Early experiments in cloud computing

Cloud computing has many faces, some just beginning to take shape. But at the New York Times and Nasdaq, first steps into on-demand infrastructure show promise

You know there's substance behind a technology buzzword when companies such as the Nasdaq OMX stock exchange and the New York Times publishing company use it for real production efforts. Cloud computing is the latest buzzword that vendors are using to spruce up the usual sales spiel, and the fever pitch is enough to make you think, "Dot-com boom, here we go again." While the skepticism is warranted, something very real is happening, and IT needs to pay attention.

So what are Nasdaq and the Times doing? In a phrase, utility computing. Both have tapped into Amazon.com's Internet-provisioned computing and storage services -- Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) -- to augment their own IT resources.

The Times processed 4TB of data through EC2 and S3, using a credit card to get the service going in a matter of minutes so that it could convert scans of 15 million news stories into PDFs for online distribution. Nasdaq uses S3 to deliver historical stock and mutual fund information, rather than add the load to its own database and computing infrastructure. Likewise, Infosolve Technologies uses Sun's Network.com grid-in-the-cloud utility to scrub customer addresses rather than stand up that infrastructure internally.

In another realm of cloud computing, companies such as medical robotics firm Intuitive Surgical and recruitment services provider Jobscience use in-the-cloud development environments to create a provision their own applications. Both companies use Salesforce.com's Force.com platform as a service, the ungainly name for this online IDE service, but other firms such as Coghead offer their own platforms.

These two forms of cloud computing -- utility computing and platform as a-service -- are exciting developments. Unlike SaaS (software as a service), they're aimed squarely at IT users, not at business users looking to bypass IT (or that IT is happy to let someone else take care of). But despite early promise, analysts say there's a long way to go before they're a mainstream part of your datacenter. So the question is: Do you sit back and wait for them to mature, or do you experiment so that you can get early advantage when they're enterprise-class?

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