CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Practice overtaking theory in cloud computing

The practice of using cloud computing to solve real development, deployment, and operations problems is generating more buzz than the vision and theory.

James Urquhart
James Urquhart is a field technologist with almost 20 years of experience in distributed-systems development and deployment, focusing on service-oriented architectures, cloud computing, and virtualization. James is a market strategist for cloud computing at Cisco Systems and an adviser to EnStratus, though the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.
James Urquhart
3 min read

It's getting harder to focus on the vision of cloud computing these days. While there are still plenty of critical and complex problems to solve, and many, many implications of this disruptive operations model that have yet to be understood, the truth is that we've entered a new phase in the evolution of cloud adoption. Real work now exceeds theory when it comes to both new online content and work produced.

This kind of snuck up on me, but it shouldn't have. I myself witnessed many of the early events that greased the skids for real cloud success: the introduction of revolutionary products from Salesforce.com and Amazon Web Services; great blogs that discussed practical applications of early cloud environments, followed by books that explained step-by-step what should be considered in application architectures destined for the cloud.

The rapid adoption of "software as a service"-style offerings from the likes of Salesforce.com, Google, Zoho, and a wide variety of others in both the consumer and business markets belied new computing options delivered at Internet scale.

However, what really made me aware of the changing cloud buzz is what's happening in the software development space. I was shaken awake by Microsoft's brilliant launch of its Azure cloud service. I loved almost everything about how Ray Ozzie and crew positioned and discussed Azure's services to its target market: developers of the next generation of business applications.

The recent (re)unveiling at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles included an impressive array of services, customer testimonials, and partner announcements. If it had stopped at that, I would have assumed it was just "Mister Softy's" massive marketing machine in action.

However, I began following the "#azure" tag on Twitter from that day forward, and I've been blown away by the amount of content being generated by developers for developers. For example, this step-by-step guide to installing SQL Server on Azure. Or, how about this list of sessions from PDC from a variety of vendor and customer presenters, covering topics ranging from development basics to "making sense out of ambient data".

But it's not just Microsoft. Other cloud platform and infrastructure service vendors are building significant volume. Ruby on Rails platform service vendor Heroku reportedly hosts more than 40,000 applications now. At their Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce.com mentioned they had approximately 135,000 applications running on their Force.com platform. (Of course, the number of these respective applications that are generating revenue or even used on a regular basis was not disclosed. Still, these numbers are impressive.)

Amazon Web Services has seen tens of billions of objects stored in its S3 environment (64 billion as of August 2009), and reportedly has several hundred thousand instances running at any given time. Google App Engine doesn't seem to do much marketing, but anecdotal evidence suggests there is a large body of Web application developers running on both the Java and Python instances.

Development and test services, such as SkyTap and Soasta, are thriving. The cloud model really works well for the dynamic resource usage model of software engineering. In fact, it works so well that IBM is putting some real muscle into the game.

There is other evidence that cloud is seeping into mainstream IT thought. This year's Gartner Data Center conference has a "virtual track" dedicated to cloud computing and its impact on the data center. Several vendor conferences leaned heavily on cloud computing in the last year. Professional associations are getting into the act by considering the impact of the cloud on their respective best practices and standards.

There is growing evidence that new and existing independent software vendors and consultancies are finding the cloud to be fertile ground. Of course, that could be a double-edged sword, as some firms will try to use the cloud as leverage to pry their way into otherwise closed doors. However, real projects do exist, and there are signs that that opportunity is growing.

If you are wondering if cloud computing is a fad, the evidence to the contrary is all around you. I heartily recommend that you really listen to what is being said, understand how the cloud is being used, and seriously evaluate how this disruptive model will change your projects, your organization, and even your career. Clearly, there are many technologists who already have.