Julian Wraith

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Category: Cloud (page 1 of 2)

New AWS features – September 2016

Occasionally I will share some new features from AWS that sparked my interest and so here in are some new features that I like:

  • Upload AWS Cost & Usage Reports to Redshift and QuickSight (link)  –  increased flexibility and efficiency in generating reports on billing. You could also load in other datasets to Redshift to create reports combining other data such as hour reporting from engineering teams
  • AWS Config Rules is now available in Singapore (link) – AWS Config rules is a way of controlling the configuration of large numbers of servers and now available in more regions
  • Organize Your AWS Resources by Using up to 50 Tags per Resource (link) – it was 10 tags which could have been restricting especially if you use tags to contain metadata to control resources (e.g. startup time), so it makes tagging more flexible
  • Amazon RDS for Oracle introduces a License Included offering for Oracle Standard Edition Two (SE2) (link) – expanded Oracle database types
  • New AWS Application Load Balancer (link) – routing based on URL now gives you more flexibility in how you architect your applications and spread load over different instances

AWS Elastic File System

Yesterday in a knowledge session between Solution Architects, the topic of AWS Elastic File System was raised and after a short discussion it was decided to take a closer look and set something up. To quote Top Gear, how hard could it be?

What is EFS?

AWS Elastic File System, or EFS, is Amazon Web Services’ latest storage solution and is a fully managed, simple and scalable file storage to use with EC2 instances. As the name suggests, it grows and shrinks automatically with your storage needs and EC2 instances can access EFS using NFS (v4.1), over multiple availability zones at low latency with high throughput (50 MB/s per TB with 100 MB/s burst). AWS lists the use cases of EFS to be; Big Data and analytics, media processing workflows, content management, web serving and home directories. Content Management you say? Hmmm J

From my past, scalable single sources of file system based content were expensive and difficult to deploy. So much so, that product and implementations strategy meant that putting all content in a database was by far and away the most logical route to take. So could EFS now resolve that headache? I will give it a test to find out.

What do I have to set up?

So I will simulate a website setup where I have an application server tier that would host my Tomcat (or similar) application servers and a back end file system which will be mounted as to my application servers so that the files can be used. Onto my file system I will deploy my content. I won’t install or configure Tomcat, this is simple to do but covered very well in other places.

The simple architecture

The simple architecture

So, I will need

  1. An auto-scaling group covering two availability zones (eu-west-1a, eu-west-1b) with two instances of Amazon Linux (no Tomcat, no auto-scaling rules for now)
  2. Security Group to allow my auto-scaling instances to talk NFS to my EFS
  3. An EFS created and mounted to my instances

For my auto-scaling group, I have gone and created a simple one and it is up and running across my two availability zones. I have gone and terminated an instance or two just for fun. That’s not related to this post, it is just fun to terminate something and watch it auto-magically reappear.

My security group allows instances that are a member of my auto-scaling security group, access to the EFS volumes via the NFS protocol

My Security Group

My Security Group

I can now create my EFS for my website content.

I first need to configure the file system access which consists of my VPC, my mount targets (availability zones) and the security group that defines the source of access requests (the one I created early):

Configuration of EFS

Configuration of EFS

Then I configure the optional settings. I have chosen to give it a friendly name and stuck to the default “Performance Mode” of general purpose.

Configure the EFS options

Configure the EFS options

The final review step and then I am done. That was it. No configuring disk sizes, difficult calculations on my requirements of how much content I have. It’s done.

Review what I did

Review what I did

After a shirt whole my volumes are ready and I can keep track on the status of creation in the main EFS dashboard under “life cycle state”.

