Cloud Migration Tips #2: We Should Use the Cloud Because…

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Welcome back to my blog series on deploying applications to the cloud.

What’s the point of deploying an application to the cloud versus just hosting it in your own data center? Is it really a good idea? Will it save you money? Will it work better? Will it cause new deployment and management problems? How do you monitor it?

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These are all basic questions you should ask yourself before deciding IF your new or existing application will end up in a cloud environment.

The answers might be different for each application supporting your business. Cloud is really a set of architectural patterns that are available to help you solve business problems using technology. If you’re considering cloud you better have a business problem that you need to solve.

Here are a few business problems that would make me consider a cloud implementation for my application(s):

  • We’re out of space in our data center and most of our applications are used via the internet–should we build another data center or move some applications to public cloud providers?
  • Our new mobile application will need to scale rapidly as it becomes more popular–we have to be able to scale as needed so our customers have a good user experience.
  • We need to accelerate our time to market and make our business more agile–we don’t have time to wait for IT and all of our productivity sapping processes.

No matter what your business reasons are you need to come up with quantifiable and measurable success criteria so that you can prove out the benefits (or failure) of your cloud computing initiative. This implies you are already measuring something BEFORE you move to the cloud so you can compare metrics before and after. Here are some example KPIs that might be applicable:

  • Time to deliver requested environment to developers
  • Number of application impact incidents
  • Infrastructure cost per application
  • Time to scale / Cost to scale Application
  • Transaction throughput
  • SLA (yeah, you really should have one of these)

So You’ve Decided To Go For It

You’ve got your business justification nailed down and decided you really do need a cloud based application. Great! If this is a brand new application you can design it from the ground up and just deploy it, right? No!!! Remember, you need to monitor and manage this application if you stand any chance of providing a good user experience over the long haul.

“My cloud provider has all the monitoring and management tools I need.” – Wrong! Your cloud provider has basic monitoring tools that show you infrastructure metrics (CPU usage, Memory Usage, I/O usage, etc…). These monitoring tools don’t tell you anything about your application. Here’s what you need to know about your cloud application (at a minimum):

  • Which application nodes are in use at any given time. (Dynamic scaling, provisioning, de-provisioning will change this picture at any given time)
  • Application calls to external services with response times and error rates. (External service calls are performance killers for cloud applications and drive up the cost as most provider charge for network traffic leaving their cloud)
  • The response time and errors of all of my users business transactions. (Applies to any application architecture but cloud deployments can experience greater variance due to factors outside of the application owners control (network congestion, regional provider issues, etc…))
  • When a problem occurs – full application call stack for code analysis. (Applies to any application architecture)
  • Host level KPIs correlated with all of the application activity. (Really important in the cloud due to host virtualization, shared resources, and multiple sizing options when you select a host to deploy. Select the wrong size by mistake and you just limited your max application performance)
  • Historic baselines for everything so you know what normal behavior looks like. (Critical to identifying problems regardless of architecture)

If you’re deploying a new application you should have a really good idea of any external application dependencies (like calling a payment gateway to process credit card orders). If you are moving an existing application there is more work that needs to be done up front. In particular you need to really understand your existing application dependencies. Is there a service or backend database that your application relies upon that you’re not planning to move with the application? If so you can really screw up the entire cloud implementation if you make a bunch of calls to a component that lives outside of your chosen cloud environment.

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Modern applications have many external dependencies. You absolutely MUST know what they are before moving to the cloud.

If you’re moving an existing application you better deploy a tool that can dynamically detect and show application flow maps. I’m not talking about those agentless tools that scan your hosts everyday looking for network connections (those usually miss all of the short lived services calls). I mean a solution that will give you the entire picture regardless of persistent and transient connection methodologies.

Since you need to monitor your existing environment anyway you might as well collect performance data and save it so that you have a good point of comparison for your “before and after” application environment (We’ll discuss this item more in a future blog post).

There are a ton of considerations when you choose to implement your application using cloud computing architecture patterns. In my next post I’ll go into more detail around the planning phase. Having all your ducks in a row before your begin the migration is critical to success.

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