It’s difficult for businesses to compare so many diverse players in the cloud. To make the task a bit easier, the team at Cloud Spectator recently issued a useful report: “IaaS Performance and Value Analysis.” View it here, registration required to download.
At CenturyLink Cloud, we’ve always claimed to be a “high performance” cloud (who doesn’t?), so it is nice to see this validated by a third party. A summary of findings that brought a smile to our faces:
- #1 “Performance Leader” for overall system results
- #1 performance leader for Disk and RAM
- #2 performance leader for CPU and internal networking
My personal favorite passage:
UnixBench highlights the significant system performance difference among the top providers in the IaaS industry. The highest and lowest scorers show a difference of 4.7x in system performance; CenturyLink Cloud’s average UnixBench score is 2998, while Amazon EC2’s is 642.
“Getting a little bit of the right information just ahead of when it’s needed is a lot more valuable than all the information in the world a month or a day later.” That quote – found in the book The Two Second Advantage by Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney – highlights a new reality where responsiveness can be a competitive advantage. Smart companies are building a responsive IT infrastructure where data isn’t just hoarded in massive repositories, but analyzed quickly and acted upon. How can you know more, faster and have better situational awareness?
With an increasing amount of critical IT systems running in the cloud, there’s a need to know what’s happening and act on it. This month, CenturyLink Cloud introduced Webhooks, making us among the first public IaaS cloud providers to send real-time notifications to a web service endpoint. For this initial release, customers can set up Webhooks for events within accounts, users, and servers.
When To Use This?
Webhooks are relatively new idea, although already used by diverse web properties like Wordpress and Zoho. Let’s look at three different scenarios where CenturyLink Cloud Webhooks can lead to better decisions.
Scenario #1 – Data Synchronization
Polling is an inefficient way to retrieve data from an external system, but it remains a popular choice. When you poll a system for changes, you’re effectively asking “do you have anything new for me?” Many times, the answer is “no.” With push-based notifications, the only time you are contacted is when something relevant happens. For example, some customers synchronize CenturyLink Cloud data with their internal support or configuration management systems. They do this for auditing purposes, or to give support staff an accurate picture of cloud deployments. The issue? Staying in sync requires an aggressive polling frequency that needless encumbers systems. Webhooks provide a better alternative.
In the scenario visualized below, as soon as a new server is created in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud, an event fires and a message is sent to an endpoint specified by the customer. That listener service then updates the appropriate internal system. Within seconds, systems are completely synchronized!
Scenario #2 – Anomaly Detection
People love the cloud because of the self-service capabilities and freedom to instantly create and delete servers at will. One downside of this freedom – for service providers anyway – is fraudulent signups. CenturyLink Cloud resellers actively monitor new accounts, but the sheer volume of manual analysis can be daunting. What if resellers could programmatically monitor specific sequences of events and then use that data to flag an account as “suspect” and deserving of special attention? Again, we turn to Webhooks to help react faster.
It’s great that developers can quickly bring gobs of new cloud machines online. But rapid provisioning can occur within the wrong sub-account or under unusual circumstances. In both of these examples, consider using a complex event processing solution that monitors streams of Webhook events and detects aggregate patterns that reveal more than any single event can.
Scenario #3 – Compliance Monitoring
Cloud and governance don’t have to be at odds with each other – and in fact, these two ideas go hand-and-hand when it comes to IT as a service. CenturyLink Cloud already provides customers with many ways to do this today through sophisticated account management capabilities. But we often get customers requesting a “corner case” scenario – like preventing a certain user from being added to an account, or making sure that database servers aren’t given a public IP address. Webhooks are a way for us to programmatically empower customers to support unique scenarios, in self-service fashion. Via Webhooks, users compare events to previous ones using a data repository. This way, customers can immediately find out if a server was changed inappropriately, a user was added to an account, or the contact information was changed. If an out-of-compliance change is made, the customer can respond almost instantly!
