Experience with cloud (IaaS) providers
June 8, 2010 1 Comment
One of the advantages of a cloud, as many would have told you, is that you can simply pull out a credit card, and have access to computing resources in a few minutes. But how does this vision pan out in reality? I signed up for Amazon several years ago, the experience was indeed quick and painless and I indeed have access in a few minutes. Since then, several new cloud providers have emerged on the scene. I had the recent pleasure of signing up for services at many of them cloud vendors. Unfortunately, the experience has not been that smooth.
In this post, I will describe my experience with some of those vendors. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. In particular, I deliberately omitted vendors outside of US, e.g., Flexiscale (UK) and MelbournIT (Australia). I am also omitting vendors who charge on a granularity coarser than by the hour, e.g., Joyent which charges by the month. Since I only need servers for a few hours at a time, a monthly charging scheme becomes expensive to me quickly. One caveat of my report is that I signed up services using my hotmail email account, instead of my Accenture email, to avoid the usual “followup” emails inquiring about what my firm is doing. The experience may be different if I have signed up using a corporate email account.
Rackspace has a nice web interface for people signing up for services. At the end after inputing credit card and personal information, there is a verification step, where someone would call you back in 15min. I promptly received the phone call, but after verifying some information from me, the guy said he needs to do more research before he can enable my account.
After a few days of waiting, I decided to call back. Each time I called, I was passed to the verification team, and I was always told that someone would call me back in 15min, but nothing happened. In the end, I was finally fed up and demanded to talk to someone immediately. Finally someone got on the line, and he mentioned that there are few facts which do not match up, unfortunately he refused to elaborate on that. I guess I finally succeeded at getting on the terrorist list :-)? In the end, the guy was nice enough to enable my account, but cautioned that they will be monitoring my traffic. I am not sure whether that means looking at the traffic content or just looking at the traffic volume. Either case, I do not care, because I am not running an enterprise critical application there. But if you are, you better investigate further what Rackspace will look at.
Rackspace’s support is reasonably fast. I had to get their kernel source code to compile a kernel module. I was able to get the information by submitting a support ticket. However, I wish their documentation would improve. They have instructions to get kernel source for the older version of their kernel, but they have not updated for the latest version yet.
GoGrid’s sign-up is supposed to be fully automated, but unfortunately, at the last page I was told the registration did not go through properly, and someone will call me back in a day. Unfortunately, nothing happened for a few days, so I had to call them back. Someone found my information, and she was able to manually enable my account.
I do not have experience with their support because I am able to do what I want to do. Their forum seems to have very little content. I posted a question on one of the forums (Linux Server Administration Forum), and someone finally noticed and replied after a week. The last thread was posted in Sep. 2009 in that forum, and my post was viewed 33 times during that week.
Terremark is one of several vCloud Express providers. They received an investment from VMWare, so presumably they are the most mature. Again, the web user interface is easy to use. At the end, there is a verification email sent. Unfortunately, I never received it. I was advised by support to wait up to 48 hours or more. After waiting for a week, I contacted support and someone resent the verification email. So I am back on the web page entering additional information including my credit card number. Once more, I failed at the last screen verifying my credit card. This time the support suggests I try a different browser. Surprisingly, it did make a difference. Firefox works, but not IE. Who would have thought the backend verification failure could be related to what is used at the front end?
Using Terremark service, in particular, connecting to my launched instance, is the most cumbersome among all cloud providers. You have to install a VMWare plugin and then Cisco VPN, and you have to install the right browser (e.g., Firefox 3.6, the latest would not work). Then you have to connect VPN before you can connect to the console. The VMWare console plugin really drains your CPU. Even if I am not typing, the CPU utilization on my laptop is high and my fan in on all the time. I would choose Putty over the VMWare console any day. Unfortunately, Putty requires setting up firewall and network services, which is an additional charge and an additional step.
Terremark support could use some improvement. I had an issue where my server would not connect to the Internet. It took them 4 days to finally figure out what the problem is. Apparently, my VM is kept on being launched on the same faulty hardware which has network connectivity issues. Although a little slow, they work hard. One support lady was emailing me on a Saturday, trying to resolve the problem.
The pattern continues at hosting.com. At the end of signing up, the last page indicated that an email will be sent once my account is active, but I never received this email. After contacting support after a few days, I realized that the account is active already.
Whenever you launch a new VM at hosting.com, they will email you the password for the administrator account. On the two occasions that I launched the servers, I never received the password email. After contacting support, they promptly resent the password email to me. They claim that there is no known issue with hotmail receiving their email, so I am not sure what is the problem. If you need to automate (both server launching and auto login), you may need to think through whether you can integrate with email reliably.
As a nice conclusion of the post, I have to report that I did have one pleasant experience. Signing up at Bluelock was indeed painless. I had access to Bluelock within minutes. Best of all, they do not ask for your credit card. It comes with a 15 days of free trial. I launched more than 10 servers for 15 days without paying for anything. Thanks, Bluelock!
As a summary, your mileage may vary, but you should be prepared if the vision of instant access does not pan out for you. My advice: if you know you need a service from a vendor, start signing up early!