Cloud Computing: Are You a Weather Watcher or a Rainmaker?

What's your level of involvement in the Cloud? Are you a casual observer or do you dig in and develop, taking an active role?

You’re probably hearing a lot of buzz about the Cloud these days but most of it is just lip service from the weather watchers who see bunny and kitten shapes in the clouds instead of real substance. Sure, there are those who discuss Cloud Computing who are actually involved in its development or its use but they aren’t the ones you usually hear spouting the tidbits of wisdom they’ve gleaned from an obscure blog or two. No, the snappy dialog is generally spewed from those who enjoy the sound of their own voice more than the clickety-click of work being done on a keyboard.

For the rest of us, there’s opportunity in those bunny and kitten shapes—not just rhetoric. There are opportunities to try your own custom Cloud-based applications, services, and virtual machines. The following is a summary of services with which I’ve attempted to work with varying degrees of success.

Amazon Web Services is a Cloud computing vendor for all seasons. Sign-up for an account and get busy creating your virtual machines immediately. Once you’ve created an Amazon EC2 account and logged into the Management Console, choose from a list of ready-made Fedora or Windows virtual machines on the Quick Start tab. Virtual machines are known as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) on their site so don’t be confused. You may also choose from your own custom-created AMIs or select from one of about 1400 Community AMIs.

Amazon receives my highest praise for a Cloud computing vendor. They’ve done a great job with their interface, you get a wide range of virtual machine templates from which to choose, their support is second to none, and the virtual machine performance is impressive. Additionally, I don’t know if a dedicated colocated system would serve you any better or would be less expensive. Amazon is hard to beat on this turf.

In theory, Microsoft Azure Services is very interesting. In use, I have yet to be able to do anything with the service except become frustrated. I understand that it is a Community Technical Preview (CTP) but I need to be able to interact with the services before I know whether or not to buy, or to recommend, those services.

The Windows Azure Services Platform, my experiences nothwithstanding, seems promising but only time and a good full-access test drive will tell. I would like to spend some time working with a VM, application instance, or project to fully understand the offering.

All it takes to get started with an Elastic Hosts free public beta trial is to enter your email address. You receive immediate access to create virtual machines for any purpose you wish. Your virtual machines are accessible via VNC initially but you also may access them via other network protocols such as SSH, HTTP, etc. Elastic Hosts uses KVM for its commercial offerings which, as you may know, is now owned by Red Hat since its purchase of Qumranet last year. KVM-based virtualization is fast and efficient and well worth looking into for your needs. You won’t be disappointed in the performance.

My personal experience with Elastic Hosts was less than stellar. I burned up my free time (6 hours) just trying to get a virtual machine built and ready to use. It’s still in public beta so I won’t bust on them too hard but they still have some work to do before it’s ready for prime time. Your mileage may vary.

Google AppSpot is a cool way to create python-based applications with which to play. Oh, did I mention it’s python only? If you have a Google account, sign up for this service to get your 10 applications. Right now, during the preview release, you can only create 10 applications but that should be more than enough to try out the service.

So far, I haven’t found anything useful to do with this service but maybe it’s just me. On the flip side, at least Google is trying to give us something to do that isn’t the same old standard fare so they deserve kudos for the effort. If any of you have tried and created something useful with this service, please use the Comments section to let me know.

Force.com is a force to be reckoned with in the Platform as a Service area. I don’t know that they even have a close competitor in this space. Sign up as a developer to try out the services. Don’t be fooled by their original charter of merely providing one of the world’s best CRM solutions—using their extensive list of applications in their AppExchange, they provide so much more. Take a test drive and let me know what you think. Many of their applications are free and all are integrated with salesforce.com.

They have an impressive range of offerings. You may only need a web browser to do everything you need to do for your business. Let someone else own the software and the headaches and you can just do your job. I use their personal salesforce.com software for myself but have yet to take full advantage of their services.

If you’re considering moving some or all of your services to the Cloud, you need to stop discussing it and start discovering it. These five that I’ve chosen are not the only players in the field but are the ones you’ll hear from most often. My suggestion is that you create user accounts and try to use some of these technologies for yourself. I want to hear your personal experiences with these and any other Cloud vendors. Please use the Comments section and let’s discuss.

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