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Feb. 19, 2014

Why Scalability, Not Elasticity, Matters In a Cloud Solution

An optimal cloud-based business system is secure and flexible, and the management of such a system should also, in theory, provide similar features. Unfortunately, not every cloud provider offers comprehensive cloud management, which may include "scalable" features like flexible storage and bandwidth options. Cloud providers that offer varied and high-quality scalable features should be chosen over any other providers as the backbone for small and medium-sized businesses.

Determining whether a company needs to invest in a scalable system first requires an analysis of the company’s needs. A scalable system has a planned level of performance capacity and is managed through conversations between a business and a cloud provider. A business plans for expected performance needs because it grows gradually and organically.

This is different from elastic systems, which are vulnerable to instantaneous growth and often require subscriptions. Basically, it is a difference in infrastructure needs between a Facebook-sized website and one for, say, a conference that has no more than 1,000 clients logged on to web-based lectures at any given time. A scaled system can add (or reduce) system needs ahead of time. In this example, the conference can adjust bandwidth to accommodate the usage demand, depending on the turnout.

Unfortunately for many customers, the difference between scalability and elasticity is muddied when some providers market the more expensive (and sometimes unnecessary) elastic option to all types businesses. The truth is, most small and medium-sized businesses don't need elastic infrastructure. They need a site that can help them scale appropriately.

The Art and Science of Cloud Scaling  

Scaling systems offer flexible features that businesses actually use. The scalable product offered by Lunarpages is an example of this. The company offers a package with data billed on a standard contract, with upgrades added based on usage. The starting cloud hosting service begins at nearly $44.95 a month, with 50 GB of SSD storage, 1000GB of bandwidth, an IP address and 2GB of RAM.

If a company needs more CPU cores, it can add them, along with extra bandwidth, disk space or RAM. The focus, according to Lunarpages, is to offer flexibility to customers, even if it results in lower monthly revenue for Lunarpages. If a small company downgrades from a premium contract, it can do so in the middle of any billing term; it's not stuck paying at the higher rate for the duration of the payment cycle.

Using scalable services is a smart business move that is also trendy. Scalable usage trends are up because more companies are finding success with the model. The photo-sharing website SmugMug is one such winner.

SmugMug's photo business requires storage of more than a half a petabyte of data on a scalable system, and the company found a cloud provider that saved the company money and provided a seamless storage experience. Once SmugMug was set up with a provider based on a flexible scale, it saved an estimated $1 million using cloud storage.

Another big cloud user is the ever-popular NYTimes.com news website, which uses a scalable data system "to process terabytes of archival data using hundreds of instances within 36 hours." Suffice it to say that the last-minute nature of the news business requires the provider to be available at all hours and speaks to the reliability of the system. And a site that can attract relatively large waves of unexpected traffic can also handle big jumps in traffic without being forced into unlimited elastic deals.

The web-based video-making site Animoto had to scale up on its audience expectation over three days, moving from 25K people to 250K people a day when one of its videos went viral.

Scale Is on the Horizon

Business analysts at Gartner identified IT scaling businesses on the web as one of the major technology trends of 2014, along with 3D printing and contextually aware smart machines. By 2016, the Gartner analysts say, "the majority of new IT spending will be on cloud platforms and applications."

According to a cloud computing publication by Oxford University, another benefit of scaling infrastructure is its use of smart servers known as "resource pools," which make virtual machines more secure and improve the use of firewalls, VPNS and storage. Resource pools group together cloud resources in order to make the virtualization of scaled servers and storage possible. Because resource pools maximize storage space, they also facilitate cheaper hardware investments for a provider, resulting in cheaper monthly fees for their clients. Resource pools also facilitate remote scaling of operations through private, secure data centers. Other IT operations facilitated by the pools include automatic load balancing, clustering, and application delivery.

Finally, scaling also benefits the development of mobile applications. Cloud expert Lee Schlesinger says a critical feature to building competitive mobile applications is constant updating through efficient management. He says a smart business needs a scalable DevOps plan "to aid in the process of moving code from developers to testing to production."

Any snags in the process may not only cost money but also cast a potentially useful and popular application in a negative light with its users. Mobile developers must respond immediately to user issues without worrying about the backbone of their business.

[image: welcomia/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos]

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Jose is a technology expert with experience in covering cloud computing, startups and enterprise IT.
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