Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The cloud is not so fuzzy after all

In technology many of us are comfortable voicing opinions about what is good, and what is not, without any practical experience. I'm as guilty as anybody. After all, you just can't touch and play with everything that exists (some of its just way beyond the prod and play level of trial and error attempted my mere mortals). But the cloud is a different matter. It is a whole mass of technology and unconventional (for software) business models that us mere mortals can touch and hopefully understand. So why was I still talking about it without truly experiencing it?

Last week, I kicked off a new program for developers who wanted a nice platform on which to build those killer business applications that they had been struggling with for so long. The Consected API was born -- or at least conceived, since its still a way from being much more than a glint in a developer's eye. So what better opportunity did I have than to put together a new environment for my little developer community than in the cloud? None really, so I bit the bullet, pulled out my credit card, and signed up for the Rackspace Cloud. Yes, the kings of server hosting, with the tag line for their level of customer service service being 'Fanatical Support' have a cloud offering. I'm pretty sure they bought the technology from somewhere, but if the hardware is supported according to Rackspace doctrine, then I'm sure I'll be in good hands.

So why Rackspace and not Amazon with its elastic compute cloud (EC2)? Because the name, the presentation of the service and some of the feedback I've been reading suggests that Amazon EC2 is way more techy than I want to be prodding and playing with while I have better things to be focusing on. Hell, it sounds like your servers can disappear at a moment's notice, reappearing elsewhere in the cloud without data or anything intact (OK, so I oversimplify), so you have to build your solution around the complexity of an underlying server that is so elastic it just rebounds to nothing, but can stretch to enormous if your processing demands. Nope, for me Rackspace offered a cloud solution I could get my head around. Its just like renting a space for a virtual machine, but the business model doesn't tie you to that space. You can shrink it to nothing, or grow it to, well frankly larger than I'm going to need.

The nicest thing for me is that I don't need to rebuild my applications to benefit from the flexibility of the cloud. I don't need specialized developer toolkits. I don't need the cloud API. There is a real operating system (of my choice) under the covers. I get full permissions to install the software I need on my virtual machine while its running, then generate an image of it online, redeploying if I screw something up, or making copies if I need new instances of that server. All from a simple web page in my private control panel. I own the spot I'm running my image on, until I choose to shrink it or grow it. Then the machine will be stored as a snapshot and moved to its new (larger or smaller) home in the cloud. No data lost. No difficult architectures. Just like clicking a button and having a virtual tech come and install more CPU, memory and hard-disk in your server. In under 10 minutes.

So, what is the Rackspace cloud? In my opinion its a different way of charging for a nice, large, well put together virtual machine environment, backed up with Rackspace's 'Fanatical Support'. I like it when some technology is as easy as you hoped it would be. In this case, it really seems to be.

A post from the Improving It blog

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