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Living in the clouds

Christine Cahoon   Mon 15 Jan 2018

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At the end of last week we had cause to upgrade the performance of a number of web sites by up-sizing the server instance they were hosted on. It occurred to me just how much easier life has become since we began living in a cloud.

Upgrading a server is a breeze compared to the 1990s when we were hosting all our own internet services on our network, then later in our own racks in Telephone House in Belfast (the network "head end" for Northern Ireland). When renting data centre real estate we were in a situation that was much more prone to downtime, fraught with stressful incidents if anything went wrong, and costly.

For more than ten years now we've been using Amazon Web Services, creating our own resilient hosting environment for all our internet services in a rather large and well equipped cloud. All services are monitored, system updates are easily performed regularly, and snapshots, which capture the complete content of each server instance (operating system, databases, application software and other resources including all data), are taken daily for backup purposes.

Within the AWS global cloud, each server instance has been built by ourselves to our specification and tuned for our ETINU software. When demand arises, another server instance can be created or an existing instance upgraded with minimum ado. For most new instances we take a snapshot of our most recent server configuration to create a new source image then launch the server instance using that image.

Once a server instance has been set up, it is automatically charged at a price for on-demand per hour usage. However we can negotiate "reserved instances", an accounting device that allows us to commit to "always on" server instances over a fixed term and thereby reducing the cost.

We performed an upgrade on one of our servers at 04.45 this past week. There was no user activity or network traffic at this time and the new larger instance was running with negligible downtime of service. Tests after restart showed that the server had boosted performance as expected.

We sometimes hanker after the good old days but I, for one, am very glad we've moved to cloud hosting where, not only is an upgrade easier, but hardware, security and environment are also taken care of.