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Look Beyond the Sticker Price: What It REALLY Costs to Run a Cloud App

Companies embrace the cloud because it offers agility, speed to market, self-service, rapid innovation, and yes, cost savings. There are plenty of cases where organizations can save money by using cloud resources, but it’s easy to focus on vendor compute and storage pricing, and forget about all the other financial components of a cloud application. See Joe Weinman’s Cloudonomics for an excellent analysis of how to assess the economic impact of using the cloud. An application can very easily cost MORE in the cloud – but that might still be just fine, since it helps the business shed some CapEx and remove servers from corporate data centers. In this post, we’ll talk about the full scope of pricing cloud applications and give you a useful perspective for assessing the overall cost.

Example application

Businesses deploy applications, not servers. A typical application is comprised of multiple servers that perform different roles. For instance, let’s consider an existing, commercial website that receives a healthy amount of traffic. It uses a load balancer to route traffic to one of multiple web servers, leverages a series of application servers for caching and business services, and uses a relational database for persistent storage.

n-tier web application

To maximize revenue and customer satisfaction, the application is replicated in another geography for availability reasons and traffic can be quickly steered to the alternate site in the case of a disaster or prolonged outage.

Cost breakdown

“Hidden costs” often bite cloud users. This is especially true for those who buy from a cloud that offers “cheap virtual cores!” but also require you to buy countless other services to assemble an enterprise-class infrastructure landscape. Let’s look at each area where it’s possible – and likely – that you will incur a charge from your cloud provider.

     
  • Application migration. If you are doing greenfield development in the cloud, then this won’t apply. But if you have existing applications that are moving to the cloud, there are a few migration-related costs. First, there can be a labor cost with doing virtual machine imports. Some cloud providers let you import for free, others charge you. In most cases, there is also a bandwidth charge for the transfer of virtual machine images. Finally, there’s likely a cost for storing the virtual machine image during the import process.
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  • Server CPU processor. This – along with RAM –  is the number most frequently bandied about when talking about the costs of running a cloud application. Some providers let you provision the exact number of virtual CPU cores desired; others provide fixed “instance sizes” that come with a pre-defined allocation of CPUs and memory.
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  • Server memory. Cloud providers are ratcheting up the amount of RAM they offer to address memory-hungry applications, caching products, and in-memory databases.
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  • Server storage. There are many different types of storage (e.g. block storage, object storage, vSAN storage) and costs vary with each. Don’t forget to include the cost of storing data backups, virtual machine templates, and persistent disks that survive even after servers have been deleted.
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  • Bandwidth. It’s easy to forget about bandwidth, but it’s a charge that can bite you if you’re not expecting it! You may need to factor in public bandwidth, intra-data center bandwidth, inter-data center bandwidth, CDN bandwidth, and load balancer bandwidth. Not all of these may apply, and some may not be charged by your cloud provider, but it’s important to check ahead of time. Most cloud providers use the “GB transfer” model, charging for all data transferred – and penalizing customers for bursting above their commitments. CenturyLink Cloud utilizes the 95th percentile billing method, preventing surges in traffic from grossly affecting costs.
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  • Public IP addresses. Nearly every cloud provider offers a way to expose servers to the public Internet, and some charge for the use of public IP addresses. This is usually a nominal monthly charge, but one to consider for scenarios where there are dozens of Internet-facing servers.
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  • Load balancing. There is often a charge to not only use a load balancer, but also for the traffic that passes through it.
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  • VPN and Direct Connect. Cloud users are looking for ways to connect cloud environments to on-premises infrastructure, and vendors now offer a rich set of connectivity options. However, those options come at a cost. Depending on the choice, you could be subjected to fees for setup, operations, and bandwidth associated with these connections.
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  • Firewalls. This is usually baked into each cloud provider’s native offering, but you will want to check and make sure that sophisticated firewall rules don’t come with an additional charge.
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  • Server monitoring. Even those cloud servers aren’t in your data center, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to monitor them! Depending on your monitoring needs, there can be a range of charges associated with standard and advanced monitors for each cloud server.
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  • Intrusion detection.  Given that cloud servers are often accessible through the public Internet, it’s important to use a defense-in-depth approach that includes screening incoming traffic for potential attacks. CenturyLink Cloud is a bit unique in that we offer this at no cost, but you can still get this sort of protection from other vendors – but rarely for free.
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  • Labor for integrating with on-premises assets. You don’t want to create silos in the cloud, and you will likely spend a non-trivial amount of time integrating with your critical applications, data, identity provider, and network. If this effort requires assistance from the cloud provider themselves, there could be a charge for that time and effort.
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  • Distributed, disaster recovery environments. Applications fail, and clouds fail. If you require very high availability, you may need to duplicate your application in other geographically-dispersed cloud data centers. You could choose to keep that environment “warm” by synchronizing a data repository while keeping web/application servers offline. Or, you may choose to build a truly distributed system that leverages active infrastructure across geographies. Either way, it’s possible that you’ll incur noticeable charges for establishing replica environments.
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  • Development / QA environments. Applications may run differently in the cloud than in your local data center. Hence, you could choose to provision pre-production environments in the cloud for building and running your applications.
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  • System administrator labor costs. One of the wonderful things about the cloud is the widespread automation that makes it possible to provision and maintain massive server clusters without adding to your pool of system administrators. However, there are still activities that require administration. This may involve server patching and software updates, deploying new applications, and scaling the environments. Some of those activities can be automated as well, but you should factor in human costs to your cloud budget.

