The Cloud Shouldn’t be a Black Box

When people talk about running applications in the cloud, the computing infrastructure is often treated as a black box. Data goes in, data comes out, and many don’t even consider if the service instance is running their workload as efficiently or securely as possible.

This shouldn’t be the case. The infrastructure that powers a cloud service can make a huge difference in the performance, reliability, and security of applications as they run in the cloud. And that’s why we need more transparency.

When Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) expose the technology and capabilities inside a cloud service, the consumers of cloud services can make better, more informed decisions. With a view into the performance and security features of the underlying hardware infrastructure, cloud consumers are positioned to match a cloud instance specifically to the needs of the workload for better return on their cloud investment.

At Intel, we are working with the cloud service provider ecosystem to enable cloud transparency. That’s the case with the Powered by Intel® Cloud Technology program, which provides information on the underlying infrastructure behind a cloud instance to help enterprises move applications to the cloud with increased confidence.

A couple cases in point

Amazon Web Services was the first CSP to make the underlying Intel Architecture powering their web instances visible to AWS users.  In addition to choosing the right processor performance, users have the option of choosing instances with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology and Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions to accelerate the processing of high performance workloads in the cloud.  Users may also choose instances with Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (AES-NI).  These special instructions reduce performance penalties and dramatically speed up the execution of encryption and decryption algorithms to enable another layer of security to cloud-based applications.

Another example, if you know your instances are running on servers based on Intel® Xeon® processors, you can look for CSPs that take advantage of Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT) to provide increased protection against attacks on the hypervisor, BIOS, firmware, and other pre-launch software components.  SoftLayer, an IBM company, is capitalizing on both TXT and AES-NI in its cloud services. The company offers Intel TXT as an added security service option and they also offer additional capabilities with ecosystem partners to limit data decryption to specific geo-located servers, in support of local data privacy laws—a concept known as “geo-fencing.” For a closer look at the company’s use of Intel Cloud Technology, listen to what Mac Devine, CTO of cloud services at IBM, has to say in our Intel® and IBM® Cloud video.

Growing momentum for transparency

While the cloud remains a black box to many organizations consuming cloud resources, the momentum toward transparency is growing rapidly. Already, the new Powered by Intel® Cloud Technology program, launched early this year, has 40 participants—including such prominent cloud service providers as Amazon Web Services, CenturyLink, IBM SoftLayer, Rackspace and Virtustream. And our Intel® Cloud Finder program, an educational tool built to compare cloud services across the globe, already has nearly 100 participating cloud service providers.

There’s good reason for this shift to transparency, and it’s a pretty simple one at that. When the consumers of cloud services have a view of the underlying computing infrastructure, they can get a lot more bang for their cloud buck—in terms of performance, reliability, and security.