Click here to close now.


Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Brian Daleiden, Liz McMillan, Tim Hinds, Harry Trott

Related Topics: @CloudExpo

@CloudExpo: Article

Cloud Computing Expo: How to Port an Application to EC2

Using the cloud for pay-as-you-go hosting

Mike Brittain's Blog

There are a variety of notions to how cloud computing is defined. I tend to think that what this really boils down to is the ability to procure hardware or services that you wouldn’t normally have access to in a physical sense. Rather than buying 20 new servers, you can spin them up on-demand, and also dump them whenever you want. It’s the “utility” or “pay-as-you-go” model.

I don’t see any difference between spinning up one server to run some prototypes, or spinning up 100 to crunch through a huge data set. People seem to be getting caught up in the notion that unless you are doing some sort of parallel processing with lots of nodes, you aren’t doing “cloud computing”. I disagree.

I also don’t believe that virtualization is necessarily the same as cloud computing. To me, virtualization means that you’re essentially splitting up fixed resources you already have into smaller chunks for other people to use. This is your accounting and human resources departments sharing space on the same machine, but keeping them logically partitioned. Providers are now selling virtualization under the cloud label. But if I have to buy (or rent) 20 physical machines to virtualize into slices, then I’m still committed to 20 machines. If I need more or fewer resources, I may need to work through a contract or serve out a lease term. It’s no longer pay-as-you-go, it’s a major expenditure.

Software as a Service

I love the software as a service model. I like having someone else running a database or mail service so that I don’t have to hire a team or own the plant to support it. With the service being off-site, I don’t have to worry about local disasters (though be sure to watch out for providers without their own SLA or disaster recovery plans). Our clients are again becoming thin. Laptops will have fewer and fewer local applications installed, and simply access various online applications and databases.

Again, pay as you go.

Additionally, fewer staff to manage services in-house. This means you won’t/can’t strangle your sysadmin when hosted email goes down for six hours. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

The best part about this model, though, is that you focus your own resources on what you’re best at. Does an online marketing agency need to know how to administer an Exchange server? Or should that be outsourced to a company that has the expertise to run mail for over a hundred other companies?

Cloud != Scale

This seems like a typical misconception: If I build my application on a cloud computing platform, then it will automatically scale. Environments like EC2 provide the ability to scale your application horizontally. Your application, however, still needs to be able to benefit from horizontal scaling. If you can only handle 5 concurrent users per node, then adding more boxes isn’t going to get you to 10,000 users very quickly. This seems obvious, but many people are still missing this point.

I don’t think there are many case studies yet of companies with applications “in the cloud” who also have suffered large amounts of traffic. And when we do see more of these applications, they will tend to have been built by early adopters who are probably experts in their fields. These cloud services are not yet open and approachable enough so that you have your average developer poking around and building applications that have the DNA for failure. Google has done a good job with promoting AppEngine using videos and hack-a-thons.

Decent architecture is always going to be foundational for scale. Your application has to benefit from the availability of additional nodes.

Redundancy and Planning for Failure

Amazon gets a lot of heat when S3 goes down, or when Gmail is unavailable. This is all a lot of finger pointing, especially by people have not started using cloud services — The “I told you so” crowd. Truth be told, the day after the recent S3 outage, my company had an application that was offline for nearly the same amount of time as S3’s outage. Are we any better? No.

It’s incredibly important to have a failover option for your own application. Before I left Heavy, we designed our storage on S3 so that it could be replicated to physical disks that we have at RackSpace. When S3 went out, we just flipped over to the physical disks. Eventually there will be a time when we don’t have enough disk to store what we keep at S3. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be replicated to another cloud storage service.

Consider having a backup hosting service in place, either physical or using another cloud provider. Your physical service could be provided by a managed hosting provider, or on some other dedicated hardware outside of your own office. You don’t need to own your own servers for a backup solution.

