Taking It Slow

Anything as a service (XaaS) is a potentially game-changing technology that could reshape IT.

Taking It Slow

Still, for every cloud-loving IT organization, there are several others who prefer to experiment with the cloud on a one-off basis before making larger commitments. Take The New York Times. Its first venture into the cloud was last year as an effort to convert the digitized content of all its issues from 1851 to 1922 into a Web-friendly format. In the end, it became a full-blown cloud computing experiment that turned into a compelling public domain archival resource.

Derek Gottfrid, the senior software architect behind the TimesMachine, knew that if his team sought to ac-quire the servers needed to process some 4 terabytes of data, the project probably never would have gotten off the ground. Instead, he got approval to use his corporate credit card to expense the required processing and storage capacity from Amazon Web Services' S3 and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). With only some tweaks to The New York Times' firewall, the data was uploaded into S3, converted into manageable image and JavaScript files using EC2, and then dressed up by the paper's design team.

Along the way, Gottfrid and his team realized that they'd done something that might be useful to the paper's readers, so they decided to leave the data in S3 and create a public-facing Web interface into the files, with Amazon serving them up from the cloud. The result is the impressive application Times-Machine, which lets users view scanned images of 150-year-old newspapers by hovering their mouse over a particular region of the image and then zooming in on that article, photo or ad.

Gottfrid says the IT team was more relieved than threatened by the use of the cloud. "They were largely indifferent," he says. "This was a project that they were glad didn't come to them because of the hardware requirements. We weren't taking an established product and moving it to cloud computing, so we weren't taking anything away from them."

It doesn't hurt that the cost of using Amazon's services has been negligible: The entire effort has cost the newspaper about $1,500 thus far, and the small ongoing monthly fee fluctuates depending on the level of traffic the TimesMachine attracts.

While the company's IT leadership is likely to be among those who won't bet heavily on cloud computing until the technology is more mature, Gottfrid is optimistic that the success of the effort will open the door to additional uses of cloud computing for one-off projects. "All this stuff is so new, so we're not going to put anything mission-critical in a cloud that hasn't been tested over time," he says. "But it's definitely something that's on our radar as we evaluate things."

This article was originally published on 08-05-2008
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