Posts Tagged 'Private Cloud'

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

June 21, 2012

New Swag, New Booth, New Product Announcement: SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East 2012

When a SLayers pack their bags and heads to the 'Big Apple,' we go BIG. Our most recent trip to NYC for Cloud Expo East proved that statement over and over again. When I heard I'd be one of the employees representing SoftLayer at the Javits Convention Center, I did a little dance ... Cloud Expo is one of my favorite conferences, and New York City is one of my favorite cities, so I had a lot to be excited about.

Cloud Expo East and Cloud Expo West are two of the biggest shows SoftLayer sponsors every year. Attendees come from various industries — from digital marketing agencies to software as a service providers to hosting resellers — with their own needs and questions about what's happening "in the cloud." Because our Cloud Expo presences usually get a ton of traffic, we decided to unveil our brand new 20' by 20' booth in New York:

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

For the last few months, we've been sketching, editing and tweaking our vision of the booth. Naturally, our new "Build the Future" branding was present, and you could see the simple "Our Platform. Your Vision." statement from wherever you were. By the time the design was finalized, we were on pins and needles in anticipation, waiting for the booth leap off the paper. We weren't disappointed, and conference attendees weren't either.

In addition to the hundreds of conversations we had with attendees about SoftLayer's cloud computing capabilities, it was pretty amazing to me that so many people commented on our booth design. Many attendees noticed that our booth gets bigger and bigger every year, and the fact that our booth towered over most of the other booths in the area made that a pretty easy observation. As attendees were moving down the escalators into the exhibition hall, they were greeted by the SoftLayer. Because the booth was designed with an open-concept in mind, we never felt too claustrophobic ... Even when a flood of people would come hunting for the new SoftLayer flexi-frisbees we were giving out after they heard Duke or Marc present.

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

Despite the "openness" of the booth design, many attendees were able to gather what SoftLayer is all about from the graphic side panels ... and the Server Challenge:

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

That's right. The infamous Server Challenge continued to draw crowds and spark conversations in the new booth. And it was the perfect "finishing touch" to put the new conference presence over the top. While some attendees were hesitant to step up to try their hands at the competition, others were eager to accept the challenge. And as usual, the leader board was impossibly close:

  1. Dejian Fang - 0:59.08
  2. Corjan Bast - 0:59.59
  3. Logan Best - 1:00.49
  4. Jeffrey Abatayo - 1:01.00
  5. Bryan Wong - 1:01.84

The top time of 59.08 seconds was a mere 2.76 seconds faster than the fifth place time!

When conference attendees weren't watching the Server Challenge craziness or ducking to avoid an errant SoftLayer frisbee, we had a few more "oohs" and "ahhs" to share. In the new booth design, we incorporated four iMacs, one in each corner. If an attendee had a question about our portal, our pricing or our API, we could fire up a browser and use the SoftLayer-sponsored conference wifi to take them where they needed to go. If no one was using the computers, the screens would show a flashy video that included some interesting SoftLayer facts and a look at a SoftLayer Truck Day.

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

Off the expo floor, SoftLayer CTO Duke Skarda and Vice President of Product Innovation Marc Jones announced our new product, Private Clouds. No big deal. If you didn't see that announcement or you want to learn more, Nathan Day (SoftLayer's Chief Scientist) posted a fantastic blog coinciding with SoftLayer's private clouds release, and Duke followed up with an in depth look at how and why we chose to build private clouds the way we did.

Sad that you missed your chance to see the new 20' x 20' booth in person? Don't cry... If you're in the Silicon Valley for Cloud Expo West (November 5-8), we won't be hard to spot.

-Natalie

Categories: 
June 20, 2012

How Do You Build a Private Cloud?

If you read Nathan's "A Cloud to Call Your Own" blog, and you wanted to learn a little more about private clouds in general or SoftLayer Private Clouds specifically, this post is for you. We're going take a little time to dive deeper into the technology behind SoftLayer Private Clouds, and in the process, I'll talk a little about why particular platforms/hardware/configurations were chosen.

The Platform: Citrix CloudPlatform

There are several cloud infrastructure frameworks to choose from these days. We have surveyed a number of them and actively work with several of them. We are active members of the happenings around OpenStack and we have working implementations of vSphere, Nimula, Eucalyptus and other stacks in our data centers. So why CloudPlatform by Citrix?

