Monday Jun 29, 2009

Online-Workshop: Besserer Klang mit wenig Aufwand von der niche09

This post is in German because it's about a Podcasting workshop in German language. If you want this workshop to be in English, feel free to gather a bunch of people and invite me to do it for you.

Constantin beim Workshop-ModerierenAm 20.6.2009 fand in München das Podcamp München statt, besser bekannt als niche09. An diesem Samstag trafen sich über 100 Podcast-Begeisterte in München und tauschten sich zu verschiedenen Themen rund um's Podcasting aus. Das Programm bot einen schönen Querschnitt durch das Thema und im http://www.niche09.de/">niche09-Blog kann man sich die Workshops noch in Form von verschiedenen Aufzeichnungen auch nachträglich und online kostenlos zu Gemüte führen. An dieser Stelle vielen Dank an Alex Wunschel, die Sponsoren und die vielen Helfer, die diese wirklich schöne Konferenz zustande gebracht haben!

Alex war auch so nett, mich einen Workshop zum Thema "Besserer Klang mit wenig Aufwand: Tipps & Tricks beim Podcast-Produzieren" moderieren zu lassen. Ein Audio-Mitschnitt samt synchroner Folien ist nun als Video erhältlich, in der Hoffnung, dass dieser Workshop auch online vielen Leuten bei der Produktion ihrer Podcasts helfen möge:

Den Workshop könnt Ihr unten direkt anschauen, als Quicktime-Video für den Rechner oder als iPhone-Video herunterladen, sowie Euch die Folien zum Workshop anschauen.

Hier noch ein paar Links, Anmerkungen und Korrekturen zum Workshop. Keine Angst, ich bekomme von keinem der genannten Hersteller irgendwas, sondern spreche nur aus eigener Erfahrung bzw. verlässlichen Quellen.

  • Nicht wundern, der "halbstündige Workshop" ist nur ein Witz, weil die Konferenz mit ca. 30 Min. Verspätung angefangen hat. Der Workshop war von vornherein auf 1 Stunde angelegt :).
  • Für mobile Aufnahmen ist das Zoom H2 und sein größerer Bruder Zoom H4 von Samson sehr beliebt. Für vergleichsweise wenig Geld erhält man eine sehr gute Aufnahme-Qualität und eine praktische, mobile Handhabung. Darüber hinaus kann das Gerät kann auch als gutes USB-Mikrofon dienen.Im Workshop lobte jemand auch den Audio-Recorder von Olympus (nicht sicher, ob dieses Modell gemeint war).
  • Die USB-Audio-Interfaces von M-Audio sind gut und günstig und für den Einstieg sehr empfehlenswert. Nach einiger Zeit bin ich jedoch aufgrund eines Tests im Professional Audio-Magazin zum Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 gewechselt, das mich durch sehr gute, rauschfreie Audio-Qualität sowohl bei der Aufnahme als auch bei der Ausgabe über Kopfhörer und Aktivboxen beeindruckt hat.
  • Tim Pritlove vom Chaos Radio Express und MobileMacs empfahl uns die Beyerdynamic DT 297 Headsets für die stressfreie Aufnahme von mehreren Podcastern auf einmal, da die Mikros guten Klang bieten, man jede Stimme einzeln aufnehmen kann und die Kopfhörer präzises Feedback für die Sprecher erlauben. Alleine das richtige Audio-Interface/Mischpult/Vorschaltgerät, das jedem einzelnen seinen eigenen Feedback-Kanal gönnt und gleichzeitig eine getrennte Aufnahme ermöglicht, scheint noch ein ungelöstes Problem zu sein. Vielleicht hilft ein eigener Mehrkanal-Kopfhörerverstärker?
  • Im MacCast 2009.04.14 gibt es ein schönes Interview mit Heroes-Star David H. Lawrence XVII, der u.a. auch ein eigenes Studio betreibt und vom Radio kommend zum Podcaster geworden ist. Er hat viele nützliche Tipps parat und empfiehlt u.a. das Audio-Technica AT2020, insbesondere die USB-Variante AT2020 USB. Im Workshop hatte ich leider "Audio-Technica" mit "Behringer" als Hersteller verwechselt, ich bitte um Entschuldigung für die Verwirrung...
  • Auch in unserem HELDENFunk-Podcast verwenden wir das Audio-Technica AT2020, sowie ein paar Røde NT5 und können diese sehr empfehlen. Mehr Details gibt es in einem eigenen HELDENFunk behind the Scenes-Artikel. Inzwischen haben wir unser Setup um ein Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 8pre 8-Fach Firewire Audio-Interface erweitert, das wir ebenfalls sehr empfehlen können.

Ich hoffe, dieser Workshop ist trotz der Länge von 1 Stunde für Euch nützlich. Schickt mir Euer Feedback, Fragen und Anregungen, bei der nächsten Konferenz (niche10?) bin ich gerne wieder dabei!

