Building a private cloud: Get ready for a bumpy ride

Check your traditional data center mind-set at the door or be prepared to fail.

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Virtualization is only part of the picture

Many IT managers equate a private cloud with virtualization. What they describe is usually virtual infrastructure, meaning that "you can treat your servers, storage and networks as a single pool of resources that workloads can request on demand," explains Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst at Ideas International, a research firm with emphasis on enterprise IT infrastructures.

But virtualization and the cloud are not the same thing; to be considered a cloud, the architecture must be set up to provide both orchestration and automation on top of the virtualization layer.

Orchestration is the coordinated delivery of many types of resources, such as processors, storage and networks, to provide an integrated provisioning process; resources can be delivered in minutes rather than days or weeks. In other words, a single command or request causes a number of actions to occur, possibly in a specific sequence, to coordinate the provisioning request.

The whole point of a private cloud is to allow IT managers to reduce costs and provide so-called agile provisioning rather than just making management of the infrastructure more convenient. A private cloud with virtualization underpinnings turns the technology infrastructure into a pool of resources that can be provisioned on demand with minimal manual intervention.

Without a focus on delivering IT services, it's unlikely you'll attain the full benefit of private clouds.

Comparisons to traditional data centers

In a traditional data center setup, "every time you add a server, somebody has to walk to a firewall console, set up firewall rules, attach the server to a VLAN, set up load balancing" and do many other tasks, explains Jeff Deacon, cloud computing principal at Verizon Business. But a private cloud needs minimal human intervention other than bringing in new computers or storage to keep up with demand. In a cloud environment, there is one console that lets operators set parameters to automate the entire process, rather than requiring IT personnel to log into different consoles for security, networking and server OS functions.

Another of the main differences between private clouds and traditional data centers involves IT processes. Private clouds may require a re-architecture of how data is used, and processes may have to be rewritten.

For example, today many IT organizations have to contend with sets of requirements that must be met in the provisioning process for budget; discussions with the storage, network and server groups; and tons of paperwork. This type of process is in stark contrast to the streamlined, short-duration provisioning done in clouds. Time to provision may go from weeks in the traditional data center to minutes in a cloud.

You may also have to re-architect deployment of legacy applications to take advantage of private clouds. Many legacy applications are running on mainframes and proprietary Unix platforms. Most virtualized environments, including private clouds, are geared to run on x86-based systems.

Also, in a virtualized environment, we generally don't know exactly where an application is running at any given time. Because most legacy applications are tied to a specific platform, running them in a private cloud will often require re-architecting them.

Divorcing applications from the hardware is a hallmark of clouds, including private clouds. In a traditional data center, those 10 servers over there might be running billing applications and those five over there running CRM apps. With a private cloud, however, it's not known ahead of time which servers are running which specific applications. The applications run on whichever servers have free cycles at the time the apps need to run.

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