Friday, November 19, 2010

Grids and Clouds - The fundamental differences

Quite often I get the query on what is the difference between a grid and a cloud. Well, lets try and net the differences.

The grid is a 'pre-cloud' terminology. However it distinctly stands for setups by academic groups who wanted to resolve problems that required crunching of large number sets. Typical usages involve satellite image crunching, weather pattern analysis, analyzing data from nuclear experiments or other extreme physics, number crunching to resolve mathematical conjectures, etc.

The objective of setting up these grids was primarily to assemble several high performing servers and get them to work in parallel. Hence you also get to see the term High Performance Computing (HPC) being used in the context of grids. Some of the best know grids are also recognized as the world's best supercomputers.

This is where today's public clouds stand to differ. They are setup to achieve scalability as against performance that grids were setup for. Assemble enough of commoditized infrastructure to help enterprises offload work and data onto these systems. Providing platforms for High Scale Computing (HSC) and not high Performance Computing has been the driver for clouds of today. 

Clouds are designed to take on problems that are in cloud parlance described as "Embarrassingly Parallel Problem"(EPP) Consider a problem that involves finding out the number of times the word "Apple" has been repeated in all of Encyclopedia Britannica's content. A problem whose solution can be approached a typical EPP fashion. Divide and distribute the problem into as many words as there are in the encyclopedia and then funnel them all into a routine that runs in parallel to check if the word matches with "Apple". Each parallel routine returns a 1 or 0. A final counter gets updated as each routine returns its results. A massively parallel approach to solve the problem in minutes that otherwise might have taken days if not months for a stand alone system to solve. All achieved by utilizing the HSC aspect of today's clouds.

A HPC system would rather have a highly complex routing running in each node and one that might also involve certain nodes to continue their crunching based on outputs of few other nodes and vice versa. HPC works on a different dimension.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ray Ozzie's Vision of the Cloud

Ray Ozzie, the chief architect of Microsoft in a recent memo to his direct reportees and executive staff at Microsoft talked about the way cloud would eventually evolve
He says,
We’re moving toward a world of

1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and
 Continuous services are applications that reside on the cloud, run continuously, take advantage of the cloud characteristics to achieve infinite scalability, abstract a lot tasks that can be relegated to the background wherever it helps us define a simpler world.

2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services.
Anything that has a connection to enable us access the continuous cloud services. It could be things as pronounced as smart phone, TVs, etc to something as uncharacteristic of having connectivity as your wallet, your shirt, your shoe sole, etc that connect to services on the cloud to transmit real time date further lending to the services model. With IPV6 being rolled out and the Internet of Things concept  turning these into a reality, Ray Ozzie's connected devices does seem to be taking shape.
This is quite an interesting note from the viewpoint that it adds a certain perspective to the otherwise chaotic or rather nebulous environment we are seeing as cloud computing gains traction.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Testing Services on the Cloud

While Cloud promises the elasticity, pay-on-the-go and flexibility and theoretically infinite scalability when it comes to infrastructure, the real power of the cloud is unleashed when you have applications that leverage the above mentioned advantages cloud provides to solve certain unique problems of enterprises that hitherto had no solution beyond a certain point of optimization.

One such nagging problem that IT enterprises in particular have had was specific to testing services. Testing is one aspect of software life cycle, the efforts for which cannot be predicted with absolute certainty. Nor does testing infrastructure get utilized 100%. This makes testing on the cloud - on demand an attractive proposition. 

Efforts in this direction are one. One interesting effort in this direction is from SauceLabs. SauceLabs have launched Sauce OnDemand, a Selenium based on demand testing environment that rides on top of Amazon EC2 cloud. Selenium is a open source software testing framework for web applications. Released under the Apache 2.0 license, it provides a record/playback tool for authoring tests without learning a test scripting language.

With such an environment at an enterprises' disposal, customers of SauceLabs can now test in hours instead of days. Steve, of SauceLabs says that many customers see a 10- to 20-fold improvement (reduction) in test times because they can simply throw additional resources at the problem. Tests can be run in parallel, saving time and allowing for agile development and continuous integration.

What's more interesting is the additional feature called SauceTV that provides continuous screen shots of the testing as it happens on different cloud based browser instances. It allows QA teams to identify failures and see how web apps look in different browsers without having to sit through the whole process. Cool, eh?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dell buys Boomi - Kickstarting a new disruption

Dell's announcement to acquire Boomi, a provider of on-demand integration software to connect on-premise applications with cloud services, is quite interesting. Why in the world would a hardware OEM provider like Dell want to scale up by acquiring software companies like Boomi.

Claims abound about the potential value waiting to be unlocked. While many would see the light of the day only if the marriage of the two organizations' offerings materialize well, what is undeniable is the determination of Dell to forge ahead strongly with its cloud computing plans. Boomi's AtomSphere, helps enterprises quickly integrate both data and processes from their on-premise IT apps with cloud SaaS services likeSalesForce, Taleo, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, Intuit Quickbooks, Zuora, EDI. The AtomSphere platform provides ready to use adaptors to connect and write quick business logic and connect to these SaaS platforms.

One thing is evident. Dell is looking at introducing its own stack for enterprises wanting to embrace cloud. Be it infrastructure, middleware or business services, Dell would like to be the one stop shop for enterprises. Their infrastructure offerings for setting up a private cloud, the recently unveiled Virtual Integrated System (VIS) that allows end customers directly place requests for and get the needed infrastructure provisioned automatically without intervention from IT administrators are other steps in this direction.

One trend that is clearly coming out in the cloud computing space is the emergence of a few technology end to  end stacks that customers will eventually have options to choose from. Be it Microsoft's Azure, Amazon's AWS or Dell's offering, a disruption is very much on the cards. Will we see another war like the "War of the Operating Systems" albeit on a larger scale or will their be enough play area to accommodate a handful of stacks?

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