Thursday, June 14, 2012

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Cloud Computing, a buzz word? By Paul Hughes


It seems that on a daily basis now we are being asked about “the cloud” and cloud based services, as the technology Manager for UKHost4u this is something which is getting more technically challenging to answer.

If you look for a description of the term online the rough explanation is: Cloud Computing refers to the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a community of end-recipients. The problem with this description for me is that it basically means that anything you store online and allow more than one person to access is within a cloud (So virtually everything already on the internet). For this reason I start to ask myself is the term more of a new buzz word than any actual new technological meaning.

I think we now need to look at this from a different angle, the actual software technology being sold to service providers. Being that we have hundreds of new technology providers contact us on a monthly basis we get a very good idea about what is new and market leading. Within the cloud hosting we have seen deployments from Microsoft, Amazon, Parallels, OnApp and well the list goes on.

We have recently had time to internally deploy and test the technologies provided by Microsoft using Hyper-V and System Center 2012 and a newer and most likely less well known company called: OnApp. The reason I have selected both of these technologies is because one covers the Windows server technologies and the other Linux (Though technically both can work with most operating systems, Windows or Linux).

 The testing solution we built for both platforms had the same hardware setup with three server’s using the latest Dual Xeon processors and over 64GB of memory in each system. For the storage we used an EMC network SAN with 8GB Fiber Channel interconnects to each server. What we found was that both software technologies installed and configured without issue on our development solutions and did allow us to play with what they referred to as cloud hosting.

The main problem was that these solutions didn’t do anything much more than what you could do with an open source Virtual technology. Yes they allowed for load balancing, high availability and centralized storage but this personally is no more than a High Availability Virtual Server which is possible with nearly all the Virtual Server Technologies and for me does not make it a cloud.

So what do I expect to see within a true cloud, simple total resilience? Ok, I’m aware nothing is ever 100% resilient but within a cloud I would at least expect: It to be able to scale virtual environments over more than one physical node at the same time. Its correct that it can move between nodes but what I want to see is a process lets say on one Hyper-V container being able to pick a CPU from any of the nodes within the cloud or use more than one servers physical CPU allocation at the same time and within the same section it should allow memory allocations as large as the physical cloud and not be limited by the size of the server in which the virtual environment is placed.

Another feature which is very important is being able to scale it over 2 or more diverse locations which is certainly possible but due to most solutions taking advantage of SAN storage and IPv4 its currently outside of the scope of most providers as they need to have a very advanced network designed specifically for this.

As an example Facebook have a vast array of servers and networks but the majority of them cater for geographical locations and the server farm sits within the same data center or building so multiple locations for redundancy still do not exist. A natural disaster or failure in the data center will take down the operations of that particular country which happened fairly recently with this provider. Cloud in this situation did not exist though it did technically meet the definition and requirements to be one.

To summarize I have found during my research the cloud is a way more to define how we use the internet on a day to day basis, it allows for sharing more of our personal information online be it via social media or another technology. It’s taking us away from the need to be in front of the same computer and giving us the ability to access content from any location worldwide with internet access. What it does not do though and which a lot of people seem to think it does is provides a more secure, stable and fault-tolerant platform as the software and hardware has some time to go before this will take place and technology can always fail!
 
About Author
Paul Hughes – Technology Expert and Web Hosting Community Member - founder of UKHost4u and chef product developer.

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