Category Archives: Amazon EC2

The Cloud is for Scaling

dell-blades-m4110The Cloud is for Startups, and for Scaling. Nothing more.

In the future will be used by phone operators, to re-dimension their infrastructure and bandwidth in real time according to demand, but nowadays the Cloud is for Startups.

Examine the prices in my post in cmips, take a look, examine the performance also of the different CPU. You see that according to CMIPS v.1.03 a Desktop Processor Intel i7-4770S, worth USD $300, performs better than an Amazon M2 High Memory Quadruple Extra Large and than a Rackspace First gen. 30 GB RAM 8 Cores?.

Today the public cost of an Amazon M2 High Memory Quadruple Extra Large running for a month is USD $1,180.80 so USD $1.64 per hour and the Rackspace First Generation 30 GB RAM 8 Cores 1200 GB of disk costs is USD $1,425.60 so USD $1.98 per hour running.

And that’s the key, the cost per hour.

Because the greatness, the majesty of the Cloud is that you pay per hour, you pay as you need, or as you go. No attaching contracts. All on demand.

I had my company at a time where the hosting companies and the Data Centers were forcing customers to sign yearly contracts. What if a company only needs to host their Servers for three months? What if they have to close?. No options. You take it or you leave it.

Even renting a dedicated hosting was for at least a month or more, and what if the latency was not good? What if the bandwidth of the provider was not enough?.

Amazon irrupted in the market with strength. I really like that company because they grew the best eCommerce company for buying books, they did a system that really worked, and was able to recommend very useful computer books, and the delivery, logistics was so good, also post-sales service. They simply started to rent the same infrastructure they were using to attend their millions of customers and was a total success.

And for a while few people knew about Amazon deep technologies and functionalities, but later became a fashion.

Now people is using Amazon or whatever provider/Service that contains the word “Cloud” because the Cloud is in the mouth of everyone. Magazines and newspapers speak about the Cloud, so many many companies use it simply because everyone is talking about the Cloud. And those ISP that didn’t had a Cloud have invested heavily to create a Cloud, just because they didn’t want to be the ones without a Cloud, since everyone was asking for it and all the ISP companies were offering their “Clouds”.

Every company claims to have “Cloud” where the only many of them have is Vmware servers, Xen servers, Open Stack… running the tenants or instances of the customers always on the same host servers. No real Cloud, professional Cloud, abstract layered in a Professional way like Amazon, only the traditional “shared hosting” with another name, sharing CPU and RAM and Disk storage using virtual machines called instances.

So, Cloud fashion has become a confusing craziness where no one knows why they are in the Cloud but they believe they have to be in.

But do companies need the Cloud?. Cloud instances?

It depends. The best would be to ask that companies Why you choose the Cloud?.

If you compare the cost of having an instance in the Cloud, is much much more expensive than having a dedicated server. And for that high cost you don’t get more performance.

Virtualization is always slower and disk speed is always an issue in Cloud providers, where all the data travels via network from the disk cabins NAS to the Host servers running the guest instances. Data cannot be at local disks, since every time you start an instance, the resources like CPU and RAM are provisioned, and your instance run in totally different hardware. Only your data remain in the NAS (Network Attached Storage).

So unless you run your in-the-Cloud instance in a special provider that offers local disks, like DigitalOcean that offers SSD but monthly paying, (and so you pay the price by losing the hardware abstraction capability because you’re attached to the CPU that has the disk connected, and also you loss the flexibility of paying per hour of use, as you go), then you’ll face a bottleneck that is the hard disk performance (that for real takes all the data from NAS, where is stored, through the local network).

So what are the motivations to use the Cloud?. I try to put some examples, out of these it has no much sense, I think. You can send me your happy-in-Cloud scenarios if you found other good uses.

Example A) Saving initial costs, avoid contract attachment and grow easily own-made

Imagine a Developer that start its own project. May be it works, may be not, but instead of having a monthly contract for a dedicated server, he starts with an Amazon Free Tier (better not, use Small instance at least) and runs a web. If it does not work, simply stop the instance and pay no more. If the project works and has more and more users he can re-dimension the server with a click. Just stop the instance, change the type of instance, start it again with more RAM and more CPU power. Fast.

Hiring a dedicated server implies at least monthly contracts, average of USD $100 per month, and is not easy to move to a bigger server, not fast and is expensive as it requires the ISP tech guys to move the data, to migrate from a Server to another.

