How to ensure the success of your private PaaS project

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

Building a private platform-as-a-service (PaaS) cloud that provides on-demand access to databases, middleware, presentation layer and other services can enable consumer agility, lower the cost to maintain that agility, and increase the utilization of on-premise resources.

That is a trifecta of self-reinforcing value for the business. Agility and cost have traditionally been thought of as tradeoffs in IT, but thanks to standardization, consolidation and automation that is tightly coupled with the technology used to provide cloud services, private PaaS clouds have the potential to eliminate that trade off.

In order to achieve those simultaneous benefits, it’s important to think about why you are implementing a private cloud, what workloads make sense for that private cloud, and how you intend to marry the two together. Let’s look at five practical considerations for a successful discrete private cloud implementation project that can form the building block of an eventual larger-scale transformation.  

* Suitable workloads. Most IT services are used to either run the business or grow/transform the business. Run the business activities such as ERP, CRM, Finance, HR and similar tend to have stable workloads, usually consisting of small deviations around a moving average, perhaps also with relatively predictable spikes such as seasonal or periodic variations. These activities also have a generally lower rate of change because they are ingrained in organizational processes, and are often centrally-managed for the same reason.

On the other hand, grow/transform activities involve launch of new offerings, big data analysis, cross-channel marketing/selling, and organizational change, all of which have unpredictable workloads and high ongoing rates of change.

Your intuition might tell you that the grow/transform activities are naturals for private PaaS clouds. The agility gained by developers allows them to provide new services on a short timeframe, while also allowing those services to be rapidly decommissioned if circumstances change. It’s also fairly obvious that many “run the business” workloads do not need the agility of private clouds, and in fact it may be a high-risk maneuver to place them on a shared services environment.

There is, however, a gray area in times of business change. During these periods of evolution many “run the business” applications are forced to act more like “grow/transform the business” applications – with high rates of change, variable workloads and the need for rapid provisioning/decommissioning. In those cases, the neat segregation between workloads breaks down. As such, a private PaaS cloud needs to be able to provide services that address the needs of both types of applications. It needs to provide agility… but with the reliability/security/scalability of traditional IT services.

* What services to offer? When it comes to figuring out what services to offer, the answer lies with your users. Help them prioritize their needs and offer as few services as possible.

Customers can have hundreds of variants in their IT environment. This sprawl is often the result of lack of governance, lack of standardization, and a bottoms-up/best-of-breed mentality that resulted in “configuration pollution” (a wide variance among arguably-similar stack configurations). Managing such an environment is expensive and inefficient.

PaaS service level chart

Example of categories for a Private Cloud Service Catalog.

Compare that complexity to the service catalog of most public cloud providers. For example, the Oracle Database Cloud Service has only a few offerings. Not 50, or 500 or 5,000. Your private cloud service catalog should look and sound more like a public provider’s catalog. Doing that requires making choices about standardization and consolidation. Sometimes these choices are politically challenging, but they need to be made nonetheless or your private cloud will not provide the cost optimization that it should.

* Is chargeback necessary?  Chargeback/showback is the idea of passing consumption costs back to the consumer either via internal automated transfer costs (chargeback) or simply via reporting (showback). It sounds great on paper, and is a relatively simple matter to execute technically with a fully-integrated cloud management regime (since the software that does the automated provisioning knows who’s using what at all times). But the transparency it provides is truly transformational to an organization, and therefore has political and human consequences. A well-implemented private PaaS cloud will automatically have all the information IT needs to make costs transparent, but making those costs visible is an organizational decision.

* PaaS versus IaaS? To reiterate, if your goal is agility and cost reduction, PaaS gives you more flexibility, more efficiency and more value than infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). The raw shared compute and storage (think hypervisors, guest OSs, etc.) that IaaS provides are simply containers that then need to be installed, configured and managed, and that cost lives somewhere (either in the provider or the consumer’s bucket).

Furthermore, because most organizations pass the configuration effort onto the consumers, the tendency for “bottoms-up” configuration pollution continues to be a problem. I call this “cost shifting”. PaaS, on the other hand, provides instantly-consumable services (database, middleware, presentation layer, etc.) in standardized configurations that can be managed with minimum effort on an individual basis and with maximum efficiency on an enterprise scale. IaaS provides efficiency but primarily just shifts costs around. PaaS doesn’t just shift costs around, it eliminates a substantial portion of them outright.

Chart of service types

* How to succeed? The most successful model I’ve seen to introduce PaaS to an organization is to start small, with a well-defined scope. Pick a service, or two services, and a defined user base (say, a particular LOB development organization in a “grow the business” activity) and let them see what PaaS can do for them.

In conclusion, PaaS clouds offer an unprecedented opportunity to simultaneously lower costs, increase agility and maximize utilization. They also carry the potential for meaningful cultural transformation by making IT costs transparent. Unlocking that value requires careful up-front analysis and an unwavering commitment to consolidation, standardization and automation -- and most importantly, simplicity. But with the proper commitment, the rewards can be tremendous.

Koloski is senior director, Product Management and Business Development at Oracle.

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