Please allow us to automate your virtual cloud environment...

Date October 25, 2009

After that title, I should put "SEO Expert" on my business card...

Two weeks ago, Brendon Burton, over at "Story of a Sysadmin wrote a great article about "the cloud", and I've been wanting to reply to it since then. It's called "Automation is the cloud", and it starts with a very laudable, though difficult goal.

I think it is important that as technologists and sysadmins, we do what we can to bring clarity to what “The Cloud” is and how it affects and benefits you.

Well, let me tell you, I'm on board for that. I hear the phrase "cloud computing" and I have mental images of this:

Brandon concentrates on the automation aspect of cloud computing. That certainly is a large part of it. The automation of virtualization, of networking, of deployment, and of pretty much everything else. It is certain, a cloud won't scale without that. If you've got to manually deploy and configure an arbitrary number of virtual machines, you're going to go insane before you even build up a good mist, let alone a whole cloud.

Although Brandon does a great job talking about the necessary automations that go into making a cloud, one thing that was outside of the scope of the article that someone should talk about is abstraction. Not only does the cloud deal with automating vast numbers of virtual data, it also abstracts it.

To me, the concept of "the cloud" is apathy. What server does your machine run on? What storage array(s) does the drive and your data live on? Who cares?

The cloud is not the sum of its parts. The cloud is the layer above that. It's the platform upon which your machines (and everyone else's) run. And as Brandon wrote, that platform is automated from top to bottom. It has to be, otherwise it doesn't work.

3 Responses to “Please allow us to automate your virtual cloud environment...”

  1. chewy_fruit_loop said:

    its amazing how much cloud computing has sunk into peoples psyche. i got into work the other day to be told the network is down, when it actually turned out that the main file server had hung. even to very very technical people there no longer seems to be a distinction between things that happen off their desktops and where they actually happen.
    vm's make this even more pronounced. i have 3 esx servers with > 50 vms between them. as far as the people who use them are concerned they're attaching to a real box somewhere, they don't care where or how. now i just have to hope they don't all max their vm disks out, because we have more than twice the provisioned disk space to physical storage.

    unfortunately the cloud seems to stop when it gets to the admin.

  2. Adam Jacob said:

    The cloud is not the sum of its parts. The cloud is the layer above that. It’s the platform upon which your machines (and everyone else’s) run. And as Brandon wrote, that platform is automated from top to bottom. It has to be, otherwise it doesn’t work.

    I obviously agree with this sentiment. The important part to remember is that the existence of all these API's, and all this automation, doesn't change the fundamentals of what's happening one iota. When you make that call to EC2 to provision a server, or to S3 to write a file, all you're doing is taking a short-cut to an OS or to a Block Device. The barrier to entry gets lower for everyone.

    What that means for us, as Systems Administrators, is that we have to step up our collective game. The real source behind the push for automation everywhere is how our organizations react to this new capacity - and we do it by pushing responsibility out to the edges of our organization.

    The automation of virtualization, of networking, of deployment, and of pretty much everything else. It is certain, a cloud won’t scale without that. If you’ve got to manually deploy and configure an arbitrary number of virtual machines, you’re going to go insane before you even build up a good mist, let alone a whole cloud.

    Exactly. We aren't growing proportional numbers of talented Systems Administrators, but the rest of our world is demanding increasingly large numbers of things that must be managed. Which means we need better ways to take that specialist knowledge and empower others. To me this means the ascension of the Systems Administrator, not the removal of them: it's not enough to just know how things work at the raw level - you also have to learn how to navigate the various abstraction layers, and how to automate it so that your teams can be efficient and productive in the new world.

  3. augmentedfourth said:

    I've heard "cloud computing" defined two different ways (and, of course, InformationWeek mixes them up on a regular basis). Users talk about the "cloud" as using services over the Internet for their computing needs: Gmail, GDocs, Mozy, and the like.

    In contrast, admins tend to talk about the cloud in terms of on-the-fly VM creation to deal with on-demand load and to keep from providing always-on but usually-unused compute power (EC2, Eucalyptus).

    The one does not necessarily require the other, though of course it's more scalable and efficient for an admin-style cloud to be the backend for user-style cloud apps. I usually find it difficult to talk about "cloud computing" until the other person explicitly defines which type of cloud they're talking about, or at least which angle they're viewing it from.

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