Servers

Why the Batphone keeps ringing in the cloud: Hardware matters more than ever now

Guest Contributor Lisa Petrucci explains why you can't forget the importance of hardware even when you've moved to the cloud.

You're a CEO of HotDotCom.com. It's three in the morning and your VP of Sales for Asia texts to say that the site is loading noticeably more slowly than a competitor's site. So you get on the Batphone and call your VP of Ops, explain that your VP is trying to close a deal but the site looks like garbage because it loads so slowly compared to the site of HotterDotCom.com. So why is the site loading so slowly? Your bleary ops guy putters around in the control panel, does a little bit of analytics and says, "Boss, I have no idea. Everything seems to be running well in our application stack. It must be old hardware at the data center." But we're in the cloud, you say. Hardware doesn't matter anymore, right? Well, not really.

In fact, hardware matters more than ever. Last week at the Surge Conference, we talked to dozens of VPs of Operations and CIOs of major companies. To a man (and woman) they complained that their hardware was killing them. Which is ironic because most of them had long since outsourced their hardware to cloud providers and didn't own much hardware at all. But set foot in almost any data center and you'll be confronted by rack after rack of three, four, and even five-year-old servers chugging along in the slow lane.

So why has this become such an issue now? Let's count the ways. First, many consumers of cloud computing have made the leap from using the cloud as a test environment or a place where high latency (read: low priority) production tasks are computed to using the cloud as their soup to nuts production environment. This has exposed them more acutely to the vagaries and vulnerabilities of the cloud (which is why cloud outages that have always been relatively common now assume crisis proportions in minutes today).

Second, the cloud industry is relatively new. So new that I would wager many cloud services providers are still feeling out what is an acceptable hardware refresh cycle that balances their need to keep capital expenditures down while maintaining sufficient performance for customers. This is a steep learning curve because the switch from test to production use cases of the cloud exposes end users on cloud apps today to a far more volatile environment that is inherent in wireless data networks. In the world of wireless, page load times experienced by end users can vary widely and it's not uncommon for those load times to eclipse 10 seconds - a point at which roughly 50% of visitors will abandon a page.

At the very core of this conflict over hardware between users and cloud providers is simple economics. Cloud providers maximize profits by minimizing hardware costs (i.e., the cost of a bit). Customers maximize profits through minimizing their bit/second service delivery cost. Yes, it's more complicated, but that's the core economics. So there will always be tension between what customers want (the latest screaming Intel server chipset) and what cloud providers want (very low capex). For cloud customers, however, it now behooves you to ask really hard questions about the hardware that underpins your cloud environment. Pushing hard to get specific model numbers and chipsets of the servers that you will be running on is optimal. Because cloud providers move your data around, this isn't always 100% possible (since you are no longer tethered to a specific physical server). But getting a general inventory of what vintage servers are in the racks at a data center is a pretty good idea. Then, make sure to ask about refresh cycles for the servers. If you really want to know, go to the data center and see for yourself. At the end of the day, whether the server running your cloud is one- or three-years-old may be the difference between a fast-loading and a slow-loading page or cloud app - and the difference between a customer win and a Batphone call in the middle of the night asking why, why, why.

About the author: Lisa Petrucci is VP of Global Marketing of Joyent (www.joyent.com / @Joyent), a provider of cloud software and services. After starting her career at IBM and working in the arena of enterprise sales, business development and marketing for twenty years, she can now be found in the clouds.
7 comments
seanferd
seanferd

and bad configurations, practices, etc., of the service providers and the networks over which data travels. In the examle case, I don't see a difference between a cloud-based webserver or any other manner of providing a webserver. But running applications in an internet cloud will likely expose failure to allocate CPU cycles or bandwidth more often. It will also tend to expose poor network routing - including bad Anycast configuration - which is really pretty darn common. Cloud computing really puts the cart before the horse of the internet. Hopefully, that horse will be pushed up to the front and harnessed to satisfy the needs of cloud computing, making it better for all purposes. More likely, cloud users and providers will need to pay up for a better SLA for transport and peering. Even more likely, everyone will have to pay more to satisfy these needs, even though most people are paying well enough already. If the problem is just on the cloud-provider's end, then they need to live up to their agreements immediately. Whether or not the customer knows what specific hardware, and how much of it, and the the other customer's needs for cloudspace which are in competition with their own, the customer needs to secure an SLA reflecting thier actual needs, and force the provider to stick to it. But if the customer knows that the hardware is ten years out of date, yes, I suppose they would be wise to shop elsewhere.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

are going to be critical, but I don't know how much leverage the customer is going to have in getting them enforced. Even voting with your feet may be difficult if they're holding your data hostage.

seanferd
seanferd

I don't even want to sync bookmarks through a third-party server. Which seems to be the going method even if you want to sync two browsers on the same desktop. Heck, I wasn't even really down with the commercialization of the web/internet in the first place. Useless shipping bits all over the place is what the internet cloud is. I don't even want my unimportant, no-account, useless bits stiing in some other person's cloud.

Imprecator
Imprecator

plus ??a change, plus c'est la m??me chose You do realize that CEOs and CFOs will simply blame US for their stupid mistakes, as usual right? This Business and the Fashion Industry are too much alike for my taste.

seanferd
seanferd

I certainly wouldn't disagree.

Imprecator
Imprecator like.author.displayName 1 Like

Of course! because since Cloud Computing has been sold and oversold that you won't need IT experts to run it. Guess to whom your friendly neighborhood Cloud Computing provider will sell to? CEOs and CFOs! And they will NOT involve IT in it (because of course, according to them IT has a vested interest in keeping its fiefdom) So they'll buy whatever sounds nice and charge the responsability of its failures to IT. (which of course will have a skeleton crew because "with Cloud Computing you don't need an IT departement") Same thing that has happened with ERP projects for the last 20 years, same thing that has happened with CRM projects for the last 10 years. Anybody remembers how Microsoft used sell their TCO nonsense? (you won't need experts to run NT as it happens in Unix) My father (who was in this business for 30 years) used to say during the whole of his professional life he had seen how they kept on selling the "computer that fixes itself". Nothing has changed.

seanferd
seanferd

I wanted to make sure I knew where you were coming from. But yeah, I'm rooting for your team, so to speak.

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