Bursting the Cloudbursting Bubble
You’re the widget product manager for Widgetco, who sells about 500 widgets per day on your Web site, some days a dozen more, some days a dozen less. Everything is fine until you pick up a copy of USA Today. Right there on the front page, in brilliant color-on-newsprint, is Justin Bieber. And what is the Biebster holding in his hand? One of your widgets.
Dream scenario? No, you think, more like nightmare scenario. Widgetco hosts its Web site in its own data center, as it has done since 1997. It can take maybe, say, a thousand or two transactions per day at most. But sure enough, Bieber Fever crashes your site, on the one day you could make your entire quarterly sales quota, if only you could fulfill the demand.
You should have listened to your CIO, who recommended Cloudbursting as a way of dealing with unexpected spikes in demand. Cloudbursting is being able to maintain on-premise or Private Cloud capacity for normal capacity requirements, while a Public Cloud automatically handles excess demand. Cloudbursting is supposed to be an economical way of leveraging the Public Cloud, because you only pay the Cloud provider when you require excess capacity. On normal days, however, your existing, already-paid-for infrastructure handles the load quite well.
A straightforward value proposition, right? Any on-premise or Private Cloud-based app that is subject to spikes in demand that existing infrastructure can’t handle should be able to benefit, so the argument goes. Unfortunately, however, Cloudbursting has a number of problems, making it challenging for even the most suitable scenarios—and furthermore, such scenarios are rarer than you think. Bottom line: Cloudbursting is mostly marketing vaporware, and even as the Cloud marketplace matures, may only be of limited applicability.
A Closer Look at Cloudbursting
Cloudbursting depends upon workload migration: when your on-premise system bogs down, you must move your entire application to the Cloud—data, business logic, and user interface. Over an Internet connection to the Cloud. Even the most basic workloads might take hours to migrate, and in the meantime, your customers are left out in the cold.
The obvious way to mitigate the workload migration problem is to set up a copy of your application environment in the Cloud ahead of time. That way when the Bieber effect kicks in, all you need to do is fire up the Cloud copy and reconfigure your DNS to direct traffic to it, right?
Not so fast. First you’ll need to synchronize your data. There are tools for that, true, but it still takes time, and you now have the challenge of maintaining the true version of the data. For example, let’s say you have 5,000 widgets in inventory (as reported by your ERP application) when your site goes down. You can’t migrate the whole ERP to the Cloud, so you copy over your master inventory table. Now you’re fulfilling orders in the Cloud as well as on-premise, since your on-premise site has recovered now that you’ve lightened its load. The result? Each site sells 3,000 widgets before the next data synchronization cycle, and once again you’re in trouble.
OK, so that won’t work either. Instead, you integrate the Cloud app with your ERP system, so that you can handle orders in real time, instead of waiting to synchronize your data. In other words, you set up a Hybrid Cloud. Yes, you can do that—after all, many organizations are moving to Hybrid Cloud models—but then you ask yourself: does it really make sense to put in all the time and effort to set up a Hybrid Cloud solely for handling Cloudbursting? If you’re going to all that trouble, why not keep the Cloud-based app live all the time?
There’s the rub with Cloudbursting: you might think you’re saving money by only using a Public Cloud for handling peak demand, but in reality, you get better Total Cost of Ownership by using the Cloud all the time, either via a Hybrid model, or by migrating your entire app to the Cloud. The Hybrid model provides additional benefits as well, namely a measure of failover, increasing your overall availability. It’s always better to have two (or more) geographically distributed instances of an app serving your customers, in case something happens to one of them. And if you want to offer seamless availability, you should have all the instances running at once, with a load balancer distributing the traffic. Chances are, you can get load balancing from the Cloud provider as well.
So you’ve convinced your CIO that Cloudbursting might not be the best alternative. Instead, you’re discussing moving your entire site to the Cloud when your CEO walks into the room. Her concern is for compliance and security. You’re taking customer credit card numbers, so you must be PCI compliant. And everybody knows Public Clouds are less secure than Private ones, right?
The problem here is that if these concerns are valid then they rule out Cloudbursting as well. Being PCI compliant except during peak demand is just another way of saying you’re not PCI compliant. On the other hand, if your Public Cloud provider offers PCI compliance, then it would apply equally well to Cloudbursting as to a Hybrid approach or migrating to the Public Cloud. The same argument applies to security concerns.
There are a few more pitfalls to Cloudbursting worth mentioning. If you’re thinking of putting your app in a Private Cloud and using a Public Cloud for Cloudbursting, then what you’re really saying is that you didn’t plan your Private Cloud properly in the first place. After all, what’s the point in setting up a Private Cloud unless it can provide sufficient elasticity to meet your needs? You might as well just stick to a traditional on-premise hosted environment.
You also need to work through the details of the Cloudbursting event itself. Does your on-premise app need to fail for Cloudbursting to take place, or do you have a way of bursting as your existing app nears a critical threshold, but before it actually goes down? The latter requires careful management, and even with all the appropriate management tools in place, you may still have a failure-based scenario. The question then is whether the on-premise failure will impede your ability to successfully Cloudburst. For example, if the Bieber effect causes your database server to crash requiring a reboot, you may not be able to synchronize your data in order to begin the Cloudbursting. In other words, you’ve designed your Cloudbursting to fail just when you need it.
The ZapThink Take
Let’s say you’ve made it to this point in this ZapFlash and you’re still not convinced. You remain confident that Cloudbursting is practical in your situation. OK, then, what kind of situations might be appropriate for Cloudbursting?
Our Widgetco example required some legacy integration, which obviously complicates Cloudbursting enormously. Cloudbursting would clearly be more suitable for standalone applications that didn’t require such integration. But on the other hand, you would only need Cloudbursting if you have an app that is susceptible to spikes in demand—and virtually all such apps have public-facing Web interfaces. And thirdly, Cloudbursting would clearly not be appropriate for any app that should obviously be entirely Cloud-based from the get go, namely a SaaS or PaaS app.
We’ve essentially crossed off every kind of application from the list. Any sort of app that processes customer transactions is out of consideration, because they either require legacy integration or should run as SaaS apps in order to process transactions in the Cloud. All that remain are free, public-facing Web applications that have unpredictable traffic patterns and yet have an on-premise component that you don’t want to move to the Cloud. You have one minute to think of one. Ready? Go!
Image credit: oskaree