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2015 Q4 Newsletter

Dear SWITCHengines user

you are receiving this email because you are using SWITCHengines and we need to inform you about news and changes. We plan to send out occasional news-letters in the future - if you don’t want to receive them, please use the “Unsubscribe” Link in the footer to remove yourself from this newsletter. Please note that we will still mail you in case of important security or legal issues.


  • SWITCHengines becomes a paid service on 1.1.2016. If you are running VMs, you might need to take action - see below.
  • Don’t enable Password Login on your VMs!
  • A new user interface for easily setting up a virtual machine has gone live
  • We are expanding the cloud with resources for another 1536 Cores / 768 TBytes of storage
  • There will be limited support over the holidays

We have a lot of news for you, here’s the agenda:

  • SWITCHengines will become a paid service 1.1.2016
  • Security Considerations
  • New user interface
  • Expansion of the cloud & upgrade to “Kilo”
  • Support over the holidays

SWITCHengines starts to be a paid service

SWITCHengines has been a free service for you the last 12 months, and it has been an amazing success. We have seen over 65’000 VMs started and stopped on the cloud, and currently there are over 1000 VMs running at any given moment. We store several dozen of Terabytes of data, and the trend is growing. We have seen some amazing work that you have been doing - and we probably haven’t seen but a fraction of what can be done. In order to make SWITCHengines a sustainable service, we will start to charge for usage on the 1. January 2016. For many of you, there will be no or little change, as your institution’s IT department has worked with us to handle invoicing. For others, it will mean that you need to talk to your institution’s IT department or directly to us. Read on to find out the different options:

if your institution IS on the following list, all is well. Your IT department might contact you and talk about resource usage

  • EPFL
  • FFHS
  • FHNW
  • HSLU
  • HSR
  • Uni Basel
  • Uni Bern
  • Uni St. Gallen
  • USI

If your institution is not on the above list, we don’t yet have an agreement with your institution. We have contacted them and notified you about your usage. They will contact you to determine how to proceed. There are a number of options on how payment is done. Either the university or your faculty or a research project will cover the costs.
You can also use SWITCHengines outside of an academic institution - please contact us at engines-support@switch.ch for further information


SWITCH will bill for usage every 3 months, the first time at the end of Q1 2016. The prices are composed of usage of CPU, RAM, Disk and IPv4 addresses. Each item carries a “virtual price tag” in the form of a number of “Cloud Credits” for a 1 year usage of said item. Each cloud credit costs real money (CHF 4 for academic usage, CHF 4.50 for non-academic usage). Let’s look at the prices:

1 CPU - 45 Cloud Credits
1 GB RAM - 22.5 Cloud Credits
1 GB Disk Storage - 0.1375 Cloud Credits
1 GB Object Storage - 0.175 Cloud Credits
1 IP address - 2.5 Cloud Credits

Say you have a VM that has 1 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB Disk and 1 IP address, and you run this machine for 1 year, then it will cost 45 + 22.5 + 2.75 + 2.5 = 72.75 CC. This translates to 291 CHF. If you run the machine for only one month, then the cost is 6.0625 CC (or CHF 24.25)

Our normal instances therefore cost as follows per month:

c1.micro (1 CPU, 512 MB RAM, 20 GB Disk): CHF 20.50
c1.small (1 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB Disk): CHF 24.25
c1.medium (2 CPUs, 2 GB RAM, 20 GB Disk): CHF 46.75
c1.large (4 CPUs, 4 GB RAM, 20 GB Disk): CHF 91.75
c1.xlarge (8 CPUs, 8 GB RAM, 20 GB Disk): CHF 181.75
c1.xxlarge (16 CPUs, 16 GB RAM, 20 GB Disk): CHF 361.75

It is possible for you to change the size of a running VM to optimize cost - just select the “resize” option in the SWITCHengines user interface. We are measuring running machines every few minutes and will bill in 15 minute increments. A c1.xxlarge machine that runs for 2 hours will only cost you CHF 0.99 for example.

