Blog post

The cloud is not magic

By Lydia Leong | June 08, 2010 | 8 Comments


Just because it’s in the cloud doesn’t make it magic. And it can be very, very dangerous to assume that it is.

I recently talked to an enterprise client who has a group of developers who decided to go out, develop, and run their application on Amazon EC2. Great. It’s working well, it’s inexpensive, and they’re happy. So Central IT is figuring out what to do next.

I asked curiously, “Who is managing the servers?”

The client said, well, Amazon, of course!

Except Amazon doesn’t manage guest operating systems and applications.

It turns out that these developers believed in the magical cloud — an environment where everything was somehow mysteriously being taken care of by Amazon, so they had no need to do the usual maintenance tasks, including worrying about security — and had convinced IT Operations of this, too.

Imagine running Windows. Installed as-is, and never updated since then. Without anti-virus, or any other security measures, other than Amazon’s default firewall (which luckily defaults to largely closed).

Plus, they also assumed that auto-scaling was going to make their app magically scale. It’s not designed to automagically scale horizontally. Somebody is going to be an unhappy camper.

Cautionary tale for IT shops: Make sure you know what the cloud is and isn’t getting you.

Cautionary tale for cloud providers: What you’re actually providing may bear no resemblance to what your customer thinks you’re providing.

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  • I agree with you Lydia.

    Some of the “new” cloud providers such as that to which you refer – and the clients who patronize these new cloud providers, are going to soon realize that there’s a lot more to managing hosted infrastructure and applications than than just “plug things in and they run”.

    Enterprises looking for cloud providers/solutions should, as you suggest, ask tough questions of these companies before making the leap. It’s probably beneficial to consider dealing with experienced cloud providers who have been in the hosting/cloud business for 5 to 10 years or more and who have proven track records.

  • Krish says:

    That magical cloud is PaaS :-).

  • Joakim Lindbom says:

    Just another pointer that architecture skills are still valid; perhaps even more critical than before. As we get tools that can provide solutions faster and faster it’s vital to reserve some of the time gained to architect and design solutions properly. Big, fast and agile can come against you equally powerful!

  • Gaurav Bagdi says:

    I think, the point made in the post made it quite clear the fact people are talking about CLOUD COMPUTING and so called the MAGIC cloud aren’t really aware of it’s functionality and correct application yet.
    Nevertheless, i wouldn’t mind calling it another HUMAN error to just follow what people are talking about rather than doing a deep read or getting to know a little insight about it.

    And indeed, Amazon in the case is acting as a PaaS, which stands for Platform as a Service. Providing a platform and a rather virtual approach to host your application onto Amazon servers regardless of the wear and tear of establishing your own server and set up.

    Much appreciate, Lydia pointed it out which itself is a million dollar question?
    We talk about CLOUD COMPUTING, are we yet fully aware of it or just acting to have known it since the beginning?

    Million Dollar Question, i guess.

  • In this example there’s, in my opinion, no reason to blame cloud providers for not providing enough information. But rather the IT department for not doing their research right..

    There’s plenty of information available on the different deployment models used in cloud computing (typically SaaS, PaaS and IaaS). If the IT department in question had done the effort to do the appropriate research they would’ve know what they got into..

    And to take the example of Amazon, there’s plenty of information on their offering just floating around on their website. Migrating to a different platform (not only applicable to cloud) always requires an in-depth research to determine what the new platform is, and more importantly what it is not.

    You wouldn’t jump into a lake without having any idea how deep it is either.. (and thus risking to break your legs) If you’d do so, most people would just call you stupid or crazy.. The same goes for cloud computing.

    And regarding the auto-scaling aspect, as a software engineer myself, thinking an application will scale horizontally without taken the proper measures in the application architecture is just a matter of really knowing what you are talking about. If you do not see this through you just aren’t a very good software engineer..

    Software engineering mainly exists out of 2 parts, software architecture and software development. It looks like the company was lacking an architect and only had “stupid” developers coding their way through without looking at the bigger picture.

    That says, in my opinion, more about the company in question rather than the concept of cloud or auto-scaling for that matter. What they need is either a smarter IT department, or a good consultant to lead them through.

    As with magicians, real magic does not exist, why would it be different in cloud computing?

  • Lydia Leong says:

    Oh, I agree with you fully. It’s not the provider’s fault in the slightest, and it’s only very slightly IT’s fault for not doing their own homework.

    It’s not an uncommon syndrome, though. Given the copious volume of documentation that most public cloud IaaS vendors have available, and the ease and miniscule cost of try-it-out-yourself, people still have an astonishing ability not to self-educate. (Although, in the end, that’s an issue of time — they’ve got other things they believe they need to be doing that are more important.)

  • The RTFM (read the fucking manual) expression really applies to every technical thingie out there.. Cloud isn’t any different. 🙂

    But sometimes we (yes me too) just throw that boring manual away and start playing with the thing. Learning by doing is more fun than reading a manual, but in that case we off course can’t expect everything to go smoothly.

    But there’s just a big difference between throwing away the manual of a new fridge or microwave compared to a new infrastructure platform. The impact of configuring your fridge wrong and comparing the infrastructure platform wrong is huge..

  • Especially Amazon’s Web Services require in-depht knowledge and long readings before being able to fully understand and work with EC2 and co. – It’s the most barebone Cloud Service on the market.

    If you need a “magical” cloud that handles all of these things, you need to use RightScale that includes all the necessary scripts & configurations for you.

    But still – with great power, comes great responsibility 🙂