‘Cloud Computing Revealed (Session Four)’ Meetup (Seattle Tech Forum)

This was the fourth and last in the STF series on Cloud Computing. This month’s sponsor was SH Worldwide, who are putting on the Cloud Fair conference in Seattle this April.

There were six speakers from various parts of the industry. I’m going to say right up front that there wasn’t a whole lot of new things for these speakers to say after three previous Cloud-focussed forums. Most speakers seems to think they need to spend the first third of their talk giving a basic overview of the history and nature of the topic — it is interesting to see different perspectives on that, but it quickly becomes redundant. In the future, STF ought to at least stagger these series-based forums, perhaps scheduling them every other month with a different topic in the middle. Alas, we have three Mobile Computing STF’s in a row up next. Oh well… With that complaint out of the way, here’s what we heard last night.

courtesy Chris AvisChris Avis, Senior IT Evangelist at Microsoft, presented “Clearing the Sky’s: What are the different kind of cloud platforms out there?”, which was mostly an overview of Cloud computing. He gave a good justification for the need for Cloud services, explaining how the typical IT cycle of forecasting demand and buying hardware to meet that forecast carried the double risk of either paying for excess capacity or not having enough capacity. He did a decent job of making most of the talk vendor agnostic — which was nice because some of the other presentations were a thinly veiled sales pitch.

Citrix‘s Principal Product Owner of Cloud Computing, Geralyn Miller, told us how to “Build, manage, and deliver highly scalable and reliable clouds using Citrix CloudStack”. Citrix bought CloudStack last year and just released beta version 3.0, which has been, in Miller’s words, “Citrixified”. CloudStack is a “cloud orchestration platform” written in Java, and provides both an Amazon EC2 compatible API and it’s own API. It’s used by many big shops to provide their own cloud service. For example, Zynga apparently launches their new apps using EC2 for the backend, watches how the app performs, grows, and scales, and then brings the app back to their own servers to run on CloudStack once the app’s capacity needs are understood.

Torsten Bittner, Senior Software Engineer at IBM, gave a talk called “How IBM Watson works”. For me this was the most unique and fresh topic of the night. In fact, I didn’t take many notes because I was listening too closely. Bittner gave a brief history of Watson’s development and how it famously won Jeapordy against two grand masters last year. He explained how Watson is built on the Unstructured Information Management Architecture, an open source framework for analyzing complex information stores and making the information useful to users. Watson uses UIMA to understand a collection of document stores such as Wikipedia, WordNet, Verbnet, and more. IBM is looking at how to expand Watson’s use to new domains such as Medicine, Customer Support, Finance, etc.

[Updated, thanks Mr. Nelson!] Next we heard a talk titled “Introducing the Oracle Public Cloud” from Mark Nelson, Software Architect at Oracle. Oracle Public Cloud provides a J2EE & Oracle DB powered enterprise Cloud solution. It provides basic PaaS capabilities but also provides some SaaS in the form of several built in CRM, HRM, and Social Network suites.

Microsoft’s Metodi “Toddy” Mladenov, Senior Program Manager for Windows Azure, presented “Windows Azure Services – Building Blocks for Modern Cloud Applications”. He gave a good overview of the Azure platform, which I wasn’t very familiar with. One of the surprises for me was the fact that Azure supports not only .NET, but also PHP, Java and node.js.

Our last speaker was Vivek Bhatnagar, President, Greater Seattle Chapter at Cloud Security Alliance. His talk was called “Security, Liability and Legal Issues in Cloud Computing”. He covered a range of fascinating concerns with regards to Cloud Computing:

  • Liability: What’s your recourse and compensation if something happens to your Cloud services and data?
  • Bankruptcy: If your Cloud host goes bankrupt, how long will your data be available before the creditors sell the hardware away?
  • Acquisition: If your Cloud provider get’s acquired, what’s the guarantee of your service level for what period of time?
  • Jurisdiction: Based on the physical location of the Cloud hardware, which governments might be able to seise equipment containing your data and programs for what reasons, with what notice and recourse?
  • Data Confidentiality: What guarantees do you have regarding privacy for your data at rest (on the servers), in transit (on the wire), and when you go to delete it — does it really get zeroed out, even on backup systems?

Bhatnagar explained some areas where laws need to be changed to catch up with these issues. His main takeaway was that organizations need to really dig into these issues before choosing a Public Cloud vendor.

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