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Nov 26 2009

A Bird’s-Eye Look at Cloud Computing offerings

Buzzword or not, Cloud Computing has been the subject of many discussions in the current IT industry that struggle to reduce costs. Vendors have been working tightly with their partners in a race to find out who gets first to the market and with the winning platform.

Service Providers are hopeful that organisations will start transferring their workloads to the public cloud and even Telecom operators are embracing the optimized datacenter hosting solutions, and are creating new arms and divisions to compete in this new segment. Other market engagements such as the VCE coalition reinforces how important and lucrative this market is.

The Australian market is relatively small; however Australia is the most virtualised country in the world, per capita, according to Paul Maritz, VMware CEO, during his keynote for the vForum’08 and reinforced by Dr. Steve Herrod, VMware CTO, during vForum’09.

This large adoption has ignited the local competition and as I write this article I am aware of at least 4 different organisations working towards some sort of Cloud Computing offering.

Despite all discussions and controversy of what exactly Cloud Computing is; self-nominated Cloud Computing providers started to offload to the market their offerings. For the purpose of this article I have decided to use IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) as the nomenclature moving forwards as it provides better clarification of what is being offered and compared.

For the last week or so I have tested two IaaS offerings: Melbourne IT (beta) and Rejila. Both providers offered me with free evaluation period. Despite both providers run their IaaS in a VMware platform they have a complete different set of features, configurations and tools available.

IaaS or Utility Computing

Rejila uses a combination of VMware, Cisco HA network with multiple upstream, and has developed their own set of tools to integrate with vCenter. Yet, according to Rejila they are working with VMware in terms of their APIs and the vCloud program. Their DC is located in Sydney Global Switch with a DR facility in Melbourne.
Update/Correction: Rejila’s parent company is established managed host UltraServe, and their 2nd facility is in Brisbane.

I was not able to get any information from Melbourne IT so I can only say that they also use VMware and are making use of the new vCloud Express API’s.

Templates and Provisioning

Both services require the creation of a VDC (Virtual DataCenter) and in the Melbourne IT platform an additional vAPP container creation is compulsory. Only then a virtual server can be created.

The first noticeable difference is the number of templates provided for creation of virtual servers, however while Melbourne IT provides a pre-defined set of templates with single CPU and up to 4GB RAM, Rejila allows you to customise your server. The Rejila offering currently allows you to customise servers with up to 8 GB RAM and 4 CPUs.

Rejila

MelbourneIT

For Rejila, during the provisioning I was able to select the following options: number of valid Internet IP’s (6, 14 or 62), domain name, CPUs, RAM, reverse DNS and the Administrator password. Additionally a full subnet with 254 internal addresses was assigned to the virtual datacenter.

Rejila also provided me with 4 different server configuration options: LB, WEB, SQL, APP and the administrator is able to select the zone where the server is hosted: internal or external.

The provisioning process provided by Melbourne IT is simplistic and the external and internal IP addresses are automatically assigned to the VM. The Administrator password is not configurable at the provisioning time creating a possible breach of security but it is also possible to select the zone where the server is hosted: internal or external.

One thing that really bothered me on both services was the lack of information and/or configuration on the number of disks, sizes, CPU GHz and number of NICs.

The videos below demonstrate the login process, the creation of a VDC, vAPP and the provision a VM on both providers.

Melbourne IT

Rejila

Virtual Servers

After the provisioning process I was able to connect to the virtual servers.

Both CPU were using the Intel Nehalem 5520 but there was a tiny little difference that I actually had to research at Intel website. Melbourne IT uses processors (E) with memory specification DDR3 1066/800 and Rejila uses (L) DDR3-800/1066. http://ark.intel.com/Compare.aspx?ids=40201,40200,

Both providers use standard OS implementation, however despite there is not much to say about OSs some facts caught my eyes on both providers.

