CloudFloor Drives the Cloud To Achieve Business Results

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CloudFloor (Waltham, MA) is getting close to starting the beta program for CloudControl, their system to tie cloud usage to measurable business metrics.  I had an interesting call with co-founder and CTO Imad Mouline last week to learn more about this innovative system.  There are a couple of ways to approach the concept of CloudFloor.  The most obvious one deals with controlling costs by shutting down instances when they are no longer needed, but it’s also the least interesting approach.  And there are companies such as CloudCrusier addressing the cost management and cloud chargeback business.

The CloudFloor guys started seeing big uptake in cloud usage a while ago and were able to glean some pretty interesting insights from their performance data.  Insights such as the “noisy neighbor” problem in a multi-tenant environment (it’s real), seeing users deploy lots of VMs but not shut them down when no longer needed, etc.  They saw a lot of large enterprises overspending on cloud but also getting application performance blocked by simple and easily remedied mistakes.  CloudFloor was formed to address these issues and beyond.

What struck me as most interesting was the sophistication of how they tie non-cost business metrics into the equation.  Think about any business and the key metrics that drive their success.  As Imad pointed out, companies can track many metrics today but very few are core and critical to their business.  For example, at an auction site like eBay they know that the two most important metrics are number of listings and number of bids at any given point in time.

If you’re in a primarily online business, metrics are heavily influenced by the amount of infrastructure you have deployed at any given time.  Too much and you’re losing money.  Too little and you’re losing money… Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the trick is to get it “just right.”

One of my previous startups was in the digital imaging space.  The number of images uploaded at any given point directly correlated with print and gift orders. Having sufficient infrastructure to handle the upload loads at any given time was critical.  Having too much was wasteful – and since we started this pre-cloud we were over-provisioned a majority of the time.  However, at the very biggest peak times we sometimes were under-provisioned.  This caused uploads to slow or fail which in turn resulted in lost revenues.

Had I had a reason to do so (ie had I been using cloud), it would have been pretty easy for me to create a formula that calculated the marginal cost of additional infrastructure vs. the marginal gross profit that would be enabled by provisioning instances.  Given that formula, I could then maximize my profit by having a system that very intelligently managed the balance to a point where – in theory – an extra $1.00 spent on cloud would result in at least an extra $1.00 in gross profit (all other costs being equal).  Beyond that, I’d see diminishing returns.  Of course, it would never get exactly that precise, but it could be close.

Of course, you can also have metrics that may not so easily tie to micro economics.  If you’ve promised a certain SLA level for transactions (e.g. cart page load in 1.5 seconds, purchase-to-confirmation page of 4 seconds, etc. – CloudControl can optimize the amount of cloud infrastructure you have deployed to meet the SLAs.  This is what BSM – Business Service Management – is all about.

They also can do things like manage geographic load balancing, traffic shaping and more.  There is a pretty sophisticated vision at play here.

So, how does it work?

Their core “Principles Engine” (“PE”) accepts data from a number of different feeds – could be Google Analytics, data generated from the application, or other information.  PE then turns that data into visibility and insights.  If that’s all you need, you’re golden — CloudControl is free for the visibility bits (you pay if you want their automation to control cloud resources).  See the graphic below.

Click to Enlarge

Then you provide your goals and principles for CloudControl to manage.  CloudControl then manages global traffic, cloud instances and more (can call out to any service).  All of this goes towards hitting the business metrics established in the Principles Engine.

One of the things they realized early on is that an holistic approach to cloud BSM would have to go broader than the capabilities of individual clouds. Geographic load balancing, failover and other Internet-level traffic-shaping techniques are absolutely critical to hitting the metrics in many cases.  This might also include managing across different vendor clouds and even internal clouds (very complicated DNS management required).

What they needed, then, is a platform on which to manage these capabilities, so they went out and acquired a small but growing DNS provider (Microtech Ltd from the UK) and are now in the DNS management business too.  DNS is important to performance, security and availability – which is why CloudFlare is able to do what it does (protects and speeds up web sites).  They still sell the DNS services standalone, but the strategic rationale for the acquisition was the breadth of the vision for business service management.  This was a really smart play and will set them apart from many potential competitors.

CloudFloor has taken a very sophisticated approach to tie cloud usage, costs and capabilities to the business metrics you care about most.  They are going to beta soon and it should be very interesting to see where they take the platform.

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(c) 2011 CloudBzz / TechBzz Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This post originally appeared at http://www.cloudbzz.com/cloudfloor-drives-the-cloud-to-achieve-business-results/. You can follow CloudBzz on Twitter @CloudBzz.

 

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