A Tale of Three Clouds – Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Reveals Some Concerns

microsoft's red dog in a blue cloud
microsoft’s red dog in a blue cloud

[Update: 2-23-09: ZDNet looks at the Red Dog in the Blue Cloud, a little bit more about Microsoft’s Azure and the dog that hopes to hunt there.]

“The RoR community spans hundreds of sites and thousands of user groups because the tools are easier to use and more agile.”

First there was the cloud. And everything in the cloud was good.

the internet is like a big cloud
the internet is like a big cloud

An then came the ASP model, sometimes referred to as hosted applications. Now more commonly called SaaS, for Software as a Service. Salesforce is the poster child of SaaS. You can buy into Salesforce’s online services and now with hundreds of “salesforce authorized” vendors you can pick and choose the additional services you want. Salesforce has even launched “The Force” which is basically a framework for building applications on top of Salesforce’s Cloud and having access to their resources and connectivity with other Salesforce developers and customers. But I am jumping ahead.

So more recently the industry started referring to Cloud Computing as the new paradigm. Sounded like the original web paradigm to me, but hey, let’s look into what Cloud Computing is all about.

Cloud 1: initially the Cloud was simply a big group of servers where you could store and run your website or email programs. Hosting companies like Rackspace, still call them managed hosting, but the sexier term is definitely Cloud Computing.

Cloud 2: is more about processing power and distributed bandwidth and storage. So in addition to getting a server farm you get some hardware and software goodness that allow you to run your mission critical applications across hundreds of servers at once, providing redundancy and dynamic scalability, when that is necessary to cover the traffic load. Google’s Apps and their new development platform, is of this variety.

Cloud 3: tries to blend the best of 1 and 2 and offer something more holistic that combines the scalability of numerous on-demand servers AND then adds a “platform” for application development or deployment. And as a whole this system is then supported by the technical infrastructure of the “cloud” rather than the company. So if you move your computing requirements into Cloud #3, theoretically you will lower your IT overhead significantly.

So the challenges for clouds #2 and #3 are not unlike the challenges a managed hosting company (Cloud #1) has been facing for 10+ years.

1. Convincing the business customer that their data is safer and will maintain a 99.999% uptime.
2. Giving the backup responsibilities and server maintenance duties to a vendor.
3. You don’t need to own the server.
4. You don’t need to keep the data inside your firewall, we can protect it, better and cheaper than you can.

But Cloud #3 also commits you to a development platform.

Recently asked about concerns I might have about moving a major project onto Azure (Microsoft’s Cloud #3) my first response was why. Why would I want to do it?

Of the developer friends I run with, open source applications and open source development “platforms” are where the excitement is. While I am sure there are .NET circles of passion, the Ruby on Rails, or Python communities seem to be where the momentum is. WordPress and Drupal are evolving quickly with the combined development cycles of thousands of users and programmers. Google Analytics, while not exactly open, has open API’s allowing a growing community to assemble and evolve reporting and analytics packages that are low cost and flexible.

And everyone on the closed side of the development world will continue to struggle to keep up. How many developers would Omniture or Coremetrics need to employ to match the power of the combined Google Team and the adjunct open source Google team?

It’s an open world out there. Free tools to work on a closed system verses free tools to work on an open system. A system that is not OS dependent or processor dependent or language dependent. And saying you are going to build a community around the development environment is a lot different than watching the community develop itself around a better freer environment. The RoR community spans hundreds of sites and thousands of user groups because the tools are easier to use and more agile.

And the marketing budget for Ruby on Rails is… ZERO.

@jmacofearth

Update for clarification 2-23-09: I was not meaning to compare Azure and Rails as similar platforms, but merely making the case for Open rather than Closed development environments, cloud-based or OS based. In defining Azure, Microsoft makes it clear what they intend their cloud to be, an extension of everything Windows. Here is a screen shot from their dev conference back in Oct. 08 when they were unveiling Azure.

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    8 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Clouds – Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Reveals Some Concerns

    1. I have to admit I came over to your article from Mary Jo Foley's piece, and I also understand you probably wrote this entry before reading her article and really understand what Azure is all about.I find it peculiar that you are comparing RoR with Azure, which honestly to me is like comparing apples to… I don't know… fish?I'm also not sure why you believe Azure is a closed platform – Did you know that Live Services, SQL Services, and .NET Services (the three main building block services in the Azure Services Platform) have open REST-based APIs which allow applications written in any language to call and use? For free? Just like our poster child of “openess”, Google does?Did you know that the roadmap for Azure calls for being it to be able to run applications written in languages other than .NET in the near future? The preliminary list includes Python, PHP, Java, and of course Ruby.Speaking of lock-in: Anytime one uses a third-party open API, whether it's from Google or Twitter or Microsoft or what not, aren't you effectively locked in to that platform anyway?Bottom line is that we shouldn't confuse an infrastructure platform (which is what Windows Azure is), with a development platform (which RoR is), and with third-party services (what Google's Analytics API or Microsoft Live Services API is). They are certainly not mutually exclusive, and as we will soon see, all work perfectly well hand-in-hand.

