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Cloud Servers for Windows Beta Update

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Blake Yeager is the Product Manager for Rackspace Cloud Servers.

It’s been a few months since we announced the Beta release of our Cloud Servers for Windows offering and we’d like to provide you with an update on the progress we’ve made.  With the feedback received from our customers using Cloud Servers for Windows Beta, we’ve been hard at work completing some of the most requested functionality that was not initially released with the Beta and have been carefully monitoring performance and stability.

Rescue Mode

We launched the Rescue Mode feature two weeks ago, which you may have noticed.  Rescue Mode allows you to mount the drive from a Cloud Server that is not booting as a secondary drive on a new temporary Cloud Server.  This provides the ability to repair the Cloud Server or copy any critical data off the drive.

Snapshots/Backups

This week we are launching two more features: On-Demand/Scheduled Images (aka Snapshots/Backups) and the ability to Resize Up your Cloud Server.  With the On-Demand image feature you are able to make a copy of your entire Cloud Server instance (called an image).  This image can then be used to create new Cloud Servers or it can be used to revert your Cloud Server back to the point in time when the On-Demand image was created.  Scheduled Images allow you to specify a daily or weekly time window where the system will create an image of your Cloud Server instance.

Resize Up

The Resize Up feature allows customers to increase the size of an existing Cloud Server.  If after creating a server and configuring your application you realize that you need more memory or disk, a simple click of a button will scale your server up to a larger size.  Right now, you are unable to resize down but it’s a feature we are working on for the future.  While we are continuing to look at options, we recommend that you start with the smallest size Cloud Server that can run your application and only resize up to a larger size when you are ready for the change to be permanent.

Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS)

Modern versions of Windows include VSS, a standardized mechanism for taking volume-based snapshots.  To ensure consistent backups, VSS signals applications to flush data and pause while the snapshot is being taken.  Our intention is to support VSS pass-through (a process by which Cloud Server backups/snapshots coordinate with the Windows guest VSS to ensure data is consistent), but at the present time, this is not functional.  Since Microsoft does not support snapshots that have been created outside of VSS pass-through, they are unable to offer support for Cloud Server instances created from a snapshot, backup or any instance that has been resized up.  Rackspace will attempt to support any Cloud Server created using these methods, however, until we get VSS pass-through working, we recommend that customers who require full Microsoft support use a built in backup tool such as NTBackup or Windows Server Backup to create and manage their backups.  We will of course notify you once we have full VSS pass-through support.

Additional Changes

In addition to these new features, we’re also making the following changes to the offering based on Microsoft’s recommended specifications and to ensure optimal performance:

  • In order ensure that our offerings meet all of Microsoft’s minimum requirements for all versions of Windows we will no longer be offering the 512MB size option.  Any existing 512MB Cloud Servers will be grandfathered in at their current size but all new Cloud Servers must be 1GB or larger.
  • We have also changed our vCPU allocation for Windows.  Instead of allocating 4 vCPUs to every Cloud Server we are now scaling the number of vCPUs that we allocate with the size of the Cloud Server.  This change effectively increases the guaranteed minimum CPU time that Cloud Servers are allocated.  The table below details the new vCPU allocations.

It is important to note that the changes we are talking about will only apply to Cloud Servers for Windows.  Sizes and vCPU allocations for our Linux Cloud Servers remain unchanged. As before, Windows Cloud Servers are still allowed to ‘burst’ and utilize any spare CPU cycles on the host.  We will be rolling out the vCPU changes to existing Cloud Servers for Windows customers over the coming weeks.

We are very excited about these new features!  We anticipate being able to remove the Beta label and offering a full SLA around Cloud Servers for Windows in the coming weeks.  We can’t thank our customers enough for providing critical feedback needed to make Cloud Servers for Windows a success. As always we will continue to release new functionality and improved features we hope will help you be successful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post here and I will get back to you.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Blake Yeager.


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  • alan blount

    Excellent news and progress, thanks a lot!

    You didn’t mention a size limit on the snapshots / server size for windows servers? We have an 8G instance we’d very much like to snapshot/clone… been twiddling our thumbs waiting for that functionality (for both windows and linux servers).

