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. First, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
For even more on all the features in this release, check out our latest Release Notes.
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. 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:
- Offer a simple, straightforward toolset that users can understand and take advantage of quickly.
- Deliver reliable, accurate statistics that reflect the current state of a server.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.