Rejila
  • The Windows 2003 32b server provisioned by Rejila was not R2. Unless there is a compatibility concern I don’t see a reason not to deploy the R2 version.
  • I could not identify a method to access the console for my virtual server and RDP was enabled by default. This could potentially be a security breach for some organisations, especially if the server has an external interface.
  • Windows setup files were missing and I was not to install additional components.
  • The template deployed already had some application and utilities installed such as JAVA and Windows Search 4. These applications would have to be removed if the intention is to streamline the OS.
  • CDROM was connected to VMware ISO
Melbourne IT
  • The template is deployed with a default Administrator password.
  • Windows Update Manager downloaded, installed, updated and rebooted the server without my request or authorisation. This action would eventually cause an outage to the server and applications.

Just as observation, none of the providers is offering Antivirus as part of the solution. I suppose they are both currently investigating options to utilise the VMware vSafe APIs but so far nothing has been published.

Both Rejila and Melbourne IT have outstanding bits and pieces to be solved; however when the subject is security the story changes.

Security

When performing IP scan (ICMP) on B Class subnet range I was able to expose some security concerns on Melbourne IT IaaS implementation. Whilst for Rejila the IP scanner did not detect any devices alive on the subnet, for Melbourne IT several devices and servers alive were discovered.

Rejila has done a superior job allocating a full C Class subnet to any given virtual datacenter and protecting them from other customer’s VDCs. Unfortunately this does not mean that VMs at Rejila are more protected than at Melbourne IT, however they are less exposed.

The objective of this article is not the security of the environment, so no additional method was carried out to determine additional potential security breaches.

Bandwidth

In the next step of the test I investigated the internet bandwidth provided to each virtual machine. During the configuration process none of the providers give details of how bandwidth is allocated and charged so I assume it is somehow capped and monitored. How about charged? Will I get a surprise at the end of the month?

For my surprise Rejila is blocking the use of Verizon Speed Test so I had to find an alternative speed test.

The test was executed on a week day at 10PM using speedtest.net as the results are:

Melbourne IT – Down 12.49Mb/s Up 33.51Mb/s
Rejila – Down 24.41Mb/s Up 47.09Mb/s

Both providers have a good amount of bandwidth available to my VM. I only hope that when their datacenters start to get loaded they will be able to maintain a good VM ratio.

Billing & Reporting

On billing and reporting Rejila takes the lead, offering a better billing summary with option to see the transaction history and configure how and when the account should be recharged.

Rejila Billing Page

Melbourne IT provides only the start and end dates with the total of charge for the period; and there is option to configure how I want to be charged.

None of the providers is currently providing VM performance reports. I can’t see how organisations will be able to monitor the performance of their virtual machines and decide on hardware changes without access to vCenter reports. Am I missing something?

Another problem for some organisation will be the payment options. Currently through the website only creditcards are accepted. Most organisations will ask for the invoice payment as preferred method.

Extras

Rejila is currently offering  access to their RESTful API providing provision/get/mod/del functions four any services eg. for app integration or auto-scale. The API gives control for VMs, Load Balancing, Network, Server Templates, Billing etc.

I haven’t had the opportunity to test the application integration so I’m planning another post with some additional information on this subject.

I suppose Melbourne IT also have these capabilities but there is nothing mentioned on their website, so probably not available to the public yet.

Conclusion

Despite few hiccups with OS templates and the lack of Remote Console, Rejila is offering a more mature and consistent service than Melbourne IT. Rejila has developed an intuitive and detailed web interface that allows you to customise your servers to a higher degree. The ability to easily select and configure internal and external IP addresses, reverse DNS, billing & reporting and Domain certainly adds up value to the service provided by Rejila.

A very important point is still an open; how to manage CPU and RAM. None of the providers allows you to modify the configuration of t the server through the GUI once it has been provisioned (I am yet to confirm via API). This is a big drawback and perishes the whole purpose of IaaS, where organisations should be able to manage the environment by themselves.

