Saturday, October 4, 2008

Union Square's Albert Wenger offers crash course on cloud computing

[Posted on October 3, 2008 - 6:47 PM]
-- Mary Kathleen Flynn

The profile of so-called "cloud computing" has been rising rapidly over the last week or so. First, Oracle Corp. Larry Ellison mocked it as "gibberish," then Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman called it "stupidity," citing privacy concerns. Meanwhile Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer told a London audience Wednesday that the software giant will soon release "Windows Cloud."

Amid the controversy, I figured it was a good week to get a tutorial on cloud computing, and fortunately Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger (pictured) was kind enough to give me one. At Tim O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Expo in New York last month, Wenger gave a presentation on cloud computing, which he walked me through Thursday at Union Square's office.

One of the tricky things about trying to understand cloud computing is that there is no concensus on a definition. If you try to look up the term on Wikipedia or through Google searches, as I did, you'll find yourself more confused at the end of the exercise than you were going into it.

Thankfully, Wenger begins his presentation with a definition, albeit a multi-part one. He says there are four key characteristics of true cloud computing:

1. Cloud computing is independent of machines (either real machines or virtual ones), giving applications developed for it the ability to run on any hardware.

2. It requires little if any configuring.

3. The same code scales from hundreds of users to hundreds of thousands of users so developers do not need to rewrite their programs as they grow their companies.

4. It enables easy integration and delivery of Web services at scale.

"When the cloud is fully realized, developers will no longer have to worry about provisioning and monitoring machines, whether virtual or real, or whether they will be able to handle a 1000-fold increase in load on their service," Wenger explains. "A single individual will be able to create a site or service that can affect the lives of many millions or even billions of people."

Wenger says cloud computing will "fundamentally transform how software and services on the Web are created."

Putting his money where his mouth is, Wenger leads Union Square's $1.5 million investment in 10gen, which is developing a cloud computing environment. The majority of 10gen is owned by AlleyCorp, the New York incubator of former DoubleClick Inc. executives Kevin Ryan and Dwight Merriman.

Wenger, who advocates "regulation by transparency" instead of standards, says Stallman is right to raise privacy and other control issues about proprietary cloud computing environments, such as Google App Engine, Amazon Web Services and Inc.'s

10gen's approach is to develop an open-source cloud computing environment. "What MySQL did for databases, 10gen will do for cloud computing," predicts Wenger.

See Albert Wenger's Continuations blog
See Sept. 29 post on cloud computing from Tech Confidential

©Copyright 2008, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.
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