There was a time in hosting’s distant past when virtualization and Cloud were foreign words. Back then, the idea that you could put multiple customers on a single host machine and give them all fully partitioned and secure “virtual environments” — environments that looked and acted exactly like a small dedicated server — was novel, if not literally unbelievable. Most people who wanted to host a website simply assumed they had to build or rent a physical server in a room somewhere.
Oh, how things have changed. Now, actual physical infrastructure has become conceptually divorced from the idea of a “web server.” Want to host a web site? These days, you buy amorphous cloudy things like “instances” and “environments,” which you scale up or down as your site requires, nearly instantaneously. Costs are down, speed-to-deployment is way up, and it’s all pretty miraculous. But our eagerness to forget what a pain in the neck it is to actually own and manage a real, live server has also made us forget what we sacrificed to get scalability, redundancy, flexibility, and all the other benefits of virtualization.
The big tradeoff — the “con” against which all the “pros” of cloud must be weighed — is the fact that, no matter how you slice it up and partition it, shared infrastructure is just that: shared, usually by many.
Okay, hold up a second. Before we take another step, let me be clear: this is not one of those blog posts where an old-school server jockey, desperate to cling to the ways of the past, tells you how stupid the Cloud is. The Cloud is awesome. But virtualization has one big tradeoff that nobody talks about, and you need to understand it.
Cloud technology has come a long way in an effort to isolate the activities of one customer from another, and in many ways, it has been successful. CPU can be partitioned and reserved, as can RAM and disk space. But there is one resource, little-known but massively important in terms of site performance, that until very recently was still readily gobbled up by the loudest, most obnoxious customers on any virtualized server, leaving others to wonder why their site suddenly slowed down.
This resource is called disk I/O. I/O (or Input/Output) is a measure of how often in a given time period a disk drive or array can send out and/or receive units of data. When the disk array for your cloud infrastructure hits its I/O limit (measured in IOPS – Input Output operations Per Second) everything – and everyone – has to stop and wait. We call this the “noisy neighbor” problem.
If you’re scoffing at this and wondering how, if ever, it will affect you — I can almost promise you it already has. The last time your site slowed down for no apparent reason, if your RAM or CPU seemed healthy, chances are good it was noisy neighbors scarfing all your server’s available IOPS.
In fact, the noisy neighbor is the single biggest reason most people upgrade from VPS or Cloud into dedicated hardware – so in a way, it’s the last significant obstacle to truly global Cloud adoption. Bottom line: it’s a huge problem, and, for decades, it’s been in dire need of fixing.
The good news is, there is now a way to completely eliminate the noisy neighbor problem, and actually guarantee a minimum, not-to-go-below-this-number-of-IOPS level of performance. It’s called SolidFire, and ServInt is the only host focused on the small- to medium-business sector that has it.
How does it work? We’ll take a closer look in later blog posts, but here’s the Cliff Notes version: first, we offloaded the disk space from all of our virtualized servers to an all-SSD cloud storage array — an enormous array, capable of serving up literally millions of IOPS. Then, we used SolidFire’s proprietary resource guarantee software to pool all those millions of IOPS and slice them up into discreet, guaranteed chunks for each server hosted on the system.
The net result is ServInt’s SolidFire VPS: the only virtualized hosting platform that gives you all the benefits of scalability, redundancy, and simplicity — while also guaranteeing you every resource your server uses, to ensure that you are never a victim of a noisy neighbor, and the mystery site slow-downs they cause, ever again.
Here is our Vice President of Innovation and Technology, Kevin Nicastro, with more detail on our new SolidFire VPS:
Photo by Hilde Skjolberg