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All for the Want of a Global Load Balancer
Thoughts on the AWS / Netflix Christmas Eve Elastic Load Balancer Event

Christmas Eve and the AWS/Netflix outage to me aren't so much about whether or not the Cloud is viable or scary or dangerous. Rather, the event resonated with users across the United States because the Cloud delivers so much utility to each of us. And regardless of who was at fault -- Netflix or Amazon Web Services, the event made it clear that there's no going back and that the Cloud has quickly become a part of our culture and our everyday lives. This is significant because while the Internet itself is a technology consumers have grown to love, Cloud is a way of delivering service that makes a service like Netflix streaming possible, and at a measly $8 bucks a month. The Netflix business model of delivering outsize utility for a low price point makes the business of streaming video all the more difficult. HBO, Cinemax, and the networks for me are unusable. I sense something beyond just making money remains in play at Netflix. Somewhere in that organization seems to beat a heart that quickens for humanity.


While much is made of the sparsity of the Netflix streaming catalog, keep in mind that streaming is the disruptor's second act. The Wicked Witch, aka Blockbuster is dead, I think in part because each of us desired a little bit of payback for all the times we returned videos late and were charged outrageous fees. Rather than punish Netflix Streaming for innovating, and for challenging the iron grip of the legacy media houses, I praise Netflix and personally admire the generous open source contributions Netflix has made to the Cloud Community.

I once tweeted that the value of the code and tools Netflix has shared on GitHub may well be larger than the value of the streaming business as a whole. That may be true for about five minutes. We're at a tipping point in streaming video media similar to that of the music business just before the iPod. Yet each evolution carries forward a little bit of spin from the last disruption. In this iteration all the players know the iPod playbook and so they are trying very very hard to fight the gravity of disruption. Having lost Blockbuster and effective control over the distribution of their content, the old guard hold onto to their catalog stubbornly hoping Netflix will disappear. But we all know how this movie ends. I see a much larger Netflix catalog of content on the horizon and substantial value for consumers. Once the old guard have been disintermediated and a more open, consumer friendly market for content prevails every Christmas will be a little brighter (that's kind of a stretch?). In my opinion what's in play today with respect to old media firms is not so different from the agency model that kept eBook prices artificially high for many consumers.

So what about the Global Load Balancer Already?
Most Cloud Architect and Solution Architects of high availability systems are familiar with Load Balancers. AWS designed a mostly well-intended and useful service around this technology and it's often referred to as the (infamous) ELB (Elastic Load Balancer). Functionally a "classic" load balancer distributes service requests across hosts grouped into a pool of largely identical servers. Spreading requests across multiple servers is a key capability required for the horizontal scale-out favored by Cloud and to a lesser degree Enterprise Architecture.

A Global Load Balancer operates one or more levels above the Local Load Balancer. Similar to a classic DNS server, the Global Load Balancer returns an ip address. Often the IP address is the address of a Local Load Balancer but could be configured to return a public or private ip address. The IP address or VIP returned is determined by the specific solution requirements. Because Global Load Balancer technology stands on the shoulders of a fundamental and ubiquitous technology like DNS, the service can be very resilient if configured that way. If LLB (Local Load Balancer) high-availability solution is designed correctly the Load Balancer monitors the health and responsiveness of a pool of servers and directs requests to nodes of an application. A Global Load Balancer performs a similar function, except at a data center level. A Global Load Balancer can detect when a Local Load Balancer is no longer available, and when this happens can return the ip address of a load balancer or endpoint in another data center anywhere in the world. As it is based on DNS technology the Global Load Balancer is not coupled to a specific network. Moreover, the top-level domain is likely not hosted in any Cloud, and so provides a degree of separation. Further, Global Load Balancers can determine the nearest endpoint for a specific user request, and can return an endpoint closest to a user. Global Load Balancers can be configured to monitor the latency of response times across a pool of endpoints. In times of network failure, the endpoint that is normally "closest" or "lowest latency" frequently becomes a very high latency endpoint. So the ability to monitor latency and to adapt how it responds to requests based on latency, enables a very fine grained capability to direct users around system and network anomalies such as those that continue to plague US-EAST-1.

