James Over the past few months a flurry of announcements have begun swirling around the cloud computing space, which remains a nascent market in the overall IT realm. Do these announcements portend a fast maturity for the concept or just the typical "me too" that comes with a hyped market?

In June, RightScale, a cloud management software and consulting company that has become a bit of a poster child as a cloud integrator, announced a partnership with GigaSpaces that integrates their eXtreme Application Platform (XAP) clustering and cache solution with the RightScale automated cloud management platform for Amazon EC2 clients. The value of this partnership comes from the fact that EC2 simply provides you with a VM you can populate but no availability or scalability services. XAP is a cluster architecture that delivers these values and can be quickly and easily deployed via the RightScale tool.

Next came Elastra, a San Francisco startup building a Cloud Server, a middleware layer that turns a commodity infrastructure into a cloud (similar value to what 3Tera provides today). The first iteration deploys similarly to XAP — as a software layer you load into EC2 VMs, that enables scale and availability to the apps you lay on top of it.

Hyperic followed with the introduction of CloudStatus the first performance monitoring tool for clouds (starting with EC2, naturally). If the cloud computing market takes off, Hyperic could become the Keynote Systems of the cloud market. Skytap, Kaavo, GoGrid, CogHead, DabbleDB, and myriad others have since entered the cloud space as well.

These announcements all start to address some of the shortcomings of cloud computing: predictability, availability and scale. We are also starting to see clouds that go well beyond the bare bones infrastructure for hire of EC2. Google App Engines and salesforce.com both provide a series of infrastructure, availability, monitoring, scaling and other services capabilities that can be tapped into as a platform — while imposing some restrictions on application design and portability.

Even academia is starting to look at clouds as a potential way to accelerate research projects and control the escalating supercomputer center wars. Kate Keahey, a fellow in the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago is using rPath's virtual appliance technology to help researchers quickly package applications for deployment onto the Lab's HPC cloud, other academic clouds and quickly create an HPC cluster on EC2 and deploy it there. "I believe that this will be the model of the future. Providers who can provide their resources as a cloud on a long-term basis will create the conditions for easy migration to commercial platforms for overflow," she said, "This will absolutely drive cost savings for the universities."

While there are plenty of other excuses holding back enterprise IT shops from tapping into the cloud, such as security concerns and a dearth of Windows support, the progress is encouraging. And since we published our first report on the topic, the level of interest in tapping clouds or endorsing cloud access for application developers has risen considerably among infrastructure & operations professionals. It's still early days and we certainly aren't seeing the type of enterprise implementations we would expect to signal a high growth phase, but it's starting to look like cloud computing may have greater legs than the utility computing efforts that came before it. Are you tapping the clouds? Tell us about your experiences.

By James Staten

Check out James' research