After a short while they will be ready

After a short while they will be ready

Next we are going to test drive mounting my volume to my instance. EFS provides some instructions to be able to do this from the dashboard. Running in a ssh session (from the root);

Step 1: If needed, install the NFS client on your EC2 instance

sudo yum install -y nfs-utils

Step 2: Create a new directory on your EC2 instance, such as “efs”

sudo mkdir efs

Step 3: Mount your file system using the DNS name.

sudo mount -t nfs4 -o nfsvers=4.1 $(curl -s http://169.254.169.254/latest/meta-data/placement/availability-zone).fs-d3658b1a.efs.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com:/ efs

Once that is done I can switch to the directory and create myself a simple index.html file for my eventual Tomcat server to see. If I then log on to my other instance, I can see that my file has been replicate from the first availability zone to the next. This means, if I would write my content to disk as I have done, it would be available instantly in the other availability zones and all my sites would be updated.

As I did this manually, if my auto-scaling group scales then I would need to do this each time. This defeats the purpose of auto-scaling. However, if I mount this directory at instance initialization time (e.g. chef) then it would be mounted when my new instance starts. To test this I made a very simply launch script and updated my Launch configuration (made a new one as edits are not possible) to add the following to the user data portion of the configuration.

#!/bin/bash
cd /
sudo mkdir efs
sudo mount -t nfs4 -o nfsvers=4.1 $(curl -s http://169.254.169.254/latest/meta-data/placement/availability-zone).fs-d3658b1a.efs.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com:/ efs

Warning: I would not use this code in production. No really, please don’t.

Summary

The most complicated thing about this is to mount the drives as creation of the fully managed and scalable storage is incredibly easy. For content management systems, like SDL Web (Tridion) this is a real help in deployment of content in a scalable and reliable way.

Amazon Web Services, Simple Storage Service (S3)

Having recently joined Amazon Web Services (AWS), I need to deep dive all the services in detail to understand the features in as much detail as I can. Simple Storage Service (or S3) has been a recent topic I have had focus on, part because of learning but also due to needing to support my customer with questions on S3. So what is S3? We shall start with a quote from the AWS documentation that describes it in one paragraph much better than I can:

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), provides developers and IT teams with secure, durable, highly-scalable cloud storage. Amazon S3 is easy to use object storage, with a simple web service interface to store and retrieve any amount of data from anywhere on the web. With Amazon S3, you pay only for the storage you actually use. There is no minimum fee and no setup cost.

Object Storage

S3 is an object based store which means it does not store files like a file system but rather as objects which consists of both the file itself but also its metadata. Metadata contains information about the data (the file) and can be used to support application behaviors and administrative actions. These objects are organized into buckets and each bucket needs to have a unique name across S3 which means that you need to be a little creative in naming your buckets because chances are someone has already taken the name “test”. Buckets can store objects from 1 byte to 1 TB and objects can be organized into folders and subfolders.

Secure

S3 access polices set on it that dictate who and what can access a given S3 resource (e.g. object, bucket). Such access policies that are attached to resources are called resource-based policies. If you attach an S3 related policy to a user in your AWS Account this this is referred to as a user policy. User policies may say if the given user has permissions over a bucket where as a resource policy may state that “everyone” has access to read a bucket. A combination of policy types can be used to manage access to the objects.

By default buckets are closed to the outside world and so you need to open up access if you want them to be used by other resources or users and you can set as fine grain access as you require. It’s generally a good policy to restrict access as much as possible and implement features like MFA delete to ensure that it’s harder to make mistakes.

Durable (and available)

One of the major features of S3 is both the availability and durability of the service. In on-premise environments, you needed to go to a lot of expense and effort to ensure that your storage is available to a high-standard. S3 rolls of your mouse click with a, mostly, four nines availability. Why only mostly four nines? You do not always need such levels of availability so AWS has a differing S3 storage type called “Infrequently Accessed” or IA storage. This storage type drops the availability down to three nines and should only be used for data you need from time to time and that if it is not available, it’s not really a major issue (for example, old product documentation).

