What My Father Taught Me About Cloud Computing
Wells and city water have more in common with the cloud than you might think.
With Father's Day approaching, it got me thinking about my father, Darrel, and some of the great stories and lessons he shared with me while I was growing up. His father died when he was young, and although he had a loving mother, he had a hardscrabble childhood growing up in a small town in Utah. One lesson he inadvertently taught me when I was young that I would later reflect on was the importance of cloud computing.
As a kid, we used to visit the house he grew up in. One summer, my brother and I came across an old cemented water well on the property, and we started to talk to my dad about it. I thought that it was way cool to have this "free" source of water on the land that his family had complete dominion over. Then dad (as dads are apt to do) set me right.
'Free' Isn't Always Free
He said that well water was far from free. His father had tried drilling in multiple locations to find the possible spots to penetrate the stony terrain and reach the water below. In the end, however, he needed to call in a well digger who knew the lay of the land to construct a producing well.
Once, the well dried up and the well digger had to drill a deeper well to strike water. For the most part, we could pull water from the well on a regular basis, but during the hot Utah summers, the wind-powered well reliability was not optimal, and they had to use it judiciously.
They eventually moved to an electric well, but the cost of electricity to power the pump could get spendy. Money aside, dad said the worst part of having the well was worrying about potential health hazards; one autumn, the whole family became very ill and the doctor suspected that it had something to do with well water.
Taking these negative aspects of having a property well into account, my dad told me that it was a blessing when the city created a central water system by constructing a reservoir high up in the mountains. The city piped the water down to a station where it was monitored and treated. The vast majority of residents in the town jumped on the chance to join the new central water supply. Some agricultural and industrial users didn't cement up their wells, using them to supplement their city water; but for the most part, people found city water to be cheaper, more reliable and safer to use than well water.
So, how does my father's story about his family's well and city water relate to cloud computing? For the past 50 or so years, we've been using "well" technology in our datacenters. We put in our own servers, and although we sometimes get it right, we more than likely have to rely on getting professionals to help us set things up to make our servers efficient and workable.
We have a finite set of compute and storage resources that need to be closely monitored to prevent them from being used up. Even though we are diligent in preventing viruses and other security vulnerabilities, they still can get through the cracks and cause our datacenters great harm.
But just as a central city water supply solved problems for the citizens of my father's town, cloud computing can solve common issues and inconveniences in your datacenter. The cloud is a reservoir of compute and storage to draw upon as needed, and is almost impossible to deplete. Cloud compute centers are located near cheap, reliable power sources such as hydro-electric dams. Cloud providers can buy compute and storage devices by the boxcar load to get prices you can only dream about.
Due to the economy of scale, cloud centers can be staffed around the clock with dedicated professionals specialized in one aspect of the cloud, delivering a more reliable service. The staff can monitor compute and storage security, detecting and, more likely than not, preventing viruses and other security concerns from affecting your datacenter.
Moving Off the Wells
Yes, you will probably keep some legacy servers in your datacenter, but just as wells were replaced by a central water supply, you will one day inevitably replace the majority of your legacy servers with cloud services.
That's how my father taught me about the importance of cloud computing.
(In memory of my father, who taught me more than he realized, encouraged my curiosity, and loved his his wife and kids. He was a good man.)
Tom Fenton works in VMware's Education department as a Senior Course Developer. He has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 20 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 10 years focused on virtualization and storage. Before re-joining VMware, Tom was a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, were he headed their Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on Twitter @vDoppler.