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Is Cloud Computing reliable enough? How to monitor downtime or poor performance of the cloud?

by MK on March 12, 2009

Everybody seems to be talking loud about cloud computing nowadays. But the recently reported outages at Salesforce, Amazon and Google has made us think otherwise and wonder if the cloud is really ready to meet all the hype and attention its getting.

No doubt, there are cost savings related to licensing, maintenance and application / server management. But does this ensure that your end users are getting the online experience you want them to have?

Is Cloud computing reliable?

CLOUD When a 40-minute outage at Salesforce.com affected thousands of customers around the world in early January, it generated quite a bit of cry throughout the industry. Dan Goodin exposed the dark side of cloud computing in this article “Salesforce.com outage exposes cloud’s dark linings” when Salesforce.com suffered an outage that locked more than 900,000 subscribers out of crucial applications and data needed to transact business with customers.

What about performance monitors provided by vendors?

Many cloud computing providers provide custom built management consoles or control panels for managing server resources. These consoles provide customers with availability statistics and status messages in the event of significant outages that impact end users.

Rich Miller of Data Center Knowledge and Lenny Rachitsky from WebMetrics are among those who voiced concerns about the effectiveness of a cloud or SaaS provider hosting its own network uptime panels / dashboards. Keynote Systems Vice President Vik Chaudhary suggests that, “… the prospect of a cloud application provider doing their own performance monitoring is akin to a fox guarding the hen-house.”

So what can be done?

The first and foremost thing to keep in mind is that even you are hosting on a cloud or have a SAAS app running somewhere, your end user expectations are no different then the regular client server application. So in a generic sense User Acceptance Testing is not much different then testing on a Client Server Architecture.

Remember web based application environment in the cloud is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces. At the core you have your virtual hardware followed by your operating system. Each of your servers is then configured differently depending on its specific duty. You may have application servers, web servers, search servers, database servers etc. Each of these servers needs to be monitored from several points of view – both internally and externally.

Though you dont have direct access to performance monitoring like in a Client Server Architecture. But still you can follow following steps to make sure your users are getting the experience you want them to:

  • Use the same browser for testing and monitoring that the majority of your end users are using.
  • Use a Testing service like Gomez or monitis. These external watchdog systems help to keep everyone informed if the cloud is having issues. These also provides with important statistics on response time and application performance that can be used to determine how to adjust the infrastructure.
  • Re-record testing scripts on a regular basis, because cloud API might change over time affecting the performance.
  • Monitor the availability of the application as well as response time.
  • Set alarms that let you know when performance is trending toward unacceptable levels, or when there is an abrupt decline in performance.
  • Make sure monitoring agents are consistent over time so that historical data and current data can be compared easily to identify trends.

Your monitoring system can be the difference between keeping your systems alive OR having unhappy customers and missed SLAs. It can help you pinpoint exactly what went wrong and reduce the time to identify and solve the issue.

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Article by M K

M has written 116 awesome articles for this blog.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Wes Smith March 17, 2009 at 1:46 am

Being in the business, much of this boils down to a product vs service mentality. Many cloud providers use the word service loosely, actually using the terms value from consulting to try and add value to a scrutinized product mentality. If your cloud services are aimed at low price commoditized utility pricing, then the service aspect in terms of quality will decline as you are effectively removing the cost, by automation resulting in lack of humans, typically needed to provide good service of any kind. Your service is after all being judged by humans. These outages are actually good for companies like us, who provide cloud services that have evolved from a consutling mindset. It proves why you don’t necessairly want to use a commodity, and opens the door for companies more focused on quality and focused industries vs total platforms that sort of miss the customer service boat. All of us are needed, and it interesting to see how we all fit, and that as this 2nd or third wave of Internet services takes shape, there will be companies that repeat the same mistakes argjing over pennies (utimately bringing down the non-human costs) and those who evolve the definition of service coupled closely with quality of service, which in fact requires humans, and sometimes costs more.

Brad March 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Increasingly cloud computing is pushing the user interface design envelope based on the the number of monitoring tasks and complexity of interactions that are monitored. For example, on the one hand a monitoring company can set up a seemingly simple step by step monitoring task input interface, but on the the other hand there needs to be an integration of ALL the monitored tasks in a single view, along with keeping up with the new technical innovations such as SIP monitoring, IPv6 monitoring, etc…none of the free/low-cost services can keep up and the price point for the biggest services like Gomez and WebMetrics can only be provide these updates with premium pricing that also supports a large direct sales force (and some of these are getting shaved down) and significant branding costs. The focus for a monitoring company SaaS model that works is a focus and investment in customer service and R&D.

Teksera May 20, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Monitoring cloud computing will give you false sense of security that your web application is working. Cloud computing provides application infrastructure. Many years of managing engineering of high-performance web sites (eBay, CNET) taught me one useful lesson: monitor the availability of your application, not your server, databases and load balances. Monitoring infrastructure of the web property is equivalent to watching water pipes and electric wiring instead of monitoring the inside of your store ;-)

In order to monitor web application from outside, one needs to run simulated user tests. There is a new company SymbioWare (www.symbioware.com), which provides easy-to-use test automation tools that can be used for monitoring application in any environment throughout the life cycle: development, QA, staging, and production. Running real user scenarios is the only way to ensure availability and functionality of the site. This example from my experience exemplifies my point: a faulty browser patch broke JavaScript on the web page, causing user errors. All infrastructure monitors were showing normal operation of web and app servers, connection pools, memory, databases… while users could not log into the site in order to purchase stuff, resulting in $$$ losses.

Pankaj June 1, 2009 at 8:29 am

great article. SaaS is being adopted in a big way, and because of its newness, many companies are not sure what they are bargaining for. As you said, the expectations from a SaaS solution are no less than an on premise solution (or SaaS wouldn’t make sense), rather, a myriad of additional things have to be considered because of the ongoing nature of the SaaS vendor-customer relationship, which don’t apply for on premise software. It is critical that companies consider all possible angles before committing to a SaaS solution.

We had also done a white paper on “SaaS Vendor Selection” recently – http://www.hyperoffice.com/saas-reviews-for-smbs/

Navin February 2, 2011 at 3:50 am

Thank you! for sharing great Infomation, helpful for new bloggers like me :)
Good Luck!

Dan May 28, 2013 at 2:48 am

I find the issue of cloud reliability to be a fascinating one. I recently stumbled across Matthew Finnie’s (CTO at Interoute) cloud blog and found a post entitled ‘How Reliable is the cloud: building the reliable cloud’ and thought it would be interesting to readers of this article.

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