If your data is not available you can be very sure that it has not gone anywhere. The difference between availability and durability is, is your data accessible and is your data still there, respectively. You can lose access to the data but be sure that it is still going to be there when access is restored. For the most storage types the standard is a startling eleven nines. Which in essence means is near impossible to lose an object. “Reduced Redundancy Storage” or RRS storage has a lower durability and should only be used for things you can lose such as copies of data or temporary data. Still at four nines, I would still class it is highly durable.

Storage Class Durability  Availability
Standard 99.999999999% 99.99%
Standard IA 99.999999999% 99.9%
GLACIER 99.999999999% 99.99% (after you restore objects)
RRS 99.99% 99.99%

 

Scalable

S3 is highly scalable and you do not need to do anything to enable that, it’s all part of the service.

Storing and retrieving

Objects can be uploaded, updated, deleted etc. from the AWS management interface. However, for normal use the most likely way to deal with objects is programmatically via the SDKs that talk to S3’s RESTFul interface, probably via an integration with a product that uses S3 as a storage tier. S3 has as a consistency model of “Read after Write consistency” for PUTS of new objects and “eventual consistency” for overwrite PUTS and DELETES. This means that when you PUT and object for the first time, it will be readable directly after being written. However, when you overwrite PUT the consistency is eventual, meaning it will be available on all replicates eventually. There is therefore a chance that applications read the older version of an object if they read an object after the object is overwritten but before it is consistent across all replicas.

For large (>100mb) uploads, you should consider multi-part uploads. In multi-part uploads, the file you are uploading is broken into pieces and sent separately. S3 assembles the parts back to the complete file when all the parts have arrived. Doing so not only improves throughput (e.g. uploading in parallel but also uploading whilst creating) but also improves the reliability of your uploads (e.g. network errors, needing to pause).

Cost

For S3 you pay for only what you use and there are no setup costs or up-front fees. The AWS website holds details of the costs and cost differs per storage tier. The differing storage classes all have different associated costs (e.g. per GB) and this means with the good storage planning you can save significant expenditure. Organizations who have existing data on say standard S3 could also remodel their storage to improve its cost effectiveness.

Other important S3 features

Lifecycle Management

Lifecycle Management allows you to manage the lifetime of objects in your S3 buckets against rules you have defined. A simple use case of this is managing backup data. For backups, you typically have a policy that dictates how long you store your backups.

For example, you keep daily backups for the last 30 days and then a monthly backup for the last 12 months.

This means that you need to automatically remove monthly backups older than 12 months and daily backups older than 30 days. With lifecycle management you can do this. Moreover you can add addition S3 based rules. For instance, you could decide to keep the last 7 days of backups on standard storage and then the 7-30 days backups on Infrequently Accessed Storage and then all the monthly backups on Glacier. All of which will lower the cost of the storage of the backups.

Versioning

Versioning allows you to keep versions of objects as they are updates with new objects and is used in combination with Lifecycle Management. For each bucket you want to use it on, you need to enable it (as it costs storage) but it then makes it more difficult to permanently lose something.

Cross-Region Replication

Cross-Region Replication allows you to asynchronously copy data from one S3 bucket to another in a different region. S3 is a region based service and data is never moved from a region without a customer enabling this function. So, like versioning, you need to enable this on your bucket and decide which destination bucket in which region that will be the target of replication and what to replicate (all or a subset of the bucket).

To do this you need to have version enabled buckets (which also needs Lifecycle Management enabled), you need to have two buckets in two regions and S3 needs permission to replicate the data from one bucket to another. It’s important to note what is and is not replicated because things like Lifecycle Management needs to be dealt with per region and not via replication.

What is Hybrid Cloud?

The term Hybrid cloud is becoming more common terminology with customers as they adopt cloud as part of their overall IT strategy. But what really is a hybrid cloud and why is that different to cloud as a strategy?

