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Explaining the Managed Cloud with Three Key Equations

Having been in the cloud infrastructure business since it came into existence, I’ve seen a number of different market forces shape and disrupt the industry.  The business side of my brain tends to focus on everything that’s changing.  But the engineering side of my brain tends to look for sustained constants in all the volatility. Sounds like a big data problem! Our data science team has crunched the numbers, and here are the key equations that help shape the managed cloud.

Ownership != Control

IT leaders often mistake having a tight grip on asset ownership with a tight grip on the steering wheel. With good but slightly misguided intentions, they want to own everything they use. This can lead to over-expenditure on common, undifferentiated hardware as well as under-utilized, over-engineered software products.  The own-it-all approach also builds a strong correlation between new IT projects and business growth initiatives, a situation that leaves IT permanently behind in delivering value to the business.

The critical challenge for any IT department is to provide an agility platform that addresses the digital needs of the business under competitive pressure.  The goal is to have true command and control over all IT resources, even if you don’t actually own them. In fact, true command and control comes from the de-coupling of IT infrastructure from its management systems which give operational awareness.

Each infrastructure component should serve its purpose with high automation and focus.  Whether you financially or managerially own each asset is far less important.  We proved this to ourselves when we launched Cloud Managed Services. In just a few months, we were able to integrate the management systems which supported our managed hosting services with our new CenturyLink Cloud.  We achieved this without materially modifying anything with the underpinning platform.

Offloading != Outsourcing

It’s easy to offload your IT services.  Being strategic and gaining operational advantage from outsourcing them is another matter.  I’ve seen over and over that “offloading” infrastructure to unmanaged services and expecting a rich “outsourcing” experience is an exercise in frustration – and a violation of our second key equation.

What services are you are buying, and what do you expect from them?  Do they reliably meet your expectations? Think about why some infrastructure services catch on while others falter. It’s really a matter of whether the service reliably and intuitively does what it promises to do. A raw, unmanaged IaaS service only promises to deliver what its SLA describes: a device instance of a certain size on a reachable network that you pay for on an elastic basis.  Helping you manage those instances is a totally separate value proposition.

Compounding the issue is a shaky assumption that the person designated to managed your services at your cloud provider knows what he or she is doing.  As Paul Venezia, Editor of InfoWorld’s Test Center and one of the most trusted voices in the enterprise cloud, noted, “If it’s as simple as a service needing to be restarted, that’s one thing, but for more complex situations, the managed services admin may find himself without a clue to fixing the problem simply because he lacks the depth of knowledge about the app and its construction that’s necessary to fix it.”

We launched Service Management to solve these potential difficulties with outsourcing infrastructure. Service Management offers an innovative suite of managed services around our cloud.  These products allow us to build depth into our managed hosting solution and truly bond certain activities by our adaptive service desk with your hosted environment. This provides a true outsourced solution that actually saves you money.

Price != TCO

Cloud computing distills complex IT problems into simple numbers. All kinds of technology assets get orchestrated into a simple utility rate comparable to what you’d pay for a raw commodity. Hidden costs loom.  Just as a barrel of Bayou Choctaw Sour crude oil won’t make your car go, a cloud service with a highly visible commodity price is not guaranteed to work right. In my experience, you almost always need some important additional refinements to make it a usable service.

Placing value on all the user experience features automated into the utility rate you are considering is a critical step in understanding this third equation.  At CenturyLink, we strive to take value-added features and design them into our products as part of the utility price.  We feel this creates a better user experience – as we say within our CenturyLink Cloud Development Center, “Build In, Don’t Bolt On.” 

For example, when we integrated our Managed Services offerings with CenturyLink Cloud, we aimed for a simple model that combined all our managed hosting install steps into a simple push-button interface that customers could select at the time of server creation.  This approach consolidated all the value-add of Managed Services into a simple utility rate. 

