Monday, March 14, 2011

Auto Scaling as a Service

The Tough Auto Scaling Service is our offering to enable the automated scaling of an application tier at runtime. System data collected by a monitoring service provides the intelligence to provision or deprovision resources according to SLA's. Out of the box, our service uses our own Tough Monitoring Service, however, since we're using the de facto standard (Amazon Web Services), you can plug in any implementation that is AWS compatible.

The auto scaling service works by defining an 'auto scaling group'. This identifies the kind of service which will shrink or expand based on system load. The most common use case for auto scaling is for the Web tier where additional Web servers are added on the fly to respond to heavy loads. Auto scaling can also be used on stateful tiers but extra attention must be spent on managing the state replication mechanisms (clustering, etc.)

As new servers are provisioned to respond to the load request, they can be added to a dynamically programmable load balancer. This enables in-bound application traffic to be evenly divided across the array of virtual servers identified in an auto scaling group. Conversely, when the load returns to normal levels, the virtual servers are taken out of the load balanced pool allowing a graceful shutdown. To enable this scenario, we're using our Tough Load Balancing Service, but once again, customers can use any AWS compatible load balancer to perform this operation.

One of the key concepts of cloud computing is the concept of 'elasticity'; another is 'automation'. The Auto Scaling Service brings these two concepts together and applies them toward the compute side of the world to provide three key benefits:
1. Increased success rates on Service Level Agreements - The system auto scales to meet SLA's
2. Higher utilization rates - Unused virtual servers are released back to the pool
3. Reduced operating costs - Predefined policies automate activities that previously would have been human intensive tasks.

Combined, these three benefits make auto scaling a critical component of any private / hybrid cloud environment. It's also worth pointing out that the auto scaling service is a fundamental building block to enable other scalable services such as Platform Services (PaaS).

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