The challenges of moving to a private cloud

In Part 1 of this article, we defined private clouds, talked about the differences between deploying server virtualization and implementing a private cloud, described the risks associated with deploying private clouds and listed the phases and steps involved in transitioning to a private cloud.

In this part we delve deeper into the technology choices needed for the virtualization, management and automation required for a private cloud. We talk to some who have made the move to a private cloud, or are doing so.

Are you planning or implementing:

A combination of public and private clouds: 17%

Private cloud only: 18%

Public cloud only: 12%

No clouds under consideration at this time: 53%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 155 respondents

In general, selecting the technologies to implement a private cloud is easier than figuring out the business rules and operational procedures you'll need. Regardless, choosing the software to virtualize your data center and then picking the automation and orchestration management tools is very important.

While some view automation and orchestration tools as "extra" cloud management tools, implementers and experts say they're just as necessary as the basic tools for managing servers and storage. Without the "extra" tools, you will not be able to reduce the administration costs in private clouds.

Getting started

How you go about building a private cloud depends on what you have to start with. The legacy of your environment may dictate what you do first. If you are starting from scratch, then you have to start by virtualizing your servers. Then you begin to virtualize your storage and your networks, and build out from there.

These steps are prerequisites if you want to fully realize the benefits of private clouds. You need to be able to provision hardware and software to customers who request it, and then deploy the hardware or services; you need a way to manage and control the environment. You also need to be able to manage the private-to-public paradigm -- that is, the ability to move workloads back and forth between private and public clouds.

So far, how private clouds are built differs from enterprise to enterprise.

When preparing for a private cloud, you have to ask and answer questions such as:

* What is going to be running in the private cloud and what is not?

* What applications can I scale well to take advantage of the cloud?

* If I have two data centers, to what extent can I migrate applications and share capacity between them? Where does cloud help? Where does it hurt?

These questions are part of an iterative process; businesses need to work their way toward mature business processes for their private clouds.

Paul Cameron, head of enterprise services at Suncorp, a major financial services provider in Brisbane, Australia, says that when his company began planning and strategizing for its private cloud, two of the first things it did was create a service-based operating model and create 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.

First a framework, then a configuration database

Key to this catalog was the implementation of an ITIL framework that resulted in storing information around Suncorp's assets and business application relationships in a CMDB (configuration management database). All of Suncorp's major IT processes -- incident, problem, asset and change -- leverage the CMDB.

Populating a service catalog can be time consuming. But if you are using IT service management and change management tools such as BMC Remedy or and have an existing 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 said that Suncorp is deploying a private cloud because it has to serve its customers better and take care of them more quickly. In traditional data centers, enterprises often take a week or even months to provision a server depending on how heavy IT staff workloads are and how long queues are for various tasks required by users.

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

(Check all that apply.)

Better security/control since it's all done in-house: 85%

Self-service provisioning for most types of IT resources: 46%

Little or no learning curve for users since it involves pretty much the same apps they've been used to: 44%

Better/more efficient scaling: 32%

No advantages: 2%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 54 respondents

Now, at Suncorp, a user goes to the self-service portal and requests resources and services. Once the requests are made, the fulfillment of these services is automated. Suncorp has now virtualized most of its data centers around servers, storage and so on, resulting in about 80% of its data center services now being covered by automated self-service portal(s).

Most enterprises that have private clouds use some type of method, such as chargeback or physical limits on the amount of capacity that users can request, to keep the lid on demand. Otherwise, users might just keep provisioning virtual servers and use up the capacity quickly.

Essential cloud components

Jeffrey Driscoll, a systems engineer at consultancy Precision IT, advises that when companies start building a private cloud, the basic building blocks 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, non-cloud systems to keep things running.

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

(Check all that apply.)

Having to build it all internally: time, cost, learning curve for IT: 50%

Scalability: 33%

Having to implement virtualization, automation and orchestration when we didn't have those tools before: 30%

No drawbacks: 11%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 54 respondents

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

One solution is to create a hybrid cloud environment and, when capacity is not available in the private cloud, move requests for capacity to public clouds such as Amazon Elastic Compute 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.

Some security concerns

Driscoll says that private clouds are great for businesses with security concerns or regulatory requirements, although Suncorp's Cameron says that private clouds force implementers to rethink how they do security.

Are you implementing chargeback or some kind of pay-per-use model for your end-users to pay for their piece of the private cloud?

