Introduction

This post will present interesting approach to scalability and reliability:

How to implement multi-cloud application deployment ?!

There are many reasons why this is interesting topic. Avoiding provider lockdown, reducing cloud provider outage impact, increasing world-wide coverage, disaster recovery / preparedness are only some of them. The obvious benefits of multi-cloud deployment are increased reliability and outage impact minimization. However, there are drawbacks too: supporting different sets of code to accommodate similar, but different services, increased cost, increased infrastructure complexity, different tools … Yet, despite the drawbacks, the possible benefits far outweigh the negatives!

In the following article a simple service will be deployed in automated fashion over two different Cloud Service Providers: Amazon AWS and Joyent. Third provider, CloudFlare, will be used to service DNS requests. The choice of providers is not random. They are chosen because of particular similarities and because the ease of use. All of those providers have consistent, comprehensive APIs that allow automation through programming in parallel to the command line tools.

Preliminary information

The service setup, described here, although synthetic, is representative of multiple usage scenarios. More complex scenarios are also possible. Special care should be taken to address use of common resources or non-replicable resources/states. Understand the dependencies of your application architecture before using multi-cloud setup. Or contact Xi Group Ltd. to aid you in this process!

The following Cloud Service Providers will be used to deploy executable code on:

DNS requests will be served by CloudFlare. The test domain is: scalability.expert

Required tools are:

Additional information can be found in AWS CLI, Joyent CloudAPI Documentation and CloudFlare ClientAPI.

Implementation Details

A service, website for www.scalability.expert, has to be deployed over multiple clouds. For simplicity, it is assumed that this is a static web site, served by NginX. It will run on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. Instance types chosen in both AWS and Joyent are pretty limited, but should provide enough computing power to run NginX and serve static content. CloudFlare must be configured with basic settings for the DNS zone it will serve (in this case, the free CloudFlare account is used).

Each computing instance, when bootstrapped or restarted, will start the NginX and register itself in CloudFlare. At that point it should be able to receive client traffic. Upon termination or shutdown, each instance should remove its own entries from CloudFlare thus preventing DNS zone pollution with dead entries. In a previous article, How to implement Service Discovery in the Cloud, it was discussed how DNS-SD can be implemented for similar setup with increased client complexity. In a multi-tier architecture this a proper solution. However, lack of control over the client browser may prove that a simplistic solution, like the one described here, is a better choice.

CloudFlare

CloudFlare setup uses the free account and one domain, scalability.expert, is configured:

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.18.32 PM

Basic configuration includes only one entry for the zone name:

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 1.19.03 PM

As seen by the orange cloud icon, the requests for this record will be routed through CloudFlare’s network for inspection and analysis!

AWS UserData / Joyent Script

To automate the process of configuring instances, the following UserData script will be used:

This UserData script contains three components:

  1. Lines 0 – 62: Boilerplate, OS update, installation and configuration of NginX;

  2. Lines 64 – 215: cloudflare-submit.sh, main script that will be called on startup and shutdown of the instance. cloudflare-submit.sh will register the instance’s public IP address with CloudFlare and set required protection. By default, protection and acceleration is off. Additional configuration is required to make this script work for your setup, account details must be configured in the specified variables!

  3. Lines 217 – 228: Setting proper script permissions, configuring automatic start of cloudflare-submit.sh and executing it to register with CloudFlare.

Code is reasonably straight-forward. init.d startup script is divided to multiple functions and output is redirected to a log file for debugging purposes. External dependencies are kept to a minimum. Distinguishing between AWS EC2 and Joyent instances is done by analyzing the instance ID. In AWS, all EC2 instances have instance IDs starting with ‘i-‘, while Joyent uses (by the looks of it) some sort of UUID. This part of the logic is particularly important if the code should be extended to support other cloud providers!

Both AWS and Joyent offer Ubuntu 14.04 support, so the same code can be use to configure the instances in automated fashion. This is particularly handy when it comes to data driven instance management and the DRY principle. Command line tools for both cloud providers also offer similar syntax, which makes it easier to utilize this functionality.

Amazon AWS

Staring new instances within Amazon AWS is straight-forward, assuming awscli is properly configured:

Joyent

Starting news instances within Joyent is somewhat more complex, but there is comprehensive documentation:

This particular example will start new SmartMachine instance using the 4dad8aa6-2c7c-e20a-be26-c7f4f1925a9a package (g3-devtier-0.25-kvm, 3rd generation, virtual machine (KVM) with 256MB RAM) and 286b0dc0-d09e-43f2-976a-bb1880ebdb6c (ubuntu-certified-14.04) image. SSH key details are supplied through the specific combinations of Web-interface settings and SSH key signature. For the list of available packages (instance types) and images (software stacks) consult the API: ListPackages, ListImages.

NOTE: Joyent offers rich Metadata support, which can be quite flexible tool when managing large number of instances!

Successful service configuration

Successful service configuration will result in proper DNS entries to be added to the scalability.expert DNS zone in CloudFlare:

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 4.12.43 PM

After configured TTL, those should be visible world-wide:

As seen, both AWS (54.83.175.90) and Joyent (165.225.137.102) IP addresses are returned, i.e. DNS Round-Robin. Service can simply be tested with:

Resulting calls can be seen in the NginX log files on both instances:

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 5.30.50 PM

NOTE: CloudFlare protection and acceleration features are explicitly disabled in this example! It is strongly suggested to enabled them for production purposes!

Conclusion

It should be clear now, that whenever software architecture follows certain design principles and application is properly decoupled in multiple tiers, the whole system can be deployed within multiple cloud providers. DevOps principles for automated deployment can be implemented in this environment as well. The overall system is with improved scalability, reliability and in case of data driven elastic deployments, even cost! Proper design is key, but the technology provided by companies like Amazon and Joyent make it easier to turn whiteboard drawings into actual systems with hundreds of nodes!

References

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