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Moving Systems into the Cloud

Cloud computing is going mainstream…this might sound a bit obvious as the media has been hyping cloud computing for sometime.  However, it has only been in recent months that companies are seriously starting to move production systems to the clouds.

I can say this with some authority, as i have an increasing number of clients and colleagues asking for advise and consulting related to moving their website or systems from a corporate data center or co-lo to a cloud computing platform.

My team started evaluating Amazon’s Web Services platform almost two years ago.  However, there are many pitfalls and lessons to be learned in this new environment.

Here are a few lessons learned from working with Amazon Web Services:

  1. Costs can easily get out of control quickly. Keep a handle on the individual AMIs (machine images) you deploy.  Using prebuilt images with SQL Server for instance raises the cost substantially.  If you have your own licenses already, consider using a low-cost vanilla image, and loading your own software and licenses.  From our experience, CPU costs have been a bigger issue than storage.

  2. Configuration and management is non-trivial. You gain by not having to worry about the hardware and also by having the ability to scale on demand.  However, configuration and management of a multi-server farm in the cloud is still a non-trivial matter.

    NOTE that when instances are terminated, the next time they are started they will have an entirely different hostnames and ip addresses.  For some apps and system software this can become a serious problem.

    For example, if you rely on Integrated Security in SQL Server and terminate an instance, the next time the DB server comes back up, you will lose all access to the DB because the hostname (and thus security domain) has changed…

  3. Use a 3rd Party agent-based Dynamic DNS service. AWS provides a virtual IP service; however, you still have to associate instances with the IP either manually or write scripts that interact with the APIs.

    We found that using an agent-based dynamic DNS service (such as DynDNS.com) provided the easiest and most flexible configuration.

There are many other lessons learned along the way.  If you are looking for assistance in moving to the cloud, contact me at (ceo (at) shawndavison.com).  If my team is not able to assist you, we can provide referrals for partners we recommend.

Shawn Davison

P.S> Microsoft will start charging for Azure cloud services starting Jan 1st, 2010.

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