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.
For the 3rd straight year, CenturyLink Cloud was recognized by Gartner in its influential Magic Quadrant (MQ) for Cloud Infrastructure-as-as-Service [Get a free copy from CenturyLink Cloud!]. Readers of the MQ don’t just like it because it summarizes an entire industry with a single visual representation. Rather, its real value is derived from the deep analysis of vendors and market dynamics. Each year, the criteria for inclusion gets tougher as the demands of enterprise customers mature. In 2013, vendors can’t simply offer a warmed-over virtualization environment and brand it a cloud.
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Gartner went hands-on with our platform and came away impressed.
CenturyLink Cloud combines an excellent, highly differentiated set of features on a well-engineered platform with an easy-to-use self-service portal. It is one of the few services with both cloud-native capabilities that are attractive to developers and the governance and management features needed by large enterprises.
In fact, one of their “cautions” about our company included an important compliment. Gartner says that we “will be challenged to match the engineering resources available to the market leaders, and therefore challenged to maintain its platform lead.” We aren’t a big company, but our engineering team has accepted that challenge head on. We look forward to building on this lead in the months and years ahead.
How does Gartner see the market evolving, and what does that mean for CenturyLink Cloud and our customers?
The MQ flags important trends enterprise customers to consider. Many of them map closely to our product strategy.
- Gartner Take: Cloud IaaS is not a commodity. . All clouds are not created equal, and each cloud has their own set of value-added features. While this can limit portability between providers, this issue isn’t a unique to the cloud and is an accepted aspect of most IT vendor relationships. We’re obsessed with automation and user experience, and this manifests itself through a set of services that you can’t easily get elsewhere. It needs to be easy for customers to enter – and exit – our cloud, but our product and roadmap is full of customer-driven features that make it easier to create and manage sophisticated infrastructure environments.
- Gartner Take: Hybrid cloud is not yet a reality. Gartner’s point here is simply that it’s not easy to migrate or manage servers that reside in disparate (cloud) environments. That said, from a different perspective of hybrid cloud, we’re seeing a measurable uptick in requests for deep integration between on-premises and cloud environments. Our recent introduction of self-service networking features, coupled with our VPN and Direct Connect capabilities, makes it possible for enterprises to truly treat the CenturyLink Cloud cloud as a close knit extension of their existing data centers – complex network topology and all.
- Gartner Take: One size does not fit all. Customer needs are far from uniform. Gartner points out that for any given workload, the priority could be performance, availability, security, customer service, ease of use, or something completely different. Not every cloud is suited for each dimension. While we like to think that we can run most any workload, we’ve optimized the platform for business applications, enterprise development and testing, ISV-to-SaaS transformation, and resellers looking to expand their portfolio of services.
- Gartner Take: IaaS can be used to run a wide range of workloads. In 2013, the cloud isn’t just a playground for prototypes. Not only is it ideal for applications architected specifically for cloud-scale, but also for existing systems that reside in corporate data centers. Our reliable cloud services are there for applications that have to scale out *or* up. We work with numerous enterprise customers who don’t have cloud-native applications but still see significant value in running it in an agile cloud environment (The most common motivation is to accelerate the transition to IT-as-a-service). In those cases, there’s a premium placed on chargebacks, reliability and management of relatively static resources.
- Gartner Take: Buying centers for IaaS are diverse. We are excited that our bet on developers as the new kingmakers is paying off. But while engineering plays a HUGE role in cloud adoption, Gartner recognizes that many cloud initiatives are led by business or IT operations. We have won several big accounts because of our sophisticated capabilities around account management, billing, rebranding, auditing, governance, and network management. Unless an organization is ONLY run by developers (like an early stage startup), there’s a need for automation, and practical capabilities that reduce the human cost of using the cloud..