First off, it's one of the most mature of these options. It's been around for several years and now has the substantial backing of Citrix. That backing includes investment, support organizations and the multitude of other products managed by Citrix. There are also some futuristic ideas we have regarding how to leverage products like CloudBridge and Netscaler with Private Clouds. Second, CloudPlatform operates in accordance with how we believe a private cloud should work: It's simple, it doesn't have a huge management infrastructure and we can charge for it by the CPU per month, just like all of our other products. Finally, CloudPlatform has made good inroads with enterprise customers. We love the idea that an enterprise ops team could leverage CloudPlatform as the management platform for both their on-premise and their off-premise private cloud.

So, we selected CloudPlatform for a multitude of reasons; not just one.

Another huge key was our ability to integrate CloudPlatform into the SoftLayer portals/mobile apps/API. Because many SoftLayer customers manage their environments exclusively through the SoftLayer API, we knew that a seamless integration there was an absolute necessity. With the help of the SoftLayer dev team and the CloudStack folks, we've been able to automate private clouds the same way we did for public cloud instances and dedicated servers.

The Hardware

When it came to choosing what hardware the private clouds would use, the decision was pretty simple. Given our need for automation, SoftLayer Private Clouds would need to be indistinguishable from a standard dedicated server or CloudLayer environment. We use the latest and greatest server hardware available on the market, and every month, you can see thousands of new SuperMicro boxes being delivered to our data centers around the world. Because we know we have a reliable, powerful and consistent hardware foundation on which we can build the private clouds product, it makes the integration of the system even easier.

When it comes to the specs of the hardware provided for a private cloud environment, we provide as much transparency and flexibility as we can for a customer to build exactly what he or she needs. Let's look into what that means...

The Hardware Configurations

A CloudPlatform environment can be broken down into these components:

  • A single management server (that can manage multiple zones across layer 2 networks)
  • One or more zones
  • One or more clusters in a zone
  • One or more hosts in a cluster
  • Storage shared by a cluster (which can be a single server)

A simple diagram of a two-zone private cloud might look like this:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

We've set a standard "management server" configuration that we know will be able to accommodate all of your needs when it comes to running CloudPlatform, and how you build and configure the rest of your private cloud infrastructure is up to you. Whether you want simple dual proc, quad core Nehalem box with a lot of local disk space for a dev cloud or an environment made up of quad proc 10-core Westmeres with SSDs, you have the freedom to choose exactly what you want.

Oh, and everything can be online in two to four hours, and it's offered on a month-to-month contract.

The Network Configuration

When it comes to where the hardware is provisioned, you have the ability to deploy zones in multiple geographies and manage them all through a single CloudPlatform management node. Given the way the SoftLayer three-tier network is built, the management node and host nodes do not even need to be accessible by our public network. You can choose to make accessible only the IPs used by the VMs you create. If your initial private cloud infrastructure is in Dallas and you want a node online in Singapore, you can just click a few buttons, and the new node will be provisioned and configured securely by CloudPlatform in a couple of hours.

Imagine how long it would have taken you to build this kind of infrastructure in the past:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

It doesn't take days or weeks now. It takes hours.

As you can see, when we approached the challenge of bringing private clouds to the SoftLayer platform, we had to innovate. In Texas, that would be roughly translated as "Go big or go home." Given the response we've seen from customers and partners since the announcement of SoftLayer Private Clouds, we know the industry has taken notice.

Will all of our customers need their own private cloud infrastructure? Probably not. But will the customers who've been looking for this kind of functionality be ecstatic with the CloudPlatform environment on SoftLayer's network? Absolutely.

-Duke

June 13, 2012

SoftLayer Private Clouds - A Cloud to Call Your Own

Those of us who've been in this industry for years have seen computing evolve pretty significantly, especially recently. We started with dedicated servers running a single operating system, and we were floored by innovations that allowed dedicated servers to run a hypervisor with many operating systems. The next big leap brought virtual machine "cloud" instances into the spotlight ... And the resulting marketing shenanigans have been a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, the approachable "cloud" term is a lot easier to talk about with a nontechnical audience, but on the negative side, we see uninformative TV commercials that leverage cloud as a marketing term, and we see products that further obfuscate what cloud technology actually means:

Cloud Phone?

To make sure we're all on the same page, as we continue to talk about "cloud," our definition is pretty straightforward:

  • It's an operations model.
  • It provides capacity on demand.
  • It offers consumption-based pricing.
  • It features self-service provisioning.
  • It can be accessed and managed via an API.

Understanding those characteristics, when you hear about cloud in the hosting industry, you're usually hearing about cloud computing instances in a public cloud environment. An instance in a public cloud is one of many instances operating on a shared cloud infrastructure alongside other similar instances that aren't managed by you. Your data is still secure, and you can still get good performance in a public cloud environment, but you're not managing the cloud infrastructure on which your instance resides ... You're using a piece of a cloud.

