Q&A: Deciphering the Anomaly that is Cloud Computing 3

RaceTalk recently connected with Lewis Cunningham of EnterpriseDB while attending the Xconomy Forum: The Promise and Reality of Cloud Computing, and he graciously agreed to answer some of our (many) questions about cloud computing – for example, why is this technology creating so much buzz, who are the players to watch, and which applications and companies will benefit most from jumping into the cloud?

Q: As cloud computing is a term that continues to be developed, how would you describe the cloud? How does it differ from SaaS?

A: You’re right that it continues to be defined. Ask 10 people and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. I think the best way to differentiate them is to look at the use case. When you use a SaaS, you are truly using a service. It might be CRM, ERP, or any other type of service. It may allow you to customize the experience, change colors, add a logo, etc, but you are still using a service.

Cloud computing lets you decide what you’ll be running. In the case of Google, you get an IDE and you write your program. It can interact with all of the Google services (mail, documents, maps, etc) via APIs. With Amazon, you load an operating system and your choice of tools. You’ll run whatever applications you chose to run. If you have applications on aging hardware, it might make sense to migrate them to the cloud and never worry about hardware again. If you’re already running those applications on Linux or Unix, the migration can be exceptionally painless and satisfying. 😉

Technically, SaaS runs within a cloud computing architecture. SaaS is just one cloud application. As a business, you might write your own service in a compute cloud and then sell that to world at large as a service. This is where Platform as a Service (PaaS) comes into play (think force.com).

Q: What are the benefits of adopting this technology? What about cloud computing has made this an attractive option for EnterpriseDB?

A: The obvious benefit is the low cost of entry. If you have an idea, you can get started for pennies. In the past you needed computers, someplace to house the computers, power for the computers, etc. Now you can click a few buttons and have robust server up and running. No purchasing or configurations delays. If you later decide the idea is not working, you can turn off the virtual server. The only money that you are out is the money you paid for actual use. You really can’t beat that.

In addition to massive cost savings, you get a potentially faster time to market. While your competitor is working those purchase orders and getting things configured, you’re already up and running. You can also scale faster and easier. Before the cloud, you were either constrained from scaling by available computing power or you had to have extra hardware resources sitting idly just in case you needed to scale. Now you let your infrastructure provider provide that capability and only pay for what you use.

The cloud is attractive for EnterpriseDB because, while cloud computing changes where the database will run, it doesn’t change the fact that a database is still the most critical component of any real application. It’s always about the data. EnterpriseDB is an early adopter of the technology and we’re learning quite a bit working with some of our customers in this space.

Q: At the Xconomy Forum, you said that your company was currently in Beta testing. Can you speak a bit to the work you are currently doing, and some of the preliminary results you have found (storage, cost gains, etc.)?

A: Well, we are still in Beta and we have mutual non-disclosure agreements with many of our customers so I can’t tell you very much specifically. I can say that we have had excellent feedback and just about everything we’ve heard has been very positive.

EnterpriseDB is not planning on being a cloud provider. We don’t plan to compete with the likes of Google or Amazon. We plan to build strategic partnerships with companies that are the experts in the cloud. Elastra was our first big partnership in this area. You can read more on the elastra site here.

Q: SD Times recently named EnterpriseDB and their Postgres Plus products as the leader in enterprise open source databases. How will EnterpriseDB’s business model map onto cloud computing?

A: I was excited to see that SD Times chose us. Linux Magazine named EnterpriseDB one of the top 20 companies to watch in 2008, we were a finalist in the Jolt Product Excellence Awards and, of course, IBM has chosen to invest in us. It has been a great year for EnterpriseDB all around. I can’t say much about the specifics of our cloud business model. I better leave that to my CTO, Bob Zurek, and the rest of the EnterpriseDB executive team. I believe there will be an announcement on that topic in the near future.

I can talk about what I see in general in the industry. It looks like the cloud providers are sticking with pay as you go as are some of the service providers like Elastra. Other third party vendors, including some management tools like Rightscale, are moving to a subscription model. I think Rightscale is currently $500/month at the low end but they provide a complete solution for dynamic cloud computing (using Amazon).

Q: Are large enterprises ready and willing to move into the cloud? Do they have a choice?

A: Of course large enterprises will always have the choice to run everything in house. They have the capital, the skills and the space to host a large number of servers. In a large enough environment, this can make sense. They’ll actually save money in the long run by making intelligent use of virtualization. This is especially true if they have predictable scaling needs.

Are they willing? Everyone I speak to is at least interested. It’s still a new buzz word. Businesses are still very concerned with SLAs and security. At a minimum, I think every size enterprise is poking around trying to decide what it can for them and where it might make sense. That’s where short sessions like the Xconomy forum are very useful. I got a lot out of that session.

Q: Which applications will benefit most by leveraging the large amount of computing capacity and data-processing ability found within the cloud? Is cloud computing best for large companies with big data centers?

A: The applications that will benefit the most are, and the quickest, are small, niche web applications. Applications that feed on or to Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, Twitter and any other platform with a huge number of users. Get a viral hit and scale from 10s to millions in a few days. You can call that the Animoto story.

Large companies with big data centers won’t want to throw away their investment any time soon. However, they can actually launch their own private cloud. Their internal developers can get the usefulness and scale up of the cloud but run it all behind a firewall. Personally, I think private cloud computing will be a big part of the future cloud landscape. Once the cloud building technology advances to a point where a non-Google or non-Amazon can implement it, the cloud will become a purchasable software component just like an operating system. That’s in the future though.

Q: Amazon was an early pioneer in cloud computing, boasting services such as Amazon Simple Storage Service, Amazon SimpleDB, and the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud that manage large amounts of computing volume. However, Google has the largest infrastructure, with over a million servers deployed. Who is the one to beat and are there any competitors you believe will soon be able to compete with these services?

A: Google and Amazon have taken two very different approaches to cloud computing. I think the Amazon approach is the most expandable and is useful to a broader array of users. However, Google’s approach is very attractive to those who want to spend a minimum amount of time in the OS. Time will tell but both approaches are very useful for the right use case. My time is spent mostly with Amazon right now.

Q: Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Yahoo and IBM are all also making moves in the cloud computing space. Who is a company to watch and what do you believe will influence companies to adopt cloud computing services?

A: The cloud is a big place and there’s plenty of room for everyone. I have no doubt that both IBM and MS will have a major impact on the future of cloud computing. Force.com is already out and it putting a new spin on the cloud.

Don’t forget, though, that it’s not just the big guys who make the market. Keep an eye on Elastra, Rightscale, 3tera, GoGrid and any number of smaller players. It’s these folks who are making the cloud easy enough for any business to adopt. Amazon and Google are both easy enough for the technicians to use but these third party vendors are making it easy for anyone to use.

And make sure you keep an eye on EnterpriseDB. We’re built on open source, compatible with Oracle and available in the cloud. Three for three!

-Thank you to Lewis for answering our questions!

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