- Gartner Take: The cloud IaaS market is more similar to a software market than a traditional IT services market. Our interpretation: self-service and automation are critical to a successful cloud implementation. We couldn’t agree more. There’s a massive, unseen human cost to cloud that isn’t reflected in the cold costs of CPUs and RAM. Staff has to be trained to administer and manage the shared pool of resources. Automation provides the only way that an organization can successfully secure, patch, and manage their cloud environment. Our cloud services are chock full of ways to automate deployments and maintenance and we’re adding more every month!
Each year, the Gartner MQ gives IT leaders a pragmatic and unbiased way to get a handle on a very fluid industry. We’re proud of our strong showing in the last 3 editions, but don’t take Gartner’s word for it; try our cloud out for yourself! And if you love the idea of working on leading-edge technology for a hot-shot cloud company, join our team!
We generate massive amounts of data every day. Research firm IDC estimates that 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years, and the volume of data worldwide doubles every two years. Enterprises are a key contributor to this data explosion as we produce and share digital media, create global systems that collect and generate data, and retain an increasing number of backup and archive data sets. This rapid storage growth puts pressure on IT budgets and staff who have to constantly find and allocate more usable space. CenturyLink Cloud wants to help make that easier and just launched a new Object Storage service to provide you a secure, scalable destination for business data.
What is Object Storage from CenturyLink Cloud? It’s a geo-redundant, elastic storage system for public and private digital data. Based on the innovative Riak CS Enterprise platform, Object Storage infrastructure is being deployed across three global regions: Canada, United States, and Europe. Each region consists of a pair of CenturyLink Cloud data centers that run Riak CS Enterprise on powerful, bare-metal servers. The Object Storage nodes are deployed in a “ring” configuration where data is evenly distributed across the nodes, thus assuring that your data is available even if multiple nodes go offline. When objects are loaded into one data center, they are instantly replicated to the in-country peer data center. This means that an entire data center can go offline, and you STILL will have uninterrupted access to all of your latest enterprise data.
Before diving into this new service, let’s define a few terms:
- Object. An “object” is any digital asset that is less than 5 GB in size. This could be a video that you display on your public website, a PDF file that you are sharing with a business partner, or a database backup file. If the object is larger than 5 GB, then you can do a multi-part upload!
- Bucket. Objects are stored in buckets. A bucket is a logical container that can hold an unlimited number of objects, but not other buckets.
- Region. CenturyLink Cloud has architected Object Storage with unique clusters in three different geographies. Each geographic region has a pair of data centers that hold all of the data uploaded into that region.
- User. An Object Storage user is different from a CenturyLink Cloud platform user and is created separately. While you may create an Object Storage user to represent an individual person, you may also choose to create users that correspond to an application. For example, you may define a user leveraged by your public website that retrieves images and videos from Object Storage.
- Owner. Each bucket has an owner. This is the user that automatically has full control over the bucket and its objects.
- ACLs. Access Control Lists govern who can manage buckets and see objects. By default, Object Storage does not allow any public access to buckets or objects. If you choose, you can provide public, unauthenticated users with the ability to read individual objects. Or, you can choose specific users that have permission to add objects to buckets or view an object.
Managing Object Storage
Interacting with Object Storage is easy. We’ve added a management interface in our Control Portal for Object Storage administrators. From here, you can view a list of users, add new users, and reset user credentials.
The Control Portal also has a bucket administration component where you can view, create, secure, and delete buckets.
Each bucket can have its own security profile. For a bucket such as “website media”, you may let “All Users” have read access to its objects. For buckets set up to exchange large files with business partners, you would likely add read and write permissions for a user representing the chosen partner.
It’s unlikely that you’ll only use a single interface to interact with your data objects. Thanks to the inherent S3 compatibility offered by Riak CS Enterprise, you don’t have to! There is an entire ecosystem of tools for working with object storage that support an Amazon S3-like interface. Want to use a client tool to upload and delete objects? Then check out a utility like the freemium S3 Browser where you can plug in your Object Storage user credentials (and CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage URL) and manage buckets AND objects.