Also the available bandwidth is to be taken in consideration. Bandwidth is expensive and Amazon can offer 150 Mbit to smaller machines. Not all the Internet Service Providers can offer that bandwidth even with most advanced packets.

If the project still grows, with a click, in seconds, 20 instances with a lot of bandwidth can be deployed and serving traffic to your customers very quick.

You save the init costs of buying Servers, and the time to deal with hardware, bandwidth limitations and avoid contracts, but you pay an hourly rate a lot more expensive. So in the long run is much much expensive using Amazon and less powerful than having dedicated servers. That happened to Zynga, that was paying $63M annually to Amazon and decided to step back from Amazon to their own Data Centers again. (another fortune tech link)

The limited CPU power was also a deal breaker for many companies that needed really powerful CPU and gigs of RAM for their Database Servers. Now this situation is much better with the introduction of the new Servers.

This developer can benefit from doing bacups with a click, cloning, starting instances from an image, having more static ip’s with a click, deploying built-in (from the Cloud provider) load balancers, using monitoring services like CloudWatch, creating Volumes and attaching to the servers for additional space…

Example B) An Startup with fluctuating number of users and hopes of growing

Imagine an Startup with a wonderful Facebook Application.

During 80% of the day has few visits, may be only need 3 Servers, but during 20% of the hours of the day from 10:00 to 15:00 users connect like hell, so they need 20 servers to attend this traffic and workload, and may be tomorrow needs 30 servers.

With the Cloud they pay for 3 servers 24 hours per day and for the other 17 servers only pay the hours they are on, that’s 5 hours per day. Doing that they save money and they have an unlimited * amount of power. (* There are limits for real, you have to specially request authorisation to run more than default max. servers for the zone, that is normally 20 instances for Amazon. Also it can happen theoretically that when you request new instances the Zone has no instances available).

So well, for an Startup growing, avoiding hiring 20 dedicated servers and instead running into the Cloud as many as they need, for just the time they need, Auto-Scaling up and down, and can use the servers NOW and pay the next month with Visa card, all of that can make a difference for a growing Startup.

If the servers chosen are not powerful enough that is solved with a click, changing instance type. So fast. A minute.

It’s only a matter of money.

Example C) e-Learning companies and online universities

e-Learning platforms also get benefits from the Auto-Scaling for the full occupation hours.

The built-in functionalities of the Cloud to clone instances is very useful to deploy new web servers, or new environments for students doing practices, in the case of teaching Information Technology subjects, where the users need to practice against a real server (Linux or windows).

Those servers can be created and destroyed, cloned from the main -ready to go- template. And also servers can be scheduled to stop at a certain hour and to start also, so saving the money from the hours not needed.

Example D) Digital agencies, sports and other events

When there is an Special event, like motorcycle running, when a Football Team scores, when there is an spot in tv announcing a product…

At those moments the traffic to the site can multiply, so more servers and more bandwidth have to be deployed instantly. That cannot be done with physical servers, hardware, but is very easy to provision instances from the Cloud.

Mass mailing email campaigns can also benefit from creating new Servers when needed.

Example E) Proximity and SEO

Cloud providers have Data Centres everywhere. If you want to have servers in Asia, or static content to be deployed faster, or in South-America, or in Europe… the Cloud providers have plenty of Data Centers all over the world.

Example F) Game aficionado and friends sharing contents

People that loves cooperative games can find the needed hungry bandwidth and at a moderate price. If they run their private server few hours, at night, from 22:00 to 01:00 as example, they will benefit from a great bandwidth from the big Cloud provider and pay only 3 hours per day (the exceed of traffic uses to be paid in most providers, but price of additional GB uses to be really really competitive).

Friends sharing contents in an Ftp also, can benefit from this Cloud servers, but probably they will find more easy to use services like Dropbox.

Example G) Startup serving contents

An Startup serving videos, images, or books, can benefit not only from the great bandwidth of big Cloud providers (this has been covered before), but for a very cheap price for exceeding Gigabyte transferred.

Local ISP can’t offer 150 Mbit for an instance of USD $20 and USD $0.12 per additional GB transferred.

Many Cloud providers also allow unlimited incoming traffic from the Internet, and from Server to Server through private ip’s.