My observation is simply this: why don't Cloud or Web firms take a lesson from classic availability architecture and use a load balancer to enable endpoints to fail across data centers. For enterprise, why make Cloud an either/or question. And why gamble with the availability of important systems when it's not so difficult (especially if you've figured out the persistence layer) to balance systems across multiple Clouds. Using such an architecture to enable rapid switching of endpoints to other data centers could enable an enterprise to run an application both in the Cloud and in the data center and to balance traffic across them not in the sense of the much hyped "Cloud Bursting" which seems to focus mostly on "bursty capacity" but rather as a strategy for mitigating risk and reducing the correlated risk of running Load Balancers and applications within a single specific Cloud, even in multiple availability zones (as in the case of AWS). Hurricane Sandy in New York City would have been far more disruptive if not for systems built using Global Load Balancers for high availability. While there's no comparison to the complexity of failing over critical, albeit smaller-scale platforms to Netflix, several non-web facing internal applications for which I designed the architecture in 2011-2012 failed over to alternate data centers simply by  changing the endpoint returned by the Global Load Balancer.  In the case of Netflix, the option to migrate all the data was not an option, yet the instances remained healthy while those impacted by the ELB failure received no requests. An alternate strategy for directing traffic, in hindsight, could have made a difference.  It puzzles me to no end why given the extensive focus on Cloud failure modes, the AWS ELB remains a single point of failure for Netflix and many other applications running in AWS whether at modest or extreme scale.

I wonder if Netflix will select an additional Cloud in 2013 and in doing so create some real competition in the Cloud Service Provider space. After such a high profile failure (Christmas Eve, for Christ's Sake), I feel certain the decision has already been made. The impact of such a move would legitimize another Cloud. People who know these things tell me that 80% of Amazon Web Services capacity is in US-EAST-1. To me this suggest Amazon Web Services has fallen victim to it's own success. The nature of Clouds is such that as they grow bigger the network effect driven by the efficiency of locating data and compute capacity as close together as possible becomes overwhelming and the penalty for locating in another region, such as the West Coast, or another Cloud in another data center, becomes higher. While recently AWS has announced some capabilities to make it easier to migrate to the US-WEST-2 (Oregon region, which is priced about the same as US-EAST-1) such capabilities don't really seem to matter.

I spend a great deal of my time learning from web scale best practices such as those co-developed by firms like Netflix, Heroku, Pinterest, Google and redefine what people think they know about distributed computing..  Yet based on the theme of AWS re:invent, and my personal experience in Fortune 500 Cloud, 2012 may not only "not be the end of time and ancient calendars," but 2012 may mark the year when this thinking makes the leap and infects the DNA of Fortune 500 technology. The itchy little problem of Cloud as ready for big business remains the persistent failures, yet the risk of failures in hindsight can be minimized--and using technology commonly used by Enterprise that unlike Oracle RAC clusters and other High Availability technology works just fine in both Cloud and traditional data centers.

Listen closely to what Cloud and web scale practitioners have to teach. Architecture of Cloud applications deviates in ways that will make your database and application engineers pull-out their hair, scream, and storm out meetings (based on what I've seen, except for the hair pulling). For example the application server architecture and scale-out strategy for scaling applications in the Cloud is very different from how most of Fortune 500s do Enterprise Application Server clusters today. And after you fail in the Cloud trying to kick it old school, the enlightenment comes quickly. Yet at the same time, don't get too caught up in the hype and forget everything. The Global Load Balancer commonly used in large enterprise, when deployed effectively, could very well help you build applications which balance the new with the familiar.

Further Reading / Cultural Reception of Cloud

Summary of the December 24, 2012 Amazon ELB Service Event in the US-East Region

Some of the media reception of the events. I find the coverage to be grossly inaccurate, yet it's part of the cultural reception of the Cloud, so I've included some links:

‘The Cloud’ Challenges Amazon http://nyti.ms/ZBXT86

Read the original blog entry...

About Brian McCallion
Brian McCallion, founder of New York City-based consultancy Bronze Drum focuses on the unique challenges of Public Cloud adoption in the Fortune 500. Forged along the fault line of Corporate IT and line of business meet, Brian successfully delivers successful enterprise public cloud solutions that matter to the business. In 2011, while the Cloud was just a gleam in the eye of most Fortune 500 firms Brian designed and proved the often referenced hybrid cloud architecture that enabled McGraw-Hill Education to scale the web and application layer of its $160M revenue, 2M user higher education platform in Amazon Web Services. Brian recently designed and delivered the JD Power and Associates strategic customer facing Next Generation Content Platform, an Alfresco Content Management solution supported by a substantial data warehouse and data mart running in AWS and a batch job that processes over 500M records daily in RDS Oracle.”

