Representatives of Salesforce.com, Google, and Amazon.com tried to convince an audience last night at the Cloud Connect conference in Mountain View, Calif., that the existing IT infrastructure can be moved into their cloud computing services, but a skeptical set of questioners said, "Not so fast."
"The idea behind Cloud Connect is that you can not only move specially virtualized stuff into the cloud but also IT customized stuff as well," noted David Berlind, moderator of the panel, An Evening In The Cloud, that kicked off the event yesterday evening at the Computer History Museum.
Three speakers, Adam Selipsky, VP of product management and developer relations at Amazon; Rajen Sheth, senior product manager at Google; and Peter Coffee, director of platform research at Salesforce, argued that the IT infrastructure will soon be executing in the cloud.
Amazon has the expertise to build data center operations in support of a massive e-commerce site. It can build out that capability more cheaply and reliably than enterprises can build individual data centers, said Selipsky. Customers for its raw cloud services, such as Elastic Compute Cloud, S3 storage, and SimpleDB database services now account for more demand on its compute cycles and bandwidth than e-commerce on its Web site, he said.
"Amazon cloud services are built on the same principle as Amazon.com is built," Selipsky told an audience of about 300.
Sheth said cloud users get the benefit of having additional resources when they need them, rather than having to buy them and keeping them in reserve for peak loads. "We're in the business of scale. We have to build for scale. You get to leverage that," he said, and Google cloud users gain economies of scale in the process.
"We offer not just capacity in the cloud but multiple services," said Coffee, reflecting Salesforce's new emphasis on the cloud platform as well as online application services that it offers.
One questioner, however, asked how cloud providers can deal with the inherent latency in Web operations.
Coffee said both Salesforce experts and Web speed-up experts, such as Akamai, are perfecting the art of offsetting the Web's inherent delays. Akamai caches data and content on servers that are geographically positioned to deliver responses close to their point of origin, whenever possible.
Salesforce engineers its applications to get around the chattiness of the HTTP protocol, which likes to ask a client if it's ready to receive a message from a Web server before sending it. "This isn't the old multiple round-trip Web," he said. The typical Salesforce application response time is a quarter of a second, he said.
Selipsky likewise said Amazon invests "in smart people" able to attack the problem more effectively than individual IT shops can do on their own.
"You talk about the cloud as 'your cloud,'" pointed out Tim Crawford, director of IT for the Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, one of four members of a user panel that questioned the speakers. "What if I'm unhappy with your cloud and want to move to another. How hard is it to move my data and applications?"
Selipsky responded: "We're agnostic on languages and operating systems. We're trying to do nothing that's proprietary," he said, indicating it should be possible to pick up and move to a competing cloud.
Crawford pointed out that Salesforce's cloud platform runs Salesforce's proprietary language, Apex. Coffee responded, "Our Apex code is a hybrid of Java and C Sharp. The bulk of the work you'll do [in moving] is writing scripts -- the work that we're already doing for you."
Another member of the user panel, Carolyn Lawson, CIO of the California Public Utilities Commission, said she was personally responsible for the correct handling of data collected by her agency. "How do I know, if I port my application and data to another cloud, that you no longer have it?"
Sheth emphasized that Amazon doesn't take ownership of data in its cloud. "It's your data. We don't ever look at it. Amazon has a long history of holding sensitive data on millions of people," he noted.
But Lawson wasn't satisfied. If a mishap occurred and data were stolen out of the cloud, it's not been established in case law who is responsible, the originator of the data or the owner of the cloud services, she noted.
Coffee countered that putting data in a cloud tends to mitigate the risk of losing it. Data stored on laptops or small departmental servers is more likely to be misused or go missing that data stored on a well-administered cloud server, he said.
Robert Woolley, chief technical architect for State of Utah Technology Services, asked whether logging of events executed by an application was kept by the cloud provider. Coffee responded that clouds provide extensive logging services, allowing events to be reconstructed from the log file to tell "who changed what and when."
But restrictions emerged through the assurances. The Google App Engine currently runs applications written in Python, a dynamic or scripting language often used in Web applications. But questioners asked how much of the IT infrastructure was composed of Python.
Selipsky said the Amazon cloud runs customer software stacks as a bundle formatted in Amazon Machine Image and insisted it was simple to produce such a package. "Just follow the instructions on the Web site," he said.
But Billy Marshall, CEO for rPath, a virtual appliance firm, says his firm is finding an increasing business as a third party in packaging up enterprise applications for export to the Amazon cloud.
Google's Sheth said it was fine to talk about moving the IT infrastructure to the cloud but what most people got started with was their e-mail servers and applications.
Crawford added his own observation: "Wow. This [cloud computing] sounds too good to be true. If this is true, why aren't people signing up? I wonder if [cloud providers] aren't talking about something that's too narrow and specialized."
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