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From small to big: 5 tips for managing clouds at scale

Cloud users say scaling up a cloud is hard

By , Network World
October 21, 2013 04:10 PM ET

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-Right-size your resources

A common platform for IaaS resources nowadays is for providers to offer an a la carte offering of virtual machine instances sizes and storage platforms. Customers should take care when choosing exactly which resources to use, because if you don’t then there can be significant waste.

Usually it’s pretty straightforward to decide between the three main flavors of storage from AWS: Elastic Block Storage (EBS), Simple Storage Service (S3) or Glacier. EBS is for block storage, which are volumes that are not connected directly to compute instances that use them. S3, on the other hand, is a massive file store system that can be used for granular storage of small items and scaled way up to larger files too. Glacier is a long-term storage platform with extremely high availability and low costs, but very (comparatively) long wait time for retrieving data. Within EBS there are tiers of storage though (see information about the options here). Customers should ensure they have the right performance, reliability and scalability requirements for their needs. If you don’t, you may end up overpaying for services you don’t need.

Another key is ensuring virtual machines are right-sized for your workloads. AWS has a catalog of more than a dozen different types of virtual machines, from high input/output VMs, to high memory ones. Evaluate what your application is and what kind of resource it needs, and get the right size VM for it. A variety of third-party AWS monitoring tools can help users make the right decisions. Other companies, like ProfitBricks and Cloud Sigma, allow customers to set their own VM instance (and pay for them by the minute, instead of by the house). These features allow customers to customize their VMs at granular levels, opposed to choosing from a menu of options from AWS.

-Beware of noisy neighbors

When using a public cloud, you’re typically going to be sharing infrastructure resources with a lot of other users. That’s in part why these IaaS clouds are so cheap – because providers can pack multiple customers into high-density virtual machines. You may be sharing a virtualized server with other companies. For some applications and workloads that may not be a problem. But, for others that are performance-sensitive, it can be an issue.

Greg Arnette
Greg Arnette

While AWS says that it takes steps to avoid this by hard partitioning resources, users still worry about it. Panelist Greg Arnette, CTO of cloud data archiving company Sonian, says this used to be a bigger issue a few years ago, but network volatility is less common nowadays. Still, some users may be concerned about it. For those who are, customers can pay extra to have dedicated resources – which are isolated areas of the AWS cloud reserved for individual customers. There is also AWS Virtual Private Cloud, which is now the default setting in EC2, which uses a hardware VPN and allows customers to configure their virtual networks. The best way to avoid the noisy neighbor though is to right-size the VMs to make sure they have enough capacity for the application that’s running. If the VMs don’t meet their performance being advertised, that can be a breach of the service-level agreement (SLA).

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