App categorization and the commodity vs. dependable cloud

At the SLA@SOI conference, my colleague Drue Reeves gave a presentation on the dependable cloud, which he defined as “a cloud service that has the availability, security, scalabilty, and risk management necessary to host enterprise applications… at a reasonable price.” We’ll be publishing research on this in the months to come, so this blog post contains relatively early-stage musings on my part.

We need enterprise-grade, dependable cloud infrastructure as as service (IaaS). But there’s also a place in the world for commodity cloud IaaS. They serve different sorts of use cases, different categories of applications. (Everything in this post refers to IaaS, but I’m just saying “cloud” for convenience.)

There are four types of applications that will move into the cloud:

  • Existing enterprise applications, capable of being virtualized
  • New enterprise-class applications, almost certainly Web-based
  • Internet-class applications, Web 1.0 and early Web 2.0
  • Global-class applications, highly sophisticated super-scalable Web 2.0 and beyond

Enterprise-class applications are generally characterized by the expectation that the underlying infrastructure is at least as reliable, performant, and secure as traditional enterprise data center infrastructure. They expect resilience at the infrastructure layer. Over the last decade, applications of this type have generally been written as three-tier, Web-based apps. Nevertheless, these apps often scale vertically rather than horizontally (scale up rather than scale out), but a very large percentage of them are small applications — ones that use a core or less of a modern CPU — and so even if they could scale out on multiple VMs, it often doesn’t make sense, from a capacity efficiency standpoint, to deploy them that way.

In the future, while an increasing percentage of new business applications will be obtained as SaaS, rather than being internally-hosted COTS apps or in-house-written apps, and more will be deployed onto business process management (BPM) suite platforms or the like, businesses will still be writing custom apps of this sort. So we will continue to need dependable infrastructure.

Moreover, many enterprise-class applications are written not just by business IT, but also by external vendors, whether ISVs, SaaS, or otherwise. Even tech companies that make their living off their websites may write enterprise-class apps. Indeed, many such apps have previously used managed hosting for the underlying infrastructure, and these companies have infrastructure dependability as an expectation.

By contrast, Internet-class applications are written to scale out. They might or might not be written to be easily distributed. They assume sufficient scale that there is an expectation that at least some things can fail without causing widespread failure, although there may still be particularly vulnerable points in the app and underlying infrstracture — the database, for instance. Resilience is generally built into the application, but these are not apps designed to withstand the Chaos Monkey.

Finally, global-class applications are written to be scale-out, highly-distributed, and to withstand massive infrastructure failures. All the resiliency is built into the application; the underlying infrastructure is assumed to be fragile. Simple underlying infrastructure components that fail cleanly and quickly (rather than dying slow deaths of degradation) are prized, because they are cheap to buy and cheap to replace; all the intelligence resides in software.

Global-class applications can use commodity cloud infrastructure, as can other use cases that do not expect a dependable cloud. Internet-class applications can also use commodity cloud infrastructure, but unless efforts are made to move more resiliency into the application layer, there are risk management issues here, and depending upon scale and needs, a dependable cloud may be preferable to commodity cloud. Enterprise-class applications need a dependable cloud.

Where resiliency resides is an architectural choice. There is no One True Way. Building resilience into the app may be the most cost-effective choice for applications which need to have “Internet scale”, but it may add unwarranted and unnecessary complexity to many other applications, making dependable infrastructure the more cost-effective choice.

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Posted on May 16, 2011, in Infrastructure and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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