If you don’t have much money to spend on physical machines to host your fully operating site or application, think about how you can reduce the site to a version that can be hosted on a minimal number of servers. Can you maintain a read-only backup? Can you host a backup of your most popular content (i.e. the top 5%), and temporarily turn off access to the rest of the site?

Abstraction Layers

Something that I have talked a lot about, but haven’t had enough time to spend building, is a good abstraction layer on top of cloud storage. Everyone seems to have slightly different APIs. On the other hand, about 85% of the features overlap from provider to provider. Why not write an abstraction layer to handle the 85% and use multiple services? This could probably work pretty well for flipping back and forth between (or replicating amongst) various cloud storage services like S3, CloudFS, Nirvanix, and also physical disks.

I don’t know many details about SimpleDB and AppEngine’s datastore, but it seems to me that you may be able to apply this 85% rule to those as well. You could probably even treat MySQL and PostgreSQL the same way. You couldn’t use all of the joins and transactions you normally would want to use, but then again, writing an application specifically for cloud computing platforms seems to be a different sort of animal. We’ve basically been doing the same thing for years with the so-called database abstraction layers. You can say that you’ve got a layer that allows you to flip from one database engine to another, but chances are, you have some engine-specific code that you’ve been using that doesn’t translate well.

Porting an Application to EC2

I ported an application at Heavy that ran on physical machines we had available at RackSpace onto EC2. How much effort did it take for the application developers? Almost none. We didn’t buy into using SimpleDB — we just ran MySQL on EC2 instances. We split our team so that we had a couple of us building a few tools for managing our EC2 instances, and the other developers went about their business building a web application that could run on a standard LAMP stack. Additionally, if EC2 ever goes out of commission, we have the code and databases backed. They can easily be deployed to physical machines.

It’s worth saying this again… I ported an application from physical machines to the cloud. This application was not written for a specific cloud service. We were very concerned about lock-in from the beginning.


What did we gain by hosting our application on EC2? Initially nothing. We had the physical machines to run the application. But as our traffic increases, we can fire up new instances on demand. If traffic drops off, so does out monthly bill. It’s variable cost web hosting.

Does hosting your application on EC2 solve scaling problems? No. If you can’t improve performance of your application by adding additional servers, then there are bottlenecks to solve. Running your service on the cloud doesn’t mean it scales.

Furthermore, the cloud is not self-healing. In other words, it doesn’t automatically monitor your application and grow your infrastructure. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t build your application to do this. Read Don MacAskill’s SkyNet posting ( to get some idea of how that can work.

I look forward to reading your comments.

More Stories By Mike Brittain

Mike Brittain is the engineering architect at CafeMom. He has over a decade of experience in LAMP development, and has become involved in cloud computing and mobile phone applications over the last two years. His other projects include One tsp., a recipe management site, and planning his next big ski trip.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...
Apps and devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. Learn how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again) whenever an Internet connection is available. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Ben Perlmutter, a Sales Engineer with IBM Cloudant, demonstrated techniques for replicating cloud databases with devices in order to build offline-first mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) apps that can provide a better, faster user experience, both offline and online. The focus of this talk was on IBM Cloudant, Apache CouchDB, and ...
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, explored the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context with p...
I recently attended and was a speaker at the 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I also had the opportunity to attend this event last year and I wrote a blog from that show talking about how the “Enterprise Impact of IoT” was a key theme of last year’s show. I was curious to see if the same theme would still resonate 365 days later and what, if any, changes I would see in the content presented.
Cloud computing delivers on-demand resources that provide businesses with flexibility and cost-savings. The challenge in moving workloads to the cloud has been the cost and complexity of ensuring the initial and ongoing security and regulatory (PCI, HIPAA, FFIEC) compliance across private and public clouds. Manual security compliance is slow, prone to human error, and represents over 50% of the cost of managing cloud applications. Determining how to automate cloud security compliance is critical to maintaining positive ROI. Raxak Protect is an automated security compliance SaaS platform and ma...