Cloud busting: Will the payoff be worth the setup challenge?

Jack Wallen spent the better part of a weekend attempting to set up a Eucalyptus cloud server. Was it worth it? Is is the solution for you? Read on and find out for yourself.

But every time it rains,

You're here in my head,

Like the sun coming out--

Ooh, I just know that something good is gonna happen.

And I don't know when,

But just saying it could even make it happen.

...Kate Bush, "Cloud Busting"

That's pretty much how I felt all day yesterday as I worked and struggled to get a Eucalyptus cloud up and running. After a couple of hours, I managed to get the back end up, but getting the images created and added bested least for the day. I am back at it this morning, attempting to generate images to be uploaded to my Eucalyptus server. Hopefully this time I will defeat this demon.

Should it be this difficult? Yesterday I even attempted to use the pre-packaged images to no avail. That task should have been remarkably simple. However, within the documentation for the pre-packaged images, the command line examples were wrong. Who would have thought the very developers and creators of these pre-packaged images would get their own commands wrong?

So tell me, how in the world is the end user and administrator supposed to get this system up and running when the documentation is incorrect? Now don't get me wrong, I can usually get around such issues. However, setting up a cloud system is a bit more complex than, say, installing a CRM or compiling the standard application from source. But should it be?

Let's take a look at what cloud computing is wanting to do. If you examine the Wiki entry for Cloud Computing you will find it states that cloud computing allows the end user to run small business applications from a server in a Web browser.  That just sounds too simple for what I experienced yesterday. If I had to describe what would be handed out by the cloud I was having to build, I would say it would deliver the meaning of life to users, or the cure for cancer, or a pot o' gold.

Small business applications? Really?

This all sounds fine and good...that is until I remember that, with a simple VirtualBox installation, I can serve up entire operating systems to an end user. And setting that up can be done in less than thirty minutes. Bust that cloud computing!

After my experience with the cloud installation, I decided another approach would be to create a server to host all of the various VM images and on that server create a Web page that would allow a user to log in and start up the virtual machine they needed to use. Then they could simply start up their remote client and begin working. But this is not without its challenges. In fact, it's downright tricky. And in a large company not really feasible. With a small company (or within a single department) you could just create a virtual machine for each user. Say you had five employees within a department, all who (at different times) would need to run:

  • Ubuntu 9.10
  • OpenSuSE
  • Windows XP
  • Windows 7

It would take a lot of space (and time) but you could create one image each (from the above list) for each employee. Either that or you could certainly employ VMWare Server or VMWare vSphere, which will allow you to manage a cloud-like environment.

But ultimately, for a larger company, the cloud is the thing. But understand, in order to build a cloud (at least using Eucalyptus) patience is most certainly a virtue. The payoff? Well, at some point today I will find just how good that payoff is. Let's hope it's worth it. During the writing of this blog I have been building images for my Eucalyptus server. So far, so good. They are now registering in my Eucalyptus Web interface! So the cloud server, at least for me, was (and is) a weekend project that will consume the bulk of your time.

When you start this project (and you know you will) make sure you read through ALL of the documentation first so you know what should be expected. Run your commands carefully and understand those commands before you run them. And hopefully (soon) I will have a step-by-step article on setting up a Eucalyptus server that you can read here on Techrepublic.

What about your experience? Have you deployed a cloud yet? Have you built a Eucalyptus server? How much hair did you lose in the process?

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....