Cloud computing performance FAQ: What makes the cloud go?

Cloud computing offers many benefits, but performance issues can complicate matters. Find out how to combat service-level agreement concerns, deal with varying performance levels and solve other frequently asked cloud performance questions.

Any enterprises adopting cloud computing services certainly expect the kind of improved performance that an elastic computing environment should provide.

But cloud services are not perfect. Through limitations such as still-evolving technologies and the confines of bandwidth, questions about performance are sure to arise in even the most efficient, well-designed cloud environment.

These frequently asked questions on cloud computing performance offer advice on lessening performance concerns, understanding the relationship between service-level agreements (SLA) and performance, and the standards slowly developing in the cloud computing world.

How does the performance of different cloud services vary?

As cloud computing pops up in more and more IT departments, some cloud services have seen their performance woes exposed. Response times have been known to fluctuate, and certain cloud services respond differently to varying stress levels. For example, Google App Engine is designed as simple development platform that suffers when subjected to lengthy requests, while Amazon Web Services (AWS) values cheap, elastic computing power above all else. Cloud services continue to evolve beyond these limitations, however, and some cloud users have already come up with a solution -- launch one too many instances and shut down the stragglers.

What can cloud companies to do alleviate performance concerns?

Numerous cloud competitors have attempted to build environments modeled after AWS, including Eucalyptus and Enomaly, only to hit performance snags along the way. While the growing number of cloud providers and technological advances have slowed those issues, many enterprises are also turning to private cloud to slow concerns such as scaling. Internal clouds within a company's data center have proven easier to manage, and enterprises willing to adopt them can access cloud's numerous benefits without battling the performance concerns of old.

How do service-level agreements impact cloud performance?

Unfortunately, unlike in other network services, there are not as many precedents for negotiating an SLA with cloud computing or platform services. But an SLA for cloud can help improve performance because it addresses an expected range of availability and performance. Application and network performance should be a top concern before moving forward with other aspects; the information gathered from these factors can be used to set cloud computing performance limits. It is also critical to convert application performance to set parameters that can be measured on the cloud provider's infrastructure. SLAs force IT managers to focus on three major areas: Data protection, continuity and cost. How a department handles the questions that arise from these areas can be indicative of how well the vendor can service a client.

Are there any services out there compiling cloud performance standards?

Though there isn't yet a good deal of "quantifiable information" on cloud, many independent researchers and analysts are beginning to look at cloud and compile some cloud computing benchmarks. In February, Jason Read, an IT infrastructure and software consultant and ex-IBMer who now runs CloudHarmony.com, published the cloud "speed test." The results showed a disparity in cloud performance based on location. Read has also posted comprehensive tests of CPU performance and disk I/O speeds. If you're looking for more information on cloud providers, CloudHarmony.com has generated thousands of results on the different configurations available to consumers.

How do wide area networks affect cloud performance?

Cloud actually has an impact on corporate networks, particularly wide area network (WAN) performance. WANs, if used properly, can actually improve the speed of connection to cloud connections. If you're looking to gain more computing power, you can speed up this process by pulling some resources down off the cloud. Resources can also be moved between data centers, which makes corporate IT more flexible, and in real-time, since workloads can be shuffled around to match what's going on in the business. There are instances, however, where cloud can challenge a WAN strategy, but IT managers can take steps to optimize their WAN performance in preparation for cloud.

Steve Cimino is the Associate Editor for SearchCloudComputing.com; contact him at scimino@techtarget.com. Assistant Editor Alexandria Hubbard also contributed to this FAQ.

This was first published in November 2010

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