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Grid vs. Cloud: What's the Difference?

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted Dec 21, 2010


Cisco's CTO for the Cloud, Lew Tucker, is no stranger to large-scale computing efforts. Tucker joined Cisco in late June and had previously worked for Sun Microsystems working on Sun's cloud and large scale web property efforts. Cisco's CTO for the cloud explains why 'cloud' isn't just another name for grid.

At Cisco, Tucker's responsibilities span multiple business units as the cloud includes enterprise, service provider and partner efforts. For Tucker, the cloud isn't just a new name for grid computing or other previous efforts at large scale distributed computing, though there is a connection.

"Cloud is strongly related to a lot of the things we learned going through grid computing," Tucker told InternetNews.com. "We learned the advantages of scale and of having uniform infrastructure and we learned that you need to automate the management."

Grid computing was a popular term in the first half of the decade, popularized in part by Sun Microsystems. In 2004, Sun launched its enterprise grid platform offering utility computing power to businesses. While some of the early promises of grid, sound the same as the promises of the cloud, Tucker noted that there are some key differences.

"The big difference in Sun's grid efforts is that it was designed to run very large applications in batch mode," Tucker said. "So it was very good for very large computations, and those applications would be sent into the grid, computed and then come back out."

In contrast, the cloud isn't a batch system and has its roots in the web application delivery space as opposed to data centers and server farms. Tucker noted that the notion of the cloud emerged from large web companies like Amazon that had to build out massive infrastructure to essentially run one or two applications.

"With the cloud we're trying to do the same things in terms of the infrastructure having a large grid-like infrastructure," Tucker said. "But now these are for applications that are long running and the applications are all delivered over the Internet."

Cloud Metrics

From a management metrics perspective, the wide ranging nature of the cloud makes it difficult for a company like Cisco to actually measure how much of their business is actually cloud related.

Cisco has its Unified Computing System (UCS), which is a cloud platform, but it also has myriad switching products that are cloud enablers.

"We first need to truly understand what is cloud and what is just our traditional networking business," Tucker said.

Tucker noted that analyst estimates of the cloud market vary widely, and he's looking for more detailed statistics into the current and projected state of the market. His plan is to then measure Cisco's performance against that of the market as a whole.

"UCS is a key product we have that people are using for cloud, but most clouds out there today are probably running Cisco networking gear anyway," Tucker said. "They simply may not be using UCS at this time, so what I'm trying to get a handle on is about clouds built with Cisco networking gear, that are not UCS, as often that's just recorded as traditional infrastructure sale."

Moving forward, Tucker has several goals for the cloud at Cisco. At the top of his list is providing a clear message about what Cisco's cloud strategy is all about so that all of the different cloud efforts within Cisco can be aligned.

"Cloud computing is extremely important to Cisco and we need to find ways to advance it," Tucker said.

Tucker added that Cisco sells to both enterprises and service providers, so they can get enterprises comfortable with using private clouds, which could ultimately benefit the service provider segment as well.

"A year from now what I want to be able to say is that enterprises can move freely between private clouds, which we would help them build, and also they can push workloads out into enterprise class cloud provided by Cisco, in the service provider area," Tucker said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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