[Chicago] What is cloud computing good for?

Jason Rexilius jason at hostedlabs.com
Mon Aug 9 20:32:49 CEST 2010

My opinion (for what its worth) is that "the cloud" as the term is used 
today means "instant fork VPS", usually with a programmatic API.

There are very real issues with VPS's as the last 10 years have shown.

VMWare makes tons of money by taking enterprise boxes tha are _way_ 
under-utilized and consolidating them without impacting applications nd 
their run-time.  The hardware consolidation saves lots of money on power 
and maintenance, etc.  This virtualization model works well within the 
enterprise because rarely does a companies intra-net HR timetracking 
site get slashdot-ed.

EC2 and the like are great for what I term "abuse" computing and 
prototyping.  Both use cases dont need compute infrastructure for long 
so its a big win.

You can use EC2 to host a small website that doesn't have any serious 
demands and very little risk associated with its performance or 
availability.  There are two big problems you face after you get out of 
the garage:

1) cost - EC2 on a cost-per-transaction over a period greater than one 
month is in the range of 2x to 4x that of a dedicated server with a 
decent provider.  As your traffic grows the cost disparity grows 
further.  Once you hit your stride you will find that showing up on 
front page of slashdot and digg are marginal impacts and you are paying 
an outrageous amount of money for "scaling" demands that you wont face 
anymore (your scaling gets more predictable, easier to plan for, spikes 
are smaller % of regular traffic, etc.).

2) neighbors - because all the big shops know its great for abuse 
computing, guess how frequently the single PCI bus on that machine 
you're time-sharing with your neighbors gets saturated (CPU and memory 
can get virtualized and shared nicely but storage and network all go 
over same PCI bus and IO, data or network intensive tasks all share it). 
  You can get really tricky with software and overcome some of the 
performance and availability volatility issues but in light of the above 
mentioned costs, why should you?

There is one advantage that EC2 model can _theoretically_ provide (but 
you have to be really smart to design your software and systems 
management routines to actually get the benefit): a small site that gets 
slashdotted and digged and CNNed at the same time.  The unplanned, with 
no notice at all, near-instant scaling many orders of magnitude beyond 
what your normal run-time rate.  There is a clear compelling case for 
having a programmatic API to a service provider that has excess capacity 
on-demand for that use case.

Well, thats my $.02 anyways.. Hope that helps.

On 8/9/10 1:00 PM, skip at pobox.com wrote:
> The discussion about colocation and cloud servers got me to wondering about
> that technology (again).  Is cloud computing useful for compute-intensive
> tasks or is it designed more to address the slashdot phenomenon (quickly
> increase the number of outward facing servers as needs arise)?
> Can someone point me to some white papers about cloud computing and its
> uses?
> (Sorry, this is only Python-related in the sense that if clouds turn out to
> be good for what I want to do I would run Python programs on them.)
> Thx,
> Skip
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> Chicago at python.org
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