Tuesday Jun 16, 2009

Paris in the Clouds: A CloudCamp Paris report

CloudCamp logoLast week, Eric Bezille invited me to Paris for a couple of Cloud Computing related meetings and to help out with CloudCamp Paris. Paris in the clouds, what a nice experience!

This was also a great opportunity to try out the audio recording features of my LiveScribe Pulse pen. This pen not only can record what you write (on special dot paper), it can also record what has been said while you write, creating links between the words you write and the points in time of the audio recording. Very cool. You can then tap on the words in your notebook and the pen will play back the associated audio. Great for conferences, and I wish I had had this pen during my university times :). You can also export your notes including the audio as a flash movie and share them on the net, which is what I'm going to do below.

Intro Session and Lightning Talks

The CloudCamp was kicked off by a representative of Institut Telecom, the location sponsor of CloudCamp Paris. Sam Johnston gave a short and sweet introduction to Clouds, providing some definitions, examples and also some contrarian views, finishing with a short video on how easy it is to set up your account in the cloud.

A series of lightning talks by the sponsors gave us some interesting news, insights and context for the conference:

  • Eric Bezille from Sun showed us what's behind Sun's cloud activities.
  • Arvid Fossen from Aserver.com talked about how they provide datacenters as a service to their clients. Wanna have your own cloud? Go buy it as a turnkey solution!
  • Matthew Hugo (Not sure if I got that name right...) from Runmyprocess.com showed some nice examples of integration between different cloud services.
  • Josh Fraser, VP of Business Development at Rightscale showed some impressive examples of how the cloud can neatly adjust to your business demand curve.
  • Peter Martin from Orange Business Services showed us some pictures of his kids who use clouds based services today (Facebook anyone?), pointing out that when they'll grow up to be CEOs, CIOs and decision makers, they're most likely not going to operate their own datacenters. Food for thought for the sceptics who think Cloud Computing is just a temporary hype or not ready (yet) for prime time: Just wait 'til your kids grow up. It may happen sooner than that, though, given the enthusiasm of the more than 100 people in the room...
  • Finally, Owen Garrett from Zeus provided a really good reason for using a software load balancer: Take back control of your application!

Here are two pencasts with audio and notes taken during the above lightning talks. The first one covers the intro until and including the Rightscale talk, the second one starts with the Orange talk and finishes with the Zeus talk.

The Unpanel

I've been to a couple of unconferences before, but this was my first unpanel. Dave Nielsen asked the attendees about who thought they were an expert on Cloud Computing. A couple of hands went up and whoosh - there you have seven experts for a panel :). Then he asked the group to provide seven questions for the panel to answer, after which each of the panelists got to answer one. For each question, the group was asked whether there was potential for some more discussion on that topic, so we also had a good basis for creating some spontaneous sessions during the conference part. Listen to the whole unpanel session on the right.

Cloud Architecture Session

After the introductory sessions and the unpanel, it was time for the breakouts. There were four of them: Cloud Security (moderated by Luc Wijns from Sun), Cloud Architecture, Open Clouds and Cloud Business Opportunities. Sébastien Pahl from DotCloud and I moderated the Cloud Architecture session. After some introductory slides, Sébastien explained his work on creting portable cloud-based services (including leverating Solaris Containers). (Sébastien, let me know when you have your slides online...). We then let the group share their questions, answeres, thoughts and discussion points. We talked about scaling MySQL in the cloud, or perhaps it would be better to leave the traditional relational model and use a simple key/value alternatives such as CouchDB. Developers asked whether they'll be able to use their IDEs with the cloud (hint: Check out NetBeans...) or whether they need to throw it all away and learn everything from scratch. How much should developers care about scalability? Isn't that something the cloud should provide? What about different APIs? Does it make sense to write your own abstraction layer? Message queues were also a popular topic and we noticed that RESTful interfaces are everywhere. I liked the final statement of one attendee most: Maybe clouds are forcing us to rethink a lot of our developer concepts so we can actually sit down and start writing clean code for a change!

Here's the audio recording from the architecture session. I tried to write down some notes after they have been discussed so you can try and skip to the pieces you're most interested in. The audio is a bit low volume, but still quite intelligible.

Wrapping It All Up

After the breakouts, a surprisingly large number of attendees were still there despite being late into the evening to gather and listen to the summaries of the different sessions. Here's the recording, including some notes to help you navigate.

All in all, this was a great event. A big thank you to Eric and his team in Paris and the sponsors for setting this up! More than ever, it became clear to me how significant the trend towards cloud computing is and how many talented people are part of this community, driving the future of IT into the sky.

Update: Eric now published his own summary with a lot of background information. It's a great read, so check it out!