Places to save money

Given the various charges you may incur by moving to the cloud, how can you optimize your spend and take full advantage of what the cloud has to offer? Here are five tips:

     
  1. Don’t over-provision.  Gone are the days when you have to request a massive server from an internal IT department because you MAY need the extra resources in the future and don’t want to deal with the hassle of upgrading the server later. CenturyLink Cloud makes it simple to change the number of virtual CPUs, amount of RAM, or amount of storage in seconds. Only spend money on what you need right now, and only pay more when you have to scale up. In addition, don’t settle for cloud providers who force you into fixed “instance sizes” that don’t deliver the mix of vCPU/RAM/storage that your application needs. CenturyLink Cloud encourages you provision whatever combination of vCPU/RAM/storage that you want! In fact, we usually tell customers to under-provision to start with, and ratchet up resources as needed.
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  3. Turn off idle servers. If you decide to create development or QA environments in the cloud, it’s likely that those environments will be fairly quiet over weekends. By shutting those down – and doing it automatically – you can potentially save hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.
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  5. Automate mundane server management tasks. Running maintenance scripts or installing software on a cluster of servers is time consuming and tedious. CenturyLink Cloud provides an innovative Group capability that makes it possible to issue power commands, install software, and run scripts against large batches of servers.
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  7. Add resource limits to prevent runaway provisioning. Elasticity is a foundational aspect of cloud computing, but it’s not a bad idea to establish resource caps. With CenturyLink Cloud for example, customers can define the maximum amount of vCPUs, memory, and storage that any one Group can consume.
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  9. Carefully consider uptime requirements and disaster recovery needs. Even though the cloud makes it easier, it’s still not cheap or simple to build a globally distributed, highly available application. Evaluate whether you need cross-data center availability, or, a defined disaster recovery plan. The simplest solution for CenturyLink Cloud customers is to provision Premium block storage which provides daily snapshots and replication to an in-country data center. In the event of a disaster, CenturyLink Cloud brings up your server in an alternate data center and gets you back in business. If you want to avoid nearly any downtime, then you can architect a solution that operates across multiple data centers. To save money, you could choose to keep the alternate location offline but synchronized so that it could quickly activated if needed.

Summary

When considering all the services you need to deploy and operate enterprise-level business applications, the “cheap virtual cores!” pitch is less compelling. It’s about finding a cloud provider that offers an all-up, integrated offering that gives you the set of services you need to deploy and maintain a robust, connected infrastructure. Give CenturyLink Cloud a try and see if our innovative platform is exactly what you’re looking for!

CenturyLink Cloud now supports Ubuntu!

CenturyLink Cloud is pleased to announce the full support for all customers Ubuntu server in 32 and 64 bit version. As always there is no cost for deploying an open source OS. Ubuntu is now available for premium server deployment, lab deployment, cloning, archiving, and all the other features that our enhanced provisioning platform contains.

