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Don’t put all eggs in one basket! June 14, 2012 outage at Amazon Web Services affected many customers and other clouds that rely on AWS (e.g. Heroku). Instead of going back to the “is cloud reliable” debate, we need to acknowledge that no single service will ever be 100% reliable, and only real solution is using more that one service provider.

Remember when Apple launched their iCloud service last year? Remember what made them architecturally so different from 99.9% of other “cloud” services out there? They used both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Windows Azure as the underlying platforms. Does anyone care to guess why? Perhaps the answer in the latest news. Just read these articles about Amazon’s or Azure’s outages. Can you find iCloud mentioned anywhere as one of the affected services? No. You will see Heroku, Quora, Parse, and Pinterest – but not Apple. If one cloud fails – they still have the other one to use.

I work for a cloud platform myself (Jelastic PaaS) – and let me make it clear: no matter how much work we put into making it as reliable as we can – any services can (and will eventually) have an outage. Even a service with multiple availability zones (like AWS or Azure) will fail from time to time (happened already). Don’t cheat yourself – if you need real redundancy – use more than one provider, and do yourself a favor – check their backend platform. If you think that using AWS and Heroku is redundant – you are wrong – they are both running on AWS.

And yes, this means that you need to try to pick the services that accept the same application code. If one of the services requires your application re-written your development cost will double (e.g services like Google App Engine require pretty much complete application re-write to use it – a bad choice as a second platform.)

This is one of the reasons why in Jelastic we made a couple of important design decisions early on: make it available from multiple completely independent hosters (not Amazon, but actual real credible hosting companies) and make it 100% code compatible for any Java applications (no APIs to code to, no code changes required).

Don’t want to be in the next outage news? Pick 2 hosters and get yourself some piece of mind (obviously do check your failover to make sure you can safely stop your service at one and switch to the other one! – the only redundancy that works is the one that you test as often as you can.)

Everyone suspected that Windows Azure was not a blazing success. Now the official stats seem to suggest that it is pretty much a failure.

Microsoft does not tell the exact number of users it has on their cloud platform – Windows Azure, however a couple of day ago we got the latest vague estimate from the company. Quoting Mary Jo:

“On May 8, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Azure Marketing Bob Kelly provided Merrill Lynch Technology Conference attendees with another tally tidbit. Kelly said Microsoft now has “high tens of thousands of customers” for Windows Azure.”

That was it, so now let me try to interpret what we have heard:

  • I assume that “high tens of thousands” means 50,000 to 100,000 customers,
  • Is that for paying customers or does that include free ones? I assume that if they were paying – Bob would have told us so,
  • Does that include Microsoft’s own teams? Probably, yes. Microsoft teams traditionally view other teams within the company as “customers”,
  • If I have a team of developers working on a project – do these get counted as 1 customer or multiple customers? If everyone is counted the number would have to be divided further. I would assume that the answer is 1 – otherwise, considering that SaaS development and operations are team efforts, the resulting number would get too small.

Now, let me be straight on that, if these assumptions are right, this is a very small number for a platform that was publicly launched in October 2008.

Just to put that in perspective, the company for which I work now – Jelastic (Java PaaS) – launched public beta in October 2011 and last month announced 15,000 signed-up users (including free, trial and beta).

As much as I love our marketing team, the marketing resources that we have are minuscule compared to that of Microsoft, so considering all the efforts that Microsoft made touting Azure everywhere and all the .NET developers their marketing can reach – Bob Kelly’s number is incredibly low.

The previous datapoints that Mary Jo quotes are in line with the current number:

“In 2010, the Redmondians said they had 10,000 Azure customers. In 2011, it was 31,000. (Microsoft officials declined to say if any of these were Microsoft users and how many were paying customers.)”

I have a lot of friends at Microsoft and a lot of sympathy toward the company, so I really hope that some of the assumptions that I made are wrong. If so, I think Microsoft should be more transparent about the way they count “customers”. Giving the number and then letting everyone make their best guesses on how it was counted – is a very bad tactics. People just assume the worst case scenario and this damages, rather than improves the company image.

 

As the world is moving to online in general and cloud in particular, what is going to happen to the $40 bln hosting industry?

Parallels (which is probably the largest software vendor for hosters) published video recordings from their Parallels Summit 2012, including this keynote fro their founder Serguei Beloussov. At 31:51 mark he talks about the area near and dear to my heart – Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and specifically Jelastic in which I work. Check it out and see if you share Serguei’s views on where the industry is going:

Click to watch the recording on YouTube

 

Jelastic - Java host, PaaS, cloud hostingAfter many years of having a blast at Quest Software – which has been a great employer for me, supporting my craziest ideas – and then a few months of advising Jelastic – I finally gave up and decided to trade the comfort and stability to the life on the cutting edge of the cloud.

