Will The Cloud Manage To Persist? Lessons From Operating In The Cloud

It's been an interesting learning experience using Amazon's EC2 computing cloud. I was showing a friend who I frequently seek technical council how EC2 resources are managed using the ElasticFox and S3 Organizer FireFox plugins. He was quite shocked at the granular, low level you're dealing with in bringing up instances from saved images (AMIs), attaching volumes, local steps that need to be performed (such as when attaching dynamic volumes), and requirements to bundle images to persist data on any local drives. I like to say, there are reasons why we have sayings like, the devil’s in the details.

At some point in any new IT technology's maturity curve, management tools and operations resources becomes the crucial enabler to reaching mass adoption. Most things eventually land in the laps of admins or operations staff, whether it be configuring iPhones to access company email and files, or running applications in the cloud. If technologies can't be operationalized, i.e. adopted into the processes and resources operations has to manage them, they face a seriously lack of support and are banished to the fringe of responsibilities ops and support organizations embrace.

One of my learnings from using EC2 is the additional time it requires to operate in the cloud. Images can take 30, 40 or more minutes before they are loaded onto a machine. The elastic cloud can run out of on demand computer resources of the size you need to run your image, causing you to wait for resources to free up and then launch the machine image. The lack of automation means an admin is sitting in front of a web browser, launching images, attaching volumes, cross referencing cryptic instance, image, volume ids and image manifest names, and bundling running images to persist any software or configuration changes made on its C drive. I my case, I turned to automating the startup and shutdown tasks with a series of ruby scripts that will launch images, monitor each image's launch status, and then attach volumes as they come up.

Clearly it's early in the era of cloud computing. The tasks are still pretty granular, require manual processes and take more time to perform. While those things are true, it's also the case the these issues will get addressed as cloud computing matures. Frankly, these kinds of experiences are opportunities for cloud providers to solve, increasing adoption and swaying customers from the competition. He who lowers the barriers to adoption often take the day.

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