In the cloud, a number of operational elements work together to deliver applications. As companies deploy SaaS applications to the cloud, it’s crucial that they have the ability to see into the real-time performance and other critical metrics of operating systems in order to quickly and efficiently debug problems and optimize the deployment process. They need to get their SaaS products to market quickly but, more importantly, they need to eliminate the risk of revenue loss from customers leaving if an application doesn’t respond. End users of SaaS apps today are intolerant of delays of more than a few seconds.
But this monitoring capability in the cloud generally has been too costly or too cumbersome for all but the largest companies.
Scott Johnson and Eric Anderson, co-founders of CopperEgg, launched their company in 2010 with the intent to develop a monitoring product to provide performance visibility into enterprise data centers. It’s real-time visibility and analytics delivered to end users through a Web browser.
But they encountered a snag right away when developing their first product, which they were building in the cloud. There were no cloud tools that provide cloud performance monitoring at less than one minute. CloudWatch from Amazon, for example, provides statistics and metrics every five minutes in the free version or at one-minute internals in the paid version.
“The lack of tools in the cloud caused us to shift away from directly addressing the enterprise first and more towards addressing how to help companies rapidly build and deploy, debug and optimize SaaS applications that are built in the public cloud,” recalls Johnson. “Insight only once a minute is an incredible discontinuity. SaaS developers need up-to-the-second understanding of what’s going on with their app so they can respond very quickly if something fails and minimize the impact to their customers.”
Instant insight as a service
“I think of RevealCloud as “Insight as a Service,” says Scott Miller, practice lead at Niagara Technology Group (NTG), an international IT technology consultancy for small and midsize businesses. The company is located throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia and Western Europe, and it has three data centers in Canada and the United States. NTG needed visibility into its data centers and server infastructure at a glance (even while on the road) in a centralized single view that required little management time and effort. And it had to work with a mix of physical, virtual and cloud machines.
NTG was an early beta tester of RevealCloud, which launched in July, 2011. Miller explains that NTG doesn’t have thousands of employees, and its resources are slim. Prior considerations of rolling out any kind of performance monitoring solution went to the back burner because of the amount of work involved in rolling out a solution to NTG clients on a company-by-company basis and not being able to dedicate resources to building out the infrastructure.
“Typically we don’t do beta testing unless it’s a really key product and we know we’re moving our infrastructure to it in a month and need to test it. In general, we’re not going to play with a new product. But it was so easy to roll out RevealCloud very rapidly. The install was simply: ‘Run this command,’” says Miller.
“It installed in less than 10 seconds, worked flawlessly and instantly started tracking,” he continues. “We were looking at RevealCloud within minutes of having rolled out a new box, and it was already showing up on the dashboard.”
NTG uses the join.me screen-sharing tool for team meetings. Miller says they use RevealCloud proactively to gain insights that lead to better capacity planning. They display a loads graph from RevealCloud on the join.me screen so that everyone can discuss what they’re seeing. He adds that an important benefit of the tool is that it’s very user friendly and intuitive – unlike some tools that are so technical that people feel only engineers can use them.
RevealCloud is free and provides visibility of 12 instances in the cloud with a five-minute history. RevealCloud Pro (which is not free after an initial $15 credit) provides visibility of more than 12 instances, a 30-day history, more in-depth metrics and more sophisticated alerts.
Managing costs in the cloud
Moving to the cloud shifts costs from capital expense in the data center to operating expense in the cloud. SaaS providers’ prices depend in large part on the cost they pay for cloud services. While the service level requirement for data centers has been five 9s, that’s not the case with cloud service levels.
As Mike Raab, CopperEgg’s vice president of business development points out, Five 9s, translates into about 26 seconds downtime in a month. “You can’t measure that with a tool that measures on one-minute intervals. And if you can’t measure and document the downtime to a cloud provider demanding proof, you can’t get credit for downtime.”
He tells the story of a customer that was able to save money from another angle because of the RevealCloud alert that a system was down. Because the company was able to take instant action and shut down its Google AdWords account until they could get the server back up, they avoided spending money on people clicking through to the website that wasn’t available.
Miller at Niagara Technology Group says he’s very excited about the path CopperEgg is taking. The company is now starting to implement feature upgrades suggested in feedback by RevealCloud’s first users.
One of the big moves in coming months is the ability to provide feedback from a variety of clouds in an agnostic way to reveal how much a developer is spending per hour on its application deployment. This will undoubtedly result in making cloud pricing models more competitive. Today, this is a complicated process because cloud vendors price according to different models. “There’s no tool today that allows running an app in three or four different clouds to see how it looks cost-wise, and it’s too much effort to try to get the kind of metrics needed to understand the cost tradeoffs,” says Johnson. “So people tend to go to one cloud and stay there because of all the extra effort just to analyze how much it would cost to move.”
RevealCloud already provides the capability to understand the cost tradeoffs (as well as nuances that will happen when moving apps between platforms) in cloud bursting activities from a private cloud when the capacity demand occurs.
Another upcoming feature – due to a lot of customer requests – is support for moving apps to the cloud, which were developed on the Microsoft Windows platform. Also on the radar screen: integrating RevealCloud with automated deployment tools.
Today, the metrics in RevealCloud are generic. Johnson says customers have requested the capability to apply RevealCloud’s same type of real-time information regarding customer-specific metrics. They’re working on an API that will allow customers to interweave RevealCloud with a customer’s product to get a clearer view of exactly what they want to see.
Impact of the DevOps movement
Today, software development is about developing an app quickly and handling operations in a very agile fashion. “The DevOps movement is a counter-distinction to the traditional model of IT app guys, with code being thrown over the wall and arguments about who’s going to test it. That has to change so people can deploy apps to the cloud quickly,” states Johnson.
However, Johnson warns startups not to first use the RevealCloud tool to make a product cost-efficient. “The true value of our product for a startup is to first optimize a product so it can deploy quickly in the market. Then the startup can focus on using our tool to make the product more cost-efficient.”
Scott Johnson is CEO of CopperEgg, which is the third company he has co-founded in the technology space (his first startup being in 1984 when he co-founded Thomas-Conrad Corporation with Walter Thirion, which was later purchased by Compaq). A passionate entrepreneur, he is committed to building a company whose cloud monitoring products are valuable, affordable, accessible and useful.
Scott Alan Miller is Practice Lead and UNIX SME for Niagara Technology Group. Scott has worked internationally in IT for over 20 years in healthcare, manufacturing, consulting and finance and specializes in system administration and engineering, solution architecture, storage, virtualization and software design. His current role focuses on professional development and inspiring technical passion in the organization.