High-Pressure Clouds

IT leaders are being urged to use cloud computing to lower costs in the data center. But is speed the real payoff?

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In other cases, the goal is to have not just the virtualized infrastructure, but everything up through the application layer become a set of standardized, shared services that all aspects of the business will share -- something that Fjeldheim says his company is doing now for developers and engineers. Finally, says Staten, a private cloud should include the ability to track service usage and charge users for the consumption of cloud-based services.

Qualcomm isn't the only company experimenting with cloud. Many IT organizations are starting pilots using one of these options: software-based architectures, such as the open-source OpenStack promoted by RackSpace, NASA and Eucalyptus Systems; or more proprietary, "cloud in a box" setups that tightly couple the software and hardware, such as IBM's CloudBurst or Hewlett-Packard's BladeSystem Matrix "converged infrastructure."

Cloud-in-a-box products typically include a self-service portal, a cost allocation engine and all of the automation requirements for a defined menu of configurations, from the application, underlying databases and other middleware to virtual infrastructure and associated resources that will be assigned. These products enforce a degree of standardization right out of the gate and are a good way to get your feet wet, says Staten.

Rather than choosing one approach, Qualcomm has gone down both roads. "We went with a mixture of OpenStack and cloud-in-a-box solutions," says Clark. On the open end, Qualcomm uses Eucalyptus as its back end, along with VMware, CA Technologies' Automation Point tools, and products from rPath. The company is also working under nondisclosure with a vendor that's developing a cloud-in-a-box system.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., went for a boxed solution, deploying HP's BladeSystem Matrix in June in an effort to automate provisioning. The 11-blade chassis, which is still being configured, will eventually support 100 existing virtual servers, while another 100 new virtual servers will be built from a standardized set of templates, says Tom Vaughan, director of IT infrastructure.

He sees continued work to conform with ITIL standards for IT service and change management, and the development of a standard service catalog, as key to a successful rollout, since cloud automation must be built upon a set of standardized processes.

Going Public: The Hybrid Cloud

Private clouds aren't necessarily hosted on-premises. There are hosted private cloud services from third-party providers that manage dedicated cloud infrastructures for their customers at off-site locations.

An advantage of such arrangements is that the service providers can offer "cloud bursting" -- the rapid addition of compute capacity from the public, multitenant cloud to handle temporary periods of heavy loads. But IT executives remain cautious about such setups because they have concerns about security and control; they're also leery of service-level agreements that seem better suited to small businesses.

"Security is a big, big deal for us. And not just security, but the perception of it," says Fjeldheim.

Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C., built a different kind of hybrid. The school is part of a consortium that developed a hosted private cloud that serves as a virtual computer lab (VCL) for students. The VMware-based system, built on IBM BladeServers by the Microelectronics Center at North Carolina State University, automatically provisions a virtual machine when a student logs in. Each image lasts for up to eight hours before it's automatically deprovisioned.

The VCL system eliminated to the need to open a new 50-seat lab, saving $50,000. But CIO Darryl McGraw says the school did run into one issue with a private cloud hosted by a third party. The fall semester starts earlier at Wake Technical College than at North Carolina State, and just as classes started at the former, administrators for the VCL took down the servers for maintenance. "The concept of multiple tenants on the same hardware can be problematic," McGraw says.

He has also limited the cloud to student labs, as opposed to, say, the ERP system. "The worst that can happen is that someone gets their homework hacked into," he says. Overall, however, he considers the VCL to be a success, and he plans to push 137 physical computer labs into the VCL cloud over the next five years.

Using commercially hosted private clouds also presents contractual challenges. The CIO at one Fortune 500 company, who is currently negotiating with a major cloud service provider, says it's not always clear who's responsible when things don't work -- or how the problem will be resolved.

Providers expect to be able to change terms and conditions in contracts at a moment's notice, he complains. And he says that the service-level agreements he's seen are totally inadequate. "They want to limit their liability so greatly that -- why bother?" he asks, adding, "If I offered those types of SLAs to the business, I'd be out of a job."

The CIO, who asked not to be named because he's still in discussions with the vendor, says that in many cases, such contracts simply aren't designed for enterprise-class, mission-critical applications. The negotiations with vendors so far, he says, have been "burdensome."

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