Grace period

We are aware that these processes will take time. We are not going to shut down any running VM on January 1st and they will continue to run. However, for those users for whom we don’t have payment information latest at the beginning of February 2016, we will suspend access to the SWITCHengines UI and at the end of February 2016 suspend the VMs. You will need to contact us to keep the access to it. If we don’t hear from you, we will delete both VMs and your user account at the end of March 2016. At that point, all your data is lost.

Don’t Enable Passwords on your VM

When you launch a new (Linux) server on SWITCHengines, it doesn’t come with a user/password. Rather you have to use an SSH key to login to the system. It might be tempting to enable password logins, in order to (seemingly) make your life easier.
Don’t do that!
Every second week or so we have to suspend or delete a VM that had password logins enabled. Why? Because the password was cracked via a brute-force attack and the machine got hacked and turned into a piece of a spam or DDOS network. The only secure access is via SSH keys.

For Windows users that have to use passwords: Use a random, secure password by having it generated: https://www.random.org/passwords/?num=5&len=12&format=html&rnd=new
Creating and using an SSH key is easy. Check out the following documentation
Mac / Linux: https://help.github.com/articles/generating-ssh-keys/
Windows: https://docs.joyent.com/public-cloud/getting-started/ssh-keys/generating-an-ssh-key-manually/manually-generating-your-ssh-key-in-windows
Windows users can use PuTTY or MobaXTerm to access Linux VMs: http://mobaxterm.mobatek.net/ or http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/

New User Interface

One of the often heard feedbacks on SWITCHengines was, that is quite an involved process to start the first Virtual Machine. There are a number of steps to take - and some of them aren’t totally obvious (and that is before you start to work with virtual networks). To make it easier for you to “just give me a VM with a public IP address and let me add some disk space”, we have created the “QuickstartUI” (suggestions for a better name more than welcome, send them to "engines-support@switch.ch")

Basically, the QuickstartUI gives you one view over all your running VMs and you can pause/stop/resume and delete them directly from that view. Creating a new VM is done in one dialog, and the software is clever enough to add necessary firewall rules (SSH for Linux and RDP for Windows machines), ask for public key (or don’t if on Windows, etc).

We are looking forward to hearing about your experience with this new user interface and any suggestions for improvement you might have. The normal user interface is still available for all your advanced needs. We will eventually move the Quickstart UI to a more prominent position, when we have more experience with it.

Expansion of the Cloud & Upgrade to “Kilo”

Our Cloud currently consists of around 70 servers spread across the datacenters in Zurich and Lausanne. We are expanding that with another 48 servers (32 compute servers for Virtual Machines and 16 storage servers). The hardware will be installed this week and we expect to have the new hardware integrated and up and running at the end of January. This will expand our capacity by another 768 physical CPUs (which hyper-threading turns into 1536 logical cores). In total we will have 2008 physical cores, 17 TB of RAM and 2.25 PB of raw storage for your computing needs.

We are also working on upgrading the software that runs the cloud. We are using the open source software OpenStack, that is updated every 6 months. We are currently on the “Juno” release and are busy preparing the upgrade to “Kilo”. Most of the changes will be under the hood, but the general user interface will change slightly. The update on the productive clusters will take place towards the end of January 2016 (as of our current planning) and be done in two steps - one for each region. Details on the exact dates and what the update brings will follow some days before the upgrade.

Support over the holidays

While we are enjoying the holidays between X-Mas and New Year, SWITCHengines will continue to hum along. Our systems are being monitored and we will be notified if things go wrong. Email Support is available (but not as fast as usual). Send an email to engines-support@switch.ch for any questions or help and we will get to to urgent requests within 1 day. Non urgent requests will be handled starting January 4th.

We wish you happy holidays and both a good end of 2015 and a great start into 2016. We are looking forward to you using SWITCHengines in 2016 and are here to help you get the most out of it.

Jens-Christian Fischer & the whole SWITCHengines team

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