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Rackspace goes Akamai, Tata buys BitGravity

A little change of pace today, back to some CDN market news…

Rackspace forms a strategic alliance with Akamai. Today, Rackspace’s Cloud Files storage service is integrated with Limelight’s CDN. The new alliance means that Akamai will be replacing Limelight as the CDN, and some new features will be offered as the integration is done. (While those features are things that Limelight does for its regular customers, they were not integrated into the Rackspace cloud CDN service.) Rackspace currently uses Limelight as its CDN partner for regular hosting deals, as well, and intends to offer Akamai in the future. (Most hosters have channel deals of that sort with one or more CDNs.) What makes this interesting is that it marks the first significant integration of Akamai as a wholesale CDN to a cloud CDN — and that you’ll be able to get Akamai delivery for cloud CDN prices. (Gartner clients only: Is a Cloud CDN Right For You?)

Tata Communications buys BitGravity. Video CDN BitGravity was pretty cool and promising when it first came to market. A number of my clients in traditional media and established online companies really loved what they had to offer in the live-streaming space when they launched. Unfortunately, they never really manage to break out beyond that space. I always thought it was a bit weird for Tata to choose to license their technology as the basis for Tata’s own CDN, given Tata’s customer base and use cases that I’d expected to see Tata be successful at selling. Tata’s investment in them at the time seemed outrageously large to me — for what they paid, you’d have thought they could have just bought the company outright (especially given the rumored valuation of Panther Express when it was acquired by CDNetworks). I’d speculate that this was a desperation buyout for BitGravity, but there are lots of questions about the long-term value of this to Tata.

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The next round-up of links

Renesys has posted its yearly ranking of Internet transit providers. For anyone interested in understanding how transit volumes across various networks are changing, this should be very interesting data.

Ryan Kearney’s Comparing CDN Performance is an interesting overview of cloud CDNs. His methodology is flawed by the limited number of locations he’s testing from, but his comparison charts of features and whatnot are a handy reference for anyone who’s looking at file delivery off the cloud. (And for those who have missed the announcement: don’t forget the Windows Azure CDN, which presumably uses the tech that Microsoft licensed from Limelight.)

Jack of All Clouds has some nice graphs in a State of the Cloud post, showing sites (out of the top 500,000 sites) hosted by various public clouds.

Rich Miller rounds up a Slashdot discussion on how many servers an admin can manage. I’ll throw in my two cents that it’s not just a matter of how many people you have in true systems operations — you also have to look at what you invested in tools and the people to write and maintain those tools. There’s a TCO to be looked at here. Tools scale; people don’t. Anyone operating at dot-com or service provider scale rapidly develops a passion for automating everything humanly possible (or agrees that they’ll be giving up on sleep). But for the enterprise, tools implementations often don’t go as well as one might hope.

And on a Jim Cramer note, Rich Miller also has a fun round-up of data center stock performance in 2009 and since Cramer’s call.

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Bits and pieces

Interesting recent news:

Amazon’s revocation of Orwell novels on the Kindle has stirred up some cloud debate. There seems to have been a thread of “will this controversy kill cloud computing”, which you can find in plenty of blogs and press articles. I think that question, in this context, is silly, and am not going to dignify it with a lengthy post of my own. I do think, however, that it highlights important questions around content ownership, application ownership, and data ownership, and the role that contracts (whether in the form of EULAs or traditional contracts) will play in the cloud. By giving up control over physical assets, whether data or devices, we place ourselves into the hands of thir parties, and we’re now subject to their policies and foibles. The transition from a world of ownership to a world of rental, even “permanent” lifetime rental, is not a trivial one.

Engine Yard has expanded its EC2 offering. Previously, Engine Yard was offering Amazon EC2 deployment of its stack via an offering called Solo, for low-end customers who only needed a single instance. Now, they’ve introduced a version called Flex, which is oriented around customers who need a cluster and associated capabilities, along with a higher level of support. This is notable because Engine Yard has been serving these higher-end customers out of their own data center and infrastructure. This move, however, seems to be consistent with Engine Yard’s gradual shift from hosting towards being more software-centric.

