The great man himself...I didn’t manage to make it to yesterday’s opening day of the Cloud Expo Europe – customer/work stuff takes precedence :) – but I managed to get to the second day. These events are always a bit of a mixed bag – it feels like I could attend cloud computing conferences every week, although it’ll be big data (or is that BigData?!?!?) conferences soon as the vendor hype machines whirr into life…

First I attended the opening keynote as Dr Werner Vogels from AWS was presenting – as Smart421 is an AWS solution provider I just kinda felt I should be there and hear what he had to say. The noise from the exhibition floor was pretty grim in all the conference rooms so it wasn’t exactly a perfect environment for him or us, but I got a few useful tidbits about how are using AWS (which has been an evolving story over 2010 and 2011). AWS didn’t have a stand at the event and were not a sponsor etc, and yet AWS and their CTO are such a draw that they gave him the opening keynote on day 2 – which tells you a lot about where AWS’s competitors are in the the marketplace really.

Joan MillerI then listened to a presentation from Joan Miller – Head of Parliamentary ICT for the UK Parliament. I didn’t quite catch the end due to having to do a customer call, but whilst I found it interesting to hear what the UK Parliament are up to relating to cloud computing (especially the BYOD – “bring your own device” – trend and how strong a driver it is for them), I disagreed with the black & white conclusion that cloud computing was the answer to their challenges. It’s certainly part of the answer, but many of the implications of making information available electronically to mobile BYOD devices anywhere are still just as nasty “in the cloud” as they are on-premise, e.g. authentication, security of data, coping with different presentation devices etc. I accept that scaling is certainly easier (or at least at a price point that doesn’t keep you awake at night), and the use of SaaS offerings makes deployment of functionality much easier and cheaper for less critical datasets. To be fair to Joan, I missed the end of her presentation, and also the presentation slots were so short that there wasn’t really enough time to get the subtleties of the message over.

Chris Hinkley from FirehostI also caught a session from Chris Hinkle from Firehost on the subject of secure cloud hosting – I thought he might talk about data encryption at rest and in transit, key management etc, but he started with some interesting material from Version analysing the nature of security breaches, e.g. they are no more prevalent in public cloud deployments than private data centres, and no hypervisor based attacks have taken place, so the whole public cloud multi-tenancy concern is a red herring really. After some content about the role of web application firewalls, and I was also glad to see that he called out the security elephant in the cloudy corner of the room, i.e. guess what – your SDLC (software development lifecycle) needs to include secure development processes such as code reviews, vulnerability testing, penetration testing (and for every change, not just the first release!) etc. Shocker – insecure code is insecure wherever you run it.

Frank Jennings from law firm DMH Stallard covered some cloud legal contract points, based upon the Cloud Industry Forum white paper #3 (downloadable here) to which he was a contributor. He made some interesting points:

  • Cloud contracts are more about “getting out” than “getting in”, i.e. access to data in the event of a failure, lock-in periods etc.
  • Negotiation with public cloud vendors just isn’t typically going to happen – they operate at low margins and use a business model that just doesn’t support custom negotiations and terms for each customer – and this means living with the legal jurisdiction that the vendor
  • Even in the most custom of contracts, the provider’s financial liability (if you can even get them to sign up for consequential loss etc!) is typically capped at 100-150% of the fees you are paying them. Bottom line – service credits and the like are pretty pointless in a cloud or a non-cloud world and virtually insignificant compared with the potential disruption to your business (as discussed in a previous post)
  • The US Patriot Act gets a lot of interest, and it’s real (i.e. you need to use a UK company using a UK-based UK-owned data centre(s) to avoid it), but the reality is that most territories around the world have similar constraints and if you are not in an industry sector that is likely to get the authorities’ interest, then it’s not as big a factor as the press it receives suggests.

The last point I wanted to mention was something I picked up in a presentation about cloud adoption trends by William Fellows from the 451 Group. He observed that their research has shown that whilst security is a key concern when organisations are selecting a cloud-base solution, once they start implementing it falls away to being the fourth largest consideration. This backs up what we see in the market – cloud security is more of a fear issue than a real issue (well – it’s no more real a concern than for any deployment anyway).

When it comes to adopting cloud computing, to my mind there are three types of company:

  • Early adopters who swallow the pill in a big way. They’ll get burned, almost without exception. But they’ll come out stronger, leaner, meaner and faster than the rest.(Netflix, I’m looking at you.)
  • Those who do their homework the day it’s set. They’ll either have or will shortly select non-mission critical applications and move them into the cloud, and at the same time start looking to create new apps in the cloud albeit in a low key way. These guys will be slow and steady, but they’ll get there in the end. (Most of the 2015 FTSE 100?)
  • Those who do their homework the night it’s due. They’ll wait for everyone else to ‘take the risk’ for them, and only then start a gradual, lumbering migration. Just like at school, these guys will get outpaced by the competition. For some of them, it’ll be a terminal mistake. (Most of the current FTSE 100?)

