SaaS Your App: Providing Support to Customers (Part V)

September 12, 2012
By Richard Seroter, Senior Product Manager. Find Richard on Twitter

Throughout this series of articles, we have looked at the architectural considerations and solution components that are necessary for delivering software as a service (SaaS). We have seen that upfront design is critical when building software that can be successfully used by customers with unique needs. A full-featured cloud service provider like CenturyLink Cloud offers many of the infrastructure automation and management services that makes it possible to efficiently deliver such software at scale. In this final article, we take a look at the choices that a SaaS provider needs to consider when deciding upon a support strategy for their customers.

One overarching consideration that any SaaS provider has to make is whether they plan on providing consumer-oriented, personalized service, or something with a more mass market flavor. Each approach has merit but would result in different implementations of four suggestions below.

Standardize wherever possible

One of the only ways that any software provider, SaaS or otherwise, can sell at scale is to standardize their offering and avoid per-customer customization. While everyone loves the idea of “I want it my way”, that concept quickly falls apart when the software provider is maintaining unique code bases, support instructions, and pricing.

The most...

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SaaS Your App: Building a Customer Sign-Up and Management Portal (Part IV)

August 26, 2012
By Richard Seroter, Senior Product Manager. Find Richard on Twitter

So far, we have reviewed many considerations for designing, hosting and managing a SaaS application on a cloud platform. One of the hallmarks of cloud computing is the notion of “self service”, and for SaaS providers, it’s the only way that they can efficiently scale to hundreds or thousands of customers. In this article, we will look at how to use the CenturyLink Cloud web API to create a self-service sign up and management portal that lets SaaS customers administer their applications without requiring help from the software provider.

Solution Overview

We have been working through a scenario with a fictitious SaaS application that acts as a public face for candidates running for elected office. The application’s developer chose to deploy unique server clusters for each customer in order to isolate their sensitive donor and donation data. The management database, which holds account details and application configuration data, was shared.

In previous articles, we walked through the steps of creating a blueprint for the server clusters, and now need a way to automatically provision these clusters and enable a self-service management experience.

Adding New Customers

The first thing that our developer provided was the ability to add new SaaS customers. For...

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(Actually) To the Cloud

August 20, 2012
By CenturyLink Cloud Product Management

I am delighted to report that I have joined CenturyLink Cloud as the VP of Engineering. I joined CenturyLink Cloud for two primary reasons; its comprehensive cloud management offering that is built for agility, and its talented team with the ability to execute on its vision.

As I look at the various cloud computing offerings from other vendors, they focus on compute, storage, and networking. Don’t get me wrong; all of these are necessary. CenturyLink Cloud not only addresses these building blocks, but we optimize them for more agile infrastructure that is easy to use and, just as important, easy to manage for IT operational efficiency.

The second reason is the people. Years ago when I joined my first start-up, Clear Communications (no, it did not bring me riches), I made a decision that working with great people on a day-to-day basis was critical for my professional development. For example, even though I worked at Teradyne with Robert C. Martin (Uncle Bob) it wasn’t until I moved to Clear Communications that I began to work with him on a daily basis. I cannot underestimate how much I learned in a short period of time from working with him. I have met and...

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SaaS Your App: Establishing Operational Support (Part III)

August 12, 2012
By Richard Seroter, Senior Product Manager. Find Richard on Twitter

So far in this series of articles, we’ve looked at how a software provider can deliver their product in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) manner using the CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud Platform. While provisioning and deployment of solutions is an exciting topic, the majority of an application’s life will be spent in maintenance mode. In this article, we will look at how a CenturyLink Cloud cloud user can efficiently manage and monitor their SaaS environment.

Defining Customer Capacity Thresholds

You may recall from the last article that our fictitious SaaS application is targeted at candidates for political office. In this scenario, the application developer chose to create individual pods of servers for each customer instead of co-locating the customers on the same application or database server.

Each of the pods of servers go into a CenturyLink Cloud Group which creates a logical segmentation of servers. Each Group can have its own permissions, maintenance schedule, performance monitors and much more. From the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal, we can browse the individual server groups and have at-a-glance visibility into the resources being used by each server.

In an upcoming article we will look at how to allow SaaS customers to increase server resources...

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SaaS Your App: "Blueprinting" Your Application (Part II)

August 5, 2012
By Richard Seroter, Senior Product Manager. Find Richard on Twitter

In the first article of this series, we discussed the major things to consider when looking to create a software-as-a-service version hosted on a cloud platform. One major factor called out in that article was the need for a solid hosting environment. In this article, we will look at how to use the CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud Platform to package a web application for SaaS provisioning.