© Dilbert

A few years ago the term “cloud strategy” was use to describe the adoption of a cloud vendor. Ultimately, some of these cloud vendors were (and still are) traditional hosting companies who use the term cloud. I have always pushed the fact that cloud really means a true, public, cloud vendor such as Azure or AWS. Hybrid has now taken over as the strategic approach and has been describe by Forrestor’s Dave Bartoletti as “cloud plus anything.” This can mean any of the following:

  • AWS & Azure
  • Cloud vendor (e.g. AWS) & private data center (private cloud)
  • Cloud vendor (e.g. AWS) & hosting party
  • etc.

In essence, two (or more) separate environments that will need to work together as one cohesive unit of which one is a public cloud. Inevitably adopting a hybrid cloud strategy makes strategic sense as you cannot just lift and shift everything to a cloud in one go and most likely your strategy will evolve into a multi-cloud strategy once you are free from all (or most of) your private data centers. So hybrid is the logical step between the two.

@copy; RightScale

The RightScale State of the Cloud report indicates that only 10% of enterprise business use the public cloud fully and 16% are fully private cloud. That means there is 74% that have a mixture of two or more clouds (public and private).  Things holding back the 16% are topics such as security concerns, outdated policies that prevent adoption or simply a lack of understanding of the benefits over systems already adopted (such as virtualization).

As one size does not fit all, organizations should be looking to train their teams in cloud and getting a full understanding of how they can move existing workloads to the cloud and in what architecture. This is especially important where organizations manage what could be classed as commodity applications (e.g. SharePoint, CMS systems) that can be purchased as a Paas or SaaS offering from a public cloud or product vendor. More specialist, differentiating and legacy applications could continue to be run in a private cloud but leverage technology from the cloud such as off-shore backup or “single pane” management technology.

Building a successful, cohesive, hybrid cloud will take a significant amount of time for most enterprise organizations and we can expect that it is five years away for mainstream adoption to be realized, starting this strategy now is the best approach to being on track with the five year expectation of Gartner.

10 things to do when deploying SDL Web to the cloud

Now that cloud is on the uptake with almost every organization, it’s likely that during the next upgrade or new implementation of SDL Web you will be asked to move it to a cloud provider like AWS. What you should not do during this move is fall into the trap of just porting some virtual machines to the cloud and running it like you did before. The cloud is better than that (and it is 2016, not 2005), so you should investigate a little deeper in how you should deploy. So to help, here are 10 things to consider;

1.       Use SDL Web 8

It should go without saying that you should use the latest version of a product, but some organizations pull back from such steps until a product version is in a SP1. But with the new product release you get better support for the cloud from SDL. You can read my earlier post on the new infrastructure features that help deployment on the cloud but the main one you need to shoot for is the support for database-as-a-service from AWS or Azure

2.       Elastically scale delivery

In this nice article, the AWS Startup folks at Medium explain that the minimum viable product must scale in order to be a success; they are spot on. As your product is that website you are building then not implementing automatic scaling (or using something like AWS Elastic Beanstalk) of delivery should now be counted as a crime against humanity.

3.       Automate the deployment of your environment

Automating the deployment of an environment is more than saving a VM template of your build servers, but automating the configuration management, topology, software installations etc. This is essential in auto-scaling but deeply important when you are planning things like disaster recovery. The old school methods can go if you can automatically rebuild an environment inside 30 minutes.

4.       Implement Continuous Delivery and then Continuous Deployment

Rome was not build in a day and therefore you need to take this slow but most cloud providers have a CD pipeline available that integrates with the deployment options available at that cloud provider (see. Visual Studio Online or AWS Codepipeline). Get to the point where you can deploy a new version of the site (or part of it) multiple times per day in a robust way.

5.       Scale Publishers when needed

Number one complaint for publishing is it is slow when deploying lots of content. Well, following point four, you should not be able to spin up more publishers when needed. This does not per say need to automatic in response to load (but it could be) but it should at least be an automated process leveraging a graceful shut down and destroy.

