Interviews with Pete Beckman of Argonne National Lab
and Bradley Horowitz of Google
director of the Argonne Leadership
Computing Facility, Argonne National Laboratory,
interviewed by Sumit Narayan
Pete Beckman is the director of the Argonne Leadership Computing
Facility at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in Illinois. Argonne
National Lab is the United State’s first science and engineering research
laboratory as well as home to one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.
Beckman explains cloud computing from a scientist’s perspective,
and speculates where it might be headed next. (He also notes that
Argonne has a well-developed student internship program, but not
Sumit Narayan: “Cloud computing” is the new buzz word among
computer scientists and technologists. It’s used in different ways to
define a variety of things. Tell us a little about the origins of cloud
computing. What does cloud computing mean to you?
Pete Beckman: Distributed computing, which people have often
referred as “computing out there,” as opposed to “computing on your
local machine,” has been around for a very long time, somewhere
around 20 years.
We went from a period of distributed computing, to meta-com-
puting, to grid computing, and now to cloud computing. They’re all a
little different, but the notion is that the services, either compute or
data, are located remotely, and scientists have to then work out proto-
cols, policies, and security measures necessary to run stuffs remotely
or to get to the data that is remote.
SN: What are they key new technologies behind cloud computing?
Can you talk a little about the different services available through
PB: From a technical standpoint, the only one that has a strong root in
technology is the virtual machine-based “infrastructure as a service”
(IaaS). That’s the only one that has a technological breakthrough. All the
others are just a model breakthrough. In other words, the idea that I
could store my data locally or remotely has been around for a long time.
The idea that I can create a web application that makes it look like
I’m running something locally when it is really remote—these are
model differences in terms of APIs and providing a per-user capacity
and so forth. The technology, the one that is really a technological
breakthrough, is using and shipping around virtual machines.
An example of model breakthrough is what people are doing when
they say they are going to run their email on the cloud. To an organization, it looks like they have their emails present locally like they used
to. This is because they never really had it close to them on a server
down the hall. They were probably POP’ping, or IMAP’ping to a
server that was within their infrastructure, but probably in another
building. When people move their email to the cloud, they are now
getting that as a service remotely and are being charged an incremental fee, like a per-user fee.
There is no provisioning that the site has to do for hosting and running their own machines. To the user, it all looks the same, except that
the IMAP server is now some other IMAP server. The people are
doing the same for calendars, HR, travel, etc.
So all these systems which used to reside locally in an IT organization on-site are getting cloud versions, which essentially, only requires
a network connection.
Now the virtual machine part, that’s really a technological breakthrough that allows me to run anything, not just what they provide in
a package like POP or IMAP, but anything I want. That is unique and
the new thing over the last couple of years.
Spring 2010/ Vol. 16, No. 3