Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Ed Featherston, James Carlini, Yeshim Deniz, Xenia von Wedel, Elizabeth White

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.

Conclusions

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 (http://blogs.smugmug.com/don/2008/06/03/skynet-lives-aka-ec2-smugmug/) 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.


@CloudExpo Stories
Blockchain. A day doesn’t seem to go by without seeing articles and discussions about the technology. According to PwC executive Seamus Cushley, approximately $1.4B has been invested in blockchain just last year. In Gartner’s recent hype cycle for emerging technologies, blockchain is approaching the peak. It is considered by Gartner as one of the ‘Key platform-enabling technologies to track.’ While there is a lot of ‘hype vs reality’ discussions going on, there is no arguing that blockchain is b...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settle...
The cloud era has reached the stage where it is no longer a question of whether a company should migrate, but when. Enterprises have embraced the outsourcing of where their various applications are stored and who manages them, saving significant investment along the way. Plus, the cloud has become a defining competitive edge. Companies that fail to successfully adapt risk failure. The media, of course, continues to extol the virtues of the cloud, including how easy it is to get there. Migrating...
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
The need for greater agility and scalability necessitated the digital transformation in the form of following equation: monolithic to microservices to serverless architecture (FaaS). To keep up with the cut-throat competition, the organisations need to update their technology stack to make software development their differentiating factor. Thus microservices architecture emerged as a potential method to provide development teams with greater flexibility and other advantages, such as the abili...
Product connectivity goes hand and hand these days with increased use of personal data. New IoT devices are becoming more personalized than ever before. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Nicolas Fierro, CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions, will discuss how in order to protect your data and privacy, IoT applications need to embrace Blockchain technology for a new level of product security never before seen - or needed.
Leading companies, from the Global Fortune 500 to the smallest companies, are adopting hybrid cloud as the path to business advantage. Hybrid cloud depends on cloud services and on-premises infrastructure working in unison. Successful implementations require new levels of data mobility, enabled by an automated and seamless flow across on-premises and cloud resources. In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Tevis, an IBM Storage Software Technical Strategist and Customer Solution Architec...
The use of containers by developers -- and now increasingly IT operators -- has grown from infatuation to deep and abiding love. But as with any long-term affair, the honeymoon soon leads to needing to live well together ... and maybe even getting some relationship help along the way. And so it goes with container orchestration and automation solutions, which are rapidly emerging as the means to maintain the bliss between rapid container adoption and broad container use among multiple cloud host...
Blockchain is a shared, secure record of exchange that establishes trust, accountability and transparency across business networks. Supported by the Linux Foundation's open source, open-standards based Hyperledger Project, Blockchain has the potential to improve regulatory compliance, reduce cost as well as advance trade. Are you curious about how Blockchain is built for business? In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, discussed the b...
Imagine if you will, a retail floor so densely packed with sensors that they can pick up the movements of insects scurrying across a store aisle. Or a component of a piece of factory equipment so well-instrumented that its digital twin provides resolution down to the micrometer.
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, discussed how data centers of the future will be managed, how the p...
As DevOps methodologies expand their reach across the enterprise, organizations face the daunting challenge of adapting related cloud strategies to ensure optimal alignment, from managing complexity to ensuring proper governance. How can culture, automation, legacy apps and even budget be reexamined to enable this ongoing shift within the modern software factory? In her Day 2 Keynote at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Aruna Ravichandran, VP, DevOps Solutions Marketing, CA Technologies, was jo...
"Since we launched LinuxONE we learned a lot from our customers. More than anything what they responded to were some very unique security capabilities that we have," explained Mark Figley, Director of LinuxONE Offerings at IBM, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...