6.       Process log files with a tool like Splunk

Now you have servers spinning up and down automatically you probably have little or no access to the running application. It is therefore important to put in automatic log file analysis to ensure that the application is running error free, you can spot failure trends and you can keep the overall health of the environment high. Applications will fail and that is OK, but you need data to proactively reduce the errors, feed into your continuous delivery pipeline and improve performance.

7.       Write custom monitors for SDL Web functionality

The cloud provides you with metrics for things like CPU and memory, but there are no monitors for specific and relevant SDL Web functionality. Is the publishing queue a little too long? Fire a warning to your integrated monitoring solution that something may need to change like a new publisher spun up to help with the load.

8.       Deploy new CD environments for temporary sites

You can easily spin up new delivery environment should you need to deploy a new site that will only last for a short period of time. This keeps complexity low on each site and impact to another site from the new site is impossible.

9.       Adopt a microservice architecture

Architecting your application in the microservice model means that CDaaS can be utilized and sites can just feed content from that. Further splitting your application into smaller functional components which can all be scaled separately will reduce software costs, improve deployment complexity, improve resilience and improve scaling.

10.   Test performance and scaling actively

Too often this is the last of the pile in regards to things to do. Automatic scaling does not remove the need to test performance, in fact, it makes it more important. In years gone by, if the site did not perform it just got slow and then probably crashed. Sadly, website visitors were used to that, but it does little for your business reputation. Now we can scale automatically, all this essentially means is that we keep adding new instances/servers until we meet demand. And what follows is a small heart attack when you read the monthly invoice.

Instead it is now more important that you need to keep your application performing well. Performance should be tested in the CD pipeline as well as on a frequent basis in production. Plenty of tools exist to support this and can help testing from different parts of the world if your site needs to respond to a global customer base.

New Infrastructure Features of SDL Web 8

SDL recently released the latest version of their web content management and this releases has some interesting changes from an infrastructure perspective that I would like to highlight.

Product Name Change

Firstly, whilst not an infrastructure change, the product has changed its name from SDL Tridion to SDL Web. The new name, Web, says a little bit more about what it does (at a very basic level) but does somewhat reject the kudos and history that comes with the name Tridion. The name “Tridion” is distinct and easily recognizable, Web is a little more generic and bland in my opinion.

The version number for the new release is 8 which is a throwback to the “R” releases of Tridion before SDL took over the Tridion company. The last product named in the “R” series was R5.3 and since then there has been the releases 2009, 2011, 2013 and now 8. It’s not directly logical that Web 8 should not actually be called Web 9, but 2009 and 2011 are really R5.4 and R6 respectively.

Improved Cloud Support

The new release has some heavy focus on changes to make it easier to deploy and manage Web. First up is the improved cloud support. SDL always did support “the cloud” through the proxy of supporting specific operating systems and provided they ran as normal it did not really matter where they ran. This meant that an IaaS based deployment of Tridion was always possible.

What SDL now means to say is that SDL now “supports specific features of some cloud providers”. Those are only AWS and Azure and nothing is mentioned about Google or Oracle as a platform. SDL Web 8 adds support for Azure SQL and Amazon RDS. The documentation states “Azure and Amazon RDS” but this is an oversight as it means “Azure SQL” as Azure is the Microsoft cloud platform rather than a specific piece of technology.

All this means is that you now take advantage of the database-as-a-service offerings from these two providers providing you are not using the SDL Web legacy pack (e.g. for VBScript templates), transactional core service code (you can write this out) or implementations with certain extensions. This is because Tridion traditionally made use of distributed transactions and these are not supported on AWS or Azure and legacy style code still needs MSDTC.

In all cases, you can only use the SQL Server engines which has a cost impact over and above the MySQL engine options on AWS RDS but is cheaper than the Oracle engines.

If you use a version of SDL Web prior to Web 8, you should note that you can use Azure SQL or AWS RDS for the Content Delivery database but it is simply not supported by SDL.