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Cloud Expo was a fantastic event for CSS Corp - we easily exceeded our objectives for engaging with clients and prospects."
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With our launch at Cloud Expo, we successfully transformed the company from a relatively unknown European player into the dominant player in the market. Our competitors were taken by surprise and just blown away. We got a huge number of really high quality leads..."
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Lastest Blog Posts
loud providers Google, AWS and Microsoft are doing some spring-cleaning - out with the old, in with the new - when it comes to pricing services. With the latest cuts, here's a news flash: There's a new business model driving cloud that is every bit as exponential in growth -- with order of magnitude improvements to pricing -- as Moore's Law has been to computing. Let's call it "Bezos' Law," and go straight to the math
Over the past few years, the SaaS community has gained a solid understanding of SaaS financial metrics, as well as many of the operational principles required to achieve them. However, there has always been an obvious gap between what happens on the top line and what happens on the ground. It’s one thing to claim that a 50% reduction in churn will result in a 2X increase in recurring revenue, but it’s quite another thing to make it happen. Achieving that 50% reduction in churn is usually a tedious and unreliable process of trial and error. This is about to change. As the SaaS industry matures, we are witnessing the evolution of SaaS metrics beyond simple, historical financial measures toward sophisticated operational measures in the form of new SaaS customer success metrics and predictive analytics.
In the beginning there was a simply acronym: MTTI (mean time to innocence). Weary after years of costly and time-consuming war room battles, IT organizations turned to AppDynamics to give an objective application-level view of production incidents. As a result, application issues are swiftly pinpointed and fixed, accelerating time to repair by up to 90%. In fact, gravitation towards fact-based constructive issue management spawned a whole new movement – DevOps – with the goal of ingraining this maturity and cooperative spirit into IT organizations from the ground up. The movement was discussed by Jim in a previous blog post. Of course, AppDynamics (or at least, easily accessible fact-based information about application behaviour in production) is a necessary prerequisite to this.
We've talked before about the bifurcation of the network, which is driven as much by the evolution of network services from "nice to have" to "critical" as it is by emerging architectures. The demarcation line in the network stack has traditionally been - and remains - between layers 3 and 4 in the OSI model. The reason for this is that there is a transition as you move from layer 3 to layer 4 from stateless networking to stateful networking.
Like moving to IPv6, simply picking up your existing network architecture and moving it to a completely new one is not going to happen overnight. There will undoubtedly still be "traditional" networks hanging around even when SDN adoption is considered mainstream and fully mature. That's the nature of evolution; it doesn't happen in the blink of eye, it takes time. Right now organizations are faced with a variety of options in networking. From VXLAN to NVGRE, from traditional to software-defined, choices abound today. And chances are that most largish networks will actually take advantage of several of those choices, depending on what phase of adoption they're in.
Appthority is an app risk management company with a Software-as-a-Service solution that analyzes mobile apps for hidden behaviors that pose privacy and security risks. Our main customers are large organizations and we provide them with the first all-in-one App Risk Management service to uncover the hidden actions of apps and enable enterprises to create custom policies to prevent unwanted app behaviors. Appthority combines the largest global database of analyzed public and private apps with advanced policy management tools to automate control over risky app actions to protect corporate data on company-issued and BYOD mobile phones as employees bring their own apps to work.
Like every one I am updating my terminology to reflect the shift that occurred – Business and technical executives immediately get that when combined with a world of smart, connected devices then Cloud computing only makes more sense. We have entered an age where IoT Cloud Computing will become the dominant form of enterprise IT architecture. Smart devices aren’t much use if they aren’t sharing their feeds with some kind of enterprise system, and so new forms of middleware as well as entirely new forms of ERP will emerge too. In short how will that RFID device on the tin of beans ordered by your smart fridge, actually place the order into the supermarket logistics systems?
This past weekend, like many of you, I started getting the blood curdling password resets from a bunch of OpenSSL affected sites. I also got a few emails from sites indicating that I had nothing to worry about. Bad news, good news. Probably the biggest security story thus far for 2014 is Heartbleed, the OpenSSL vulnerability which potentially allows attackers to extract 64 kilobyte batches of memory at random without being noticed and leaving no trace. Sounds like the perfect crime.
