11 October 2010

Cloud computing yet again

Last week I may have expressed quite a biased viewpoint about Cloud computing since it's design does seem to be about how to run a server farm without a team of admins. I can see there are both advantages and disadvantages. When I actually sat down and thought about it logically from an admin view though I can see this revolution in our work practices is long overdue however I don't beleive cloud is the answer right now.

Take developers for example. They love tools like Mamp, Wamp, Xammp because it removes the complexity and required knowledge of having to learn the intricacies of IIS or Apache. It's a tool which they run and straight away they have a localised environment which allows them to concentrate on developing their applications.

Cloud computing is doing the same for servers. What do you want? ok here it is in a ready configured software instance; but it still has all those complexities within it. One wrong configuration change and it could be game over. That's ok though because it's purely software and in the cloud, software is quick and easy to swap. The downside is the expense of doing this. So why is it necessary?

Well as server products mature they become more and more complex and none of my admin friends look forward to having to rebuild a server from scratch. Here then is the key to the problem. Why go on with this conventional method of running a server?

As an example, a few years ago I played with a firewall product called smoothwall. Smoothie was great. The software was all on CD and once it was configured, the configuration could be stored on a floppy disk (which could then be write protected). Sadly a typical server reuires more than a CD of system software but does it need more than a standard DVD? After all it's this system software that is a pain to reconfigure. Moving the data to another machine is as easy as swapping the drive over (or restoring a backup to another drive if it was the data drive that died).

So imagine if there was a project to install a few standard server configurations like this. You could download a disk with everything ready set-up in a standard configuration. all that would be needed is a few tweaks once the system was installed. Of course there would be security issues. If someone broke into it, every system would be affected. Then again there would be lots of people working on a solution at the same time. Add the fact that the server could be rebooted and would re-install from read-only media and it turns out that all you have to work on is the route that the intrusion uses to get into the system. It would also mean that configuration would be put together by experts using best practices.

The real advantage of this system would be in running it on your own local servers. No cloud tie-ins or expensive vendor changes. No hidden costs or data security concerns associated with your data being out there somewhere on another companies servers. I still think £2-3k for a new powerful server is a bargain compared to the price of consultants so this would be a real goer in my books. Now that I've thought of it, it's time to see if anyone is already doing it.