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Creating Private Clouds Won't Be Fast or Easy

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Private Versus Public Cloud Computing

A plethora of applications are being considered for the cloud, but it may take at least another year before cloud computing goes mainstream in the enterprise.

While some people are skeptical of private clouds, there are certainly companies gaining real value from them. One example is FedEx. CIO Rob Carter cuts to the chase in discussing the benefits of a private cloud in an InformationWeek piece. He says:

What's happening, and this is such a big deal in our world, is that for the first time ever, you can make investments in a whole new class of technology for about the same price of just maintaining the base.

To the article's credit, it doesn't get hung up on trying to define private cloud. Instead it makes the point that FedEx is benefiting from virtualizing and standardizing its infrastructure. The goal is to make servers, networking and storage as "workload agnostic" as possible, so FedEx can enjoy the obvious advantage of moving workloads to more effectively utilize its resources. The company uses commodity x86 servers, each with just a single 10-gig Ethernet connection for networking.

 

In addition, FedEx is standardizing applications as much as possible, so they are more portable. FedEx employs a services-based approach, with apps calling on common data sources for 24 core transportation-related services. The apps utilize common foundations such as database or messaging technology. Says Carter:

Getting the applications to run in a common framework, common environment, makes it so much easier for them to tap the new services that are being set up, and makes the workloads more portable.

Some observers see private clouds as testing grounds for more scalable (and in theory less expensive) public clouds. Since both private and public clouds are based on the same underlying technologies, Carter says it should be a relatively simple matter to move applications from private to public clouds. It's worth noting it should become even easier as more cloud providers adopt interoperability and compatibility standards.

 

Unlike the InformationWeek piece, a silicon.com article does dwell a bit on the confusion over what constitutes a private cloud. It quotes Joe Tobolski, senior director of cloud assets and architectures at Accenture, who says most virtualized environments continue to run in traditional ways so "rather than being private clouds, they're really islands of automation." And Derek Kay, director of cloud services at Deloitte, says some automated environments have simply been "sprayed with the private cloud spray."

The article offers the UK's Reed Specialist Recruitment as an example of a company using a private cloud, noting it has virtualized, centralized and standardized its infrastructure using EMC's VMware and rewritten most of its applications so they can be accessed via a browser. It also uses the IT Infrastructure Library () , which has helped it formalize its change-management processes and introduce a chargeback mechanism for payment. As I wrote last week, .

It also presents a plan for creating a private cloud. If the intent was to make it sound fairly simple, however, I don't think it achieves that objective.

The first step is analyzing and rationalizing application portfolios, whether or not they are considering a private cloud. This analysis not only helps organizations cull unwanted and unneeded apps, it helps them determine which ones are most appropriate to migrate to cloud environments, either private or public.

Another step is standardizing hardware and software stacks, a task the article notes should be easier for organizations with a solid IT governance structure in place. (Actually, I think that's true of all of the steps. but yields plenty of benefits for organizations with the discipline necessary to make it work.)

The plan also recommends introducing a chargeback mechanism to acclimate consumers to a usage-based cost structure. It offers some valuable advice from Reed Specialist Recruitment, which uses a chargeback plan based on 12 standardized user profiles. The company's head of IT services says creating the profiles started with establishing the cost of purchasing a given amount of infrastructure over a five-year period, as well as the capital and operational costs of running the IT department, including employee salaries, maintenance and support, then breaking it down further to assign a fixed cost to running certain applications. Pricing should be reviewed at least once a year to see if any modifications are necessary.

Not surprisingly, Deloitte's Derek Kay says the entire process will likely take up to three years. I think that may be pretty optimistic. It won't be easy for many organizations to follow the example of FedEx, which is consistently recognized as a company on the leading edge of technology. The organizational and governance challenges alone, detailed in a section of the silicon.com article, are pretty formidable.

The section mentions that many business units, like toddlers on a playground, are not used to the idea of sharing resources with others. A dialogue with business units will be required to convince them of the broad benefits of doing so (which may be just about as easy as getting a preschooler to cede control of a swing), and IT staff may need to be reassigned as well. At Reed Specialist Recruitment, for instance, staff were trained to become members of teams covering broad swathes of technology such as storage, virtualization and Citrix. Staff will also likely need additional training in areas like vendor management, according to the article.

If there's one constant with any kind of cloud initiative, private or public, it's a need for staff training. Glen O'Donnell, a senior analyst for Forrester Research, at the itSMF Fusion conference in September that gives a good idea of some of the skill sets that will be needed in cloud environments. Among them: business relationship manager, automation architect, service designer and vendor manager.

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