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Tour of Amazon, Google, AppNexus and GoGrid

Peter Wayner | July 22, 2008
While many parts of Web hosting are pretty standard, the definition of "cloud computing" varies widely.

One of the trickier details is trying to understand the prices. GoGrid, for instance, likes to say that its Intel Xeon servers are more powerful than its competitors. Google doesn't even sell server time per se; it just bills you for CPU megacycles, a squirrelly metric. Amazon EC2 has regular-sized machines and bigger ones that are a bit more expensive. When costs change, the companies often lower their prices. But they also raise them when a service turns out to be more expensive to provide than they thought. This complexity will have you scratching your head for a long time because it's hard to know what things will end up costing. That box from Sun may not scale up and down, but the bill isn't going to change with every hit on your Web site.

Best and worst

After working through these systems, I tried to imagine the best and worst applications for these clouds. One of the best fits might be some kind of reservation system for weekend events like concerts. While there might be a small amount of the load at any time, the crunch would come each Friday afternoon when people realize they have no weekend plans. The cloud's ability to spin up more servers to handle this demand would fit this perfectly. The service might also take real reservations and sell tickets in advance, a service that would demand the higher qualities of service offered by the shared data stores.

The worst possible application might be something like or any Web site filled with an endless stream of mostly forgettable comments trolling for reactions from the rival fans. While there might be a slight peak around game time, I've found that sites like this keep rolling along even late at night during the off-season. And such a site would certainly attract First Amendment proponents who would look for ways to write a single sentence that could zing all seven of Amazon's protected targets of discrimination.

Furthermore, there would be no reason to pay for high-quality storage because I'm sure that even the participants wouldn't notice if their comments disappeared by mistake. For fun, read Amazon's terms on getting your data back after they shut you down. While I would probably write the same thing if it were my cloud, there are plenty of examples of applications that are better off on their own.

These examples aren't perfect, of course, but neither is cloud computing. After a few weeks of building up some machines and hearing from people who've used the services, I'm pleasantly confused and filled with curious and optimistic questions. Will these clouds be large enough to handle the Internet equivalent of the Thanksgiving weekend traffic jams? Will the cloud teams be able to find a way to offer simple options that are priced correctly for the serious and not-so-serious data wrangler? Will they ever find an adequate meter for computation time?


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