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Amazon's VPC Opens the Door for Innovation and Enterprise Cloud Adoption

Enterprises can now integrate their IT infrastructure with Amazon's vast computing and storage resources using a VPN connection

Cloud Computing Journal

The recent announcement from Amazon of the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) represents the next big advance in the evolution chain for cloud computing. Enterprises can now integrate their IT infrastructure with Amazon's vast computing and storage resources, using a VPN connection from their data center to their own virtual private cloud which then looks like part of their internal network.

Until the release of VPC, companies were left to build applications and utilize the cloud as a separate and somewhat siloed portion of their computing environment. In addition to the VPN connection, VPC allows cloud users to control their IP addressing within the Amazon cloud (previously IT addresses were assigned randomly). This may sound trivial, but it solves some tricky problems that made it hard to integrate cloud and internal resources.

Prior to VPC, every time you started a server in Amazon, you would get a new, randomly assigned IP address for that server. This created a lot of issues with how typical applications operate, e.g.: how do you communicate the address of this new server? How do you run authentication/certificate processes with a changing address? How do you deal with identity when IP addresses change at every start? Add to this the fact that cloud servers were separate from internal servers, so internal services that you normally take advantage of (DNS, LDAP, etc.) were not available without a lot of work. VPC provides a way to connect cloud resources to your data center and start to smooth over the differences.

Okay, how does this work? A standard edge networking device in your data center is configured to connect with Amazon's VPC. You can create your own sub-nets within Amazon, and when you launch a server you assign it to one of them. You specify the IP address range for your servers, and VPC performs the "security dance" to build the VPN between the edge device and your private network in Amazon's cloud. All you have to do is update your routing tables so that processes in the data center can reach applications in the cloud and you're off to the races.

By allowing customers to integrate their data center networks with Amazon's cloud, VPC takes the first step in bringing the cloud and the enterprise data center together. While one large hurdle has been removed, there's still work to be done, as indicated in RightScale's blog. As enterprises review the VPC offering, there are things they need to consider as they determine how to deploy and use it.

  • Networking: VPC provides a layer-3 connection between the data center and the cloud, which means that traffic is based on IP address routing. You'll have some work to do to figure out things like managing addressing in the cloud, and the implication of MAC addresses changing on every server start. In contrast, the holy grail of this integration is based on the Ethernet level (layer-2), where everything "just works" -- allowing seamless migration of applications between the data center and the cloud (and back). Some applications require layer-2 connectivity (for broadcasting for example), which means they would probably need to remain in your data center.
  • Security: As the name indicates, VPC doesn't provide truly private infrastructure, but a virtually private infrastructure -- servers deployed into your virtual private cloud are allocated from the same shared resources that Amazon uses for all its customers. Thus, you still have to think about possible additional security measures in the cloud, both for networking (VPC doesn't allow for encryption between servers), as well as how to protect data in shared storage.
  • Management: Developers will have to deal with the "assembly required" aspect of mapping applications to Amazon's infrastructure. There's no simple way to move existing servers to the cloud, which means you'll have to determine how to provision and configure cloud resources, and how much custom work might be needed to interface with Amazon APIs. Deployment is complicated by Amazon specifics -- how to launch an instance, attach storage resources, reset applications to use the proper storage path, etc. You'll also have to address the fact that base servers run on "ephemeral storage", meaning that server outages cause the loss of all data/updates. (There are many blog posts on this topic; this one is typical.)
  • Flexibility and choice: Finally, while VPC solves some major headaches for companies that are committed to AWS, it is not applicable for those who want the flexibility of multi-cloud offerings. This is important because users have no control of a cloud provider's infrastructure. When a provider decides to upgrade or change anything, users must go along for the ride.

So to sum up, Amazon's VPC represents an exciting step forward along the road to making the cloud truly enterprise-ready. Cloud computing has come a long way over the last two years, and in many ways Amazon has been setting the pace. Their new offering lays the foundation for the next set of solutions for enterprise adoption from other companies in the cloud computing ecosystem. At CloudSwitch, we're excited to take advantage of the ongoing improvements by Amazon to their infrastructure, and working hard to eliminate complexity and make cloud computing simple, seamless and more cost-effective than ever.

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More Stories By Ellen Rubin

Ellen Rubin is the CEO and co-founder of ClearSky Data, an enterprise storage company that recently raised $27 million in a Series B investment round. She is an experienced entrepreneur with a record in leading strategy, market positioning and go-to- market efforts for fast-growing companies. Most recently, she was co-founder of CloudSwitch, a cloud enablement software company, acquired by Verizon in 2011. Prior to founding CloudSwitch, Ellen was the vice president of marketing at Netezza, where as a member of the early management team, she helped grow the company to more than $130 million in revenues and a successful IPO in 2007. Ellen holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Harvard University.