Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, XebiaLabs Blog, Roger Strukhoff, 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

@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.
I'm a lonely sensor. I spend all day telling the world how I'm feeling, but none of the other sensors seem to care. I want to be connected. I want to build relationships with other sensors to be more useful for my human. I want my human to understand that when my friends next door are too hot for a while, I'll soon be flaming. And when all my friends go outside without me, I may be left behind. Don't just log my data; use the relationship graph. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Boyd, Engi...
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.
From wearable activity trackers to fantasy e-sports, data and technology are transforming the way athletes train for the game and fans engage with their teams. In his session at @ThingsExpo, will present key data findings from leading sports organizations San Francisco 49ers, Orlando Magic NBA team. By utilizing data analytics these sports orgs have recognized new revenue streams, doubled its fan base and streamlined costs at its stadiums. John Paul is the CEO and Founder of VenueNext. Prior ...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
Using new techniques of information modeling, indexing, and processing, new cloud-based systems can support cloud-based workloads previously not possible for high-throughput insurance, banking, and case-based applications. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman of Alfresco, described how to scale cloud-based content management repositories to store, manage, and retrieve billions of documents and related information with fast and linear scalability. He addres...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Numerex Corp, a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT), will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Numerex Corp. (NASDAQ:NMRX) is a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT). The Company's solutions produce new revenue streams or create operating...
WebRTC adoption has generated a wave of creative uses of communications and collaboration through websites, sales apps, customer care and business applications. As WebRTC has become more mainstream it has evolved to use cases beyond the original peer-to-peer case, which has led to a repeating requirement for interoperability with existing infrastructures. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Graham Holt, Executive Vice President of Daitan Group, will cover implementation examples that have enabled ea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Tintri Inc., a leading producer of VM-aware storage (VAS) for virtualization and cloud environments, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Tintri VM-aware storage is the simplest for virtualized applications and cloud. Organizations including GE, Toyota, United Healthcare, NASA and 6 of the Fortune 15 have said “No to LUNs.” With Tintri they mana...
IoT offers a value of almost $4 trillion to the manufacturing industry through platforms that can improve margins, optimize operations & drive high performance work teams. By using IoT technologies as a foundation, manufacturing customers are integrating worker safety with manufacturing systems, driving deep collaboration and utilizing analytics to exponentially increased per-unit margins. However, as Benoit Lheureux, the VP for Research at Gartner points out, “IoT project implementers often ...
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, will compare the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, e...
SYS-CON Events announced today the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp, being held November 1-2, 2016, in conjunction with 19th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but with hands-on demos and detailed walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of real world use cases prototyped using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark, and Intel Edison. Y...
Complete Internet of Things (IoT) embedded device security is not just about the device but involves the entire product’s identity, data and control integrity, and services traversing the cloud. A device can no longer be looked at as an island; it is a part of a system. In fact, given the cross-domain interactions enabled by IoT it could be a part of many systems. Also, depending on where the device is deployed, for example, in the office building versus a factory floor or oil field, security ha...
Is your aging software platform suffering from technical debt while the market changes and demands new solutions at a faster clip? It’s a bold move, but you might consider walking away from your core platform and starting fresh. ReadyTalk did exactly that. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and over a decade of audio conferencing product development to start an innovati...
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walk you through how Oct...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Bsquare has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For more than two decades, Bsquare has helped its customers extract business value from a broad array of physical assets by making them intelligent, connecting them, and using the data they generate to optimize business processes.
Whether they’re located in a public, private, or hybrid cloud environment, cloud technologies are constantly evolving. While the innovation is exciting, the end mission of delivering business value and rapidly producing incremental product features is paramount. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Kiran Chitturi, CTO Architect at Sungard AS, will discuss DevOps culture, its evolution of frameworks and technologies, and how it is achieving maturity. He will also cover various st...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Niagara Networks will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Niagara Networks offers the highest port-density systems, and the most complete Next-Generation Network Visibility systems including Network Packet Brokers, Bypass Switches, and Network TAPs.