It’s very simple to configure Webhooks in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud. Simply visit the API section of the Control Portal and choose Webhooks. Here, users can browse the list of available Webhooks, then specify the “target” URL to receive a JSON-encoded message. Each Webhook is configured with an HTTPS URL, and includes an optional capability to send events that occur within sub-accounts.
For more details on how to create a Webhook listener service, take a look at our Webhook FAQ article in the Knowledge Base. This is an innovative and exciting capability for the platform and we can’t wait to see how customers use it to create more responsive systems and processes!
I went to my first Gartner Symposium last week for a big picture view of the intersection between business and IT. Symposium is billed as “the one show to go to if you only go to one show a year.” As such, my expectations were high. It did not disappoint.
Keynote speakers, most notably Peter Sondergaard, in full prophet mode, discussed the disruptive nature of new cloud architectures, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing. These trends, combined with other socioeconomic factors, would bring about the “Digital Industrial Economy.”
He then offered this choice to today’s IT executive: either enable your enterprise to thrive in the Digital Industrial Economy, or be relegated to caretaker of legacy systems while other roles lead the transformation.
The unease in the audience was palpable. Squirming continued as he discussed a simple graphic on-screen: 90% of CIOs believe they are doing a good job, while 50% of CEOs say they need more from IT. The keynotes set the tone for the rest of the conference. Clearly, Gartner is advising clients to do more, and think bigger.
Our first analyst meeting the next day reinforced this. The Gartner research team focused on “Web-Scale IT” mentioned that many clients are asking how Google, Facebook, and Amazon “do what they do” with respect to globally distributed systems and rapid updates.
The big cloud companies, however, are not going to reveal their secret sauce for public consumption. Gartner has set out to provide practical guidance on the topic, under the moniker: “Web-Scale IT.”
At CenturyLink Cloud, we harbor no such secrecy; our model is different. With an ecosystem of go-to-market partners, disclosing “how we do what we do” is a selling point of our company and instrumental in why we have grown as fast as we have.
Under the backdrop of new pressures for IT, we thought it would be helpful to share a quick case study on how our engineering team has been able to accomplish so much in the last year.
Last month, CenturyLink Cloud rented a house in St. George, Utah to allow our engineers to cohabitate and collaborate – they coded their hands off and had fun while doing so!
We asked our Sr. Software Engineer, Mr. Matthew Osborn (@osbornm), about his time at the Hack House and what he found most rewarding about the experience. His highlights:
- Time spent solving problems. Often problems, especially big ones – related to computer science, engineering, or anything for that matter - take hours of work to solve. Having more than the standard 8-hour day to think about and solve these problems is amazingly helpful. Yes it’s a lot of work, and it sucks some of the time, but you can do some truly awesome stuff.
- Time spent with the team. In a normal setting, you come to work do your job and then go home. You interact with your coworkers on a purely work-related level. Living with these same people changes that dynamic, and you are forced to build relationship that you otherwise would never choose to make. Interacting with folks on not just a work level but on a social level helps you understand their thinking and ultimately can really improve collaboration.
- Time spent on the product. When you take the two points above and combine them, the group as a whole can make leaps and bounds on the product. We were able to accomplish tasks that simply would not be possible in a normal environment.
- Not everything was work. We did have some social time and we were able to get out and do things. For me I went to a crossfit box down the street everyday and got my work out in. A lot of the folks would either swim or play basketball to “get away”. A few of us even hiked to The Subway in Zion National Park.
Matthew also put together a time-lapse video of their time at the hack house, and took some amazing photos of the natural beauty surrounding them in Zion National Park and nearby areas.
In a few weeks, CenturyLink Cloud will roll out the first phase of visual changes to our Control Portal cloud management software. These changes are not only visually stunning, but functionally significant for our customers. Why are we making these changes, and what should you expect? This blog post dives into our motivation for the changes, and provides a sneak peek into what’s coming in the months ahead.
Why the Change?
