Helping University of Texas, San Antonio’s Institute for Cyber Security Stay More Secure in Their Cloud

March 14, 2013 - by Hannah Simon

When it comes to research, timely, relevant and high-quality data is of the essence. The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Cyber Security (ICS) had to cycle through multiple cloud providers before it found one that able to keep up with its demanding research needs. ICS is dedicated to studying cyber security issues, especially security challenges related to cloud computing. They’re working to find new methods for authorization, authentication, and access control across multiple SaaS tenants, as well as determining how a file’s source and ownership history can be used to evaluate its reliability. In fact, the ICS FlexCloud is one of the first dedicated academic cloud computing research environments.

Dealbreakers: Scalability and Reliability

As a research department, ICS is funded by grants. When they get a new grant they want to be able to scale the cloud environment quickly to get the new research going. When it came time to selecting a cloud provider, Farhan Patwa, a Technology Research Analyst at ICS, said that they “need[ed] to be able to stand up a high-performance, cost effective and scalable private cloud instance for research in the shortest amount of time possible.”

In other words, they needed something that perfectly matched their demands of easy of use, fast provisioning, reliability, data security, and observability. They tried eight different cloud stacks, including OpenStack, Eucalyptus, and other AWS clones, without finding a good fit. The setup required endless hours and manpower. Even after the time and work, many of systems were still flawed or buggy. This was unacceptable, especially because ICS has impending deadlines for grant proposals and ongoing projects that require a secure, reliable cloud.

Making the Switch to Joyent

ICS found that Joyent could provide them with a complete cloud management solution for server and network virtualization, operations management and customer self-service.

The biggest benefit? Joyent is fast. Rather than wait for weeks to get the system set up, ICS was able to install their 1000-core system in just 40 minutes. In fact, a virtual machine takes less than a minute on Joyent, compared to 3-5 minutes with competing cloud stacks.

Other benefits include Joyent’s ZFS reliability guarantee, which ensure data integrity and prevents silent data corruption, and DTrace, an observability and introspection technology that allows users to see everything happening in the software stack safely, in real time and in production. Joyent use of ZFS as an integrated part of their software container-based Hypervisor gives ICS researchers confidence that their work is secure, while DTrace provides the access to the underlying system necessary for thoroughly understanding the behavior of research models. When ICS receives additional grant funding, Joyent’s PXE booting lets them rapidly scale up the cloud environment to support the new projects

Ultimately, ICS felt safer dealing with Joyent compared to other stacks. “With ZFS distributed on compute nodes we do not fear our hardware failing on us like we do with the typical SAN/iSCSI infrastructure that plagues other vendors,” Patwa said.

Speed, safety, and reliability -- the perfect match for ICS. We’re glad that we’re able to support their incredible research regarding cloud security, something we hold near and dear to our heart at Joyent.

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