Looking to mount Object Storage as a drive on your database server so that you can easily create and restore backups? Look to a product like ExpanDrive which makes it easy to add Object Storage as a storage volume.
CenturyLink Cloud is among the first cloud providers to offer native, geo-redundant object storage and we’re excited to see how our customers use this to escape the burden of endless provisioning of on-premises storage! Our Canada region is live today, with the United States and Europe following closely. Existing customers can get started right away, and new customers can take Object Storage for a spin by signing up today.
While the cloud has become a welcome channel for companies refining their server footprint, it’s still rare to find an established business that is running *solely* in the cloud. Rather, many companies leverage the cloud for specific workloads and new cloud-first applications, while keeping other servers and applications in-house. But are you tracking your cloud servers the same way you track on-premises ones? Do you have a single place to see a list of ALL your servers and when they last changed? Configuration management databases (CMDBs) are a popular way to store information about IT assets such as who owns them, where they physically are, and their change history. How can you take advantage of the cloud while retaining a complete, up-to-date CMDB? One option is to programmatically link cloud servers to your CMDB through the use of cloud APIs. In this blog post, we’ll see an example of that process in action.
Step 1: Link Cloud Servers to CMDB Entries
Let us first consider the “IT-as-a-Service” scenario where an internal customer portal serves as the launching pad for new cloud servers. Using the CenturyLink Cloud API, customers can easily provision and manage their cloud servers without ever logging into our Control Portal.
Here, the customer’s own portal gives internal employees the opportunity to quickly spin up a cloud server. After adding a record to the CMDB and getting back the CMDB record locator, the CenturyLink Cloud CreateServer API operation is called. CenturyLink Cloud servers can have user-defined metadata attached to them, and in this case, that metadata consists of the CMDB record ID. The server build request is queued by the CenturyLink Cloud engine and the name of the new server is returned by calls to the GetDeploymentStatus API operation. The name of the CenturyLink Cloud server can optionally be added to the CMDB configuration item in order to create a bi-directional link between the systems. At this point, the internal CMDB has a list of servers built internally or in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud.
Step 2: Synchronize Updates
A wonderful aspect of the cloud is the ease by which someone can create, modify, and destroy servers on demand. This means that you do not want to get stuck manually maintaining records of cloud servers that are constantly in flux. Inevitably, the effort to keep the CMDB up to date will fail and it becomes an unreliable record of IT asset configurations. How can you easily synchronize your CMDB with CenturyLink Cloud? Use the APIs!
CenturyLink Cloud’s Engineering team just added new API operations that make it simple to retrieve a list of all servers that have changed within a certain period of time. Customers can run a simple application every evening and invoke the GetAllServersByModifiedDate API operation to pull back a list of all CenturyLink Cloud servers that have experienced the following events:
- Created or deleted
- Paused/powered on/powered off/reset/rebooted/shut down
- CPU count, RAM amount, storage amount changed
- Public IP added or released
- Snapshot created/restored/deleted
- Archived or restored from archive
- Custom (metadata) field added, or value changed
- Software installed or script executed (via Blueprint)
Most of these changes are extremely relevant to a configuration database and provide critical context about the cloud server’s lifecycle. By automating these changes with the API, you can save significant administration time and effort.
CMDBs are a critical component for many enterprises, and your cloud servers should be a visible part of your IT asset management strategy. CenturyLink Cloud is constantly working to deliver a powerful API that provide the glue to connect your on-premises systems and cloud resources. Existing customers have instant access to our API today and new customers can get started by signing up for an account today!
It’s easy for cloud customers to get confused about the roles and responsibilities of their internal team and their cloud vendor. That confusion is especially evident when it comes to application availability and business continuity planning. How does disaster recovery differ from high availability? Does my cloud provider automatically load balance my application servers? The answers to these questions are critical, but sometimes overlooked until a crisis occurs. In this post, we’ll talk about load balancing, high availability, and disaster recovery in the cloud, and what the CenturyLink Cloud’s cloud infrastructure has to offer.
