Now that I’ve shifted the majority of my day-to-day workflow to the cloud it’s easier than ever to have custom environments for each project I’m working on. I still use Google Docs for most document creation and project tracking (lesson learned from an earlier hard drive failure) but for my demo environments, which involve complicated networking and large database needs, virtual machines are still the way to go. I typically do not build out single solutions, so flexibility is key for me.  One day it’s an Oracle database and the next it’s MySQL on the same platform but for different customers or audiences. Skytap enables you to create a custom environment including the exact network settings (IP, MAC, Hostname etc…). I now have a several tools which includes dozens of vm templates with working networks in my account. This model is fantastic for development and especially useful for sharing and collaborating with others such as QA / Testing teams, contractors or other developers.

With all it’s flexibility, developing in the cloud has raised one primary challenge: usage tracking. You should select a cloud provider that only charges for actual usage instead of fixed blocks of time. Skytap for example has a feature for auto-suspending unused VMs at specified intervals to save you even more time (read “money”). While this setting is configurable for each environment there are times when you need manual control or have turned over running control of the environment to others. Environments that are shared with a prospect or colleague where they have full control to add VMs or additional usage such as disk space and can run the VMs at will can quickly rack up usage if not appropriately controlled. Collaborators should be able to complete tasks in a self service manner as it is one of the key values for leveraging the cloud for development use cases. However, managing usage to ensure your monthly bill isn’t going to be an un-welcomed surprise is critical.

User or project quotas are another option for containing usage. Just like auto-suspend, there are times when you don’t want the user to be blocked for any reason. Even if it means they incur more usage then originally anticipated.  Ideally your cloud provider will allow you or the account administrator to be aware of any overages. Solutions like Skytap allow you to be notified on pre-determined thresholds so you can spend your time performing your own tasks instead of managing the usage of others.  This can be achieved utilizing the notification features within Skytap Cloud. Setting notification rules and usage quotas is as simple as point-and-click. Your cloud provider should easily enable you to set notification thresholds for any billable limit and have email alerts automatically sent to you or anyone else in your organization.  Notifications for resources as well as individual users and groups can also be configured. Users with their own quotas can set their own notification limits and destination as well.  It is not simply tied to global use or made into a task only administrators can perform. With this feature enabled you can now setup your account to wrangle any run-away VMs and help your users trim some of their older, unused resources. 

Tony Williams, Cloud Solutions Architect – Skytap