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RightScale Cloud Management review

Getting a logical view of multiple service providers

  • Excellent user interface. Connected flawlessly to the two cloud setups we tested it with.
  • Big template lists can make it tricky to find the wood for the trees. Mildly annoying to be bounced to a non-existent Microsoft portal page.

It's not unusual for cloud service users to use multiple providers' clouds. This might be because you want to mitigate the risk of having all your eggs in one basket, or it might equally be because one provider is best for application A and another is preferable for application B. Whatever the case, if you do use multiple providers it makes sense to ask whether you can manage them from a single place.

RightScale addresses precisely this market. It's a cloud-based service (surprise!) that is able to connect to all the main cloud providers' systems (and many private cloud setups, for that matter) using your secure credentials and offer a single look-and-feel with which you can manage your multi-vendor cloud setup. The public cloud options are presently Datapipe, Google, HP, Rackspace, SoftLayer and Windows Azure, while on the private cloud front the system you're connecting to will need to support CloudStack or OpenStack.

Although RightScale can see existing virtual servers, disk volumes and the like that have already been created, it's most flexible when you use it to deploy your systems from scratch. Everything revolves around the concept of a “deployment” - a bundle of servers, storage, etc that make up a particular installation. A deployment can span multiple cloud providers; it's basically a logical view that ties everything together so you can (for instance) monitor performance of the overall bundle and then drill into the individual items if you so wish.

Resources

Creating resources within your RightScale installation is straightforward and based around templates that have been created so that you can run up similar devices in different cloud providers' infrastructures and then work with them without having to worry that server A is with provider X and server B is with provider Y. It's a clever idea, though my only criticism that while there are loads of templates, startup scripts and so on that have been produced both by RightScale and by the user community, the vast lists of cryptic-looking names you get in the pull-down menus of the GUI can be rather cryptic in name and/or daunting in number.

The web portal is really nicely laid out. Down the left side you have a set of quick-reference items including bookmarks (your favourite links), QuickMonitors (easy-to-define collections of performance information for items you're interested in) and Events (the most recent few things that have happened). The menu structure across the top is small but comprehensive, and as usual the detail of what you're working with is in the bottom right pane. A quick note on the monitoring capability: because you're layering the RightScale service on top of your various clouds, the stats will persist even when if the servers go away, and you can see all the information for a deployment as a single coherent entity even if the components are based in different providers' clouds.

To get connected to the cloud world I started with my test Azure account. When you run the wizard that walks you through connecting RightScale to your Azure setup it provides you with a link to the page on the Azure website from which you can download the necessary authentication files. Sadly the portal it throws you onto says: “Sorry, this portal was retired on Aug 8, 2013” and points you to a different place; happily, though, another link on the RightScale connection wizard gives you a link to the page you need, and in my case it was then an easy job to download the credentials file and then present it to RightScale.

Just to prove that the above wasn't a fluke, I added my test Amazon Web Services (AWS) account as well. In this case I had to dig out the necessary credentials and enter them manually into the configuration screen; again, it then connected to the provider's API and downloaded the information it needed.

In both cases, after a minute or two my existing servers appeared in the GUI and I was able to drill into them. Similarly when I tried deploying a new server onto my Azure setup via RightScale it winked into existence on the Azure management screen once the deployment was complete. This is, of course, what it's meant to do, but nonetheless it's encouraging when it actually happens.

Pricing is based on “RCUs” - RightScale Compute Units. An RCU is an hour's use of a virtual machine, and the larger the VM the more RCUs it uses. So for instance an hour on an Amazon “m1.large” server is two RCUs per hour, as is an Azure “A3 Large”.

Verdict

I like the idea behind RightScale, and the way they've implemented it is well thought-out, usable and functional. The vast array of templates makes it perhaps a little unwieldy in places, but this is forgivable since you're compensated by the fact that you're managing your multiple cloud setups easily and securely from a single place.

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