Monday Apr 27, 2009

Why is an airport like a computing cloud?

I recently had the opportunity to speak at FOSE about cloud computing.  I was also stationed at Sun's table in the Cloud section of the exhibit hall and had an unbelievable number of people come up and ask me what I thought cloud computing is.  Sometimes I think they were just polling all the vendors to see how many different answers they could get.  Needless to say, there are a wide variety of opinions as to the meaning of a cloud and the best use of a computing cloud.

While traveling to Anaheim last week for the DISA customer conference, I spent a good amount of time in LAX.  It occurred to me while I was sitting there that the airport is a perfect analogy to a cloud.  It just happens to be a transportation cloud.

What is an airport?

An airport is a shared transportation resource run by a single organization serving a variety of vendors and customers.

How is an airport like a cloud.... Let me count the ways.

  1. Shared common security model that keeps vendors and customers in the right place at the right time.
  2. Shared infrastructure that can be virtualized to a variety of vendors depending upon their needs including:
    1. Runways
    2. Gates
    3. Ticket issuing stations
    4. Baggage handling
    5. Security stations
    6. Customs inspectors
    7. Shopping
  3. Air traffic control to ensure that planes don't crash in the air
  4. Ground traffic control to ensure that planes go to gates they've paid for
  5. A single manager for the shared service (the local airport authority)

Why did airports become clouds?

Imagine if each airline actually had to have it's own airport in each city.  A Delta plane could only fly from one Delta airport to another.  Each would need their own runways, parking lots, security guards and more.  It would clearly be an unsustainable model.

Benefits of the transportation cloud

Clearly the airlines saw the benefits of sharing an infrastructure in a number of ways including:

  • Reduced costs (less real estate, infrastructure and personnel)
  • Reduce training through standardization of tools and process
  • Improved efficiency
  • Less waste (fewer unused resources such as ticket agents, gates, security guards)
  • The ability to scale an airline up or down as economic factors required and pay for only the resources used.

The idea of a cloud is not so new after all and has been around for years in different forms.  It's up to us in the computer industry to take these existing models with manual processes and automate them in a way that provides the same security and flexibility as we find in an airport today.

One of the unique things about the "transportation cloud" is that planes can easily leave one cloud (the LAX cloud) and travel to another cloud (the DCA cloud)  because of agreed upon standards in flight number, communications protocols and a standardization body (the FAA).  Sun is building a cloud infrastructure just as Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other have.  Sun, however, is also focusing on open, interoperable standards for cloud computing so that sometime the future, it will be easy to move an application not just within the Sun cloud from from the Sun cloud to the Amazon  cloud and back again.

Join the community and start to experience the benefits of the cloud.  Learn more and stay up to date on the status of Sun's cloud computing offering.

Hopefully, I'll see you sometime soon in the clouds.


Jim Laurent is an Oracle Sales consultant based in Reston, Virginia. He supports US DoD customers as part of the North American Public Sector hardware organization. With over 17 years experience at Sun and Oracle, he specializes in Solaris and server technologies. Prior to Oracle, Jim worked 11 years for Gould Computer Systems (later known as Encore).


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