Cloud Posts

January 29, 2014

Get Your Pulse Racing

What will the future bring for SoftLayer and IBM? Over the past six months, you've probably asked that question more than a few times, and the answer you got may have been incomplete. You know that IBM is supercharging SoftLayer expansion and that our platform will be the foundation for IBM's most popular enterprise cloud products and services, but you've really only seen a glimpse of the big picture. At IBM Pulse, you'll get a much better view.

SoftLayer is no stranger to conferences and events. Last year alone, we were involved in around 70 different trade shows, and that number doesn't include the dozens of meetups, events, and parties we participated in without an official booth presence. It's pretty safe to say that Pulse is more important to us than any of the shows we've attended in the past. Why? Because Pulse is the first major conference where SoftLayer will be in the spotlight.

As a major component in IBM's cloud strategy, it's safe to assume that every attendee at IBM's "Premier Cloud Conference" will hear all about SoftLayer's platform and capabilities. We'll have the Server Challenge on the expo hall floor, we're going to play a huge part in connecting with developers at dev@Pulse, a number of SLayers are slated to lead technical sessions, and Wednesday's general session will be presented by our CEO, Lance Crosby.

If you're interested in what's next for IBM in the cloud, join us at Pulse 2014. SoftLayer customers are eligible for a significant discount on registration for the full conference, so if you need details on how to sign up, leave a comment on this blog or contact a SoftLayer sales rep, and we'll make sure you get all the information you need. To make it easier for first-time attendees to experience Pulse, IBM offers a special Pulse Peek pass that will get you into the general sessions and expo hall for free!

If you're a developer, we need to see you at dev@Pulse. Happening in parallel with the main Pulse show, dev@Pulse is focused on helping attendees design, develop, and deploy the next generation of cloud-based systems and applications. In addition to the lightning talks, hands-on labs, free certification testing, and code jam competition, you'll get to try out the Oculus Rift, meet a ton of brilliant people, and party with Elvis Costello and Fall Out Boy. The cost? A whopping $0.

Whether you're chairman of the board or a front-line application developer, you'll get a lot out of IBM Pulse. What happens in Vegas ... could change the way you do business. (Note: The parties, however, will stay in Vegas.)

-@khazard

October 24, 2013

Why Hybrid? Why Now?

As off-premise cloud computing adoption continues to grow in a non-linear fashion, a growing number of businesses running in-house IT environments are debating whether they should get on board as well. If you've been part of any of those conversations, you've tried to balance the hype with the most significant questions for your business: "How do we know if our company is ready to try cloud resources? And if we're ready, how do we actually get started?"

Your company is cloud-ready as soon as you understand and accept the ramifications of remote resources and scaling in the cloud model, and it doesn't have to be an "all-in" decision. If you need certain pieces of your infrastructure to reside in-house, you can start evaluating the cloud with workloads that don't have to be hosted internally. The traditional IT term for this approach is "hybrid," but that term might cause confusion these days.

In the simplest sense, a hybrid model is one in which a workload is handled by one or more non-heterogeneous elements. In the traditional IT sense, those non-heterogeneous elements are two distinct operating environments (on-prem and off-prem). In SoftLayer's world, a hybrid environment leverages different heterogeneous elements: Bare metal and virtual server instances, delivered in the cloud.

Figure 1: Traditional Hybrid - On-Premise to Cloud (Through VPN, SSL or Open Communications)

Traditional Hybrid

Figure 2: SoftLayer's Hybrid - Dedicated + Virtual

SoftLayer Hybrid

Because SoftLayer's "hybrid" and traditional IT's "hybrid" are so different, it's easy to understand the confusion in the marketplace: If a hybrid environment is generally understood to involve the connection of on-premise infrastructure to cloud resources, SoftLayer's definition seems contrarian. Actually, the use of the term is a lot more similar than I expected. In a traditional hosting environment, most businesses think in terms of bare metal (dedicated) servers, and when those businesses move "to the cloud," they're generally thinking in terms of virtualized server instances. So SoftLayer's definition of a hybrid environment is very consistent with the market definition ... It's just all hosted off-premise.

The ability to have dedicated resources intermixed with virtual resources means that workloads from on-premise hypervisors that require native or near-native performance can be moved immediately. And because those workloads don't have to be powered by in-house servers, a company's IT infrastructure moves a CapEx to an OpEx model. In the past, adopting infrastructure as a service (IaaS) involved shoehorning workloads into whichever virtual resource closest matched an existing environment, but those days are gone. Now, on-premise resources can be replicated (and upgraded) on demand in a single off-premise environment, leveraging a mix of virtual and dedicated resources.

