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Slogans vs. Substance--Finding Your Way Through the Cloud Computing Jungle

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted October 13, 2011


Who'd have thought cloud computing would be such a rich source of sound bites? Like this one: Salesforce.com is "the Roach Motel of clouds." You just know what's coming next: "You can check in, but you can't check out."

Whether it's a fair criticism of Salesforce.com is not something worth getting into here, but the quote comes from the inimitable Larry Ellison of Oracle. He was talking last week at Oracle OpenWorld, at the launch of the Oracle Public Cloud, a "suite of Oracle applications, middleware and database offerings delivered in a self-service, subscription-based, elastically scalable, reliable, highly available and secure manner."

Phew, that's quite a mouthful. But you can see the attraction of it. Help yourself to the Oracle Fusion apps you want, and Oracle deals with hosting, management, software updates and support. IT can also be run as a private cloud.

Not to be outdone, Google last week announced Google Cloud SQL: "your database in the cloud." OK, so Google's little tagline may be as dull as a bag of dull things, but this new feature does make it possible to make nice database-powered App Engine applications in Google's fully managed public cloud environment. As usual, it's in a limited preview, but Google promises that the service includes database export as well as import functionality, so in theory you can move your existing MySQL databases to the cloud without worrying you are checking them in to, well, a roach motel.

Salesforce.com, Oracle Public Cloud and Google App engine--not to mention Windows Azure, VMware's public cloud services and a host of others--are all available, using a variety of hypervisors because of a trait of human nature, or perhaps more accurately, user nature. "The problem is that users are subversive," Joe Baguley, VMware chief cloud technologist, explained during a presentation called "Achieving better than physical security in a virtual world" at Gartner's Security & Risk Management Summit in London. What he means by this apparent slur on users everywhere is nothing more sinister than the fact that when most of us look at the various solutions our employers provide us with--whether for email, file transfer, VPN, CRM or what have you--we often recognize that they are not that great. "Basically I know that I can get a better service outside my own company," Baguley says. "In my password manager I have 214 user names and passwords, so from my view, my company is just one of many that can provide me with services. There's also Gmail, Dropbox, Facebook, my bank, Betfair and Twitter."

The result, said Baguley, is that the desktop is getting "ripped apart" as applications that used to be run on a PC are now run on iPhones and other mobile devices, in the private cloud, and, thanks to the likes of Oracle and Google, in the public cloud as well. To illustrate this, here's a quick Baguley statistic: 58 percent of businesses use two or more cloud applications. They're everywhere, and getting ever more pervasive. In fact, Baguley predicts that by next year, 50 percent of business apps will be "OS-neutral" apps that can run from the cloud on any platform with a browser.

In case you're wondering, achieving better than physical security in the world of server virtualization technology involves--perhaps predictably, given that Baguley is from VMware--a security capability such as that provided by the company's vShield product family. "In a data center, security has to be virtual. You need to build firewalls around everything. Firewalls around virtual data centers, around groups of virtual machines, around particular VMs, and around apps. And also around pieces of apps, like firewalls around databases," he said.

That's much better than the typical corporate physical infrastructure setup, which relies on a firewall to prevent nasties getting onto the LAN and into servers. And that's the cue for possibly the most bizarre biological sound bite ever. "If we had evolved like a LAN, we would all be dead," Baguley concluded.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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