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SOA & Cloud Bootcamp: Comparing Cloud Computing Providers

Live by the instance, die by the instance - support is crucial

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?

SOA & Cloud Bootcamp
June 22-23, New York City

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
This is where sadly Amazon fail big time. They have their public forums, but other than paying for support specifically, there is no free help. You are on your own. Amazon take little responsibility and it’s quite common to arrive in the morning discovering an instance has been turned off due to some fault and you’ve lost all the data on those disks. At Amazon you have to build redundancy in from the start!

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
Not wishing to lose the weekend and wait, we went to our second choice, Cloud Servers from Mosso. Instant sign-up and within the hour we had our instances all spun up starting to work. We had some teething issues with Mosso. Performance isn’t terribly good on their lower end instances and you have to move far up the chain before you get anywhere near the level we expect. But their technical support is excellent and top-notch. They were on hand at all times during the weekend assisting us with some issues we had.

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"
The big vendors have a long way to go to on their support. Amazon requires you pay. Google App Engine isn’t good at answering direct questions. Their attitude seems to be, CIY: Cloud It Yourself. But this won’t last.

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
Cloud Computing Conference & Expo West and East (past two events) were sponsored by more than 60 leading global cloud computing technology providers, including: 3Tera, Active Endpoints, AppSense, AppZero, Aria Systems, CA, Inc., Certeon, Cloud.com, Composite Software, Cordys, Corporate Technologies, Cycle Computing, DataDirect Technologies, EMC,, ExactTarget, FreedomOSS, IBM, Intel, Intel SOA Products Group, iTKO, J9 Technologies, Krugle, LynuxWorks, MeettheBoss.com, Metron, Microsoft, mindSHIFT, Moderro Technologies, Mosso, Nastel, Netmagic Solutions, OpenSpan, ParaScale, Platform Computing, QuantumXML, Red Hat, RightScale, Sensedia, Sun Microsystems, Supermicro, Symantec, Tap In Systems, Tranxition, Tripwire, VIRTERA, VMware, Web Age Solutions, and Zeus Technology.

More Than 100 Sponsors and Exhibitors Expected in Silicon Valley
Upcoming Cloud Computing Conference & Expo 2009 West event, which will take place November 2-4, 2009, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley is estimated to have more than 100 sponsors and exhibitors.

For sponsorship and exhibit opportunities please contact Cloud Computing Expo sales department at 201 802-3021 (events at sys-con.com).

Cloud Computing Expo New York April 2009 Sold Out With Record Participation
2nd International Cloud Computing Conference & Expo, colocated with 5th International Virtualization Conference & Expo presented the most distinguished faculty of speakers on any technology conference taking place in 2009. Speakers, general session and keynote presenters included such names as: ,Ajay Anand (Yahoo!), Alan Williamson (AW 2.0 Ltd), Anthony Arrott (Trend Micro), Bill McColl (Cloudscale), Bob Quinn (3Leaf Systems), Brian H. Prince (Microsoft), Brian Zanghi (Kadient), Bryan Wade (ExactTarget), Clod Barrera (IBM), Daniel Beveridge (VIRTERA), David Bernstein (Cisco), David Bressler (Progress Software), David Douglas (Sun Microsytems), David Linthicum (Blue Mountain Labs), Doug Tidwell (IBM), Ed Sullivan (Aria Systems), Glenn Brunette (Sun Microsystems), Jeff Bauer (Forbes.com), Jeremy Geelan (SYS-CON Media), Jim Rymarczyk (IBM), Joe Gregorio (Google), Joel York (Xignite), John Barr (Yieldex), John du Pre Gauntt (Media Dojo), John Laferriere (Corporate Technologies), Jon Pyke (Cordys), JP Morgenthal (J.P. Morgenthal Blog), Kenneth Oestreich (Egenera), Kevin L. Jackson (Dataline), Kristof Kloeckner (IBM), Lucian Lipinsky de Orlov (VIRTERA), Martin Ingram (AppSense), Matt Holleran (Emergence Capital), Michael Hill (IBM), Omer Trajman (Vertica), Owen Garrett (Zeus Technology), Patrick Kerpan (CohesiveFT), Pau Garcia-Mila (eyeOS), Peter Coffee Salesforce.com), Peter Nickolov (3Tera), Phil Fritz (IBM), Prasad Rampalli (Intel), Raghavan Srinivas (Intuit), Ranjith Ramakrishnan (Cumulux), Reuven Cohen (Cloud Interoperability Forum), Rich Wolski (University of California), Ronnie Thomson (Quark), Russ Daniels (HP), Sajai Krishnan (ParaScale), Scott Wiener (Cloud9 Analytics), Simon Wardley (Canonical), Stephen Elliot (CA), Steve Milroy (OnTerra Systems), Stuart Charlton (Elastra), Thorsten von Eicken (RightScale), Tien Tzuo (Zuora), Tim Crawford (Stanford University), Vik Chaudhary (Keynote Systems), Warren Wilbee (Microsoft), Werner Vogels (Amazon.com), William Fellows (The 451 Group).

More Stories By Alan Williamson

Alan Williamson is widely recognized as an early expert on Cloud Computing, he is Co-Founder of aw2.0 Ltd, a software company specializing in deploying software solutions within Cloud networks. Alan is a Sun Java Champion and creator of OpenBlueDragon (an open source Java CFML runtime engine). With many books, articles and speaking engagements under his belt, Alan likes to talk passionately about what can be done TODAY and not get caught up in the marketing hype of TOMORROW. Follow his blog, http://alan.blog-city.com/ or e-mail him at cloud(at)alanwilliamson.org.

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