SoftLayer's environment simplifies the process for businesses looking to move IT infrastructure off-premise. Those businesses can start by leveraging virtual server instances in a cloud environment while maintaining the in-house resources for certain workloads, and when those in-house resources reach the end of their usable life (or need an upgrade), the businesses can shift those workloads onto bare metal servers in the same cloud environment as their virtual server instances.

The real-world applications are pretty obvious: Your company is considering moving part of a workload to cloud in order to handle peak season loads at the end of the year. You've contemplated transitioning parts of your environment to the cloud, but you've convinced yourself that shared resource pools are too inefficient and full of noisy neighbor problems, so you'd never be able to move your core infrastructure to the same environment. Furthering the dilemma, you have to capitalize on the assets you already have that are still of use to the company.

You finally have the flexibility to slowly transition your environment to a scalable, flexible cloud environment without sacrificing. While the initial setup phases for a hybrid environment may seem arduous, Rome wasn't built in a day, so you shouldn't feel pressure to rush the construction of your IT environment. Here are a few key points to consider when adopting a hybrid model that will make life easier:

  • Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate your environment. Keep networks, topologies and methodologies simple, and they'll be much more manageable and scalable.
  • Keep it secure. Simple, robust security principles will reduce your deployment timeframe and reduce attack points.
  • Keep it sane. Hybrid mixes the best of both worlds, so chose the best assets to move over. "Best" does not necessarily mean "easiest" or "cheapest" workload, but it doesn't exclude those workloads either.

With this in mind, you're ready to take on a hybrid approach for your infrastructure. There's no certification for when your company finally becomes a "cloud company." The moment you start leveraging off-premise resources, you've got a hybrid environment, and you can adjust your mix of on-premise, off-premise, virtual and bare metal resources as your business needs change and evolve.

-Jeff Klink

Jeff Klink is a senior technical staff member (STSM) with IBM Canada.

September 30, 2013

The Economics of Cloud Computing: If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

One of the hosts of a popular Sirius XM radio talk show was recently in the market to lease a car, and a few weeks ago, he shared an interesting story. In his research, he came across an offer he came across that seemed "too good to be true": Lease a new Nissan Sentra with no money due at signing on a 24-month lease for $59 per month. The car would as "base" as a base model could be, but a reliable car that can be driven safely from Point A to Point B doesn't need fancy "upgrades" like power windows or an automatic transmission. Is it possible to lease new car for zero down and $59 per month? What's the catch?

After sifting through all of the paperwork, the host admitted the offer was technically legitimate: He could lease a new Nissan Sentra for $0 down and $59 per month for two years. Unfortunately, he also found that "lease" is just about the extent of what he could do with it for $59 per month. The fine print revealed that the yearly mileage allowance was 0 (zero) — he'd pay a significant per-mile rate for every mile he drove the car.

Let's say the mileage on the Sentra was charged at $0.15 per mile and that the car would be driven a very-conservative 5,000 miles per year. At the end of the two-year lease, the 10,000 miles on the car would amount to a $1,500 mileage charge. Breaking that cost out across the 24 months of the lease, the effective monthly payment would be around $121, twice the $59/mo advertised lease price. Even for a car that would be used sparingly, the numbers didn't add up, so the host wound up leasing a nicer car (that included a non-zero mileage allowance) for the same monthly cost.

The "zero-down, $59/mo" Sentra lease would be a fantastic deal for a person who wants the peace of mind of having a car available for emergency situations only, but for drivers who put the national average of 15,000 miles per year, the economic benefit of such a low lease rate is completely nullified by the mileage cost. If you were in the market to lease a new car, would you choose that Sentra deal?

At this point, you might be wondering why this story found its way onto the SoftLayer Blog, and if that's the case, you don't see the connection: Most cloud computing providers sell cloud servers like that car lease.

The "on demand" and "pay for what you use" aspects of cloud computing make it easy for providers to offer cloud servers exclusively as short-term utilities: "Use this cloud server for a couple of days (or hours) and return it to us. We'll just charge you for what you use." From a buyer's perspective, this approach is easy to justify because it limits the possibility of excess capacity — paying for something you're not using. While that structure is effective (and inexpensive) for customers who sporadically spin up virtual server instances and turn them down quickly, for the average customer looking to host a website or application that won't be turned off in a given month, it's a different story.

Instead of discussing the costs in theoretical terms, let's look at a real world example: One of our competitors offers an entry-level Linux cloud server for just over $15 per month (based on a 730-hour month). When you compare that offer to SoftLayer's least expensive monthly virtual server instance (@ $50/mo), you might think, "OMG! SoftLayer is more than three times as expensive!"

