Posted by: Christian Verstraete | April 26, 2010

About Ashes, Cloud and Elasticity

Like many of my colleagues, I got stuck during a business travel last week. A little known volcano, called Eyjafjallajokull, and located in Island, decided to make our life difficult. Air travel is completely blocked in many parts of Europe, stranding not only passengers but also goods. This allowed me to experiment the responsiveness of Airlines and Travel Agencies. After hours on the phone, listening to the same tune and messages repeated over and over again, I finally managed to find a way to get home. But frankly, this was not a piece of cake. I heard about the millions lost by airlines, I am asking myself what amount of time (money) has been lost by business as their employees were trying to get back home and waited for a response.

In cloud computing we have a concept, called elasticity. NIST defines this as “Capabilities can be rapidly and elastically provisioned, in some cases automatically, to quickly scale out and rapidly released to quickly scale in. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.”

How much would I have loved the airlines and travel agents to have the same level of elasticity. Obviously, you will tell me it is impossible to wheel in an unlimited number of agents. These people are just not available. And you are probably right. The complex nature of the current reservation systems makes it impossible to get additional resources up and running quickly. But if we ever managed to develop systems that were intuitive to use, maybe things could be different and we could avoid such waiting times.

However, this got me thinking. We keep presenting elasticity as one of the key features of Cloud. Let me ask the obvious question. How often is this really usable. Because in the example described above, the systems provided elasticity, but it was the humans which were the bottlenecks. How many business processes do we have were no humans are involved, because frankly, as soon as they are part of the process it looks like we can forget about elasticity. I went thinking and found film rendering in the media business, reservoir simulation in Oil & Gas, finite element calculation in discrete manufacturing, genome sequencing in pharmaceuticals. You may want to argue that elasticity help keep the response time of website constant even with high access levels.Some of us are doing this on a daily basis and can take full advantage of cloud computing. But haven’t they been doing this for years with high performance computing and grid computing. So, what is the real added value of cloud elasticity?

I do know a number of you will start balking because I criticise a very specific cloud feature. Feel free to disagree with me. I am just trying to understand the real added value of the public cloud in particular. I believe there are advantages, but we need to be very crisp in articulating those.

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  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by christianve: About Ashes, Cloud and Elasticity:

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by tweetcloud, christianve, christianve, Vladimir Nagy, christianve and others. christianve said: Have volcano ashes, #cloudcomputing and #elasticity anything in common? Last weeks european travel disasters said no […]

  3. Well, I do think there is a huge demand for elastic demand out there. At the moment people/companies are just through massive amounts of overcapacity at those problems because there hasn’t been a really good solution to cope with adhoc demand increases or adnministrative aspects of general elasticity. So the cheapest way was to create overcapacity.

    btw, Grid Computing is not Cloud Computing. In fact the whole idea of “as a Service” does not align with it. Ecalytus made a good post on that one as well:

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