    2. I have to admit I came over to your article from Mary Jo Foley's piece, and I also understand you probably wrote this entry before reading her article and really understand what Azure is all about.

      I find it peculiar that you are comparing RoR with Azure, which honestly to me is like comparing apples to… I don't know… fish?

      I'm also not sure why you believe Azure is a closed platform – Did you know that Live Services, SQL Services, and .NET Services (the three main building block services in the Azure Services Platform) have open REST-based APIs which allow applications written in any language to call and use? For free? Just like our poster child of “openess”, Google does?

      Did you know that the roadmap for Azure calls for being it to be able to run applications written in languages other than .NET in the near future? The preliminary list includes Python, PHP, Java, and of course Ruby.

      Speaking of lock-in: Anytime one uses a third-party open API, whether it's from Google or Twitter or Microsoft or what not, aren't you effectively locked in to that platform anyway?

      Bottom line is that we shouldn't confuse an infrastructure platform (which is what Windows Azure is), with a development platform (which RoR is), and with third-party services (what Google's Analytics API or Microsoft Live Services API is). They are certainly not mutually exclusive, and as we will soon see, all work perfectly well hand-in-hand.

    3. I wasn't making the comparison with Rails as a platform but more about open source and where the passion in programming seems to be today, in my opinion.I did not know about the roadmap, congrats for good intentions. I hope they stay true to their word.Here is what Mary Jo quoted about the Red Dog team's plans, “The findings: Cutting costs was essential. Providing greater levels of reliability was essential.“If we could get the number of machines down or reduce the amount of required support staff,” that was going to be huge,” Proebstin said. The potential Red Dog customers wanted to know how long it would take for a new feature to be introduced or to address an uptick in server demand. Those were their hot buttons, he said.“The idea became managing a datacenter as an operating system,” Srivastava said. “We wanted to abstract the whole thing and manage all the resources.”Fine, but that's back to cloud #1. And certainly any development platform can run on an infrastructure, but what then is Azure? If it is abstractions of Microsoft's services and deeply tied to LIVE Services API, and why wouldn't it be, I think the general adoption rate is going to be a challenge for Azure.Microsoft can give free dev tools away all day, but if they poison the water (see Java) they hurt themselves more than the competition. The Open Source culture has grown up around building the alternative to Microsoft's lock on Windows and the OS of 90% of the world.I personally hope to see more growth in Linux and Mac OS as operating systems and non-Live-Windows-ASP building blocks. What we don't need is another Microsoft dominated webspace. The cloud wants to be free. And it will be Open!I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    4. I wasn't making the comparison with Rails as a platform but more about open source and where the passion in programming seems to be today, in my opinion.

      I did not know about the roadmap, congrats for good intentions. I hope they stay true to their word.

      Here is what Mary Jo quoted about the Red Dog team's plans, “The findings: Cutting costs was essential. Providing greater levels of reliability was essential.

      “If we could get the number of machines down or reduce the amount of required support staff,” that was going to be huge,” Proebstin said. The potential Red Dog customers wanted to know how long it would take for a new feature to be introduced or to address an uptick in server demand. Those were their hot buttons, he said.

      “The idea became managing a datacenter as an operating system,” Srivastava said. “We wanted to abstract the whole thing and manage all the resources.”

      Fine, but that's back to cloud #1. And certainly any development platform can run on an infrastructure, but what then is Azure? If it is abstractions of Microsoft's services and deeply tied to LIVE Services API, and why wouldn't it be, I think the general adoption rate is going to be a challenge for Azure.

      Microsoft can give free dev tools away all day, but if they poison the water (see Java) they hurt themselves more than the competition. The Open Source culture has grown up around building the alternative to Microsoft's lock on Windows and the OS of 90% of the world.

      I personally hope to see more growth in Linux and Mac OS as operating systems and non-Live-Windows-ASP building blocks. What we don't need is another Microsoft dominated webspace. The cloud wants to be free. And it will be Open!

      I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    5. I have to admit I came over to your article from Mary Jo Foley's piece, and I also understand that you probably wrote this entry before reading her article and not really understanding what Azure is all about.

      I find it peculiar that you are comparing RoR with Azure, which honestly to me is like comparing apples to… I don't know… fish?

      I'm also not sure why you believe Azure is a closed platform – Did you know that Live Services, SQL Services, and .NET Services (the three main building block services in the Azure Services Platform) have open REST-based APIs which allow applications written in any language to call and use? For free? Just like our poster child of “openess”, Google does?

