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RightScale Cloud Management

Whether you're looking for a quick low-cost experience of cloud management or a corporate-level deployment, RightScale delivers.

RightScale is one of a slew of offerings that provide a web-based dashboard for the creation and management of servers in the Amazon EC2 cloud. Since Amazon Web Services already provides a perfectly good management console, it is reasonable to ask what additional benefits RightScale offers. Well, for one thing RightScale can manage instances across multiple clouds - for example a hybrid public/private cloud. It also offers templates that build preconfigured servers by starting from a base machine image and then adding scripts that run during the boot, operating and shutdown phases.

Each template launches a specific type of server, installing the software required and configuring it. Right Scale provides a large library of server templates - we counted about 150 but about half are only available to paid-up RightScale accounts. Most of the templates target Amazon Web Services, although a few are available for Rackspace, including NFS Server Master, PHP FrontEnd and LAMP all-in one. You can also create your own templates or edit those provided.

As well individual servers, RightScale also allows you to manage deployments - clusters of servers that work together to perform a common function. For example, a deployment might have four servers - two load-balanced front-end nodes, backed by master and slave database servers.

Deployments allow you to manage the entire cluster as a single entity, rather than managing each server individually. For example, you can clone an entire deployment with the proverbial single mouse click.

You might, for Instance, create a copy of your production deployment to use as a staging server for load performance tests, and another copy to use for in-house development. Right Scale will also monitor the cost (i.e. your payments to AWS) of running the entire cluster.

The dashboard provides easy access to all your AWS machine instances. You can also see one of the many monitoring graphs that RightScale maintains.
Monitoring and alerts

RightScale's server templates include a daemon called collectdthat collects performance statistics periodically and sends them to a RightScale 'Sketchy' server, which is automatically allocated to each machine instance you create.

The sketchy server generates graphs that you can display through the RightScale dashboard. For example, on a LAMP server you can graph things like the number of Apache requests or the number of database queries per second, as well as more generic load measures such as CPU idle time or memory usage. Metrics can be charted over a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly period. You can also add thumbnails of these graphs to the Quick Monitoring section of the dashboard, making them permanently visible.

A server template also defines alerts that monitor various metrics of your servers and raise warnings (i.e. send an email) if they exceed a specified threshold. As an example, the rs cpu overloaded alert fires when the CPU idle time is too low. Other examples of alerts include unexpectedly high input or output network activity, low memory, low swap space, or low free space on a mounted volume. Each alert condition has an associated 'alert escalation' that defines the action to be taken when an alert is triggered. For example, a 'warning escalation sends an email every day: a critical' escalation sends an email every 10 minutes, and (more interesting) a scale-up escalation will raise a vote to automatically add more server instances into an array.

Arrays and elasticity

Server arrays (a feature that's only available in paid-for editions of RightScale) are collections of EC2 instances where the number of instances is automatically adjusted over time based on a defined set of alerts and escalations. For example, arrays can be grown if the current instances in the array are reporting CPU usage above a specified threshold. Array growth can also be queue-based, so that the number of worker Instances in an array is controlled by the number of jobs in an input queue.

Give it a try

You can evaluate RightScale by browsing to www.RightScale.com and signing up for a free single-user account. To do anything useful, of course, you'll also need an account with AWS (Amazon Web Services).

Again, the actual account is free, but you will start to pay hourly rates if you actually create machine instances or storage volumes. If you want to scale up to support a serious level of revenue-generating activity in RightScale, though, it will cost money.

The Standard edition costs $500 a month: from there, the features, support levels and prices progressively increase through Premium, Corporate and Enterprise levels.

You can find details at: www.rightScale.com/products/plans-pricing. If you want to actually deploy some servers, you'll pay hourly charges to AWS, but for a 'proof of concept' experiment over a couple of days, expect to pay just a few dollars.