Other cases

For other cases Dedicated Servers are much more Powerful, faster and cheaper, at the price of being “static” in the sense of attached, not layer abstracted, but all the aspects of your Project have to be taken in count before deciding stepping into or out of the Cloud.

In general terms I would say that the Cloud is for Scaling.

NAS and Gigabit

I’ve found this problem in several companies, and I’ve had to show their error and convince experienced SysAdmins, CTOs and CEO about the erroneous approach. Many of them made heavy investments in NAS, that they are really wasting, and offering very poor performance.

Normally the rack servers have their local disks, but for professional solutions, like virtual machines, blade servers, and hundreds of servers the local disk are not used.

NAS – Network Attached Storage- Servers are used instead.

This NAS Servers, when are powerful (and expensive) offer very interesting features like hot backups, hot backups that do not slow the system (the most advanced), hot disk replacement, hot increase of total available space, the Enterprise solutions can replicate and copy data from different NAS in different countries, etc…

Smaller NAS are also used in configurations like Webservers’ Webfarms, were all the nodes has to have the same information replicated, and when a used uploads a new profile image, has to be available to all the webservers for example.

In this configurations servers save and retrieve the needed data from the NAS Servers, through LAN (Local Area Network).

The main error I have seen is that no one ever considers the pipe where all the data is travelling, so most configurations are simply Gigabit, and so are bottleneck.

dell-blade-servers-enclosureImagine a Dell blade server, like this in the image on the left.

This enclosure hosts 16 servers, hot plugable, with up to two CPU’s each blade, we also call those blade servers “pizza” (like we call before to rack servers).

A common use is to use those servers to have Vmware, OpenStack, Xen or other virtualization software, so the servers run instances of customers. In this scenario the virtual disks (the hard disk of the virtual machines) are stored in the NAS Server.

So if a customer shutdown his virtual server, and start it later, the physical server where its virtual machine is running will be another, but the data (the disk of the virtual server) is stored in the NAS and all the data is saved and retrieved from the NAS.

The enclosure is connected to the NAS through a Gigabit connection, as 10 Gigabit connections are still too expensive and not yet supported in many servers.

Once we have explained that, imagine, those 16 servers, each with 4 or 5 virtual machines, accessing to their disks through a Gigabit connection.

If only one of these 80 virtual machines is accessing to disk, the will be no problem, but if more than one is accessing the Gigabit connection, that’s a maximum of 125 MB (Megabytes) per second, will be shared among all the virtual machines.

So imagine, 70 virtual machines are accessing NAS to serve web pages, with not much traffic, OK, but the other 10 virtual machines are doing heavy data transmission: for example one is serving data through FTP server, the other is broadcasting video, the other is copying heavy log files, and so… Imagine that scenario.

The 125 MB per second is divided between the 80 servers, so those 10 servers using extensively the disk will monopolize the bandwidth, but even those 10 servers will have around 12,5 MB each, that is 100 Mbit each and is very slow.

Imagine one of the virtual machines broadcast video. To broadcast video, first it has to get it from the NAS (the chunks of data), so this node serving video will be able to serve different videos to few customers, as the network will not provide more than 12,5 MB under the circumstances provided.

This is a simplified scenario, as many other things has to be taken in count, like the SATA, SCSI and SAS disks do not provide sustained speeds, speed depends on locating the info, fragmentation, etc… also has to be considered that NAS use protocol iSCSI, a sort of SCSI commands sent through the Ethernet. And Tcp/Ip uses verifications in their protocol, and protocol headers. That is also an overhead. I’ve considered only traffic in one direction, so the servers downloading from the NAS, as assuming Gigabit full duplex, so Gigabit for sending and Gigabit for receiving.

So instead of 125 MB per second we have available around 100 MB per second with a Gigabit or even less.

Also the virtualization servers try to handle a bit better the disk access, by keeping a cache in memory, and not writing immediately to disk.

So you can’t do dd tests in virtual machines like you would do in any Linux with local disks, and if you do go for big files, like 10 GB with random data (not just 0, they have optimizations for that).

Let’s recalculate it now:

70 virtual machines using as low as 0.10 MB/second each, that’s 7 MB/second. That’s really optimist as most webservers running PHP read many big files for attending a simple request and webservers server a lot of big images.

10 virtual machines using extensively the NAS, so sharing 100 MB – 7 MB = 93 MB. That is 9.3 MB each.