The Rackspace Cloud Servers API is now in open beta. Cloud Servers is essentially the product that resulted from Rackspace’s acquisition of Slicehost. Previously, you dealt with your Cloud Server through a Web portal; this new release adds a RESTful API, along with some new features, like shared IPs (useful for keepalived and the like). Also of note is the resize operation, letting you scale your server size up or down, but this is really handwaving magic in front of replacing a smaller virtual server with a larger virtual server, rather than expanding an already-running virtual instance. The API is fairly extensive and the documentation seems decent, although I haven’t had time to personally try it out yet. The API responses, interestingly, include both human-readable data as well as WADL (Web Application Description Language, which is machine-parseable).

SOASTA has introduced a cloud-based performance certification program. Certification is something of a marketing gimmick, but I do think that SOASTA is, overally, an interesting company. Very simply, SOASTA leverages cloud system infrastructure to offer high-volume load-testing services. In the past, you’d typically execute such tests using a tool like HP’s LoadRunner, and many Web hosters offer, as part of their professional services offerings, performance testing using LoadRunner or a similar tool. SOASTA is a full-fledged software as a service offering (i.e., it is their own test harness, monitors, analytics, etc., not a cloud repackaging of another vendor), and the price point makes it reasonable not just for the sort of well-established organizations that could previously afford commercial performance-testing tools, but also for start-ups.

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A hodgepodge of links

This is just a round-up of links that I’ve recently found to be interesting.

Barroso and Holzle (Google): Warehouse-Scale Computing. This is a formal lecture-paper covering the design of what these folks from Google refer to as WSCs. They write, “WSCs differ significantly from traditional data centers: they belong to a single organization, use a relatively homogenous hardware and system software platform, and share a common systems management layer. Often, much of the application, middleware, and system software is built in-house compared to the predominance of third-party software running in conventional data centers. Most importantly, WSCs run a smaller number of very large applications (or Internet services), and the common resource management infrastructure allows significant deployment flexibility.” The paper is wide-ranging but written to be readily understandable by the mildly technical layman. Highly recommended for anyone interested in cloud.

Washington Post: Metrorail Crash May Exemplify Automation Paradox. The WaPo looks back at serious failures of automated systems, and quotes a “growing consensus among experts that automated systems should be designed to enhance the accuracy and performance of human operators rather than to supplant them or make them complacent. By definition, accidents happen when unusual events come together. No matter how clever the designers of automated systems might be, they simply cannot account for every possible scenario, which is why it is so dangerous to eliminate ‘human interference’.” Definitely something to chew over in the cloud context.

Malcolm Gladwell: Priced to Sell. The author of The Tipping Point takes on Chris Anderon’s Free, and challenges the notion that information wants to be free. In turn, Seth Godin thinks Gladwell is wrong, and the book seems to be setting off some healthy debate.

Bruce Robertson: Capacity Planning Equals Budget Planning. My colleague Bruce riffs off a recent blog post of mine, and discusses how enterprise architects need to change the way they design solutions.

Martin English: Install SAP on Amazon Web Services. An interesting blog devoted to how to get SAP running on AWS. This is for people interested in hands-on instructions.

Robin Burkinshaw: Being homeless in the Sims 3. This blog tells the story, in words and images, of “Alice and Kev”, a pair of characters that the author (a game design student) created in the Sims 3. It’s a fascinating bit of user-generated content, and a very interesting take on what can be done with modern sandbox-style games.

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Link round-up

Recent links of interest…

I’ve heard that no less than four memcached start-ups have been recently funded. GigaOM speculates interestingly on whether memcached is good or bad for MySQL. It seems to me that in the age of cloud and hyperscale, we’re willing to sacrifice ACID compliance in many our transactions. RAM is cheap, and simplicity and speed are king. But I’m not sure that the widespread use of memcached in Web 2.0 applications, as a method of scaling a database, reflects the strengths of memcache so much as they reflect the weaknesses of the underlying databases.

Column-oriented databases are picking up some buzz lately. Sybase has a new white paper out on high-performance analytics. MySQL is plugging Infobright, a column-oriented engine for MySQL (replacing MyISAM, InnoDB, etc., just like any other engine).

Brian Krebs, the security blogger for the Washington Post, has an excellent post called The Scrap Value of a Hacked PC. It’s an examination of the ways that hacked PCs can be put to criminal use, and it’s intended to be printed out and handed to end-users who don’t think that security is their personal responsibility.

