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The Cloud and the Availability Continuum – PART 2

Like dedicated hosting, cloud computing has to address availability.  Continued cloud outages, and the corresponding publicity, remind us of the importance of resiliency and availability.  One of the major benefits of cloud computing is scalability and efficiency of multi-tenant infrastructure.  However, even cloud infrastructures have to run in a physical data center somewhere, bringing us back to the critical nature of infrastructure availability.

Fortunately, the same availability you are accustomed to as part of a dedicated environment can be found in cloud computing.  Availability can be viewed in a continuum that ranges from high availability to failover and recovery, with many nuances in-between.  This continuum of  availability enables clouds to fulfill enterprise application and business needs at many different price points.

Platform Resiliency for Continuous Uptime

The first area to address availability is the resiliency of the platform itself.  Businesses requiring enterprise-class infrastructure need to look under the hood to determine how the infrastructure is architected and how resiliency is addressed.  A highly resilient environment should automatically
detect and address the failure of a system component—whether it is a server, network, a full blade or the VM —to quickly shift to a redundant component in order to keep the application running in the current site.

Failover

Failover is the capability to switch to a redundant or standby computer server, system, or network upon the failure or interruption of the primary environment.  Cloud computing has allowed failover practices to become less reliant on physical hardware and therefore more
available and less costly.  Service providers vary in the type of fail-over they provide as well as the time to respond, depending on the customers’ RPO and RTO needs.

A failover, or warm failover can be used for applications that require slightly less than real-time (e.g. hours VS. seconds).  In warm failover, a second site stands ready to be activated and made current as quickly as required.  Depending on the need, the time to failover depends on the Customer’s recovery time objective.  Sometimes the options can include the secondary site begin brought on line using a previous copy of the primary site.  Usually the copy is from the previous day, but it can be older depending on the business need.

High Availability for Mission-critical Apps

High availability addresses mission-critical production systems that require immediate, continuous, 24/7 access to data.  More technically, it means data must be duplicated at another location, usually in a different geographic area.   Essentially you are renting resources at one location and identical resources at another location, so costs are higher.

The communication method used between the systems also affects availability and costs.  Synchronous near real-time communication  pdates data from the primary system immediately  to the secondary system.  The secondary system mirrors the first and is ready to go into operation if the first system fails for any reason.

Asynchronous communications is where data waits in queue until the second system is free to accept it, so by its nature is less real-time.  Again, the business need determines which communications method is better.
Recovery for Availability

Recovery represents the other end of the availability continuum.  Cloud computing is changing the disaster recovery landscape.  The scalability and
flexibility of cloud computing platforms enable higher application availability.  Recovery can be used as a back-up to a production system already in the cloud or as a recovery solution to  another data center.  Further, the back-up can be on-line, ready to operate at the cloud site (like a warm failover) or off-line at a cloud site, as done in traditional recovery scenarios, since the cloud is a cost-effective recovery site for legacy systems.

As is obvious, different applications require different levels of availability, and applications should not be shoehorned into a “one size fits all” cloud
environment.  The best cloud providers will work closely with you to understand the business requirements of your business  applications  and devise the appropriate level of availability for each application you want to move to the cloud, along with any need for cloud resources to facilitate recovery of applications you do not move to the cloud.

Click here to view the SunGard Recover2Cloud Overview

Should you Negotiate your SLA?

Solutions Marketing Manager Janel Ryan discusses service level agreements today. –  Carl M

Much has been written in the few months about negotiating a better Service Level Agreement (SLA) with your cloud vendor.  Before you follow that advise, you may want to consider a few key points.

Be Realistic

First, If you are going to negotiate with your cloud provider, you have to be realistic about the performance you need and you have to be prepared to pay for those services. No vendor is going to take on more responsibility without charging more, no matter how hard you press.

Review the Architecture

Second, you’ll need to determine whether the vendor is capable of providing the service or performance level you are requesting.  Recognize that the services offered by the provider are usually governed by the cloud’s architecture and how it is implemented.  A cloud architected for inexpensive IaaS and quick provisioning may not use the most agile, efficient and self-managing software for storage, network and hypervisor.

Ask questions like, what uptime are you engineered for?  What exclusions would prevent you from obtaining an SLA remedies. Do they adhere to industry standards, like ITI for service management; ISO-9001:2008 for business processes, and  ISO 20000-1 for continuous improvement?  Do their internal procedures adhere to COBIT standards for governance?

Consider Walking Away

Finally and most importantly, if a cloud provider does not offer the SLA commitments you want and need, you are probably talking to the wrong provider.  Providers know what they do best and they know what is not in place.  If you need additional services, redundancy, a geographical distributed architecture and the vendor does not offer it, it is time to walk away.  Pushing a vendor out of his comfort zones adds more risk to an SLA, rather than adding more trust and confidence.

The clearer you are about your company’s needs for latency, redundancy, recovery, security and compliance, customer support, and technical support requirement, the easier it will be for you to select a cloud provider that can become a trusted partner.   Ask for a copy of the SLA early in your conversation with a vendor.  It could save you considerable time.

What improvements in service and support would benefit your company when it moves to a cloud?

Five Considerations When Evaluating Cloud Computing Architectures

An excellent starting point for an organization looking at cloud computing platforms is to examine its IT architecture.  Only by aligning the architecture – compute, network, data center, power and storage resources – with applications can a company be on the path to achieve the reliability and performance it requires within a cloud environment.

In cloud computing, true protection is an outcome of the right architecture for the right application.  Organizations need to fully understand their individual application requirements and, if using a cloud platform, the corresponding cloud architecture.  With that knowledge, they can make informed decisions about what cloud platform best meets the reliability and performance requirements of their specific applications.”

