In this post, I’ll introduce condominium clouds and discuss some of their potential for changing computing. From an architectural point of view, condominium clouds are essentially the same as private clouds. Condominium clouds have a different business model though, which, in certain circumstances provides some definite advantages.
I argue here that condominium clouds and related offerings represent a fundamental shift in our computing platforms. To explain this, I’ll take a short detour and recall a computing experience I had about a decade ago and the business model (condominium fiber) that made these types of experiences available to a broader community.
One of most exciting technical experiences I have had occurred in 2000 when I ran a distributed data intensive computing application over a dedicated 155 Mbps network link connecting clusters located at NCAR in Boulder and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Prior to that I only had access to 1.5 Mbps networks and these networks were shared by the rest of the campus. The application was able to perform sustained computation at about 96 Mbps, which was not bad considering that each computer was limited by a 100 Mbps NIC. Reaching a 96 Mbps over a wide area network was quite difficult at that time, but we did this using a new network protocol that was the precursor to UDT. The reason for our excitement was that one day we were were limited to distributed computations that rarely reached 1 Mbps, while the next day we reached 96 Mbps, almost two orders of magnitude improvement.
By 2003, with improved protcols and 10 Gbps networks, sustained distributed computations reached 6.8 Gbps. Within a four year span, we had passed through an inflection point in which high performance distributed computing improved by over 3 orders of magnitude. Three things were required:
- A new computing platform, in this case, clusters connected by wide area, high performance networks.
- A new network protocol and associated libraries, since TCP was not effective at data intensive computing over wide area high performance networks.
- A new business model, which made high performance wide area networks more broadly available.
Let’s turn now to cloud computing. Cloud computing has two faces: the most familiar face offers utility-based pricing, on-demand elastic availability, and infrastructure as a service. There is no doubt that this combination is changing the face of computing. On the other hand, the other side of cloud computing is just as important. This side is about thinking of the data center as your unit of computing. Previously you probably thought of computing as requiring a certain number of racks. With cloud computing, you now think of computing as requiring a certain number of data centers. This is computing measured with Data Center Units or DCUs.
The problem is acquiring computing at the scale of data centers is prohibitive except for handful of companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, IBM, …)
This is where the condominium clouds enter. But first, here is a description of customer owned and condominium fiber from a 2002 FAQ titled “FAQ about Community Dark Fiber Networks” written by Bill St Arnaud:
Dark fiber is optical fiber, dedicated to a single customer and where the customer is responsible for attaching the telecommunications equipment and lasers to “light” the fiber. Traditionally optical fiber networks have been built by carriers where they take on the responsibility of lighting the fiber and provide a managed service to the customer.
Professional 3rd parties companies who specialize in dark fiber systems take care of the actual installation of the fiber and also maintain it on behalf of the customer. Technically these companies actually own the fiber, but sell IRUs (Indefeasible Rights of Use) for up to 20 years for unrestricted use of the fiber.
All across North America businesses, school boards and municipalities are banding together to negotiate deals to purchase customer owned dark fiber. A number of next generation service providers are now installing fiber networks and will sell strands of fiber to any organization who wish to purchase and manage their own dark fiber.
Many of these new fiber networks are built along the same model as a condominium apartment building. The contractor advertises the fact that they intend to build a condominium fiber network and offers early participants special pricing before the construction begins. That way the contractor is able to guarantee early financing for the project and demonstrate to bankers and other investors that there are some committed customers to the project.
The condominium fiber is operated like a condominium apartment building. The individual owners of fiber strands can do whatever they want they want with their individual fiber strands. They are free to carry any type of traffic and terminate the fiber any way they so choose. The company that installs the fiber network is responsible for overall maintenance and repairing the fiber in case of breaks, moves, adds or changes. The “condominium manager” charges the owners of the individual strands of fiber a small annual maintenance fee which covers all maintenance and right of way costs.
The initial primary driver for dark fiber by individual customers is the dramatic savings in telecommunication costs. The reduction in telecommunication costs can be in excess of 1000% depending on your current bandwidth requirements.
It is now easy to explain condominium clouds. For those who cannot afford private clouds at the scale of data centers, condominium clouds became a way to share the expense with other members of the condominium.
The condominium cloud model is also attractive if there are compliance issues or security issues that make a private cloud desirable, but your scale is such that justifying your own private cloud at the scale of a data center does not make sense.
As with condominium fiber, professionals would build and operate the data center. One way of looking at condominium clouds is as a more cost effective private clouds for certain organizations or associations that might benefit from the scale and operational control that data centers offer.
Condominium clouds might make sense for companies in a regulated industry that belong to an association that can manage the condominium. They would also make sense for scientific collaborations, especially those with large data. Also, although the business model would be slightly different, government organizations that couldn’t justify their own cloud could work together and jointly manage a condominium cloud.
The image above is courtesy of Cory Doctorow.