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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

June Software Update Brings Bandwidth Price Drop and More

Last month CenturyLink Cloud announced some major pricing changes that took effect instantly for many customers. The adjustment to public  bandwidth pricing –  from a 95/5 billing model to $0.05 per GB transferred outbound – took effect on June 1st and gives our customers one of the lowest entry-level bandwidth prices in the cloud. 

Our latest monthly platform release reflects this bandwidth change in a few places. Bandwidth graphFirst, the bandwidth graph on the CenturyLink Cloud dashboard now shows you how much data has been transferred over public IPs. And because we’ve moved to a simpler bandwidth calculation, your real-time consumption is now rolled into our ever-present cost widget. This helps customers see their costs as they happen versus waiting until invoice time to see how the bandwidth charges were calculated for the month. Customers will also see their bandwidth consumption clearly called out on the monthly invoice. Pricing and consumption transparency is key as you assess your spend and make on the fly adjustments based on forecast usage. For more on our bandwidth update, take a look at the FAQ in our Knowledge Base.

We also introduced some major changes to the “create server” process in the CenturyLink Cloud. The new experience is fast, clean, and powerful. Let’s look at the major components.

      Create Server Page    
         
  1. Cost. Transparency matters! Even though virtually no other cloud provider lets you see cost estimates at the time of server creation, we think it’s important to show this. As you choose Operating System and your server specifications, we dynamically update the projected monthly cost so that you can make informed decisions.
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  3. Group Designation. How can you manage cloud resources at scale if you’re stuck scrolling through a flat list of servers? An enterprise cloud portfolio is made up of diverse departments, projects, and teams, and we’ve made it easy to choose which Group to put your new server into.
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  5. Resource Allocation. Not every workload is a fit for fixed server instance sizes, and our customers like being able to build machines with any amount of CPU, memory, and persistent storage. Additionally, users can attach a CPU Autoscale policy to a new server.
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  7. Storage Backup Level. Not only does CenturyLink Cloud provide persistent volumes by default, but we also bake in image-level backups for each virtual machine. In the previous “create server” experience, users had a choice between “standard” or “premium” storage, but it wasn’t obvious what those choices meant. In this new interface, we identify “standard” and “premium” as the backup level and clearly describe what’s included in each choice.
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  9. Time to Live. Server sprawl is a security, management, and billing nightmare. Servers are easy to set up, but easy to forget. The CenturyLink Cloud “create server” actively tries to combat this by asking the user whether they’d like us to delete their server at a future date.
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For even more on all the features in this release, check out our latest Release Notes.

New Virtual Server Alert Service: Simple, Reliable, and Visible

Elasticity and quick provisioning are hallmarks of any good cloud platform. Cloud customers have gotten used to rapidly acquiring right-sized resources that fit a given workload. CenturyLink Cloud User Interface No longer do developers have to build the biggest (physical) server possible just to avoid requests to resize later on. Rather, provision for what you need now, and adjust the capacity as the usage dictates. But how do you know when it’s time to size up?

The CenturyLink Cloud engineering team just released a monitoring and alert service (alongside our powerful server UI redesign) that gives you the data you need! We designed this feature with three things in mind:

     
  1. Offer a simple, straightforward toolset that users can understand and take advantage of quickly.
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  3. Deliver reliable, accurate statistics that reflect the current state of a server.
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  5. Provide multiple ways to identify that an alert was fired.

Together, these three principles kept us focused on delivering a service that met market need. Let’s take a look at how the new monitoring and alert service applies each principles.

Simple Setup

It’s easy to get lost in a sea of rarely-used options offered by a monitoring platform. Instead, we focused on ease of setup, a common theme in the CenturyLink Cloud. Users only have to follow two steps.

First, access the Alerts item in the top level navigation menu. This takes you to a list of all the alert policies for your account. Policies can measure CPU, memory, or storage consumption of a server. Creating a policy is as simple as providing a friendly name for the alert, indicating the measure and usage threshold, choosing a duration that the chosen threshold must be exceeded before an alert fires, and a list of the alert’s email recipients.

Create Alert

Once a policy (or polices) are created, simply apply it to one or many servers. The server’s Settings page now has a tab for Alerts where users can quickly add or more policies to the server. To aid usability, we show you a preview of the policy’s core parameters as you select it. This keeps policy names crisp, and prevents incorrect assignment of policies.

Apply Alert Policy

Immediately after applying a policy, the platform compares a server’s consumption to the policy’s trigger. Furthermore, you can update policies in a central location and instantly impact all of the servers attached to that policy. Simple, easy – and elegantly powerful!

What’s more, you will easily see when a server has alert policies attached. In our new user interface (available to all users as a public beta!), there are three ways you’ll identify that a server has an alert policy. First, we put an indicator on the monitoring chart that displays the alert level. Secondly, all of a server’s policies are listed in the summary pane. Finally, all policy activities are logged and available in the server’s audit trail.

Server Details

 

Reliable Metrics

Monitoring and alerting features exist to deliver proactive, timely, accurate statistics about a virtual machine. It does no good to find out that a server was running hot yesterday. False alarms are counterproductive as well.

