Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Harry Trott, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, @CloudExpo

Containers Expo Blog: Article

Cloud Computing and Reliability

The Cloud offers some enticing advantages with respect to reliability

Eric Novikoff's Blog

IT managers and pundits speak of the reliability of a system in "nines." Two nines is the same as 99%, which comes to (100%-99%)*365 or 3.65 days of downtime per year, which is typical for non-redundant hardware if you include the time to reload the operating system and restore backups (if you have them) after a failure. Three nines is about 8 hours of downtime, four nines is about 52 minutes and the holy grail of 5 nines is 7 minutes.

From a users' point of view, downtime is downtime, but for a provider/vendor/web site manager, downtime is divided into planned and unplanned. Cloud computing can offer some benefits for planned downtime, but the place that it can have the largest effect on a business is in reducing unplanned downtime.

Planned downtime is usually the result of having to do some sort of software maintenance or release process, which is usually outside the domain of the cloud vendor, unless that vendor also offers IT operations services. Other sources of planned downtime are upgrades or scheduled equipment repairs. Most cloud vendors have some planned downtime, but because their business is based on providing high uptime, scheduled downtimes are kept to a minimum.

Unplanned downtime is where cloud vendors have the most to offer, and also the most to lose. Recent large outages at Amazon and Google have shown that even the largest cloud vendors can still have glitches that take considerable time to repair and give potential cloud customers a scare (perhaps it is because they didn't take some planned downtime??) On the other hand, cloud vendors have the experienced staff and proven processes that should produce overall hardware and network reliability that meets or exceeds that of the average corporate data center, and far exceeds anything you can achieve with colocated or self-managed servers.

However, despite claims of reliablity, few cloud vendors have tight SLAs (service level agreements) that promise controlled downtime or offer rebates for excess downtime. Amazon goes the opposite direction and doesn't offer any uptime guarantees, even cautioning users that their instance (or server) can disappear at any time and that they should plan accordingly. AppLogic-based clouds, provided by companies such as ENKI, are capable of offering better guarantees of uptime because of its inherent self-healing capabilities that can enable 3-4 nines of uptime. (The exact number depends on how the AppLogic system is set up and administered, which affects the time needed for the system to heal itself.) However, any cloud computing system, even even those based on AppLogic or similar technologies, can experience unplanned downtime for a variety of reasons, including the common culprit of human error. While I believe it is possible to produce a cloud computing service that exceeds 4-9s of uptime, the costs would be so high that few would buy it when they compared the price to the average cloud offering.


When you're purchasing cloud computing, it makes sense to look at the SLA of the vendor as well as the reliability of the underlying technology. But if your needs for uptime exceed that which the vendors and their technology can offer, there are time-honored techniques for improving it, most of which involve doubling the amount of computing nodes in your application. There's an old adage that each additional "9" of uptime you get doubles your cost, and that's because you need backup systems that are in place to take over if the primaries fail. This involves creating a system architecture for your application that allows for either active/passive failover (meaning that the backup nodes are running but not doing anything) or active/active failover (meaning that the backup nodes are normally providing application computing capability).

These solutions can be implemented in any cloud technology but they always require extra design and configuration effort for your application, and they should be tested rigorously to make sure they will work when the chips are down. Failover solutions are generally less expensive to implement in the Cloud because of the on-demand or pay-as-you go nature of cloud services, which means that you can easily size the backup server nodes to meet your needs and save on computing resources.

An important component of reliability is a good backup strategy. With cloud computing systems like AppLogic offering highly reliable storage as part of the package, many customers are tempted to skip backup. But data loss and the resulting unplanned downtime can result not just from failures in the cloud platform, but also software bugs, human error, or malfeasance such as hacking. If you don't have a backup, you'll be down a long time - and this applies equally to cloud and non-cloud solutions. The advantages of cloud solutions is that there is usually an inexpensive and large storage facility coupled with the cloud computing offering which gives you a convenient place to store your backups.

For the truly fanatical, backing up your data from one cloud vendor to another provides that extra measure of security. It pays to think through your backup strategy because most of today's backup software packages or remote backup services were designed for physical servers and not virtual environments having many virtual servers such as you might find in the cloud. This can mean very high software costs for doing backup if your backup software charges on a "per server" basis and your application is spread across many instances. If your cloud vendor has a backup offering, usually they have found a way to make backup affordable even if your application consists of many compute instances.