Make no mistake, all companies will end up in the cloud eventually. How (and if) you get there is up to you.

My advice? Don’t be last.

Co-incidence ? – maybe. Or perhaps it shows again how the IT landscape is changing fast.

Today, Smart421′s CTO Robin Meehan [profile] announced the formalisation of a dedicated AWS Practice to exploit opportunities in enterprise-grade infrastructure-as-a-serice (IaaS). Steve Williams has been named as Head of the AWS Practice.

Smart421′s vendor neutrality is well known and this doesn’t mean we are compromising on that position. What it does mean is that Smart421 recognises that the market is voting with its feet and, in this space, the biggest player by far is Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Tweets since yesterday by Werner Vogels, AWS’s CTO [ @Werner] and Iain Gavin, AWS’s UK country manager [ @iaingavin], heralded a pricing change that from today, 01 July, allows business to benefit from a zero price tag on data transferred into AWS’s cloud – paying only for the hosting. This may seem subtle but in fact means a significant advantage in removing barriers that prevent some enterprises from making the leap towards AWS S3, for example.

Review the new pricing, click here.
Read AWS blog about the price drop, click here.

Feedback warmly welcomed, so please leave a Comment.

Main entrance at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London

The 2011 AWS Summit on 14 June drew more than 700 people to hear Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO

Although Steve has beaten me to it :), here’s my post about this event. On Tuesday 14 June, Smart421 had a stand at this event at the QEII Centre in London, and also several Smarties to attend the various presentation streams. The first thing to say is that is was BUSY – nearly 700 attendees – much bigger than the previous UK-based AWS events we’ve attended. There’s clear momentum here – and interestingly the audience could be split into two camps – the techy guys, often working for quite small companies and start-ups, and the suits like myself – enterprise-level attendees, CTOs etc. On the start-up side, I bumped into Neil Chapman, a friend that I worked with at BSkyB who is launching an online audiobook service called Bardowl which might be one to watch – AWS removes the economic barriers from startups like this which is great. The latter category included some very well known organisations and some of our existing customers, and this reconfirmed to me that AWS now has real credibility in the FTSE250 layer.

I stuck to the ‘advanced sessions’ track, and there was some griping on twitter (#awssummit) that this track wasn’t really advanced enough. I agree that if you’ve read the various white papers from AWS then you’ll know all this material, but as always you pick up a few interesting little things. For example, I not sure I could have put a figure on the annual failure rate of disks (mentioned in the fault tolerant design session) but now I can – approximately 3-5% for ephemeral storage and in the range 0.1-0.5% or EBS volumes, i.e. EBS is an order of magnitude better than traditional disk, but it’s still not infallible of course, so you’ve got to architect for this.

In the session covering options for high availability databases, I learned that the failover time for multi-AZ RDS is about 2 minutes. Ray Bradford highlighted an interesting design tradeoff that AWS have made here – you want to be very sure of a failure of the primary RDS instance before failing over to the secondary in the other AZ, hence the delay – it’s not all due to the failover time, it’s also significantly contributed to by the per-failover monitoring period. One point that was not stressed was that Oracle RDS does not currently support multi-AZ failover – I’m sure this is on the unpublished roadmap, but it’s a feature that really needs to be there for Oracle RDS to be credible in the enterprise space. And whilst I’m asking for new features :), the other missing feature that is a real pain is that VPC is limited to single-AZ at present also.


Smarties on the stand – talking and looking clever

Carlos Conde discussed economic optimisation approaches, and one thing I picked up that I hadn’t realised was that once you’ve been allocated a spot instance, you’ve got it for at least an hour. Thinking about it this is pretty obvious, as AWS charging is per hour – but as we don’t tend to use spot instances I hadn’t really considered it. [RM Correction - this is nonsense - from the AWS site - "if the Spot Price goes above your maximum price and your instance is terminated by Amazon EC2, you will not be charged for any partial hour of usage"].  As we tend to focus on the enterprise market, we’ve stuck to on-demand and reserved instances as they map best to reasonably permanent workloads that enterprise customers tend to have. But spot clearly has its place even in an enterprise context (for the right use case) and can reduce AWS usage costs quite significantly. Another nice rule of thumb from Carlos was that if you are transferring more than 1Tb into AWS, then shipping some physical media and uploading it via the AWS Import facility is the way to go from a financial perspective – 1Tb is the break-even point where the bandwidth costs of just uploading to S3 match the import cost. Obviously the timeliness characteristics of these data transfer techniques are different though.

