For Agora Games, one critical requirement in choosing a cloud provider was having root-level access to the 60 to 70 virtual servers it runs at cloud provider Terremark Worldwide. "We're really heavy users of Ubuntu Linux," says CTO Brian Corrigan. "It's hard to take a Unix guy and tell him he can't have low-level access to the system. We really tweak the Unix system to get a lot of performance" to keep Agora's gaming customers happy.
Using Terremark's cloud computing environment, Corrigan says, he can just as easily manipulate his virtual servers as if they were in-house or at a collocation facility. He can build a test environment for a new game, easily clone it for production, and then remove it when the popularity of the game fades. He also says the virtualization makes it easier to enforce change management procedures and keep developers from posting code directly to the production environment by creating virtual network segments dedicated to testing. In addition, he says, he gets the use of higher-quality equipment than at many collocation facilities.
In addition to the console Terremark provides, Agora can use its own monitoring applications "to keep them honest," says Corrigan. "We did it a lot in the beginning, but there has never been any sort of problem, so we just sort of trust them," he says.
Pathwork Diagnostics uses Amazon.com's EC2 infrastructure to meet big spikes in demand for computing power whenever it acquires specimens of various types of tumors and must race competitors to create tests to detect those tumors. Pathwork only needs to monitor the virtual "compute units" it is using, as well as the amount of memory allocated to each, says Zoran Popovic, a senior software engineer. To do that, Popovic uses Unix open source tools for both jobs. His only gripe: One tool forces him to monitor each virtual machine separately, rather than all at once.
Dreambuilder Investments has built its key business applications on Salesforce.com's Force.com platform, and it relies on cloud services from other vendors for its backup, accounting software, and even PBX, The company has built a few simple tools to monitor the quality of its Web connections, but it usually relies on the CRM giant to keep its applications running and provide updates on their health.
Even if all a customer does is monitor the "heartbeat" of a cloud service, that can be enough, OmniPresence's Sanford says. Just a notification that Salesforce.com has gone down, even with no additional detail, "allows you to troubleshoot that problem, and maybe even get it resolved before anyone knows it's broken. It may not be Salesforce, but [instead] may be your own internal Internet router." At the very least, it keeps the IT guy from being blindsided publicly by the cloud.
Security: The cloud killer?
Data security is one of the biggest worries keeping enterprise apps out of the cloud. But it isn't a showstopper for small to medium-size firms, even those that rely completely on the cloud. For example, Agora could encrypt the data on each server but doesn't, because of the likely drag on performance. The fact he has root-level control of each server means "we can prevent anyone else from getting access to the data," says Corrigan.
And unlike at a collocation facility, whose administrators would need access to his servers in case they cause trouble for other customers, Agora's own admins are the only ones with the authority to touch his virtual servers. As for network security, says Corrigan, "We went from having a stack of physical servers with publicly accessible IP addresses to a slew of virtual machines with private IP addresses behind a software firewall. We can manage all of the firewall rules in one place, installing less restrictive generic rules on the actual VMs."