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Smoke-and-mirrors and cloud software

by Lydia Leong  |  March 9, 2009  |  1 Comment

On my more cynical, read-too-many-press-releases days, I wonder if there’s some hapless, tortured PR gnome at Amazon whose job consists solely of vetting one empty cloud fluff piece after another, proclaiming how such-and-such a vendor is now offering deployments on EC2, and how this therefore gives them an on-demand cloud offering (“please think of me as hip and visionary!”), when in reality, the vendor is doing nothing other than packaging up its software as an AMI (an Amazon machine image, basically a disk image of a server with the application installed).

Packaging something up as an AMI doesn’t make it a cloud service. It doesn’t make it massively scalable, automatically scalable, transparently scalable, on-demand, multi-tenant, or any one of a vast number of other terms that get fatuously lavished on anything with a whiff of cloudiness. If a piece of software doesn’t have any cloud traits when it’s deployed in your data center, it won’t have them when it’s deployed on EC2 (or any other cloud infrastructure service), either.

[the cake is a lie] Cloud infrastructure services today, whether EC2 or from one of Amazon’s competitors, are basically servers in the sky. They are almost always a hypervisor-virtualized server with a normal operating system installation, on top of which you install normal applications. There is no magic cloud pixie dust that settles on these instances and turns them into application faeries of scalability and joy.

Building massively and horizontally scalable, multi-tenant software with elastic economics is hard. It’s even harder if you’re trying to take some legacy software package and re-engineer it. This is why practically no one does that kind of re-engineering, and why software vendors have to resort to puffed-up “yes, we run on EC2!” claims, rather than genuinely delivering on-demand cloud services.

Don’t be fooled.

Marketing and PR folks at software vendors: I forgive you for these releases because I know you’re under pressure to put something out, but every time I read them, I cringe on your behalf, and hope that you’re not genuinely entertaining the belief that releasing an AMI meaningfully moves you forward along the cloud path.

IT folks: When your CEO / CFO / CIO comes to you and asks you why you aren’t taking advantage of your software vendor’s awesome new money-saving cloud service, you can tell him it’s because the PR release is just artfully painting a unicorn — a mythical beast everyone talks about but doesn’t actually exist.

Category: marketing  

Tags: amazon  cloud  software  

Lydia Leong
VP Distinguished Analyst
16 years at Gartner
23 years IT industry

Lydia Leong covers cloud computing and infrastructure strategies, along with a broad range of topics related to the transformation of IT organizations, data centers, and technology providers.Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Smoke-and-mirrors and cloud software

  1. Yes, you are right. Making a scalable app doesn’t just mean “it can run on EC2” anymore than saying “it can run on a larger WinTel box in my data center”.

    Still, that doesn’t mean that verifying that a given app can in fact run on EC2 and making that easy to do by creating reusable AMIs is not a bad thing.

    Furthermore, the one thing about cloud computing you DO get when running the app on EC2 is “rented” capacity. You don’t get that when you run it on your own “owned” CPUs. This may or may not be important or cost effective or financially attractive, but it is DIFFERENT.

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