Tag Archives: cloud

Facebook for Social Support? I like.

When we first rolled out TryStack, a place for trying out cloud! for OpenStack, we heard the groans from the audience since our first ID check is through a Facebook login. No Facebook, no TryStack. But since we’ve worked through the manual process and put a straight-through “Login using Facebook” link on the Dashboard, I have to say the process is super easy and repeatably so.

And I’m quite glad that we have the TryStack Facebook group for people to ask questions specific to TryStack. As the OpenStack doc coordinator I’ve found the group to be very valuable in telling me what information they’re missing, where they get confused about usage, and so on.

I especially like the video linking I can do in Facebook comments. Here’s a link to a video I made introducing people to TryStack.

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Why You Might Care about the Cloud

Talk about clouds, hybrid clouds, private clouds, and suddenly throw in software as a service and platform as a service, and you might be wondering, what does it mean? Whoa double rainbow, as some would say.

I wanted to put some perspective on the cloud for technical communicators. I’ve had a great guest blogger post from Ynema Mangum about cloud computing in the past titled, Clearing the Air on Cloud, but when I saw Ellis Pratt tweet about using the cloud for one of his projects, I followed up with him to learn more. Here’s an interview with Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf about his recent experiences with cloud computing.

Q1: Could you describe the project when you recently used a cloud computing environment?

We’ve created a report publishing system, based on Confluence for a client. The reports are fire risk assessment reports, so they want the ability to complete the reports “on the road”.

Q2. What compelled you (or required) the use of virtual computers available on a network for the project?

We put a version of the prototype in the cloud for a number of reasons:

  • The client’s IT person hasn’t yet installed Confluence on their Virtual Private Network (VPN), so to keep the project rolling along, we created a version in the cloud that they could access and review the prototype of the system.
  • We’d also outlined in our proposal how they could host the system in the cloud instead of on their VPN, so it gave us the opportunity to show them what it would mean for the report writers.
  • Our own VPN can be slow at time and holds sensitive data, so it was an excuse to test out the potential of a hosted application server for our own use.
  • There may be cases in the future where clients would want to access a documentation solution hosted by us, so we wanted to research the possibilities and potential.

It was prompted by:

  • A chat I had at a 4Networking (business networking) meeting with a software developer, who said how cheap it was to create a application server these days. We’d looked at it about 6 months ago (when we put our file storage in the cloud), but had found it a bit too pricey. The prices have seem to have come down.
  • A blog on the Confluence blog about how you can turn an application server on and off, so you’re only paying for it when you need it.
There was also an underlying interest. We’ve been working on making it possible to work away from the office for longer periods of time. There’s a quite a difference between working off-site for a day and working off-site for a month.

Q3. Have you seen the Microsoft TV ads with the line “To the Cloud” (link)? What’s your reaction to that type of consumer messaging about the cloud?

Those adverts haven’t been running in the UK, as far as I am aware. The message seems to be the cloud is for when you’re up against a deadline and when you want to be cool. I suspect its aim is to get  non-technical people to associate the word “cloud” with Microsoft, so they go to the Microsoft site if and when they want to investigate what “the cloud” is.

It doesn’t tell you what the cloud is. Collaboration can be done on a LAN, a VPN and a wiki, so it doesn’t tell you how it differs from those options. I guess the key message to the consumer market is: work on any computer, anywhere you like. I’d like them to make some comparison to Google mail (or Hotmail), as many people will have experience of that.

Q4. For tech comm, do you think relevance to cloud computing lies in collaboration (access to more people and networks) or scale (access to more computing power) or another aspect?

I’d say collaboration, bypassing the IT dept (!) and the ability to work from home.

Q5. What’s a great way to introduce cloud computing to technical writers? How do you make it relevant?

I’d suggest real-time collaboration, the ability to work from anywhere, the ability to have a fast system, the ability to test software among a group, user generated content and the ability to make stuff web accessible in a way that doesn’t put any company-critical stuff at risk.

Q6. Do you agree with the statement “cloud computing is becoming “the 21st century equivalent of the printing press” from Nicholas Carr’s blog entry, The cloud press?

