The Bumpy Road to Private Clouds

By the Numbers

Private Clouds: Pros and Cons

What kind of cloud computing are you planning or implementing?

* No clouds under consideration at this time: 53%

* Private cloud only: 18%

* A combination of public and private clouds: 17%

* Public cloud only: 12%

Base: 155 IT managers

What do you see as the advantages of private clouds over public clouds?

* 1. Better security/control

* 2. Self-service provisioning

* 3. Little or no learning curve for end users

* 4. Better or more-efficient scaling

Base: 54 respondents planning or implementing private clouds; multiple responses allowed.

What do you see as the drawbacks of private clouds compared to public clouds?

* 1. Having to build it all internally: time, cost, learning curve for IT

* 2. Scalability

* 3. Having to handle virtualization, automation and orchestration

Base: 54 respondents planning or implementing private clouds; multiple responses allowed.

What's the most challenging part of implementing a private cloud?

* 1. Software licensing/pricing issues

(tie) Finding tools to help us build our cloud

(tie) Ensuring economies of scale

* 4. Finding tools to help us manage our cloud

* 5. Making it all work together (interoperability)

(tie) Technology obsolescence

* 7. Lack of cloud standards

Base: 54 respondents planning or implementing private clouds; multiple responses allowed.

Source: Computerworld online survey, November 2010; Research assistance provided by Mari Keefe, editorial project manager.

This is what private clouds are all about: providing the on-demand elasticity of public clouds, but doing it within the company's firewall.

By the way, business users may expect private clouds to act like public clouds. In a public cloud, the public cloud provider's IT operations group is responsible for the computer infrastructure, and the customer's business application groups manage and monitor their own applications on the public cloud. If the private cloud is expected to operate in a similar manner, then the IT group may need to give up its traditional application-management role.

Getting Started

The first step down the path to a private cloud is to go beyond server virtualization. Iams outlines these subsequent steps:

• Virtualize your storage and try to achieve the same flexibility with storage that you already have with virtualized servers.

• Coordinate server virtualization and storage virtualization using management tools such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Azure Storage or VMware's vStorage.

• Virtualize your network infrastructure and, again, coordinate that with your management tools.

You know that your infrastructure has been fully virtualized when you have server virtualization, storage virtualization and network virtualization. The crossover point from a virtual infrastructure to private cloud comes when you have the management tools that treat all three types of resources -- servers, storage and networks -- as a single pool that can be allocated on demand.

Of course, all this is from a technology point of view. Iams says that there is a parallel set of steps from the organizational perspective, including people, processes, governance, policy and funding. One key question: What does a private cloud structure do to budgets and financial flow within an organization?

Public clouds require users to pay only for what they use. Because a private cloud doesn't provide users with a fixed amount of capacity like they may have had with a traditional data center, chargeback is almost certain to be an integral part of private cloud environments. Chargeback is a way of rationing computing resources, which is especially important when obtaining resources is as easy as filling out a Web form.

Paul Cameron, head of enterprise services at Suncorp Group, a major financial services provider in Brisbane, Australia, says that when his company began planning its private cloud, it created a service-based operating model and a service catalog. The service catalog contains the list of services being automated for internal use and is available to business users via a self-service portal.

A key to building that catalog was storing information about Suncorp's assets and business application relationships in a configuration management database (CMDB). All of Suncorp's major IT processes -- incident, problem, asset and change -- use the CMDB.

Populating a service catalog can be time-consuming. But if you're using IT service management and change management tools such as BMC Software Inc.'s Remedy product line or Service-now.com and have a CMDB in place, it can be easier. You can work through the appropriate services in the CMDB to provide the automated services listed in a service catalog. This is what Suncorp is doing with its BMC Remedy-based CMDB.

Cameron says that Suncorp deployed a private cloud to provide better and faster IT provisioning to business users. Suncorp users can go to a self-service portal and request resources and services. Once the requests are made, the fulfillment of these services is automated. Cameron says that about 80% of Suncorp's data center services are now covered by automated self-service portals.

While private clouds are pitched as ideal for companies concerned about security and regulatory compliance, Cameron cautions that private clouds force implementers to rethink how they do security. For example, traditional firewalls won't always provide satisfactory security in cloud environments where workloads can be moved around to less-secure portions of the network. So Suncorp is now virtualizing its firewalls.

Keeping Up With Demand

Jeffrey Driscoll, a systems engineer at consultancy Precision IT Group LLC, says the basic building blocks of a private cloud are servers, storage (such as a SAN) and virtualization software. "Then you start building a cluster," he says, and after that cluster is complete, "capacity planning becomes critical."

Capacity planning involves figuring out what happens when you add servers and other resources to the cluster as needed to keep up with business demand. Capacity planning is a major component of the cluster and the cloud's performance. If it's done wrong, you might end up with useless systems or have to shoehorn-in traditional, noncloud systems to keep things running.

Most organizations aren't good at monitoring and keeping ahead of capacity. To be able to satisfy user demands, you always need to have some extra capacity on the data center floor, which results in a certain amount of hardware sitting around in idle mode. Keeping a history of capacity usage in your enterprise can help you be reasonably confident that you have sufficient -- but not too much -- capacity.

One solution is to create a hybrid cloud environment and move requests for capacity to public clouds, such as Amazon.com Inc.'s Elastic Compute Cloud, when capacity isn't available in the private cloud.

Once the cluster is up and running, you can start provisioning virtual servers. The result is a tiered architecture with a server layer, a network layer and a virtualization layer. There is a management tool at each layer. "Now you can start thinking about automation," Driscoll says.

Next page: Should you buy or build? Plus, key players in private clouds

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