Understanding the cloud

In Cloud, ecommerce, software on November 30, 2011 at 10:09 pm

First it has been around a lot longer than you think and in a lot of different formats. The modern cloud came about from the requirements of online companies to solve the problems of providing 100% uptime and security on cheap hardware. Mainframes solved these problems a long time ago, but were not cheap.

The modern cloud was independently created by a number of ecommerce and software as a service companies whose revenues and reputations depended on providing 100% Security, and Availability to their customers. In the case of the ecommerce companies both @UK and Amazon derived 100% of their income from online sales, and had carried out pioneering work into low cost clustering, which is part of the basis for the modern cloud technology.

Amazon had virtually unlimited cash for their operations and consistently lost significant sums of money as they built the business. This meant that they threw hardware at the problem and needed tools and systems to manage a vast infrastructure.

@UK was created in 1999 by a leading software house @Software PLC, and missed out on the dot com boom for funding. Thus, @UK developed its cloud between 1999 and 2006 with minimal financial resources. This changed with the @UK IPO in 2006, however the philosophy of high quality software as the solution rather than hardware remained.

Cloud Application Stacks

The result is that @UK has developed a cloud application stack that is at least 100x more efficient than well know web software stacks such as

  • Linux Apache PHP and MySQL
  • Oracle Java and
  • Microsoft IIS, DotNet and SQL server

For most real world applications the level of change is not measurable since they collapse under load before a measurable change in load is recorded for the @UK system.

Clustered Storage and Virtualisation

The other parts of the modern cloud are clustered storage, and virtualisation. The first large scale deployments of clustered storage were by Google who created their own file system to cope with their requirement for large amounts of inexpensive storage. Cern (the creators of the web) also contributed to this effort with low cost hardware designs for their storage requirements.

Virtualisation has been around since the mainframe, however the x86 chip is difficult to virtualise and there are a limited number of virtualisation solutions for the older chips and they were often very inefficient. The new VT enabled chips mean that commodity x86 hardware now provides reasonably efficient virtual hosts.

It is the combination of low cost virtual hosts, clustered storage and the experience of managing clustered application stacks that created the modern cloud. However the problems that they were trying to solve of providing secure available applications have been around for a much longer time.

Cloud Delivers Security and Availability

This is why for most major cloud players the current concerns about cloud security and availability are things that they normally started to address over 10 years ago and solved a long long time ago.


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