What Cloud APIs Reveal about the Budding Cloud Market

Although Cloud Computing remains hard to define, one of its essential characteristics is pragmatic access to virtually unlimited network, compute and storage resources. The foundation of a cloud is a solid Application Programming Interface (API), despite the fact that many users access cloud computing through consoles and third-party applications.

CloudSwitch works with several cloud providers and thus is able to interact with a variety of cloud APIs (both active and about-to-be-released versions). CloudSwitch has come up with some impressions after working with both the APIs and those implementing them.

First, clouds remain different in spite of constant discussion about standards. Cloud APIs have to cover more than start/stop/delete a server, and once the API crosses into provisioning the infrastructure (network ranges, storage capacity, geography, accounts, etc.), it all starts to get interesting.

Second, a very strong infrastructure is required for a cloud to function as it should. The infrastructure must be good enough to sell to others when it comes to public clouds. Key elements of the cloud API can inform you about the infrastructure, what tradeoffs the cloud provider has made and the impact of end users, if you are attuned to what to look out for.

Third, APIs are evolving fast, like cloud capabilities. New API calls and expansion of existing functions as cloud providers add new capabilities and features are now a reality. On balance, we are discussing on-the-horizon services and with cloud providers and what form their API is poised to take. This is a perfect opportunity to leverage the experience and work of companies like CloudSwitch as a means to integrate these new capabilities into a coherent data model.

When you look at the functions beyond simple virtual machine control, an API can give you an indication of what is happening in the cloud. Some like to take a peek at the network and storage APIs in order to understand how the cloud is built. Take Amazon, for example. In Amazon, the base network design is that each virtual server receives both a public and private IP address. These addresses are assigned from a pool based on the location of the machine within the infrastructure. Even though there are two IP addresses, however, the public one is just routed (or NAT’ed) to the private address. You only have a single network interface to your server—which is simply and scalable architecture for the cloud provider for support—with Amazon. The server will cause problems for applications requiring at least two NICs, such as some cluster applications.

Terremark’s cloud offering is in stark contrast to Amazon’s. IP addresses are defined by the provider so they can route traffic to your servers, like Amazon, but Terremark allocates a range for your use when you first sign up (while Amazon uses a generic pool of addresses). This can been seen as a positive because there is better control of the assignment of networking address, but on the flip side is potential scaling issues because you only have a limited number of addresses to work with. Additionally, you can assign up to four NIC’s to each server in Terremark’s Enterprise cloud (which allows you to create more complex network topologies and support applications requiring multiple networks for proper operation).

One important thing to consider is that with the Terremark model, servers only have internal addresses. There is no default public NAT address for each server, as with Amazon. Instead, Terremark has created a front-end load balancer that can be used to connect a public IP address to a specified set of servers by protocol and port. You must first create an “Internal Service” (in the language of Terremark) that defines a public IP/Port/Protocol for each protocol and port. Next, assign a server and port to the Service, which will create a connection. You can add more than one server to each public IP/Port/Protocol group  since this is a load balancer. Amazon does have a load balancer function as well, and although it isn’t required to connect public addresses to your cloud servers, it does support connecting multiple servers to a single public IP address.

When it comes down to it, the APIs and the feature sets they define tell a lot about the capabilities and design of a cloud infrastructure. The end user features, flexibility and scalability of the whole service will be impacted by decisions made at the infrastructure level (such as network address allocation, virtual device support and load balancers). It is important to look down to the API level when considering what cloud environment you want because it helps you to better understand how the cloud providers’ infrastructure decisions will impact your deployments.

Although building a cloud is complicated, it can provide a powerful resource when implemented correctly. Cloud with different “sweet spots” emerge when cloud providers choose key components and a base architecture for their service. You can span these different clouds and put the right application in the right environment with CloudSwitch. To schedule a time to discuss how Cloud Computing can help your enterprise, contact Nubifer today.

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