What you REALLY should be asking your cloud computing provider.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Telecom
Biddeford, ME

I’ve been reading quite a bit of back and forth over cloud computing provider Service Level Agreements and endless checklists that purport to be everything a customer should ask a potential cloud computing provider. There’s a lot of aimless noise and sniping back and forth that is missing a very critical point.

Let me start of by saying, as an approach to insuring service uptime, classic percentage based SLAs are worthless. The SLA tells you nothing about whether you can expect your cloud computing provider to keep your service running or not, only the penalty if they fail. Your goal as a cloud computing customer isn’t to extract the maximum compensation for the failure of your cloud service, it’s to insure that your cloud service doesn’t fail in the first place!

Failures of data center hardware are an inevitable fact of life, even with the most conscientious engineering and operation. The data center failures of the past year have shown that even the big data centers fall well short of the “most conscientious engineering and operation” goal. Given this fact of life, here are the things you should REALLY be asking your cloud computing provider.

1. Do they have the ability to automatically restart workloads on the remaining running physical cloud capacity if part of the capacity fails.

This is something that has stood out like a sore thumb with a lot of the big cloud providers. Failures of underlying physical hardware on Amazon’s AWS service kills the workloads that were running on that hardware, even though the vast amount of capacity is still up and running in the cloud. If your cloud provider can’t automatically restart your workload in case of failure, run away.

In the SwiftWater Telecom cloud (using the Xen Cloud Control System) failed workloads are restarted automatically on remaining cloud capacity in minutes, not hours.

2. Do they offer a way to insure that redundant virtual servers never end up on the same physical server?

It doesn’t do much good to have redundant virtual servers in the cloud if they all die when one single physical host dies.

In the SwiftWater Telecom cloud, we offer what we call the Ultra Server. The Ultra Server combines redundant virtual servers with the “unfriend” feature of XCCS. Unfriending insures that the redundant servers never end up on the same physical server.

This means that nothing but a “smoking hole disaster” would ever cause a complete outage of an Ultra Server. Combine that with the automatic virtual server restoration of XCCS and the option to set up the Ultra Server between our separate data centers, and you have a cloud powered virtual server that is the next best thing to indestructible.

Stop concentrating on the penalties for failure, ask the right questions to find the cloud computing provider who has the right tools to keep your service from failing in the first place.

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