RightScale: Cloud Bursting Tames Traffic Spikes

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Downtime. No one likes it, neither consumers or IT managers, much less retailers and online businesses whose revenue streams depend solely on their customers reaching their websites. Enter the age of the cloud, where life is more stable and reliable.

Perhaps not quite yet. Outages at Amazon Web Services’ cloud this spring and summer caused outages at social media sites like HootSuite and Reddit (see DCK coverage in April 2011 and August 2011).  Such cloud outages lead the layman to ask, “How trustworthy is this cloud technology?”

Then last month, retailer Target saw its self-hosted online store knocked offline by a surge in visitors for a widely-advertised sale of limited edition products from the Italian designer Missoni. The downtime occurred three weeks after Target moved off the Amazon cloud, demonstrating that internal infrastructure doesn’t always meet heavy demand, either.

Hybrid – Combinations Give Best of Both Clouds

What’s the solution? Hybrid clouds, cloud bursting and capacity planning, some say. “There is a lot of interest in hybrid clouds,” said Mike Crandell, CEO of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based RightScale, which offers cloud management tools that help IT teams work with multiple cloud infrastructures, deployed across multiple services or locations. The RightScale Cloud Management Platform is delivered as “software as a service” (SaaS) and clients include PBS, Harvard University, Zynga and Sling Media.

“There are advantages to each approach, public or private,” said Crandell. “In a public cloud, the company doesn’t have to invest in infrastructure, hardware. In a private cloud, for some companies making the capital investment (in hardware and infrastructure) is more economical. They can amortize the cost over time. The internal cloud also is good when there is predictable utilization, and for when you need to use it for security and compliance reasons.”

Hybrid clouds can leverage the best of both worlds and allow for cloud bursting -the use of public cloud capacity during times of peak demand. “The biggest example of hybrid cloud is Zynga (social gaming company) which they manage with RightScale,” said Crandell. “They have 250-million-plus users and use a public cloud when a new game launches and it is unpredictable whether the game will go viral. Then when the traffic is more stable, they move their application to an internal cloud.”

“Target (outage) is an old story that has been happening for a long time. Cloud architecture offers a way to expand and meet the load during high demand,” Crandell explained. He described other retailers that worked with RightScale tools, after outages occurred or to prevent them from happening.

For example, the Mars candy company had a coupon for a free chocolate giveaway that brought down its site.RightScale helped the company manage its cloud capacity, and the rest of the 20-week promotion was successful,Crandell said. Mattel Toys had an online social site that it was launching to complement the “American Girl” doll product line. After testing, the company realized its infrastructure would not handle the anticipated load, so they came to RightScale to scale its cloud infrastructure.

Expanding Clouds and Marketplace

Crandell also said RightScale has experienced the growth of the cloud in the number of servers it manages. In September, RightScale hit three million virtual servers under its management. (See RightScale blog post.) Founded in 2007, it took more than two years (27 months) to get to the 1 million server milestone, one more year to reach 2 million, and then half that time to breach 3 million milestone.

Crandell sees continued growth in the cloud marketplace. “It will become more crowded before becoming less so,” he said. “We are seeing some consolidation with the purchases of Terremark, Savvis and CloudSwitch. At the same time, more players are getting into the game. The cloud infrastructures we support are growing.

“It’s almost like rock music in 1965. There were the Beatles, Stones and Dylan, there was clearly a movement. But looking back, we know there was so much more ahead. I still think it’s early days for cloud.”

Cloud leaders include Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, but HP, Dell and Microsoft Azure are also getting into the game. RightScale is partnering with Rackspace on private cloud tools that allow users to buy, provision and set up clouds in 5  to 10 minutes.

RightScale’s tools provide automation, multi-cloud support and governance. “It was built for the cloud as a true-cloud offering, not ‘cloud washed,’ ” said Crandell. “We offer flexibility so companies have a choice of what they run and where they want to run it.”

Upcoming for RightScale is its user conference on November 8-9 in San Jose. “We focus on customers stories – what they’ve built, what have been their challenges and successes.” For more info on the RightScale conference, visit the company’s website.

About the Author

Colleen Miller is a journalist and social media specialist. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, with her most recent work dedicated to the online space. Colleen covers the data center industry, including topics such as modular, cloud and storage/big data.

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2 Comments

  1. At Elastic Provisioner we often see organizations in the early (and not so early) stages who roll out new software architecture as a stand alone prototype without considering distributed architecture until they start to measure the "social proof" of their product. It's an old school methodology that leads to "success victimization" when the moments of glory are eclipsed by a major system overload... It could be a site that got written up in Reuters or some major media channel.. their loser competitors get jealous and throw in a little denial-of-service on top of that, and the service isn't really restored until around post-mortem time. All of this could have been dealt with on the strategic level, in the early stages of product/software development... all it takes is a little investment in process and these organizations would be able get off the critical path long enough to turn their fire-stations into filling stations... before Q(x) maybe... with the right technical advisors. The process involves design, (adaptive+distributed+redundant) architecture, and testing the implementation to derive some kind of guarantee of how much traffic can be handled. I don't really care if this is rocket science or computer science as long as what's mission critical is discussed in the planning phases.... other wise we're just burning O-rings at launch. That can't look good to investors... can it? Love, - Asher Bond Racker/Stacker/RightScaler at Elastic Provisioner, Inc.