What is it?
Wikipedia describes load balancing as:
Load balancing is a computer networking method to distribute workload across multiple computers or a computer cluster, network links, central processing units, disk drives, or other resources, to achieve optimal resource utilization, maximize throughput, minimize response time, and avoid overload. Using multiple components with load balancing, instead of a single component, may increase reliability through redundancy.
You commonly see this technique employed in web applications where multiple web servers work together to handle inbound traffic. There are at least two reasons why load balancing is employed:
- The required capacity is too large for a single machine. When running processes that consume a large amount of system resources (e.g. CPU and memory), it often makes sense to employ multiple servers to distribute the work instead of constantly adding capacity to a single server. In plenty of cases, it’s not even possible to allocate enough memory or CPU to a single machine to handle all of the work! Load balancing across multiple servers makes it possible to host high traffic websites or run complex data processing jobs that demand more resources than a single server can deliver.
- Looking for more reliability and flexibility in a solution deployment. Even if you *could* run an entire server application on a single server, it may not be a good idea. Load balancing can increase reliability by providing many servers able to do the same job. If one server becomes unavailable, the others can simply pick up the additional work until a new server comes online. Software updates become easier since a server can simply be taken out of the load balancing pool when a patch or reboot is necessary. Load balancing gives system administrators more flexibility in maintaining servers without negatively impacting the application as a whole.
Load balancing can be accomplished using either a “push” or a “pull” model. For web applications or database clusters that sit behind a load balancer, inbound requests are pushed to the pool of servers based on an algorithm such as round-robin. In this scenario, servers await traffic sent to them by the load balancer. It’s also possible to use a “pull” model where work requests are added to a centralized “queue” and a collection of servers retrieve those requests from that queue when they are available. For instance, consider big data processing scenarios where many servers work to analyze data and return results. Each server takes a chunk of work and the overall processing load is distributed across many machines.
How can CenturyLink Cloud help?
CenturyLink Cloud offers multiple load balancing options to our customers. All customers have access to a free, shared load balancer. This load balancer service – based on the powerful Citrix Netscaler product – provides a range of capabilities including SSL offloading for higher performance, session persistence (known as “sticky sessions”), and routing of TCP, HTTP and HTTPS traffic for up to three servers. To use this service today, send a request to email@example.com. We plan to launch a self-service version of this capability in the very near future.
If you’re looking for more control over the load balancing configuration or have higher bandwidth needs, you can deploy a dedicated load balancer (virtual appliance) into the CenturyLink Cloud cloud. This “bring your own load balancer” option leverage internal expertise you may have with a particular vendor. It also gives you complete control over the load balancer setup so that you can modify the routing algorithm or enable/disable features that matter to your business.
What is it?
Returning to Wikipedia, high availability is defined as:
High availability is a system design approach and associated service implementation that ensures a prearranged level of operational performance will be met during a contractual measurement period.
High availability is described through service level agreements and achieved through an architecture that focuses on constant availability even in the face of failures at any level of the system. While load balancing introduces redundancy, it’s not a strategy that alone can provide high availability. Servers sitting behind a load balancer may be running, but that doesn’t mean that they are available!
Availability addresses the ability to withstand failure from all angles including the network, storage, and even the data center itself. Enterprise cloud services like those from CenturyLink Cloud are built on a highly available architecture that uses redundancy at all levels to ensure that no single component failure in a data center impacts overall system availability. This includes “passive” redundancy built into data centers to overcome power or internet provider failures, as well as “active” redundancy that leverages sophisticated monitoring to detect issues and initiate failover procedures.
