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Lessons learned from Google

Posted: 26 Dec 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cloud computing  data centre  Internet  parallel programming 

Cloud computing essentially scales up the client/server PC style of computing to Internet proportions. It is being driven by the confluence of several trends, including mature x86 servers, multi-core processors, virtualisation software and widespread broadband connections.

The view, according to cloud computing proponents, is that more and more applications will run not as big blobs of CPU-and memory-hungry code on a client system-but as services in big data centres in the Internet cloud. The timing is good, given the rise of the Web savvy cell phones and TVs.

"There are something like three billion handsets now becoming first-class citizens of the Internet," said Katz. "The phones are limited in what they can do locally, so you will have an ever-increasing demand for Internet data centres" and servers for the rising tide of mobile systems.

How Amazon got Googled
While mobile consumers may drive demand at Internet data centres in the future, commercial users are doing it already today. Google, Amazon and a handful of Web 2.0 start-ups such as Zoho are turning applications into Web services. Zoho alone claims it has 1.3 million users and is gaining another 100,000 every month for its Web-based applications.

Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) and the company's other Web services launched in 2006 have become the first success stories of the movement. Amazon claims some 400,000 developers use its techniques for running applications on the spare cycles the Internet bookseller has decided to share with all comers. Some claim that is making EC2 the de facto standard application programmers' interface for cloud computing.

Katz sees Amazon as the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) of Web software, spawning an industry of small "fabless" start-ups with ideas for services they can run on the thousands of computers maintained by the giant e-tailer.

Indeed, some observers such as David A. Patterson, Katz's colleague at UC Berkeley, believe the pace of innovation and change will accelerate with cloud computing, given the ease of rolling out new services to large global populations. "I think it leads to higher rates of change and more rapid innovation in software," said Patterson, a veteran computer scientist who now runs Berkeley's new parallel computing lab.

Peter De Santis, general manager for Amazon's EC2 said it is one of six Web services the company offers that together are attracting as many as 40,000 new developers a quarter. The company has plenty of headroom for the growth.

Amazon currently gives users access to just three of its geographically separate data centres on the East Coast, which is just one of several global regions where the Internet bookseller maintains computer centres. Just how many computers the company runs in how many centres remains a corporate secret, a closely guarded metric of clout in the new cloud computing era.

The idea of becoming a seller of computer time evolved naturally with Amazon's business and the technology. "I've been at Amazon more than ten years, and we never saw ourselves as a bookseller, but a technology company that started life selling books," said De Santis.

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