So under these circumstances for a virtual machine trying to read from disk a file of 1 GB (1000 MB), this operation will take 107 seconds, so 1:47 minutes.

So with this considerations in mind, you can imagine that the performance of the virtual machines under those configurations are leaved to the luck. The luck that nobody else of the other guests in the servers are abusing the disk I/O.

I’ve explained you in a theoretical plan. Sadly reality is worst. A lot worst. Those 70 web virtual machines with webservers will be so slow that they will leave your company very disappointed, and the other 10 will not even be happier.

One of the principal problems of Amazon EC2 has been always disk performance. Few months ago they released IOPS, high performance disks, that are more expensive, but faster.

It has to be recognized that in Amazon they are always improving.

They have also connection between your servers at 10 Gbit/second.

Returning to the Blades and NAS, an easy improvement is to aggregate two Gigabits, so creating a connection of 2 Gbit. This helps a bit. Is not the solution, but helps.

Probably different physical servers with few virtual machines and a dedicated 1 Gbit connection (or 2 Gbit by 1+1 aggregated if possible) to the NAS, and using local disks as much as possible would be much better (harder to maintain at big scale, but much much better performance).

But if you provide infrastructure as a Service (IaS) go with 2 x 10 Gbit Fibre aggregated, so 20 Gigabit, or better aggregate 2 x 20 Gbit Fibre. It’s expensive, but crucial.

Now compare the 9.3 MB per second, or even the 125 MB theoretical of Gigabit of the average real sequential read of 50 MB/second that a SATA disk can offer when connected on local, or nearly the double for modern SAS 15.000 rpm disks… (writing is always slower)

… and the 550 MB/s for reading and 550 MB/s for writing that some SSD disks offer when connected locally. (I own two OSZ SSD disks that performs 550 MB).

I’ve seen also better configuration for local disks, like a good disk controller with Raid 5 and disks SSD. With my dd tests I got more than 900 MB per second for writing!.

So if you are going to spend 30.000 € in your NAS with SATA disks (really bad solution as SATA is domestic technology not aimed to work 24×7 and not even fast) or SAS disks, and 30.000 € more in your blade servers, think very well what you need and what configuration you will use. Contact experts, but real experts, not supposedly real experts.

Otherwise you’ll waste your money and your customers will have very very poor performance on these times where applications on the Internet demand more and more performance.

Why Cloud is not optional

data-center-companyIf you’re a Developer or an Entrepreneur to avoid Cloud is not an option.

It is a must to use the Cloud.

Why?.

Because if your project is a success, you’ll need to scale very fast from a single server to many, just to attend the increasing number of users.

And if you have a lot of users, you’ll need a lot of bandwidth.

Even if you have a single server, but want to serve video, will need a lot of bandwidth to serve data fast.

Here is where Cloud is not an option. It’s a must.

If you use a big server with a lot of RAM or CPUs, or several servers, Amazon EC2 is very expensive.

But to start with the needed power, and to be able to grow really fast, and to pay as you go there is no other option.

The smaller instance from Amazon, is able to serve 150 Mbit per second.

If you need to serve video, where would you be able to deliver it at 150 Mbit/sec rates at 17 € / 14.67 £ / US $23 per month?.

Nowhere else.

It’s not a matter of something fashion, there’s not alternative.

With the privative price of dedicated bandwidth in the data centres, no one else can offer something similar even for then times this price.

So if you need to be able to pass from a server to 20 or 100 with a click and within a minute, and you need to deliver contents very fast there is no other option.

With Amazon Cloud since you pay per hour, you can create 20 instances to face a rise of visitors, due to a campaign or because you have top visitors window of time, you can create instances as you need and destroy them when you don’t need them and pay only for the hours used.

So when your Start up is growing and low on money/resources, you save the costs of buying several physical server ($2,000 each), the time of installing, of replacing if a motherboard or disk crashes, and simply creating new instances in the Amazon Cloud as you need, and paying only for the time you use them.

So you can save the costs and grow as you need.

There are other benefits like you can use Amazon data centres in all-over the world, where the infrastructure is closer to your customers (reducing the latency and increasing the speed of servicing pages), the CDN service, load balancers…

The cost of the transferred Gigabyte is another reason.

One month I transferred 287 GB and paid only $50.

An small ISP can’t beat this nor even compete with this price and speed.