Topology Management

Topology Management is new product feature that replaces the existing (now deprecated) Publishing management (e.g. Publish Targets) with a more advanced approach which clearly de-couples the configuration of publishing from the management of content and makes the configuration of delivery environment something tied to the environment (e.g. production) rather than the content management database. Managed through Powershell, the Topology Manager manages the relationships between publications and delivery environments. There is a .NET API which means automation options from other applications that are not PowerShell compliant is possible and an example of using that API can be found here.

Some key terminology to grasp with topology management itself;

  • Content Delivery Environment: in essence just the same as before and is communicated with through a Discovery Endpoint
  • Topology Type: defines the purposes like “Staging” and “Live” and can define a series of purposes to help support a publishing workflow (e.g. Staging Editors -> Staging Executive Approval -> Live)
  • Topologies: combines one or more content delivery environments which have a particular Topology Type (including Purposes).

And on the Content Management side:

  • Target Type are the same as before in that it is what the user selects when publishing to undertake the publishing and has “a” Purpose e.g. “Live”
  • Business Process Type defines how content flows through the organization (published or not) and in this context what topology type and target types, defines the Minimal Approval Status of a target type and the priority which both used to be in the publication target. The Business Process Type is in a publication and can be inherited through the child publications.

The features increase the complexity of publishing management and it is a little frustrating there is no user interface as this was one of the nice features of the current publishing approach. Whilst I support the move, it has yet to be seen how much this would be an advantage in an automation / NoOps approach over what you could already do through existing APIs.

For now, there is no need to change to the new approach, so the advice to customers would be to sufficiently test with the new approach before rolling into a production situation.

More Graceful Publishing Management

SDL has improved how you can manage publishing services. Prior to Web 8, when a publishing service was stopped, it simply forgot everything it was doing (much like a “kill -9”). With the advent of technologies like auto-scaling, this makes simply stopping a service a royal pain because a service may be busy with something that you simply just do not want to forget about. These new features are only available in the new publishing approach described above:

  • Pausing the Publisher service: Pausing means that the Publisher does not pick up any new transactions, but does keep processing deployment feedback on items already send for deployment. Assuming you can test if it has completed all feedback items it had open (?) then a graceful destroy of a server could take place.
  • Graceful shutdown of Publisher service: Shutting down the Publisher service will allow the following to take place before shut down is completed; all transactions that have not yet been transported back in the publish queue (set to Waiting For Publish) and all transactions that have the transaction state “Scheduled for Deployment” have sent their commit packages to transport.

With the approach of starting and stopping delivery environments a little more dynamically then delivery environments have some additional options to help management them:

  • Graceful deactivation and reactivation of a Content Delivery environment: halting a Content Delivery environment for maintenance is now possible from the Content Manager server. The documentation is unclear with what happens to publishing transactions being pushed to other sites as well as what happens to records (e.g. audience manager) that are written to databases belonging to redundant databases in other deployment stacks.
  • Decommissioning of a Content Delivery environment: You can decommission an entire Content Delivery environment without having to unpublish content first.

Content Delivery as a Service (CDaaS)

The major change from architecture side for delivery is the introduction of Content Delivery as a Service or CDaaS for short. This new feature means that web applications can feed content from a SDL Web using a microservice approach. This approach allows non-Tridion (Web) skilled teams to talk to Web and minimizes any impact the libraries for Web would have on other applications.

Development and maintenance of the CDaaS and connected web applications can all happen separately on their own development tracks and upgrades to CDaaS will not affect the applications using the content (assuming the interfaces are reverse compatible). You can scale the CDaaS microservice separately to your other application services (a concept drawn from microservices architectural approach) which means that applications that are not content rich need not have large content delivery farms.

Discovery Service

The Discovery Service is now the know it all of the delivery farms, with the centralized webservice being the go to point to understand what content delivery endpoints there are deployed. The topology manager (see above) needs to only talk to the Discovery Service to get everything he needs to know.