But then you remember that you actually want to use your server.

You see, like the "zero down, $59/mo" car lease that doesn't include any mileage, the $15/mo cloud server doesn't include any bandwidth. As soon as you "drive your server off the lot" and start using it, that "fantastic" rate starts becoming less and less fantastic. In this case, outbound bandwidth for this competitor's cloud server starts at $0.12/GB and is applied to the server's first outbound gigabyte (and every subsequent gigabyte in that month). If your server sends 300GB of data outbound every month, you pay $36 in bandwidth charges (for a combined monthly total of $51). If your server uses 1TB of outbound bandwidth in a given month, you end up paying $135 for that "$15/mo" server.

Cloud servers at SoftLayer are designed to be "driven." Every monthly virtual server instance from SoftLayer includes 1TB of outbound bandwidth at no additional cost, so if your cloud server sends 1TB of outbound bandwidth, your total charge for the month is $50. The "$15/mo v. $50/mo" comparison becomes "$135/mo v. $50/mo" when we realize that these cloud servers don't just sit in the garage. This illustration shows how the costs compare between the two offerings with monthly bandwidth usage up to 1.3TB*:

Cloud Cost v Bandwidth

*The graphic extends to 1.3TB to show how SoftLayer's $0.10/GB charge for bandwidth over the initial 1TB allotment compares with the competitor's $0.12/GB charge.

Most cloud hosting providers sell these "zero down, $59/mo car leases" and encourage you to window-shop for the lowest monthly price based on number of cores, RAM and disk space. You find the lowest price and mentally justify the cost-per-GB bandwidth charge you receive at the end of the month because you know that you're getting value from the traffic that used that bandwidth. But you'd be better off getting a more powerful server that includes a bandwidth allotment.

As a buyer, it's important that you make your buying decisions based on your specific use case. Are you going to spin up and spin down instances throughout the month or are you looking for a cloud server that is going to stay online the entire month? From there, you should estimate your bandwidth usage to get an idea of the actual monthly cost you can expect for a given cloud server. If you don't expect to use 300GB of outbound bandwidth in a given month, your usage might be best suited for that competitor's offering. But then again, it's probably worth mentioning that that SoftLayer's base virtual server instance has twice the RAM, more disk space and higher-throughput network connections than the competitor's offering we compared against. Oh yeah, and all those other cloud differentiators.

-@khazard

July 29, 2013

A Brief History of Cloud Computing

Believe it or not, "cloud computing" concepts date back to the 1950s when large-scale mainframes were made available to schools and corporations. The mainframe's colossal hardware infrastructure was installed in what could literally be called a "server room" (since the room would generally only be able to hold a single mainframe), and multiple users were able to access the mainframe via "dumb terminals" – stations whose sole function was to facilitate access to the mainframes. Due to the cost of buying and maintaining mainframes, an organization wouldn't be able to afford a mainframe for each user, so it became practice to allow multiple users to share access to the same data storage layer and CPU power from any station. By enabling shared mainframe access, an organization would get a better return on its investment in this sophisticated piece of technology.

Mainframe Computer

A couple decades later in the 1970s, IBM released an operating system called VM that allowed admins on their System/370 mainframe systems to have multiple virtual systems, or "Virtual Machines" (VMs) on a single physical node. The VM operating system took the 1950s application of shared access of a mainframe to the next level by allowing multiple distinct compute environments to live in the same physical environment. Most of the basic functions of any virtualization software that you see nowadays can be traced back to this early VM OS: Every VM could run custom operating systems or guest operating systems that had their "own" memory, CPU, and hard drives along with CD-ROMs, keyboards and networking, despite the fact that all of those resources would be shared. "Virtualization" became a technology driver, and it became a huge catalyst for some of the biggest evolutions in communications and computing.

Mainframe Computer

In the 1990s, telecommunications companies that had historically only offered single dedicated point–to-point data connections started offering virtualized private network connections with the same service quality as their dedicated services at a reduced cost. Rather than building out physical infrastructure to allow for more users to have their own connections, telco companies were able to provide users with shared access to the same physical infrastructure. This change allowed the telcos to shift traffic as necessary to allow for better network balance and more control over bandwidth usage. Meanwhile, virtualization for PC-based systems started in earnest, and as the Internet became more accessible, the next logical step was to take virtualization online.

