Designing for Cloud Worthiness

Cloud Computing is changing the rules of computing to the enterprise. Enterprises are no longer constrained by capital costs of upfront equipment purchase. Rather they can concentrate on the application and deploy it on the cloud and pay in a utility style based on usage. Cloud computing essentially presents a virtualized platform on which applications can be deployed.

The Cloud exhibits the property of elasticity by automatically adding more resources to the application as demand grows and shrinking the resources when the demand drops. It is this property of elasticity of the cloud and the ability to pay based on actual usage that makes Cloud Computing so alluring.

However to take full advantage of the Cloud the application must use the available cloud resources judiciously.  It is important for applications that are to be deployed on the cloud to have the property of scaling horizontally.  What this implies is that the application should be able to handle more transactions per second when more resources are added to application. For example if the application has been designed to run in a small CPU instance of 1.7GHz,32 bit and 160 GB of instance storage with a throughput of 800 transactions per second then one should be able to add 4 such instances and scale to handling 4000 transactions per second.

However there is a catch in this. How does one determine what should be theoretical limit of transactions per second for a single instance?  Ideally we should maximize the throughput and minimize the latency for each instance prior to going to the next step of adding more instances on the cloud. One should squeeze the maximum performance from the application in the instance of choice prior to using multiple instances on the cloud. Typical applications perform reasonably well under small loads but as the traffic is increased the response time increases and the throughput also starts dipping.

There is a need to run some profiling tools and remove bottlenecks in the application. The standard refrain for applications to be deployed on the cloud is that they should be loosely coupled and also be stateless. However, most applications tend to be multi-threaded with resource sharing in various modules.  The performance of the application because of locks and semaphores should be given due consideration. Typically a lot of time wasted in the wait state of threads in the application. A suitable technique should be used for providing concurrency among threads. The application should be analyzed whether it read-heavy and write-light or write-heavy and read-light. Suitable synchronization techniques like reader-Writer, message queue based exclusion or monitors should be used.

I have found callgrind for profiling and gathering performance characteristics along with KCachegrind for providing a graphical display of performance times extremely useful.

Another important technique to improve performance is the need to maintain in-memory cache of frequently accessed data. Rather than making frequent queries to the database periodic updates from the database need to be made and stored in in-memory cache. However while this technique works fine with a single instance the question of how to handle in-memory caches for multiple instances in the cloud represents quite a challenge. In the cloud when there are multiple instances there is a need for a distributed cache which is  shared among multiple instances. Memcached is appropriate technique for maintaining a distributed cache in the cloud.

Once the application has been ironed out for maximum performance the application can be deployed on the cloud and stress tested for peak loads.

Some good tools that can be used for generating loads on the application are loadUI and multi-mechanize. Personally I prefer multi-mechanize as it uses test scripts that are based on Python which can be easily modified for the testing. One can simulate browser functionality to some extent with Python in multi-mechanize which can prove useful.

Hence while the cloud provides CPUs, memory and database resources on demand the enterprise needs to design applications such that the use of these resources are done judiciously. Otherwise the enterprise will not be able to reap the benefits of utility computing if it deploys inefficient applications that hog a lot of resources without appropriate revenue generating performance.

INWARDi Technologies

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