Amazon Tool Helps Shape Your Cloud Workload

Need expert advice for configuring your cloud workloads? AWS and other vendors are jockeying to provide the best information.
Amazon Web Services launched a beta service called Trusted Advisor to help customers configure their workloads during its Re:Invent Show last November. This week the company made it available for a 30-day free trial.

Given the complexity of the Amazon services and server instances, Trusted Advisor is sorely needed to help customers, especially newcomers, navigate through the tangle of details. Several other vendors also provide a service similar to Trusted Advisor, and some, such as Cloudyn, CloudCheckr, Uptime Software and Cloud Cruiser, offer more features. But since AWS remains the fountainhead of best practices information, Trusted Advisor is likely to gain authority.

AWS says Trusted Advisor is drawing on the aggregated experience of several hundred thousand users when it responds to a customer query. The first thing Trusted Advisor does is analyze a customer's instance based on its data; it then makes recommendations on whether the customer can save money with a more suitable server instance. Remember, Amazon server instances come in a bewildering variety of configurations; reserved instances have first and second generations of the same types, even when a different type of server instance will yield better performance characteristics.

Trusted Advisor also checks for security exposures in customer workloads and makes recommendations on how to close them. With each view, Amazon gives the customer a number of warnings associated with the view. A security view might contain four or five warnings that alert a user to where a workload needs specific patches or other exposures such as a potential buffer overflow.

[ Cloudability's service lets you track individuals to see what resources they are using in the cloud. Read more at Cloudability Sheds Light On Cloud Spending. ]

Amazon can offer the Trusted Advisor service because it routinely collects basic data on each running instance and makes it available through an API to the customer, but customers seldom have the time or the know-how to break it down for all the revelations it might contain.

The AWS Trust Advisor's cost optimizing view tells customers whether they should shut down unused or idling virtual machines. In some cases, it will recommend switching to reserved instances, which carry a lower hourly charge in exchange for an upfront payment.

Trusted Advisor also offers a view on how fault-tolerant a given workload is. For example, is the workload using AWS services that give it greater survivability, such as multiple availability zones, VPN tunnel redundancy, auto scaling and backups for the relational database system?

It also offers a view on performance, telling the customer when a given virtual server is over-utilized and struggling to keep up with traffic, whether any services are at 80% or more of their capacity and whether the provisioned Elastic Block Storage is adequate for the attempted I/O operations.

Each workload report includes a color-coded icon: "No issues detected," "Investigation recommended," "Action recommended," or "Not available."

Trusted Advisor is available for free during the month of March. Sometime after that, it will be generally available as part of AWS support contracts, with prices starting at 10% of the total monthly bill.

Aaron Klein, chief operating officer of Cloud Checkr, said his firm's product is based on a deeper set of analytics than Trusted Advisor. Trusted Advisor uses 14 days' worth of data, against which it runs 27 key performance and optimization checks. In comparison, Cloud Checkr uses 90 days of operational data to perform 127 checks.

Cloud Checkr's reports recommend moving to not only a reserved instance (Amazon's lowest-cost form of virtual server) but to either a one- or three-year reserved instance, based on the nature of the workload. Instead of offering just one recommendation, Klein said, it calculates the difference in price under each scenario.

A frequent complaint among Amazon customers is how they're allowed to tag information in their operational reports. Amazon allows a limited number of tags to be used each customer's virtual servers. Some customers want to use more tags to delineate who's doing what within departments or large project groups. Klein said Cloud Checkr is working to expand the number of tags available so that a large company would know, for example, not only that someone in sales is using a virtual machine but which sales office has a representative using the cloud resource.

Klein said Cloud Checkr is currently free, but a more advanced version offering more sophisticated recommendations will soon be available. It will cost $179 a month and up, depending on the size of deployment. To make use of third-party pricing and optimization systems, customers must enter the unique customer credential assigned to them by Amazon and let the system use it to collect statistics on their workloads.

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