If you were in the market to buy servers ten or twenty years ago, you know that the costs of physical hardware, while not at the same level as the mainframes of the 1950s, were pretty outrageous. As more and more people expressed demand to get online, the costs had to come out of the stratosphere, and one of the ways that was made possible was by ... you guessed it ... virtualization. Servers were virtualized into shared hosting environments, Virtual Private Servers, and Virtual Dedicated Servers using the same types of functionality provided by the VM OS in the 1950s. As an example of what that looked like in practice, let's say your company required 13 physical systems to run your sites and applications. With virtualization, you can take those 13 distinct systems and split them up between two physical nodes. Obviously, this kind of environment saves on infrastructure costs and minimizes the amount of actual hardware you would need to meet your company's needs.

Virtualization

As the costs of server hardware slowly came down, more users were able to purchase their own dedicated servers, and they started running into a different kind of problem: One server isn't enough to provide the resources I need. The market shifted from a belief that "these servers are expensive, let's split them up" to "these servers are cheap, let's figure out how to combine them." Because of that shift, the most basic understanding of "cloud computing" was born online. By installing and configuring a piece of software called a hypervisor across multiple physical nodes, a system would present all of the environment's resources as though those resources were in a single physical node. To help visualize that environment, technologists used terms like "utility computing" and "cloud computing" since the sum of the parts seemed to become a nebulous blob of computing resources that you could then segment out as needed (like telcos did in the 90s). In these cloud computing environments, it became easy add resources to the "cloud": Just add another server to the rack and configure it to become part of the bigger system.

Clouds

As technologies and hypervisors got better at reliably sharing and delivering resources, many enterprising companies decided to start carving up the bigger environment to make the cloud's benefits to users who don't happen to have an abundance of physical servers available to create their own cloud computing infrastructure. Those users could order "cloud computing instances" (also known as "cloud servers") by ordering the resources they need from the larger pool of available cloud resources, and because the servers are already online, the process of "powering up" a new instance or server is almost instantaneous. Because little overhead is involved for the owner of the cloud computing environment when a new instance is ordered or cancelled (since it's all handled by the cloud's software), management of the environment is much easier. Most companies today operate with this idea of "the cloud" as the current definition, but SoftLayer isn't "most companies."

SoftLayer took the idea of a cloud computing environment and pulled it back one more step: Instead of installing software on a cluster of machines to allow for users to grab pieces, we built a platform that could automate all of the manual aspects of bringing a server online without a hypervisor on the server. We call this platform "IMS." What hypervisors and virtualization do for a group of servers, IMS does for an entire data center. As a result, you can order a bare metal server with all of the resources you need and without any unnecessary software installed, and that server will be delivered to you in a matter of hours. Without a hypervisor layer between your operating system and the bare metal hardware, your servers perform better. Because we automate almost everything in our data centers, you're able to spin up load balancers and firewalls and storage devices on demand and turn them off when you're done with them. Other providers have cloud-enabled servers. We have cloud-enabled data centers.

SoftLayer Pod

IBM and SoftLayer are leading the drive toward wider adoption of innovative cloud services, and we have ambitious goals for the future. If you think we've come a long way from the mainframes of the 1950s, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

-James

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April 30, 2013

Big Data at SoftLayer: Riak

Big data is only getting bigger. Late last year, SoftLayer teamed up with 10Gen to launch a high-performance MongoDB solution, and since then, many of our customers have been clamoring for us to support other big data platforms in the same way. By automating the provisioning process of a complex big data environment on bare metal infrastructure, we made life a lot easier for developers who demanded performance and on-demand scalability for their big data applications, and it's clear that our simple formula produced amazing results. As Marc mentioned when he started breaking down big data database models, document-oriented databases like MongoDB are phenomenal for certain use-cases, and in other situations, a key-value store might be a better fit. With that in mind, we called up our friends at Basho and started building a high-performance architecture specifically for Riak ... And I'm excited to announce that we're launching it today!

Riak is an open source, distributed database platform based on the principles enumerated in the DynamoDB paper. It uses a simple key/value model for object storage, and it was architected for high availability, fault tolerance, operational simplicity and scalability. A Riak cluster is composed of multiple nodes that are all connected, all communicating and sharing data automatically. If one node were to fail, the other nodes would automatically share the data that the failed node was storing and processing until the node is back up and running or a new node is added. See the diagram below for a simple illustration of how adding a node to a cluster works within Riak.

Riak Nodes

We will support both the open source and the Enterprise versions of Riak. The open source version is a great place to start. It has all of the database functionality of Riak Enterprise, but it is limited to a single cluster. The Enterprise version supports replication between clusters across data centers, giving you lots of architectural options. You can use replication to build highly available, live-live failover applications. You can also use it to distribute your application's data across regions, giving you a global platform that you can update anywhere in the world and know that those modifications will be available anywhere else. Riak Enterprise customers also receive 24×7 coverage, both from SoftLayer and Basho. This includes SoftLayer's one-hour guaranteed response for Severity 1 hardware issues and unlimited support available via our secure web portal, email and phone.