No, I believe collaborative authoring/cognitive surplus/wikis are the 21st century equivalent of the printing press – a low cost way to get more people to write (and read) more quickly.

The article does raise the Wikileaks/Amazon issue. Putting the rights and wrongs of Wikileaks aside, Amazon’s actions do show that cloud providers can terminate their service to you in an instant, if they choose to. Although it’s unlikely that many of us will host any thing as contentious as Wikileaks, it will lead people to ask, what would happen if they did pull the plug on us? There are also national laws to consider around data protection – EU laws, the Patriot act etc . We have our cloud data hosted in the European Union, for example.

Q7. How does cloud computing affect tech comm delivery?

It makes user generated content and a more distributed authoring team more possible. It makes it easier to get contractors to use your software.

It means we can do more Webby things with documentation.

The biggest challenge we faced was setting up the server. You can end up in this no-mans land between the hosting service and the application vendor where there’s no-one document telling you how to install the software in the cloud. It’s easier with Windows Server than with Linux, but then you’ll be paying more for your hosting.

Thanks Ellis for sharing your perspective and experiences!

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OpenStack Doc Sprinting

What a week! I’m recovered and finally able to reflect on our recent OpenStack Design Summit.

As you may have seen on the OpenStack Blog, we gave out three documentation awards to those who made a difference in the latest OpenStack release, Austin, by contributing documentation either on Etherpad or by submitting images or writing RST files for Sphinx output. Contributions have been super and steady and I’m extremely grateful for everyone making doc a priority.

We planned for a day and a half for a doc sprint as part of the Design Summit. In reality, I found myself being approached throughout the Summit by people who are interested in contributing documentation, writing doc in RST, or even pulling printouts from briefcases. The entire week exceeded my expectations.

On the third day of the four-day Design Summit, several of us gathered at a table in front of a projector to work on the documentation. During the week, some of the Anso Labs guys found me in the lounge and we talked about their all-new nova.openstack.org site which rolled out last week. Excellent! I matched up the theme so the swift.openstack.org site now matches. We discussed RST-based doc as the “voice of authority” documentation for developers. Basically, we were all advocating for “wiki or Etherpad as drafting area” and “rst in the source code as authoritative voice about the project” but are open to input on that.

Citrix contributors Zhixue Wu, Armando Migliaccio, and Youcef Laribi contributed an OpenStack Network Overview that we incorporated into the nova.openstack.org site along with a lot of implementation details from Anso Labs. The Citrix group also authored Rabbit documentation and Swift installation documentation which we’re folding into the sites now (and the sprint goes on…). Disney manager Joe Heck documented the entire Nova database schema with diagrams now available on the wiki. Remotely, David Pravec created diagrams showing Nova installation architectures and method and messaging calls which we’re able to incorporate into the site. All of us tested the installation documentation, and Bryan Walker from Accenture added edits for the single-node install based on his experiences. Once they were tested, Anthony Young took the wiki documentation and marked it up as RST to incorporate into the nova developer doc site. I also worked with Jorge Williams from Rackspace about the Rackspace API docs which he maintains in docbook, and Jorge gave me the source files for the Cloud Files API developer guide which we can re-use and incorporate into the OpenStack documentation. We also had a huge collaboration session with Dustin Kirkland and others to create specs for Stack on a Stick, a Live ISO image so you can get Nova running instances painlessly. I also met with Nati Ueno from NTT, who made a working VirtualBox image that runs Nova and we uploaded it to Rackspace’s CDN. Basically these give you Nova in a virtual system so you can painlessly run command to try it out, risk-free.

I hope I haven’t missed anyone – my apologies if I did! I’m finally recovered from the effort and able to look in the rear view mirror and wow, what a sense of pride I have in the OpenStack community.

This sprint felt like a great collaborative effort and gave me a chance to get to know the stackers who want to build great docs for OpenStack. While we didn’t do much future planning, I think we certainly got to know one another and now can comfortably email and comment on each other’s docs – that’s a huge step for anyone writing docs for any project. So I really appreciate all the hard work and want to say thanks for “gellin” through the sprint.

