Fujifilm inches toward private cloud computing

The photography and imaging company is in the process of transforming its data center into a private cloud, one step at a time.

Fully virtualized for more than a year, Fujifilm is starting down the road to a private cloud. It hopes that a highly automated, fully virtualized, elastic and scalable environment will help the firm squeeze every dollar out of its data center operations.

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"Virtualization brings a whole new dynamic to us from a high availability and business continuance point of view," said Jim Conyers, advanced solutions manager for Fujifilm.

Being able to easily keep virtual servers going or add new ones to meet performance metrics has freed up the company to play with new ways to make Fujifilm's major data center operation in Colorado more flexible and responsive. Conyers says the company is inching down the road from a bunch of servers that run virtual machines to a true cloud environment.

Fujifilm runs VMware, blade servers and an EMC storage area network (SAN) in its data center. Conyers said he's experimenting with new automation and management tools in vSphere. He wants cloud computing, but he wants it on his own infrastructure first, for a simple reason.

"We'll look to do it ourselves just because of what we've invested already," he said.

Conyers added that Fujifilm had seen good results since splashing out on a fully virtualized environment to make its digital imaging capabilities available as a service. Fuijfilm also still sells traditional (virtualized) on-premise installations for hospital and radiology groups, which often operate separately from the hospitals they work at. Conyers said the service arm was by far the fastest growing part of Fujifilm's business.

New facilities require cloud services
Nighthawking facilities that outsource radiology tasks like image processing to doctors and technicians across the world are part of the the demand for a "radiology cloud," according to Conyers. He said these firms work outside normal business hours and deliver results back overnight. But bureaucratic IT purschasing headaches, he added, are also a strong driver.

"It takes 90 days for a hospital to get a server," he said, whereas Conyers can set one up for a customer in a matter of days.

However, he said the technology involved wasn't trivial.

"We're IT heavy. Applications like PAC radiology are very intense businesses," he said. "Radiology can take your pipe from 0% to 100% in a split second."

This is driving Fujifilm to run its data center as much like a cloud as possible, in an effort to maximize economies of scale and allow the company to turn its investment into revenue.

"[Software as a Service customers have] almost doubled from last year, and more and more are coming on the books," Conyers said.

Burton group analyst Drue Reeves said Fujifilm's data center is still missing a few pieces to be a true private cloud. This is mostly due to some of the limitations of VMware's vSphere lineup, which qualifies in his view as highly automated but not cloud. Reeves said it needs a consumer interface so Fujifilm's own business units can get easy access to resources, along with a central depot for resource management and control across the stack.

He's bullish on Fujifilm's prospects, however, and said it's a clear example of where enterprises are eventually going to go.

"It is the next step from virtualization," he said.

Public cloud still in experimental phase
Building a service-oriented data center is important, said Reeves, for businesses that want the benefits touted by cloud proponents, such as flexibility and abstraction from routine management tasks. It's important for enterprises to get comfortable with the model and will make them more able to step outside their data centers and into public clouds in ways that make enterprises feel secure.

I just don't see [public cloud] for large, large, large enterprises right now.
Jim Conyers, advanced solutions manager for Fujifilm,

Fujifilm's Conyers said he is just beginning to experiment with vCloud Express, VMware's partnership with hosting operators.

"We are gearing up a project in the next month to investigate and validate vCloud Express," he said, but it's forward looking, rather than a need for more resources right now.

Conyers said that he's not philosophically averse to the promise of widespread public clouds becoming a default part of enterprise IT. But enterprises have a long road of consuming and transforming their own IT before looking outward.

"I just don't see it for large, large, large enterprises right now," he said. "Under a thousand users, it's going to be a competitive advantage. Five, 10, 25,000 users? No. If you're talking [more than] 4000 square feet of data center, the benefit is going to be in virtualization," he said.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.

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