The business use-case for this flexibility is that if you need to scale up or down, nodes can be easily added or taken down as your requirements change. You can opt for a single-data center environment with a few nodes or you can broaden your architecture to a multi-data center deployment with a 40-node cluster. While these capabilities are inherent in Riak, they can be complicated to build and configure, so we spent countless hours working with Basho to streamline Riak deployment on the SoftLayer platform. The fruit of that labor can be found in our Riak Solution Designer:

Riak Solution Designer

The server configurations and packages in the Riak Solution Designer have been selected to deliver the performance, availability and stability that our customers expect from their bare metal and virtual cloud infrastructure at SoftLayer. With a few quick clicks, you can order a fully configured Riak environment, and it'll be provisioned and online for you in two to four hours. And everything you order is on a month-to-month contract.

Thanks to the hard work done by the SoftLayer development group and Basho's team, we're proud to be the first in the marketplace to offer a turn-key Riak solution on bare metal infrastructure. You don't need to sacrifice performance and agility for simplicity.

For more information, visit SoftLayer.com/Riak or contact our sales team.

-Duke

December 31, 2012

FatCloud: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Ian Miller, CEO of FatCloud. FatCloud is a cloud-enabled application platform that allows enterprises to build, deploy and manage next-generation .NET applications.

'The Cloud' and Agility

As the CEO of a cloud-enabled application platform for the .NET community, I get the same basic question all the time: "What is the cloud?" I'm a consumer of cloud services and a supplier of software that helps customers take advantage of the cloud, so my answer to that question has evolved over the years, and I've come to realize that the cloud is fundamentally about agility. The growth, evolution and adoption of cloud technology have been fueled by businesses that don't want to worry about infrastructure and need to pivot or scale quickly as their needs change.

Because FatCloud is a consumer of cloud infrastructure from Softlayer, we are much more nimble than we'd be if we had to worry about building data centers, provisioning hardware, patching software and doing all the other time-consuming tasks that are involved in managing a server farm. My team can focus on building innovative software with confidence that the infrastructure will be ready for us on-demand when we need it. That peace of mind also happens to be one of the biggest reasons developers turn to FatCloud ... They don't want to worry about configuring the fundamental components of the platform under their applications.

Fat Cloud

Our customers trust FatCloud's software platform to help them build and scale their .NET applications more efficiently. To do this, we provide a Core Foundation of .NET WCF services that effectively provides the "plumbing" for .NET cloud computing, and we offer premium features like a a distributed NoSQL database, work queue, file storage/management system, content caching and an easy-to-use administration tool that simplifies managing the cloud for our customers. FatCloud makes developing for hundreds of servers as easy as developing for one, and to prove it, we offer a free 3-node developer edition so that potential customers can see for themselves.

FatCloud Offering

The agility of the cloud has the clearest value for a company like ours. In one heavy-duty testing month, we needed 75 additional servers online, and after that testing was over, we needed the elasticity to scale that infrastructure back down. We're able to adjust our server footprint as we balance our computing needs and work within budget constraints. Ten years ago, that would have been overwhelmingly expensive (if not impossible). Today, we're able to do it economically and in real-time. SoftLayer is helping keep FatCloud agile, and FatCloud passes that agility on to our customers.

Companies developing custom software for the cloud, mobile or web using .NET want a reliable foundation to build from, and they want to be able to bring their applications to market faster. With FatCloud, those developers can complete their projects in about half the time it would take them if they were to develop conventionally, and that speed can be a huge competitive differentiator.

The expensive "scale up" approach of buying and upgrading powerful machines for something like SQL Server is out-of-date now. The new kid in town is the "scale out" approach of using low-cost servers to expand infrastructure horizontally. You'll never run into those "scale up" hardware limitations, and you can build a dynamic, scalable and elastic application much more economically. You can be agile.

If you have questions about how FatCloud and SoftLayer make cloud-enabled .NET development easier, send us an email: sales@fatcloud.com. Our team is always happy to share the easy (and free) steps you can take to start taking advantage of the agility the cloud provides.

-Ian Miller, CEO of FatCloud

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace. These partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
October 8, 2012

Don't Let Your Success Bring You Down

Last week, I got an email from a huge technology conference about their new website, exciting new speaker line up and the availability of early-bird tickets. I clicked on a link from that email, and I find that their fancy new website was down. After giving up on getting my early-bird discount, I surfed over to Facebook, and I noticed a post from one of my favorite blogs, Dutch Cowboys, about another company's interesting new product release. I clicked the link to check out the product, and THAT site was down, too. It's painfully common for some of the world's most popular sites and applications buckle under the strain of their own success ... Just think back to when Diablo III was launched: Demand crushed their servers on release day, and the gamers who waited patiently to get online with their copy turned to the world of social media to express their visceral anger about not being able to play the game.

