Brian Corrigan used to run datacenters for major casinos, so he knows not to gamble with mission-critical apps. Now, he works in the other gaming industry -- the one with joysticks and lots of shooting -- building communities for online gamers and collecting information about game usage for their publishers. As CTO at Agora Games, he needs to quickly ramp up and then cut his computing capabilities as new games come on the market, become all the rage, and eventually fade into so-so status. So it's little surprise that he's joined the growing ranks of companies buying computing, storage, and networking power as they need it from the cloud.
What is more surprising is that Corrigan and a number of other IT managers say that the use of virtualization and open source monitoring tools lets them do just as good a job, if not better, monitoring and managing virtual machines in the cloud as equipment in-house or in a collocation facility. That's especially true for those strapped for the time, money, or skills to analyze every last picosecond of application performance.
Cloud vendors tell IT: Trust but verify
Not all compute clouds are created equal, and whether cloud computing gives you enough visibility and control for datacenter adoption depends very much on what type of cloud computing you're buying.
Perhaps the most familiar cloud model is software as a service (SaaS), which lets customers use application software over the Web. Examples include, most notably, Salesforce.com in the CRM space and Google Apps for e-mail and calendaring. Here, the customer typically buys from the cloud specifically to get away from systems management chores and often trusts the vendor's performance dashboards and the absence of screaming from users to tell them the application is running.
A second cloud model, which usually requires and offers customers far more hands-on access, is infrastructure as a service, or utility computing. Here, the customer buys the ability to create, manage, and delete virtual servers, storage, and network resources in the cloud. Vendors include Amazon.com with its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) compute services and Simple Storage Service (S3). Additionally, different vendors sell backup, security, and other IT functions as a service from the cloud. Finally, there are Web-based development platforms such as Salesforce.com's Force.com and Microsoft's Azure.
As you would expect, SaaS vendors such as Salesforce.com say the trust SaaS customers put in their vendors is well placed. "Most companies don't know as much about their own systems' behavior as they can find out, from any Web browser, about the systems in the Salesforce.com cloud," says Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform product marketing for Salesforce.com.