Wednesday, June 18, 2008

IBM Cloud Computing Day

Earlier this week I had the opportunity of being invited to IBM's Cloud Computing day at their Canadian headquarters in Markham Ontario (just outside of Toronto). The invite only event brought together key IBM employees and researchers from The Centre of Excellence for Research in Adaptive Systems (CERAS) and focused on emerging technologies, methods and architectures for cloud computing.

Before this event I had never heard of CERAS, they describe themselves as an innovative, collaborative virtual organization which explores and evolves promising new technologies, methods and techniques that enable dramatically more agile approaches to software development and evolution; approaches that enable delivery of software and computing resources on demand and on time, with less operational effort. Simply explained its a joint partnership between IBM research and a number of University CS research labs.

One of the more interesting aspects of the event was Andrew Trossman's introduction to Cloud Computing. His presentation looked more like a comedy routine and was very entertaining. (At one point he answered a phone call from his security guard at his home, which was hilarious) One of the main points I took away from his presentation was that most people at IBM really have no idea what cloud computing is and a few select early adopters such as Trossman are key to pushing the cloud agenda within IBM. I also found it interesting, that they do seem to utilize a kind of internal "research cloud" for researches within IBM, but appear to have no intentions to offer this type of service commercially. They were vague on exactly what or how this cloud worked.

Other interesting presentations included "Self-Optimization in the Cloud" by Murray Woodside at Carleton University. He presented a compelling approach to what he called "autonomic computing" whereby resources levels are automatically adjusted based on application response times. His presentation also touched upon "self healing" system but did little explain how this would actually function. Woodside's research seemed ideally suited for environments like Amazon EC2 where you may need to adjust your virtual resources for short periods of time. Although he was a little hazy on the which technologies he used and whether it would ever be made available commercially (I can only assume his research was based on IBM's Tivoli suite). I look forward to seeing these features some day included in IBM's data center software.

The brief presentation by Christina Amza on Dynamic Provisioning was particularly interesting. She presented her work on the challenges to dynamically "packing" virtual machines into the cloud using a unique packing algorithm which helps determine the optimal location of each VM. Her questions to me about Enomalism, was by far some of the most difficult I've ever had to answer. Dynamic provisioning is in my opinion one of the most difficult and potentially lucrative areas in the development of clouds for both private and utility use. The ability to effectively manage thousands of virtual and physical servers may mean the difference between a profit and a complete failure. Her research looks very promising and I know that I could certainly use her work in our software if she ever decides to make it publicly available (I assume IBM is thinking along the same lines.)

All in all It was interesting to get a birds-eye view of the cloud computing programs going on within IBM's research labs and their related technology groups. Although the event was fairly academic, it did give me unique opportunity to see what IBM is up to. From my outsiders point of view, I can summarize IBM's "blue cloud" as a way for them to repackage their existing data center management tools to enable the creation of "private clouds" for IBM's enterprise customers. From what I saw I don't think we'll be seeing anything like a Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine anytime in the near future. What I think we will see from them is an active involvement in the development of cloud computing technologies as well as number of select cloud technology acquisitions.

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