Woody Pewitt is giving this talk. It’s another intro talk for the rest of the Cloud topics through out the weekend.
Honestly, regarding Cloud computing as a concept, rather than any particular vendor’s platform, is a game changing shift. Much like hardware virtualization is a game changing concept for data centers and development/testing (this is a whole other topic) the Cloud concept is changing the way the web works from a hosting point of view.
While in large corporate environments you have network managers, server administrators, DBA’s and they handle the resources at a fundamental level for the most part developers still have to dabble in these areas. That’s a great thing because I’m still in the camp that developers should understand what platforms they are dependent on, be it IIS, Windows server 2008, .Net 3.5, SQL 2008, etc. However, once I am intimately familiar with my platforms I don’t want to have to spend 50% of my time provisioning servers, installing patches and service packs, doing routine optimizing, hardening against intrusion, replacing drives or power supplies, migrating to new servers, etc. Having the Cloud allows me as a developer to offload all this work to a 3rd party.
OK, so that’s no big. I do that now with inexpensive hosting such as GoDaddy, colocation of my own servers, or my own data center managed by server admins. What’s so new about the Cloud? The great thing is the services I use (hosting, data access, etc) are now abstracted. If I host my site on GoDaddy or any other of the examples above I still have to interact with my web hosting software and databases as if I was still directly connected to them. I still have to work with the mindset that my web app is hosted on a single server, connecting to a single database at a single datacenter.
What the Cloud does is abstract all of this. I can code my app to have a light weight UI that passes requests to small chunks of service code which hits a abstract data store. This allows my Cloud vendor to not only store all these parts in different locations but also mange multiple instances of them. If my app starts getting a large number of hits and the data store is slowing down, they can replicate this data across multiple hosts. If my UI starts to get sluggish they can host the front-end across multiple web hosts. This allows my app to scale almost indefinitely without my direct involvement. Not only can it scale in the number of running instances, but geographically as well. Let’s say I have an airline ticking company that services flights from the USA to Europe. In the off season it may receive a fairly light amount of hits. However, come Christmas time I may get thousands of hits per hour. Not only that, half my customers may be in the USA and the other half in Europe. Allowing my application to scale out to multiple instances and multiple geographic locations, automatically without my direct involvement, is absolutely amazing.
This is where web hosting is going. In 10 years almost no one will be hosting on individual web servers except for in specialized locations.
OK, off the starry-eyed platform. Back to the talk.
Woody, and Lynn Langit who is in the audience, just mentioned the sign on process. It’s a nightmare! Even some of the internal MS people don’t have keys. I think with all the talent that’s in MS they could have designed and built out the whole sign-up and beta key process much better. It’s terrible to put it lightly. The forums are filled with disgruntled users that can’t log in and have no idea what state their application process is in. This is one of those examples where a little more time and care up front would have saved hours and hours of support calls/emails/postings and upset and confused users. OK, that being said check out Lynn’s post on this very subject.
Microsoft is not publishing any dates what-so-ever, however, Woody said there is another PDC planned that will announce the RTM availability of Azure. His guess, and that’s all it is, is that Azure will not be ready for commercial release for another year.
Woody was putting forth the idea that this really abstracts and commoditizes the data center. These are things that web app designers (large and small) will not have to worry about. In fact, Microsoft is in reality commoditizing their data centers. Check out Woody’s post here showing a great little video on how they are doing this. The grand plan is to literally order a “truck”, which is a fully self contained datacenter with just three “plugs”: power, internet and A/C. These trucks will be sent to a warehouse built for this capacity by Microsoft. These centers can be quickly deployed to any area that Microsoft’s researched has deemed a high volume area. If a trailer starts to sense that it’s at a specified failure load, like 20%, it will be decommissioned, degaussed (as it leaves the facility) and replaced by a brand new truck. Pretty amazing!