by Bob Lewis

One More Cloud Benefit Becomes Cloudier

Jul 05, 20114 mins
Cloud ComputingDeveloperEnterprise Architecture

Supposedly, Cloud customers have to take responsibility for engineering a reliable and resilient Cloud-based IT infrastructure. If so, it's one less reason to move your infrastructure to the Cloud.

When a state government shuts down, the proximate root cause is a lack of funding. The next-level root cause is that the two sides weren’t able to find an acceptable compromise. The deep root cause is that THE OTHER SIDE IS EVIL, STUPID, AND ENTIRELY LACKING IN THE SLIGHTEST SENSE OF HOW THINGS WORK.

Please trust me on this; I live in Minnesota where we just shut down, and, this is pretty much how everyone looks at the situation … except for those who figure my description applies equally to both sides.

But this column isn’t about government shutdowns. It’s about Cloud shutdowns.


The latest meme floating around the meme-o-sphere is that if you shift your infrastructure into The Cloud … which all right-thinking CIOs who haven’t already done so must be planning … and you experience an outage, it’s your fault for failing to engineer your Cloud infrastructure to be sufficiently fault-tolerant.

As my Dad used to say (and still does say if the occasion calls for it), if they sell you that argument and you buy it you have something in common — you’re both schmucks.

What we have here is a collision between the principle of caveat emptor (“buyer beware,” also known as if-you-believed-that-you-deserve-whatever-happens-to-you) and the competing principle of don’t-tell-outright-lies-about-your-product.

Start with what’s been promoted as What Makes the Cloud So Incredible: It’s cheap. You can get it up and running faster. It scales up instantly when demand increases. It scales down instantly when the demand goes away. Most important of all, they know how to design computing infrastructure better than you do, so it will be more reliable … so much more reliable that you don’t need any systems engineers on staff anymore, because they won’t have anything to do.

That’s what’s been promoted. The way it’s turned out is this:

  • Scalability: Cloud providers can add and shed capacity to meet demand pretty much as advertised.
  • Speed of deployment: When you’re looking at Software as a Service solutions, this is what happens (assuming integration isn’t part of your implementation plan; if it is the picture is more complicated). Platform as a Service? No — the platforms you already have are already installed. Infrastructure as a Service? Assuming you’ve virtualized your data center, no — your staff can bring up new virtual servers just as fast as any Cloud vendor.
  • Cost: Whether Cloud-based solutions are more or less expensive is a multivariate question that depends on such factors as the number of users and your cost of capital. The only certainty is that when you go to the Cloud you’ll spend less CapEx and more OpEx than if you put everything inside your firewall.
  • Reliability: Engineering reliability into your computing environment is the responsibility of your system engineers. Not only that but (I guess), you have to buy and manage the technology that allocates your computing among multiple Cloud vendors … not to mention the technology that detects outages and performance problems in your Cloud infrastructure (without having access to the actual infrastructure).
  • Reliability, Part 2: Troubleshooting is harder, not easier. That’s because if you owned your own servers you’d know where to look in the case of an outage. Many outages in The Cloud aren’t massive. Possibly, only you and a handful of other clients are down. That means the Cloud vendor, which has zillions of physical servers and gagillions of virtual ones, is searching for a needle in a haystack to even find your problem.

Not that I’m a suspicious sort, but the new meme sure sounds like something that was designed and built in a vendor’s meme lab, as a way to deflect responsibility, not for the outages themselves, but for the business harm resulting from them. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the concept of The Cloud (or so you’re supposed to believe). What’s wrong is the failure of people to Take Responsibility (you can always hear the capital letters when people repeat this old meme).

Whether or not this is a vendor-engineered meme, the Cloud vendor community would do well to disavow both the thought process and the engineering reality that makes it important.

The thought process is obviously disastrous for those promoting Cloud computing. It doesn’t just eliminate most of the claimed benefits — it adds a new bunch of headaches you don’t need.

As for the engineering reality, shouldn’t every Cloud vendor have multiple data centers and spread every customer across them as a matter of course?

After all, why need a meme when you can have smart engineering instead?


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