Monday Jun 15, 2009

OpenSolaris meets Mac OS X in Munich

Last Wednesday, Wolfgang and I had the honor to present at "Mac Treff München", Munich's local Mac User Group. There are quite a few touching points between OpenSolaris and Mac OS X, such as ZFS, DTrace and VirtualBox, we thought it would be a good idea to contact them out of our Munich OpenSolaris User Group and talk a little bit about OpenSolaris.

Breaking the Ice

We were a little bit nervous about what would happen. Do Mac people care about the innards of a different, seemingls non-GUIsh OS? Are they just fanboys or are they open to other people's technologies? Will talking about redundancy, BFU, probes and virtualization bore them to death?

Fortunately, the 30-40 people that attended the event proved to be a very nice, open and tolerant group. They let us talk about OpenSolaris in General including some of the nitty-grittyness of the development process, before we started talking about the features that are more interesting to Mac users. We then talked about ZFS, DTrace and VirtualBox:

ZFS for Mac OS X (or not (yet)?)

Explaining the principles behind ZFS to people who are only used to draging'n'dropping icons, shooting photos or video and using computers to get work done, without having to care about what happens inside, is not easy. We concentrated on getting the basics of the tree structure, copy-on-write, check-summing and using redundancy to self-heal while using real world examples and metaphors to illustrate the principles. Here's the deal: If you have lots of important data (photos, recording, videos, anyone?) and care about it (content creators...), then you need to be concerned about data availability and integrity. ZFS solves that, it's that simple. A little animation in the slides were quite helpful in explaining that, too :).

The bad news is that ZFS seems to have vanished from all of Apple's communication about the upcoming Mac OS X Snow Leopard release. That's really bad, because many developers and end-users were looking forward to take advantage of it.

The good news is that there are still ways to take advantage of ZFS as a Mac User: Run an OpenSolaris file server for archiving your data or using it as a TimeMachine store, or even run a small OpenSolaris ZFS Server inside your Mac through VirtualBox.

DTrace: A Mac Developer/Admin's Heaven, Albeit in Jails

Next, we dove a little bit into DTrace and how it makes the OS really transparent for admins, developers and users. In addition to the dtrace(1) command, Apple created a nice GUI called "Instruments" as part of their XCode development environment that leverages the DTrace infrastructure to collect useful data about your application in realtime.

Alas, as with ZFS, there's another downer, and this time it's more subtle: While you can enjoy the power of DTrace in Mac OS X now, it's still kinda crippled, as Adam Leventhal pointed out: Processes can escape the eyes of DTrace at will, which counters the absolute observability idea of DTrace quite massively. Yes, there are valid reasons for both sides of the debate, but IMHO, legal things should be enforced using legal means, and software should be treated as software, meaning it is not a reliable way of enforcing any license contracts - with or without powerful tools such as DTrace.

OpenSolaris for all: VirtualBox

Finally, a free present to the Mac OS X community: VirtualBox. I still get emails asking me to spend 80+ dollars on some virtualization software for my Mac. There are at least two choices in that price range: VMware Workstation and Parallels. Well, the good news is that you can save your 80 bucks and use VirtualBox instead.

This may not be new to you, since as a reader of my blog you've likely heard of VirtualBox before, but it's always amazing for me to see how slowly these things spread. So, after reading this article, do your Mac friends a favour and tell them they can save precious money buy just downloading VirtualBox instead of spending money on other virtualization solutions for the Mac. It's really that simple.

Indeed, this was the part where the attendees took most of their notes, and asked a lot of questions about (ZFS being a close first in terms of discussion/questions).

Conclusion

After our presentations, a lot of users came up and asked questions about how to install OpenSolaris on their hardware and on VirtualBox. Some even asked where to buy professional services for installing them an OpenSolaris ZFS fileserver in their company. The capabilities of ZFS clearly struck some chords inside the Mac OS X community, which is no wonder: If you have lots of Audio/Video/Photo data and care about quality and availability, then there's no way around FS.

I used this event as an excuse to try out keynote, which worked quite well for me, especially because it helped me create some easy to understand animations about the mechanics of ZFS. I also liked the automatic guides a lot which help you position elements on your slides very easily and seem to guess very well what your layout intentions were. I'd love the OpenOffice folks to check out Keynote's guides and see if they can come up with something similar. So, here's a Keynote version of my "OpenSolaris for Mac Users" slides as well as a PDF version (both in German) for you to check out and re-use if you like.

Update: Wolfgang's introductory slides are now available for download as well and Klaus, the organizer of the event, posted a review in the Mac Treff München Blog with some pictures, too.

Monday Jun 08, 2009

DevDusk June 2009 in Munich

Last week, DevDusk June 2009 took place at the Sun office in Munich.

What is DevDusk, you ask?

To me, it's the ultimate geek after-work party: Every once in a while, developers gather after their work day and chat about current cool technologies. Think after work mini-unconference. There are DevDusks in Frankfurt and in Munich, and this time we were lucky to sponsor the latest incarnation out of the Sun Startup Essentials program.

