Welcome!

Web 2.0 Authors: Esmeralda Swartz, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Virtualization, Cloud Expo

Virtualization: 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
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
Be Among the First 100 to Attend & Receive a Smart Beacon. The Physical Web is an open web project within the Chrome team at Google. Scott Jenson leads a team that is working to leverage the scalability and openness of the web to talk to smart devices. The Physical Web uses bluetooth low energy beacons to broadcast an URL wirelessly using an open protocol. Nearby devices can find all URLs in the room, rank them and let the user pick one from a list. Each device is, in effect, a gateway to a web page. This unlocks entirely new use cases so devices can offer tiny bits of information or simple i...
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
TechCrunch reported that "Berlin-based relayr, maker of the WunderBar, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware dev kit which resembles a chunky chocolate bar, has closed a $2.3 million seed round, from unnamed U.S. and Switzerland-based investors. The startup had previously raised a €250,000 friend and family round, and had been on track to close a €500,000 seed earlier this year — but received a higher funding offer from a different set of investors, which is the $2.3M round it’s reporting."
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital busines...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The Internet of Things needs an entirely new security model, or does it? Can we save some old and tested controls for the latest emerging and different technology environments? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, will review hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal privacy options and a new risk balance you might not expect.
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, will discuss the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. The presentation will also discuss how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics to discuss are barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold.
Swiss innovators dizmo Inc. launches its ground-breaking software, which turns any digital surface into an immersive platform. The dizmo platform seamlessly connects digital and physical objects in the home and at the workplace. Dizmo breaks down traditional boundaries between device, operating systems, apps and software, transforming the way users work, play and live. It supports orchestration and collaboration in an unparalleled way enabling any data to instantaneously be accessed on any surface, anywhere and made interactive. Dizmo brings fantasies as seen in Sci-fi movies such as Iro...
There’s Big Data, then there’s really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at 6th Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, to discuss how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other mach...
This Internet of Nouns trend is still in the early stages and many of our already connected gadgets do provide human benefits over the typical infotainment. Internet of Things or IoT. You know, where everyday objects have software, chips, and sensors to capture data and report back. Household items like refrigerators, toilets and thermostats along with clothing, cars and soon, the entire home will be connected. Many of these devices provide actionable data - or just fun entertainment - so people can make decisions about whatever is being monitored. It can also help save lives.