ChemPoint.com Selects CenturyLink Cloud for Continuous Innovation and Growth

CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise platform provides the security, stability, efficiency and flexibility needed to support ChemPoint’s continuous application development BELLEVUE, Wash., June 23, 2011—ChemPoint.com, the leading e-distributor of specialty and fine chemicals in Europe and North America, has selected enterprise cloud platform company CenturyLink Cloud as its IT infrastructure services partner. ChemPoint conducted an evaluation of multiple offerings before choosing CenturyLink Cloud for its innovation and growth potential. According to ChemPoint, CenturyLink Cloud’s platform provides the security, stability, efficiency and flexibility needed to support the company’s continuous application development and business growth. “While our innovative applications platform has continued to evolve and provide a strong leadership position within our industry, our underlying infrastructure hasn’t kept pace over the past few years,” said Jeff Trimble, vice president of operations and technology at ChemPoint. “The move to CenturyLink Cloud expands our infrastructure capabilities and creates tremendous flexibility. This allows us to focus our technology resources on the differentiating elements that drive our business.” Jared Wray, chief technology officer of CenturyLink Cloud, noted, “Companies moving their applications online need to feel completely confident that their information is secure and quickly accessible at all times. We built our enterprise cloud platform with those requirements in mind. Every customer gets the production-ready environment that will enable them to provide their customers with the quality of service, uptime and support they need 100 percent of the time. Their customers demand it. We demand it.” The CenturyLink Cloud platform incorporates virtualization technology, intelligence and automation across every layer of the platform to provide unprecedented performance and agility. To eliminate the risks often associated with cloud computing, the platform also includes:

  • Enterprise-Grade Security and Compliance: The SAS 70 Type II audited, HIPAA and PCI compliant platform provides tailored, audit-ready policies and monitoring to help enterprises enforce their own corporate security and compliance requirements.
  • Built-in Business Continuity: Recovery and client and file share backup are standard features of every deployment. CenturyLink Cloud maintains multiple copies of IT assets mirrored locally and replicated in our geographically diverse data centers, preserving a 14 day rolling backup. In the unlikely event of a major service interruption, CenturyLink Cloud quickly brings up customer entire environment in a secondary data center with the same performance, scale and capacity, ensuring business continuity.

About CenturyLink Cloud CenturyLink Cloud, based in Bellevue, Wash., goes beyond traditional cloud offerings to provide an agile, self-optimizing enterprise cloud platform. Enterprises large and small depend on the company’s secure, intelligent platform to run their mission-critical, production applications and services so they can focus on their core business. They realize the cloud benefits of lower TCO and dynamic scaling delivered on an enterprise-class platform with SLAs, security, and built-in disaster recovery. Innovative technologies deliver predictive optimization for unprecedented performance at all layers. For more information, visit www.tier3.com. About ChemPoint.com As the leading “e-distributor” of specialty and fine chemicals in Europe and North America, ChemPoint.com engages in exclusive product line relationships with premier manufacturers. From its European and North American interaction centers, ChemPoint (www.chempoint.com) provides its suppliers with marketing, sales, customer service and order fulfillment solutions for their targeted customer segments. ChemPoint is a Univar company. With a network of more than 170 distribution facilities, Univar (www.univar.com) is a world leader in chemical distribution. Media Contacts Kelly Wanlass CenturyLink Cloud (801) 602-4723 kelly.wanlass@tier3.com

CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud Platform Attains VMware vCloud® Powered Validation