I have for a long time thought that current cloud computing is somewhat broken. On the one end of the spectrum, you can use IaaS like Amazon Web Services that can surely give you lots of VMs fast, but then expect you to spend hours being the admin configuring and maintaining them. On the other end, you can go with, say, Google App Engine or Heroku, but in return for the admin tasks lifted, you get tons of restrictions which pretty much make you re-write your applications. And then you get stuck with the platform vendor and “hoster” being the same company – so if you don’t like the service or it is not available in your geography – you are stuck.

These limitations always struck me as false dichotomy, and now Jelastic is trying to make meaning here, offering a PaaS that indeed does all the environment configuration (including tricky stuff like setting up high-availability clusters with session replication, etc.). Yet, there are no limitations or restrictions: you still gets real actual standard application servers, have full control over their configuration, can upload any additional libraries that you need, and so on – so no code changes are required.

And there is no lock-in: both because of the standard nature of the environment, and because the platform and the service are decoupled. Jelastic follows the “Android model” – we give the platform to hosters around the world who then provide it to their customers. So if you don’t like the service or need a hoster in another country – you just pick the provider that suits you best.

And finally it is just a great platform: fast and efficient, and getting rave reviews from users.

This quick demo shows it in action:

Now you can hopefully see my reasons for joining Jelastic! Keep in touch. 🙂

I’ve been recently involved helping a new European start-up just launched a new Platform-as-a-Service capable of running and automatically scaling any Java application. Here’s a quick write-up on why I think Jelastic is really onto something, a service to try and a company to watch.

Say, you’ve got a great Java application which you want to put on the internet and make it available to the world. Believe it or not, up until today, what sounds like a trivial task simply could not be done. You effectively had to choose between lack of scalability, necessity to manually set up and maintain the whole software stack, requirement to re-write your code to conform to a particular framework (and get locked into it thereafter), or a combination of the above.

Traditional hosting simply leased you a server and had you set it up including the web server and Java stack – effectively making you spend hours and hours doing pure operational work instead of producing next biggest and coolest services. And obviously getting you confined to whatever servers you rented – so when you need to scale up due to being mentioned on Slashdot you were out of luck.

First generation Infrastructure-as-a-Service clouds (IaaS) like Amazon or Rackspace made server provisioning a simple programmatic call. This made scalability a little easier (at least you did not have to wait days or weeks to get more or less servers). However, all they did was effectively give you a bunch of (often overpriced) virtual machines leaving it to you to set them up, configure them, patch them. To make things worse, scalability was not free either. For these providers, more resources meant more virtual machines. Which in turn meant, that your application had to be designed to be able to run on multiple machines in parallel, and most likely using storage and instance coordination mechanisms specific to this platform. Thus, you were almost getting the worst of both worlds: limited scalability, extra operations tasks, high fees, and vendor lock-in.

Early Platforms-as-a-Service (PaaS) solutions like Google App Engine, Force.com, Windows Azure, and VMware CloudFoundry offered a trade-off of taking away the operational tasks of setting up and managing the virtual machines by requiring you to write your applications specifically for the platform – thus putting you at the maximum lock-in ever.

Jelastic – a new start-up which just launched its beta at Jelastic.com is aiming to learn from predecessors and give you the best of all worlds:

  • Easy to deploy and manage – like earlier PaaS systems, Jelastic automatically sets up, configures and maintains the software stack that you need (such as Tomcat server, MySQL database, load balancer, static content cache, and so on) – all you need is add your application on top.
  • Runs any Java application – with Jelastic there are no requirements to specifically adapt your code, simply upload the package and if it runs, for example, on standard Tomcat server (or for that matter JBoss, GlassFish, or Jetty) with MySQL (MariaDB, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, CouchDB) – it will run in Jelastic as is. This means painless deployments, zero learning curve, and most importantly zero platform lock in.
  • Automated scaling – most amazingly, Jelastic manages to scale your application up and down depending on the load it gets. As your application becomes popular and its use intensifies, Jelastic transparently gives it more memory and processing power.

See this quick video with Jelastic overview:

And a set of videos demonstrating the actual Java application deployment, autoscaling, and URL mapping.

Or even better, take your application and give it a try at Jelastic.com.

Don’s recent attempt to look at financials of 10 publicly traded “cloud” companies got me willing to expand his research to a bigger picture.

After all, limiting the scope to 100% cloud companies really skews the charts to “Salesforce.com and everyone else” leaving such cloud juggernauts as Amazon and Google out of the picture.

As Don notes, Salesforce.com is doing extremely well: in Q1 2011 the company demonstrated 34% year-over-year growth rate and made $504 million in revenue. Their 2010 revenue was about $1.66 billion.

Companies like Google and Amazon are indeed much harder to analyze. Neither of them discloses cloud-related revenue which sort of vanishes in the grand scheme of core business such as respectively online advertisement and retail.

In this blog post I decided to have a look at where these two cloud businesses stand.

Amazon

In August 2010, UBS Investment Research estimated that Amazon Web Services were on track to make $500 million in 2010 (up from $275 mln in 2009), and $750 mln in 2011 (out of total $44 bln revenue of Amazon as a whole). By 2014 they are expected to get to $2.5 billion.