    Also, just a sidenote – we had all of our servers (12) with another vendor on vmWare instances before switching back to rackspace. We are terribly happy with the servers, management, general functionality and server performance. There is no comparison, you are doing great!

    My only complaint is waiting for the snapshot/clone/resize functionality for larger instances and for windows servers.

    • Blake Yeager

      Alan,

      The initial relase today will only allow for snapshots of Cloud Servers up to 2 GB in size, the same restriction that is currently on our Linux offering. The good news is we are using a different tool set that has more flexibility to handle larger snapshots. We have some additional testing that we need to do but we should be releasing snapshots for our larger Windows instances in the near future.

      Thanks for the feedback.

      -Blake

      • alan blount

        That’s great news… I very much look forward to hearing about the backups for larger instances.

  • Pieter Le Roux

    Will the change in minimal RAM from 512mb to 1gb impact on pricing at all? Since I’m currently using the 512mb offering successfully with the handful of sites I have and the price justifies the hosting. I’d obviously be inclined to upgrade when (and if) I have several more clients to host and need the resources, but if the bump up to 1gb would mean I pay more automatically as well I don’t think it would be financially viable for me at this point to continue with cloud…

  • Ian Elsinga

    I agree with Pieter – I hope this doesn’t mean the price of the smallest windows cloud server will double. I would also have to find another solution if this is the case.

  • Keoz

    Uhm that’s nice but, why you are not allocating the 4 vCPUs for every instance? this will decrease performance on my 2gb server, so will we pay less for this downgrade?

  • Andrew Ryan

    It looks like you WERE giving us 4vCPUs no matter what, but now we only get 4 if we have an 8GB image? Is that correct? How does that increase our guaranteed minimum CPU? It looks like before if I had a 1GB IU would have 4vCPUs, but now I get 1?

  • Nick Parseghian

    Hmm, it seems like the vCPU changes are more like a downgrade than an evolution of the system.

    Can we have some stats on how instances will behave in the future vs now (like running some CPU benchmarks)?

    That would be helpful.

  • Lucas Alexander

    I agree with Pieter and Ian. When will pricing be available?

  • Cameron Just

    Its nice to see all of this moving forward but I have to agree with Nick on this one, Going from 4vCPUs in beta to only one or two in production is disappointing. It looks like performance is spiraling downward instead of what I had been led to believe in the beginning.

  • Billy Hoffman

    This 4vCores downgrade is every troubling.

    One of the reasons I chose RackSpace was the performance/$ ratio. Can you supply more information? Why can’t there be an separate opinions to select the amount of memory *and* select number of cores when creating the image? Surely there are people running memory intensive tasks that don’t parallelize well, and people running tasks that are easily parallelizable but don’t require alot of RAM.

    I thought the point of virtualization was to pay for what you needed. It sounds like I’m going to be forced to pay for additional memory and disk I *don’t* need just to get the CPU I *do* need.

  • Charles McGuinness

    I would also lobby you to reconsider getting rid of the 512meg size. It’s really perfect for a developer to use as a test bed for applications. I haven’t had any performance issues. If you were to restrict it to Windows 2003 32 bit (or whichever version of Windows was the most “frugal”), I would be fine with that.

    But I do appreciate the grandfathering of existing VMs!

  • Blake Yeager

    Pieter, Ian and Lucas,

    The pricing for Cloud Servers will not change with this release. For anyone that is currently running a 512MB Windows Cloud Server they will conitnue to pay the same price ($0.04/hour). Any new Windows Cloud Servers will need to be at least 1GB and they will be priced at the standard price for that size Cloud Server.

    Sorry for any confusion around that.

    -Blake

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  • Rick

    hello,

    are you planning on offering firewall services for cloud servers? if so, any idea on timeframe for this?

    thanks,

    rick

  • John Rieppel

    I am going to have to agree with the crowd in regards to what appears an obvious cpu downgrade to our packages. Providing performance metrics would help convince me that this is not the case. Glad to hear the windows snapshots are moving along, although my 4gb still is not included with this. Any realistic time frame on snapshot/backups for 4g? Are we talking 1 month – 4 months or longer?