It continues to be an exciting time in the cloud industry, as global CIOs work to understand what innovations like bare-metal automation, private clouds, Linux containers and Platform-as-a-Service mean for their enterprise architecture.  Ultimately, the most important proof point of our third equation lies in the investment it takes to stay ahead of, and fully automate these emergent innovations.  Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of how much R&D gets baked into a simple utility price, but it is perhaps the greatest reduction of total-cost-of-ownership you get when moving workloads to the cloud.

CenturyLink Makes Massive Private Cloud Massively Easy - Deploy in Over 55 Locations in 7 Countries

Public cloud is an important part of enterprise IT.  Why?  Self-service.  APIs.  Automation.  Access to new features regularly.  Global reach. Outsourcing of infrastructure management.  OpEx consumption.

But it’s not the be-all, end-all.

Enterprise apps will always require a range of infrastructure options – Hybrid IT – including bare metal, traditional hosting…and private cloud.

The private cloud market is relatively immature (more on this in a forthcoming blog post next week).  The more we looked at this segment, the more we saw an opportunity to offer customers a unique value proposition.

“You got chocolate in my peanut butter…”

With CenturyLink Private Cloud, we’ve combined our approach to public cloud with the most important elements of a private cloud.

Public cloud-style agility, scale, and automation – running on dedicated hardware with physical isolation.  Available in over 55 data centers worldwide.  That’s CenturyLink Private Cloud.

We spare customers from the drudgery of infrastructure management, while offering more control over what truly matters: everything that happens from the platform up.

For example, administrators dictate who has access to the pod and what they can do on it – while wielding complete authority to govern how the node is used day-to-day.  If an instance in the public cloud is an apartment in a large building, CenturyLink Private Cloud makes you the landlord, where you handpick the tenants as you see fit.

Most importantly, the product offers this enhanced control without compromising self-service, scale, and automation.

Ten Ways CenturyLink Simplifies Private Cloud

Let’s step through ten important CenturyLink Private Cloud product attributes, and how they make life easier:

  1. Dedicated hardware & physical isolation. Compute, storage, and network are all dedicated to you, physically isolated from other deployments.  Table stakes for a private cloud.
  2. We’ll Deploy Where You Want.  Place your node close to employees, users, or partners, in over 55 of our state-of-the-art data centers.  You get unparalleled geographic flexibility and support for advanced networking and geographic flexibility.  Plus, this helps us offer the best SLAs possible, compared to customer premises models.
  3. Administrative control of your users and their deployments, with an enterprise permissions model. IT already has a way they want segment access across a global employee base.  We help you do that with point-and-click ease at a granular level.
  4. Easy oversight and day-to-day management of deployed apps.  Our management interface – the Control Portal – is a breakthrough experience for managing cloud environments at scale.  In way less time that you thought possible.
  5. Self-service access.  This is why employees turned to public cloud in the first place – servers in minutes, so they can get on with their jobs.  CenturyLink Private Cloud offers self-service to users via our Control Portal and with an API.
  6. Chargebacks, governance & detailed internal usage tracking. As IT aligns closer with the business, chargebacks and showbacks become crucial to embracing cloud.  Our built-in account hierarchies and granular invoices combine to offer you unprecedented detail to your employees about their usage.
  7. 99.99% SLAs & CenturyLink Cloud management of infrastructure.  The point of cloud is to get out of the infrastructure management, remember?  Private cloud doesn’t change that.  We have deep expertise in running cloud at scale, and that expertise goes to work for you here.
  8. Elastic compute, storage, and network.  Sure, capacity is fixed within the physical environment.  But you can ratchet resources up and down for each app that’s hosted there.  And our Service Engineering team will help you capacity plan as you go.
  9. Regular access to new features and innovation.  Our private cloud is updated with new features every 21 business days, just like our public cloud.  And because of our DevOps expertise, the downtime for your apps is negligible.  So when we add new features (like Group-based autoscaling), private cloud customers have them at the same time.  The update schedule for most other public clouds – let alone the other private cloud vendors – is not nearly as aggressive as what CenturyLink offers.
  10. OpEx model consumption.  CenturyLink Private Cloud is a pure operational expense, offering flexibility and freedom when compared to capital-intensive alternatives.