Finally, presentation of the day has to go to JJ from who walked through several fascinating scenarios where the retail business has exploited AWS to solve particular challenges with scaling the online bookstore. I caught up with JJ afterwards and quizzed him about “do they get a special deal from AWS” and the answer is absolutely not – so the interesting thing is that use a mixture of reserved, on-demand and spot instances just like the rest of us. They also use different AWS accounts to get round the fact that VPC is limited to a single AZ as I mentioned earlier – so they have vs running in different AZs, but they have to use a different account for each one. Using consolidated billing means this isn’t such a pain I guess, but it is just more accounts to manage in an admin sense.

Overall, a very useful and fun day, finishing with some beers – smoothly organised by Iain Gavin/Andy Gough and co – nice one!

Main entrance at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London

Same famous entrance shared by Werner Vogels and Tony Blair. AWS Summit and the Iraq Inquiry were both held at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London

Smart421 attended the AWS Summit 2011 on Tues 14 June at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London and I wanted to share some ‘soundbites’ that caught my attention.

I guess there are a succession of these that are deliberately trotted out at events like this but all the same they are worth repeating, and I’m sure I will trot these out myself in the coming months :-).

Hopefully I will have time to share some of the other information that I gleaned from the ‘Base Camp’ track that I followed during the event, and the 7 key themes that Werner Vogels ( CTO – and yes he was there!) sees driving the Cloud, on a subsequent blog post.


Anyway here are a few beauties!

  • From Nov 2010 all web traffic is now being served from EC2 instances – talk about ‘eat you own dog food!’
  • A large media company has 1500 VM’s of which 5% are currently in the Cloud and the rest on-premise – by 2013 the figure will be 50% in the Cloud – wow big transition, and yes he did mention some internal pain points!
  • Same media company pushing out speculative websites that may or may not attract interest (i.e. go viral or die) – traditional on-premise time/cost model = 7 days to build & $75.40 a day to run VERSUS  Cloud (presumably AWS eek) = 3 hours to build & $27.60 a day to run =========== no brainer!
  • Agility using AWS was demonstrated by a software house (don’t worry I won’t mention their name here – pah) – in the last 7 days 41 developers, 882 commits, 400 deploys for 40 projects – that’s a deployment every 5 mins apparently, and in my book that’s also bragging for braggings sake :-) – good going guys.
  • And finally AWS themselves still see all that has been done so far as DAY 1 – jeez that is scary and can’t wait for DAY 2……..

:: Stop Press ::
Check out the blogs by Robin Meehan on this and other subjects, please click here.

Nearly a month behind original indications from the AWS Oracle guys but Oracle RDS is here (released 23rd May).

Below are some quick calculations for a months continuous usage (excluding storage) in EU Ireland for the On Demand model. You will see the cost doubles each time you in theory double the power :-)

On Demand (License Included) High Mem/Extra Large DB Instance $699.36 per month
  High Mem/Double Extra Large DB Instance $1,398.72 per month
  High Mem/Quadruple Extra Large DB instance $2,797.44 per month
On Demand (BYOL) High Mem/Extra Large DB Instance $550.56 per month
  High Mem/Double Extra Large DB Instance $1,101.12 per month
  High Mem/Quadruple Extra Large DB instance $2,202.24 per month

The Reserved model still remains significantly cheaper over a year period – $305.05 per month as opposed to $699.36 but with upfront year 1 cost of $1,850 – so year 1 costs £5510.48 for reserved as opposed to $8392.32 for on demand for the example of high mem/extra large instance.

Some of our Customers have been keen to see progress on the AWS-Oracle roadmap and whilst any progress will always be welcome news, one of the key observations on ‘first-glance’ of the Oracle RDS service is that there is a multi-AZ option but that the only current available selection is ‘No’ - this is not the case for the MySQL RDS service. This will be a limiting factor particularly for our enterprise Customers when considering a highly resilient/highly available database solution. Some digging is required into this but it is likely to be a consequence of the underlying AWS architecture and the ‘new ways’ of thinking in terms of having a ‘shared nothing’ architecture - this currently prevents mutli-node Oracle RAC implementations on AWS.

Based on the recent AWS outage  (see previous blog posting here) and the re-enforced message to implement your solution across AZ’s to ensure high resilience/availability, then this Oracle release may not be enough to impress enterprise-level Customers – it may be a case of  continuing to ‘watch this space’ on the progress along the AWS-Oracle roadmap……

Richard Holland, Operations and Delivery Director of Eagle Genomics

Richard Holland, Operations and Delivery Director of Eagle Genomics addresses delegates at the 2011 AWS Tech Summit, London 17 March.

