Cloud computing pondered at eBay event

The cloud computing juggernaut is coming, so embrace it, says HP.

Officials from companies such as HP and Joyent debated the merits and even the definition of cloud computing Monday during an event at eBay headquarters, emphasizing efforts underway and noting limitations to cloud computing on the software side.

Panelists and the audience pondered the issue of cloud computing during the eBay ResearchFest event in San Jose, Calif.

"[The] cloud computing juggernaut is coming. Embrace it," said panelist Prith Banerjee, senior vice president of research at HP Labs.

"Cloud computing, cloud services is computing and services that people can access over the Internet," Banerjee said, offering up his own definition. An audience member, meanwhile, defined cloud computing as "distributed computing trying to be a mainframe."

The question of what cloud computing is came to the forefront recently, with published reports quoting Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, pondering the subject.

Banerjee cited a variety of cloud computing projects at HP to improve the user experience, boost presence and in scaling computing. Among the projects are CloudPrint, to print from anywhere in the world, and Exascale, to build infrastructures for the cloud having millions of servers and petabytes of storage.

HP also is developing datacenter cooling technology, called dynamic smart cooling, that could be applied to cloud computing. "We are working on technology that will allow datacenters to reduce energy consumption by over 40 to 50 percent," Banerjee said.

HP is partnering with companies such as Intel and Yahoo on Cirrus, which is intended to be an easily accessible, open cloud computing platform.

An official at cloud services infrastructure provider Joyent said software can be an impediment to scaling in the cloud. Twitter, said Joyent CEO David Young, used to be on Joyent, running 30 machine equivalents but unable to keep up with 40MBps of traffic. Another customer, meanwhile, used a single server doing 50MBps, Young said.

"Twitter had plenty of infrastructure, but their software was not ready to scale," Young said.

Also during the eBay event, another panel discussed trends in technology research. Jim Spohrer, director of service research at IBM, noted the company's efforts in computer-aided design systems to generate business models. The company already has an early-stage effort going called component business model, but a full-fledged technology will take 5 to 10 years to develop, he said.

Panelist Mark Bernstein, president and center director at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), formerly Xerox PARC, said personalization of information services would be a trend the next 20 years. And Google's Peter Norvig said while other organizations have had research personnel separated from other parts of the company, Google does not. "In Google, we don't do that. Everything is mixed together," he said. Some engineers and researchers are even in the same office, Norvig said.

Panelists also discussed the impact of patents.

"From my perspective, patents are a fundamental asset to creating business value to the research you do," Bernstein said. "Now all that's changing."

Decisions have been made pushing the pendulum in the direction of open innovation and away from what patent trolls have wrought, he said. "I think patents for their purpose are a very good thing. I think that the use of them in society is less than optimal at the present."

eBay said on Monday that it has been awarded the 2007 Medal of Technology and Innovation and that it was the first Internet company to receive the award. The award was conferred by President George W. Bush at the White House, who cited the company's efforts in online trading, eBay said.

Also at Monday's ResearchFest, eBay touted research projects such as Hyades, offering guided e-commerce search by clustering.

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