All of our customers get platform-level high availability when they use the CenturyLink Cloud cloud “out of the box.” That means that you can rely on us for your workloads knowing that our architecture is well-designed and highly redundant. However – back to the introductory paragraph – it’s the customer’s responsibility to design a highly-available application architecture. Simply deploying an application to our cloud doesn’t make it highly available. For example, if you deploy a single Microsoft SQL Server instance in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud, you do not have a highly available database. If that database server goes offline or network access is interrupted, your application’s availability will be impacted. To design a highly available Microsoft SQL Server solution, you have multiple options. One choice is to create a cluster of database servers (where all nodes are active at the same time, or, nodes sit passively by waiting to be engaged) that access data from a shared disk. When a failure in the active node is detected, the alternate node is automatically called into action.
How can CenturyLink Cloud help?
Designing highly available systems is complex. Unfortunately, no cloud provider can offer a checkbox labeled “Make this application highly available!” in their cloud management portal. Crafting a highly available system involves a methodical approach that navigates through every single layer of the system and identifies single points of failure that should be made redundant. For components that cannot be made redundant, it’s important to make sure that the application can continue to run even if that component becomes unavailable.
The CenturyLink Cloud professional services team consists of skilled, experienced architects who have designed and built cloud-scale solutions for customers. They can sit with your team and make sure that you’ve taken advantage of every relevant feature that CenturyLink Cloud has to offer, while helping you make sure that your system landscape is constructed in a way that will ensure continual availability.
Don’t forget to regularly test your high availability design in order to uncover weak points or ensure that configurations remain valid.
What is it?
Once more we turn to Wikipedia which defines disaster recovery as:
Disaster recovery (DR) is the process, policies and procedures that are related to preparing for recovery or continuation of technology infrastructure which are vital to an organization after a natural or human-induced disaster. Disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity. While business continuity involves planning for keeping all aspects of a business functioning in the midst of disruptive events, disaster recovery focuses on the IT or technology systems that support business functions.
DR is all about how you handle unexpected events. Typically, your cloud provider has to declare a disaster before explicitly initiating DR procedures. A brief network outage or storage failure in a data center is usually not enough to trigger a disaster response. There are two phrases that you often hear when defining a DR plan. A recovery point objective (RPO) describes the maximum window of data that can be lost because of a disaster. For example, an RPO of 12 hours means that it is possible that when you get back online after a disaster, you may have lost the most recent 12 hours of data collected by your systems. A recovery time objective (RTO) identifies how long the IT systems (and processes) can be offline before being restored. For example, an RTO of 48 hours means that it may take two days before the systems lost in the disaster are brought back online and becoming usable again.
How can CenturyLink Cloud help?
CenturyLink Cloud customers have disaster protection natively in the platform. We offer two classes of storage: standard and premium. The major difference is that standard storage get five days of rolling backups within a given data center, while premium storage users get fourteen days of rolling backups including replication to an in-country data center. CenturyLink Cloud is powered by global data centers in multiple countries and we use storage replication to enable you to get back online within 8 hours (RTO) and with a maximum RPO of 24 hours.
While this provides assurances against losing all of your data in the event of a disaster, it still may not provide the level of business continuity that you need. If your business cannot tolerate more than a few moments of downtime, even in the event of a disaster, then it’s critical to architect a solution that can withstand the loss of an entire data center. Returning to our earlier Microsoft SQL Server example, consider the ways to construct a highly available database that remains online with minimal data loss, even during a disaster. SQL Server offers replication technologies like database mirroring and AlwaysOn that make it possible to do near-real time replication across geographies.
The experts in the CenturyLink Cloud services team can help you identify all the DNS, networking, compute and storage considerations for building systems that are not only highly available within a data center, but across data centers.
It’s often the case that load balancing, high availability and disaster recovery lapses don’t surface until it’s too late. While CenturyLink Cloud does everything we can to architect our platform for maximum availability and resiliency, our customers still retain responsibility for deploying their systems in a manner that meets their performance and business continuity needs. We are eager to talk to you about how to validate your existing cloud applications or design new solutions that can function at cloud scale. Contact our services team today!