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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!

Cloud Developers & Resellers Get a Boost from CenturyLink Cloud Webhooks

“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!

Webhook Example - Data Sync

 

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.

Webhook Example - Anomaly Detection

 

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!

Webhook Example - Compliance Monitoring

Getting Started

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.

Webhook configuration

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!

Highly-Available, Region-Specific, Elastic Storage – “Out of the Box”

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.

CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

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!
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  • Bucket. Objects are stored in buckets. A bucket is a logical container that can hold an unlimited number of objects, but not other buckets.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • Owner. Each bucket has an owner. This is the user that automatically has full control over the bucket and its objects.
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  • 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.

CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

The Control Portal also has a bucket administration component where you can view, create, secure, and delete buckets.

CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

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.

CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

Managing Objects

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.

S3 Browser Accessing CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

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.

ExpanDrive Accessing CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

Summary

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.

Find Cloud Resources Faster with CenturyLink Cloud’s New Global Search

Customer-driven innovation is baked into our company’s DNA. We’re always looking for ways to help customers create and manage enterprise-class environments on our platform.

One thing they’ve told us in recent months is that they want to be able to quickly find all of the diverse resources they’ve created in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud. We heard that request loud and clear and just released Global Search which is a unique capability that dramatically improves your user experience.

What is Global Search? It’s a platform-wide utility that lets you search for accounts, users, servers, Groups, networks, cloud orchestration Blueprints, Blueprint packages, and IP addresses – all from a single search box that is always displayed at the top of each page in our Control Portal.

Global Search

The IT Professional Scenario

This powerful feature works with partial matches, which means that you can type a word like “Exchange” and get back any CenturyLink Cloud resource in your account hierarchy that is related to a Microsoft Exchange mail server. Below, see that this particular search returned some servers that are running Exchange Server, groups residing in different data centers, an account with the word “Exchange” in the description field, and a Blueprint.

Our design team studied the best search experiences in consumer and business products – Spotlight from Apple, as well as the search experience in GitHub for example – for ideas on how to refine results quickly for users.

Global Search

The Support Scenario

Global Search works great for scenarios when you recall a partial name of a resource but don’t know which data center it resides in, or which sub-account it is associated with. Or, consider the case for the CenturyLink Cloud Network Operations Center (NOC) where a support request comes in, and all the caller has is the IP address of the troublesome server. Instead of navigating through collections of servers in the hopes of stumbling upon the right one, the support agent can now just type in all or part of the IP address into Global Search. What happens when you select one of the search results? The Global Search not only takes you to the selected resource, but also switches your account context and data center (if those values are different than your current context). All with a single click!

Global Search

The Reseller Scenario

Another key use case revolves around resellers who deliver our cloud services to their customers. Those resellers have to manage numerous accounts and users and wanted a fast way to locate records. CenturyLink Cloud Global Search can find resources that span data centers and sub-accounts which is ideal for those who have resources spread out globally. Even if the only data you have is a last name or email address, you can still quickly find accounts or users that match that value.

Global Search

Summary

Global Search will introduce massive efficiencies for daily users of the CenturyLink Cloud cloud. Whether you are support staff, , a system administrator, or a developer, this feature ensures that you can put your servers and users in any of our global data centers without worrying about how to find them later. Want to try out Global Search? Sign up for a free trial and see what an enterprise cloud SHOULD be.

Resellers, MSPs, and SIs: The Private Label Cloud Services Opportunity

The shift to cloud services is, in part, about empowering business users to manage more of their own IT needs themselves. To wit, traditional infrastructure service providers are rapidly introducing self-service, elastic capabilities to meet market demand. Enterprises can deliver on their “IT-as-a-Service” roadmap with a branded cloud administrative portal – complete with rapid provisioning – that matches corporate guidelines.

Solving this scenario has been a roadmap priority for CenturyLink Cloud. So we are pleased to announce new functionality today that helps resellers, ISVs, and enterprise IT shops deliver a personalized version of our cloud. Leading infrastructure provider like PEER 1  have found success with our model, and so can you.

