Seattle’s Growing Advantage in The Cloud
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when they say “cloud.” For Microsoft, the cloud has computers running Windows and something much like SQL server. The pain of porting existing Windows programs is minimal (or at least minimized), and it might even be practical to dynamically move applications from a local environment into the cloud and back, as demand requires. Furthermore, Microsoft expands the concept of “cloud” to include resources an organization owns and operates, that are shared within that organization only.
Amazon’s cloud, in contrast, runs standard (and mostly open source) services like Linux and Hadoop. Porting applications that already use these standards to Amazon is straightforward, but Amazon doesn’t appear interested in resources outside of their operation centers. Amazon views themselves as a compute utility with a scale-driven price advantage. Amazon doesn’t have an opinion on what you run locally. For Amazon, a “private cloud” is a dedicated cloud run on Amazon’s equipment, that you access via a VPN.
To parody these positions, Microsoft’s cloud is exactly like your current Windows computer, except you never have to install new software; Amazon’s cloud is whatever you want it to be, so long as it runs on Amazon’s hardware.
These differing viewpoints will have a profound effect on computational biology. Will computational biology influence the future of cloud computing? I think it’s likely. One reason cloud vendors ought to encourage computational biology as a model is because it’s likely more profitable than most other big services, for two reasons: availability and latency. Computational biologists can afford to wait, sometimes for quite a long time, without serious consequences, and they can often afford to redo the occasional computation that fails. Businesses like Facebook and FarmVille can’t afford to wait or start over, because lost ad impressions are lost forever. Science is thus a desirable cloud customer, and so cloud vendors are being rational when they court scientists and hold their work up as an example to others.
So what do scientists want? Mostly what everyone wants: more for less. The danger for Microsoft is, science is often a place where Microsoft is not well accepted. If there’s a danger for Amazon, it lies in scientists’ preference for vibrant marketplaces (of goods as well as ideas). Will scientific computing force Microsoft to be more open, yet ultimately strengthen their hand against Amazon as the cloud computing market grows? It’s too soon to know, but it will be fun to watch. At the least, scientists in Seattle will enjoy unique access to the people who are building the computers of the future.