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Sun CTO douses own cloud in cold water

Amazon appears with hair dryer

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Structure 09 Despite his employer Sun Microsystems fashioning an Amazon-like public cloud, chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos doubts enterprises will move their existing applications onto this or any other data center in the sky. But Amazon cloud prophet Werner Vogels disagrees.

"I'll pour a little bit of cloud water on this," Papadopoulos said at the cloud-obsessed Structure 09 conference in San Francisco, California, on Thursday. "It's generally really hard and expensive and often unwise to be moving your legacy pieces over into something new in computing like this, unless you can really demonstrate what the advantages are.

"I think you're much better off saying 'Where are the new places I really want to differentiate and make money' and then running two infrastructures."

It was a welcome moment of tech-giant candor. But there's always the chance that Papadopoulos can afford to play down the notion of sky-high computing because he knows the Sun Cloud will soon be killed by Oracle and its chief executive Larry Ellison.

Vogels' infrastructure cloud - Amazon Web Services - is certainly here to stay, and he couldn't help but counter the Sun man's argument. "I see many enterprises taking a two-pronged approach," Amazon's imposing CTO replied. "They will think about all the new businesses they want to move into. Many enterprises are looking towards to the web to build new applications.

"But at the same time, they'll take a more long-term strategic view, looking at all their older pieces and where it makes sense to move them into the cloud." Vogels claims that "many" Fortune 100 companies have already tapped into Amazon Web Services, and naturally, he says they're pleased with themselves. "They're very happy and successful in moving into the cloud," he said.

If the Sun Cloud is doomed, Papadopoulos didn't let on. When asked whether businesses would purchase their cloudy infrastructure from Amazon or Sun, he said "Yes."

But like so many others - perhaps even Microsoft - Papadopoulos believes in the so-called "hybrid cloud," where businesses use a public utility like Sun Cloud in tandem with hardware inside their own data center. "We certainly see great opportunities in mirroring infrastructures that are inside the firewall," he said. "Very interesting will be hybrid models that are run by service providers but appear to owned by the enterprise."

Predictably, Vogels was quick to point out that the so-called private cloud can't match the public incarnation. "You don't get the same kind of agility inside our own data center," he said. "You can call it can internal cloud, but it doesn't give you the high scalability, the high reliability, the super-security that public clouds have."

Yes, he said high-reliability and super-security. And Papadopoulos agrees. "We often hear that public clouds aren't as secure as your own infrastructure. I do believe that," he said. "I do believe that most public clouds are run a more secure way than most enterprises. And that's just because all of us are in the business of running infrastructure for multiple customers. It's got to be your profession. You've got to be in the business of doing it. Not all enterprises run at that level."

Though he did acknowledge that some enterprises may achieve a level of secure beyond the likes of Sun and Amazon.

When it comes public clouds, he said, enterprises are more concerned with vendor lock-in - being tied to one service provider. But he said this is a bigger problem for so-called platform clouds - services like Microsoft Azure and Google App Engine that act as development and hosting platforms rather than raw infrastructure utilities.

"My conversations with enterprises inevitably become conversations about the platform and not about the infrastructure," Papadopoulos said. "People problems are: 'How do I get a big enough vocabulary in the platform model so that I can really express myself but I'm not locking myself into a particular version of that platform?'. And I think we have a long way to go there." If you use Microsoft Azure, for instance, you're tied to Microsoft's dev tools.

Yes, Vogels played down even this, arguing that if platform clouds adopt widely-used architectures, lock-in isn't a problem. He pointed to Stax Networks, a fledgling platform cloud that does Java 2 Enterprise Edition as a service. "If you have a standard J2EE app running in your data center, you can take it and run it in the cloud without modification." As you might expect, Stax runs on Amazon EC2.

But even with pure infrastructure clouds, moving between services is more difficult than it might seem. Many have called for Amazon and others to wrap themselves in open standards, and since Amazon is the dominant player, the voices often insist such standards should be based on the Vogels' APIs.

The trouble here is that Amazon won't say whether it would permit others to use its APIs. And this morning, Vogels evaded the question once again. In fact, he evaded it twice.

The open-source Eucalyptus project - recently commercialized - already uses the Amazon API but without the company's permission. Presumably, Amazon would refrain from suing anyone over use of its interface, but stranger things have happened.

Tony Lucas, chief executive of Amazon competitor FlexiScale, tells the The Reg it's a moot point, that his infrastructure cloud is unlikely to use the Amazon API because Amazon doesn't do persistent instances. With FlexiScale and other Amazon competitors, you can turn off a server instance and turn it back on. With Amazon, you can't turn off an instance without destroying the thing. "If we used Amazon''s API, we would have to change Amazon's API," he said. "And then it's not worth using [as a standard]."

Regardless, Vogels isn't talking. Unless it's to tell you that clouds are wonderful. ®

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