Cloud and Virtualization – Cro-Magnon Computing

January 7, 2010

Yes, I am going to express my view on Cloud and Virtualization.  Everyone else has, why not me?  Common wisdom is that the big enterprise computing innovations for the twenty-tens will ride on the backs of Cloud and Virtualization.  Fortunately, I have been exposed to the Cloud and to Virtualization longer than most, all the way back in the Cro-Magnon Computing era of IT, during which I was born as programmer.

In fact, I figure I was one of the first to actually use the Cloud.  Was I an early beta user of  Nope, that happened 10 years ago, late-to-the-game of the Cloud era.  I am talking Cloud circa 1973.  We used National CSS, at least I think that was the name, a timesharing facility out of Stamford, CT or near there.  On our remote terminals we would load a program, load data, and run the workload (we called it a job).  It would spit out a report that we could view online or we could print.  The NCSS “data center” was 200 miles away roughly from our downtown Boston office.  Is this a whole lot different than what you can do with Amazon EC2?

Was it elastic?  Who knows.  It ran the jobs fast enough for our satisfaction.  If you needed more “elasticity” you would work overtime and run the job at night, the increase in speed was palpable.  Or you pay a higher rate for more “real memory.”  We ran I/O heavy jobs at night.  In fact for the super heavy I/O jobs somebody would drive down to Stamford with tapes.  Or you could mail the tapes, or courier them if you needed it done fast (FedEx before FedEx).  Elastic? Yes.  Dynamically Elastic?  No.

Was it secure?  We thought so.  There wasn’t much of a public network 36 years ago, and not nearly as many disturbed geeks who took pleasure in attempting to break through security walls, so the hacking risks were way lower.  But I suppose there were some risks, and I believe some kind of encryption was a choice if you were worried, you would pay extra for it.

Was it multi-tenant?  Sure was.  All kinds of people used that computer at the same time.  We were running batch jobs (though viewing output online wasn’t exactly batch, we could do that too).  But for the era, sure enough, it was multi-tenant.

Was it pay-per-use?  Sure was.  At the end of every job it would tell you how many CPU and I/O units were used, and there was a rate card.  You could check it out on the monthly bill.  They had a nice sliding scale on the rate, the more you used the less you paid per unit.  Seemed fair enough.

Eventually I found out the mainframes and operating systems NCSS was using, but we ran our jobs for months before I knew what was in the “glass house.”  After I knew I didn’t care much because that computing power was in the “Cloud” though I didn’t have a name for it.  Our job was to run those jobs.  It worked, and apparently worked for others.  In fact they had a library of programs (called utilities in those days) that you could use for free, of course the CPU units and I/O weren’t free.  But you could load up from that utility library and use the utility was free.  Web Services?  Not exactly, but not far removed.  There was zero inter-network program communication going on, at least not at the application layer.

There you go, Cloud, 1973, read it and weep you Web 2.xers.  Tweet that if you feel so compelled.

On to virtualization.

My 2nd real IT job was at an electronic financial services company during the early-to-mid 1980s that Chase acquired.  Not only did corporate banking apps for Chase customers run on our systems, but nearly 80 other banks’ apps, and their thousands of customers’ client-sides, ran on our systems.  It wasn’t core banking apps mind you, no DDA for 80 banks and Chase, but they were important apps for treasury/cash management types. Remember the concept of “ASP” (Applications Service Provider) that was so hot in the late 1990s and early 2000s?  Remember Corio, RIP?  Chase was an ASP 15 years before Corio was a glimmer in their VC’s eyes.  All those customers, at Chase and other banks, accessed THEIR applications and data through a virtual user environment – yes, a form of virtual desktop if you will.

On the server side we used virtual machines too, running horizontally and vertically – vertical in the sense of isolating business functions from one another, horizontal to provide failover, load balancing, and more protected environments to house the most sensitive data and transactions.  We had a management layer to track and resource balance that miasma of server virtual machines that ran on, you guessed it, its own pool of virtual machines.  Oh, and we had dedicated, secure lines to various money moving facilities, so we routed and balanced and secured the incoming traffic from customers, and did the same on the outbound side to SWIFT and the other money/transaction switches.  Edge routing anyone?

This was 1984, I swear.  Not Orwellian, but Huxley-esque, a brave new world of virtualization.  Hey, how about that, the mid-1980s full blown user-side and server-side virtualization.

We didn’t know what to call it, there were no marketing departments pushing Cloud or Virtualization.  We didn’t think of it as a revolution, or a movement, or a trend.  It was a means to a solution’s end.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think Amazon and Microsoft and are entirely on the right track.  VMware and Citrix have developed some amazing software that offer solution architects at all levels of the stack an opportunity to optimize (and yes, also to screw up) solution designs and implementations.  When you have a massive, pervasive network that can be made secure – usually -the concepts of Cloud and Virtualization, have more reach, more impact.  Heck more people are using computers than anytime in history, and the people who use computers often have several computers, and they are more connected than ever.  The scale, relatively speaking, is far greater than in the 1970s and 1980s.  To me, THAT is what is different.

It is similar to the global warming situation.  As Al Gore has so elegantly depicted, the problem isn’t exactly the use of fossil fuels, or the destruction of forests, or the stamping out of drylands.  It is the scale that is different.  1 billion people burning wood to stay warm is not nearly the same problem as 7 billion people burning all kinds of things, wood, atoms, petroleum, coal, water molecules, methane – each person burns more than one person did 100 years ago, and there are 7x more people.  The challenge is scale.  And that is the case in our world of computing – more people using more computing devices that they expect to be pervasively connected, and we have several more billion people to go yet.  Yes, yes, bring on the Cloud and Virtualization, heaven knows the world needs it.

But is it new?  Is it a revolution?  Hmm, sounds like we are AT LEAST on Cloud 2.0 and Virtualization 2.0.  Maybe 3.0, or maybe 3.x.

To this day there are “workstation apps” that are best left running standalone on a workstation.  There are giant batch jobs that run their best race on z-Series mainframes.  And there are even some client/server designs that still work well – in fact most implemented “enterprise apps” are nothing more than client/server designs with a Web face on them – to this day.  Excel in the Cloud?  Sure, Office Live makes it work.  The Cloud lets ALL of these modes of computing potentially play with one-another.  Now that is a revolution.

I think SaaS and Cloud and Virtualization, overlapping ideas and subjects, are great.  It is about time everyone else caught up to some of the sophisticated solution designs and implementations of the 1970s and 1980s.

Now mobility… that is something pretty new.

Or is it?

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Swad

     /  January 11, 2010

    Praise to the Content Gods.
    Or is it the Platform Gods.
    Damn, can never get those two straight.


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