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Achieving Scale and Performance in the Cloud

To achieve the full benefit of cloud computing, all assets need to be fully elastic

New breakthroughs in cloud-based data management empower databases with the necessary elasticity they need to be truly responsive to the ebbs and tides of supply and demand.

Cloud computing allows all capital assets - computing power, memory and storage for example - to be exchanged at the best price, giving everyone the best value for their money. Like any free market, it will only deliver its full benefits to buyers and sellers if the right conditions are available. There can be no barriers to entry, and assets in the cloud must be capable of free movement.

Unfortunately, the unsuitability of traditional relational database management systems (RDBMS) has created such a blockage. Their lack of elasticity or liquidity demobilizes computing resources. However, new developments in cloud database technology (like database bursting and hibernating functions) show how the database component can have the necessary fluidity to bring cloud-computing closer to ‘perfect market' conditions and begin to deliver its full benefits.

Consider the empirical evidence of how the fluidity of assets is changing. The limitations of a traditional relational database (RDB) meant that it ran on its own server. By contrast, in March 2013 HP demonstrated how 72,000 databases were able to share a single HP Moonshot server. Not only could they co-exist, they were able to ramp up and wind down their use of the computing capacity, so that trade-offs of processing power, storage and memory could be made as their own supply and demand changed.

Each database was constructed using a new agile set of processes that were designed to give it the fluency described above. If a database is inactive, it can be effectively switched off, and the capacity it didn't use (such as memory, storage and processing power) could be re-allocated to the rest of the pool. This relatively new concept, known as hibernation, brings a new fluidity to cloud computing. It allows assets to be mobilized between different consumers (namely the servers running those databases).

The active ingredient in the new cloud management operating systems is software that can monitor a server and understand the activity in each database. It can see whether its current workload justifies the amount of resources (such as memory, storage, and processing power) that are currently allocated, and make an intelligent decision on whether to adjust it. In terms of the free market, the management system enjoys perfect information and asset liquidity.

New technology enables server management software to spot when databases are not active and put them in hibernation until they next need to be allocated resources. On the other hand, if a SQL client needs to access the database, it can be restarted instantly.

Another mobility improvement stems from the fact that databases are not geographically restricted anymore. Unlike RDBs, they can spread onto multiple servers across multiple locations. Databases can both burst out and hibernate, expanding and contracting in immediate response to the demands made on them by users. They have complete elasticity in response to the unpredictable demands of their user base.

Traditionally, it didn't matter that a RDB sat on a single server on one site because the market conditions for computing resources were a lot simpler. The volume of demand was literally a microcosm of today's market. When RDBs were conceived, the idea of computing 1,000 transactions per second was thought to be beyond the realms of possibility. These days Facebook can make a million transactions every second across its various data centers at peak time.

Nobody can afford to buy their IT capacity the way they did in the '80s. It is technically impossible and certainly unwise to buy a data processing environment that covers all possibilities, and then leave much of it unused for 90 percent of the time, because the upper limits of demand are so much more extreme. There needs to be a fluid market for computing capacity, which the cloud could provide.

Many of the ideal conditions needed for perfect cloud computing, as defined by analyst firm Gartner, are achievable now. Any cloud computing environment can meet Gartner's stipulation that it be Internet-enabled, service-based, metered and shared fairly easily. But there is one quality that has eluded us: elasticity. Without elasticity, resources cannot be shared, and the exchange of data processing goods and services lacks the fluidity to be able to react quickly to changing market conditions.

The result of this is that the users of cloud computing risk either overprovisioning their computing resources or under-provisioning. However, in a world where markets fluctuate and customers are as mobile and quick to migrate as any other element in the economic equation, underestimating your IT resources is not an option.

That creates a massive challenge for the CIO. When online demand fluctuates as dramatically as it does today, how does one estimate the maximum limits of demand? In peak times, Amazon's trade rises by 500,000 transactions per second above its routine level of activity.

When RDBs were conceived, market conditions were much different. Databases were smaller, transactions didn't involve unstructured data and were much simpler and the peaks and troughs of activity were less extreme. The limitations of RDB (such as the lack of elasticity its intransigence imposed on the computing model) were less telling, because enterprises could afford to overprovision their processing power, storage and memory, even if that meant that 90 percent of the time it was unused.

Today elasticity is an option, if you redesign the way the database works. But massively overprovisioning capacity is not, as the peak of activity is far higher - not just for Amazon but for all online traders.

The cost of these transactions can be managed with the efficiencies of the cloud. According to the independent Yahoo Cloud Serving Benchmark, the most cost-efficient elastic cloud database on the market can generate 4,368,421 transactions per second for every dollar invested in cloud computing.

This astonishingly low cost per transaction is achieved by creating the perfect market for computing assets. Aggregating databases has created huge economies of scale, while taking advantages of the commoditization of hardware. Coupled with a far more efficient model of distribution, the price per transaction has fallen dramatically.

While other aspects of IT (such as the development of CPU, memory and software) have continued to improve exponentially every 18 months for two decades, database technology has remained relatively static. However, new cloud data management systems have released this handbrake and could create a sudden surge in mobility.

More Stories By Wiqar Chaudry

Wiqar Chaudry, Tech Evangelist & Director of Product Marketing, NuoDB, Inc., is an IT professional with over a decade of experience in database systems and web technologies. He has been responsible for designing large scale data warehouses for the Fortune 500 and has played key roles in several data centric start-ups as a solutions architect, sales engineer and product manager. Wiqar holds a BBA in Finance from Temple University and an MS in Computer Information systems from Boston University. In his spare time he writes a blog on collaborative economics. You can follow him on twitter @WiqarC.

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