Trends in cloud computing

Altaf Rupani, the vice president of global strategic planning and architecture at Dow Jones, is on a mission to get the best out of new cloud computing architectures.

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Cloud one on one 

Inching toward hybrid cloud

Altaf Rupani, the vice president of global strategic planning and architecture at Dow Jones, is on a mission to get the best out of new cloud computing architectures for all the usual reasons: reducing time to market on new apps and avoiding the capital cost of new hardware. In this interview, Rupani discusses his company’s private cloud rollout and the challenges of working with service providers to get a hybrid cloud system up and running. 

How long did it take to build your private cloud? 

Altaf Rupani: About a year and half. 

Why did you go this route versus tapping into readily available public cloud resources like Amazon Web Services?

Rupani: We don’t use EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud] for business-critical apps; the public cloud isn’t ready for the enterprise. There needs to be more governance controls that cater to the enterprise. 

Aren’t these kinds of controls tough to build in a private cloud environment, too? Or can anybody at your company jump on your private cloud and provision services?

Rupani: Yes, you need to establish governance and rules and introduce rigor so that you are following role-based access controls, but this is easier to do today inside your own four walls. 

Is there training involved? How do you get employees up and running? 

Rupani: We have an on-boarding process; we enlighten and educate people on the portal. Otherwise you could shoot yourself in the foot if you let people on who don’t know what they are doing. We leave it to the tech leads to spread the word. Otherwise you could have 400 virtual machines or 4,000 provisioned for 10 minutes of use. 

What systems did you put in place to guard against that? 

Rupani: You need to create an auto-approval process for certain groups of users. For example, developers can provision assets without as many hoops to jump through as other employees less familiar with the system. Our mobile development team can provision as many instances at a time as they need, as this is a high-priority job. 

How large is your private cloud? 

Rupani: All new instances are provisioned through our private cloud and we have 350 active instances, but this spikes up or down depending on workloads. 

[Rupani declined to say what percentage of Dow Jones’ total server environment the private cloud represents, but it is likely less than 10% today.] 

Do hardware choices, HP versus Dell for example, give you any advantage in your private cloud architecture? 

Rupani: No. We use off-the-shelf hardware. Dell, HP, IBM—it doesn’t matter, we just need a service-level agreement (SLA) for response time, a de-dupe rate for storage, etc. We created the framework for a resilient cloud first, then we picked vendors that met that criteria. 

What software do you use for virtualization and automation? 

Rupani: VMware and DynamicOps. 

Which applications run in production on your private cloud today? 

Rupani: Corporate applications, including back-office stuff like SharePoint 2010, have been consolidated from five separate instances to one instance running on the private cloud. Business-to-business apps on the cloud include DowJonesNews.com and our archive. Business-to-consumer apps include WSJ.com, MarketWatch.com and Barron’s. All have some presence on the private cloud and are using it more and more. 

What advantages have you seen so far? 

Rupani: One of the biggest advantages is that we no longer need to spend so much money on transitional technology setups for new projects. It’s a cost-avoidance strategy, as we don’t need net new assets. There’s also a cost-efficiency advantage as we are getting better usage out of our existing servers. We tripled our average utilization to 35% to 40% per physical machine. 

That still seems low. Why not 60% to 70% utilization? 

Rupani: We leave headroom to account for peaks. 

What about labor? Do you save costs there? 

Rupani: Yes. Cloud instances are half the cost of physical instances, including labor. 

How many administrators maintain your private cloud? 

Rupani: It’s less than five. 

What about hybrid cloud? Does that make sense for your company? 

Rupani: We’d like to extend our internal private cloud to public cloud in a hybrid model, but we’re still working on the SLAs and data residency mandates with public cloud providers to make that viable. 

When will that happen? 

Rupani: Before the end of the calendar year, we’ll be able to use hybrid; through application programming interfaces we will be able to plumb providers’ capacity behind our portal. 

Give us an example of why that would be useful. 

Rupani: Let’s say there’s an employee in Europe working on a big marketing launch, but there’s no Dow Jones capacity there. The system will say, “Here are the templates available for services,” and it’s the same workflow and policies as internal services, but it launches on the public cloud. It federates with the enterprise. 

What challenges have you faced in getting this hybrid model to work? 

Rupani: When the provider is a black box, it’s not good; single sign-on and identity and access control is not easy. 

Are there other challenges with the hybrid model? 

Rupani: Service providers had not envisaged the workflow we needed, so we are really pioneering this path; it takes a lot of trial and error. How have your users responded to the private cloud? People are lining up to use it. The time to market for new apps is so much faster. Users are willing to pay more [for it], as they get their server before they come back from lunch instead of in three weeks. [That] is awesome from an application delivery standpoint.   

This was first published in November 2011

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