Every good geek event starts with food & beer!After some food and beers, we had a nice variety of talks:

  • Wolfgang Stief talked about one of the coolest hobbies: Collecting and restoring old computers. Not just C-64s and Commodore Amigas, no, the real stuff: Control Data Mainframes, Crays, etc., including a project to build a full tube-based computer. He shared a lot of funny stories involving the many obstacles in transporting, reparing and operating huge digital beasts. Check out the cray-cyber.org website and Wolfgang's collection of photos on Flickr.

  • Wolfram Kriesing from uxebu.com introduced us to EventNinja, a clever way to leverage free Cloud services (Google Docs, Yahoo! Pipes) to create fully functional, intelligent and customizable widgets, without the need to operate any server infrastructure by yourself other than a simple static web server. Very cool and a glimpse of a whole generation of clever, light-weight distributed cloud widgets. I'm working on a similar thing myself, more on that in a future blog post.

  • And yes, I got to present something too. I used the opportunity to introduce the group to my personal definition of Cloud Computing, the Sun Cloud, highlighting it's REST APIs and encouraging the audience to play around with Zembly while they're waiting for the Sun Cloud to become publicly available.

Slides, links and other material are available from the DevDusk Munich event page, feel free to check them out (some may be in Germany, but what's a little language barrier to tech people anyway?). Also, check out Gabi's blog entry on this event as well as related Twitter comments.

Tuesday Apr 21, 2009

Video: Top 5 Cool Features of the Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage Systems

A couple of weeks ago, Marc (our producer from the HELDENFunk Podcast) and I sat down and put together a video about the top 5 reasons why the new Sun Storage 7000 systems are so cool. We even "invited" Brendan Gregg to show us his latest trick:

For the next video, I'll try to learn more phrases by heart and look less at the prompter screen for a more natural feel. I apologize for my German accent (some people say it adds credibility :) ). Still, people seem to like the video, at least it has been viewed about 200 times already.

There's a lot of discussion around the Sun Storage 7000, most of it is very positive. In Germany, we like to complain a lot so of course we also hear a lot of constructive criticism. Most of the comments I hear fall into one of the two following categories:

  1. The Storage 7000 systems are cool, but I know ZFS/OpenSolaris can do "X" and I really want this to be in the Storage 7000 GUI as well!
    Yes, we know that there are still many features we'd like to see in the Storage 7000 and we're working on making them available. Make sure your Sun contact knows about your wishlist, so she can forward it to our engineers. Please remember that the Storage 7000 systems are meant to be easy-to-use appliances: Taking your "X" feature from ZFS/OpenSolaris and building a GUI around it is a hard thing to do, especially if you want it to work reliably and if you want it to be self-explanatory and self-serviceable. Please be patient, we're most probably working on your favourite features already.

  2. The Storage 7000 systems are cool, but I want more control. I want to change the hardware/hack them/take them apart/add more functionality/get them to do exactly what I want, etc.
    Sure, that feature is called "OpenSolaris". Please go to OpenSolaris.org, download the CD, install it on your favourite hardware and off you go!
    But, can I have the GUI, too, maybe as an SDK of some sort?
    No. The Storage 7000 systems are not "just a GUI". They are full-blown appliances which means that they're more than just the hardware and a GUI. A big part of the ease-of-use, stability, performance and predictability of these products is in the way configuration options are selected, tested and yes, limited, as well as a careful consideration of which features to implement at what time and which not. Only then comes the GUI on top, which is tailored to the overall product as a whole. In other words: You wouldn't go to BMW and ask them to give you their dashboard, radio and the lights so you can bolt them onto a Volkswagen, would you?

You see, either you build your own storage machine out of the building blocks you have, and get all the functionality and flexibility you want at the expense of some configuration effort,
or you buy the car as a whole, nice, round, sweet package, so you don't worry about configuration, implementation details, complexity, etc. Asking for anything in between will get you into trouble: Either you'll spend more effort than you want, or you won't get the kind of control you want.

If you understand German, there's some discussion of this topic as well as a great overview of the MySQL future plus a primer on SSDs in the latest episode of the HELDENFunk podcast.

And if you like the Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage Systems as much as I do, here are the slides in StarOffice format, as well as in PDF format, so you can tell your colleagues and friends as well.

Wednesday Apr 15, 2009

Top 3 Cloud Computing Principles

The Sun always shines behind the clouds

As with every new topic in IT, people are wondering about the same questions: Hype or reality? Didn't we kinda have this before? What's in it for me? What's so special about it? Cloud computing is no exception and I've had the privilege to discuss this topic with a number of very bright people over the last couple of months.

To separate the wheat from the chaff, here are the top three key principles of cloud computing that struck me as making this topic very relevant, interesting and definitely the way of the future:

#1: Abstraction

For decades, IT providers have tried to standardize their operations so they can concentrate on optimizing their IT.

