Diggin' technology every day

April 1, 2013

Public cloud will grow when I die

Filed under: Random Thought — Tags: — Nate @ 8:27 am

El Reg a few days ago posted some commentary from the CTO of Rackspace

Major adoption of public cloud computing services by large companies won’t happen until the current crop of IT workers are replaced by kiddies who grew up with Facebook, Instagram, and other cloud-centric services

Which is true to some extent — though I still feel the bigger issues with the public cloud are cost and features. If a public cloud company can offer comparable capabilities vs operating in house at a comparable (or less – given the cloud company should have bigger economies of scale) cost then I can see cloud really taking off.

As I’ve harped on again and again – one of the key cost things would be billing based on utilization, not based on what is provisioned (you could have a minimum commit rate as is often negotiated in deals for internet bandwidth). But if you provision a 2 CPU VM with 6GB of memory and 90% of the time it sits at 1% cpu usage and 1GB of memory then you must not be charged the same if you were consuming 100% cpu and 95% memory.

Some folks think it is a good idea to host non production stuff in a cloud and host production in house — to me non production is where even more of the value comes from. Most of the time the non production environments(at least the companies I have worked at in the past decade) operate at VERY low utilization rates 99.9% of the time. So they can be over subscribed even more. At my organization for example we started out with basically two or three non production environments, now we are up to 10, the costs to support the extra 7-8 were minimal(relative to hosting them in a public cloud). For the databases I setup a snapshot system for these environments so not only can we refresh the data w/minimal downtime to the environments(about 2 minutes/ea vs/ full day/ea) but each environment typically consumes less than 10% of the disk space that would normally be consumed had the environment had a full independent copy of the data.

Another thing is give the customers the benefit of things like thin provisioning, data compression, deduplication. Some work loads behave better than others, present this utilization data to the customer and include it in the billing. Myself I like to provision multi TB volumes for almost everything, and I use LVM to restrict their growth. So if the time comes and some volume needs to get bigger I just lvextend the volume and resize the file system(both are online operations), don’t have to touch the hypervsior, the storage, or anything. If some application may need a massive amount of storage (have not had one that did yet that used storage through the hypervisor) — as in many many TB — then I could allocate many volumes at once to the system, and grow them the same way over time. Perhaps a VM would have 2 to 10TB of space provisioned to it but may only use a few hundred gigs for the next year or so — nothing is wasted, because the excess is not used. There’s no harm in doing that.  Though I have not seen or heard of a cloud company that offers something like this. I think a large chunk of the reason is the technology doesn’t exist yet to do it for hundreds or thousands of small/medium customers.

Most important of all – the cloud needs to be a true utility – 99.99% uptime demonstrated over a long period of time. No requirements for “built to fail”, all failures should be transparent to the end user. Bonus points if you have the ability to have VMware-style fault tolerance (though something that can support multi CPUs) with millisecond fail over w/o data loss.   It will take a long time for the IaaS of the world to get there, but perhaps SaaS can be there already. PaaS I’m not sure, I’ve never dealt with that though. All of the major IaaS companies have had large scale outages and/or degraded performance.

The one area where public cloud does well – is the ability to get something from nothing up and going quickly, or perhaps up and going in a part of the country or world which you don’t have a facility.  Though the advantage there isn’t all that great. Even at my company back when we were hosted at Amazon on the east coast. The time came to bring up a site for our UK customers and we decided to host it on the east coast because the time frame to adapt everything(Chef etc) to work properly in another Amazon region was too tight to pull off. So we never used that region. Eventually we provisioned real equipment which I deployed in Amsterdam last summer to replace the last of our Amazon stuff.

Another article on a similar topic, this time from ComputerWorld, which noted the shift from in house data centers to service providers, though it seems more focused on literally in house data centers (vs “in house” with a co-location provider). They cite lack of available talent to manage these resources. These employees would rather work for a larger organization with more career opportunities than a small shop.

I’m sort of the opposite — I would not like to work for a large company of any kind. Much prefer small companies, with small teams. The average team size I have worked in since 2006 has been 3 people. The amount of work required to maintain our own infrastructure is actually quite a bit less than managing cloud stuff.

I guess I am the exception rather than the rule again here. I had my annual review recently and in it I wrote there was no career advancement for me at the current company, I had higher growth expectations of the company I am at — but I am not complaining. I’ll admit that the stuff I am doing now is not as exciting as it has been in the past. I’m fairly certain we could not hire someone else in the team because they would get bored and leave quickly.  Me — at least for now — I don’t mind being bored. It is a good change of pace after my run in the trenches along the front lines of technology from 2003-2011. I could do this for another year I imagine (if not longer).

