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Data center monitoring: Backbone to the cloud service-level agreement

Gina Narcisi

Maintaining a strong cloud service-level agreement can be easier said than done. Cloud providers are relying heavily on cloud data center monitoring techniques to lower the risk of potential outages

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and ensure the least amount of downtime for their customers.

Whether the provider relies on cloud data center monitoring software from a vendor or internally developed technology, capacity and performance monitoring and management can help cloud providers honor their cloud service-level agreements (SLAs).

The cloud service-level agreement starts in the data center

VMware recently announced its acquisition of Log Insight -- a real-time log analytics product from Mountain View, Calif.-based data mining technology provider, Pattern Insight Inc. -- to enhance its data center management product portfolio.

The technology can help cloud providers manage the scale and complexity of their data centers, Jon Herlocker, technologist for VMware wrote in a blog post.

"In order to remain competitive, companies will be driven to collect more data about their … own processes, and perform deeper and deeper analysis. Data centers will need significantly more storage nodes for that data, in addition to more compute nodes for processing it. And they'll need more complex analysis tools," Herlocker wrote.

Log Insight combines analytics and log management technology into a Twitter-like feed that helps administrators find the root cause of problems very quickly, according to Pattern Insight.

Cloud providers are now looking to traditional server and physical infrastructure monitoring tools to troubleshoot and manage their cloud environments and uphold their cloud computing service-level agreements, but not all vendors have evolved enough to satisfy the particular needs of the cloud infrastructure.

More on the cloud service-level agreement

Cloud service-level agreement: Shielding data from outages

CIO tips for a cloud service-level agreement

Cloud SLAs promise uptime, not data availability

Security concerns triggered by weak cloud service-level agreements

Terremark Worldwide Inc., the cloud services subsidiary of Verizon, has developed its own data center monitoring technology after failing to find a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) vendor that fit the cloud provider's business model.

Terremark monitors power and cooling levels of its data centers, but also needed provisioning and capacity planning technology in order to determine where best to deploy customers' services, noted Ben Stewart, senior vice president of facilities engineering for Miami, Fla.-based Terremark.

"When we deploy a new customer onto the floor and they are all hooked up to the same shared infrastructure, it's important that we have a balanced infrastructure at all times so one customer will not impact another," he said.

The homegrown data center monitoring technology tracks power circuit and infrastructure activity, and ties into an alarm management system, Stewart noted.

The management system automatically opens a ticket after an alarm is triggered -- based on issues like a breaker trip or an exceeded power level -- and an employee can then respond to the ticket. Another employee is tasked with tracking the progress of the ticket at the same time.

"The system provides just another level of protection for our customers," he said, noting that Terremark's cloud service-level agreements could not be upheld without its homegrown DCIM.

Data center, network monitoring needed to back cloud service-level agreement

While data center monitoring can help cloud providers keep their promises to customers, there are different elements of the cloud -- from the server and the data center environment to the network -- that need to be carefully monitored, said Amy DeCarlo, principal analyst for security and data center services at Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis Inc.

"It's more than just the data center [which cloud providers] need to monitor -- they also need to monitor the network," DeCarlo said.

Some providers -- like Verizon or AT&T -- have the luxury of using their own networks while others -- like Rackspace -- use a third-party network. Regardless of which model they use, all cloud providers should have visibility into their network and pay close attention to network performance in order to uphold a cloud service-level agreement, she noted.

Data center monitoring provides an important mechanism for cloud providers to understand if they are meeting their service-level agreements, agreed Sam Barnett, directing analyst for data center and cloud at Campbell, Calif.-based Infonetics Research Inc.

Cloud providers can take different approaches to monitoring depending on their customer base and the services they are offering.

"Providers may choose [to employ] application performance monitoring on virtual machines, network statistics monitoring and utilization or compute monitoring," he said, noting that providers must carefully craft their cloud service-level agreement based on what they will effectively be monitoring.

While monitoring technology can help a cloud provider prove to customers that their service-level agreement will be upheld, it can still be a sticky area for many providers. It's still too soon for most providers to offer a 100% cloud service-level agreement, Barnett noted.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.


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