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Vivek Kundra, Cash-for-Clunkers & Cloud Architecture

Just because the Cloud offers scalability doesn’t mean that you automatically Inherit It

In reading Vivek Kundra’s “25 Point Implementation Plan To Reform Federal Information”, I was struck by the anecdote regarding how the lack of scalability was the cause for outages and, ultimately, delays in processing transactions on the Car Allowance and Rebate System (CARS) or as it was more commonly known as Cash-for-Clunkers. 

According to this document the overwhelming response overwhelmed the system leading to outages and service disruptions.  However, a multimedia company offering users the ability to create professional-quality TV-like videos and share them over the Internet scaled to meet rising demand that rose from 25,000 to 250,000  users in three days and reached a peak rate of 20,000 new users every hour.

The moral of the story is that the multimedia application was able to scale from 50 to 4,000 virtual machines as needed to meet demand because it was designed on a Cloud architecture.  While true, there is a very important piece of information lacking from this anecdote, which in turn could lead some to believe that the Cloud offers inherent scalability.  This piece of information is that the system you design must be able to take advantage of available opportunity to scale as much as have the facilities of the underlying platform support scaling.

In the comparison offered by Kundra, it’s clear that the system was appropriately designed to scale with the rapid growth in users.  For example, they may have had to add additional load balancers to distribute the load across increased numbers of web servers.  If they had a database architecture, perhaps the database was clustered and more nodes were added to the cluster to support the increased number of transactions.  If it was file-based, perhaps they were using a distributed file system, such as Hadoop and they were able to add new nodes in the system dispersed geographically to limit latency.  In each of these cases, it was the selection of the components and manner in which they were integrated that facilitated the ability to scale and not some inherent "magic" of the Cloud Computing platform.

It’s great that Kundra is putting forth a goal that the government needs to start seeking lower-cost alternatives to building data centers, but it’s also important to note that, according to this same document, many of today's government IT application initiatives are often behind schedule and fail to meet promised functionality. 

It’s hard to believe that with these issues that the systems are going to be appropriately designed to run in a Cloud architecture and scale accordingly.  The key point here is that in addition to recommending a “Cloud First” policy, the government needs to hire contractors and employees that understand the nuances of developing an application that can benefit from Cloud capabilities. In this way, the real benefit of Cloud will be realized and the Cloud First policy will achieve its goals.

More Stories By JP Morgenthal

Mr. Morgenthal has over 25 years of experience in Information Technology spanning multiple disciplines including software engineering, architecture, marketing, sales, consulting and executive management. He has specializations in multiple industry verticals including: banking, brokerage, retail, supply chain management, healthcare and Federal. Mr. Morgenthal also has technical specializations, and is considered a thought leader, in integration, enterprise architecture, service oriented architecture and cloud computing. In the role of Director, Mr. Morgenthal is responsible for furthering Perficient’s efforts in cloud computing with its customers through services development, sales force enablement and training, strategic account support and development of programs to drive cloud computing opportunities. Prior to his role as Director, Mr. Morgenthal was a Cloud Ranger with EMCC’s Cloud & Virtual Data Center service line. In that role, Mr. Morgenthal was instrumental in driving consulting opportunities for EMC around cloud and IT transformation, facilitating workshops and EBCs, and developing statements of work. Prior to EMC, Mr. Morgenthal designed, developed and operated one of the first Platform-as-a-Service for the supply-chain, logistics, multi-channel retail management, loyalty program management and payment cards. Mr. Morgenthal is the author of four trade publications covering topics of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Application Integration, Enterprise Information Integration, and Distributed Systems Management. He has also published over one-hundred articles and is a frequent blogger and has spoken at many of the leading conferences covering these technologies. He has a Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Computer Science from Hofstra University.

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