Rationalizing Cloud Computing

For the past couple of years, people have been hot on cloud computing bandwagon. And as in any case of a birth of a new trend, people tend to get into misconceptions that eventually led them to get burned. Some just plainly embrace something without bothering to find out what is in it for them.

As a co-owner of a very small ISV trying to grapple with trends in computing and making things work for clients and stakeholders, I would always submit to the pressures of looking into the possibility of taking advantage of what a new trend can offer, cloud computing included. And during these times, I have significantly looked into what cloud computing brings to the table and how my company can take advantage of them. I have at least looked into Azure and non-Azure offerings and have attempted to assemble a design for our company’s products that can take advantage of the good stuff that are in the cloud.

Though my company is definitely a cloud computing enthusiast as some efforts are actually being done to take advantage of the cloud, as far as I am concerned, it won’t be for everybody. But recently, there is a rise of people who are investigating their possibilities with the cloud. This is maybe due to the advent of Microsoft’s farm betting Azure or perhaps there are just too many misconceptions peddled here and there. In most cases, I always see some wrong assumptions being tossed into every cloud discussion that I have had. Clients too are asking me about possibilities of being in the cloud based on wrong assumptions fed to them.

But before I get into those misconceptions, I would highlight the traits that made me and my company embrace cloud computing:

  • Cloud is the great equalizer. For very small ISVs like my company, I can see cloud as a leveling of playing field against the big guys, at least on the issue on having to spend upfront on system infrastructure to offer something for my market. For under $100 a month, a small ISV can start big.
  • Reach. My company would be able to increase reach without much overhead.
  • Scalability. The fact that I would be able to scale as the need arises, cloud computing is definitely for companies like mine.
  • Administration. Being a very small ISV, system administration tasks such as deployment, support and maintenance takes too much toll on our internal resources. Having an easily accessible uniform environment like the cloud, it would allow my company to increase the number of clients to attend to without adding too much stress on our internal resource.

There are other niceties that made me embrace cloud computing, but the above items mentioned are the major factors that I believe can only be achieved through the cloud.

As convinced as I am that cloud computing is one area that my company should invest, I am also convinced that cloud computing is definitely not for everybody and definitely not for every situation out there, at least for its current incarnation. I’d probably list down 5 misconceptions that I often encounter. My rationalization of these misconceptions will be based on what I know based on the efforts my company is doing in the cloud. These includes mostly Azure based clouds as well as few non Azure ones.

Top 5 Misconceptions I Often Encounter

  1. When I move my existing application from on-premise to cloud, my app will become scalable. Well, NOT without rewriting your apps to scale-out and be cloud-ready. In the cloud, scaling is not all automatic. For example, If you have an application that is not designed to scale out, it will not scale-out in the cloud. By scaling out, you have to know how to partition your storage in multiple storage instances. And instances can be spread geographically across continents. To scale-out, one has to start from scale-out design patterns, probably from scratch. Lucky you are if your current application is designed to scale-out.
  2. I can easily move current on-premise application to the cloud. Contrary to peddled notion that you can easily move current on-premise application (legacy) to the cloud, it is really based on what you actually expect to benefit from the cloud. Like in Azure for example, it supports moving legacy applications to the cloud by using virtual machines to host legacy apps (e.g. hosting a Win Forms based app). But this approach for me is inefficient unless all you want to do is transfer from on-premise to the cloud to perhaps get rid of system administration issues while ignoring other implications and issues like performance, latency, security, etc. You would have to figure out new issues as simple as backing up your data in the cloud. If your legacy app supports features available in on-premise environments, you might encounter problems running them in the cloud as current generation clouds do not support all features that are mostly staple in the on-premise environments.
  3. I have been designing on-premise apps for years, it is enough skill set to get me to the cloud. It is if you were designing on-premise apps using technologies and patterns similar to that available in the cloud. If not, you have to take a look at the cloud differently. If you want to write apps for the cloud, you have to think cloud. Scaling is probably the one issue that would force you to think cloud. If we are used to design our apps with a single instance mindset, it is about time to think differently and think multiple. Though of course, no one is stopping us to write apps to the cloud that way, but that is not real cloud apps are supposed to. Single instance design won’t scale even if you run it over current generation cloud. In SQL Azure, we have a 10GB database size limit. If we exceed the 10GB ceiling, what would our apps do? This seemingly easy to answer question could probably discourage anyone to embrace cloud.
  4. I just have to design apps like I use to and deploy it in the cloud, and the technologies behind it takes care of the rest. This can’t be. If you were into scale-out designs by now, chances are, you wouldn’t think of writing an app and deploying it over the cloud. Chances are, you might have deployed a cloud app already or you probably didn’t know that your design approaches are very much like those implemented over the cloud. But for most, I doubt that it’s the case. Most on-premise apps are designed not to scale-out but to scale-up. For example, most SQL Server implementations just take advantage of new hardware to scale as added load comes. Intrinsically, Microsoft SQL Server is not designed to automatically load balance, for example, a single query statement. One has to learn how to partition tables into a single view with underlying partitions spread across a federation of servers so SQL Server load balances a query. This is not supported in SQL Azure though. However, even if this is supported in SQL Azure in the future, this is not the scaling wonders the cloud provides, your application still sees only a single instance of a view. With today’s multi-million users accessing just one web application at one point in time, you can only scale as much. With cloud computing, your scaling possibilities are like crazy. You don’t have limits in terms of servers, of CPUs, of storage. Having resources like this would force you to rethink of the way you design your applications. The cloud isn’t about the technologies behind. For me it is one big design consideration. It is about the way you design your applications to take advantage of the unlimited resources found in the cloud.
  5. Any apps can or should be placed in the cloud. No one will stop you if you place anything regardless of how it will end up in the cloud. However, there could be applications that are better off off the cloud. For example, if you have an app with one massive synchronous process that you think has no way of being broken down into several pieces, you might as well stick to scaling-up on premise (unless your cloud offers hybrid services like allowing you to scale-up with a very powerful server). For apps requiring heavy informational security and if you aren’t comfortable with the notion that someone from your cloud provider might get into your highly secured data, you might as well have things on premise. There could be a lot of other applications that may not be practical in placed in the cloud.

It is very important that the cloud is understood clearly before everyone gets excited. While I am embracing it, I am welcoming it with a cautious attitude. Being relatively new, there are just too many considerations to think of, and too many questions that don’t even have clear answers for the time being.

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Toto Gamboa is a consultant specializing on databases, Microsoft SQL Server and software development operating in the Philippines. He is currently a member and one of the leaders of Philippine SQL Server Users Group, a Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) chapter and is one of Microsoft’s MVP for SQL Server in the Philippines. You may reach him by sending an email to totogamboa@gmail.com

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One thought on “Rationalizing Cloud Computing

  1. Pingback: Rationalizing Cloud Computing and Common Misconceptions! « SEA MVPs Blog-A-Holic

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