But this is in contrast to what IT developers and users want: They want their special version of Apache, with the newest version of PHP and "sorry, but I can't live without these 5 plugins in exactly that versions".

So much for standardization, and thus we ended up with dozens of different versions of the same services, hundreds of different services that we grew up over time with ("Of course we need the foo service, our company can't live without it! No, we can't re-implement it, that would be too expensive, you'll have to continue operating it!"). This is why compute centers today tend to look like Frankenstein's lab instead of the clean infrastructure we'd really like to have, from an architecture perspective.

Cloud computing has found a way to break out of this: A cloud gives you just a few basic, but well-defined services and that's it. Take it or leave it. "Do you like our simple, RESTful foo interface? Fine, use it!", or: "Oh, you want your own special custom version? Sorry, we don't have it. Go away." It's that simple.

This is obviously good for cloud providers, because they now can optimize the bejeezus out of their infrastructure and provide nice, massive scale, low-cost, simple to administer services, which is every IT provider's dream come true.

The new thing here is that now the developers have realized this is good for them, too (and Amazon's success is a testimony to that effect): They can now use whatever version of their software they want, on whatever OS they want and get as many updates as they want, without having to ask their IT provider.

Granted, now the burden of managing the software falls onto the developer/user, but in the end this is a win-win for both, because both sides know exactly what to expect from the other, the rules are clear, and the interface between provider and developer/user is well-defined. Of course, low service costs to the developer always helps, but we'll get to that later.

So the key point here is that well-defined abstraction layers between clouds and developers/users are the grease that lets both sides operate efficiently and completely independent of each other.

#1.1: Layers of Abstraction in Clouds

There are three layers of abstraction in clouds:

  • Application as a Service (AaaS): This is what the end-user gets when they use a service like GMail, DropBox (please make an OpenSolaris version, thanks), the myriads of Facebook apps, SmugMug or even Adobe's online photoshop web service. AaaS services are very popular and there's really no reason to start a new application any other way today.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): The abstraction layer here is some kind of developer environment, but the details of implementation (OS, Hardware, etc.) are completely hidden. You just get a programming language and some APIs/Libraries and off you go. This is what Zembly gives you (check it out and create your own Facebook app in minutes), or the Google App Engine. This is the development model of the future: Develop against the cloud, no need to know the details behind it.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): These are the Amazon S3s, EC2s, etc. and we recently introduced our own version of IaaS as the Sun Cloud (featuring open interfaces and a lot of Sun technology goodness under the hood.) In this model, you get access to a virtual server or virtual storage, treat them like real machines, but the physical details of what machine is in what rack or which disks you use are hidden from you.

Most discussions around clouds center around IaaS, but remember that the basic principle of abstraction applies to the other two as well. Also, many AaaS offerings are either implemented on top of a PaaS or IaaS offerings on someone else's cloud, so we already see a whole ecosystem of cloud components working together in a pyramid like fashion, building on top of each other.

The nice thing about the Sun Cloud here is that it'll open up the abstraction layer. Just like programming environments, file server or web protocols, there's a lot of value in open standards and interfaces. That's what Sun's cloud offering is about, so our "open grease" between cloud providers and developers will enable freedom of choice, better interoperability and bigger, open cloud market for all. Check out "RESTing on the Cloud with Open APIs" for a discussion on the Sun Cloud APIs.

#2: Automation

Virtual Datacenter

Again, this may seem like nothing new, because IT operators have tried to automate as much as possible within their datacenters forever. From our own history of Sun MC through N1 and now xVM Ops Center to other people's Tivoli's, OpenView and whathave you, we've seen a lot in data center automation, but none of these went the whole way of providing true one-click setup or tear-down of a complete server over the public internet.

Automation in the cloud means the developer/user is in complete, automatic control over their resources. No human interaction whatsoever, even from a developer/user perspective. Need more servers? Let the load-balancer tell the cloud how many more to provide. No need to wait for someone to unpack and cable your machine, no need to wait for your IT department to find the time to install. Everything is automatic.

Again, this is a win-win for both sides. While full automation reduces cost and complexity for the cloud provider, it puts the developer/user in control. Now you can reduce your time to market for your next rollout because you can do it yourself, fully automatic, and you don't need to call anybody, rely on someone else to set up stuff for you, or wait days until some minor hardware/software installation is completed.

The Sun Cloud brings automation to the next level: With its Virtual Datacenter Technology, you'll be able to automate a full virtual datacenter in the cloud out of standard components, not just individual machines.

#3: Elasticity

In the nineties, people bought large, expensive, scalable servers and waited for them to fill up over time as their companies grew. This was of course highly inefficient because most of the time you didn't use most of your server. After the dot-com bust, people became smarter and started scaling horizontally. That allowed you to add capacity to your datacenter in smaller chunks and on an as-needed basis. But what if you need a lot of capacity on one day (because your startup got Techcrunched), but the next day you're back to humble levels of usage, because it's the weekend or the wrong season or there's a major recession coming up? As an extreme case: What if you ran the Olympics website and the games are just over?