Unfortunately, I have no visibility of their datacenter and infrastructure design so I can’t write about their high availability, uptime, redundancies, disaster recovery process, distributed resource scheduling etc. Perhaps Rejila and/or Melbourne IT would like to provide a insight on this subject?

For the next service update I would like to see some applications on-demand in offer and the ability to specify required limits for bandwidth.

Would I move my servers to the Cloud?

That is a tricky question that I’m constantly asked. My answer is, find a provider that you trust and start slowly moving less critical server. Once you start to feel more comfortable you may start to think about critical mass.

The idea to liberate your infrastructure and convert your CAPEX into OPEX is very interesting; and certainly facilitate life for burst demands and start-ups that otherwise would have to invest heavily in infrastructure.

As the title says, this is a birds-eye; I am planning to go deeper and write an additional post about the API integration, performance evaluation and maybe include additional providers to build a IaaS matrix of services.

Lastly, I would like to open the channel for both Rejila and Melbourne IT to express their ideas or correct me in any part of this article.

Thanks & Have Fun

Links

http://www.melbourneit.com.au/

http://www.rejila.com/

2 comments

2 pings

  1. Andre Leibovici

    It is nice to see that providers are interested in the opinion and ideas of the community. After my blog post I was contacted by both MelbourneIT and Rejila.

    I have also been reading the vCLoud APIs Specification Guide and I realised that the APIs do not present service providers with full vCenter capabilities and I will also talk about it in my next post.

    Regards,
    Andre

  2. Andre Leibovici

    Melbourne IT Response to this article. The answers were provided by Adam Illingworth, Architect.

    Around the API, service providers do still have access to the full vCenter capabilities behind the scenes just not via the vCloud API, additionally this is first cut of the API I do see it evolving over time.

    As for the comment RE “I was not able to get any information from Melbourne IT so I can only say that they also use VMware and are making use of the new vCloud Express API’s.”:

    The Melbourne IT vCloud Express offering is currently hosted out of one of our Brisbane based facilities and may in the future offer customers the choice of hosting location including Sydney and the West coast of the US along with other future locations. The platform is built on IBM Blade Technology, EMC storage and a highly available Cisco network which is connected to multiple upstream providers and our other Australian based facilities. The Melbourne IT vCloud express platform is built on top of VMware’s vSphere 4, using DRS/HA Clusters and was also developed by VMware.

    From your article “Both CPU were using the Intel Nehalem 5520 but there was a tiny little difference that I actually had to research at Intel website. Melbourne IT uses processors (E) with memory specification DDR3 1066/800 and Rejila uses (L) DDR3-800/1066. http://ark.intel.com/Compare.aspx?ids=40201,40200,”

    Melbourne IT actually uses the L5520 processors not the E5520 –possible you got this comment around the wrong way, also the key difference is not the memory – they both run DDR3 1066/800 Mhz Dimms (Intel just list them in different order) is actually that the L5520 has a lower TDP thus uses less power.

    Name Intel® Xeon® Processor L5520 (8M Cache, 2.26 GHz, 5.86 GT/s Intel® QPI)
    Intel® Xeon® Processor E5520 (8M Cache, 2.26 GHz, 5.86 GT/s Intel® QPI)

    Max TDP 60 W 80 W

    “The template is deployed with a default Administrator password.”

    Yes, however this only applies to the windows 2003 VMs and they also have the firewall enabled and enforced to change the password at logon. The Windows 2008 VMs require the user to set a password before logging on and do not allow remote connections until this is completed and also have the windows firewall enabled.

    “Windows Update Manager downloaded, installed, updated and rebooted the server without my request or authorisation. This action would eventually cause an outage to the server and applications.”

    The idea behind this is that your machine is kept up to date with patches which is the default setting for a windows server installation – you are welcome to change the settings at anytime.

    “I suppose Melbourne IT also have these capabilities but there is nothing mentioned on their website, so probably not available to the public yet.”

    The Melbourne IT vCloud Express platform uses the vCloud API already and will be exposing this to the end users in the next few weeks after an upgrade of the system is completed.

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