    Please keep up the good work. I stuck around this long and look forward to seeing the windows beta improvements!

  • Chris

    Yes, it is a downgrade. The cost per CPU made me prefer Rackspace over Azure.

    Now there is less of a difference between Rackspace/Azure/Amazon for CPU. I believe that Azure may ultimately give more usable RAM for 12/per hour than anyone.

  • Chris

    If I upgrade my 1GB RAM 4CPU box to 2 Gigs of RAM, do I lose 2 CPU’s?

    I hope not, since I’ve already configured that box for a specific scaling. I’d rather spend the rest of my time planning to build my new servers… not redoing old work.

  • Blake Yeager

    I understand everyone’s concern around the changes to vCPU allocations.

    A majority of our customers haven’t experienced issues during the beta, but some of our customers have seen degraded performance when their host machine experienced high load. It is out goal to deliver a product that lives up to customer’s performance expectations under all operating conditions.

    In order for customers to trust their production applications to Cloud Servers we need to ensure that we have the most stable and reliable platform possible. We had to make some tough decisions but we made these decisions keeping the quality of our product and our customer’s experience in mind.

    -Blake

    • Glenn Walker

      Wow. You should go into politics…. typical say nothing answer.

  • Michael

    What about FileIOPermission issue in the medium trust environment for CloudSites? This is a major flaw. No real .net development can happen in this type of environment. You can’t upload a file to the server or even read permissions on a file.

    • Blake Yeager

      Michael,

      With Cloud Servers you have complete control of your server and the environment. You will be able to set your trust level according to your preferences and won’t be restricted by a preset environment. This is one of the advantages of using Cloud Servers over Cloud Sites.

      Thanks,
      -Blake

  • Andrei Canciu

    Hi,

    I understand your concerns that motivated getting rid of the 512 MB instances.

    However, they are useful for many customers and for many purposes.

    Maybe you could add them back, and also add a disclaimer there (like: “the 512 MB instances should only be used for testing purposes and not for production applicaations”).

    Thanks,

    Andrei

  • Andrew Ryan

    Blake,

    Back to the CPUs! All due respect but your answer wasn’t an answer. Remember that we’re all loyal rackspace customers – please give it to us straight:

    * Will those people using less than 8gb RAM have LESS virtual CPUs when RS Cloud 1 is released than they did under the Beta?
    * What options do you have for people who need the same amount of CPUs but don’t want 8gb RAM (I believe someone mentioned apps that dont use a lot of memory but need parallelism)?
    * In your advertising, you tout the consistent CPU speed across cloud server configurations as a major benefit over Amazon. Many of us chose you for exactly that reason. Do you still believe you have the advantage? If so, why?

    I’d greatly appreciate if you could answer these questions straight and to the point. Remember we’re engineers!

    • Blake Yeager

      Andrew,

      My apologies for giving a less than complete answer, full transparency with our customers is something that we strive for at Rackspace. Here is some additional information in response to your questions.

      * Anyone who has an existing server will maintain the same numbers of vCPUs. So if you have an existing 2G Cloud Server that has 4 vCPUs there will be no changes to that Cloud Server. However, if you create a new 2G Cloud Server then it will only have 2 vCPUs in accordance with our new allocation schedule. In that particular example the new server will have less vCPUs then it would have, had it been created early in our Beta.

      * We understand that there are customers and use cases that require additional CPU but don’t require the extra memory and disk. We are looking at options to create instances with extra CPU in order to provide customers additional flexibility when selecting Cloud Server sizes. At this time I don’t have a definitive plan or schedule, but we are evaluating our options and working toward providing a solution.

