Does running your application in the cloud mean that it’s suddenly able to survive any problem that arises? Alas, no. Even while some foundational services of distributed systems are built for high availability, a high performing cloud application needs to be explicitly architected for fault-tolerance. In this multi-part blog series, we will walk through the various application layers and example how to build a resilient system in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud. Over the course of the next few posts, we will define what’s needed to build a complete, highly available system. The reference architecture below illustrates the components needed for a fictitious eCommerce web application.

HA Application Architecture

In this first post, we look at a core aspect of every software system: storage. What type of storage is typically offered by cloud vendors?

  *Temporary VM storage. Some cloud providers offer gobs of storage with each VM instance, but with the caveat that the storage isn’t durable and does not survive server shutdown or server failure. While this type of cheap and easy accessible block storage is useful in some situations, it’s not as familiar to enterprise IT staff who are used to storage that’s durable by default.

  *Persistent VM storage. This sort of block storage is attached to a VM as durable volumes. It can survive reboots, resets, and can even get detached from one server and reattached to another. Multiple servers cannot access the same volume, but this is ideal for database servers and other server types that need reliable, durable, high-performing storage.

  *Object storage. What happens if you want to share data between consumers? Object storage offers HTTP access to a highly available repository that can hold virtually any file type. This is a great option for storing business documents, software, server backups, media files, and more. It is also a useful alternative for secure file transfer.

At CenturyLink Cloud, we offer customers two options: persistent block storage and object storage.

Provisioning Persistent Block Storage

Each virtual server launched in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud is backed by one or more persistent storage volumes. Product details:

  Block storage volumes can be of any size up to 1 TB apiece. *Why does this matter? Instead of over-provisioning durable storage – which can happen with cloud providers that offer fixed “instance sizes” – CenturyLink Cloud volumes can be any size you want. Only pay for what you need, and resize the drive as necessary.

  The volumes are attached as ISCSI or NFS and offer at least 2500 IOPS. *Why does this matter? Run IO-intensive workloads with confidence and get reliable performance thanks to an architecture that minimizes latency and network hops.

  Block storage is backed by SANs using RAID 10 which provides the best combination of write performance and data protection. *Why does this matter? We’ve architected highly available storage for you. Data is striped across drives and mirrored within RAID sets. This means you that you won’t lose your data even if multiple underlying disks failed.

  We take daily snapshots of each storage volume automatically. Standard storage volumes have 5 days of rolling backups, and Premium storage volumes have 14 days of rolling backups with the 5 most recent ones replicated to a remote data center. *Why does this matter? This gives you a built-in disaster recovery solution! While it may not be the only DR strategy you employ, it provides a baseline RPO/RTO to build around.

The way that CenturyLink Cloud has architected its block storage means that you do not need to specifically architect for highly available storage unless you are doing multi-site replication.

For our reference solution, provisioning persistent block storage is easy. Our web servers – based on Windows Server 2012 Data Center Edition – have 42 GB of durable storage built-in, and I’ve added another 100 GB volume to store the web root directory and server logs.

Configure block storage

There are multiple ways to layout the disks for a database server, and in this case, we’re splitting the databases and transaction logs onto separate persistent volumes.

Configure block storage

Here, we have running servers backed by reliable, high-performing storage. What happens if you find out later that you need more storage? The CenturyLink Cloud platform makes it easily to instantly add more capacity to existing volumes, or add entirely new volumes that are immediately accessible within the virtual machine.

Provisioning Object Storage

Object Storage is a relatively recent addition to the CenturyLink Cloud cloud and gives customers the chance to store diverse digital assets in a highly available, secure shared repository. Some details:

  Object Storage has multiple levels of redundancy built in. Within a given data center, your data is replicated across multiple machines, and all data is instantly replicated to a sister cluster located within the same country. *Why does this matter? Customers can trust that data added to Object Storage will be readily available even when faced with unlikely node or data center failures.

  Store objects up to 5 GB in size. *Why does this matter? Object Storage is a great fit for large files that need to be shared. For example, use Object Storage for media files used by a public website. Or upload massive marketing proofs to share with a graphics design partner.

  The Object Storage API is Amazon S3-compliant. *Why does this matter? CenturyLink Cloud customers can use any of the popular tools built for interacting with Amazon S3 storage.

Customers of CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage do not need to explicitly architect for high availability since the service itself takes care of it.

In our reference solution, Object Storage is the place where website content like product images are stored. We added a new Object Storage “bucket” for all the website content.

CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage buckets

Once the bucket was created and permissions applied, we used the popular S3 Browser tool to add CSS files and images to bucket.

Files in CenturyLink Cloud Object Storage

Summary

A highly available system in the cloud is often a combination of vendor-provided and customer-architected components. In this first post of the blog series, we saw how the CenturyLink Cloud platform natively provides the core high availability needed by cloud systems. Block storage is inherently fault tolerant and the customer doesn’t have to explicitly ask for persistent storage. Object storage provides easy shared access to binary objects and is geo-redundant by default.

Storage provides the foundation for a software system, and at this point we have the necessary pieces to configure the next major component: the database!