Last week Amazon.com let it be known that it has launched a public beta test of Amazon Storage Gateway -- my colleague Matt Prigge has done an in-depth, hands-on look of it. This software appliance stores data on local hardware and uploads backup instances to Amazon Web Services' S3 (Simple Storage Service). The idea is to provide low-latency access to local data while keeping snapshots of that data in the AWS cloud.
Cloud appliances are nothing new -- we've been using them for years to maintain software control within the firewall. Their applications include caching data as it moved to and from the cloud to enhance performance, local storage that is replicated to the cloud (as is the case with AWS gateway), and providing protocol mediation services to systems that are not port 80-compliant.
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However, the larger question here is obvious: If cloud computing is really around eliminating the cost of local hardware and software, why are cloud computing providers selling hardware and software?
There are practical reasons for using cloud appliances, such as those I just cited. However, the larger advantage may be more perceptual than technical. IT managers want their data in some box in their data center that they can see and touch. They also want to tell people that they are moving to cloud computing. The cloud appliance provides the best of both worlds, and I suspect that we'll see other IaaS providers follow if Amazon.com is successful.
However, I can't help thinking that we're just trading an internal path to complexity and increasing costs for a cloud path to complexity and increasing costs. That's antithetical to the cloud's notions of reducing costs through efficiency and scale and of reducing complexity through abstraction. But yet here we are.
This article, "Cloud appliances: The cloud that isn't the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.