What we announced at Cloud Expo East is the next step in the evolution of technology in our industry ... We're providing a turnkey, on-demand way for our customers to provision their own Private Clouds with Citrix CloudPlatform, powered by Apache CloudStack.

You don't get a piece of the cloud. You have your own cloud, provisioned in a matter of hours on a month-to-month contract.

For those who have looked into building a private cloud for their business in the past, it's probably worth reiterating: With SoftLayer and CloudStack, you can have a geographically distributed, secure, private cloud environment provisioned in a matter of hours (not months). Given the complexity of a private cloud environment — involving a management server, private cloud zones, host servers and object storage — this is no small feat.

SoftLayer Private Clouds

Those unbelievable provisioning times are only part of the story ... When that cloud infrastructure is deployed quickly, it's fully integrated into the SoftLayer platform, so it leverages our global private network alongside your existing bare metal, dedicated and virtual servers. Want to add public cloud instances to your private cloud as web heads? You'll log into one portal or use a singular API to have that done in an instant.

Your own cloud infrastructure, fully integrated into SoftLayer's global infrastructure. If you're chomping at the bit to try it out for yourself, email us at privateclouds@softlayer.com, and we'll get you on the "early access" list.

Before I sign off, I want to be sure to thank everyone at SoftLayer and Citrix who worked so hard to make SoftLayer Private Clouds such an amazing new addition to our platform.

-@nday91

May 14, 2012

Synergy and Cloud - Going Beyond the Buzzwords

Citrix Synergy 2012 took over San Francisco this week. Because Citrix is one of SoftLayer's technology partners, you know we were in the house, and I thought I'd share a few SoftLayer-specific highlights from the conference.

Before I get too far, I should probably back up give you a little context for what the show is all about if you aren't familiar with it. In his opening keynote, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton explained:

"We call it 'Citrix Synergy,' but really it's 'Synergy' because this is an event that's coordinated by us across a hundred sponsors, our ecosystem partners, companies in the industry that we work together with to bring you an amazing set of solutions around cloud, virtualization, networking and mobility."

Given how broad of a spectrum those areas of technology represent, the short four-day agenda was jam-packed with informational sessions, workshops, demos and conversations. It goes without saying that SoftLayer had to be in the mix in a BIG WAY. We had a booth on the expo hall floor, I was lined up to lead a breakout session about how business can "learn how to build private clouds in the cloud," and we were the proud presenting sponsor of the huge Synergy Party on Thursday night.

Our partnership with Citrix is unique. We incorporate Citrix NetScaler and Citrix XenServer as part of our service offerings. Plus, Citrix is also a SoftLayer customer, using SoftLayer infrastructure to offer a hosted desktop solution. Designed and architected from the ground up to run in the cloud, the Citrix Virtual Demo Center provides a dashboard interface for managing Citrix XenDesktop demo environments that are provisioned on-demand using SoftLayer's infrastructure.

My biggest thrill at the conference came when I was asked to speak and share a little of our expertise in a keynote address on simplifying cloud networking. I like to tell people I have a great face for radio, but that didn't keep me off the stage. The hall was packed to capacity and after defeating a few "demo gremlins," I got to show off how easy SoftLayer makes it for our customers to take advantage of amazing products like Citrix Netscaler VPX:

In my "Learn How to Build Private Clouds in the Cloud" breakout session, I had a little more time to speak to the larger question of how SoftLayer is approaching the shift to cloud-specific architectures and share some best practices in moving to a private cloud. Private clouds are a great way to provide real-time service delivery of IT resources with a single-tenant, customized, secure environment. However, the challenge of scaling and managing physical resources still exists, so I tried to explain how businesses can leverage an Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider to add scalability to a private cloud environment.

Thanks to SynergyTV, that presentation has been made available for all to see:

As I joked at the beginning of the breakout session, an attendee at Citrix Synergy was probably bombarded by "the cloud" in presentations and conversations at the show. While it's important to demystify the key terms we use on a daily basis, a few straight days of keynotes and breakout sessions about the cloud can get you thinking, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Beyond our capabilities as a cloud infrastructure provider, SoftLayer knows how to have a good time, so after we took care of the "work" stuff in the sessions above, we did our best to help provide a little "play" as well. This year, we were the proud sponsor of the Synergy Party, featuring Lifehouse!

Citrix Synergy 2012 was a blast. As a former rocket scientist, I can say that authoritatively.

-@nday91

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