The building blocks of private cloud

Before building a private cloud, make sure that you understand its virtualization underpinnings and the essential characteristics of cloud computing in general.

If private cloud is a journey, then businesses need to consider transportation for the ride. Today's existing IT

data center infrastructure is yesterday's news when considering a private cloud alternative.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of vendors lining up to offer the building blocks for a private cloud infrastructure -- virtualization, automated workload management, self-service and metering or chargeback -- which also means organizations need to inject a level of caution when considering new investments.

To begin, industry experts advise revisiting the definition of cloud computing, keeping in mind that private cloud, as discussed here, is cloud within the enterprise data center.

Private cloud is a long-term bet.
Bernard Golden, CEO of HyperStratus,

Defining cloud computing
According to the U.S. Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable resources -- networks, servers, storage, applications and services -- that can be rapidly provided and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

The NIST definition goes on to include five essentials characteristics:

  • On-demand self-service: Really two characteristics -- on-demand and self-service -- according to Steve Brasen, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), an industry analyst and consulting firm. "Self-service implies user-accessible resources and/or services, and on-demand requires near-immediate resource or service provisioning and a sophisticated of IT automation," he explained.
  • Broad network access: Transportable across multiple platforms, including mobile platforms.
  • Resource pooling: Resources, such as storage, processing, memory, network bandwidth and virtual machines, to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model.
  • Rapid elasticity: Capabilities that can be rapidly and elastically provisioned, in some cases automatically, to quickly scale out and rapidly released to quickly scale in.
  • Measured service: For the metering of resources and services, i.e. storage, processing, bandwidth and active user accounts. Metering also allows usage to be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

In addition to enabling a dynamic private cloud platform, organizations must ensure that business policies for security and compliance, and service-level agreements (SLAs), are also enforced.

Private cloud and virtualization
The best way to think of private cloud is as the next level of virtualization.

"Virtualization is the foundation for getting lower cost, efficiencies and ultimately, cost savings," said John Gilmartin, director of product marketing at VMware.

Virtualization enables consolidation of the physical infrastructure. The top player in desktop virtualization is industry leader VMware, followed by Citrix and Microsoft with their XenServer and Hyper V hypervisors, respectively. Businesses are also turning to Red Hat for a virtualized enterprise. Keep these vendors on the list for server virtualization as well.

The importance of automation
Any company that has reached virtualization maturity understands that manual management processes don't jibe with striving for operational efficiencies. At this stage, pooling and automation of the virtual environment is essential to gaining optimal efficiencies.

"Automation is crucial for enabling rapid provisioning and deployment," said James Staten, analyst at Forrester Research, and a critical component of cloud computing.

Automation refers to systems management -- deployment, patching and monitoring -- both of the physical devices and virtual infrastructure. "The key is to make sure that products are virtualization aware," Brasen said.

More on private cloud:
Adopting a private cloud strategy

From private cloud to hybrid cloud: Six things to consider

Want to build a private cloud?

For automated systems management, expect to look at products from the usual suspects: Hewlett-Packard (HP) Business Service Automation Suite; IBM Tivoli IT & Service Management Solutions; CA Cloud Solutions; Microsoft System Center Suite; and BMC Software Cloud Computing Solutions, to name several. Additional offerings are Kbox, a systems management appliance from Dell Kace; Landesk, from Landesk Software; and Altiris service-oriented management solutions from Symantec.

When considering a service management product for metering the environment and monitoring the cloud infrastructure to ensure that SLAs are being met, industry experts again point to system management vendors, who they report are at various degrees of adding product components.

VMware, in particular, offers the vCenter family of management solutions for the automated administration of data center operations for its vSphere cloud platform.

Considering 'cloud in a box'
More than a dozen vendors tout 'cloud in a box' products. "Some are software-only, and others offer both hardware and software," Staten said.

A sample of software-only offerings:

  • Through its purchase of 3Tera, CA offers AppLogic, reportedly a turn-key cloud computing platform that includes workload distribution, metering, and management that sits atop any x86 hardware and hypervisor layer.
  • To test the private cloud waters with a development/test environment, VMware offers vCenter Lab Manager for self-service provisioning and automated management capabilities of internal teams.
  • A third software cloud option is Eucalyptus Systems' Eucalyptus Enterprise Edition (Eucalyptus EE). Eucalyptus is an open source private cloud platform.

On the forefront with hardware/software 'cloud in a box' products are vendors such as HP with its BladeSystem Matrix; IBM's CloudBurst 1.2 (built on the IBM System x BladeCenter platform); Dell's Cloud Infrastructure Solutions; and VBlock Infrastructure Packages from the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition, formed jointly by Cisco and EMC with VMware.

Private cloud has legs
The product landscape for building a private cloud is dynamic, with frequent new entrants and offerings.

"Private cloud is a long-term bet and CEOs have to look closely at what they're trading off by going with leading vendors with pricier products or smaller vendors that may have better technology but it's unknown if they'll be a rock solid player," said Bernard Golden, CEO of HyperStratus, a cloud computing consulting firm.

Lynn Haber reports on business and technology from Norwell, Mass.

This was first published in June 2010

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