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Vendors' cloud prep portends pain for enterprise IT

Two vendors' personal struggles with building a private cloud provide a taste of what's coming for the enterprise data center.

This column is about two vendors (No, no, keep reading! It gets good, I promise) that turned their IT infrastructure on its ear and built out private clouds. Yes, vendors have IT shops too, they need all the same stuff you do while they're picking your pocket, like email servers, app servers, ERP and what have you.

And the vendors, along with the service providers -- a line that is blurring very quickly, by the way -- are by far the hottest spot for cloud computing initiatives. I'd bet 90% of the private cloud efforts underway today are on the sell side because, of course, to vendors IT is the money maker, directly or indirectly.

The fun part? Well, schadenfreude ist die schönste freude, of course. How was your last migration? Now picture this, "It's a little scary considering we'll have a $100 million dollar organization rolling down the road," said Jon Drew, director of IT at Kittery, Maine IT outsourcer GreenPages.

That's his fun plan for August. GreenPages will ship its entire consolidated IT infrastructure from its home on Badgers Island in the middle of a river in Maine, to a Windstream Corp. colocation in Charlestown, Mass., where, not coincidentally, it runs the bulk of customers' IT infrastructure.

Drew said that GreenPages had spent three years collecting its entire infrastructure -- basically a pile of unsupported Compaq ProLiants and semi-supported HP ProLiants. It junked them in favor of a UCS, upon which they built an easy access virtualized environment, which had the practical effect of going from a dozen servers to more than 90, but hey. Among other things, there was an application called FileMaker that "crapped all over itself" once virtualized; and the strange fact that Cisco's Unified Communications software simply did not run as a virtual machine unless it was on a UCS chassis.

Once that earthmoving was done, with all the concomitant pain and suffering, Drew discovered the true Achilles heel of a cloud. "Two were on voice, two were really dedicated for data and two were for fax, believe it or not, we get a ton of fax into the building."

T-1 lines to the backbone, that is, so Drew had a spiff 10 GB internal network that amounted to … 3 Mbps for anyone not literally in the building. So they decided to pack it up and move it to Boston, where GreenPages already maintained a bunch of client hardware and infrastructure. But first, that motley, many thousands of dollars per month collection of T-1 had to go. That it itself was heartache. "It took us four months to get that DS3 installed."

Now with 40 MB of copper in the building, why move it out to a colo? Well, GreenPages' cloud was parked on a pile of sand in the middle of a river, while the new colo hosts were right next to a bunch of the infrastructure it already maintains for customers. Why not get the same lovin' they gave to the paying public? But that's a relatively straightforward story of moving your IT into the modern day.

[Migration's] a little scary considering we'll have a $100 million dollar organization rolling down the road.

Jon Drew, director of IT, GreenPages

"We had labs that were literally across the street from each other," said George Watt, VP of strategy for cloud at CA. Unlike his title might imply, Watt actually works for a living, and like John Drew, spent three years wrangling CA's infrastructure into a cloud-style environment. But CA, a $1 billion firm once famed for its predatory acquisition tactics, had a fleet of former companies under its wing and Watt had a real-life Night of the (IT) Living Dead when he started in 2007.

"We walked into one room that had ranks of old-style giant CRT monitors, plugged into … what, can anyone guess?" Nothing, he said, but powered on and sucking up juice. He found an AT chassis with a working server in it, and took a picture for posterity. Watt said the habit had been for teams to scheme up IT hardware for new projects, and once they got their hands on servers and network, hang on to it with a death grip. But when projects ended, successfully or unsuccessfully, the hardware was never dealt with; it stayed in closets, data centers, basements and labs, collecting like mold around the core of the business.

"They are not 'cloud people' or even data center people, they were engineers, testers, others," Watt said. Watt finished cleaning house and now runs an on-demand, virtualized, consolidated, private cloud for most of CA's IT needs. But it took him three years to untangle the legacy of more than a decade of infrastructure and make it into something that can be an asset instead of a millstone.

And that's the lesson for enterprise. These guys are the canaries in the coal mine for what enterprise IT will have to go. Sure, this won't happen until your assets depreciate or a competitor puts you out of business using Amazon, but whatever. And it will take just as long and entail just as much sideline hilarity for observers -- picture GreenPages' cloud in a truck on 95 South -- but it's a fact.

"It changes the way you think." Watt said.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for Contact him at

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