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Backups – Don’t Do It

In migrating customers to AWS one of the consistent questions we are asked is, “How do we extend our backup services into the Cloud?”  My answer?  You don’t.  This is often met with incredulous stares where the customer is wondering if I’m joking, crazy, or I just don’t understand IT.  After all, backups are fundamental to data centers as well as IT systems in general, so why on Earth would I tell someone not to backup their systems?

The short answer to backups is just not to do it, honestly.  The more in depth answer is, of course, more complicated than that.  To be clear, I am talking about system backups; those backups typically used for bare metal restores.  Backups of databases, of file services – these we’ll tackle separately.  For the bulk of systems, however, we’ll leave backups as a relic of on premise data centers.

How?  Why?  Consider a typical three tiered architecture: web servers, application servers, and database servers.  In AWS, ideally your application and web servers are stateless, auto scaled systems.  With that in mind, why would you ever want to spend time, money, or resources on backing up and restoring one of these systems?  The design should be set so if and when a system fails, the health check/monitoring automatically terminates the instance, which in turn automatically creates an auto scale event to launch a new instance in its place.  No painfully long hours working through a restore process.

Similarly, your database systems can work without large scale backup systems.  Yes, by all means run database backups!  Database backups are not for server instance failures but for database application corruption or updates/upgrade rollbacks. Unfortunately, the Cloud doesn’t magically make your databases any more immune to human error.  For the database servers (assuming non-RDS), however, maintaining a snapshot of the server instance is likely good enough for backups.  If and when the database server fails, the instance can be terminated and the standby system can become the live system to maintain system integrity.  Launch a new database server based on the snapshot, restore the database and/or configure replication from the live system, depending on database technology, and you’re live.

So yes, in a properly configured AWS environment, the backup and restore you love to loathe from your on premise environment is a thing of the past.

-Keith Homewood, Cloud Architect

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Managing Your Amazon Cloud Deployment to Save Money

Wired Innovation Insights published a blog article written by our own Chris Nolan yesterday. Chris discusses ways you can save money on your AWS cloud deployment in “How to Manage Your Amazon Cloud Deployment to Save Money.” Chris’ top tips incude:

  1. Use CloudFormation or other configuration and orchestration  tool.
  2. Watch out for cloud sprawl.
  3. Use AWS auto scaling.
  4. Turn the lights off when you leave the room.
  5. Use tools to monitor spend.
  6. Build in redundancy.
  7. Planning saves money.

Read the Full Article

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Optimizing AWS Costs with Trusted Advisor

Moving to the cloud is one of the best decisions you can make for your business.  The low startup costs, instant elasticity, and near endless scalability have lured many organizations from traditional datacenters to the cloud.  Although cloud startup costs are extremely low, over time the burgeoning use of resources within an AWS account can slowly increase the cost of operating in the cloud.

One service AWS provides to help with watching the costs of an AWS environment is AWS Trusted Advisor.  AWS touts the service as “your customized cloud expert” that helps you monitor resources according to best practices.  Trusted Advisor is a service that runs in the background of your AWS account and gathers information regarding cost optimization, security, fault tolerance, and performance.  Trusted Advisor can be accessed proactively through the support console or can be setup to notify you via weekly email.

The types of Trusted Advisor notifications available for Cost Optimization are Amazon EC2 Reserved Instance Optimization, Low Utilization Amazon EC2 Instances, Idle Load Balancers, Underutilized Amazon EBS Volumes, Unassociated Elastic IP Addresses, and RDS Idle DB Instances.  Within these service types, Trusted Advisor gives you four types of possible statuses; “No problems detected,” “Investigation recommended,” “Action recommended,” and “Not available.”  Each one of these status types give insight to how effectively you are running your account based on the best-practice algorithm the service uses.  In the below example, AWS Trusted Advisor points out $1,892 of potential savings for this account.

Trusted Advisor

Each one of these notifications adds up to the total potential monthly savings.  Here is one “Investigation recommended” notification from the same account. It says “3 of 4 DB instances appear to be Idle. Monthly savings of up to $101 are available by minimizing idle DB Instances.”

