State of the Cloud

The Azure cloud is doing well.
The Azure cloud is doing well.

Microsoft has joined the billion dollar club. For Azure, that is. They announced that this platform and service will generate a billion dollars in revenue. It’s been growing, and at least one analyst expects the revenue to double annually. Profit is something else, but I know from various people at Microsoft that they are working hard and investing heavily in this service, and I’m sure at some point it will be profitable, though I’m not sure how much.

Amazon has had a very successful AWS platform, providing a wide variety of services and products. Their aim is to go for the high volume, low margin business, which makes their service competitive with the costs of buying and managing your own hardware. As long as Amazon and other competitors are out there, I suspect cloud services will be cheap enough to make many companies consider moving some of their infrastructure to this type of environment. It certainly eases the time and effort of building new machines and encourages better development habits.

As IT departments, especially the management of those groups consider using cloud type services, they still have to be aware that this isn’t a savings that comes for free. Code changes, staffing skill growth and mindset evolutions to take into the account the challenges of working in a cloud environment, as well as the SLAs that seem to favor the cloud providers more than the cloud customers, mean this isn’t an easy decision. Add to this the potential tax implications, and the decision to move away from current IT practices is not always obvious.

The idea of cloud computing, and cloud services, is still very immature. From the definition of what this means, to the offerings, to the architectures, the industry has a lot of growth to do before most of us will feel comfortable moving substantial parts of our infrastructure out of our own facilities.

Cloud Common Sense

Common sense is needed in, or outside of, the cloud.

The byline for this piece about cloud computingis great. It a sarcastic comment about problems in the cloud, and if you read it, then maybe you won’t think every problem in the cloud is cause for the complete abandonment of cloud computing as a tool in your technology toolbelt. As cloud vendors grow, they often standardize and build more homogenous infrastructures that could have cascading failures. We’ve seen this in the past with hosting companies that provided data center services, and we’ve seen it in large companies that centralize and standardize their systems.

When I started my career, I saw in in mainframe computing as well. That was more amusing as we would all stand up in our cubes, and if you saw a significant number of others standing up, you knew the entire mainframe was down. These days I think Twitter lets us know as quick as any monitoring software when there’s a large outage. That’s assuming Twitter isn’t down.

Whether you move to the cloud, outsource any services to another company, or even host your physical servers in someone’s data center, you need to use common sense for your architecture, security, and monitoring. If you don’t control the physical hardware, you must be more diligent about security. If you move data around, be aware of security controls and implement tunnels or strong encryption. Above all, make sure you have good backups at your location, and away from the cloud provider. If the worst case scenario happens, you should still have your data.

The cloud isn’t for every situation, just like outsourced data centers or IT services aren’t for every company. However there are a lot of advantages to moving to a cloud environment, and it may reduce costs. That last item might be enough for your company to force moves to the cloud, despite objections from sysadmins and DBAs. Learning more about cloud computing and services like SQL Azure is a skill that DBAs ought to consider. Even if cloud computing isn’t likely in your industry, you might find yourself in a different industry next year.

Steve Jones


The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

The Intelligence Cloud

The Air Force Academy Chapel

I was thinking to call this the “Military Intelligence Cloud” but no one would believe it was true. Apparently the US Air Force has awarded a contract to build an intelligence platform that will allow different branches of the military and agencies to share data. And, by the way, they will be building a cloud based system.

I’m not sure why the “cloud” is such a buzzword and why everyone thinks it results in cost savings. Supposedly a “private cloud” based system is being used for cost reasons, and because the public cloud services like Windows Azure and Amazon’s EC2 might not be secure enough.

However what is a private cloud here? Isn’t it just an outsourced set of systems hosted elsewhere? It seems as though many companies and journalists are selling the cloud as some sort of new technology? Isn’t it just a set of hosted servers that are just virtual machines? Or is it just a set of servers that are standardized somehow in their configuration and capabilities?

It seems that all the press, and all the commercials from Microsoft might be working, and the collective managerial sheep herd is flocking to the cloud as some amazing new change in the way their systems will work. If that’s the case, I’m not sure this new cloud service will be any more intelligent a move than and other outsourcing decision.

I think there is promise in a more abstract, more ephemeral type of platform in the cloud, but it seems as thought we might be a long way from actually implementing something like that.

Steve Jones


The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

Cloud Hacking

Hackers are training for the cloud challenges

Not everyone is down on the cloud. Apparently someone found a great use for pay-as-you-go computing in the cloud by using it to hack wireless networks. What’s next, someone using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to find security holes in police patrols of local businesses? It constantly amazes me just how someone will take a technology that is very handy and turn it into a tool used for criminal purposes. I suppose we just have to live with this use of technology and learn to protect ourselves as much as possible.

I think that security will be one of the bigger impediments to cloud adoption than anything else. Sure there’s the cost factor of data transfers, and trying to determine how to manage the costs of large bursts. There’s the need to integrate local and cloud development codebases, and potential patching/version issues. However those are not large issues when compared with the potential security issues that come with cloud computing.

Even as we move to private cloud structures, we may have security issues with more resources being grouped under one large services umbrella and the difficulties of managing security for large numbers of users. We want to use groups to make management easier, but the more people you manage and the more groups that become involved, the more likely it is that you will have some security hole in your system.

I think we’ll start to find more hackers that will discover, and take advantage of, hole in cloud security that we haven’t thought of. As they do, we’ll see more resistance from companies in migrating their infrastructures. At least until it becomes more cost effective to do so. Then we’ll discover that many of those security issues don’t seem to matter quite as much.

Steve Jones

(published at http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Editorial/72385/)


The Voice of the DBA Podcasts