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13 ways the cloud has changed (since last you looked)

Peter Wayner | Feb. 9, 2016
New services and pricing models make cloud computing more powerful, complex, and cheaper than it was a few short years ago.

13 ways the cloud has changed (since last you looked)

The definition of cloud computing has always been, well, a bit cloudy. The basic idea has been straightforward: If it’s not calculated or stored in a rack in your own office on metal you can touch, it’s in the cloud. If it’s someone else’s machine in someone else’s colo, it’s in the cloud.

The details, though, aren’t as crisp. What you get and when you get it has evolved over the years, shifting as the market begins to understand what people want and what they really need. In the beginning, you got a machine and a root password -- that’s about it. Everything else was up to you. Now the tools and techniques for building out infrastructure are getting better. The stock machines, after all, are commodities, so the companies are competing by adding bells and whistles that make your life easier.

We get more, but using it isn’t always as simple as it could be. Sure, you still end up on root on some box that’s probably running Linux, but getting the right performance out of that machine is more complex. You now have more options than ever for storing your data, and it’s not always obvious which is best. Are you going to run a database that does plenty of interaction with a persistent disk? You’ll want to do something different than if you’re simply running a Web service that can cache all of the important data in RAM.

But the real fun comes when you try to figure out how to pay for your planned cloud deployment because there are more options than ever. If you’re willing to be flexible with your compute time, they’ll cut you a break. And if you’re willing to test your app on many machines, you’ll probably be surprised to learn how different performance can be, even on machines that seem to have similar stats. In some cases, the cost engineering can be more complex than the software engineering.

Here’s a list of 13 ways that the cloud has morphed or scudded into something new of late. The area was born by engineers that want to make it easier to share computing resources, and this is truer than ever.

Variable pricing

In the beginning, the cloud business was simple. You typed in your credit card info and paid for every hour (or minute) you used your server instance. Every second had the same price.

The model was simple and intuitive, but it ignored an important part of reality. Demand for computing power in the cloud is not uniform. E-commerce companies found that people shopped during lunch. Streaming video companies watched demand skyrocket when the kids came home, then leap again when adults settled down in the evening looking for entertainment. Demand ebbed and soared as people used or ignored the Web.


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