One other element of why we think this approach works so well – CenturyLink Private Cloud is federated into our public cloud network.  That means that hybrid configurations become dramatically simpler.  Deploy apps across our public nodes and your private nodes, just like you would any other multi-data center configuration (even using Blueprints if you want!).  Create firewall rules to govern access between public and private.

Hybrid IT has been a big focus for CenturyLink in the recent past, and it’s intensifying.

CenturyLink Private Cloud is a product will appeal to those enterprises that want a “transformational private cloud” (using Forrester’s excellent private cloud framework), where the goal is control and agility.

Want to know more?  Check out the product page, or reach out to our private cloud sales team.  We are looking forward to helping you advance your cloud strategy!

Recognizing the Challenges of Hybrid Cloud – Part I

CIOs are adopting the hybrid cloud paradigm in droves, as we recently pointed out in a Forbes.com contributing article. As public cloud adoption continues to surge, organizations are turning their attention to connecting public compute resources to infrastructure residing in on-premises data centers. Can you just set up a VPN between the sites and call it a day? Hardly. Establishing a meaningful hybrid cloud requires considerate planning across many dimensions. How will you secure it? What does it mean to maintain services across organizational boundaries? Are workloads portable between environments? In this first of two blog articles, we’ll look at some of the biggest challenges that you’ll face as you set up a hybrid cloud environment.

Deploying Docker Containers on CenturyLink Cloud

If you’ve been reading cloud-related news lately or you follow any developers or system admins on Twitter, then you’ve undoubtedly seen the words “container”, “Docker”, and “CoreOS” written a few thousand times over the past year or so. Chatter has particularly picked up in the last few months with Docker 1.0 being released in June and CoreOS announcing their first stable release within the past few weeks. CoreOS also received an 8 million dollar investment just a couple of months ago, and Docker just got another $40 million in funding a few days ago. And just yesterday, CenturyLink joined the container party and announced the release of the open-source Docker management platform, Panamax. Developed by the recognized thought-leaders at CenturyLink Labs, Panamax was described by RedMonk principal analyst James Governor as “Docker management for humans. It dramatically simplifies multi-container app deployment.”

This is bleeding edge technology we’re talking about here, so if you haven’t heard about any of it yet, there’s no time like the present. Docker is one of the fastest-growing open-source projects ever, with more than 550 contributors and 7 million downloads in just over a year since its release. The power of Docker lies in its ability to build and deploy applications in containers, which are extremely efficient and more portable than traditional virtual machines. This is because they abstract only the operating system kernel rather than an entire device. Of course, there are plenty of places to read up and find out more information on what all the fuss is about, and none are better than our very own CenturyLink Labs blog, where the Labs team has been pumping out exceptional content about all things Docker and CoreOS for months.

But if you’re like me, you’ll never be satisfied just reading about anything – you want to try it already! If so, I’ve got good news for you. Whether you’re looking to just get your feet wet and experiment with containers or you’re feeling ready to jump right into the deep-end and start deploying applications with them, CenturyLink Cloud has got you covered. There are at least three ways you can get Docker up and running on CenturyLink Cloud right now: install Docker on a CentOS server, provision a CoreOS server running Docker, or take advantage of Panamax and make it even easier to use Docker. Whichever route you choose, all you need is a CenturyLink Cloud account to get started.

Option #1 – Installing Docker on CentOS

You might not be too familiar with CoreOS, so if you want to get started using Docker on a more familiar Linux distribution, you can easily use our Docker blueprint to install it on any CentOS server running on CenturyLink Cloud. You’ll even get the option to deploy a Hello World container so you can see a simple example of how Docker containers work and get started building your own.

CentOS Blueprint Docker CentOS Blueprint

 

Option #2 – Installing CoreOS

Interested in CoreOS? This lightweight Linux distribution is optimized for massive server deployments and it comes with Docker preinstalled because it’s designed specifically to run applications as containers. You can follow our step-by-step instructions or watch our how-to video for using blueprints to build a CoreOS server cluster on CenturyLink Cloud and start deploying your applications on Docker in minutes.

