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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.

Bare metal

The original cloud machines weren’t single machines at all, but time slices of large machines that ran virtual machines. You had root, but it was a virtual machine running on a huge box. The virtualization software may make it easy to adjust the amount of RAM or keep several different machines running consistently, but they add overhead to the system. The virtualization layer is always acting like a traffic cop, sending signals to different virtual machines and slowing down everything.

More and more companies are selling “bare metal,” which is to say servers that aren’t virtual. You get a box and an operating system, and there’s nothing between your OS and the hardware, except perhaps some kind of BIOS. The reads and writes to the disk go faster. The exchanges with the network cards are zippier. Everything is simpler without virtualization in the way.

IBM and Rackspace are two of the more prominent companies renting bare-metal machines by the hour. Rackspace has a collection of standard machines and is about to launch its second generation this month. IBM has some stock machines but will build custom machines if you want them.

Containers

Docker is sweeping through the cloud like a storm. It makes deploying software much easier for everyone, and it’s only natural that people want to make it simple to deploy Docker containers to cloud machines.

In its simplest form, the cloud will spin up a new instance with a Docker-ready version of the OS at the bottom. Then it installs the container and sends it running. Google also offers cluster management tools that automate much of this using Kubernetes.

One of the most interesting options may be Joyent’s bare-metal hosting of Docker containers using Trident. It hacked a version of Solaris/SmartOS to support Linux-based Docker containers running directly on the base OS. That strips away a big maze of virtualization, and it makes starting and stopping much faster.

Blockchain as a service

The cloud services are largely following the path of Lego toys. The earliest machines had as much variety as the early brick sets. There were a few basic options, and it was up to you to create what you needed from the basics. Now there’s a proliferation of exotic options, all offering anything you need with the extra phrase “as a service.”

The most exotic for now might be Microsoft’s Blockchain as a Service, an option that lets you add all of the trust-enhancing power of the bitcoin blockchain to your company’s IT department. It’s not only for illicit and anonymous deals because the shared ledger can help simplify accounting, compliance, and other regulatory challenges, all with an immutable database.

 

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