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Month of November, 2009 | ORA600
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Month of November, 2009

Cloud computing - my server is out there man !

Price is non-negotiable
 
This website is hosted on one of my servers co-located at a data centre near Brussels. It's a DELL Poweredge 850E with 340W powersupply.
I use my own dedicated server because I *sometimes* need large amount of storage. For example, if a customer has a crashed database and wants to upload his datafiles. We're speaking 100Gb or more.  
So I need large amounts of storage - not all the time - and bandwidth. The server is hooked up to a 100Mbit internet backbone so I got that one covered too !
A couple of years ago, my only option was to buy a physical server, find a hosting company that offers co-location and hire 1U rackspace.
Cloud computing has changed this game - that and the price of electricity at datacenters.
Two months ago I was thinking of buying a server to replace the old DELL server - it was 3y old and I wanted bigger disks Wink
Coincidentally, when I had configured a new 1U box on DELL's website, I got a call from my hosting company.
After hearing a whole story about how they got new racks (more current, better cooling, bla bla bla) and that I had to migrate my server, they dropped the bombshell on pricing.
Electricity prices had gone up and they had to re-negotiate prices with the datacenter.
Much to my surprise, the new price was three times the current price. Now I don't know about you - but if you have to pay 3x the price for getting the same service, something is wrong  Cool(did I mention that the year before they also upped their price with 20%)
Suddenly a power supply of 340W became extremely expensive. Did you ever had a look at those 200W servers … I'd rather run a business on a laptop than on one of those mickey-mouse servers… at least my old DELL has hardware raid and a decent cpu...
So - either they were lousy negotiators - or they wanted their customers to pay for their new - probably golden - racks.
It was a lousy sales-pitch too - the sales guy offered me to think about it and check out the competition … which were all cheaper than them ;-) 
Anyway - prices were non-negotiable - so I first checked out several competitors in the same and other datacenters.
Now with co-location - all you get is rackspace, current and network. That's it.
One hosting provider's current is not better than another's - so the only criteria are price and maybe the datacenter's reputation. (well ok - there are minor differences regarding network limits, but co-location is basically easy money for providers).
So there I was - comparing prices of different providers at different datacenters. And as price and network was my only criteria I chose to move to a small provider at the Scarlet datacenter in Vilvoorde. It's a really small and young provider/company as they only have 2 racks there (and 2 racks at another datacenter).
Now, I didn't want any downtime - that meant renting computing power,  temporarely migrating the website and all programs that allow for the generating DUDE licenses (which is a bit more complicated that running some 'make' or 'ant' scripts), switching DNS, while doing the physical transfer of the server.
 
 
The Anjo connection
 
I remembered one time I was at Anjo Kolk's place. I had bought 2 second hand Sun servers from him. He had bought 40 of them in the US and had shipped them to The Netherlands, so he could spare a server or two Tongue out
Anyway - I told him I was going to use the servers for a new project of mine, where I needed a linux cluster for running my own DNS servers. At which point he started demonstrating Amazon EC2 and how I could use cloud computing to do what I wanted to do, without the hassles of hiring extra rackspace or getting a NAS for storage.
I must say I was intrigued … but it all looked a bit fragile and over-complicated.
I mean, I just wanted some cpu, some storage and network.
With Amazon I had to choose from an aws image in the EC2 cloud - then, if I wanted persistent storage, I had to rent Amazon S3 storage. Huh persistent storage ?
It looks like Amazon's VM's are snapshots from common images and if you shutdown your VM or your VM crashes, the VM reverts to the original image, losing all your changes… unless you backed it up to your persistent S3 storage … which couldn't be mounted as a file systems but had to accessed through HTTP protocols … huh???
I just want disk space … how hard is that ?
Anyway - because of migration and uptime issues I was facing, I took a new look at Amazon EC2 and it seems they finally have mountable persistent storage, which they call Amazon EBS (or elastic block device) or what I like to call - a disk.
Still, if your VM crashes, you lose your configuration unless you back it up to your EBS or somewhere else and reconfigure after the crash (someone correct me if I'm wrong).
That's OK as I only needed a VM for a day or 2, while my own server was physically being moved to the new datacenter. So I signed up for the Amazon EC2 service. And then I waited … and waited…. It took them 2 days to activate my account… too slow.
 
 
Amazon and goliath 
 
While I was waiting for my account activation at Amazon, I decided to look at other cloud server hosting … there is only a handful and most of them are based on virtualization software like VMware, Xen and KVM. The downside is that they all offer fixed configurations like :
  • Small config  : 1 cpu core, 1Gb mem, 20Gb disk
  • Medium config : 2 cpu cure, 2Gb mem,  40Gb disk
  • Large …. You get the idea
In my opinion - cloud computing should provide flexible configurations at flexible prices.
This was only cloud computing in the sense that you pay by the hour but it's not as flexible as Amazon that you can say - I want 1 cpu core, 1Gb of memory and 200Gb of disk.
Nooo, if you wanted 200Gb of disk space, you needed to take the *extra large config* with 16 cpu cores, 8Gb memory and that happened to come with 200Gb of disk space and will cost you as much as a half a rack and 4 DELLs if you keep running it for a whole year.
But wait - I've found the one exception, that absolutely lets you choose all 3 (cpu/mem/storage) independently - and they are called Elastichosts.com, a UK based cloud provider.
And what's more - they let you try it out for free for 5 days !
And … they give you a fixed IP address unlike Amazon's elastic IP address which will make you jump to 20 burning loops before you can receive/send mail to/from your server that is not marked as spam
Elastichosts runs on Linux KVM and they have made sure that all interfaces are very simple - a disk is a disk - an static ip really is a static ip.
No fuzzy acronyms.
In fact, I was reminded of Larry Ellison's opinion of cloud computing … it's just a simple server that is 'out there' Cool  - it needs cpu, memory, network and electricity - and for me affordable flexible pricing - that's it !!!
Maybe I'm an idiot but Amazon just took it a step too far and made it too complex !
In case you've misted Larry's interview on cloud computing :


 
Epilogue
  • Anjo has been running an Amazon AWS for over a year without crashing.
  • I migrated the ORA600 server without downtime to the Scarlet datacenter which is located in the same building as the Belgian Oracle office (you've got to love the irony Laughing )
scarlet dc 
  • A friend of mine who was also co-locating a server at my original provider was offered negotiable prices a couple of weeks later (maybe tripling their prices wasn't the best of ideas). He too migrated to another datacenter.
  • If a hosting company ever pulls a trick on me again, I'm throwing away my hardware and move to elastichosts.com for good. 




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