A Cloud(Ops) Story

28-03-2013 / Ian Rae

As a web operations firm in 2005, we were privileged to experience the emergence of cloud computing. At the time, our customers were exclusively e-commerce, SaaS, and advertising-driven publishing businesses. Amazon Web Services (AWS) unlocked what was essentially an unsolved problem — how to right-size your infrastructure to meet the needs of your business — and our AWS solutions provided our customers with just-in-time (JIT) infrastructure.

Most folks outside the industry are unaware that what started as an online bookstore is leading a revolution in computing. Yet in retrospect it isn’t surprising that an e-commerce firm was both the pioneer and today’s leader. No other industry operates with such variable volumes while maintaining razor thin margins. Amazon became a master of selling products at cost, and winning on volume and efficiency. What began as CEO Jeff Bezos’ relentless focus on automation (including innovations such as on-demand, pay-per-use, API-driven storage and computing services) is rapidly accelerating towards CTO Werner Vogel’s “Everything as a service” vision.

We created the CloudOps brand in 2008 to focus our company on helping others take advantage of the transformative opportunity of cloud computing. In May 2008, we ran the first cloud computing workshop at Interop. In 2009, Alistair Croll of Bitcurrent (now CloudOps Research) co-chaired the first Cloud Connect conference. We have been heavily involved in Interop and Cloud Connect conferences since.

Because of our web-infrastructure engineering and operations roots, we understood that technology was lacking to build private cloud infrastructure that could work efficiently with public clouds such as AWS. We needed similar on-demand self-service of pooled capacity with APIs for all compute, storage and network resources and granular metering. In 2010, we started working with cloud.com (now Apache CloudStack) and OpenStack (SWIFT in particular), and experimenting with PaaS technologies, including Cloud Foundry and Google’s AppEngine. The goal was to bring cloud computing’s agility to workloads that were not suitable for public cloud services, either due to technical, economic, compliance or perception issues. We also realized that the shift to cloud required a new operating model that is now captured in part by the DevOps movement and Gene Kim’s excellent IT Revolution manifesto.

Since 2010, our focus has been on delivering private clouds that, combined with public cloud services, provide the best of both worlds — allowing our customers to run highly elastic workloads designed for failure on public cloud while running more sensitive workloads on private clouds — and providing the flexibility to evolve this approach as needed. Furthermore, we provide 24x7x365 managed services for cloud operations to allow our customers to focus on maximizing the value derived by using cloud rather than having to engineer and maintain it.

While private cloud is self-servingly derided by many public cloud vendors as a mullet — “A private cloud takes a long time to grow and looks ridiculous when it’s done” — it is driven by real-world problems and use cases (compliance, economics, application suitability…). As we show in our CloudOps Research reports, all public-cloud vendors have their own constraints due to architectural and product decisions. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses so despite the FUD-slinging between private- and public-cloud vendors, we maintain that the real value emerges from a well aligned mixture of both and the flexibility to change the mixture over time. The real key is how these services are aggregated and made easily accessible to the line of business, developers and customers.

It has been as exciting to be part of this IT revolution as it has been challenging to navigate the maturation process. We have survived the cloud-washing era and the good news is that cloud computing isn’t only for “web scale” e-commerce and SaaS businesses anymore. Take it from a company that was early to the cloud: now the right time to make a full commitment to taking advantage of cloud platforms and applications. The wait-and-see period is over; otherwise your competitors will beat you with its agility and cost advantages. Don’t just take our word for it…cloud pundit James Staten of Forrester Research agrees 2013 is the year cloud gets to work for everyone.