BELLEVUE, Wash.— July 26, 2011—CenturyLink Cloud today announced that its Enterprise Cloud Platform public cloud service has achieved VMware vCloud® Powered status, illustrating to customers that the company’s cloud services are underpinned by VMware’s leading virtualization and cloud computing technology, namely VMware vSphere® and VMware vCloud Director. A member of the VMware Service Provider Program (VSPP) , CenturyLink Cloud—via its VMware vCloud Powered service, the CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud Platform—delivers a set of cloud computing services across a common platform, supporting the largest set of existing applications, and offering the distinctive application mobility only available from VMware. “High performing production applications in the cloud require enterprise-quality virtual machines offered in an enterprise-grade cloud platform. VMware is the standard for enterprise virtualization and is the ultimate ‘check box’ new customers tick off when considering CenturyLink Cloud for an enterprise-grade cloud,” said Jared Wray, chief technology officer, CenturyLink Cloud. “When VMware vCloud technologies are combined with our unique intellectual property in virtualization, security and automation, enterprise customers get a highly available, secure, enterprise-grade hybrid cloud with management capabilities consistent with their own virtualized, private cloud implementations.“ “The VMware vCloud® Powered program was developed to enable our service provider partners to differentiate themselves and help them bring their enterprise-class cloud services to market in this competitive landscape,“ said Don Schleicher, vice president of service providers for VMware. “We look forward to supporting CenturyLink Cloud further as it enables the agility and performance customers are looking for in the cloud computing landscape.” Customers of CenturyLink Cloud have the ability to move workloads from their VMware vSphere-based virtualized or private cloud environment to the CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud and back again. This application portability is a key differentiator giving customers the flexibility and security they need while enabling increased IT agility. CenturyLink Cloud’s enterprise cloud platform incorporates intelligence, automation and virtualization technology across every layer of the platform to provide unprecedented performance and agility. vSphere 4, vCloud Director and vCenter Operations are standard in the CenturyLink Cloud platform today. Support for vSphere 5 and the entire VMware cloud infrastructure suite will arrive in late Q3. According to Wray, testing of vSphere 5 with the CenturyLink Cloud enterprise cloud platform already shows performance quickly approaching that of physical hardware, specifically in regards to threading on multiple threading applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Hadoop. “With vSphere 5, we will be able to run mission-critical production apps on a virtual machine,” he concluded. CenturyLink Cloud sought VMware vCloud® Powered validation in order to enable enterprises to more confidently and cost effectively employ a true hybrid cloud environment by easily provisioning public cloud resources that are compatible with existing VMware infrastructure, and quickly and securely extend virtualized workloads to the public cloud. As a validated provider, CenturyLink Cloud can now provide users with unprecedented responsiveness and agility, and reduced IT costs through increased consolidation, task automation and simplified management. About CenturyLink Cloud CenturyLink Cloud, based in Bellevue, Wash., goes beyond traditional cloud offerings to provide an agile, self-optimizing enterprise cloud platform. Enterprises large and small depend on the company’s secure, intelligent platform to run their mission-critical, production applications and services so they can focus on their core business. They realize the cloud benefits of lower TCO and dynamic scaling delivered on an enterprise-class platform with SLAs, security, and built-in disaster recovery. Innovative technologies deliver predictive optimization for unprecedented performance at all layers. For more information, visit http://www.tier3.com. VMware and VMware vCloud are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of VMware, Inc. in the United States and/or other jurisdictions. The use of the word “partner” or “partnership” does not imply a legal partnership relationship between VMware and any other company.

What Does “vCloud Powered” Mean for You?

This week we announced that the CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud is one of the few public cloud services around the world to attain VMware’s vCloud Powered validation—but what does that mean for you? Being vCloud Powered validates that our public enterprise cloud services are underpinned by VMware’s enterprise virtualization technology for a highly available, secure, production-ready hybrid cloud. We appreciate this unique VMware stamp of approval—and the shout out from VMWare CEO Paul Maritz at the recent vCloud services launch, which reinforces the industry’s keen focus on the enterprise cloud. vCloud means you have access to the same quality and management experience across CenturyLink Cloud’s enterprise cloud platform as you do in your own VMware-run datacenter or private cloud. And benefitting from a hybrid cloud is now easier than ever with the ability to move workloads from your VMware vSphere-based virtualized or private cloud environment to the CenturyLink Cloud public cloud and back again—enabling easy proof of concept builds, bursting, and more. Test the waters by moving just one app to the cloud, or fully satisfy your company’s pent-up internal demand for scalable cloud resources and services. Increase business and IT agility by spinning up new services in just hours, not days or weeks; then let the automated operations features built into our cloud platform take care of routine maintenance so your IT staff can focus on revenue-generating projects. Take full advantage of today’s enterprise cloud with the knowledge that our enterprise-grade cloud platform is certified by VMware, the world leader in virtualization technology.