How do we deliver a personalized cloud? Five key ways: user interface rebranding, content settings, email templates, single-sign-on support, and API access. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

User interface rebranding

Easily alter the visual appearance of the Control Portal, our web-based cloud management interface. This is the easiest – although most superficial – way to rebrand our cloud as your own. We provide two collections of settings for changing the look and feel of the admin console. The Site Branding settings let you define (1) the name of the site, and (2) the graphic logo associated with your brand.

 

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Changing the site name and corresponding logo is straightforward, and you can revert to the default settings at any time.

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Another way to customize the appearance of the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal is to change the color palette used throughout the site. On the Color Scheme page, we offer a handful of default themes and let you define your own, to match corporate branding guidelines, for example.

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The page shows a preview of the selected color scheme in real-time, so you can easily fine-tune colors to your requirements.

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These changes – while cosmetic in nature – help adoption and increase engagement.

 

Content settings

Enabling configurable settings is another big enhancement we introduced today. Now, many previously hard-coded settings can be adjusted in the UI.

First up, we give users the choice of showing or hiding the page footer. This flexibility is especially helpful for those embedding the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal within a frame. Links within the footer can also be personalized.

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Cloud services involve recurring revenue, which means ongoing support is crucial. So, we let brands leverage their existing support resources and channels. For instance, users may toggle the appearance of customer support panel. If shown, users may customize which email address and phone number appear, and the URL for new support or feature requests. In addition, we enable you to specify the location of your particular knowledge base for users. Finally, you have the choice of linking to your own legal information and privacy policy.

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This combination of settings makes it possible to specify where users can go for the most important support functions. Simply contact the CenturyLink Cloud NOC to activate these settings for your account.

 

 

Email Templates

A cloud infrastructure platform must make heavy use of automation and asynchronous processing. As a result, we send many different types of notifications to customers when certain tasks have completed or events have occurred. We’ve updated our software to enable customization of the 10 different email messages that are sent out from the CenturyLink Cloud platform.

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Each of these templates supports a unique “from” email address, subject line, and message body. Many of the templates also support tokenized values in the message body so that you can provide specific data points in the email.

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These templates help our customers craft specific messages in response to platform events and ensure a consistent voice in communication to customers.

Single sign on (SSO) support

Integration with an existing identity management system is often crucial for resellers and enterprises. So instead of forcing users to create yet another set of credentials, CenturyLink Cloud wants to make it easy for your users to simply access these functions with their same credentials.

CenturyLink Cloud supports the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) v2 standard, a protocol widely used to create SSO solutions. Using SAML, your identity management system (e.g. Windows Active Directory) generates a valid SAML token that is passed to CenturyLink Cloud. We then validate that token and log the user into their Control Portal account. We’ve created a comprehensive Knowledge Base article (Using SAML for Single-Sign-On to the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal) that demonstrates a complete walkthrough of creating a new Identity Provider and hooking it up to the CenturyLink Cloud platform.

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API access

There are plenty of cases where our customers want to interact with the CenturyLink Cloud cloud from within their own applications and portals. Thanks to our comprehensive API, it’s possible to do nearly everything in our cloud via a web service interface. Our API covers a number of critical feature areas:

  • Servers. Create, configure and delete servers. Also reboot them, create snapshots, restore snapshots, and much more.
  • Groups. Create and delete Groups of servers. Power off the servers in the group, put all servers into maintenance mode, and more.
  • Blueprints. Orchestrate your solutions by querying and deploying Blueprint templates.
  • Accounts. Create, update, suspend, and delete entire accounts.
  • Users. Query, create, update, and delete user records.
  • Billing Details. Among the first of its kind, our billing interface lets you retrieve invoices, view month-to-date charges, and see an estimate of future charges.

This API makes it simple to add CenturyLink Cloud actions into your own internal processes. For instance, you could provision users in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud whenever you onboard a new employee within a certain department. Or schedule a job that pulls CenturyLink Cloud invoices into your ERP system on the last day of every month. Provide a single page interface for developers to spin up temporary development environments. There are countless scenarios where the CenturyLink Cloud cloud can provide a backbone to services that you want to provide your customers and users.

Wrap Up

These features offer a unique opportunity for organizations to capitalize on the shift to the cloud. Have ideas on how we can make these capabilities even better? Leave a comment here or contact us if you have an idea for additional features that would make CenturyLink Cloud your choice for a private label cloud.