Cloud versus cloud: A guided tour of Amazon, Google, AppNexus, and GoGrid
Cloud computing offerings differ in depth, breadth, style, and fine print; beneath the heady metaphor lurk familiar pitfalls, complex pricing, and many questionsFollow @infoworld
GoGrid refers to itself as the "world's first multi-server control panel." GoGrid's offerings aren't functionally different from Amazon's EC2, but using the old term "control panel" seems to be a better description of what's going on than the trendier term "cloud." You start up and shut down load balancers in much the same way as relatively ancient tools like Plesk and cPanel let you add and subtract services.
While GoGrid offers many of the same services as Amazon's EC2, the Web-based control panel is much easier to use than the EC2 command line. You point and click. There's no need to cut and paste information because little pop-up boxes show the way, by suggesting available IP addresses, for example. The system is intuitive, and it takes only a few minutes to build up your network. A simple ledger on the left keeps track of the costs and helps you manage the budget.
GoGrid also has a wider variety of OS images ready to go. There is the usual collection of CentOS/Fedora and common LAMP stacks. If you need Windows, you can have Windows Server 2003 with IIS 6.0, and Microsoft SQL Server is available at extra cost. There are also images with Ruby on Rails, PostgreSQL, and the Facebook application server. These make it a bit easier to start up.
While GoGrid offers many of the same features as Amazon's EC2, it doesn't provide more cloudlike services for storing information in a shared way like SimpleDB. This can make it a bit harder to start up and shut down servers without a bit of grief. The startup notes for the service point out that the only way to stop paying for a server is to delete it, and that means losing all of the data on it.
There's no simple way to build custom images at this moment, but the documentation says GoGrid is working on a way to turn any running server into an image that can be restarted later. If you're going to be expanding and contracting your network as the traffic ebbs and flows, you'll have to come up with some tools of your own to add and subtract these servers. [ See the QuickTime video. ]
If you like the idea of the cloud but aren't sure if you want to leave behind the old trustworthy world of Unix, cron jobs, and other tools, then AppNexus is a service that aims to be a bit more transparent. The company has taken a big, industrial-sized server farm with the best load-sharing tools and storage boxes and found a way to let you buy it in small portions. AppNexus provides a number of command-line abstractions that let you turn servers on and off, but they also let you drill down into the file system.
The main functions of the AppNexus cloud are similar to Amazon's EC2. You log in through a command line and boot up images of Linux distributions. AppNexus says it can rebuild images from other sources like Amazon's EC2 by replacing the kernel with a version that's more aware that it is running in a virtual environment. Then it just takes a few key clicks on a command line to set up a load balancer.
One open question in the world of cloud computing is where the abstraction occurs; that is, where do the walls between the machines become blurred and it all starts to look a bit cloudy? Amazon's SimpleDB hides the storage behind a software wall and gives you access to it through some Web service call. AppNexus is working at a lower level by building in a cluster of Isilon IQ X-Series storage clusters into its cloud.