Solution Overview

To provide some real-life applicability to this article series, let us work with a fictitious, but realistic, use case. Elections to government posts are a regular part of most societies and it’s becoming increasingly critical for candidates to have a robust web presence. Let’s imagine that a web developer successfully built a web site for a local candidate and has realized that this site template could be reused by multiple candidates. Recall from the previous article that an application can be multi-tenant (and thus easier to maintain for multiple customers) in multiple ways:

  • All customers could reside on the same instance of the web application and database.
  • Customers can share a web application but maintain unique databases.
  • Each customer gets their own web application and database instance and MAY share underlying infrastructure.

    There are benefits and risks

  • ...

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    Cloud Server Group Administration

    July 28, 2012
    By Richard Seroter, Senior Product Manager. Find Richard on Twitter

    Organizations continue to invest heavily in data center expansion even while IT staffing has remained relatively flat. Every day, system administrators are being asked to do more with less. With that in mind, CenturyLink Cloud is introducing Group Management so that cloud users have a simple, efficient way to administer, secure and monitor collections of CenturyLink Cloud cloud servers as a single unit. This capability helps organizations with large clouds spend less time on routine maintenance and governance, and more time optimizing their environment and investment.

    What happens once your cloud footprint expands beyond an initial block of servers? It’s no fun trying to manage individual servers in massive, scrolling lists. CenturyLink Cloud Group Management offers an organization scheme for customers who want to pool their servers based on business unit, system, or any arbitrary designation. We wanted to make sure that even the most complex landscape could be accommodated, so Groups support a very deep (32 level!) nesting structure.

    This feature alone may not save users any significant time. Many cloud providers (and infrastructure management suites) offer metadata tags or other ways to create virtual collections of servers. However, CenturyLink Cloud Groups are a foundational part of the cloud platform and offer...

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    CenturyLink Cloud Unveils New Cloud Server Group Management Features

    July 28, 2012
    By CenturyLink Cloud Product Management

    Innovative Cloud-Based Group Management Features Mitigate Server Sprawl and Further Optimize Management, Monitoring and Reporting

    BELLEVUE, Wash. — August 28, 2012 ― CenturyLink Cloud, Inc., the enterprise cloud platform company, today introduced a new set of Server Group Management features that make it easier to maintain large server environments located in its Cloud. The newly unveiled capabilities provide users with a consistent and intuitive way to organize and manage virtual machines through group-based permissions, policies, bulk execution actions, and more.

    As organizations move more of their workloads to the Cloud, organizing and managing those server farms can become challenging, expensive and time-consuming. The CenturyLink Cloud Cloud Server Group Management capability gives system administrators the tools they need to navigate these challenges starting with the ability to logically group and manage their large-scale cloud deployments. Groups are intuitively integrated within both the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal and programmatic API, allowing administrators to create collections of servers that have their own permissions, policies and default server configuration settings.  In addition, actions performed against the groups, such as rebooting or taking snapshots of a server, can be performed in bulk—allowing administrators to spend less time maintaining individual servers and more time optimizing their overall cloud...

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    Platform Update Enables Easier Management, Monitoring, and Reporting

    July 28, 2012
    By CenturyLink Cloud Product Management

    CenturyLink Cloud builds on an agile development methodology and we update our platform about once every six weeks, but this month’s release is a doozy! Over the last 48 hours we’ve released a major platform update that includes:

    • Group server management tools
    • Enhanced reporting
    • Self-provisioning monitoring
    • Scheduled tasks for all types of servers and groups of servers
    • More than 400 additional new features and bug fixes

    New Group VM Capability Eases Server Management

    CenturyLink Cloud Groups is a new feature that allows users to logically group virtual machines by environment type, application, or any other user-specified criteria for easier server management. (Watch the demo video above.) With Groups you can manage large-scale deployments without the burden of configuring and monitoring each server individually. You can nest groups up to 32 levels deep—with policies and permissions automatically inherited by sub-groups and override functionality at every level.

