Drawing an analogy between a microwave oven and cloud — Part 2

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Put a bar of a brand of soap that floats in water on top of some wax paper and microwave it for a minute and a half. Sit back and enjoy as the bar expands into a wondrous confection of cloud formations. The bar of soap has little pockets of air inside that get hot, causing the molecules to move away from each other and expand. You now have a big fluffy white cloud in your microwave—a soap cloud though, not a compute cloud. Should you build your own compute cloud? In part one of this series, I drew an analogy between the manufacturers of microwave ovens and cloud providers, comparing usage characteristics that dictate the choice you make in selecting or building a cloud. In this post, I will compare additional aspects: adaptability, notifications, protection and flexibility.


Some microwaves provide sensor cooking that cooks based on humidity in the oven from moisture released by the food. With auto defrost, the microwave sets the best program. You can enter the weight of the food and it will calculate how long it should take to cook. Auto roast checks the temperature and adjusts the time of cooking. This is similar to your application adapting dynamically to workload changes and resource availability.

Spikes in workloads require auto-scaling functionality from a cloud. You may be an intermittent user of the cloud and may only use it for bursting with most of the computation/storage on premises. IBM Platform LSF or Platform Symphony, installed on SoftLayer and on-premises infrastructure makes it so that jobs requiring additional capacity can burst off-premises securely. In an IBM PureApplication System, a virtual application pattern type acts as a scaling manager to dynamically add and remove nodes based on the user-defined policy. Automation of changes to computing resources in response to changing demand allows maintenance of desired performance levels.


Just like the microwave oven timer that informs you when cooking is complete or needs manual intervention, a cloud provides different kinds of notifications and responses. For example, when the provisioning is complete, the user can look at a dashboard or be notified by email or text message. SoftLayer notifications (through email and tickets) and failure responses (like automated reboot) provide a higher level of assurance and protection. Customer support provides periodic notification in tickets for long-running tasks in a cloud.

Protection and security

If you have children, ease of use and safety may be of high importance. You may even want to child proof your microwave oven to deter or prevent accidental operation by youngsters. Encrypting data at rest on the disk is helpful in assuring data protection within a cloud; however, newly created data has many points of vulnerability while it is in flight to and from application servers. IBM Security for cloud allows you to secure your cloud infrastructure and protect access to your resources and data in the cloud. Security considerations depend on whether the cloud is on premises or off premises and whether it is managed by cloud provider. In a private, on-premises, self-managed cloud, you are responsible for the entire security stack. In a public, off-premises cloud, the cloud service provider and the customer share security responsibilities. The demarcation of security responsibilities should be well understood and explicitly agreed upon.

Speed and flexibility

There are multiple ways to get the same result from a microwave oven. There are numerous ways to press the keys to get the desired result of heating an item to the desired temperature. The standard keys allow you to type in a time in minutes and seconds and press the “Start” key. Yet in some microwaves, there may be a separate “Minute plus” key. Let’s assume that you want to heat your glass of milk for just a few seconds more than a minute, say 6 seconds. How many of you type 66, how many type 106 and how many of you decide to forget those extra few seconds and just hit the “Minute Plus” key.

Let’s take this a bit further. If you want to cook for around one and half minutes, what is the fastest way to do so? Do you hit 88, 90 or 130? I always program my microwave with the fewest possible button presses and minimum finger movement. I decide to forego those two seconds. I choose 88. Is that extreme thinking?

Maybe it is for the microwave oven, but with cloud, these decisions you make with resources and cost matter. Certain fixed combinations of commoditized resources are cheaper and faster to provision for the cloud provider and the savings are passed on to the customer, like bare metal instances on SoftLayer. These may or may not provide the optimum requirements for your needs and may be ordered on an hourly or monthly basis. You do not want to mistakenly order a server for a month when ordering it for few hours would be sufficient and cheaper. If you have very specific needs, Dedicated Servers on SoftLayer can satisfy these needs but may be higher cost and will require few hours to provision and may only be available on a monthly basis. It can even take a day or more to build if you require RAID 5 or have customized requirements that may require opening a ticket.

The agility a cloud provides makes it easy for users to quickly order resources and automatically adapt to changing needs, though it can make it frustrating when attempting to predict how much your organization will owe at the end of the month. Developers may start virtual instances and forget about deleting them, thus causing significant budgeting challenges. Constant vigilance is required to avoid unexpectedly large bills. Organizations need new operational practices to enable delivery of predictable billing with the ability to elastically add and remove resources from a capacity pool. Microwave ovens are disposable appliances now just as your instances in a cloud are. However, organizations face greater compliance pressures.

The use of cloud-based platforms continues to evolve and demands best-of-breed cloud services to form the optimal solution. In part three of this series, I will compare the scenarios for multiple microwave ovens with multi-cloud and cover some aspects of compliance requirements. Connect with me on Twitter @aakarve.

Read Part 3 of Alexei’s series “Drawing an analogy between a microwave oven and cloud”

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