The question everyone asks is why this kind of thing still happens. To a certain extent, the reality is that most entrepreneurs don't know what they don't know. I spoke with an woman who was going to be featured on BBC's Dragons' Den, and she said that the traffic from the show's viewers crippled most (if not all) of the businesses that were presented on the program. She needed to safeguard from that happening to her site, and she didn't know how to do that.

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to keep sites and applications online with on-demand infrastructure and auto-scaling tools. Unfortunately, most business owners don't know how easy it is, so they don't take advantage of the resources available to them. Preparing a website, game or application for its own success doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming. With pay-for-what-you-use pricing and "off the shelf" cloud management solutions, traffic-caused outages do NOT have to happen.

First impressions are extremely valuable, and if I wasn't really interested in that conference or the new product Dutch Cowboys blogged about, I'd probably never go back to those sites. Most Internet visitors would not. I cringe to think about the potential customers lost.

Businesses spend a lot of time and energy on user experience and design, and they don't think to devote the same level of energy on their infrastructure. In the 90's, sites crashing or slowing was somewhat acceptable since the interwebs were exploding beyond available infrastructure's capabilities. Now, there's no excuse.

If you're launching a new site, product or application, how do you get started?

The first thing you need to do is understand what resources you need and where the potential bottlenecks are when hundreds, thousands or even millions of people want to what you're launching. You don't need to invest in infrastructure to accommodate all of that traffic, but you need to know how you can add that infrastructure when you need it.

One of the easiest ways to prepare for your own success without getting bogged down by the bits and bytes is to take advantage of resources from some of our technology partners (and friends). If you have a PHP, Ruby on Rails or Node.js applications, Engine Yard will help you deploy and manage a specialized hosting environment. When you need a little more flexibility, RightScale's cloud management product lets you easily manage your environment in "a single integrated solution for extreme efficiency, speed and control." If your biggest concern is your database's performance and scalability, Cloudant has an excellent cloud database management service.

Invest a little time in getting ready for your success, and you won't need to play catch-up when that success comes to you. Given how easy it is to prepare and protect your hosting environment these days, outages should go the way of the 8-track player.

-@jpwisler

October 2, 2012

A Catalyst for Success: MODX Cloud

SoftLayer has a passion for social media, online gaming and mobile application developers. We were in "startup mode" just a few years ago, so we know how much work it takes to transform ideas into a commercially viable enterprise, and we want to be the platform on which all of those passionate people build their business. To that end, we set out to find ways we could help the next generation of web-savvy entrepreneurs and digital pioneers.

About a year ago, we kicked off a huge effort to give back to the startup community. We jumped headfirst into the world of startups, incubators, accelerators, angel investors, venture capitalists and private equity firms. This was our new ecosystem. We started to make connections with the likes of TechStars and MassChallenge, and we quickly became a preferred hosting environment for their participants' most promising and ambitious ideas. This ambitious undertaking evolved into our Catalyst Program.

When it came to getting involved, we knew we could give back from an infrastructure perspective. We decided to extend a $1,000/mo hosting credit to each Catalyst company for one full year, and the response was phenomenal. That was just the beginning, though. Beyond the servers, storage and networking, we wanted to be a resource to the entrepreneurs and developers who could learn from our experience, so we committed to mentoring and making ourselves available to answer any and all questions. That's not just lip service ... We pledged access to our entire executive team, and we made engineering resources available for problem-solving technical challenges. We're in a position to broker introductions and provide office space, so we wanted didn't want to pass up that opportunity.

One of the superstars and soon-to-be graduates of Catalyst is MODX, and they have an incredible story. MODX has become leading web content management platform (#4 open source PHP CMS globally) by providing designers, developers, content creators and Unix nerds with all the tools they need to manage, build, protect and scale a web site.

Back in December 2011, the MODX team entered the program as a small company coming out of the open source world, trying to figure out how to monetize and come up with a viable commercial offering. Just over 10 months later, the company has grown to 14+ employees with a new flagship product ready to launch later this month: MODX Cloud. This new cloud-hosting platform, built on SoftLayer's infrastructure, levels the playing field allowing users to scale and reach everyone with just a few clicks of a mouse and not need to worry about IT administration or back-end servers. Everything associated with managing a web site is fully automated with single-click functionality, so designers and small agencies can compete globally.