[ Update 9th Feb 2016 – Thanks to Nuno Linhares for some corrections on the version numbers and the information regarding the .NET client for the Topology Manager]

SDL Tridion in the Cloud – Tridion Developer Summit 2014

Earlier this year I presented as lightning presentation at the Tridion Developer Summit in Amsterdam. The even was awesome and really well attended. Here are the slides that I used:

SDL CXC and Tridion

Today I posted some slides to slideshare on SDL CXC and Tridion. Just a simple overview of what we have done for Tridion on SDL’s CXC platform.

Provisioning Tridion in the cloud

See! White and Fluffy

See! White and Fluffy

It’s been a little over a year since we started the “Tridion in the Cloud” project at SDL. Traditionally, SDL’s flagship content management system, Tridion, was is an on-premise solution. Customers either installed the product on their own hardware or private cloud or with an SDL partner. However, Tridion was the only SDL product was not possible to host with SDL. So, a year back we set out to change this so that SDL’s customers that wanted to have a completely managed SDL solution.

Code or Infrastructure

During my day to day role, I talk with many of SDL’s customers who are looking to re-provision their Tridion environments and are taking the opportunity to look at cloud providers like AWS or Azure. This is typically IT driven on the idea of cost reduction or outsourcing responsibility of the platform to experts. What I rarely come across is the idea of moving to a more agile approach with regards to infrastructure. Public cloud providers like AWS and Azure have APIs for the creation of infrastructure using code. This means that you can move from treating infrastructure as a series of interconnected virtual machines (servers) to code objects. This concept is not one that IT teams grasp easily because infrastructure is something you provision and then hand over to the application team to install something onto it. Even with templating of virtual machines, which is common place in IT teams, IT teams still work on the very fixed idea of how hardware has always been provisioned.

When you treat infrastructure as code, then you can roll up the build of infrastructure into the deployment of the platform (Tridion) and the deployment of the implementation (your websites) and do this from a single provisioning process. If each layer in that process is abstracted, then you can even replace different layers with new or updated layers (e.g. an updated Tridion version). For a single organization this makes little sense to go to the effort of coding all of this just for Tridion but it would make sense to do this as an approach for all your deployed applications. For SDL, it makes perfect sense to do when you are managing many Tridion implementations. Not only does it make building and rebuilding environments fundamentally easier but also it make configuration changes easier to deploy, moving to different regions is straightforward and issues with individual servers can be quickly removed by replacing the server within a short period.

Provisioning

When we provision environments at SDL we undertake the following steps;

  1. Provisioning of the infrastructure, security groups, DNS, tagging and storage
  2. Installation of the Tridion application, required modules, hotfixes and pre-requisites
  3. Configuration of the installed software
  4. Deployment of the customer’s implementation
  5. Hook each infrastructure component to monitoring

The process is very quick. If you would compare this to a traditional physical deployment, you can expect around 12 weeks to order and install the hardware and then an additional 1-2 weeks to get all the software installed. With a fully automated approach, you can expect – once you have everything set and ready to go – that an environment can be built in less than an hour. Preparation time is of course, potentially time consuming, but once that is done the process is repeatable in the event of failures or updates to the platform.

To do this you can control the provisioning process with technologies such as Chef or Puppet and leverage any technologies that your cloud provider might have to make this easier. SDL uses AWS CloudFormation. This is not transferrable to Azure so if you would want to be agnostic of cloud provider you will need to control the process completely with 3rd party tools rather than leveraging cloud provider specific technology. SDL uses CloudFormation because it is very powerful and to code something similar would have been time consuming. This was labeled as pragmatic portability by SDL because the built provisioning could be ported but we did not want to code forever for scenarios that may or may not happen. Better know where it is not portable and keep coding to add value to the Tridion product.