Yes: 30%

No, we had chargeback/pay per use before the cloud: 18%

No, we don't have any type of

chargeback or pay-per-use planned: 52%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 54 respondents

For example, the way in which firewalls are handled in traditional data centers is not going to always work in cloud environments where workloads can be moved around. The reason: In a virtualized environment, servers may be organized into different security groups, and the security of the target host may not be satisfactory for a virtual machine (VM) being migrated to it.

Suncorp is now well advanced in virtualizing its firewalls. Virtualized firewalls are important because multiple VMs may be connected using virtualized network switches and other virtualized components, as opposed to a network running entirely over physical hardware and cabling.

Bottom line is that the security issues in virtual environments are not always the same as those in non-virtual environments.

Managing the storage piece

Storage isn't always as big an issue as some would have you think. If storage problems exist in your virtualized environment, there are some ways of dealing with them, including deduplication, thin provisioning and becoming more savvy about the way you purchase storage.

"All we needed to do was to move storage up a tier" -- from Serial ATA to Integrated Drive Electronics -- "to resolve some initial performance issues," says Craig Baughn, vice president of hosting services at Concur. At first, the company had "slightly underestimated" the I/O requirements of the virtualized environment, he explains. "We found that it's critical to profile the storage demand of a given server/application before moving it to a VM so we can place it on the correct storage tier out of the gate."

The architecture that Concur deployed "allowed us to leverage deduplication wisely," Baughn says, and achieve greater than 40x compression without sacrificing performance. Deduplication is a storage-based means of eliminating duplicate or redundant information. One benefit of doing this, he explains, is that the VM reboot time is twice as fast, on average, when compared to that of physical servers.

To help manage your private cloud,are you using:

Some combination of new and old tools: 63%

The same tools we use for our physical server infrastructure: 22%

A different set of tools entirely: 11%

Other: 4%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 54 respondents

Baughn says, "We are focused on making the capacity in our private cloud elastic, expanding dynamically when the needs of our clients and employees require more capacity." Concur chose VMware for its virtualization software, CA's Service Assurance Suite for monitoring and BMC's BladeLogic Server Automation Suite to help manage its private cloud.

The case for management tools

The first step in managing private clouds is to get management tools that can bridge the physical infrastructure and the virtual infrastructure. You will have to manage physical servers running no virtualization software and physical servers hosting virtual machines, because not all servers are likely to be resources in the private cloud.

You'll want to choose software that provides you with a consistent environment -- whether you are running a workload on an operating system platform (with or without virtualization) or running an application in a private cloud. In other words, choose tools that let you see the same view across execution environments.

Private clouds

You also want the same type of consistency for software licensing across all of the environments in which you are running applications -- private and public cloud, etc.

Infrastructure management includes managing VMs, storage, backup/recovery and so on. Vendors that sell tools here include Abiquo, Nimsoft, 3Tera, Terremark, CA,, Enomaly, Citrix, Platform Computing, Red Hat, Microsoft, Surgient and VMware. While vendors often claim that their products are targeted for private cloud infrastructures, they sometimes use a very loose definition of 'cloud.' You should use caution and carefully investigate the functionality of each product.

Another thing to consider is that small firms and some medium-sized enterprises often do not have the skill sets and experience to take on the task of building a private cloud. These organizations would likely need to hire an IT consultant.

There is a second layer of management, service-level management, which involves managing workloads at a level of abstraction above virtual servers. This is where automation is applied. It is also where traditional management tools such as IBM Tivoli and HP InSight work within the private-cloud stack. The list of vendors that claim to have automation-management tools includes IBM Tivoli, HP, CA, Oblicore, LineSider Technologies, DynamicOps, VMware and BMC.

Private clouds in smaller businesses

The trick to implementing a cloud in smaller companies is to make it act like a cloud but not look like one.

"Small business owners have a very traditional mindset," says Jeffrey Driscoll, a systems engineer at consultancy Precision IT. "So we try to make a virtualized environment look like the traditional environment." This generally involves an Exchange server, an ftp server and so on. Each one of the servers is virtualized. "Then we manage the virtual machines just like they would manage a physical server," he adds.

Small businesses that deploy private clouds are much more likely than their larger counterparts to end up in a hybrid situation -- for example, their QuickBooks and Exchange applications are hosted from a public cloud provider and their other applications run on a private cloud.

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