The challenges of moving to a private cloud

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Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst at Ideas International, a comparative intelligence firm for enterprise IT infrastructures, says that almost all system and hardware vendors are pursuing some type of virtualization or cloud management tools.

Some vendors are looking at integrating at the operating system level. Microsoft has done a lot of work here, with its System Center management product, to give visibility over what is happening within the hypervisors and inside virtual servers.

Iams also says that when building a private cloud you should plan for having to manage multiple hypervisors -- VMware's ESX, Microsoft's Hyper-V, Red Hat and other implementations of the Linux-based KVM and the open-source Xen. Microsoft can manage Hyper-V virtual servers and some aspects of ESX virtual servers. Other cloud vendors, such as VMware and Red Hat, can also manage VMs created by multiple hypervisors. Ideally, you want to control multiple hypervisors from a single interface.

Commercial versus homegrown tools

The downside of commercial, off-the-shelf tools is that they will likely need to be customized to work with your environment. On the other hand, the downside of rolling your own tools is that your in-house IT group needs to maintain them, make feature enhancements and so on.

One alternative to home-grown tools includes building mixed-component cloud stacks by acquiring various third-party components and putting them together. The question then becomes: Who do you call when there is a problem? Another possibility is to lock yourself into a single vendor such as Microsoft or VMware.

Each alternative has its pluses and minuses, so weigh your options carefully. And keep in mind that turning back from any of them once you're underway is expensive and time-consuming.

Open-source tools

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

(Check all that apply.)

Software licensing/pricing issues: 44%

Finding tools to help us build our cloud: 44%

Ensuring economies of scale: 44%

Finding tools to help us manage our cloud: 42%

Making it all work together: interoperability: 37%

Dealing with technology obsolescence, protecting our cloud investment: 37%

Lack of standards in the cloud world: 33%

Making the ROI case to upper management: 20%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 54 respondents

Open-source software is a good choice for building private clouds because the software is essentially free, and it does not impede the flexibility gained by virtualization and cloud computing the way that proprietary software licensed on physical CPUs sometimes does. For example, proprietary software licensing can create issues with migrating VMs from host to host.

Abiquo, and Red Hat sell open-source tools for managing clouds.

You do not want to lock yourself into a single vendor's cloud stack. Especially avoid vendors with cloud stacks that perform well when using only their components. Reserve the option to plug in your home-grown or third-party tools.

Integrating multiple toolsets

Jeff Deacon, cloud-computing principal for Verizon Business, says that more sophisticated enterprises are integrating multiple management toolsets -- for instance, Hewlett-Packard's Server Automation Suite and BMC's Patrol Automation Suite. Security, firewall, networking and storage elements can be orchestrated from within both BMC Patrol and HP Server Automation Suite. Companies that do not link multiple toolsets may have to write a lot of their own software to get the necessary automation capabilities.

It is not yet possible to buy one commercial product that will do everything that most IT managers need to do for private clouds. You have to stitch together a number of different products from various vendors and place your own GUI on the front end.

Is single-console management a reality for private clouds? Iams says that not everyone will be able to get by with just one console, but even two or three consoles represent a huge improvement over the dozen that some shops use today.

Deacon thinks that single-console management is in the cards. He says that Verizon Business has built a high-level console management layer that calls APIs from VMware vCenter, HP Network Automation and HP Virtual Connect, among other products.

Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, says, "It is unrealistic to think that we are going to get many of these management tools to work together." Instead, what will likely happen over time, he predicts, is that " the market shrinks dramatically" and the handful of vendors left offer "much more integrated capabilities."

IT shops need federation and interoperability, Gillett adds, "and we are very early in those efforts. We may be able to bring private cloud management tools together, but it will be a messy interim period."

Some IT managers have indicated that they are looking to go with large established companies for cloud technology because they cannot trust their data center to startups that may not be in business in a year or two.

Deacon agrees. He says that the large companies like HP and IBM will likely buy up cloud-based startups and add the startups' software to their existing portfolios. This is what HP did with OpsWare and BMC did with BladeLogic. And CA has been on a buying spree, acquiring Nimsoft, Oblicore, 3Tera and others.

Transitioning to a private cloud: Summary

Implementing a private cloud is not easy. Some enterprises use homegrown tools. Others create cloud stacks consisting of components from multiple vendors. Still others buy all their software from Microsoft or VMware, thereby locking them into a single vendor.

Regardless of the differences in approach, organizations that take on the task of deploying a private cloud are generally doing it for the same reasons: to lower costs and to provide more agile provisioning. However, many of the processes and procedures that have been used in data centers for many years require changes.

Are you working with a third-party firm to help implement your private cloud?

(Check all that apply.)

No, we're not using any outside help: 44%

Yes, our primary systems (hardware) vendor: 24%

Yes, a systems integrator: 21%

Yes, our primary software vendor: 15%

Yes, a consultancy that doesn't sell hardware or software: 13%

We're hiring some temporary or permanent hands-on experts to supplement our existing IT staff: 11%

A third-party vendor is hosting and implementing my private cloud in its data center: 9%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 54 respondents

This is probably the most difficult part of implementing a private cloud. IT organizations have many processes and requirements in the provisioning process, including budget requirements, discussions with storage, network and server groups -- and lots of paperwork. These methods are directly opposed to the streamlined, short-duration provisioning associated with private cloud computing using automation and orchestration.

There will be enormous pressure from business users to start using clouds. If the data center operations group cannot respond quickly with its private cloud, then expect your business users to look at public clouds as an alternative.

This is why, in the past year, some IT organizations have begun to work quickly on deploying private clouds. To successfully compete with public cloud providers, IT staff need to deploy similar services in-house, making it better and more attractive to use their private cloud than to have applications groups go outside the enterprise to public clouds.

Bill Claybrook is an analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry, specializing in Linux, open source, virtualization and cloud computing. He is president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass., and holds a Ph.D. in computer science. He can be reached at

Research assistance for the Computerworld survey provided by Mari Keefe, editorial project manager.

This story, "The challenges of moving to a private cloud" was originally published by Computerworld.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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