That's when elasticity comes in very handy: You can easily scale up your cloud usage, but you can just as easily scale it down again. One day you have 500 web servers, 50 app servers and 10 database servers, the next day you could easily go back to the old 50:5:2 ratio. And you only pay for what you use, never for what could have been.

On a technical level, elasticity is a direct outcome of automation, our #2 principle outlined above.

But the real invention here is in the business model of cloud providers: By multiplexing their resources over a large number of customers, they can level out differing capacity needs, so that they get good resource utilization on a big scale, no matter how much or little resources individual users actually use. And by giving their customers transparent access to this model, they enable them to take advantage of a fully elastic pay-per-use-no-strings-attached model that makes a cloud service so attractive.

And this is what your traditional hoster never gave you before: Whenever you wanted some service from an old-school hoster, you'd have to sign a contract that looks like a mobile phone contract with lots of fine print and whatnot. It's easy to scale up, but then you have to commit to some usage period (like 24 months) and usually it's hard or downright impossible to scale down the size of the service you got. You could easily get stuck.

Cloud computing changes everything with its "look Ma, I can scale like Google!" model: Everybody with a credit card can operate a large datacenter for whatever time they want (and have credit for), and shut it down whenever they like.

The Sun Cloud will expand the business possibilities of the cloud model: You can choose to be the cloud (and we'll help you build it), you can choose to build the cloud (for others, out of our cloud components), you can build your own cloud (we'll help you build that, too) or you can just use it (the Sun Cloud). Just like we believe in open standards, we also believe in partnering, so no matter what your cloud business model is, Sun can help.

Conclusion

A lot of people discuss a lot of aspects of clouds these days, but to me, it's just the three principles above that really count.

You can use them as a litmus test for clouds: Where's the abstraction layer? Is it open? Is it fully automated? Where's the API? What if I scale down, not up? What's the cost model? If one of the above principles are missing, it's probably not a cloud. If they are there, it's most probably a cloud.

Or you can use these three principles to figure out if your internal IT operations are ready for the cloud: Can you implement your service by exclusively using a cloud API? Would you be able to encapsulate your current service inside a virtual machine, then redeploy elsewhere? How about using a PaaS model for developing your next app? Do you really want to afford your own IT infrastructure if you can just rent it like a taxi? What services would need to be re-implemented, and why? These are all good questions to ask when discussing clouds with colleagues and vendors.

But remember that cloud computing is not going to end hunger, bring world peace and cure cancer, all at once and today: Some services fit the cloud model very well (hint: Everything that looks like a web service also looks like a good candidate), some don't (If it's still on a mainframe, forget it). The answer is almost always a mixture, and it will become more interesting as public and private clouds start to interoperate, much like intranets and the internet interoperate today.

Useful Cloud Resources

There's a lot to learn about clouds and a lot of bright people are blogging about it. Here are a few points to start from:

  • Play a bit on Zembly.com. This is a great IDE for web apps, offered as a PaaS in the cloud. Translation: Log in and create your own Facebook/Meebo/iPhone app in your browser in minutes, the social way.
  • Check out the Innovating@Sun blog entry on "RESTing on the Cloud with Open APIs" to learn about what Hal Stern and Tim Bray have to say on the Sun Coud's RESTful APIs. Also, the Virtual Datacenter Demo is very impressive, and there are a number of other interesting videos on that site.
  • Glenn Brunette has a lot to say about security and clouds, certainly a hot topic. His Immutable Service Containers are the way to go for securely deploying web services in large infrastructures, including clouds.
  • If you understand German, there are some excellent German blogs to read. Check out Ralf Zenses' Blog, or Jan Brosowski's (who offers a slightly different definition of cloud principles) or the Serverwolken blog.
  • If you prefer to read English, don't despair. Check out the Sun Cloud Blog, or Alka Gupta's Blog with many interesting articles. Marc Hamilton also let's you look at cool hardware building blocks for the cloud as well as HPC clouds.
  • There's a great whitepaper from Berkeley University called Above the Clouds, a real must-read. Also, there's a great Cloud Computing Guide on the Sun Cloud page, well worth the small hassle to register for it.
  • Finally, if you think you've read enough, then relax by watching a cool video from our partner rPath: Cloud Computing in Plain English.

What are your cloud principles? What aspects of cloud computing are important to you? What important cloud aspect am I missing that would warrant its own principle? Feel free to add your own comment on cloud computing to this post!

Thursday Mar 26, 2009

Cloud Computing in 6 Minutes

Yesterday I visited Sun's European Education & Research Conference in Berlin where my colleague Manuel and I ran a session on Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing. Web 2.0 companies have really pioneered the use of cloud computing for their businesses, taking advantage of the low entry cost and high elasticity that clouds provide. These are really good things if you only have a few hundred or so users on one day, then all of a sudden you face hundreds of thousands of them, just because somebody featured your company on Techcrunch or some famous VC twittered about your service. So the two subjects go really well together so our session room was quite packed and we had some good discussions with attendees afterwards.

