Posts Tagged 'Amazon'

October 28, 2014

SoftLayer and AWS: What's the Difference?

People often compare SoftLayer with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It’s easy to understand why. We’ve both built scalable infrastructure platforms to provide cloud resources to the same broad range of customers—from individual entrepreneurs to the world’s largest enterprises.

But while the desire to compare is understandable, the comparison itself isn’t quite apt. The SoftLayer platform is fundamentally different from AWS.

In fact, AWS could be run on SoftLayer. SoftLayer couldn’t be run on AWS.

AWS provisions in the public cloud.

When AWS started letting customers have virtual machines deployed on the infrastructure that AWS had built for their e-commerce business, AWS accelerated the adoption of virtual server hosting within the existing world of Web hosting.

In an AWS cloud environment, customers order the computing and storage resources they need, and AWS deploys those resources on demand. The mechanics of that deployment are important to note, though.

AWS has data centers full of physical servers that are integrated with each other in a massive public cloud environment. These servers are managed and maintained by AWS, and they collectively make up the available cloud infrastructure in the facility.

AWS installs a virtualization layer (also known as hypervisor) on these physical servers to tie the individual nodes into the environment’s total capacity. When a customer orders a cloud server from AWS, this virtualization layer finds a node with the requested resources available and provisions a server image with the customer’s desired operating system, applications, etc. The entire process is quick and automated, and each customer has complete control over the resources he or she ordered.

That virtualization layer is serving a purpose, and it may seem insignificant, but it highlights a critical difference in their platform and ours:

AWS automates and provisions at the hypervisor level, while SoftLayer automates and provisions at the data center level.

SoftLayer provisions down to bare metal resources.

While many have their sights on beating AWS at its own game, SoftLayer plays a different game.

SoftLayer platform is designed to give customers complete access and control over the actual infrastructure that they need to build a solution in the cloud. Automated and remote ordering, deployment, and management of the very server, storage, and security hardware resources themselves, are hosted in our data centers so that customers don’t have to build their own facilities or purchase their own hardware to get the reliable, high performance computing they need.

Everything in SoftLayer data centers is transparent, automated, integrated, and built on an open API that customers can access directly. Every server is connected to three distinct physical networks so that public, private, and management network traffic are segmented. And our expert technical support is available for all customers, 24x7.

Notice that the automation and integration of our platform happens at the data center level. We don’t need a virtualization layer to deploy our cloud resources. As a result, we can deploy bare metal servers in the same way AWS deploys public cloud servers (though, admittedly, bare metal servers take more time to deploy than virtual servers in the public cloud). By provisioning down to a lower level in the infrastructure stack, we’re able to offer customers more choice and control in their cloud environments:

In addition to the control customers have over infrastructure resources, with our unique network architecture, their servers aren’t isolated inside the four walls of a single data center. Customers can order one server in Dallas and another in Hong Kong, and those two servers can communicate with each other directly and freely across our private network without interfering with customers’ public network traffic. So with every new data center we build, we geographically expand a unified cloud footprint. No regions. No software-defined virtual networks. No isolation.

SoftLayer vs. AWS

Parts of our cloud business certainly compete with AWS. When users compare virtual servers between us, they encounter a number of similarities. But this post isn’t about comparing and contrasting offerings in the areas in which we’re similar … it’s about explaining how we’re different:
  • SoftLayer is able to provision bare metal resources to customers. This allows customers free reign over the raw compute power of a specific server configuration. This saves the customer from the 2–3 percent performance hit from the hypervisor, and it prevents “noisy neighbors” from being provisioned alongside a customer’s virtual server. AWS does not provision bare metal resources.

  • AWS differentiates “availability zones” and “regions” for customers who want to expand their cloud infrastructure into multiple locations. SoftLayer has data centers interconnected on a global private network. Customers can select the specific SoftLayer data center location they want so they can provision servers in the exact location they desire.

  • When AWS customers move data between their AWS servers, they see “Inter-Region Data Transfer Out” and “Intra-Region Data Transfer” on their bills. If you’re moving data from one SoftLayer facility to another SoftLayer facility (anywhere in the world), that transfer is free and unmetered. And it doesn’t fight your public traffic for bandwidth.

  • SoftLayer bare metal servers ordered with monthly billing include 20TB/mo of public outbound bandwidth, and virtual servers ordered with monthly billing include 5TB/mo of public outbound bandwidth. With AWS, customers pay a per-GB charge for bandwidth on every bill.

  • SoftLayer offers a broad range of management, monitoring, and support options to customers at no additional cost. AWS charges for monitoring based on metrics, frequency, and number of alarms per resource. And having access to support requires an additional monthly cost.

Do SoftLayer and AWS both offer Infrastructure as a Service? Yes.

Does that make SoftLayer and AWS the same? No.

-@khazard

December 1, 2010

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Last week, Netflix made headlines when the company announced that it was moving most of its operations to Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute Cloud. The news was greeted with enthusiasm and was seen as further justification of the public cloud. Rightly so: the fact that Netflix generates up to 20% of US traffic during peak times, and that this traffic is moving to the public cloud would seem justification to me. This is a great piece of advertising for the cloud (much better than Microsoft's "to the cloud" campaign), and by proxy a great piece of advertising for SoftLayer.