Here are five considerations for companies looking at cloud computing architectures.  

Availability.  Not all applications are created equal, nor are all cloud platforms the same.  Organizations need to tier their applications, identifying which applications need to be highly available, which can accept downtime and how much downtime is acceptable.  They need to understand the business risk associated with a lack of availability of their data.  For those applications that need to be highly available, businesses should consider enterprise-class technologies that have been rigorously tested versus looking at building something internally. It’s also important to look at multi-site solutions and disaster recovery/business continuity planning.  For most businesses, this means working with a service provider or consultant because they usually have access to greater levels of expertise and provide these services as their core business.

Security.  Security is still the primary concern for businesses regarding the cloud.  Concerns include the loss of control of their sensitive data, the risks associated with a multi-tenant environment, and how to address standards and compliance.  Organizations need to know how a shared, multi-tenant environment is segmented to prevent customer overlap.  How is the solution architected and is the service provider’s cloud infrastructure – network, virtualization and storage platforms – secure?  

Manageability.  Businesses need to understand what they are accountable for versus what they expect from a service provider.  Most public cloud vendors do not provide administrative support.  Organizations need to either have the technical expertise in-house to design the right solution or seek the services of an outside provider.  There should be an understanding of what level of management their applications require and have an identified change management process.  

Performance.  As with a more traditional hosting model, it’s important to understand workload demands on the infrastructure.  Companies also need to understand what the bottlenecks are and how the cloud architecture they have or are evaluating can meet those needs. Organizations should perform their own testing to understand how a cloud environment affects compute, storage and network resources.

Compliance. Organizations need to understand where their data will reside as well as who will interact with it and how.  They need to understand which areas of compliance the service provider controls and how to audit against the standards and regulations to which they need to adhere.

Are you Ready for Cloud?

Solutions Marketing Manager Janel Ryan discusses how to evaluate your organization’s readiness for cloud –  Carl M

As companies evaluate cloud computing as part of an overall business delivery model, deciding which applications are candidates to move to cloud and which need to remain in legacy environments is part of the planning process.  Identifying business requirements up front creates the right basis for planning cloud projects, timelines, and resources.

The demand for consulting services designed around cloud readiness is being driven by customers looking for solutions that can get cloud technologies and legacy technologies – dedicated hosting or on-premise – to work together.

Discovery Phase

A cloud readiness assessment can be viewed as a series of stages.  During the Discovery phase, a thorough examination of your current IT infrastructure gathers details about your business systems, their usage, performance, capacity, and application interdependencies, etc.  Due to the complexity of IT environments and numerous IT demands, many large companies may not have a complete documentation or understanding of all their application environments.  Most companies use a consultant during the assessment process because the specific expertise needed for this type of evaluation is not something an IT department normally has available to spare.

Analysis Phase

During the Analysis phase, you and the consultant review the data on each application and confirm its continued need, use and importance with users. You also need to confirm access, performance, security, compliance and other special requirements for each application.  From there, you can discern and compile the infrastructure requirements.

Validation Phase

In the Validation phase the initial findings are laid out and you determine a strategic vision for using cloud computing.  You and the consultant explore different scenarios and options, and you determine which applications are ready to deploy, which could be ready if security, compliance and other requirements can be met by a vendor and which cannot be moved for whatever reason.  Your consultant should be able to articulate how various vendors deliver their technology and should identify those vendors that could potentially meet your needs.

Migration Planning Phase

Based on your strategic vision, you select your vendor and proceed to the Migration Planning phase.  Here you lay out a plan for preparing migrating, testing and moving to live production for each application.  You also set critical requirements for security, storage, performance, etc. along with the timeline for accomplishing each move. 

Some companies take longer than others to plan and execute their moves to cloud computing.  Regardless of the time it takes, the more meticulously you perform these four tasks, the more smoothly your migrations will go and the better your cloud computing experience will be. 

 Download SunGard’s white paper, “All clouds are not created equal.”

Developing the Right Cloud Strategy for Your Organization

I invited Janel Ryan, a Solutions Marketing Manager at SunGard Availability Services, to blog about determining the right could solution for your company.  Janel has an interesting perspective on business requirements dictating the right cloud or cloud mix for an organization…CM

The “right” cloud computing strategy involves a mix of dedicated and shared resources inside and outside the company.   Before you talk with vendors, you need to develop a clear set of business requirements and assess your company’s readiness for cloud.   Then you can focus on the vendor(s) who has the range of services you need.   

Define Your Needs

Your business requirements should define cost savings, IT efficiencies and other specific outcomes you want to achieve with your cloud solution.   Documenting infrastructure, security, usability, compliance, and SLA requirements of each application and business unit is a fundamental first step in defining your cloud strategy.   Your analysis should also define requirements for reliability, redundancy, connectivity, interoperability and the integration of legacy equipment and applications.  

At this stage, it’s also helpful to identify any need your organization may have for consulting expertise for, say, compliance and “best-of-breed” practices, to help document current state and identify the cloud readiness of your IT environments.

What’s Next?  Assess

A cloud readiness assessment compares the desired outcome with your current operations and creates a path for migration for achieving your business goals.  Conducted in-house or through an experienced consultant, an assessment helps you determine which applications and services should move to the cloud and which should stay within the current environment.   Different scenarios for leveraging cloud computing result in different ROIs, and understanding which scenario is most efficient is critical if you are to get the most for your money.  

Together, your business requirements and readiness assessment dictate the right cloud strategy for your organization.  Without them, you are much more susceptible to the “hype” of vendors who claim they can do everything.

Janel Ryan can be reached at janel.ryan@sungard.com