In the CenturyLink Cloud monitoring and alerting service, we capture near-real time statistics about each server and show both current and aggregate perspectives. There’s the current consumption highlighted on the left, and the aggregated consumption available on the chart. You’re able to look at a long term aggregation, or even jump down to the average consumption on an hourly basis.

Server Statistics

Because the CenturyLink Cloud runs a highly tuned virtualized environment, you may see a difference between what a virtual server shows for consumption, and the value we show in the Control Portal. The Control Portal identifies what the hypervisor itself thinks the utilization is, and this is MORE accurate because the hypervisor can intelligently add horsepower to servers under stress. So, keep this in mind and don’t worry if a server appears slightly stressed to you, but the platform itself doesn’t completely agree!

 

Visible Alerting

Finally, it’s important to be able to consume alerting information in multiple ways. We offer three wildly different but extremely complementary mechanisms. By default, a policy must have an email recipient for any alerts. So even if you aren’t logged into the Control Portal, you can instantly find out, in real-time, if an alert condition has been met for the threshold period. Additionally, Control Portal clearly displays when a server is in an alerting stage. If you’re on the server’s details page itself, you’ll see a warning as well as the utilization indicator turned to red. But even better, we highlight the offending server at different levels in the UI - in the left side navigation, the server’s group, and the group’s data center! This means that you can easily see where you have servers experiencing alerts from anywhere in the interface.

Server Alert

The final option is to configure a webhook. Recall that the CenturyLink Cloud offers webhook capabilities which push notifications to an external endpoint of your choosing whenever certain platform conditions occur. We’ve added a new webhook for “alert notification” that will send a data-rich message to any endpoint. For example, you could configure the webhook to feed into your support system so that the two environments (cloud and on-premises) are automatically integrated.

Alerts aren’t helpful if you don’t know they are occurring! So, we’ve built in a host of ways to send notifications and quickly see relevant information.

Summary

We’re excited to ship this new capability, and have other plans for building upon these services. Don’t hesitate to provide feedback or feature suggestions by accessing the “feedback” link within the Control Portal!

2013 Cloud Predictions: How Did We Do?

Last year, we made 12 predictions about what would happen in the cloud space in 2013. As the year comes to a close, it’s only fair for us to assess our hits and misses to see how well we did.

Recap and Scorecard

PREDICTION #1: 2013 will be the year of cloud management software.

REALITY: Hit. We saw this come true on multiple fronts. First, cloud management providers Enstratius and ServiceMesh were acquired by Dell and CSC, respectively. Tier 3 – known for the sophisticated management software that runs our IaaS – was acquired by CenturyLink. On top of this, Gartner estimates that a new vendor enters the cloud management space every month, and nearly every cloud provider is constantly beefing up their own management offerings. This shows the strategic value of comprehensive management capabilities in a cloud portfolio. Customer adoption of these platforms is also on the rise and Gartner sees 60% of Global 2000 enterprises using cloud management technology (up from 30% in 2013).

 

PREDICTION #2: While the largest cloud providers duke it out on price and scale, smaller cloud providers see that enterprise adoption really depends on tight integration with existing tools and processes.

REALITY: Mixed. Of course, cloud prices definitely declined in 2013 and massive scale continued to be a key selling point. Hybrid cloud picked up momentum this year as more companies looked to establish an IT landscape that leveraged on-premises assets while taking advantage of cloud scale. In order to maximize the efficiency of hybrid scenarios, companies need consistency in processes and tools. While cloud management platforms have helped with this a bit, there wasn’t a wholesale move by cloud providers to seamlessly integrate their core offerings with established products.

 

PREDICTION #3: Enterprises move from pilots to projects, and architecture takes a front seat.

REALITY: Hit. There’s been much less gnashing of teeth on “should I use the cloud” this year, and much more discussion about how to capitalize on the cloud. We’ve seen our customers move to more substantial solutions and ask for more sophisticated capabilities, such as self-service networking. Throughout the industry, we’re seeing more enterprise-class case studies where customers are putting mission critical workloads in the cloud. However, outages still occur on any cloud, and providers are publishing guidelines on how to properly architect for high availability. The recent AWS conference was full of sessions on architecture best practices, and developers are hungry for information about how those best practices are applied.

 

PREDICTION #4: Enterprises start to embrace NoSQL databases like Cassandra and Riak, and JavaScript becomes a legitimate part of some enterprise applications.

REALITY: Hit. Influential developer-centric analyst firm Redmonk occasionally does “language rankings” and the most recent one showed that JavaScript was tied with Java for the most popular language used by developers. Node.js – the web server framework for JavaScript-oriented applications – continued to explode in popularity in 2013. Relational databases continued to mature in 2013, but NoSQL databases gained further momentum as a viable (and preferred!) repository for highly available storage. We here at CenturyLink see a number of advantages to this approach as well. In fact, our cloud services are now largely powered by the flexible, high performing Couchbase product, an upgrade from Microsoft SQL for our use case.

 

PREDICTION #5: Standalone, public PaaS offerings will be slow to gain enterprise adoption.