      Did you know that the roadmap for Azure calls for being it to be able to run applications written in languages other than .NET in the near future? The preliminary list includes Python, PHP, Java, and of course Ruby.

      Speaking of lock-in: Anytime one uses a third-party open API, whether it's from Google or Twitter or Microsoft or what not, aren't you effectively locked in to that platform anyway?

      Bottom line is that we shouldn't confuse an infrastructure platform (which is what Windows Azure is), with a development platform (which RoR is), and with third-party services (what Google's Analytics API or Microsoft Live Services API is). They are certainly not mutually exclusive, and as we will soon see, all work perfectly well hand-in-hand.

    6. I wasn't making the comparison with Rails as a platform but more about open source and where the passion in programming seems to be today, in my opinion.

      I did not know about the roadmap, congrats for good intentions. I hope they stay true to their word.

      Here is what Mary Jo quoted about the Red Dog team's plans, “The findings: Cutting costs was essential. Providing greater levels of reliability was essential.

      “If we could get the number of machines down or reduce the amount of required support staff,” that was going to be huge,” Proebstin said. The potential Red Dog customers wanted to know how long it would take for a new feature to be introduced or to address an uptick in server demand. Those were their hot buttons, he said.

      “The idea became managing a datacenter as an operating system,” Srivastava said. “We wanted to abstract the whole thing and manage all the resources.”

      Fine, but that's back to cloud #1. And certainly any development platform can run on an infrastructure, but what then is Azure? If it is abstractions of Microsoft's services and deeply tied to LIVE Services API, and why wouldn't it be, I think the general adoption rate is going to be a challenge for Azure.

      Microsoft can give free dev tools away all day, but if they poison the water (see Java) they hurt themselves more than the competition. The Open Source culture has grown up around building the alternative to Microsoft's lock on Windows and the OS of 90% of the world.

      I personally hope to see more growth in Linux and Mac OS as operating systems and non-Live-Windows-ASP building blocks. What we don't need is another Microsoft dominated webspace. The cloud wants to be free. And it will be Open!

      I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    7. I have to admit I came over to your article from Mary Jo Foley's piece, and I also understand that you probably wrote this entry before reading her article and not really understanding what Azure is all about.

      I find it peculiar that you are comparing RoR with Azure, which honestly to me is like comparing apples to… I don't know… fish?

      I'm also not sure why you believe Azure is a closed platform – Did you know that Live Services, SQL Services, and .NET Services (the three main building block services in the Azure Services Platform) have open REST-based APIs which allow applications written in any language to call and use? For free? Just like our poster child of “openess”, Google does?

      Did you know that the roadmap for Azure calls for being it to be able to run applications written in languages other than .NET in the near future? The preliminary list includes Python, PHP, Java, and of course Ruby.

      Speaking of lock-in: Anytime one uses a third-party open API, whether it's from Google or Twitter or Microsoft or what not, aren't you effectively locked in to that platform anyway?

      Bottom line is that we shouldn't confuse an infrastructure platform (which is what Windows Azure is), with a development platform (which RoR is), and with third-party services (what Google's Analytics API or Microsoft Live Services API is). They are certainly not mutually exclusive, and as we will soon see, all work perfectly well hand-in-hand.

    8. I wasn't making the comparison with Rails as a platform but more about open source and where the passion in programming seems to be today, in my opinion.

      I did not know about the roadmap, congrats for good intentions. I hope they stay true to their word.

      Here is what Mary Jo quoted about the Red Dog team's plans, “The findings: Cutting costs was essential. Providing greater levels of reliability was essential.

      “If we could get the number of machines down or reduce the amount of required support staff,” that was going to be huge,” Proebstin said. The potential Red Dog customers wanted to know how long it would take for a new feature to be introduced or to address an uptick in server demand. Those were their hot buttons, he said.

      “The idea became managing a datacenter as an operating system,” Srivastava said. “We wanted to abstract the whole thing and manage all the resources.”

      Fine, but that's back to cloud #1. And certainly any development platform can run on an infrastructure, but what then is Azure? If it is abstractions of Microsoft's services and deeply tied to LIVE Services API, and why wouldn't it be, I think the general adoption rate is going to be a challenge for Azure.

      Microsoft can give free dev tools away all day, but if they poison the water (see Java) they hurt themselves more than the competition. The Open Source culture has grown up around building the alternative to Microsoft's lock on Windows and the OS of 90% of the world.

      I personally hope to see more growth in Linux and Mac OS as operating systems and non-Live-Windows-ASP building blocks. What we don't need is another Microsoft dominated webspace. The cloud wants to be free. And it will be Open!

      I appreciate your thoughtful response.

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