Archive for February, 2009

Defining Cloud Computing – Part 3: SaaS

February 11th, 2009 Comments off

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS is currently the most popular type of cloud computing. Yahoo email, Google apps, zoho, and various other packages like CRM are all instances of SaaS. Application Service Providers (ASP) were the first SaaS providers. ASP was its own buzzword back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

One of the aspects of SaaS is multi-tenancy or the ability for many customers to share the same service but maintain their own data securely. CRM is the predominant paid SaaS offering but email is, by far, the predominant free SaaS offering.

Any software that is offered over the internet, that runs remotely (where the location is unimportant and unrelated to the user), is a SaaS offering. With SaaS, a user has no need to worry about installation or upgrades. Of course, that also means the user has no control over versioning (or bug fixes).

The majority of SaaS offering are either free (think web mail) or per seat subscriptions (like online collaboration and CRM). SaaS may also be offered as a subscription for access and then charge fees for extras like additional storage.

SaaS vendors typically offer multiple levels of access (usually as subscriptions) and functionality. Many offer free trials or a free tier for trying out the software. If you are going to buy into a SaaS offering, first verify that the vendor actually does have paying customers and is stable (relatively to the rest of the internet companies).

It is not unknown that a SaaS vendor will go out of business, sometimes with little or no advance notice, and cause businesses a significant customer impact and/or data loss.

That’s not to scare you away from SaaS. The benefits far out weigh the downsides as long you perform due diligence when selecting your provider. In today’s market, for example, there is really no reason for an SMB to host their own CRM or email. You can outsource that to a SaaS provider for far less (when you subtract out the administrative overhead) of hosting it yourself.


Google App Engine Updates Roadmap

February 9th, 2009 Comments off

Slowly it grows.  Google is regularly adding features and today announced a new update to the roadmap:

  • Support for running scheduled tasks
  • Task queues for performing background processing
  • Ability to receive and process incoming email
  • Support for sending and receiving XMPP (Jabber) messages

I’m still waiting for PHP support, or at least Ruby.  Python is not one of my preferred languages.


Defining Cloud Computing – Part 2: Distributed Computing

February 9th, 2009 Comments off

Distributed Computing

Distributed computing was one of the first real instances of cloud computing (albeit in reverse). Long before Google or Amazon, there was [email protected] Proposed in 1995 and launched in 1999, this program uses the spare capacity of internet connected machines to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This is sort of the cloud in reverse.

A more recent example would be software like Hadoop. Written in Java, Hadoop is a scalable, efficient, distributed software platform designed to process enormous amounts of data. Hadoop can scale to thousands of computers across many clusters.

Distributed computing is nothing more than utilizing many networked computers to partition (split it into many smaller pieces) a question or problem and allow the network to solve the issue piecemeal.

Another instance of distributed computing, for storage instead of processing power, is bittorrent. A torrent is a file that is split into many pieces and stored on many computers around the internet. When a local machine wants to access that file, the small pieces are retrieved and rebuilt.

As the cloud computing buzzword has evolved, distributed computing has fallen out of that particular category of software. Even though distributed computing might take advantage of the internet, it doesn’t follow the other tenants of cloud computing, mainly the automatic and instant scalability of resources.

That’s not to say that a distributed system couldn’t be built to be a cloud environment. Bittorrent, or any P2P system, comes very close to a cloud storage. It would require some additional protections like file ownership and privacy across all nodes but it could probably be done. Privacy like that is not quite what P2P is all about though.

Defining Cloud Computing – Part 1

February 5th, 2009 Comments off

So what is cloud computing? Defining the term “cloud computing” has become an industry unto itself. Is it utility computing? Is it an application service provider’s offering? Is it virtual machines in the sky? All of these are correct depending on who you ask.

Core features of cloud computing are scalable, centrally managed and accessible via the internet. Cloud computing boils down to running software on someone else’s robust hardware in a data center somewhere else. Let’s think about that for a minute: someone else’s software on someone else’s hardware in someone else’s data center. Nice.

Another key component has become a very low barrier to entry in both technical and financial terms. The service should be very easy to begin using and it should be very cheap and/or free (at least at a basic level). The general approach to pricing for most cloud platforms, so far, has been a per usage or subscription basis.

Per usage charges you only for what you actually use. If you use a virtual machine, you will pay a certain amount for every CPU hour consumed; for storage you will pay by the gigabyte or terabyte. You will usually have to pay some kind of bandwidth/networking costs. Think of per usage as metered.

Subscriptions are less common but are still offered. You may get a basic package for free and then start paying a subscription to upgrade. An example is the Mozy backup service from EMC. You get to backup 2GB of data for free. If you upgrade to the paid subscription, you can backup an unlimited amount of storage for $5.95 per month.

The final major pieces to the cloud computing puzzle are nearly instant scalability and nearly infinite scalability. If your web site grows from a few thousand hits per day to millions of hits per day, you don’t want your customers to get error messages until you can buy and provision new servers. Most platforms will allow you to automatically scale, or scale with just a couple of button presses.

I say “infinite” above with a somewhat tongue in cheek. Obviously, no one can offer infinite scalability. A more accurate expression might be that it allows exponential growth. Again, using a few thousand hits jumping to a few million, the scaling should be automatic and invisible. Customer demand should be load balanced to allow a pleasant customer experience (which means a pleasant business owner experience).