Drop Down

Clicking the drop down button reveals more:

Amazon RDS

The full display tells you exactly what resource in your account is causing the alert and even gives you the estimated monthly savings if you were to make changes to the resource.   In this case the three RDS instances are running in Oregon and Ireland.  This particular service is basing the alert on the “Days since last connection,” which is extremely helpful because if there have been no connections to the database in 14+ days, there’s a good chance it’s not even being used.  One of the best things about Trusted Advisor is that it gives the overview broken down by service type and gives just enough information to be simple and useful.  We didn’t have to login to RDS and navigate to the Oregon region or the Ireland region to find this information. It was all gathered by Trusteed Advisor and presented in an easy to read format.  Remember, not all of the information provided may need immediate attention, but it’s nice to have it readily available.   Another great feature is each notification can be downloaded as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that allows you to have even more control over the data the service provides.

Armed with the Trusted Advisor tool you can keep a closer eye on your AWS resources and gain insight to optimizing costs on a regular basis.   The Trusted Advisor covers the major AWS services but is only available to accounts with Business or Enterprise-level support.  Overall, it’s a very useful service for watching account costs and keeping an eye on possible red flags on an account.  It definitely doesn’t take the place of diligent implementation and monitoring of resources by a cloud engineer but can help with the process.

– Derek Baltazar, Senior Cloud Engineer

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Today is the Day – Cloud Cost

Cloud has been positioned as the panacea for all of the ills in the world.  The hype often leaves experienced IT professionals skeptical of the benefits of leveraging public clouds.  The most common objection to public cloud I hear is, “Wait until you get your first bill from (public cloud).”    I can understand the fear and consternation of suddenly having a huge monthly bill that no one budgeted. However, there are great 3rd party tools available that allow you to forecast and track your budget and usage, like 2W Insight, which make that uncomfortable situation avoidable.

With the recent price cuts by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google, the TCO argument from the traditional hardware manufacturers is losing steam.  When is the last time any major hardware vendor cut its prices to its customers by 40-60% overnight? There is no better time to begin evaluating and leveraging the cloud, and a great place to start is with a TCO analysis.

2nd Watch has a services practice that can assist your organization in building an accurate monthly forecast of your estimated cloud costs while also providing a full TCO analysis.

-Matt Whitney, Cloud Sales Executive

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Common Cloud Misperceptions

Hello Cloud fans,

Today I’d like to talk to you about some commonly perceived cloud myths that I’ve encountered in my travels, helping to solve the challenges of getting to the cloud.

It’s simple to use the cloud to SaaS-i-fy my software platform.

A common misconception is that it’s immediately cheaper and easier to provide a software product or service as a subscribed cloud based service over the Internet.  However, what some teams can often under-estimate is the operational dependencies it takes to support an application that was built under the assumption that it was being installed into an environment that had all its security, authentication, storage, backup, and recovery already taken care of.

There is no magic support staff in the cloud for all the operational components your software still requires.  While you may gain efficiency in dynamically scaling your environment and better streamlining individual client support costs, the real cloud savings come in better understanding all the options available to you in the AWS services catalog and how best to leverage them to reduce costs as you refactor your software platform. All coding is not evil!

Deploying enterprise apps in the cloud is just about pressing some buttons.

When most customers considering deploying their first application into the cloud, they tend to underestimate the effort that is involved in actually building, ing, and deploying that solution.  Typically, in a co-lo type deployment there is a great deal of time taken up in the procurement and logistics with getting environments setup, which can cause support challenges and shortcuts to be taken.

Because cloud environments are more dynamic, resources can be created in a much shorter timeframe, but it requires synchronized activity over a more compressed timeframe from a number of different parties including your IaaS provider, your internal application team, and your 3rd party software ISV.  Depending on your 3rd party’s relative experience with the AWS cloud, this can be a rewarding or sometimes frustrating and drawn out process.  The good news is that once you figure out how to deploy that app, you can easily repeat the process with automated cloud formation and auto-scaling benefits.  Fortunately here at 2nd Watch, we’ve done quite a few application deployments in our cloud life!