Another aspect of reliability that often escapes cloud computing customers new to the world of computing services is monitoring. It's very hard to react to unplanned downtime if you don't know your system is down. It's also hard to avoid unplanned downtime if you don't know you're about to run out of disk space or memory, or perhaps your application is complaining about data corruption. A remote monitoring service can scan your servers in the cloud on a regular basis for faults, application problems, or even measure the performance of your application (like how long it takes to buy a widget in your web store) and report to you if anything is out of the ordinary. I say "service" because if you were to install your own monitoring server into your cloud and the cloud went down, so would your monitoring! At ENKI, we solve this problem by having our monitoring service hosted in a separate data center and under a different software environment than our primary cloud hosting service.

The last aspect of reliability is security. However, that would require another entire article to cover, since security in the cloud is a complex and relatively new topic.

To sum up, the Cloud offers some enticing advantages with respect to reliability, perhaps the largest of which is that you can give your data center operations responsibility to someone who theoretically can do a much better job at a lower cost than you can. However, to get very good reliability, you must still apply traditional approaches of redundancy and observability that have been used in physical data centers for decades - or, you have to find a cloud computing services provider that can implement them for you.

More Stories By Eric Novikoff

Eric Novikoff is COO of ENKI, A Cloud Services Vendor. He has over 20 years of experience in the electronics and software industries, over a range of positions from integrated circuit designer to software/hardware project manager, to Director of Development at an Internet Software As A Service startup, Netsuite.com. His technical, project, and financial management skills have been honed in multiple positions at Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies on a variety of product lines, including managing the development and roll-out of a worldwide CRM and sales automation application for Agilent's $350 million Automatic Test Equipment business. Novikoff also has a strong interest in SME (Small/Medium Size Enterprise) management, process development, and operations as a consequence of working at a web based ERP service startup serving SMEs, and through his small-business ERP consulting work.

Comments (1) View Comments

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.


Most Recent Comments
faseidl 09/10/08 11:45:52 AM EDT

Despite what many pundits have to say, reliability issues will not be the downfall of cloud computing. Using cloud computing does not mean neglecting to architect solutions that meet their business requirements, including reliability requirements.

I wrote more about this idea here:

Cloud Computing and Reliability
http://faseidl.com/public/item/212584

@ThingsExpo Stories
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, shared examples from a wide range of industries – including en...
Detecting internal user threats in the Big Data eco-system is challenging and cumbersome. Many organizations monitor internal usage of the Big Data eco-system using a set of alerts. This is not a scalable process given the increase in the number of alerts with the accelerating growth in data volume and user base. Organizations are increasingly leveraging machine learning to monitor only those data elements that are sensitive and critical, autonomously establish monitoring policies, and to detect...
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. Jack Norris reviews best practices to show how companies develop, deploy, and dynamically update these applications and how this data-first...
Intelligent Automation is now one of the key business imperatives for CIOs and CISOs impacting all areas of business today. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Brian Boeggeman, VP Alliances & Partnerships at Ayehu, will talk about how business value is created and delivered through intelligent automation to today’s enterprises. The open ecosystem platform approach toward Intelligent Automation that Ayehu delivers to the market is core to enabling the creation of the self-driving enterprise.
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, will provide a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
Because IoT devices are deployed in mission-critical environments more than ever before, it’s increasingly imperative they be truly smart. IoT sensors simply stockpiling data isn’t useful. IoT must be artificially and naturally intelligent in order to provide more value In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Engineering System Architect at Greenwave Systems, will discuss how IoT artificial intelligence (AI) can be carried out via edge analytics and machine learning techn...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arvind Radhakrishnen discussed how IoT offers new business models in banking and financial services organizations with the capability to revolutionize products, payments, channels, business processes and asset management built on strong architectural foundation. The following topics were covered: How IoT stands to impact various business parameters including customer experience, cost and risk management within BFS organizations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, will introduce two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo is an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalized support service from its globally located cloud platform...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Elastifile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is software-defined data infrastructure designed for seamless and efficient management of dynamic workloads across heterogeneous environments. Elastifile provides the architecture needed to optimize your hybrid cloud environment, by facilitating efficient...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Launched in 2016, Cloudistics helps anyone bring the power of the cloud to the data center in an easy-to-use, on- premises cloud platform that automatically provides high performance resources for all types of applications: Docke...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Golden Gate University will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Since 1901, non-profit Golden Gate University (GGU) has been helping adults achieve their professional goals by providing high quality, practice-based undergraduate and graduate educational programs in law, taxation, business and related professions. Many of its courses are taug...