shrink-wrap” software vendors, since the amount of money LexisNexis would have to pay to run their business on Oracle would probably buy Larry Ellison another couple of yachts. He said traditional relational databases could certainly get the job done for big data but the back pocket pain was extreme.

“You can buy 100, 200 big Oracle systems and maybe do it but it’ll cost you a fortune,” he said. Now LexisNexis thinks enterprises will look seriously at HPCC as an alternative to more Oracle in their data center, although Escalante admits it’s going to be a tough sell, since enterprise are always interested in stuff that works and never interested in being someone’s science project.

Maybe having a legitimate information management firm backing HPCC Systems will make it easier to get in the door; maybe not. MySQL, another free database got some entry to the enterprise when backed by a commercial firm, but MySQL mostly took off on the web where there was a hole to be filled. IBM and Oracle didn’t exactly go down in flames because another free database showed up; they’re probably not quaking in their boots now, either.

This also means LexisNexis has decided that their infrastructure technology has minimal value to them as a trade secret (and they aren’t shy when it comes to revenue grabs, believe me) and more value to them as a service business, which is in its own way an interesting reflection on the cloud computing trends of today. It will also, of course, run on Amazon Web Services, and Escalante said there are plans to run HPCC as an online, pay-as-you-go data processing service at some point.

Will it be a “Hadoop killer”? Probably not, open source doesn’t work that way. Will it turn you into Google over night? Probably not, but it’s nice to see another legit contender join the fray and the possibilities are only positive for anyone dealing with large amounts of data and a bent towards experimenting.

A DNA sequencer can generate a terabyte of raw data a day. Currently there’s no good way to deal with that data except to crunch it, look at the results and put it away. What if you could keep that data alive and do as many searches in as many ways as you like on it, on the same server hardware you’ve already got?

May 18, 2011  3:23 PM

Cloud outage roundup!

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

It’s been a rough patch for cloud computing in the “perceptions of reliability” department. Gremlins working overtime caused EBS to fail at Amazon, taking down a bunch of social media sites, among others. Naturally, that got a lot of attention, much as throwing an alarm clock down a wind tunnel will make a disproportionate amount of noise.

As the dust was settling and the IT media echo chamber was polishing off the federally mandated outrage/contrarian outrage quota for all kerfuffles involving Anything 2.0, more outages struck, including a Blogger outage that no one in IT really cared about, although this reporter was outraged that it temporarily spiked a favorite blog.

While nobody was caring about Blogger, Microsoft’s hosted (cloud) Exchange and collaboration platform, Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS, now a part of Office 365) went down, which people in IT most assuredly did care about. Especially, as many of the forum posters said, if they had recently either been sold or sold their organization on “Microsoft cloud” as a preferable option to in-house Exchange.

“I’ve been with Microsoft online for two weeks now, two outages in that time and the boss looks at me like I’m a dolt. I was THIS close to signing with Intermedia,” said one poster. That’s the money quote for me; Intermedia is a very large hosted Exchange provider and this (probably) guy was torn between hosted Exchange and BPOS. Now he feels like he might have picked wrong: notice he didn’t discuss the possibility of installing on-prem Exchange, just two service options.

Microsoft posted a fairly good postmortem on the outage in record time, apparently taking heed from the vicious pillorying AWS got for its lack of communication (AWS’ postmortem was also very good, just many days after the fact):

“Exchange service experienced an issue with one of the hub components due to malformed email traffic on the service. Exchange has the built-in capability to handle such traffic, but encountered an obscure case where that capability did not work correctly.”

Anyone who’s had to administer Exchange feels that pain, let me tell you. It also tells us BPOS-S is using Exchange 2000 (That is a JOKE, people).

What ties all these outages together is not their dire effect on the victims. That’s inconsequential in the long term, and won’t stop people from getting into cloud services (there are good reasons to call BPOS cloud instead of hosted application services but that’s another blog entirely). It’s not the revelation that even experts make mistakes in their own domain, or that Amazon and Microsoft and Google are largely still feeling their way around on exactly what running a cloud means.

It’s the communication. If anything could more clearly delineate “cloud service” from “hosted service,” it’s the lack of transparency, lack of customer touch, and the unshakeable, completely relative perception of users across the board, that when outages occur, they are on their own.

Ever been in a subway car and the power dies? I grew up in Boston, so that must have happened hundreds of times to me. People’s fear and unease grow directly proportional to the time it takes the conductor to yell out something to show they’ve got the situation in hand. Everything is always fine, the outage is temporary, no real harm done, but people only start to freak when they get no assurance from the operator.

Working in IT and having a service provider fall over is the same thing, only you’re going to get fired, not just have a loud sweaty person flop all over you in the dark (OK, that may happen in somea lot of IT shops). Your boss doesn’t care you aren’t running Microsoft’s data center; you’re still responsible. Hosters have learned from long experience that they need to be, or at least provide the appearance of, being engaged when things go wrong, so their users can have something to tell their bosses. I used to call up vendors just to be able to tell my boss I’d been able to yell at “Justin our engineer” or “Amber in support” and relay the message.

Cloud hasn’t figured out how to address that yet; either we’re all going to get used to faceless, nerve-wracking outages or providers are going to need to find a way to hit that gap between easy, anonymous, economical and enterprise ready.

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