Moving to a cloud-based infrastructure can deliver a number of significant benefits. Whilst these are usually easy to identify and quantify the actual process required to migrate on-premise systems to the cloud can be complex and fraught with problems unless approached in the right way.
Such a problem was faced by Texas-based software developer eSkyCity. Located in Dallas, the company develops custom software solutions for specific vertical markets such as hospitals and provides these via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Traditionally, eSkyCity had offered their SaaS solutions either on their own on-premise infrastructure or Amazon Web services. But, in early 2012 decided that the best way forward was to build their own Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud.
Meeting customer demands
Trace Finn of eSkyCity explained the reasoning behind the decision. “Providing SaaS is very unpredictable with regard to infrastructure requirements. The demands that our customers place on hardware can change daily. As delivering high quality performance of our applications has been key to our success we needed to get full control, we wanted to move to an easy-to-scale infrastructure that we could manage ourselves.”
After looking at the options available to them, eSkyCity chose Apache CloudStack, the leading open source cloud orchestration platform. In use by many of the world’s largest public and private clouds it is a multi-hypervisor, multi-tenant, high-availability IaaS cloud management platform.
“We chose Apache CloudStack because it enabled us to leverage our existing infrastructure and it is hypervisor agnostic,” explained Trace. “But, we knew that we had no internal expertise on Apache CloudStack so would need a partner to guide, train and advise us on every aspect of creating and migrating to the cloud, including hardware.
“We made enquiries as to who would be best to partner with and ShapeBlue were highly recommended as the global leaders in implementing this technology.”
Building the infrastructure
ShapeBlue are a centre of excellence in the design and implementation of cloud platforms using Apache CloudStack and Citrix CloudPlatform. They have been involved in the Apache CloudStack project since before Citrix donated the code to Apache and remain at the forefront of developments in the platform. They combine deep skills in Apache CloudStack with extensive expertise and experience in building clouds utilising a range of storage, network, compute and hypervisor technologies.
After initial consultation with ShapeBlue’s consultants, eSkyCity set about building out their infrastructure to accommodate their cloud in the summer of 2012. “We have built an initial infrastructure with 7TB of storage, 128GB ram and 48 virtual CPUs but plan to extend it greatly beyond this,” said Trace. “ShapeBlue helped us setup a proof of concept and advised us every step of the way providing us with in-depth technical training to ensure the correct skills transfer and enable us to start to grow our internal Apache CloudStack expertise.
“We are now involved in testing to see how our old infrastructure can be incorporated into the new cloud and the migration of this will be the final part of the project.”
Elasticity to quickly and automatically scale up or down
Although their IaaS cloud has only been running for a short time eSkyCity are already beginning to notice the benefits it will bring, as Trace explained. “We like to be in control of everything we do. With our old on-premise infrastructure this was not always easy.” He continued, “It was difficult to forecast demand and scale our resources accordingly. This meant that at any time we could have too much or too little computing power available for our customers to run their software. Too much was costly for us, whilst too little impacted on performance for our customers.
“So, a solution that that gives us the elasticity to scale up or down quickly and seamlessly is ideal. Apache CloudStack provides that as it has a great API that gives us amazing control to be able to scale our infrastructure to meet customer demand automatically.
“We have also noticed a significant performance improvement when compared to our previous on-premise infrastructure. This is something that most organisations tend to overlook when considering IaaS. They think it is a cheaper solution, which it is, but forget that it will also provide better performance as well.”
With such a relatively new technology as Apache CloudStack the expertise and skills required to be able to successfully implement an IaaS cloud is limited worldwide but, it is not only understanding the software involved that is important as Trace outlined.
“The skill set of ShapeBlue’s consultants is pretty unique. They fully understand all the implications of hardware, software and the overall integrated infrastructure involved in a Apache CloudStack installation. They know how to implement Apache CloudStack and recommended to us the best configuration of hardware for it to run that would always enable us to provide a high-performance solution for our SaaS customers.
“We found working with their staff very easy. They were great at explaining everything to us and their in-depth technical training was an important first step on helping us to build up our knowledge, so that in time we can be self-supporting. In a nutshell, they helped us to understand and build.”