Although cloud security issues seem to elicit the most frantic FUD-fests from prospective customers, cloud performance will be an equally important benchmark that enterprises expect their cloud providers to meet. The most sophisticated (and secure) cloud service is worthless if it takes customers two or three minutes to complete every transaction.
But therein lies the rub. While cloud providers can invest millions in high-performance computing infrastructure and faster, flatter data center architectures, it could all be for naught if customers are complaining about flaky application performance due to Internet congestion or hellish latency (and guess whose help desk gets the irate customer call?). Sure, many cloud providers have enabled customers to provision private connections into their environments, but part of why cloud services appeal to enterprises is their universal accessibility via the Internet.
Web acceleration and content delivery network (CDN) provider Akamai is angling to get in this game. At its customer conference this week in Boston, Akamai unveiled a new service it’s developing, codename “Chamonix,” which is targeted directly at cloud providers.
The service aims to enable cloud providers to sell Akamai’s Web optimization to their facilities as a “check box item,” which would be provisioned and partitioned instantly and transparently for the cloud provider and its customer (versus the lengthy and manual integration once required to set this up). Cloud providers will be able to white-label it or use the Akamai brand.
Chamonix (along with Akamai’s other managed services) should help cloud providers convince customers to get cozier with using cloud services for more than just testing and development, said Michael Cucchi, a director of product marketing at Akamai.
There’s some evidence that cloud providers are taking performance more seriously. CloudSleuth, a cloud performance monitoring service and online cloud provider community sponsored by Compuware Corp., recently released some data they’ve been crunching for the past year on cloud provider performance around the world with their Global Provider View app (a fun little map/database to tinker around with, if you’re so inclined).
The CloudSleuth team set up Compuware’s Gomez monitoring nodes in about 30 locations and launched a very basic (and fake) application within dozens of cloud provider environments around the world. Each node, mimicking an end user in a different location, collected response times every 15 minutes from all the cloud providers’ facilities that were part of the informal study — Rackspace’s facility in Texas, Amazon’s EC2 in Northern Virginia, CloudSigma in Switzerland, Windows Azure in Singapore, etc.
With most of the nodes placed in the U.S. and the laws of physics at work, naturally the results were skewed toward cloud providers nearby U.S. data centers. But the informal study “wasn’t meant to [determine] who’s best in the world at cloud,” said Ryan Bateman, a CloudSleuth product marketing manager. Instead, it was designed to give enterprises some insight into what the user experience might be like for users in Dublin accessing a cloud-based application in Florida, he said.
So, what does this mean for cloud providers? One of the interesting takeaways from the data is that cloud performance more or less improved for a group of top-tier cloud providers between August 2010 and July 2011 (check out the second graph in CloudSleuth’s blog post). During that period, response times shortened by about a second. CloudSleuth hasn’t yet surveyed the cloud providers to find out how they achieved those results, but it’s clear that cloud performance is on their radars.