As I watch the two previous companies I worked for wither and die slow deaths (and the one before them died years ago — so basically all the jobs I had from 2006-2011 were at companies that are dead or dying) it’s a good reminder to me to be thankful for where I am at. Still a small growing company with a good culture, good people, and everything runs really really well (sometimes so well it sort of scares me for some reason).

Another good reminder is I had lunch with a couple of friends while up in Seattle — they work for a company that has been on it’s death bed for years now. I asked them what is keeping the company going and they said hope (also never knew why they stuck around for as long as they have).  Or something like that. Not long after I left the company laid off a bunch of folks (they were not included in the layoff). The company is dieing every bit as much as the other two companies I worked for. I guess the main difference is I decided to jump ship long ago while they stuck it out for reasons unknown.

Time to close techopsguys?

I apologize again for not posting nearly as much as I used to — there just continues to be a dearth of topics and news that I find interesting in recent months. I am not sure if it is me that is changing or if things have really gotten boring since the new year.  I have contemplated closing the blog entirely, just to lower people’s expectations(or eliminate them) about seeing new stuff here.I’ve poured myself out all over this site the past few years and it’s just become really hard to find things to write about now. I don’t want the site to turn into a blog that is updated a couple times a year.

So I will likely close it in the coming months unless the situation changes. It has been a good run, from an idea from my former co-workers that I thought I’d be a minor contributor on to a full fledged site where I wrote nearly 400 articles, and a few hundred thousand words. Wow that is a lot.. My former co-workers bailed on the site years ago citing lack of time.  Time is certainly something I have what I have more is lack of things to write about.

I’ve had an offer to become an independent contributor to our friends over at El Reg – something that sounded cool at first, though now that I’ve thought about it I am not going to do it.  I don’t feel comfortable about the level of quality I could bring (granted not all of their stuff is high quality either but I tend to hold myself to high standards). Being a personal blog I can compromise more on quality, lean into more of my own personal biases, I have less responsibility in general.

I have seen them take on a couple other bloggers such as myself in recent months and have noticed the quality of their work is not good.  In some cases it is sort of depressing(why would you write about that?????????)  That sort of stuff belongs on a personal blog not on a news site.

I’ll have to settle for the articles where they mentioned my name in them, those I am still sort of proud of for some reason 🙂



  1. Hi Nate,

    I’d like to apologize, also, that changes in my personal life have intervened in between when we first talked about a few subjects of possible interest I might contribute about, in particular SDNs, which have suddenly become very current. I still think coverage there is abysmal, and in general, so little IT coverage is of any use, reading here was a revelation.

    I think you are to modest regards being asked by El Reg.

    Or their financial offer too modest!

    I’d hate to see your blog mothballed, but is it wrong to suggest a seasonal time out would not hurt? I’d love it, if having settled my life a bit more, following some significant changes, to propose at least a short series I could commit to write. But, meanwhile, it’s the truth, that I scaled back all the interesting stuff I was doing, because, erm, well, there’s much more interesting practical research going on in my life in the real world 🙂

    This has been a rare blog which walks the talk and all that. Your balance between industry observation, practical critique and nitty gritty has been superb. I think it a model blog.

    Surely it would not harm, to take a time out, and return when the mood hits?

    I’d be extremely happy to ad my 2cents and hopefully a lot more, when that time comes.

    all my best,

    ~ john

    Comment by John ( other John ) — April 1, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

  2. Thanks! yes I will definitely give it a lot more thought over the coming months. Per El Reg there was no financial compensation involved (I wouldn’t want to be paid anyways it just raises the bar even higher — even if the bar is my own personal bar that I can’t avoid not raising on myself!). I greatly appreciate all of the comments and feedback over my time here, and I do hope I can get things started up again, I just need to find something that I am passionate about — and I don’t see anything (new) at the moment that interests me — there are some technologies on the horizon but as of now are still too immature.

    If you (or anyone else) wants to contribute stuff I’m more than happy to open things up — I tried that once with Scott though he didn’t last too long (and haven’t heard from him in ages, I had to look at the top of the blog to even remember his name!). There are other random trivial things I could talk about but feel that it would depart too much from the broader themes of the topics over recent years so I didn’t want to go down that path.

    I do plan to reply to your massive email soon too — you remind me of me, you write too much 🙂

    Comment by Nate — April 1, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

  3. Nate, I’d have to agree with John! I read a ton of blogs as well as what our friends at The Reg put out, and you walk a fine line that others fail to do successfully. I’d hate to see your blog mothballed, and feel you should be fine slowing down or asking for help from some readers to contribute some material..

    Comment by Adam — April 2, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  4. thanks Adam!! I will certainly try!

    appreciate the comment & readership.

    Comment by Nate — April 3, 2013 @ 7:32 am

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