October 10, 2011

IProduction Announces Cloud Hosting Service

iProduction has completed a new Cloud Hosting Service (CHS) that utilizes state of the art cloud computing technology.  The goal of this initiative is to reduce the amount of site outage to near zero, provide faster response time, and scalability without down time.

Complete Hardware Refresh

All of the hardware in the CHS is new.  This means faster CPU speeds, faster memory, faster disk, and faster network connections.  The net result is that all aspects of iProduction run faster from Administration functions to basic web page delivery.

Cloud Virtualization of Servers

All of the servers utilized to deliver websites, Administration, and email are now virtualized.  This means that the servers are not bound to a physical machine.  Historically, if a hardware failure occurred, such as a bad power supply, the server was taken off line until the repair could be completed.  In the CHS, if a physical machine fails, the virtual server is automatically transferred by operating software to a new physical server.  Virtualization also provides for allocating additional resources to a server.  This allows for the tuning of resources to optimize CPU utilization and memory through allocations to servers to match the application characteristics.

Most significantly, Administration is now virtuallized.  In the past, Administration has been locked to a physical machine.  Now, Administration servers can be transferred and allocated additional capacity as needed.

To ensure reliability and scalability, all web page servers are load balanced.  This means that for each website, there are many web page servers that share the load.  Traffic is distributed equally among them.  A spike in demand is diffused across all the servers.  This ensures rapid page delivery and minimizes page server down time.

Storage Area Network (SAN)

The SAN is a cloud technology that provides arrays of disks to be presented to servers through logical connections rather than physical connections.  This provides the ability to add disk and move servers without interuption of service.  The SAN is fault tolerant in a number of ways.  First, the SAN operates using RAID 5 redundant storage.  Every byte of information is recorded twice on separate physical devices.  If one fails, the data is automatically recovered.

Secondly, the controllers that provide access to the SAN are redundant.  If one fails, the other takes over.  This ensures maximum storage availability and up time.

An additional feature of the SAN is the backup capability.  Backups are performed at regular daily intervals in the form of “Snapshots” and also in mirror mode to the offsite backup data center.

Enhanced Monitoring Internal and External

The CHS is highly monitored both internally and externally.  Internally, the monitoring software checks the status of servers, the SAN, and applications every two minutes.  Alarms are set to inform operations management day and night if servers become unresponsive or resources are low.  These alarms are the foundation of new escalation and event management policies.

Externally iProduction utilizes WebsitePulse to monitor website from key cities.  This monitoring does not originate from the CHS.  Therefore, if the CHS has trouble or the internal monitors fail, the external monitors will detect an outage.  In addition, this provides a key metric for web page delivery time.  Every 5 minutes the monitor records how long it takes to render a page from a given city.  This is extremely helpful when analyzing performance issues.

CDN and Enhanced Page Caching

How do you possibly deliver today’s complex web pages in under one second?  The answer is a cloud computing technique that combines maximum use of a Content Distribution Network (CDN) and advanced page caching. 

The CDN is a network of servers in 128 cities that provide local storage and delivery of web page assets.  This means that all of the pictures and videos on a page are stored and delivered from servers in the reader’s location.  This eliminates the network delay caused by moving an image across the nation.  It also engages hundreds of additional servers to display pages at the same time.  In addition, the CDN servers are intelligent and cache assets in memory so that when they are requested, they can be delivered quickly.  The net result is that pages are delivered extremely fast.

The key to iProduction’s use of the CDN is integration.  The Administration system automatically sends the assets to the CDN when an editor hits “Save”.  There is no manual intervention.  This also includes video. 

The second technique is advanced page caching.  iProduction caches pages on multiple levels according to the conversion architecture.  If the reader is unknown, they will be delivered a fully cached page because there are no unique reader attributes contained in the page.  If a reader is known, they are delivered unique pages that cannot be fully cached.  In this case, the static componets of the page are cached so that the page can be assembled quickly without the need to re-build the page.

Together these techniques give iProduction the page responses that are comparable to the very high volume consumer orientated sites.

R/D/Q and Production Systems

The CHS is architected to support Research/Development/Quality Assurance (RDQ) and Production systems.  This is accomplished through complete segmentation.  A duplicate environment exists for each of these systems. Therefore, it is not possible for any RDQ activity to effect the Production systems.  This is critical to ensuring seamless upgrading of the platform and sites.