      * I do believe that our approach to CPU will continue to be a differentiator between Cloud Servers and Amazon’s offerings. Comparing Cloud Servers to standard EC2 instances our vCPU assignments are comparable and in some cases we still offer additional virtual cores for a similar sized server. In addition Amazon caps CPU usage at a ‘ceiling’ so even when a host machine has idle CPU your instance may not be able to use more than your predetermined ‘ec2 compute units’. With Cloud Servers we continue to let all instances ‘burst’ and utilize any excess CPU. Of course the maximum that your Cloud Server can burst up to is each vCPU consuming 100% of a physical CPU, so in cases where we have lowered the number of vCPUs we have also inherently lowered your maximum burst capacity. By reducing the number of vCPUs on our smaller sized Cloud Servers we have reduced the ratio of vCPUs to physical CPUs on our host machines which has in turn increased the guaranteed minimum CPU time that every vCPU will receive in situations where our host machines experience high load. This change has given us the confidence that all Cloud Servers will perform under all operating conditions.

      Let me know if you have additional questions.

      Thanks,
      -Blake

      • Blake Yeager

        After talking more with the operations team, I need to make one correction to my earlier statement. Although we are not proactively changing vCPU allocations for existing Windows Cloud Servers, if the Cloud Server gets moved off it’s current host machine during routine maintenance then the Cloud Server vCPU allocations will be reset according to the new allocation schedule.

        I apologize if this caused any confusion.

  • Matt

    Blake,
    I’m not even going to touch the vCPU snafu, but..

    I love Cloud Servers and all, but lets be real. Since Cloud Servers has been introduced you’ve neglected what was “the” product Cloud Sites.

    I don’t know what the problem is, but get the Dilberts out of the room and let your engineers get to work. Your “product and marketing” people have no idea what developers need and are chasing the almighty dollar. Rackspace will lose with this strategy. Get your engineering talent engaged – every time I talk to them I’m continually impressed.

    Figure it out.

    Matt

  • http://blog.pyte.hu AdamG

    +1 on keeping the 512MB instances, it’s just exceptionally fast (even with 64bit) compared to other hosters and very competitive on pricing.

  • Jason

    For once I made the right decision! I decided NOT to go with Rackspace with the Windows cloud servers after numerous vague conversations with the experts. I chose Amazon. No issues at all, great performance and granular scalability (not to mention the advantages of EBS over Cloud Files with speed and directory structure). I do like Rackspace and continue to use their email apps but Windows cloud servers my friends is a big Turkey (for now) and it is clear to me now after reading this. It was a very long wait to get this news and I hope you guys get it together in the future.

  • http://gotimeit.com Jake

    Remember folks things are still in Beta. I believe Rackspace is making decisions to generate overall improvement across the entire system, sure this means some suffer and others gain but fairness is being achieved. If you’re grandfathered in you should thank them because the new model will still work well for developers and shareholders. Small devs dont need 4vcpus on a 512 platform for 30/mo makes no financial sense either and customers who pay more suffer when these devs stress the system and burst. If you disagree with their decisions to increase revenue maybe you should be buying shares too… use the profit to pay for a larger server. Im sure the accounting department made the right decisions when increasing the minimum server to 1Gig. Still glad to be a part of this and I will continue to send feedback. Cant wait for the upscaling and images, will save a lot of time on doing backups. :)

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  • Andrew Ryan

    I still think Rackspaceis the best cloud hosting provider out there. I started off with Amazon and was dissapointed by the server speed and the lack of support. Rackspace has a a great head sart and I’m sticking with them.

    However – next time, just don’t try to slip a dozey like the vCPU news by us and think we’re not going to notice!!!

  • http://lamontconsulting.com Chris Mankowski

    OK Let’s get off of the CPU topic and onto RAM.

    Microsoft Azure offers 1.7GB of usable RAM for 12 cents/hour. Read more here: http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en/windowsazure/thread/456e5b5b-dc8b-40aa-97b1-9d24250b9d9d

    Azure includes a 500mb overhead for the system and x64 OS functions leaving 1.2 GB usable. I tested loading each one of Rackspace’s x64 images and they were more bloated and had an overhead in the range of 600megs to 900megs per VM.

    That means at the .16/cents or .08/cents per hour, Microsoft’s offering is a better deal than the current rackspace offering. Originally I believed the CPU was intended to level the field. That is aparrently not the case.

    I hope there is a revision to the Rackspace offering or pricing or else the 2 “beta” servers I have operating may be one of the last.

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