Take the fast track to private clouds

Integrated cloud stacks from key vendors make it easy to spin up a private cloud

If you're interested in achieving the benefits of a private cloud, but aren't sure you want to devote the time and resources to build one from scratch, there is an alternative - cloud-in-a-box.

Public cloud vs. private cloud: Why not both?

Integrated cloud stacks, available from companies such as Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM and VMware, can help enterprise IT  implement private clouds post haste. These cloud stacks provide cloud building blocks pre-packaged and ready for launching on demand.

"We're talking about either pure software or packaged hardware and software solutions that instantiate infrastructure as a service - meaning, when you turn the system on, you immediately can do some provisioning of virtual machines, virtual disks and virtual networks," says James Staten, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research.

Converge, then box up

Cloud-in-a-box solutions have evolved out of converged infrastructure products companies such as Cisco, with its Unified Computing System, and HP, with BladeSystem Matrix, rolled out two years ago. To those architectural underpinnings, cloud-in-a-box products add in the management finesse so critical for successful cloud implementations.

"Self-service portals; metering; some billing, perhaps; dynamic workload management; image libraries - these are the core components you'd want to find in cloud-in-a-box," Staten says.

Forrester recognizes about a half-dozen products as true cloud in a box. On the hardware and software side, its short list includes HP CloudSystem, Dell Virtual Integrated System, Cisco's cloud infrastructure and IBM CloudBurst. BMC Cloud Lifecycle Management, Cloud.com CloudStack, Microsoft Hyper-V Cloud and VMware vCloud are software-based examples, Staten says.

"They're all pretty much first generation and are still maturing, but they're all very capable," he adds.

Accelerating change

ManTech International, a provider of technology for national security programs, uses IBM CloudBurst to build a private cloud that gives its 350 developers instant access to varied IT resources as needed.

"We had been in a situation where developers all had their own workstations that would need to be configured for whatever particular project they were working on at any given time. It was very labor-intensive; systems administrators would have to come out and reload machines any time developers changed projects, say if they went from a Windows to a Linux project. Plus the sprawl had gotten out of control," says Mitch Daniels, IT senior scientist with the Fairfax, Va., company.

Road map to the public cloud

"We wanted to consolidate our infrastructure and put some controls in, and we knew we potentially wanted to use a cloud-type technology to do that," he adds.

Weighing available options at the time, ManTech decided on the IBM CloudBurst, which allowed the company to "kill two birds with one stone," Daniels says. "It gave me the software solution I needed to do the auto-provisioning, the virtual desktop management, and all of those types of things and, at the same time, let me move developers off individual boxes to the blade infrastructure," he explains.

Nearly one year into its implementation, all is good, Daniels says.

"We rolled it in, connected the network, plugged in the power - and we were up and running," he says.

Daniels is exaggerating, of course - but the implementation was almost that painless, he says.

ManTech uses external EMC storage, but "everything else is out-of-the-box CloudBurst - no customization whatsoever," Daniels says.

IBM came onsite and spent roughly one week configuring and testing the CloudBurst hardware and software. Then it spent another few days on training, Daniels says. "At the end of two weeks, it handed us the keys."

He calls it a "tremendous success" that the developers love and that has allowed him to reassign two staff members from systems administration to mission-critical development.

ManTech has been so pleased with CloudBurst, Daniels adds, that it's now deploying the cloud-in-a-box to support a 12,000-seat IBM Lotus Sametime collaborative environment at one client, as well as delivery of mission-critical applications within a classified enclave for another client.

As the ManTech example shows, "cloud-in-a-box solutions are accelerants for automation and standardization, and frankly the market needs a kick in the butt in this regard," Staten says. "We encourage people to look at cloud- in-a-box. It's much easier to take one of these solutions and learn from how it was integrated than to try to build a cloud from scratch yourself."

An educational opportunity

Other cloud watchers offer a cautionary note when it comes to cloud-in-a-box.

"Unless you nail it right, which is unlikely, don't try to use cloud-in-a-box as the platform for growing your complete cloud infrastructure. It's unlikely to meet your expectations or needs over the long term ... so while you might get some fun technology out of it, eventually it'll be stuck in the corner somewhere with lights and disks but doing nothing," cautions John Treadway, global director of cloud solutions at Unisys, which provides a cloud strategy advisory service as well as cloud solutions, including cloud in a box.

But Staten says he doesn't see this happening.

The cloud in a box an enterprise chooses likely will share underlying hardware with the existing production environment, plus "the software that makes up a cloud system will include the automation tools that a customer would already have or would likely introduce over the next couple of years anyway," he says.

"And even if a company chooses not to turn on the self-service portal, the metering or the billing or chargeback but uses the rest of the system, it's already become much more efficient, automated and standardized ... and that's really good for corporate IT."

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