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vGRID for Performance

This year has been full of exciting changes here at theCloud, not least of all was the launch of the vGRID suite of services in September. In the coming paragraphs we will attempt to cover all of the exciting news, but first up let’s look at the vGRID Enterprise platform changes, site moves and achievements.

Being in our fourth year of operation as theCloud Limited, sixth year as theCloud brand, we are no stranger to the constant rip-and-replace exercise related to the perpetual renewal of hardware assets reaching their 36 month production limit. This year was a little different however, technology has been advancing rapidly and with such advances come benefits we can deliver to you, our customers. The most significant change this year was our adoption of the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7450 – All Flash Array. This heralds a new chapter for theCloud, an change in technology that allows us to deliver on promise regardless of the workload. The HP 3PAR technology already gave us unparalleled quality and scalability in the service provider model, but it now delivers on the performance promise too. Now this is not to say that the 7400 series (spinning disk) does not perform well, it does, but with increasing demand on disk subsystems to cope with the creation, collection, storage and processing of seriously large amounts of data – we needed an underlying technology set that could cope and cope “on tap”.

We didn’t stop there, not only did we replace one of our HP 3PAR SAN’s with the newer 7450 model, we also augmented our largest HP 3PAR SAN with the same technology and software stacks, ensuring the ‘performance and quality’ message could be upheld as a common standard.

Interestingly when we opened the flood-gates for a few early adopter clients, we saw individual workload demands spike as high as 40,000 IOPS. We take pride in the knowledge that this is only a fraction of what our platforms are capable of and we look forward to putting this performance in the hands of customers who need it, where value can be derived from the efficiencies gained through greater throughput in their applications. Other use-cases include the ability for customers to temporarily make use of these performance tiers for bottle-neck diagnostics and maintenance activities such as database index defragmentation.

Other upgrades in the hardware stack this year have included the introduction of the latest generation CPU’s from Intel and the move from 1Gbps and 10Gbps internal networks to 10Gbps and 40Gbps internal networks, keeping congestion and resource constraints firmly out of our vocabulary.

In other news – email services:

Our Exchange Mail platform undertook a major upgrade only a few weeks ago – it was a “no rollback” sort of change due to some fundamental changes in how Microsoft deal with multi-tenancy security in recent service packs. This upgrade was performed in full from end to end in our lab environment a total of three times before being deemed safe to roll into production. It was this testing and re-testing that allowed us to have complete faith in the upgrade, to destroy the mailboxes of several thousand users was not an option.

For those who are not aware, the Exchange Mail platform is an extremely resilient one at its core, with geographic diversity from mailbox store right out to edge gateway servers, we can drop an entire site and still deliver 100% of mail services (DNS updates aside). We were plagued by a number of unfortunately network outages over the year that caused havoc with the service but all of that has been overcome, bypassed, mitigated and evolved so customers can rely once again on this great service with peace of mind.

Anti-virus and anti-spam protection has been a default feature of all mailboxes on theCloud since the service was launched in 2010, but Microsoft have retired the Forefront Security offering for service provider operated Exchange Mail. The only options available to us were to route all customer email via Microsoft servers, or to adopt something new. Given our focus on data sovereignty and ‘keeping it kiwi’ we elected to adopt a new product, this was implemented a few days ago and is going well, it has some more granular control features and makes use of the junk-mail folder in Outlook so we expect it to be a step-up from the Forefront option we have retired.

Looking forward to 2015:

It is hard to contemplate 2015 when we are still trying to take a breath from the whirlwind that has been 2014, but we have some exciting plans so it would be unfair not to at least share a few….

1. vGRID Desktop – launched in September on the VMware Horizon View stack, this offering is designed to provide VDI (persistent desktops, not sessions) to a wide range of user roles (office, design, engineering, GIS). There are changes afoot in this however, for the GPU accelerated editions of the service we have found that driver support and overall performance is significantly better on Citrix, watch this space for those changes…..

2. Control panel experience – Both the customer portal and partner portal have been getting considerable attention from our development team over the past few months, this will all come to light over Christmas as we soft-launch the new versions. A much needed upgrade on the customer portal brings rapid deployment and simple cloud management tools back into the mix, we lost this when upgrading from vCloud 4.1 to 5.1 due to some foundational changes in the API.

3. API access and OpenStack – the team are working away on some proof of concept models around HP Helion (OpenStack) in an effort to see how this might play a role in our medium term goals. As always we welcome customer feedback on this initiative, it is a new era in automation and we are all about automation so it seems a logical fit.

Hopefully that provided you with some insights as to what theCloud has been up to this year, as well as reminding you why we exist – performance and quality,

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