We’ve all heard the saying “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” CenturyLink Cloud constantly receives positive recognition for our Control Portal, and Gartner recently lauded our “easy-to-use self-service portal” that showcases an “excellent, highly differentiated set of features.” Why are we moving forward with some substantial modifications to the user experience? We’re focused on five reasons:
- Improve Application Performance. Web applications need to be fast to maximize utility, and so too does our Control Portal. We want our users to spend less time in our interface, create and manage complex environments, and more time solving strategic business problems. We’re constantly tweaking the current software experience to squeeze out performance improvements, but needed to take a new approach if we wanted to speed up the experience and achieve new embedded analytics functionality. Our new UI paradigm – coupled with an upgraded backend API – reduces the number of datastore interactions while only reloading portions of the page for the user.
- Improve Functional Performance. Not only should the site itself be fast, but users should be able to quickly perform routine actions. We’re improving the navigation experience to reduce clicks, and adding a series of “quick actions” that let users perform tasks on servers and Groups without having to drill into them.
- Surface more actionable data. Increasing the amount of data on a screen – “information density” – is something that should be done very strategically and judiciously. How much is too much, or too little? We think our new design strikes the right balance between showing a wider range of useful data (e.g. which template was a server created from, CPU allocation trends, progress of Cloud Blueprint deployments), and not overwhelming the user.
- Increased agility to add or change features. The CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal is comprised of a collection of modern technologies. Over time, additional frameworks are brought in and tacked on. We wanted to simplify the UI architecture so that it’s easier to make changes, and provide additional per-user customization options.
- Maintain thought leadership position. In the new Gartner Magic Quadrant for IaaS, they called us a platform leader. We earned this moniker because of our advanced feature set and software-oriented focus to enterprise cloud management. We want to continue to push the envelope and show how enterprise software can be beautiful, intuitive, and useful.
What’s Coming First?
On October 22nd, we will update the “chrome” of the Control Portal. This includes the topmost header bar, the navigation menu, and the breadcrumb. The top section of the Control Portal today looks like this:
Above, we have the various drop-down menus, the user’s name, a sign-out button, the account browser, and the Global Search box. On the right side of the page, there’s a Support button that opens a window with various support-related actions.
The new header bar unifies and simplifies the experience.
On the right-hand side, there are four key actions that we call our “auxiliary menu”. More things may be added here over time.
The Global Search box is available at all times. The “three lines” icon sends you to the work queue where you can check the progress of your deployments. The question mark icon launches the same “customer support” window as before. Finally, the person icon reveals a menu for viewing the user’s profile or signing out of the Control Portal.
The navigation menu and breadcrumb has changed as well. Today’s navigation menu appears as a set of drop down collections for each feature area. The breadcrumb extends past the Data Center to show you what you’re viewing.
In the new UI, navigation is done through a single menu that has all the navigation options.
The breadcrumb is now part of this new menu, as shown below. If you are using the CenturyLink Cloud sub-accounts functionality, you will now see your active account list on the breadcrumb. Once you navigate to a resource—such as a specific Cloud Blueprint—the path is shown on the navigation bar.
Hovering over the blue bar always bring the navigation menu back.
These first changes are relatively small, but lay the foundation for more substantive changes in the near future. In the months ahead, we will deliver a re-imagined way to view Groups of servers and individual server details. Here’s a design comp that our team is coding against now. Note that is also subject to change as it’s a work in progress!
The new Servers Overview page includes a handful of productivity improvements. Users will be able to navigate their entire global cloud infrastructure via the left-side window. The always-present footer provides visual (and textual) information about the progress of server and Cloud Blueprint deployments in the queue. The middle of the page highlights resource consumption and trends.
The new and improved server details page is packed with important analytics, while remaining relatively clean. Users can see trends, current consumption, and a host of details about the server configuration.
We’re excited about these changes and are moving forward with one of the most visually appealing – and functional – software experiences in the cloud today. Look for the first set of changes on October 22nd, with the rest of the site improvements happening in waves. As always, we’d love your feedback! Send enhancement ideas to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.