Option #3 – Installing Panamax on CoreOS

Maybe you like the idea of Docker and CoreOS, but you’re not a Linux expert and you’re a little afraid of getting too into the weeds on the command line. If so, CenturyLink Labs has developed just the answer for you: Panamax. Panamax is a single management platform for creating, sharing, and deploying Docker-containerized applications. By following similar steps to our CoreOS deployment above and selecting the “with Panamax” version of the blueprint, you can have a CoreOS server up and running with Panamax installed in no time, and there’s no easier way to get started with Docker.

Docker Instructions

Not only can you use Panamax to deploy images from Docker’s repository, you can also deploy complex multi-container Dockerized apps from Panamax’s Open-Source Application Template Library. Think of these templates as collections of Docker images that work together to form the complete architecture of an application, with separate containers for the database vs. web tiers, for example.

Docker Management

CentOS Docker Management

 

If you’re looking to deploy one of the available template options like Wordpress or Drupal, you’ll have it working with a single click in seconds flat. However, you can also choose to define your own custom templates to use and even add custom repositories to search as the Panamax community grows. There’s no easier or faster way to start using Docker containers than with Panamax, and it’s built to leverage the power and scale of CoreOS.

Panamax & Docker Portal

CentOS Server

Wordpress & Drupal On Docker

Have a server already? Install Docker! Curious about CoreOS? Provision it! Feeling overwhelmed? Try Panamax. With CenturyLink Cloud, you’ve got lots of ways to get started using Docker right now, so no more excuses! Sign up for a CenturyLink Cloud account today and add containers to your repertoire of application deployment options today and start enjoying their power, performance, and portability.

Related Resources: Cloud Server, Private Cloud, Object Storage, Cloud Orchestration

Scale All of the Things! Go In, Out, Up, Down in the CenturyLink Cloud

Are you getting the full benefit of the cloud if you don’t take advantage of its elasticity? To be sure, there are many ways that cloud environments—running dynamic OR static workloads—can positively impact your business agility. But cloud computing fundamentally changes the relationship between infrastructure and workloads that run upon it; you can constantly right-size by adding and removing capacity on demand instead of being stuck with over-sized or under-powered environments. To do this effectively, you need flexible options for automatically and manually adjusting your infrastructure resources. In this post, I outline five different application scenarios, and which CenturyLink Cloud scaling capability delivers the optimal elasticity solution.

1. Modern web application with variable usage? Horizontal Autoscale!

Horizontal AutoscaleAre most of your internal or external facing web applications in constant, heavy use? If so, I’d be surprised! The applications that your employees rely on may be busy during predictable periods, or, experience load whenever random business conditions occur. Public web applications may spike in usage when marketing campaigns are in flight, or when an avalanche of traffic follows a social mention.

Instead of standing up gobs of (costly) infrastructure that only add value during random usage spikes, consider services like CenturyLink Cloud Horizontal Autoscale. Our Horizontal Autoscale service is a great fit for web applications that cleanly scale by adding or removing virtual servers from a defined pool. Simply park powered off servers in a CenturyLink Cloud Server Group and define an Autoscale policy that outlines criteria for scaling out and in. When that policy is applied to a Server Group and tied to our Load Balancing service, the platform quickly powers servers on and off in response to changes in utilization.

What does it cost to "park" a server? Customers only pay for storage and operating system licensing when a server is powered off. For example, if your mobile web application can satisfy its regular load with three servers (Ubuntu 12.04, 2 CPUs, 6 GB of RAM, 20GB of storage each), it only costs just $15 per month to keep five servers powered off in reserve to handle occasional spikes. That uptime peace of mind will cost you less than lunch for two in a moderately priced Chinese restaurant.