Sun Campus Ambassadors Alper Celik and Gökhan Dogan from KTH University in Sweden were busy interviewing a lot of people during the conference with their digital camera, and both Manuel and I got our few minutes of YouTube fame with them. Here's Manuel talking about Web 2.0:

And here's yours truly, trying to explain Cloud Computing in about 6 minutes:

Curious about Cloud Computing? Check out the Sun Cloud or start developing Web Services inside the Cloud from the comfort of your web browser the easy way using Zembly.

Alper and Gökhan were really busy, they published a bunch of other interviews on YouTube the very same day. Just search YouTube for "European Education and Research Conference" and you'll find more than a dozen of their interviews.

Gökhan also participated in his university's WaterWell project that used Sun SPOT technology to create a wireless sensor network that monitors water quality. Here's Gökhan explaining his project:

With a generation of students that show this kind of motivation, I'm not really worried about how to come out of this recession :).

Wednesday Mar 25, 2009

Think Twice Before Deleting Stuff (Or Better Not at All!)

Some piggy banks

No, this is not going to be another "Remember to do snapshots" post. I'm also not going to talk about backups. Instead, let's look at some very practical aspects of deleting files.

So, why delete a file? "Trivial", you think, "so I can save space!". Sure, dear reader, but at the expense of what?

Let's stop and think for a minute. Our lives try to center around doing cool, worthwhile, meaningful, useful stuff. Deleting files isn't really cool, nor fun, it is a necessity we're forced to do. Don't you hate it when that dreaded "Your startup disk is almost full" message appears while you're in the middle of downloading new photos from your latest exciting vacation trip?

Actually, the seemingly simple act of deleting is really a challenge: "Will I need this again?", "Wouldn't it be better to archive this instead?", "Last time I was really glad I kept that email from 2 years ago, so why delete this one?". Sometimes I surprise myself thinking a long time before I really press that "ok" button or hit "Enter" after the "rm".

The reality is: Storage is cheap, so why delete stuff in the first place?

To put things in perspective, let's try an ROI analysis of deleting files. Let's say we need about 6 seconds of thinking time before we can decide whether a particular file can really be deleted without regret. Let's also assign some value to our time, say $12 per hour (I hope you're getting paid much more than that, but this is just to keep the numbers simple).

Storage is cheap, and last time I checked, a 1 TB USB hard drive cost about $100 at a major electronics retailer, with prices falling by the hour.

Now, how much space does the act of deleting a file need to free up so it justifies the effort of deciding whether to delete or keep it?

Well, our $12 per hour conveniently breaks down to $0.20 per minute, which allows us to perform 10 delete-it-or-not decisions per minute at $0.02 each. Fine. Deleting seems to be cheap, doesn't it?

Now, for that $0.02 you can buy a 1/5000th of a 1 TB hard drive. Wait a minute, 1TB/5000 still amounts to 200 MB of data per $0.02! That's more than you need to store a 10 minute video, or a full CD of music, compressed at high quality! Or 20 presentations at 10MB each! Not to mention countless emails, source code and other files!

So, unless the file you're pondering is bigger than 200MB, it's not really worth even considering to delete it. I'll call this 200MB boundary the "Destructive Utility Heuristic (DUH)".

The result is therefore: Save your time, buy more harddisk space (or upgrade your old hard drive to a bigger one before it dies) and move on. Life's too precious to waste it on deleting stuff. Create good stuff instead! Only think about deleting stuff if the file in question is bigger than 200MB.

I can hear some "Wait, but!"'s in the audience, ok, one at a time:

  • "But I can delete much faster than 6 seconds!"
    No big deal. So you can delete 1 file per second, that's still a threshold of 33MB, more than 5 songs worth or even the biggest practical business presentation or the source code to a major open source project. And harddisks are getting cheaper every day, while your time will become more and more precious as you age. Yes, if you're dead sure that file is useless junk and don't need to think about it, go ahead and delete it, but why did you save it in the first place?

  • "But I like my directories to be clean and tidy!"
    Congratulations, that's a good habit! Keeping files organized doesn't mean you need to delete stuff, though. Set up an "Archive" folder somewhere and dump everything you think you may or may not use again there. Use one archive folder for each year if you want. File search technology is pretty advanced these days so you should be able to find your archived files quicker than the time you'd take to decide which ones you'll never want to find again. Then, you can still decide to delete your whole archive from 3 years ago because you never used it, and it will likely make some sense, because its size may be above the destructive utility heuristic, but chances are you won't really care because storage will have become even cheaper after those 3 years so you won't save a big deal, relatively speaking.