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Clearing the Air on Cloud

One of my readers asked for a post about cloud computing. I went straight to my in-Austin expert, Ynema Mangum, and she exceeded my expectations by writing the post! This is a guest post by Ynema Mangum, architect at Hewlett-Packard. She contributed information about web metrics to my book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. She’s working on a chapter for the upcoming book Cloud Computing: Principles and Paradigms. I’ll post a second guest post from Ynema next week.

Cloud computing represents a paradigm shift from traditional IT rooted in heavy process and technology-centric management to agile processes and service-centric management. This shift converges with Web 2.0 and distributed application design, resulting in democratized computing and an economic revolution — where the developer can deploy enterprise grade applications and user services without having to pay the capital expense for the underlying IT infrastructure. It represents a radical change and requires a culture shift for IT when building a private cloud.

Today, confusion exists about exactly what cloud is as well as how it compares to current IT methods and technologies. Clearing the air is the first order of business.

Public Cloud vs. Private Cloud

The public cloud model has is vastly different from the private cloud, creating a chasm in their connection. The current expectation for public cloud infrastructure and platform services is the ability to provision compute, storage, database and networking resources in a few minutes, completely online without establishing an agreement or talking to a person.

Private cloud computing has different challenges for the service provider, but often is faced with the same expectations. Regulatory compliance, security, and privacy are just the icing on the cake. The concern that seems most often forgotten in comparing public and private cloud models is quality and compliance of data.

Public cloud providers, in general, do not care what type of application or data you throw on the cloud. Compare that with an enterprise private cloud, where IT not only owns the performance and availability of the organizational assets, but also has responsibility for ensuring that business assets are used in the proper manner. Applications that are developed and deployed on a private cloud need to go through a series of quick checks before they can be cleared in order to prevent misuse of company assets or the risk of retrofit and ground-up redesign of applications developed outside of IT.

There is an ongoing challenge in enterprises today to segment cloud service offerings, architectures and buyer types into useful, focused categories for strategic planning, according to Frank Gillett of Forrester. For public cloud service providers, two IaaS market categories have emerged, the software Platform as a Service (PaaS) and virtual Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings that differ by level of infrastructure service and abstraction offered.

For private clouds, there are two types of compute clouds, server clouds and scale-out clouds.

  • Server clouds are built for the traditional needs of the business applications, catalyzed by x86 server virtualization and adding self service provisioning.
  • Scale-out clouds are designed for massive, highly distributed applications.

Virtualization vs. Cloud

Virtualization and cloud computing have much in common, including phrase overuse and hype, resulting in a lack of understanding of both. Cloud computing does not equal virtualization, but does use abstraction as a common element in each layer of the cloud. In fact, the most distinct differences between the two terms seem to be in the areas of abstraction and IT maturity.

Virtualization is datacenter-centric and technology-centric, while cloud computing is service and user-centric. Memory, desktops, applications, storage, applications, platforms, and servers can be virtualized, or abstracted from the underlying technology. Cloud computing can use or not use virtualization in its architecture.

Typically, the virtualization referred to for use in cloud computing is operating-system virtualization, where multiple virtualized machines can run on a physical server, secure and isolated from one another. These VMs provide benefits in that they can be provisioned without requesting physical hardware, changed, moved, controlled, terminated, and configured more easily than a physical machine. This results in greater efficiencies and productivity in IT, and also increases agility for the services developed and deployed on these VMs.

Beyond this layer of virtualization, cloud computing adds platforms, agile processes, and services for developers, providing value far beyond virtualization.

Utility Computing vs. Cloud

Utility computing is a business or economic model, whereas cloud computing is about technology and process architecture. Utility computing allows users to receive computing resources and “pay by consumption”. Cloud computing is a much broader concept, taking into consideration the underlying architecture and actual services delivered.

Consumer users have been reaping the benefits of the utility model in cloud computing for years — at the application as a service level. It is developers and IT who are using cloud computing in a transformative way now. IaaS and PaaS allows them to develop, test, deploy and run apps that can scale on enterprise grade technology, all without having to pay the capital expense for the underlying infrastructure. This is creating a new cloud economy and truly represents the democratization of computing.