Werner Vogels of Amazon on the Future of the Cloud—Quick Hits from OVP Tech Summit

5/18/09Follow @gthuang

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need to be available “on demand” and on a “pay as you go” basis.

“Why would you want to go with this model?” Vogels asked. Besides being able to grow or shrink your storage and processing capabilities whenever you want to, he pointed to three main advantages of doing your computing in the cloud:

—Cost, which is most important to younger businesses and small companies. By paying only for what storage or processing you actually use, startups save money they would otherwise spend on server hardware and maintenance. (This is the most-often cited reason for using cloud resources.)

—Agility, which is important for larger companies. “If you talk to most CIOs, in any new venture they need to go into, IT is this blocker to getting things done,” Vogels said. But by using cloud resources, a U.S. company can open a new office in Warsaw, Poland, for example, without having to worry about setting up physical machines on the ground, or other IT-related headaches.

—Expertise, which is important for everyone. “Amazon guarantees scale and it will be absolutely reliable, and to move your apps into the cloud, they’ll be more secure than they were before,” Vogels said. “There’s a whole range of things where the centralized competency actually allows you a much greater comfort zone to operate in.”

Vogels then pointed to a couple of areas where he thinks cloud computing will become increasingly important. The first is for researchers in non-computing fields like biology, psychology, and history, who need to handle large, complex data sets. “You’re talking about folks who have no idea how to write programs,” Vogels said. “This is where companies like Cloudera will be really successful, in taking these really, really efficient mechanisms, and building on top of those to actually allow psychologists to analyze huge amounts of data.”

The second area, which is more familiar, is data storage and backup. Vogels emphasized that companies and organizations “need to solve reliability issues with software” because “data storage hardware will fail.” He quoted a failure rate for storage disks of 8-10 percent per year, so a medium-sized data center with, say, 40,000 disks, would need to have a staff member running around replacing about 10 disks a day.

Lastly, Vogels gave an overarching piece of advice for where cloud computing should go from here, and how it should be implemented—hinting that Amazon will continue to build new capabilities on top of its Web services platform (he didn’t give any specifics yet). “We shouldn’t forget the power of simplicity,” he said. “People say, ‘I have complex needs.’ But if the solution is scalable and rock-solid, you can make it work. Simple building blocks can be really powerful.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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