Cloud debate: GUI vs. CLI and API

In the greater blogosphere, as well as amongst the cloud analysts across the various research firms, there’s been an ongoing debate over the question, “Does a cloud have to have an API to be a cloud?

Going beyond that question, though, there are two camps of cloud users emerging — those who prefer the GUI (control panel) approach to controlling their cloud, and those that prefer command-line interfaces and/or APIs. These two camps can probably be classified into the automated and the automators — those users who want easy access to pre-packaged automation, and those users who want to write automation of their own.

This distinction has long existed in the systems administration community — the split between those who rely on the administrator GUIs to do things, vs. those who do everything via the command line, editing config files, and their own scripts. But the advent of cloud computing and associated tools, with their relentless drive towards standardization and automation, is casting these preferences into an increasingly stark light. Moreover, the emerging body of highly sophisticated commercial tools for cloud management (virtual data center orchestration and everything that surrounds it) means that in the future, even those more sophisticated IT operations folks who are normally self-reliant, will end up taking advantage of those tools rather than writing stuff from scratch. That suggests that tools will also follow two paths — there will be tools that are designed to be customized via GUI, and tools that are readily decomposable into scriptable components and/or provide APIs.

I’ve previously asserted that cloud drives a skills shift in IT operations personnel, creating a major skills chasm between those who use tools, and those who write tools.

The emerging cloud infrastructure services seem to be pursuing one of two initial paths — exposure via API and thus highly scriptable by the knowledgeable (e.g., Amazon Web Services), and friendly control panel (e.g., Rackspace’s Mosso). While I’d expect that most public clouds will eventually offer both, I expect that both services and do-it-yourself cloud software will tend to emphasize capabilities one way or another, focusing on either the point-and-click crowd or the systems programmers.

(A humorous take on this, via an old Craigslist posting: Keep the shell people alive.)

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Posted on January 12, 2009, in Infrastructure and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. For another example of admin tools for clouds, check these guys out:


  2. Nice writeup! Just wanted to point out that our Cloud Files offering already support both a very user-friendly GUI (no programming required!) and access via an API (with fully supported examples in PHP, Python, Java and .Net). If you are a coder, code. If not, you can still use our CDN-enabled Cloud Files offering with a few clicks of a mouse.



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