When I visit clients to talk about DevOps, I usually ask them what their monitoring strategy is. Too often, the answer I hear is "We use Nagios". I think Nagios is a great tool, but it sure is not a strategy. Nagios does a good job of monitoring infrastructure. It will alert you when you are running out of disk, CPU, or memory. I call this reactive monitoring. In other words, Nagios is telling you that your resources are getting maxed out and you are about to have issues. Proactive monitoring focuses more on the behavior of the applications and attempts to detect when metrics are starting to stray away from their normal baseline numbers. Proactive monitoring alerts you that the system is starting to experience symptoms that can lead to a degradation of performance or capacity issues which is more preferable than Nagios telling you are about to be screwed. With reactive monitoring, it is not uncommon that customers start complaining about the same time that the Nagios alerts start going off. The goal of proactive monitoring is to head off issues so that customers don't even notice.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Internet of Things is the process of synthesis it achieves; it provides a mental model for people to associate and relate a number of different technologies under one umbrella concept and trend. Therefore one early quick win is a simple taxonomy for listing what these different technology camps are, so here is a first draft approach for this that is now included as the guiding framework in our IoT Technology Roadmap.
OpenStack. OpenDaylight. SDN. Cloud. It's all about abstraction, about APIs and "software-defined" (which really means software-controlled, but this is neither the time or place to get into that debate). It's about jailbreaking the network. Enabling access to features and functionality in a way that results in new services, increased responsiveness and overall, the operationalization of the network.
The Information Technology Acquisition Advisory Council (ITAAC) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) are announcing a slate of innovative leaders to serve as facilitators for the upcoming "Agile Sourcing Environment for Commercial Cloud" brainstorming session being held in Alexandria, VA on April 23, 2014. Enjoying a great response thus far, industry participants include Boeing, Oracle, Google,SAP, Leidos and Capgemini. Government participants include the US Navy, US Army, US House of Representatives and GSA.
Not too long ago, it took even the most successful entrepreneurs several centuries or at least decades to reach a valuation of a billion and thus become a member of the exclusive Billionaire Boys Club*. Families like the Rothschilds, the Waltons or the Brenninkmeijers have indeed built up impressive capital wealth, but because it took them several generations, it often became quite diluted among brothers, sons, daughters, nieces, and even third-degree-nephews. With the advent of first: IT; then the Internet and now the cloud, that time frame has rapidly shrunk. Today companies with as little as 50 or even 13 employees reached valuations where reputable companies and world-renowned artists can only dream of. This acceleration is even more poignant when we look at applications in the heart the nexus of Social, Mobile, Cloud and Analytics (SMAC), such as Instagram , Tumbler and recently WhatsApp. And just like in the music industry there is a lot of interest in the tip parade: the list of runner ups; ideas and products getting ready to become the next mega hit.
Despite claims that there exists (or will, look out!) a mythical "god box" for the enterprise data center, capable of performing every data center function imaginable, it remains, well, mythical. Efforts to effectively secure the data center and the applications it delivers therefore requires a collaborative approach between best-of-breed technologies. But if collaboration across functional IT groups - development, operations, network and security - remains as elusive as nirvana, then collaboration across products has traditionally been seen as likely as sighting the Loch Ness Monster. The arrival of cloud and more recently SDN has changed that, not only encouraging but requiring changes in collaboration capabilities in order to remain considered best-of-breed.
We love analogies. No matter what the topic, analogies are a great way to explain something in a different context to make a specific point with a frame of reference that may be more familiar to those we are making a point to. There is one that seems to come back over and over again in our industry, the one that compares the network to the power grid, network connections to power plugs. I had not heard it for a while but at Interop last week, I heard it used twice in booth demonstrations as part of plug and play pitches. And I really do not like that analogy.
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Past SYS-CON Events
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
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    Cloud Expo East
cloudcexpo
2011east.sys-con.com

 
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2010west.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo West
virtualization
2010west.sys-con.com
    Cloud Expo Europe
cloudexpoeurope2010.
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cloudcomputingexpo
2010east.sys-con.com

 
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virtualizationconference
2010east.sys-con.com
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2009west.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo West
virtualizationconference
2009west.sys-con.com
    GovIT Expo
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    Cloud Expo Europe
cloudexpoeurope2009.sys-con.com
 

Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

S.F.S.
Dell

Singer
NRO

Pereyra
Oracle

Ryan
OpSource

Butte
PwC

Leone
Oracle

Riley
AWS

Varia
AWS

Lye
Oracle

O'Connor
AppZero

Crandell
RightScale

Nucci
Dell Boomi

Hillier
CiRBA

Morrison
Layer 7 Tech

Robbins
NYT

Schwarz
Oracle

What The Enterprise IT World Says About Cloud Expo
 
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