Profits are estimated to be around $58.2 million in 2010, $100.7 million in 2011.

As a side note on the Infrastructure as a Service space, Rackspace is considered to be number 2 cloud provider and they are way behind Amazon with target revenue for 2011 set to $100 mln (for cloud services).

Google

Google Apps is Google’s core subscription cloud service, and again a small fraction of the total company’s revenue (and with Android’s success no longer the most cherished ‘secondary business’ either).

The latest interview with Google Enterprise (which includes Google Apps) boss – David Girouard does not say much:

3,000 business are moving to the suite each day, and over three million have moved since its debut in 2007. But it’s unclear how much revenue Google is generating from subscriptions. All we know is that it’s under $1bn a year, less than four per cent of the company’s overall revenue. The aim, however, is to create a multi-billion-dollar business – in the near term. “Not a decade from now,” Girouard said, “but within a few years.”

Obviously ‘under $1 billion’ is a huge range.

A year ago, in May 2010, Nikesh Arora, president of Google’s Global Sales Operations and Business Development provided more detailed information:

First of all, back then the number of customers was one-third lower: “There are 2 million small businesses that have signed up”.

And secondly he provided a date estimate for reaching the $1 billion mark: “In perhaps three- or four years, I hope it will be more than a billion dollar revenue stream.”

With that kind of growth, to get to a billion dollars in 3 years, Google Apps need to be making  $300 million in revenue a year at the moment. On the other hand, when Google Apps were claiming 1 million users in early 2009, their revenue target for the year was $40 million. So with 3 times more users today, they might very well be at the 3 times the revenue – $120 million a year for Google Apps. My guess, is that the broad range ($120-$300 mln) might be related to them including or excluding advertisement revenue coming from free Google Apps accounts.

Anyone else?

I am actually quite impressed with how revenue of Salesforce.com compare to cloud businesses of Amazon and Google.

For now I would probably just limit the analysis to these 2 vendors. Microsoft is trying hard to get into this business with their Office 365 and Windows Azure launches. However, to be fair to the company I would probably wait another year before discussing their financial performance.

And that’s just for the software vendors. IBM‘s CFO Mark Loughridge claims that cloud services will generate $7 billion in revenue for his company by 2015, and I am pretty sure that hardware vendors are not losing money on shipping servers to all the new cloud datacenter either.

Have I missed any of the big players you would have expected to see in this analysis? Let me know.

There’s yet another cloud conference coming our way this April – but this one is special.

So far most of the cloud tradeshows have either been heavily developer- and investor-/analyst-oriented, or simply cloud tracks and sessions on vendor events. The Experts Conference (TEC) is different with its heavy focus on IT professionals.

Full disclosure: I have been involved helping the conference organizers set up the cloud track – and I am pretty proud of the line-up of speakers and sessions we managed to come up with.

TEC is actually a very established technology conference. They started 10 years ago as a very technical (level 400+) and practical Directory conference by the experts for the experts. I believe that with all the marketing hype about the cloud which we are getting these days, its about right time for the event to expand to the cloud. After all, IT professionals who want to be on the cutting edge today actually need to know how to set up federation, deploy Office 365, Google Apps, Amazon or Salesforce.com, what is the state of private cloud technology, what SAMLOAuth and OpenID are and how to use them, and much more.

And to give you that information we got folks from product teams, system integrators, and just practitioners with vast experience in all these technologies!

You can find the full agenda of the Cloud and Virtualization Track here. Below are just some of the highlights:

Joey Snow will be talking about Windows Azure (Microsoft’s platform as a service) from IT pro perspective – this will be quite unique considering that Microsoft’s official Azure message is very much developer-oriented!

There will be multiple sessions about Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and other components of the BPOS/Office 365 suite from Microsoft: ranging from real-world experience on when these work and when on-premise options are still superior, how to handle the migration, how to integrate your on-premise directory with the cloud system, what is their state of security and even how they stack up against Google Apps. These are getting delivered by superstars including: Jerry Camel, Mike KostersitzJarrod RoarkDave ChennaultEinar MykletunBill Baer, Dmitri Gavrilov and David Smith.

There will be great discussions on the major authentication and authorization protocols including OpenID and OAuth, ADFS, REST, SAML from industry experts Brian PuhlEve MalerPat PattersonLaura E. HunterFemi AladesuluNikita RyuminCarol WapshereDave JonesMark Wahl.

Finally, we have great representation from industry experts and team members from Microsoft teams (Office 365, Windows Intune, ADFS), Salesforce.com, Rackspace, RiverbedSteve RileyPat PattersonJohn EngatesJoseph Dadzie.

So expect a lot of highly practical content and social interaction with the folks who are using cloud in real life today!

The conference is April 17-20, 2011 in Las Vegas. Learn more and sign-up for the event here.


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The posts on this blog are provided “as is” with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer Jelastic or anyone else for that matter. All trademarks acknowledged.

© 2008-2012 Dmitry Sotnikov

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