The AWS Technical Summit in London 17 March [see] was very worthwhile and no one could fail to notice that AWS themselves were taken by surprise in the exceptional attendance levels. Along with colleagues, Smart421 attended as AWS Solution Providers.

One of the key takeaways for me was how AWS continues to be highly responsive to the market. As well as bringing features to market in rapid succession, they have also listened and replied convincingly on the recurrent obstacle of security in the Cloud.

In fact, in addition to AWS’s already comprehensive security stance [see] it emerged that one of AWS’s customers, Eagle Genomics based in Cambridge UK, had also permitted two independent IT consulting firms, AT&T and Cognizant, to perform ethical hacking on their AWS instances (permissions obviously required in advance).  The outcome?  Both firms reported that it couldn’t be done.

For hardcore sceptics (aren’t we all at heart), AWS say they have a list of partners that provide services around ethical hacking. This means that if your business case warrants a belt and braces approach on security, it’s possible to engage IT consulting firms these kinds of trials dedicated to your instance or instances in the Amazon cloud.

In reality, with some notable exceptions where systems are understandably internalised, both physical security and digital security offered in AWS is far in excess what the majority of organisations are able to provide for themselves. I’m certainly not alone in thinking that a far bigger risk for enterprises resides in the portability of data (e.g. copies held on company laptops, CDs, USB keys, etc) than in hacking instances of Cloud computing, particularly those on AWS.

It would seem that the objection around security in the cloud is being steadily eroded away. About time.

AWS continued their expansion the other day by announcing a new Japan region, hosted in Tokyo.

What I don’t quite understand is some of the pricing differences. I can understand that bandwidth might be different in different territories, and maybe the price of hardware (local taxes maybe? different shipping and local labour costs etc?), but if you compare the EC2 EU region with the new APAC-Tokyo region, you can see that whilst the Windows costs are the same, the Linux costs are higher in Tokyo.


As there should be no software license cost for the Linux instances, this seems a bit weird. All I can think of is that the Microsoft SPLA (Services Provider Licenses Agreement) that AWS have managed to negotiate with Microsoft happens to be cheaper than the EU region and exactly offsets the other higher costs.

AlarmClockContinuing our fascinating series (sic) of Amazon Web Services related latency measurements…we’ve already looked at the round trip time between the UK and the US vs the EU region, so now our attention has turned to the latency between availability zones (AZs) in the EU region.

The network latency between AZs is critical to designing and implementing fault tolerant applications on AWS, as the design assumption is that synchronous transactional data replication is always feasible, and you can seamless fail over from one Relational Database Node (RDS) node to another “standby” replica in another AZ etc. So we thought we’d measure it!

One of my colleagues collected some measurements between 4 x Linux t1.micro instances (2 running apache & 2 running http-ping scripts) between EU zones. The scripts were scheduled to run every 5 mins (via cron) with each executing 20 x http-ping requests and returning the average response time in milliseconds. We also measured the latency of the http-ping requests via both the private and public addresses of the corresponding web server.

As a control measure, we also measured the average latency for “localhost” to respond, to allow us to eliminate the web server response time from the measurements. This worked out to be as follows:

  • Roundtrip to localhost – round-trip min/avg/max = 0.9/1.0/1.3 ms
  • Roundtrip to a public IP in the same AZ – round-trip min/avg/max = 1.3/1.4/2.7 ms

And here are the results of measurements across the AZs – first for the private IP addresses (click the image to view in full size):


…and for the public IP addresses:


So in summary, the roundtrip between AZs using public IP addresses works out to be about 4ms minimum, and once you take off the minimum 1.3ms experienced between public IPs in the same AZ, and dividing by 2 (as it’s a roundtrip), then the latency between AZs in the EU region works out to be about 1.35ms minimum. Pretty quick really…

I attended this Amazon Web Services user group meeting for the first time this evening as I was also in London today for the first day of the Cloud Expo Europe conference. When I say it was a meeting…it did take place in a pub :)

It was great to meet some like-minded people and kick around a good collection of subjects. Strangely no women came over to the table to see what this bunch of nerds were talking about. That’s probably because the topics included:

  • Why you might use AWS over Rackspace
  • IPv6 support
  • AWS instance failures
  • AWS vs Microsoft Azure
  • When AWS is a competitive platform for bog standard web hosting even if the web site load is not peaky at all

I won’t tell you what the outcomes of these discussions were….you’ll have to ask me or attend the next one to find out! One outcome I can report is that that some beer and beefburgers were consumed.

As AWS adoption inevitably grows in the UK then this group can only get stronger, so I’ll make sure I try and attend the next event. The man who made it all happen was Craig Box, so top marks to him for organising it. He also handed out some copies of Jeff Barr ‘s book  “Host Your Web Site In The Cloud”, so if any Smarties want to have a read, just let me know.


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