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Cloud Computing's Growing Pains

Google, Microsoft and Amazon are investing heavily in cloud computing -- the idea that software and computing services should be maintained on the Web, distributed across data centers around the globe. Amazon was the first to the punch, offering the first computing services for businesses a couple of years ago. More recently, Google and Microsoft have entered the fray, the latter through the recently launched Exchange Online.

At Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting last week, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie talked up the company's cloud computing plans. The goal, he said, is to produce a set of tools that allows developers to create programs that work just as well on a single server as they do on a whole data center of servers. This is what Microsoft talks about when it mentions "software-as-a-service." As CEO Steve Ballmer himself said, "Some people think software plus services is all about search. But it's really about changing the way software is written and deployed. The future is about having a platform in the cloud and delivering applications across PCs, phones, TVs, and other devices, at work and in the home."

For all of its promise, Amazon's recent troubles show that cloud development still has a long way to go. Last weekend, the online retailer's S3 storage service suffered a service outage lasting several hours. Later, the company claimed that some of the communication between S3's servers became corrupted, causing the servers to repeatedly fail. The fact that the initial corruption spread to take down both S3 sites is worrying, especially since the S3 servers were supposed to be self-organizing, to a large extent

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