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Sun Exec: Cloud Changes Sysadmin Job

NEW YORK -- If you're an IT manager, cloud computing will fundamentally change your job, said Hal Stern, Sun vice president of engineering, in a speech at the technology management conference of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) here Wednesday.

"With services, we are leaving the hardware world," Stern said.

He meant that system administrators will monitor the network and not its hardware components. "We still need sysadmins but we don't need them running around the datacenter with a socket wrench," he said. "Instead, they will use telemetry and tools to assess capacity, security, and performance."

But what is the cloud? According to Gartner, the cloud has five attributes. It is service-based. It is scalable and elastic, able to add and remove infrastructure as needed. It uses shared infrastructure to build economies of scale. It is metered and users pay according to usage. Most importantly, of course, it uses Internet technologies.

Some companies don't want to share the infrastructure, so they build what is called private clouds. Others focus on price, and are willing to share the cloud infrastructure with other companies in cheaper public clouds.

"In Sun's view, there will be many clouds. There will be private clouds and public clouds and a spectrum of clouds in between them, even though at the moment the distribution of clouds is barbell shaped," Stern said.

Tension between developers and deployers

For IT managers in general and system administrators in particular, cloud computing can solve one nagging headache, Stern said. "Cloud computing can help solve the tension between developers and deployers. This tension has existed since the Garden of Eden. Why would the apple be there if not for developers to play with it," he joked, inferring that IT administrators are God.

He said, "IT administrators ask: why are users so needy? How can I audit what they're doing? Why do they need so many versions?"

All of this is easier in the cloud. Applications can be monitored and deployed better, depending on a company's needs.

"Startups see the cloud as a way to spend money on salaries, developers, and beer -- and not on infrastructure," Stern said.

The cloud makes it easier to monitor usage, but paying according to use isn't always cheaper, Stern warned. He noted that if you drive a car every day, you should buy one, but if you drive a car occasionally, it should make financial sense to rent one.

Sometimes, business managers use the cloud to avoid IT. Stern pointed to the story of New York Times data architect Derek Gottfrid who used Amazon's AWS and the Hadoop parallel data processing architecture to turn 70 years of newspapers into the TimesMachine archive.

"Eyebrows were raised when Gottfrid did an end run around the IT department," Stern said."

Stern noted that it makes sense to use the cloud to process this quantity of data (810,000 PNG images (thumbnails and full images) and 405,000 JavaScript files) if and only if you're not doing it every day.

Next page: The structure of a cloud