From the Editor
SOA & Cloud Bootcamp: Comparing Cloud Computing Providers
Live by the instance, die by the instance - support is crucial
By: Alan Williamson
Jun. 16, 2009 09:45 AM
I’ve just come back from hosting room another packed Cloud Computing Bootcamp, at the Cloud Computing Expo in Prague, Europe. We’ve done a number of these bootcamps in the last 6 months and we’re starting to see a common theme of questions bubble through. Namely, how fast is it, and what support can I expect?
We’re starting to see a number of real alternatives pop up on the cloud infrastructure scene now. In the past year alone, we’ve seen the number of providers nearly double, starting to give the ‘grandaddy’ of cloud computing, Amazon, a run for its money.
So now we have real choice to build solutions that are no longer locked into a particular provider - assuming of course we don’t immerse ourselves too deeply in their feature list. But how can you compare providers?
The first comparison point is of course performance. This is a common question asked at our bootcamps and it is important to understand that you are never going to get the same level of throughput as you would on a bare-metal system. As it’s a virtualized world, you are only sharing resources. You may be lucky and find yourself the only process on a node and get excellent throughput. But it's very rare.
At the other extreme, you may be unlucky and find yourself continually competing for resources due to some “noisy neighbour” that is hogging the CPU/IO. The problem is that you never know who your neighbors are. The only way you can guarantee the exclusive resource is to move out of the cloud.
So when comparing providers, it's important not to try and compare too closely the performance of say a small instance at Amazon, with the small slice at Mosso, or the small server-RAM at GoGrid. It is very tempting to do it, and you would think on paper that this would be a fair way of knowing how many instances from each provider you need to host your cloud application but it is not. The only real way to tell, is to literally try it. Cloud Computing is so inexpensive that you have the luxury to try a number of providers at the same time to see which satisfies your own metrics.
The other big area of concern that you can use as a comparison point is support. Just how available are they when things go wrong. Can you reach out to someone to talk to? Can you email a helpdesk and get your query answered?
With Amazon You Are On Your Own
Just recently we had the need to move over what was historically running on a 12 bare-metal server infrastructure over to the cloud. Naturally we would need more than 12 instances, and as a rule of thumb, for every real server, you need two cloud instances. It’s not a hard and fast rule, more a guideline. For this particular client, we didn’t have existing accounts set up with the providers so we had to sign-up there and then and get moving. We architected the system, and decided that GoGrid was going to be the best provider for us at this time. However, we got sidelined instantly and had to ask technical support regarding a specific issue. On the Saturday morning the question was asked, and we have yet to get an answer to that issue. Their online accounting system was not approving new accounts over the weekend so we had to wait until the following Monday to start using GoGrid.
Mosso's Technical Support - Top-Notch
GoGrid’s lack of responsiveness lost them what is effectively a $20k yearly account. Such is the world of instant server provisioning - Live by the instance, die by the instance.
Support should never be underestimated. In our experience a good support network outstrips any kinks or issues a platform may have. Flexiscale in the UK is another cloud provider that has had us ring them at all hours, yet they’ve been there answering and helping us out.
Google App Engine: "Cloud It Yourself"
While the large players have poor direct one-on-one support they have usually the most online documentation and largest attended forums. But this can usually only go so far in diagnosing a specific issue.
If your business relies on the speedy resolution of an issue from your cloud provider, then test them before you try. Send them that email out-of-hours to see how quickly and how useful the reply actually is. Try and reach someone on the phone. Look around the forums to see how many questions are left unanswered.
Get a feel for how they treat problems, because this little piece of research could make the difference from having a great cloud experience from one that could have you running back for your bare metal systems!
More Than 60 Companies Sponsored or Exhibited at Cloud Computing Expo New York April 2009
More Than 100 Sponsors and Exhibitors Expected in Silicon Valley
For sponsorship and exhibit opportunities please contact Cloud Computing Expo sales department at 201 802-3021 (events at sys-con.com).
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