Posts Tagged 'Public 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

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

June 6, 2012

Today's Technology "Game Changers": IPv6 and Cloud

"Game Changers" in technology force a decision: Adapt or die. When repeating rifles gained popularity in the late 1800s, a business of manufacturing muzzle-loading or breech-loading rifles would have needed to find a way to produce a repeating rifle or it would have lost most (if not all) of it's business to Winchester. If a fresh-faced independent musician is hitting it big on the coffee shop scene in 2012, she probably won't be selling out arenas any time soon if she refuses to make her music available digitally. Just ask any of the old-timers in the print media industry ... "Game Changers" in technology can be disastrous for an established business in an established industry.

That's pretty intimidating ... Even for tech businesses.

Shifts in technology don't have to be as drastic and obvious as a "printed newspaper v. social news site" comparison for them to be disruptive. Even subtle advances can wind up making or breaking a business. In fact, many of today's biggest and most successful tech companies are scrambling to adapt to two simple "game changers" that seem terribly significant:

  • IPv6
  • "The Cloud"

IPv6

A quick search of the SoftLayer Blog reminds me that Lance first brought up the importance of IPv6 adoption in October 2007:

ARIN has publically announced the need to shift to IPv6 and numerous articles have outlined the D-Day for IPv4 space. Most experts agree, its coming fast and that it will occur sometime in 2010 at the current pace (that's about two years for those counting). IPv6 brings enough IP space for an infinite number of users along with improved security features and several other operational efficiencies that will make it very popular. The problem lies between getting from IPv4 to IPv6.

When IPv4 exhaustion was just a blip on the horizon, many businesses probably thought, "Oh, I'll get around to it when I need to. It's not a problem yet." When IANA exhausted the IPv4 pool, they probably started picking up the phone and calling providers to ask what plans they had in place. When some of the Internet's biggest websites completed a trial transition to IPv6 on World IPv6 Day last year, those businesses started feeling the urgency. With today's World IPv6 Launch, they know something has to be done.

World IPv6 Launch Day

Regardless of how conservative providers get with IPv4 space, the 4,294,967,296 IPv4 addresses in existence will not last much longer. Soon, users will be accessing an IPv6 Internet, and IPv4-only websites will lose their opportunity to reach those users. That's a "game changer."

"The Cloud"

The other "game changer" many tech businesses are struggling with these days is the move toward "the cloud." There are a two interesting perspectives in this transition: 1) The challenge many businesses face when choosing whether to adopt cloud computing, and 2) The challenges for businesses that find themselves severing as an integral (sometimes unintentional) part of "the cloud." You've probably seen hundreds of blog posts and articles about the first, so I'll share a little insight on the second.

When you hear all of the hype about cloud computing and cloud storage offering a hardware-agnostic Utopia of scalable, reliable power, it's easy to forget that the building blocks of a cloud infrastructure will usually come from vendors that provided a traditional hosting resources. When a computing instance is abstracted from a hardware device, it's opens up huge variations in usage. It's possible to have dozens of public cloud instances using a single server's multi-proc, multi-core resources at a given time. If a vendor prices a piece of software on a "per server" basis, how do they define a "server" when their users are in the cloud? It can be argued that a cloud computing instance with a single core of power is a "server," and on the flip-side, it's easy to define a "server" as the hardware object on which many cloud instances may run. I don't know that there's an easy way to answer that question, but what I do know is that applying "what used to work" to "what's happening now" isn't the right answer.

The hardware and software providers in the cloud space who are able to come up with new approaches unencumbered by the urge to continue "the way we've always done it" are going to be the ones that thrive when technology "game changers" emerge, and the providers who dig their heels in the dirt or try to put a square peg into a round hole will get the short end of the "adapt or die" stick.

We've tried to innovate and take a fresh look at every opportunity that has come our way, and we do our best to build relationships with agile companies that we see following suit.

I guess a better way to position the decision at the beginning of this post would be to add a little tweak: "Innovate, adapt or die." How you approach technology "game changers" will define your business's success.

-@gkdog

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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