I will follow this post with some more definitions: Distributed Computing, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and Cloud Desktops.

Let me know if you agree or disagree.



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3 Cloud Operating Systems You Can Use Right Now

February 1st, 2009 8 comments

Have you taken the leap into the cloud? If you don’t want to start with data centers in the sky, you can start with a desktop in the sky. Microsoft has offered Live Mesh for a while now. I wrote about live mesh on this blog. Live Mesh, even though it offers a desktop, is not much of a cloud OS. It’s more of a synch and remote desktop tool.

You could wait for Microsoft Azure. That’s MS’s services based, cloud OS. It’s still mostly fog at this point though. Fog, vapor? Get it?

Anyway, there are a few Cloud desktops that you can start using today. They run in a browser, offer desktop apps like word processing, email and file storage. Below I discuss three different desktops that are usable today (even though they may be in beta or alpha). All three of the desktop solutions below are either offered as an open source download and/or are free to use online.


EyeOS is an open source cloud desktop that you can download and run in your own data center. Download the software, install it and you have an instant Cloud OS and remote desktop for your organization.

EyeOS will install on any web server that supports WordPress or Drupal. EyeOS is a PHP application and does not require a database. Just Apache and PHP 5. Installation takes about 10 minutes and that includes the download time.

You can try it out by signing up for the EyeOS free server at You probably won’t want to host a large organization here but it runs well enough that I use it. If you don’t want to run it on your own servers and you don’t want to take the risk of using a free server, you can sign up for paid professional EyeOS hosting with safehosting.

You can get much more information from the home page or from the EyeOS blog.

Some applications that ship with EyeOS include:

  • Office Tools (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, calendar, etc)
  • Games
  • File Explorer and Archive Browser
  • Note pad
  • Network Tools (RSS reader, Internet Browser, Email, FTP, IM)
  • Multimedia (mp3 player, video player)
  • Desktop Widgets

View a demo of EyeOS.


I first mentioned iCloud a few months ago in this blog. iCloud is a product of Xcerion. iCloud is a very nice, very stable cloud based desktop. I think it has the richest interface of any of the current crop of cloud desktops. On the flip side to that, EyeOS is more responsive when using it.

iCloud is not meant to be a download. It is a cloud service. You signup for an account and use the desktop. I’m honestly not sure what the business model is. The parent company offers a cloud OS called XIOS. Here is the blurb from the web page:

Xcerion Internet Operating System/3 (XIOS/3) the clean, carefree, zero-footprint XML-based OS, running within the browser. Since the OS and its applications executes in the browser it also works offline. The Internet OS boots itself (takes around 3 seconds) and runs in the primary memory of the computer. As soon as the browser is shut down, the OS disappears from the computer. Using XIOS/3 you never has to think about installing patches, updates or new versions of software again. The OS updates itself. You may also access your applications and documents from any Internet connected computer.

After playing with it for a while, I have to say I really like the look and feel. Check out the video below. It is a very rich OS.

iCloud comes with all of the tools that you would need (and expect) on your desktop.

  • Office Tools (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, calendar, etc)
  • Games
  • File Explorer and Archive Browser
  • Note pad
  • Network Tools (RSS reader, Internet Browser, Email, FTP, IM)
  • Multimedia (mp3 player, video player)
  • Desktop Widgets
  • Application Development Tools

iCloud offers a basic interface for mobile access. I was able to reference my documents from my Blackberry which is a nice feature.

View a demo of iCloud.

The award for coolest name (and URL) would have to go to Yes, that’s actually a URL. is built on an open software stack but is not a downloadable project. You signup and use it much like icloud. Actually, very much like iCloud. You get some file and email space with the other two services but I am not sure exactly how much. spells out exactly what you do get: 5GB of file space and 3GB of email storage. You can get an additional 1GB of file space for each user you refer who signs up.

I believe the business model is going to be built around selling extended services. For example, you will be able to upgrade file storage beyond 5GB by paying a subscription fee. They may also offer some professional level applications. comes with pretty much the same tools and applications as EyeOS and iCloud but with some tweaks.

  • Office Tools (uses zoho and google docs)
  • Games
  • File Explorer and Archive Browser
  • File Storage on Drive
  • Note pad
  • Network Tools (RSS reader, Internet Browser, Email, FTP, IM – meebo)
  • Multimedia (mp3 player, video player, Internet radio – and Pandora)
  • Desktop Widgets
  • Application Development Tools
  • Login management offers a detailed interface for mobile access. I was able to reference my documents and files from my Blackberry which is a nice feature.

As a side note, the company is a unique blend of collaboration is a hard situation. From the web site: is a collaborative company meaning that relies heavily on its partners to provide the outstanding technology and services that delivers to its users. partners with its users, with Web-based service and software providers, with developers and with hosting companies.

Collaboration is at the heart of what does. The team is itself a rare Palestinian-Israeli collaboration. Ghosts go through walls and the very first wall that goes through is the 425 mile wall that Israel has built in the West Bank between itself and the Palestinians and which physically divides the team into two. However the Internet and collaboration between human beings transcends all physical boundaries.

That may not make a difference in your business decisions but I think it’s a pretty cool note.

View a demo of


So there you go. I wouldn’t say that Cloud OSes are a mature niche as of yet but I think the field will grow. If you are ready to start playing, here are three very robust and usable environments.


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