REALITY: Hit. In 2013 we saw renewed discussion on what PaaS actually is and what it SHOULD be. Longtime PaaS providers Microsoft and Google added IaaS products to their portfolio, while smaller firms like Apprenda saw success in private PaaS. Our sister company, AppFog, has launched over 100,000 apps, including some impressive enterprise deployments. Former Tier 3 colleague Adron Hall asked whether PaaS was still “a thing” or whether new container technologies like Docker were going to replace it. However, as some like our own Jared Wray and Red Hat’s Krish Subramanian have said, PaaS is about more than JUST application containers. A rich PaaS also includes the orchestration, management, and services that make it a valuable platform for web applications of any type. Either way, PaaS is still in its infancy and will continue to morph as customer scenarios take shape.

 

PREDICTION #6: Public goes private.

REALITY: Mixed. There were hints of this in 2013 as Amazon won a bid to win a private cloud for the CIA (and for you too if you have half a billion sitting around!),  Microsoft offered a “pack” for making on-premises environments resemble their public cloud, and platforms like OpenStack gained traction as a private cloud alternative. We continued to make advances in supporting private scenarios by adding self-service site-to-site VPN capabilities to an already-robust set of connectivity options. I gave this a “mixed” score because as a whole, public cloud providers don’t yet (and may never) make it simple to run their stack in a private data center for mainstream enterprises.

 

PREDICTION #7: Cloud providers embrace alternate costing models.

REALITY: Hit. 2013 saw some changes to how cloud customers paid for resources. We modified our pricing to decouple some components while still making it easy to provision exactly the amount of CPU, memory and storage that you need for a given server. Google and Microsoft both launched their IaaS clouds with “per minute” pricing for compute resources. Cloud providers have yet to move to a “pay for consumption instead of allocation” model for things like storage, but overall we’ve seen a maturation of pricing considerations in 2013.

 

PREDICTION #8: While portability will increase at the application and hypervisor layer, middleware and environment metadata will remain more proprietary.

REALITY: Mixed. We might have been too pessimistic last year! DevOps tools have flourished in 2013 and platform adapters have made it possible to move workloads between clouds without a massive re-architecture effort. To be sure, code portability is still MUCH simpler than environment portability. Each cloud provider has their own value-added services that rarely transfer easily to other locations, and no clear IaaS standard has emerged. However, platforms like OpenStack are attempting to make cloud portability a reality, and the increasing prevalence of public APIs makes it possible for tools like Pivotal’s BOSH or Chef to orchestrate deployments in diverse provider environments.

 

PREDICTION #9: Global expansion takes center stage.

REALITY: Hit. One of the first questions we hear from prospective customers is “where are your data centers?” This year, almost all of the leading cloud providers expanded their footprint around the globe. For our part, we added data centers in Canada, the UK, and Germany. Now, as part of CenturyLink, we have major expansion plans in 2014. 

 

PREDICTION #10: IaaS providers who don’t court developers get left behind.

REALITY: Hit. In 2013, Stephen O’Grady wrote that developers are the “new kingmakers” and this was reinforced by Gartner analyst Lydia Leong who wrote that IT operations no longer has a monopoly on cloud procurement. Developers are now running the show – bringing in vendors that meet their unique criteria. Consequently, a new crop of developer-centric cloud providers has popped up. While they don’t offer managed services or sophisticated resource management, they DO help developers get going quickly in the cloud. We wooed developers with new self-service capabilities, API improvements, and with new features like Autoscale and webhooks. Developers will continue to be a focus for us at CenturyLink and we plan on continuing our regular Open Source contributions!

 

PREDICTION #11: Clouds that cannot be remotely managed through an API will fall behind.

REALITY: Hit. APIs are the gateway to modern services and allow ecosystems to flourish. Consider the vibrant crop of cloud management platforms discussed in prediction #1. And that is just one small example. The vast majority of clouds listed in Gartner’s 2013 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure have public, comprehensive APIs that developers can use to consume the cloud in whatever way they want. In 2013, we started an effort to replace our existing API with an even more expansive offering that offers complete parity with our industry leading Control Portal user interface. That effort will continue into the next year. When complete, a new host of capabilities will be accessible for CenturyLink, our partners, and mostly important, our customers.

 

PREDICTION #12: Usability and self-service become table stakes for cloud providers.

REALITY: Mixed. In 2013, we seemed to hit the point where “clouds that aren’t really clouds” struggled as the market began to demand more. Customers expected more and more self-service capabilities, and Tier 3 – along with most every other major provider – focused heavily on that in 2013. Platform usability was a lesser focus this year. While new clouds from Microsoft and Google included relatively straightforward user experiences, few providers made any massive visual improvements. While the CenturyLink Cloud continues to be lauded for an easy to use, powerful interface, we haven’t stood still. A major redesign is underway that will surface more data, simplify activities, and improve performance.

 

Summary

2013 was an important year in the maturation of the cloud industry. New vendors were introduced, popular platforms were acquired, and consumption of cloud services skyrocketed. What will happen in 2014? Stay tuned for our predictions!