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Common Cloud Misconceptions

Over the course of the last year, we have seen several of our clients either start exploring or make plans to move their SaaS products to the “Cloud” or an IaaS provider. We thought we would share some of the misconceptions we sometimes see and our advice.

– I can finally focus on product development and software engineering and not worry about this infrastructure stuff.
The notion that IaaS providers like Amazon have eliminated your worries about infrastructure is only partially true. You may not need to understand everything about designing an infrastructure with bare metal but you need to make sure you understand how your virtual configuration in the Cloud will affect your product. IaaS helps us to quickly deploy infrastructure for our products but it doesn’t eliminate the need for good high availability and fault tolerance design. There are several levers you can pull within an IaaS console and design decisions that will impact your products performance. To ensure good design and configuration, its ultra important that your SaaS product engineering team is made up of talent that has expertise in distributed application architecture design, infrastructure, security, and networking. Having this knowledge will help you design a high performing, fault isolated product for your business.

– Going to the cloud pretty much guarantees me high availability because of auto scaling.
Going to the cloud will provide you with the ability to scale quickly as load increases but it will not provide you with high availability. For example, if you have a monolithic code base that you deployed and you are pushing to production on a regular basis, there is a pretty good chance you will introduce a defect at some point that impacts the availability of your entire service and business. We advise our clients to split their applications appropriately, deploy the services to separate instances, and, assuming you are using Amazon, configure them to run across multiple zones within a region at a minimum (preferably across regions). This allows you to focus dedicated teams to the individual services and reduce the likelihood of introducing a defect that takes down your system.

– The Cloud will be cheaper than a collocation or managed hosting provider.
There are several factors that need to be considered before you can confirm that is cost effective. You should look closely at load on your servers. If your servers are not serving traffic around the clock, it may be better from a cost perspective for you to buy and maintain your own infrastructure in a collocation or in an existing data center you may have. The economics of this decision is changing rapidly as IaaS pricing is declining due to the competition in the industry. A simple spreadsheet exercise will help determine if the move to Cloud would be cost effective for your business.

– The Cloud isn’t secure so we better not use it.
The cloud isn’t necessarily what makes or breaks security around your SaaS product. Many believe that public cloud services like Amazon’s EC2 service isn’t secure. First off, you are far more likely to experience a security breach because of an employee’s actions (either intentionally or unintentionally) than caused by an infrastructure provider. Secondly, Amazon likely has invested much more in security at various layers, including their physical data centers, than most companies we see who have their own data centers. Amazon has designed the infrastructure to isolate customer instances and you can also choose to take advantage of Amazon Virtual Private Cloud that can be configured to create an isolated network. There are various options for encrypting all of your data as well. This only touches the surface for security design options you have and they continue to be enhanced everyday. You can see why it’s important to staff your team with an engineer who has experience in this space.

If you are looking to move to Cloud, don’t rush into the decision. Do your homework and make sure it’s right for your business. Make sure you have the talent that has experience with the technology that will get you there and run your operations. Once you make the leap, you will have to live with it for a while.

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Top 5 Posts

We love data and think most things should be data-driven, as is evident from our newest book that reveals how successful companies learn from customer misbehavior. This isn’t done by asking customers what they want but rather by watching them through monitoring, logs, and alerting. This concept is summarized nicely in this article we published last month. In that vein, we keep track of how people read and use this blog. In this post we thought we’d share some of the most popular posts. Here are the top 5 posts that people have been reading:

  1. The Future of IaaS and Paas
  2. JAD and ARB
  3. Dealing With Shared Services
  4. Be A Leader
  5. Fault Isolation

Not too surprising, our readers are interested in how to scale via clouds, better architectures, and improved processes. They are also interested in leadership, since without that scaling a great organization becomes impossible.

Let us know what your favorite post is. You can find a list of all our posts here.

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Rules for Surviving an Amazon Outage

Because of recent issues with Amazon’s services there is a lot of interest in why some companies are able to keep their site up despite their IaaS or PaaS providers experiencing issues. Here is an InformIT article we wrote, outlining a few rules for surviving an Amazon or other cloud provider outage.


Federated Cloud

In an interesting paper in the IBM Journal of Research and Development, the concept of a federated cloud model is introduced. This model is one in which computing infrastructure providers can join together to create a federated cloud. The advantages pointed out in the article include cost savings due to not over provisioning for spikes in capacity demand. To me the biggest advantage of this federated model is the lack of reliance on a single vendor and likely higher availability due to greater distribution of computing resources across different infrastructure. One of our primary aversions to a complete cloud hosting solution is the reliance on a single vendor for the entire availability of your site. A true federated cloud would eliminate this issue.

However, as the article aptly points out there are many obstacles in the way of achieving such a federated cloud. Not the least of which are technical challenges to architect applications in such a modular manner as to be able to start and stop components in different clouds as demand requires. Other issues include administrative control and monitoring of multiple clouds and security concerns over allowing direct access to hypervisors by other cloud providers.

As we’ve prognosticated, pure VM based clouds like AWS have had to offer dedicated servers for those high intensity IO systems like large relational databases. We’ve also predicted that with double digit growth in cloud services predicted for the next several years, providers will resist the commoditization of their offerings through service differentiation. This attempt at differentiation will come in the form of add-on features and simplification across the entire PDLC. This unfortunately makes the likelihood of a federated cloud offering happening in the next couple of years very unlikely.