Designing a Scalable Architecture for the Cloud


The promise of the cloud is the unlimited computing power and storage capacities coupled with the pay-per-use policy. This makes the cloud particularly irresistible for hosting web applications and applications whose demand vary periodically. In order to take full advantage of the cloud the application must be designed for optimum performance. Though the cloud provides resources on-demand a badly designed application can hog resources and prove to be extremely expensive in the long run.

One of the first requirements for deploying applications on the cloud is that it should be scalable. Scalability denotes the ability to handle increasing traffic simply by adding more computing resources of the same kind rather than adding resources with greater horse power. This is also referred to scaling horizontally.

Assuming that the application has been sufficiently profiled and tuned for high performance there are certain key considerations that need to be taken into account while deploying on the cloud – public or private.  Some of them are being able to scale on demand, providing for high availability, resiliency and having sufficient safeguards against failures.

Given these requirements a scalable design for the Cloud can be viewed as being made up of the following 5 tiers of layers

The DNS tier – In this tier the user domain is hosted on a DNS service like Ultra DNS or Route 53. These DNS services distribute the DNS lookups geographically. This results in connecting to a DNS Server that is geographically closer to the user thus speeding the DNS lookup times. Moreover since the DNS lookups are distributed geographically it also builds geographic resiliency as far as DNS lookups are concerned

Load Balancer-Auto Scaling Tier – This tier is responsible for balancing the incoming traffic among compute instances in the cloud. The load balancing may be made on a simple round-robin technique or may be based on the actual CPU utilization of the individual instances. Typically at this layer we should also have an auto-scaling policy which will add more instances if the traffic to the application increases above a threshold or terminate instances when the traffic falls below a specific threshold.

Compute-Instance Tier – This layer hosts the actual application in individual compute instances on the cloud. It is assumed that the application has been tuned for maximum performance. The choice of small, medium or large CPU should be based on the traffic handling capacity of the instance type versus the cost/hr of the instance.

Cache Tier – This is an important layer in the cloud application where there are multiple instances. The cache tier provides a distributed cache for all the instances. With a distributed caching system like memcached it is possible to share global data between instances. The memcached application uses a consistent-hashing technique to distribute data among a set of participating servers. The consistent hashing method allow for handling of server crashes and new servers joining into the cache layer.

Database Tier – The Database tier is one of the most critical layers of the application. At a minimum the database should be configured in an active-standby mode. Ideally it is always better to have the active and standby in different availability zones to better handle disasters in a particular zone. Another consideration is have separate read replicas that handle reads to database while the primary database handles the write operations

Besides the above considerations it is always good to host the web application in different availability zone thus safeguarding against disasters in a particular region.

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One thought on “Designing a Scalable Architecture for the Cloud

  1. Pingback: Design Principles of Scalable, Distributed Systems « Giga thoughts …

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