How to build a cloud-based organization

The first step of moving from a traditional data center model into the cloud is typically determined by the state of your IT infrastructure. If you have recent investments in servers or storage and your infrastructure is fairly new, you can begin by introducing virtualization into your existing data center to create your own private infrastructure cloud. If your equipment is old and your expensive maintenance contracts are coming up for renewal, you can move to the cloud by purchasing infrastructure resources as a service from a cloud provider that will run your applications externally in its data center.

Let's assume you have a typical data center environment with a combination of server and storage vendors or some level of standardization, and a typical SAN storage infrastructure with some NAS for file services or home directories. Your application environment is a mixture of structured database data and unstructured files being served by a mixture of Unix/Linux and Windows servers. Your backup is done in-house to a combination of disk and tape, and tapes are shipped offsite for long-term storage archives and disaster recovery (DR). There may be some array or host-based data replication for critical applications.

Your goals are twofold.  First, to provide better application services while reducing infrastructure costs and capital expenditure.  Second, to provide better data availability while gaining efficiency in operations.

Four steps to the cloud

Step 1: Virtualize to gain data mobility and operational efficiency.

Step 2: Dedupe to increase utilization while optimizing storage and replication.

Step 3: Get rid of backup by continually protecting and snapshotting.

Step 4: Begin outsourcing specific functions to the cloud.

There are a number of contractual, legal, technical and security risks on the road to cloud computing, as legal issues, encryption standards, virtualization methods and data security standards for cloud computing are still being developed. A good rule of thumb is to get your feet wet internally first, and if that doesn't lower your existing budget requirements and save money, don't do it. You want to move to the cloud, not some low-lying, fog-computing paradigm provided by an unscrupulous vendor.

After a promising history over the past two decades and the advent of enabling technologies, cloud computing is now a feasible, beneficial option. Despite the potential risks along the way, success in the cloud is achievable for companies who invest wisely and step carefully toward their goals.

Christopher Poelker is the author of Storage Area Networks for Dummies, the vice president of enterprise solutions at FalconStor Software, and deputy commissioner of the TechAmerica Foundation Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (CLOUD²).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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