by Byron Connolly

True utility computing coming soon: Vic Winkler

Aug 05, 20145 mins
Cloud Computing

True utility computing – where virtual machines are moved between competing service providers without an organisation’s knowledge – is coming soon, according to Vic Winkler, CTO at data security provider Covata.

Winkler, who played a key role in the creation of modern cloud computing technology, believes most businesses will benefit from buying compute and storage services like they do their electricity.

“There used to be a day when you would get your electricity through your own generating plant. This is the equivalent of having your own data centre. Today you get your electricity and communications right out the wall.

“Why shouldn’t you get your compute and storage right out of the wall? Why shouldn’t that be a centralised resource – for a fee – that lives on the Internet?” he asked.

“You don’t care exactly who provides it. In fact, it can become so sophisticated that these different providers can be mediated by somebody who gets the best price at that moment and moves your stuff around without you knowing.”

True utility computing is clearly coming and organisations like Amazon – which partners with Covata – are, of course, already moving virtual machines around inside their data centres without customers knowing, he said.

“It’s not far down the road when somebody will be able to move your virtual machines to another provider just because it’s cheaper. I can start a business in a year or three and broker all of these providers,” he said.

“We’ve already seen people pretending that they were cloud service providers reselling Amazon. That happened five or six years ago so it’s not much of a leap from there to moving those VMs around from one cloud service provider (CSP) to another CSP – it’s certainly within reach.”

While working at Sun Microsystems in 2003, Winkler was asked to work on the vendor’s utility computing business.

“The vice president said ‘what we have is a vision for presenting all of the computing resources in this giant matrix of computers to people over the Internet and we want them to be able to do anything that want inside that matrix,’” Winkler said.

Winkler initially thought the idea was “madness” but was charged with the job of figuring out how it could be done.

“I figured out how to do it securely. My job was security, not the engineering of the overall matrix. We started with a team of 18 at Sun and that team over the next year-and-a-half expanded to about 600,” he said.

Winkler eventually became lead architect for security for all of Sun’s cloud computing services.

“The best thing that happened to me during that whole process was that they kept taking resources away from me. I came to realise that this was actually a good thing because it forced me to go from a human-centric set of processes to an automated set of processes,” Winkler said.

“That’s good from the standpoint of security because attacks take place in an automated manner in a different time domain than a human time domain. So whatever I created had to be designed at least in the same time domain.

“We separated the networks that we [used to] control the cloud from those that public data went on. So the control plane was maintained separately – even down to the switch level and the physical networking – from the data plane.

“I’ve talked with people from Amazon subsequently and they do exactly the same thing. It was great getting that validation years later that others were adopting the same things,” he added.

The cloud computing industry grew up in a couple of independent enclaves at this time, Winkler said.

“We think we were there first at Sun. In short order, Amazon came to realise that they had excess computing capability and how do they monetise that.”

Today, cloud computing is being promoted as three broad classes of service: infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service, said Winkler.

“But those are just three arbitrary signposts on a continuum,” he said. “They may not be all the way at the end. If you think about cloud brokering, for instance, that goes orthogonal to that whole space … we’re still very early into this.”

Winkler said although the cloud computing market in Australia is “more mature than we think”, it has some way to go, particularly in the areas of data sovereignty, and access to data by law enforcement agencies.

“From the standpoint of dealing with that, it’s up to the enterprise to embrace it and figure it out. There’s enough raw material in terms of compute power, technologies and [cloud] metaphors … for a smart enterprise to figure its way through this, and to not worry about it.

“If I’m going to be worried about the backing up of my data by a cloud service provider, I’m not doing something right,” he said.

“If you want to adopt cloud computing, you have to measure what you are getting. Once you know what you are getting, you can make a decision on that cloud service provider – then you can address the gaps.”

Covata is planning to list on the Australian Stock Exchange on September 12 following a $57.2 million merger with mining company, Prime Minerals in May.

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