2. Relational database under load? Vertical Autoscale!

horizontal autoscaleLet’s be honest, not EVERY application is designed to scale horizontally by adding more servers to share the load. Rather, many applications benefit by adding horsepower to the existing servers. For instance, relational databases work in multi-server configurations, but each server typically has a lot of resources allocated. In that case, adding more CPU/memory/storage to a given server is a perfectly viable way to handle new demand.

The CenturyLink Cloud is one of the few providers that offer an automated vertical scaling function. Our Vertical Autoscale service adds CPU capacity to running servers without requiring a reboot, increasing capacity based on utilization criteria that you specify. When the usage spike is over, the Vertical Autoscale service will remove CPU capacity and reboot the server during the window that you select. If you need to add storage or RAM to a server on the fly, you can also manually update servers, also typically without a need to reboot. This is a powerful way to take advantage of cloud elasticity without rebuilding your existing applications for horizontal scale.

3. Worker nodes that are falling behind? Horizontal Autoscale!

In loosely coupled, distributed systems, you’ll often find services that work asynchronously in the background. These services may take product orders from your website and update the transaction system, perform financial calculations, render complex animation sequences, and much more. For example, consider a website where people can register for a new, paid service. That system has to perform a fraud check, authenticate a payment method, and create a container for the new user. A "new user signup" message is dropped to a queue, and a set of servers are all tasked with reading data from the queue and processing the request. If the number of signups spikes, these worker nodes can get overwhelmed and the new customers are stuck waiting for their signup confirmation.

In a case like this, it makes a lot of sense to scale the worker nodes horizontally. CenturyLink Cloud Horizontal Autoscale can respond to CPU or memory spikes by powering on (and off!) servers that can instantly help relieve the backlog of queued up requests. Cloud users don’t have to choose a load balancer to associate with an Autoscale policy, so in that case, the Server Group just expands and contracts the number of running servers without worrying about routing traffic to them. A strategy like this can reduce the risk of a poor user experience and encourage customers to trust your application, even during busy periods.

4. Web application with predictable bursts in usage? Schedule-based Scaling!

autoscale managementWe’re probably all familiar with this back-office scenario: at the end of the month, the financial accounting system is overwhelmed by closing activities and invoice generation. To combat these predictable spikes, many companies either (a) deploy systems like this on pricey hardware that always has enough headroom to deal with the spike, or (b) resign themselves to delivering a subpar, slow application during these bursty windows.

There’s a better way! The CenturyLink Cloud is built with automation and management in mind. Apply a "scheduled task" to a server so that it powers on at a specific point each day/week/month to increase application capacity. Create a second scheduled task that powers that server back down when the predictable spike is over. This sort of elasticity is exactly what the cloud is good at, and helps you deliver an optimized application that delights users, keeps costs down, and helps you arrive at business conclusions faster.

5. Cache cluster that needs controlled resizing? Manually scale up/out!

You may love automation as much as we do, but sometimes a scale event requires careful planning and manual resizing because of complexity with the target application. You may not want an automated service resizing your NoSQL database, cache cluster, or mission critical line of business system whenever it detects a heavy load.

In cases like this, you can choose from the full catalog of elasticity options that the cloud provides. Experiencing I/O contention and want to add more servers and spread the intense demand? Clone a running server or quickly build a new one from scratch. Need to add storage to a server that’s rapidly running out of room? Add more space to an existing volume to add a new volume to the running server. Looking to add CPU or memory to a server and then update the application to recognize the new capacity? Immediately add resources and run a script against all the resized servers.

CenturyLink Cloud Scaling Tools Deliver Elasticity

Elasticity is a hallmark of the public cloud. It helps you maintain a dynamic resource pool that expands and contracts to meet business demand. The CenturyLink Cloud offers a leading set of services to help you automatically and manually adjust capacity for one server, or a fleet of servers.

As you migrate applications to the cloud—or design entirely new cloud-native ones—do it with scalability and elasticity in mind!

Related Resources: Hyperscale Server, Cloud Servers, Object Storage, Cloud Orchestration