MODX Cloud

We're proud of what the MODX team has accomplished in such a short period of time, and I would like to think that SoftLayer played a significant role in getting them there. The MODX tag line is "Creative Freedom," and that might be why they were drawn to the Catalyst Program. We want to "liberate" entrepreneurs from distractions and allow them to focus on developing their products – you know, the part of the business that they are most passionate about.

I can't wait to see what comes out of Catalyst next ... We're always looking to recruit innovative, passionate and creative startups who'd love to have SoftLayer as a partner, so if you have a business that fits the bill, let us help!

-@gkdog

September 24, 2012

Cloud Computing is not a 'Thing' ... It's a way of Doing Things.

I like to think that we are beyond 'defining' cloud, but what I find in reality is that we still argue over basics. I have conversations in which people still delineate things like "hosting" from "cloud computing" based degrees of single-tenancy. Now I'm a stickler for definitions just like the next pedantic software-religious guy, but when it comes to arguing minutiae about cloud computing, it's easy to lose the forest for the trees. Instead of discussing underlying infrastructure and comparing hypervisors, we'll look at two well-cited definitions of cloud computing that may help us unify our understanding of the model.

I use the word "model" intentionally there because it's important to note that cloud computing is not a "thing" or a "product." It's a way of doing business. It's an operations model that is changing the fundamental economics of writing and deploying software applications. It's not about a strict definition of some underlying service provider architecture or whether multi-tenancy is at the data center edge, the server or the core. It's about enabling new technology to be tested and fail or succeed in blazing calendar time and being able to support super-fast growth and scale with little planning. Let's try to keep that in mind as we look at how NIST and Gartner define cloud computing.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a government organization that develops standards, guidelines and minimum requirements as needed by industry or government programs. Given the confusion in the marketplace, there's a huge "need" for a simple, consistent definition of cloud computing, so NIST had a pretty high profile topic on its hands. Their resulting Cloud Computing Definition describes five essential characteristics of cloud computing, three service models, and four deployment models. Let's table the service models and deployment models for now and look at the five essential characteristics of cloud computing. I'll summarize them here; follow the link if you want more context or detail on these points:

  • On-Demand Self Service: A user can automatically provision compute without human interaction.
  • Broad Network Access: Capabilities are available over the network.
  • Resource Pooling: Computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned.
  • Rapid Elasticity: Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released.
  • Measured Service: Resource usage can be monitored, controlled and reported.

The characteristics NIST uses to define cloud computing are pretty straightforward, but they are still a little ambiguous: How quickly does an environment have to be provisioned for it to be considered "on-demand?" If "broad network access" could just mean "connected to the Internet," why include that as a characteristic? When it comes to "measured service," how granular does the resource monitoring and control need to be for something to be considered "cloud computing?" A year? A minute? These characteristics cast a broad net, and we can build on that foundation as we set out to create a more focused definition.

For our next stop, let's look at Gartner's view: "A style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using Internet infrastructure." From a philosophical perspective, I love their use of "style" when talking about cloud computing. Little differentiates the underlying IT capabilities of cloud computing from other types of computing, so when looking at cloud computing, we really just see a variation on how those capabilities are being leveraged. It's important to note that Gartner's definition includes "elastic" alongside "scalable" ... Cloud computing gets the most press for being able to scale remarkably, but the flip-side of that expansion is that it also needs to contract on-demand.

All of this describes a way of deploying compute power that is completely different than the way we did this in the decades that we've been writing software. It used to take months to get funding and order the hardware to deploy an application. That's a lot of time and risk that startups and enterprises alike can erase from their business plans.

How do we wrap all of those characteristics up into unified of definition of cloud computing? The way I look at it, cloud computing is as an operations model that yields seemingly unlimited compute power when you need it. It enables (scalable and elastic) capacity as you need it, and that capacity's pricing is based on consumption. That doesn't mean a provider should charge by the compute cycle, generator fan RPM or some other arcane measurement of usage ... It means that a customer should understand the resources that are being invoiced, and he/she should have the power to change those resources as needed. A cloud computing environment has to have self-service provisioning that doesn't require manual intervention from the provider, and I'd even push that requirement a little further: A cloud computing environment should have API accessibility so a customer doesn't even have to manually intervene in the provisioning process (The customer's app could use automated logic and API calls to scale infrastructure up or down based on resource usage).

I had the opportunity to speak at Cloud Connect Chicago, and I shared SoftLayer's approach to cloud computing and how it has evolved into a few distinct products that speak directly to our customers' needs:

The session was about 45 minutes, so the video above has been slimmed down a bit for easier consumption. If you're interested in seeing the full session and getting into a little more detail, we've uploaded an un-cut version here.