Marketing Heads in the Cloud

Or: Three reasons why CMOs should care about cloud

I started out as a real technology geek. I was nuts about computers, the Internet and everything that made it work.

Today, I love to think about the business challenges that drive the technology, about the marketing opportunities it offers and the customer experiences it can create. Rarely does pure technology still get my blood boiling, but now and then I still get ridiculously excited.

Cloud computing is such a tremendously exciting technology to me. I have been following the cloud development in the last year and it pains me to see that many marketing leaders still don’t quite see the benefit of it. Granted, cloud washing – the abuse of the term ‘cloud’ for any old story, just because it’s cool – has a lot do to with it and I don’t like to see all the fluffy confusing marketing B£#%{ that more often than not comes with it.

But: For CXM professionals and online marketing leaders, cloud technology has the potential to totally transform the way we are doing business. Here my top three exciting cloud opportunities for online marketing:

Time to market

In the 13 years that I am following large scale online projects, the first big hurdle has always been to get the infrastructure up and running. No matter how good the internal IT procurement and processes, with all the signatures and delivery timeframes, getting started with the actual physical hardware usually is a matter of weeks. Weeks that nobody has time to lose.

WHAT IF you could start within hours? What if from the time you get the go for your new campaign website or micro site until when you can get to work, is a matter of minutes? That’s what a cloud ready CMS does for you. It’s called ‘rapid deployment’ or ‘rapid provisioning’ or a few other terms with ‘rapid’. What it means is, there is a new server or entire environment pre-built and all you have to say is: one of that, please. That’s going to make your organization a lot more agile.

Protecting your investments

amazon.com CTO Dr. Werner Vogels said it so nicely at the Cloud Expo Europe 2012: “In offline business, our biggest fear used to be that nobody shows up. In online business, our biggest fear is that EVERYBODY shows up.” That is sooo very true.

When you put serious money into your marketing campaigns, can you afford your sites to be slow? Or even go down? When you find that golden egg and your campaign goes viral, can you afford to lose face and not be able to deliver? When you hit the news or your customers need you in the moment of crisis, can you afford to leave them in the dark? Of course not. You might as well flush your budget down the toilet.

WHAT IF you could have the guarantee that – no matter how much traffic – your sites will always be up and performing well? If you wouldn’t  have to fear being ‘too’ successful? Didn’t have to supersize your webfarm? That’s another thing the cloud does for you. It’s called ‘elasticity’. It means that your line of servers can expand and contract(!) automatically, based on the capacity needed to meet your requirements. That means you got your business continuity covered and can be sure to always deliver a well performing customer experience.

More money left at the end of your budget

Truth now, how much of your capacity is idling about the data centre, waiting for that hour of peak traffic for 23 hours a day, merrily keeping your maintenance team and the air condition busy and the electricity meter turning? How often did you expect the big run on your website with a campaign but it didn’t quite get as crowded as you hoped and now you are stuck with lots of hardware that you don’t need but that isn’t appreciated?

WHAT IF you only paid for what you are using and when you are using it? If you could just hand hardware back when you don’t need it anymore at no cost at all? The cloud does also that for you – ‘usage based pricing’. what it means is that you pay per hour for the hardware you are using – and not a minute longer.  A bit like the way your water supply works. It saves you hours of calculating and guessing work and for websites with volatile traffic, it saves a lot of money too.

So you see, cloud computing isn’t just for IT and geeks, but is a totally new canvas for online and marketing professionals. And that’s only my top three reasons! There is many more.

How can cloud technology help you to do a better job? Let me know!

Guest Post

Sonja KeerlSonja Keerl LinkedIntwitter
Sonja is in the online business since 1999 and a passionate voice for Customer Experience Management. She has helped many large global companies with CMS implementations, global rollouts and multichannel strategy. Sonja frequently speaks on industry events. Sonja currently works for SDL WCM as Senior Product Marketing Manager and is engaged to Julian.

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