Smoke-and-mirrors and cloud software

On my more cynical, read-too-many-press-releases days, I wonder if there’s some hapless, tortured PR gnome at Amazon whose job consists solely of vetting one empty cloud fluff piece after another, proclaiming how such-and-such a vendor is now offering deployments on EC2, and how this therefore gives them an on-demand cloud offering (“please think of me as hip and visionary!”), when in reality, the vendor is doing nothing other than packaging up its software as an AMI (an Amazon machine image, basically a disk image of a server with the application installed).

Packaging something up as an AMI doesn’t make it a cloud service. It doesn’t make it massively scalable, automatically scalable, transparently scalable, on-demand, multi-tenant, or any one of a vast number of other terms that get fatuously lavished on anything with a whiff of cloudiness. If a piece of software doesn’t have any cloud traits when it’s deployed in your data center, it won’t have them when it’s deployed on EC2 (or any other cloud infrastructure service), either.

[the cake is a lie] Cloud infrastructure services today, whether EC2 or from one of Amazon’s competitors, are basically servers in the sky. They are almost always a hypervisor-virtualized server with a normal operating system installation, on top of which you install normal applications. There is no magic cloud pixie dust that settles on these instances and turns them into application faeries of scalability and joy.

Building massively and horizontally scalable, multi-tenant software with elastic economics is hard. It’s even harder if you’re trying to take some legacy software package and re-engineer it. This is why practically no one does that kind of re-engineering, and why software vendors have to resort to puffed-up “yes, we run on EC2!” claims, rather than genuinely delivering on-demand cloud services.

Don’t be fooled.

Marketing and PR folks at software vendors: I forgive you for these releases because I know you’re under pressure to put something out, but every time I read them, I cringe on your behalf, and hope that you’re not genuinely entertaining the belief that releasing an AMI meaningfully moves you forward along the cloud path.

IT folks: When your CEO / CFO / CIO comes to you and asks you why you aren’t taking advantage of your software vendor’s awesome new money-saving cloud service, you can tell him it’s because the PR release is just artfully painting a unicorn — a mythical beast everyone talks about but doesn’t actually exist.

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Posted on March 9, 2009, in Marketing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. A few months ago I wrote the following definitions and proclaimed that if some service does not posses these features then, in my opinion, it’s not cloud computing.

    * Scalability – The ability of a computing system to grow relatively easily in response to increased demand
    * Elasticity – The ability of a system to dynamically acquire or release compute resources on-demand
    * Highly Available – Systems designed such that the loss of any one component of a system will not result in system failure. No single points of failure (SPOF)

    I still feel exactly the same way…

    I posted a longer version of this on my own blog (, it was too long to paste here. In summary though, I commented on the combination of Fabric Mgmt and PaaS by some vendors. In further thought, that kind of leads to what seems to already be happening with a merger what what some call PaaS and IaaS. But, there are some road blocks (like proprietary API’s).




  2. Found your blog on Google and was so glad i did. That was a warming read. I have a small question.Is it OK if i send you an email???…


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