-Duke

August 17, 2012

SoftLayer Private Clouds - Provisioning Speed

SoftLayer Private Clouds are officially live, and that means you can now order and provision your very own private cloud infrastructure on Citrix CloudPlatform quickly and easily. Chief Scientist Nathan Day introduced private clouds on the blog when it was announced at Cloud Expo East, and CTO Duke Skarda followed up with an explanation of the architecture powering SoftLayer Private Clouds. The most amazing claim: You can order a private cloud infrastructure and spin up its first virtual machines in a matter of hours rather than days, weeks or months.

If you've ever looked at building your own private cloud in the past, the "days, weeks or months" timeline isn't very surprising — you have to get the hardware provisioned, the software installed and the network configured ... and it all has to work together. Hearing that SoftLayer Private Clouds can be provisioned in "hours" probably seems too good to be true to administrators who have tried building a private cloud in the past, so I thought I'd put it to the test by ordering a private cloud and documenting the experience.

At 9:30am, I walked over to Phil Jackson's desk and asked him if he would be interested in helping me out with the project. By 9:35am, I had him convinced (proof), and the clock was started.

When we started the order process, part of our work is already done for us:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

To guarantee peak performance of the CloudPlatform management server, SoftLayer selected the hardware for us: A single processor quad core Xeon 5620 server with 6GB RAM, GigE, and two 2.0TB SATA II HDDs in RAID1. With the management server selected, our only task was choosing our host server and where we wanted the first zone (host server and management server) to be installed:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

For our host server, we opted for a dual processor quad core Xeon 5504 with the default specs, and we decided to spin it up in DAL05. We added (and justified) a block of 16 secondary IP addresses for our first zone, and we submitted the order. The time: 9:38am.

At this point, it would be easy for us to game the system to shave off a few minutes from the provisioning process by manually approving the order we just placed (since we have access to the order queue), but we stayed true to the experiment and let it be approved as it normally would be. We didn't have to wait long:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

At 9:42am, our order was approved, and the pressure was on. How long would it take before we were able to log into the CloudStack portal to create a virtual machine? I'd walked over to Phil's desk 12 minutes ago, and we still had to get two physical servers online and configured to work with each other on CloudPlatform. Luckily, the automated provisioning process took on a the brunt of that pressure.

Both server orders were sent to the data center, and the provisioning system selected two pieces of hardware that best matched what we needed. Our exact configurations weren't available, so a SBT in the data center was dispatched to make the appropriate hardware changes to meet our needs, and the automated system kicked into high gear. IP addresses were assigned to the management and host servers, and we were able to monitor each server's progress in the customer portal. The hardware was tested and prepared for OS install, and when it was ready, the base operating systems were loaded — CentOS 6 on the management server and Citrix XenServer 6 on the host server. After CentOS 6 finished provisioning on the management server, CloudStack was installed. Then we got an email:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

At 11:24am, less than two hours from when I walked over to Phil's desk, we had two servers online and configured with CloudStack, and we were ready to provision our first virtual machines in our private cloud environment.

We log into CloudStack and added our first instance:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

We configured our new instance in a few clicks, and we clicked "Launch VM" at 11:38am. It came online in just over 3 minutes (11:42am):

SoftLayer Private Clouds

I got from "walking to Phil's desk" to having a multi-server private cloud infrastructure running a VM in exactly two hours and twelve minutes. For fun, I created a second VM on the host server, and it was provisioned in 31.7 seconds. It's safe to say that the claim that SoftLayer takes "hours" to provision a private cloud has officially been confirmed, but we thought it would be fun to add one more wrinkle to the system: What if we wanted to add another host server in a different data center?

From the "Hardware" tab in the SoftLayer portal, we selected "Add Zone" to from the "Actions" in the "Private Clouds" section, and we chose a host server with four portable IP addresses in WDC01. The zone was created, and the host server went through the same hardware provisioning process that our initial deployment went through, and our new host server was online in < 2 hours. We jumped into CloudStack, and the new zone was created with our host server ready to provision VMs in Washington, D.C.

Given how quick the instances were spinning up in the first zone, we timed a few in the second zone ... The first instance was online in about 4 minutes, and the second was running in 26.8 seconds.

SoftLayer Private Clouds

By the time I went out for a late lunch at 1:30pm, we'd spun up a new private cloud infrastructure with geographically dispersed zones that launched new cloud instances in under 30 seconds. Not bad.

Don't take my word for it, though ... Order a SoftLayer Private Cloud and see for yourself.

-@khazard

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