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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The Caveats

But the need for rigid standardization of processes, services and infrastructure that underlie the cloud may be the biggest nut to crack in the year ahead. Problems come when IT -- or its customers -- begin customizing the standardized catalog of services because they don't like the predefined choices.

"For a private cloud to work, the IT shop has to deliver highly repeatable, consistent services with minimal or no customization," says Nick Van der Zweep, director of business strategy for industry standard servers and software at HP. For example, HP offers just three configuration templates for hosting an Oracle RAC database in the cloud: small, midsize and large. To host Exchange in the cloud, the administrator can choose only the number of users.

Straying from the path can lead down a slippery slope, since without a finite, standardized services catalog, the benefits of the system are greatly reduced. "All these things I change turn off the 'cloudiness' of it," Staten says.

The only way to succeed, he argues, is to make it more costly for users to go outside of the standard offerings. Users who follow the rules get a system in 15 minutes and a neatly packaged services-based chargeback model. Those who need a custom configuration must wait longer -- and pay more.

But he doesn't think the chargeback model will fly in many organizations, and he contends that this is what will hold up broader adoption of internal clouds. "We're confident that 95% of IT shops aren't ready for that," says Staten.

Fjeldheim sees IT process standardization as a key to success. "We have a very standardized way of doing things, good automation and process control," he says, adding that the company recently earned the ISO 20000 IT service management and ISO 27000 IT security management systems certifications. But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to create different processes or tool sets for managing cloud and managing traditional infrastructures.

To Daniels at integrator ManTech, the key is to identify services that can be reused across the organization -- and stick with them. The problem, he says, is that each user organization wants things done slightly differently.

"You get into this ugly business-process re-engineering that has to go on. You say you have to do it this way, and then you have a rift with the user community," he explains. Those who have gone down this route with service-oriented architectures will have a leg up with internal clouds, he contends. Others, he says, may not appreciate the investment they'll have to make upfront to take full advantage of a private cloud architecture. "You've got to do your homework on the application side."

John Fiore, CIO at Bank of New York Mellon, worries about vendor lock-in with cloud-in-a-box offerings as he ponders choices for a pilot project. "There really aren't any standards at this stage of the game. If you go down a certain path, that's yet another new architecture you're accepting -- and what might be the life span of it?" He says he likes the idea of cloud-in-a-box offerings that bundle all of the necessary hardware and software into one neat, tidy package but adds, "We'd prefer not to have a tight coupling between the two. Until they evolve to a point where a loose coupling is achievable, there are definitely some business risks here."

Starting Slowly

As with early virtualization deployments, most private cloud pilots focus on relatively safe, internal IT functions, such as testing and development. Bank of New York Mellon, for example, plans to focus early cloud-automation efforts in the development and quality assurance areas. Wake Technical focused on student labs, where student homework is the only thing at risk.

At Roswell, Vaughan says his first test will be to allow the IT staff to automatically provision virtual machines for testing purposes, before moving on to the server team and application developers. "Instead of going through the paperwork of requesting that a server be built, they will be able do it themselves," he says. And as the center rolls out virtual desktop technology to its Citrix clients next year, Vaughan says the back-end servers will move into the cloud. "I'd like to push out as many services to people as we can," he adds.

That's the plan at Bank of New York Mellon as well. Fiore says the bank plans to aggressively explore hosting an internal cloud but will start in the development and testing area, where "a lot of firms are cutting their teeth." Like Fjeldheim, he says the goal is faster deployments. "Time to market is the thing our customers are demanding. Things like [the Troubled Asset Relief Program] require us to act quickly and with great agility," says Fiore.

Broader cloud deployments beyond testing and development are still at least three years off, Staten says. But a private cloud ultimately has the potential to take over large tracts of the data center, especially for Linux- and Windows-based applications with variable workload demands, such as in the areas of high-performance computing, and collaborative or Internet-based applications. Less suitable are workloads that are very stable, where the equipment is fully depreciated and where there are no requirements to upgrade in the near future.

Qualcomm is unlikely to migrate its ERP system to the cloud, because its resource needs are highly predictable. The benefit of the cloud lies in its ability to scale in an automated fashion, Clark says, "but with ERP, we know when we have to scale and we can scale it."

Nonetheless, more and more workloads are evolving in that direction. "Our portfolio of applications is gradually moving toward the commodity [servers]. As that happens, the appropriateness of cloud rises," says Pete Johnson, chief technology officer at Bank of New York Mellon. McGraw says the initial costs of setting up a private cloud at the college were high, but in the long term, "it's worth it." Vaughan is also bullish on the long-term role of a private cloud architecture. Some functions may never fit into a cloud architecture, but eventually, he says, "I think it will pretty much take over the data center."

Next: Help desks prep for consumer device blitz

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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