  • "That still doesn't help me when that damn 'Your startup disk is almost full' message comes!"
    You're right. The point is: It's often hard to sift through data and decide what to keep and what not. That's why we dread deleting stuff and instead wait until that message comes. I'm only offering relief to those that felt that the act of having to delete stuff isn't really rewarding, and it isn't (at least while you're below the DUH). Go buy a bigger harddrive for your laptop, it's really the cost effective option. Use the numbers above to help you justify that towards your finance department.

  • "I'm still not convinced. I actually kinda like going through my files and delete them once in a while..."
    Sure, go ahead. Just know that you could use that time to do more productive stuff, such as checking out the Sun cloud, installing OpenSolaris or testing our new Sun OpenStorage products.

  • "Wait, aren't you supposed to write about OpenSolaris, ZFS and this stuff anyway?"
    I'm glad you mentioned that :). Actually, OpenSolaris and ZFS make it even easier for you to both not care about deleting stuff while keeping your files organized at the same time. The amazing ZFS auto snapshot SMF service will create snapshots of your data automagically every 15 minutes, so it won't matter whether you delete files or not. You can then choose to either not delete them at all and just move them to some archive, or you can delete whatever you want, without the 6 seconds of thinking (just to keep stuff tidy), knowing that you'll always be able to recover those files with Time Slider later. You could then use zfs send/receive to dump your data incrementally to a file server as a backup mechanism and the hooks are already there to automate this.

See, once you think of it, there's not really a need to delete files at all any more. At least not for mere mortals like us with file sizes that are typically below the destructive utility heuristic of currently 200MB (and rising...) most of the time. Music has already reached the point where a song can be stored at studio quality with lossless compression at manageable file sizes so that kind of data won't see significant growth any more. And photos and videos will soon follow. This means we'll need to care less and less about restricting personal data storage. Instead, we now need to focus more on managing personal storage.

Now there's a completely different problem that'll keep us entertained for some time...

Monday Mar 02, 2009

The Inner Life of ZFS: Cool ZFS On-Disk Block Structure Movies

Pascal Gienger of Konstanz University published a nifty DTrace script that captures ZFS' on-disk block activity and published it on his Southbrain blog.

The cool thing: He animated the data. That's right. Using a Perl script, he draws greener or redder dots depending on whether a particular range of blocks on disk sees more reads or writes. By aggregating data over many hours while doing interesting tasks such as backup, he created a series of very cool animations.

In his first post, he shows us the inner life of a Postfix mail queue as an animated GIF:

ZFS on-disk block animation

Then, he compared the write patterns of UFS vs. ZFS using a MySQL workload to produce a cool MPEG-4 movie.

In his latest ZFS animation work, he shows us 18 hours of a mirrored file server including some backup, night rest and user action (Download MPEG-4 Movie here).

Congratulations, Pascal, this is way cool stuff. You really should upload these to YouTube so people can embed them in their blogs :).

Update: Meanwhile, pascal told me that he uploaded his videos on YouTube already. He has a full playlist full of them. Enjoy!

Friday Feb 27, 2009

Munich OpenSolaris User Group Install Fest

mucosug logoYesterday we had the first Munich OpenSolaris User Group (MUCOSUG) install fest at Munich Technical University's Mathematics and Computer Science Building in the Garching Campus. Many thanks go to Martin Uhl for organizing coffee, meeting room and overall help!

The building is very cool, featuring two giant parabolic slides that go all the way from 3rd floor to the ground floor. Check out some construction pictures here.

Home server in the basementWe began the meeting with a short presentation on OpenSolaris as a home server (here are the slides, let me know if you want the source). It covers some thoughts on why you need a home server (hints: Photos, multimedia clients, backups, first-hand Solaris experience), where to get some extra software, first steps in ZFS, CIFS server and iSCSI and some useful blogs to follow up with for more good home-server specific content.

Most of the people had OpenSolaris installed already, either on their laptops or inside VirtualBox. So most of the conversation was centered around tips for setting up home server hardware, how to install the VirtualBox guest additions and why, or what the best ways are to integrate VirtualBox networking and exchange files between host and guest.

I learned that sharing the host interface with the Virtual Box guest has become as painless as using NAT with the added benefit of making your guest be a first-class citizen on your network, so that's what I'll try out next. Also, the cost of 32 GB USB sticks has come way down at acceptable speed rates, so I'll try one of them to host my OpenSolaris work environment and free my local harddisk a bit.

All in all, such geek gatherings are always a nice excuse to sit together and chat about the newest in technology, find new ideas and have a beer or two afterwards, so how about organizing your own OpenSolaris Installfest in your neighbourhood now?

Update: The way how to set up CIFS in OpenSolaris turned out to be slightly more complicated. Please check the above slides for an updated list of commands on how to set this up. I forgot to include how to expand /etc/pam.conf and assumed this was automatic. Sorry, must be because I set this up at home a while ago...

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