My colleague Ray Valdes has some thoughts on intuition-based vs. evidence-based design. It’s a riff on the recent New York Times article, Data, Not Design, Is King in the Age of Google, and a departing designer’s blog post that provides a fascinating look at data-driven decision making in an environment where you can immediately test everything.

Cloud tidbits in the press

A few tidbits of cloud computing in the press…

Sun announces plans for a cloud computing service. No details until March, other than a ZDnet interview comment about delivering SaaS and SaaS infrastructure.

Rackspace puts its own spin on cloud. Rackspace now has a “cloud 101” page, most interesting for the results of a recent survey that it commissioned on business awareness of “cloud hosting”. No clear definition is provided for that term, though.

Two IBM scientists write a cloud computing article in Dr. Dobb’s. This article made me blink a great deal, starting from the statement, “Currently, you can create cloud applications through two major implementations: Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Application Engine (GAE).” The reduction of the richness of the cloud infrastructure services space to just these two names is a little mind-boggling, and the rest of the article that follows is nearly a marketing glossy — accurate in its superficial overview, but offering nearly no information of actual usefulness to an engineer. I hope for better out of technical journals.

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More cloud news

Another news round-up, themed around “competitive fracas”.

Joyent buys Reasonably Smart. Cloud hoster Joyent has picked up Reasonably Smart, a tiny start-up with an APaaS offering based, unusually enough, on JavaScript and the Git version-control system. GigaOM has an analysis; I’ll probably post my take later, once I get a better idea of exactly what Reasonably Smart does.

DreamHost offers free hosting. DreamHost — one of the more prominent, popular mass-market and SMB hosting providers — is now offering free hosting for certain applications, including WordPress, Drupal, MediaWiki, and PhpBB. There are a limited number of beta invites out there, and DreamHost notes that the service may become $50/year later. (The normal DreamHost base plan is $6/month.) Increasingly, shared hosting companies are having to compete with free application-specific hosting services like WordPress.com; and Wikidot, and they’re facing the looming spectre of some giants like Google giving away cloud capacity for free. And shared hosting is a cutthroat market already. So, here’s another marketing salvo being fired.

Google goes after Microsoft. Google has announced it’s hiring a sales force to pitch the Premier Edition of Google Apps to customers who are traditionally Microsoft customers. I’d expect the two key spaces where they’ll compete are in email and collaboration, going after the Exchange and Sharepoint base.

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News round-up

A handful of quick news-ish takes:

Amazon has released the beta of its EC2 management console. This brings point-and-click friendliness to Amazon’s cloud infrastructure service. A quick glance through the interface makes it clear that effort was made to make it easy to use, beginning with big colorful buttons. My expectation is that a lot of the users who might otherwise have gone to RightScale et.al. to get the easy-to-use GUI will now just stick with Amazon’s own console. Most of those users would have just been using that free service, but there’s probably a percentage that would otherwise have been upsold who will stick with what Amazon has.

Verizon is courting CDN customers with the “Partner Port Program”. It sounds like this is a “buy transit from us over a direct peer” service — essentially becoming explicit about settlement-based content peering with content owners and CDNs. I imagine Verizon is seeing plenty of content dumped onto its network by low-cost transit providers like Level 3 and Cogent; by publicly offering lower prices and encouraging content providers to seek paid peering with it, it can grab some revenue and improve performance for its broadband users.

Scott Cleland blogged about the “open Internet” panel at CES. To sum up, he seems to think that the conversation is now being dominated by the commercially-minded proponents. That would certainly seem to be in line with Verizon’s move, which essentially implies that they’re resigning themselves to the current peering ecosystem and are going to compete directly for traffic rather than whining that the system is unfair (always disengenuous, given ILEC and MSO complicity in creating the current circumstances of that ecosystem).

I view arrangements that are reasonable from a financial and engineering standpoint, that do not seek to discriminate based on the nature of the actual content, to be the most positive interpretation of network neutrality. And so I’ll conclude by noting that I heard an interesting briefing today from Anagran, a hardware vendor offering flow-based traffic management (i.e., it doesn’t care what you’re doing, it’s just managing congestion). It’s being positioned as an alternative or supplement to Sandvine and the like, offering a way to try to keep P2P traffic manageable without having to do deep-packet inspection (and thus explicit discrimination).

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