Its logical – IAAS users will move to PAAS

Sysadmins love infrastructure control, and I have to say that there was a time when root access gave me a high. It wasn’t  until I moved to web operations team (and gave up my root access) that I realized that I was  more productive when I wasn’t dealing with day to day hardware and OS issues. After managing my own EC2/Rackspace instance for my blog for a few years , I came to another realization today that IAAS (infrastructure as a service) might be one of these fads which will give way to PAAS (Platform as a service).

WordPress is an excellent blogging platform, and I manage multiple instances of it for my blogs (and one for my  wife’s blog). I chose to run my own wordpress instance because I loved the same control which I used to have when I was a sysadmin. I not only wanted to run my own plugins, configured my own features, play with different kinds of caching features, I also wanted to choose my own linux distribution (Ubuntu ofcourse) and make it work the way I always wanted my servers to work.  But when it came to patching the OS, taking backups, updating wordpress and the zillion other plugins, I found it a little distracting, slightly frustrating and extremely time consuming.

Last week I moved one of my personal blogs to blogger.com and its possible that it may not be the last one. Whats important here is not that I picked blogger.com over wordpress.com, but the fact that I’m ready to give up control to be more productive. Amazon’s AWS started off as the first IAAS service provider, but today they provide a whole lot of other managed services like Elastic MapReduce, Amazon Route 53, Amazon cloudfront and Amazon Relational Database Service which are more of a PAAS than IAAS.

IAAS is a very powerful tool in the hands of professional systems admin. But I’m willing to bet that over the next few years lesser number organizations would be worried about kernel versions and linux distributions and would instead be happy with a simple API to upload “.war” files (if they are running tomcat for example) into some kind of cloud managed tomcat instances (like how hadoop runs in elastic mapreduce). Google App Engine (Java and Python) and Heroku (Ruby based, Salesforce bought them) are two examples of such service today and I’ll be surprised if  AWS doesn’t launch something  (or buy someone out) within the next year to do the same.

Understanding Cloud computing efficiency

Picking a cloud service at times, unfortunately,  is far more complex  than picking up a brand new car. I remember how torn I was between a honda-hybrid, which came with some tax rebates and a carpool sticker and a non-hybrid one which was significantly cheaper. Understanding the short term and long term benefits is the key.

Today AWS is not the only game in the town. There are lots of other reliable efficiency_light_bulb(or some flavor off) options. GoGrid, JoyentMicrosoft and GoogleAppEngine are some.

Here are the key differences which one should understand before deciding which one to go for.

* IAAS (Infrastructure as a service) providers like AWS (EC2) and Rackspace provide virtual infrastructure which you can manage and control. In most cases you are billed by a time-unit and you would have control to increase or decrease resources available for your application. PAAS (Platform as a service) on the other hand only provides APIs for your application. PAAS based infrastructure is usually billed by number of requests or by the CPU cycles spent on supporting the requests. Microsoft’s Azure places itself somewhere in between these two paradigms which makes this even more interesting.

* If your application’s resource requirements fluctuate a lot on a daily basis and you don’t want to invest in building a scalable architecture and the logic to manage/monitor the process of scaling up and down, then PAAS based service might help you. But if you want higher performance, more control of your code and infrastructure (and the way it scales) then IAAS is the way to go.

* If you have consistent load throughout the year, you should think about reserving resources for longer term if possible. It could turn out to be cheaper. But at the same time more servers/resources you reserve, more expensive it gets for you. There is a point at which it might be cheaper to host the infrastructure yourself.

* If your application is has short but high CPU resource peaks, you should look at a vendor which doesn’t put a performance ceiling. “The BitSource” did some performance tests between Rackspace vs Amazon EC2 which explains this problem very well.

* Finally, If you already have a large computing infrastructure within your organization and want more “long term” computing resources, based on the studies I have seen, its cheaper to manage/setup new servers/storage within the organization than outsourcing it to AWS/Rackspace.

At the end of the day remember that vendors are there to make money as well. If you plan to make significant long term investment into cloud services, you should do some research to make sure that is really the cheapest solution.