    • Schedule or perform management tasks (such as stopping and starting, rebooting, or setting to maintenance mode) across all servers in a group or sub-group
    • Set default server configurations (e.g. OS version, DNS settings, VLAN) when a new server is provisioned within a group
    • Adjust an environment’s footprint as needed by archiving and restoring a group of VMs with all policy and configuration settings intact, or

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    SaaS Your App: Building for Software as a Service (Part I)

    July 27, 2012
    By Richard Seroter, Senior Product Manager. Find Richard on Twitter

    It will surprise no one to say that Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a hot topic. Really hot. In 2010, Gartner reported that 95% of organizations are planning to grow or maintain their SaaS investment. According to the influential technology blog GigaOm, the valuation of SaaS companies is skyrocketing compared to more traditional enterprise software vendors. While most organizations are increasing their use of SaaS products, some are looking for ways to offer their own software in a SaaS delivery model. What does it mean to “SaaS your app”? This series of articles will walk through the considerations and techniques for creating (or converting) an application for a SaaS offering. In this first article, we will lay the foundation for the series by identifying the critical aspects of SaaS and what you should look for when planning and architecting your software.

    Comparing Application Hosting vs. Software as a Service

    Isn’t SaaS just a rebranding of the products and services offered by Application Service Provider (ASPs)? The answer is a resounding NO, but it’s easy to become confused when you find so many products with “cloud!” slapped on their label. To be fair, SaaS is an extension of the ideas introduced by ASPs, but there...

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    A Look at Platform as a Service Application Monitoring

    July 16, 2012

    New Relic has become a real leader in website performance analytics, and CenturyLink Cloud is thrilled to incorporate this service, for free, into our Platform as a Service service. For each application deployed to Platform as a Service, regardless of the language/framework that the application was written in, New Relic captures deep information about response time, throughput and more. While we’ve put some of the most interesting statistics directly in the CenturyLink Cloud Control Panel for at-a-glance viewing, we also enable you to drill right through to the New Relic site and discover even more valuable metrics. In this post, we’ll take a quick look at how we’ve incorporated New Relic’s monitoring data into the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal.

    Previously, Platform as a Service users had a simple set of metrics about their running application(s) that included how much memory, CPU and storage was allocated for a given application. ![Platform as a Service Control Portal](/assets/images/blog/2012.06.NewRelicIntegration01.png) This resource allocation information is important, but application owners also REALLY want to know how well an application is performing for their users! The **brand new Control Panel dashboard** shows a subset of the New Relic metrics that begin to give you a picture of an application’s health. ![New...

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    Say Hello to Iron Foundry—An Open-Source, .NET PaaS Framework

    July 16, 2012

    At CenturyLink Cloud, we’ve been big supporters of Cloud Foundry—the VMware-led, open-source PaaS framework—from the beginning. That said, we’re a .NET shop and many of our customers’ most critical applications are .NET-based. So today we’ve decided to contribute Iron Foundry, our own .NET fork of Cloud Foundry, back to the community as an open-source project.

    This project includes both the primary framework as well as both a Windows version of Cloud Foundry Explorer and a Visual Studio Plugin for Cloud Foundry. (Video demos for the command line interface and Visual Studio plugin are located at the bottom of this post.) Because developers can run their own instances of Iron Foundry in-house or with any service provider who supports it, developers finally have a truly open, interoperable .NET PaaS solution that can be run inside and outside the firewall. And because you can run your own instances of Iron Foundry, it’s easy to have a full test, QA, and staging environment before pushing to production.

    In addition, operations teams now have the freedom to choose among various service providers that meet their needs in areas such as security, compliance, availability, location, etc. For developers who are interested in trying Iron Foundry, we have...

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    CenturyLink Cloud Automates Deployment of Complex, “Best Practice” Environments into

    July 16, 2012
    By CenturyLink Cloud Product Management

    Toolset creates best practice-optimized, reusable “Blueprints” of complex environments for automated deployment and IT self-service delivery models

    BELLEVUE, Wash.—August 24, 2011—CenturyLink Cloud, Inc., an enterprise cloud platform provider, today announced the Environment Engine, a platform agnostic toolset that automates the design and deployment of complex environments and applications onto the CenturyLink Cloud Enterprise Cloud. From network and storage layer all the way through OS and application, the toolset turns complex environments into best practice-optimized, reusable “Blueprints” for deployment via new IT self service delivery models. The company also announced an initial, robust set of cross-platform Blueprints that CenturyLink Cloud will make available to its Enterprise Cloud Platform customers at launch. While third-party scripting tools automate only at the top (application deployment) or bottom (server image configuring) of the platform stack, the CenturyLink Cloud Environment Engine (see datasheet and demo) integrates these functions into a simple toolset built to interface with every aspect of the CenturyLink Cloud cloud platform.

    The Environment Engine toolset consists of a Blueprint Designer, Blueprint Library and Blueprint Builder that together create a seamless automation workflow to manage creation and storage of Blueprints as well as discovery and rapid deployment of these tested configurations. “Deploying complex environments and applications...

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