Saturday, May 20, 2017

Yes, Virginia, there is a Cloud

So a pundit, attempting to be clever, said "there is no `Cloud,' it’s just a computer sitting in a rack somewhere that you can’t see."

Except that's not true. There is a cloud, and it has nothing to do with that computer sitting in a rack somewhere that you can't see. Rather, it has to do with manageability and services that allow you to ignore the reality of that computer sitting in a rack somewhere and treat infrastructure as a service rather than as a physical piece of hardware.

Look: There's been dedicated and shared hosting for literally decades now where you could rent time on somebody else's computer that was somewhere out on the Internet. But nobody who had any sense used those for production environments once they got more than a few dozen users, because it made far more sense to host your own hardware at a data center where you could go hands-on in order to manage it. You could make sure your hardware met your durability and performance requirements, you could reconfigure your hardware as needed to add additional capability, and so forth.

Thing is, all of that is a royal pain in the butt to deal with. Been there, done that, got the four racks of gear in the back room of our shop to prove it. What AWS and other cloud services give us is usable infrastructure as a service, reconfigurable via an easy-to-use web console to meet whatever performance requirements we have. I have constellations of computers on two sides of the continent now, provisioned with whatever combination of CPU and disk space that I need to fulfill my workloads, all done via point and click from my desk in Mountain View, California. I didn't have to go out and spec hardware and purchase it. I didn't have to rack hardware. When I need to burst hardware to process some additional data, I don't need to go out and buy more hardware, then decommission it until the next time I need it, at which point it's just sitting around doing nothing. When I need infrastructure, I provision it. When I don't need it, or I want to upgrade to more performant infrastructure, I de-provision it and provision new infrastructure as needed. And all of this is happening in data centers that are put together with far more redundancy than anything I could afford to put together myself.

That's what cloud means to me. Yes, it's computers I can't see sitting in racks somewhere, but that's not the part that makes it cloud. It's the infrastructure as a service that makes it cloud. For that matter, it's Internet-connected services, period, that makes it cloud. If it's a service sitting out on the Internet somewhere out of sight of me where I don't have to manually configure hardware and can easily scale as needed, it's cloud. Claiming "it's just computers, dude!" overlooks the point entirely.


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