Becoming cloud savvy is as easy as opening an Amazon account and getting to work spinning up instances.

One of the most expensive mistakes I see with companies approaching the cloud for the first time is having no plan on how to design and create their first environments on the AWS cloud.  I mean, how hard could it be? This is Amazon after all.  Well, the truth is Amazon Web Services has continued to innovate over the 10 or so years they’ve been doing this cloud thing, and as a result they now have hundreds of services catering to a vast universe of data-center needs.

Properly recognizing both the good design elements of your current IT environment and how best to take advantage of these AWS services is critical to achieving the phenomenal benefits you can realize in operational efficiency, high-availability, and designing best practice environments.  Like many other significant choices in life, you can save yourself a lot of pain by getting the advice of a pro you trust before plunging into an unknown subject.  Those that just jump in and start turning (and leaving!) stuff on 24×7 without a game plan can wake up with a nasty surprise when they see their first bill.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

-C. Caleb Carter, Solutions Architect

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Getting the Most Bang for your AWS Buck

Cloud computing continues to redefine itself as more customers begin their “Journey to the cloud.” There are many value propositions between different cloud providers, including, but are not limited to; agility, cost savings, time to market, increased security, flexibility, elasticity, economies of scale, a more effective support model, and the list continues.

As we start to understand the cloud provider landscape and take a snapshot into who is going to be the market leaders in the future, it is easy to see that Amazon Web Service (AWS) will be amongst that leader board. AWS is not only defining the IT infrastructure as a Service market, but it is also changing the consumption model for IT.

Due to the drastic changes in the procurement process of infrastructure, more business level executives (CFO, COO, CEO) are being pulled into the strategic decision making process of acquiring infrastructure as a service. For those executives that are not familiar with cloud services, I would like to offer a few tips that will not only support your overall corporate goals, but will allow you to make informed decisions in this highly evolving landscape of cloud computing.

  • Train yourself on the new model – Changing your company’s IT spend from a capital expenditure model to an operational model can be challenging. Consult with your AWS account manager on best practices. Discuss your goals with a Premier Partner within AWS’ ecosystem. Converse freely within your company to understand how you can address potential roadblocks before they happen. The procurement department and the finance teams within your organization will have great insight on how to help with this process.
  • Be cautious of jumping in with two feet – Many organizations are starting their journey with a hybrid model (on-premise + cloud). Test/DEV, disaster recovery, or non-production applications are all great candidates for moving to the cloud. Your ERP system and your mission critical applications may still have some lifecycle on their existing infrastructure and should remain on-premise until an evolutionary plan can be developed. Start small, think big and enable your staff to learn the technology, while still supporting your organization’s goals and business objectives.
  • Leverage the free tier – AWS offers a free usage tier and has no restrictions on your particular use-case. Spin up a new application, train your engineers on the new platform, or simply an existing application. The choices are yours to make, and it will not affect your bottom line.
  • Reserve Instances – For the applications that are running in a steady state or have a consistent operating floor, purchase reversed capacity. This will immediately give you cost efficiency between 40%-70% off your on-demand billing.
  • Get rid of excess capacity – Many organizations are accustomed to procuring IT infrastructure that has been over provisioned to meet the demand of peaks and spikes in their business. With cloud computing, you do not need to allocate excess capacity. With the proper architecture, it will be waiting for you when you need it. Optimize your environment(s) and leverage one of the grea advantages of cloud computing.
  • Tiered Pricing – For heavy users of cloud services, AWS offers tiered pricing to customers that consume web services up to certain thresholds. Review these tiers and forecast your roadmap to meet these levels before reporting deadlines (fiscal year ends).

If you follow these guidelines, your business will be sure to reach cost efficiency in the cloud.

-Blake Diers, Alliance Manager

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