Using private clouds for all the right reasons

Here's why some customers are adopting the technology -- and what they're doing.

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Heartland Payment Systems, which offers payment processing services to merchants, falls squarely in the category of a business that has turned to private cloud for security reasons. In 2010, it embarked on a data center consolidation project, just a year after a very well-publicized data breach. "Security and risk and compliance and liability were all top of mind," says Kris Herrin, chief technology officer for Heartland.

As part of that data center consolidation process, which ultimately whittled down the number of data centers from nine to three, Heartland decided to adopt a private cloud. Now, Heartland is in a unique position as an early adopter of private cloud that is now in the process of upgrading to a second-generation private cloud.

"Our first attempt was very much 'cloud washing,' " he explains, meaning that the vendor, in this case Fujitsu, called it a cloud, taking advantage of the buzz around the term without actually delivering full cloud features. "It was an outsourced managed service offering that was simply whitewashed with cloud-like behaviors, including utility pricing."

That said, the private cloud continues to serves its purpose, he says -- to run the payment processing service that is used by Heartland's merchants. The infrastructure is owned by Heartland and is in a physically separate environment. "Our auditors, internal and external, can see and feel and touch it and that makes them feel better," Herrin says.

Kris Herrin
"Our first attempt was very much cloud washing," says Kris Herrin, chief technology officer for Heartland, meaning the vendor called it a cloud, taking advantage of the buzz around the term without actually delivering full cloud features. The company's building a second-generation cloud that will rectify that situation.

But it's missing a few important features. One is that it doesn't offer software-driven networking or storage. That means that the company can easily and very quickly provision compute power but it might take an additional two months to set up the networking piece.

Heartland has a particularly complex network design because of the nature of its business -- it offers real-time credit card processing services.

Its second-generation private cloud, which it hopes to have up and running by the first quarter of next year, will support software defined networking, which will decouple the networking from the compute functions and thus should make it much easier to provision cloud services and also make hardware upgrades.

Heartland is currently using VMware's cloud technology and expects to continue with VMware in its new cloud, at least initially. "We're having open discussions as to whether we may or may not continue with [VMware] in the long run," Herrin says. "We realized we need to give ourselves the ability to be agnostic whether we stick with VMware or not." The plan is to architect the cloud so that the company can switch to a different cloud technology provider in the future. Apache's CloudStack is on Heartland's short list, he says.

Heartland expects to be able to use existing server hardware from IBM for the new cloud and is still evaluating whether it will be able to reuse the Fujitsu hardware from its first-generation service.

The new cloud likely won't be self-service in exactly the same way that public clouds like Amazon Web Services are, but Herrin still expects it will be a dramatic improvement. "What I figured out quickly is my business users and developers internally didn't really care about self-service," he says. Whether they ordered up the resources themselves or someone else did it for them, that factor wasn't as important as getting access to the resources quickly.

He's envisioning a setup where developers will be able to do most of the kind of provisioning they want on their own while reaching out to a staff cloud expert for some functions. "Given where things are today, in that it takes weeks to get things done, getting it down to days, people will be thrilled with that," he says. "That will be a nice win right off the bat."

Heartland does use public cloud services, like those from Amazon Web Services, for some applications. "We want to consume more and more in the public cloud but we know we will always still have a private cloud," Herrin says.

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