So why did Netflix make the move? Economics - plain and simple. It is less expensive to move to the cloud than it is to continue supporting everything via internal Netflix DCs. In a cloud model, peak traffic loads dictate Netflix's economics - they pay for peaks, but only when they occur. When traffic drops off, Netflix enjoys the resultant cost savings, plus they relieve themselves of a considerable management burden. The argument is straightforward.

All of this has brought me back to consideration of the "private" cloud (which is arguably not the cloud at all, but I digress) and the value that it offers. The industry definition of a private cloud is a cloud implementation that is internal to (still owned and operated by) a single enterprise. SoftLayer defines a private cloud a little differently: SoftLayer remains the IAAS provider, but we ensure that a customer is on a single node (i.e. server). This conversation will stick with the industry definition.

So, what are the impacts of the private cloud across an enterprise?

In theory, a private cloud would give individual departments or discrete project teams the ability to better manage cost. As with a public cloud, a project team would be able to take advantage of the cost savings that come with paying only for what they use. However, this means that change is necessary in corporate accounting functions given that systems now need to be managed based on a "pay as you go model" versus a cost center model. This means a fundamental change in IT philosophy, as they now need to bill departments working on a variable use model - all of a sudden they have to think more like a business unit with a P&L to manage.

The cloud provides the ability to quickly spin up and scale. In the SoftLayer world, this translates to availability in anywhere from 2-4 hours. This should mean an increase in operational efficiency across departments using the cloud. Projects can start and end quickly without concern for lengthy implementation or teardown windows. That said I am not sure this increase in efficiency is meaningful when balanced against an IT department that must build and support a cloud infrastructure that has to account for the operation across the entire enterprise. The impact is potentially great at a micro level, but wanes when you consider the larger picture.

From a planning point of view, IT must now consider what a variable use model means in practical terms. Different departments will experience different peaks and valleys based on different workloads. In all likelihood, these peaks will not align on the calendar, nor will they be consistent month over month. In addition, my assumption is that deployment of a cloud will engender unanticipated usage patterns given the supposed cost and operational flexibility that the cloud delivers within the enterprise. The challenge will be to balance these needs against the delivery of a service that will adhere to QoS promises and associated internal service level agreements. ( And I think they will have to exist. If IT moves beyond a cost center, and internal organizations are trying to budget based upon forecasted compute use, it only makes sense that IT will be held up against external providers. Indeed, I would expect some rogue departments to go off the reservation to external providers based on cost considerations alone.)

My guess is that the IT response to planning will be predictable - over-engineer the private cloud to make sure that it is bullet proof. This might work, but it will be expensive and will paradoxically lead to underutilization of what is an over planned resource - something the cloud is supposed to mitigate. This approach is also likely to lead to IT bloat as capable internal resources are likely to be thin, driving a round of hiring to ensure expertise is on hand to manage the cloud.

In addition, I would assume that some applications will continue to be supported (for a variety of reasons - security, I/O challenges), thus adding more cost to the equation.

The arguments against the private cloud are numerous and ought to give the enterprise pause for thought. Regardless, I am willing to bet that private cloud implementations will accelerate in the enterprise. Many companies are supported by IT organizations that are strong and well entrenched within the corporate culture. Part of the fight will be based around losing budget, headcount and perceived power if the decision is made to go to an external IAAS provider. All of the usual rubrics will be used: security, quality of service, performance and on the list goes. In essence, these are the same arguments that have been made in the past when a decision to outsource anything has come to the fore. Does it make sense to outsource everything? The answer is a resounding no, but the argument for looking to the public cloud, or SoftLayer's private cloud is strong.

-@gkdog

November 22, 2010

Free is Just a Word for Nothing Left to Lose

Last week, Amazon Web Services unveiled the “AWS Free Usage Tier”. The idea is to encourage customers to experiment with the cloud, hopefully leading to a fee-based relationship sometime in the future. You can read about it here.

Free is always an interesting concept. Everybody loves free – free beer, free music, free love and now free cloud. The question that begs to be answered is what, exactly, does free mean when we are talking about an Amazon cloud. In other words is it an award winning Cigar City Bourbon Barrel Aged Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout or a PBR? There is little doubt that they are offering lots of stuff – storage, load balancing etc - but it ought to come with a caveat that reads “If you intend to do anything other than play with this, please think again.” The service offered is clearly not robust enough for much else beyond experimentation. A company that plans on presenting an application via the cloud to internal or external customers must simply make other arrangements. Limited RAM, combined with no processor guarantees and no service promises make for a poor business decision.

So, is this really a bad offering? The answer is no it’s not, just so long as everyone maintains a cool head and remembers what it is for – experimentation and education. And this makes it a good offer. Amazon is effectively helping to seed the marketplace for the cloud by providing a free platform to encourage a wider audience to dip their toes in the cloud. There is little doubt that some will transition from this offer to a full blown, fee-based service with Amazon because they generally do a good job. The great thing is that as the market educates itself about the cloud, SoftLayer will also benefit. We are very good at what we do and it simply makes sense to have a SoftLayer discussion when a company gets serious about the cloud.

-@quigleymar

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