Is your private cloud strategy flawed?

The private cloud is not a new concept. As long as there have been data centres, there have been IT leaders envisioning the delivery of IT-as-a-Service. The difference between yesterday’s daydreamers and today’s innovators lies in x86 virtualization as an enabling platform technology. Virtualization adoption is fast becoming recognized as the fundamental first step in a journey towards private cloud. To progress further, organizations will also need to adopt changes in their IT processes and procedures. These shifts can be challenging, but they become easier to manage if IT organizations resist rip-and-replace methodologies and embrace a more pragmatic path to the private cloud.

While virtualization has been the catalyst for private cloud, it is also a source of complexity in itself. When the focus of virtualization is initially on server consolidation (i.e., a low percentage of physical servers involved, few production virtual machines, and few mission critical applications), the complexity is low and one can manage the environment quite comfortably with little disruption to current processes. However, as organizations scale up their virtual environments, increase consolidation ratios and include more business-critical applications, complexity and staffing workloads will increase.

We know at this point in the evolution of virtualization that we are dealing with a disruption to the status quo. Traditional data centre organizations and management systems still require the coordination and collaboration of teams spanning operations, security, storage, network, server and applications; but legacy management, processes and technology are inadequate for the virtual world. As they move toward the private cloud, IT organizations face a lengthy to-do list:

  • Align security, operations, application, server, storage and network teams towards common goals and SLAs.
  • Implement a new integrated data centre management system, uniquely designed for the virtual environment. 
  • Automate repetitive tasks to reduce the burden on administrators.
  • Manage these changes without disruption to day-to-day administration.

Organizations can overcome these challenges by following proven change management techniques.  In terms of the private cloud, this includes the adoption of:

·        Discovery and reporting: Visibility is a necessity for data centre managers. If they can’t see what is happening, then they can’t manage it. As organizations determine which elements to adopt first, discovery and reporting should top of the list.

·        Capacity management: Service level agreements are paramount to cloud success. In order to meet SLAs, businesses must proactively plan and continuously optimize infrastructure capacity needs by understanding growth trends and optimizing over or under-provisioned assets.

·        Self-service options: Providing self-service capabilities to users will reduce the burden on administration teams while giving stakeholders the chance to obtain real time information about the virtual infrastructure without requiring accounts in vCenter/VirtualCenter  

·        Lifecycle management: This automated feature can make the difference between virtual sprawl and private cloud success, since the lifespan of virtual machines can be anything from minutes to years, and they are also inherently mobile. Tracking the status of every virtual asset becomes cumbersome without a lifecycle management tool that ensures only approved and compliant VMs are provisioned, that they are managed and controlled while they are in the environment, and that they are decommissioned at the end of their lives in order to free up valuable resources for reuse

·        Change and configuration management: One aspect of the complexity inherent in growing virtual data centres is in the standardization and maintenance of configurations, as well as the monitoring and audit of all changes in the environment

·        Resource optimization: Physical data centres must ensure that all resources are used efficiently and at optimal levels. This basic goal is even more important in the dynamic virtual datacenter, where undetected sprawl can lead to serious problems.

·        Policy-based automation: As the volumes of VMs increase, manual maintenance and support of the environment becomes both unreliable and unworkable. The only way to get to any form of private cloud is through the use of standard practices, policies and automation

A management system with the above capabilities – adopted either piecemeal or as a whole – puts organizations on a pragmatic path toward the private cloud. IT must be able to see all the various infrastructure dimensions from a single pane of glass. With that vision clear, teams can begin to automate routine tasks, implement and standardize repeatable processes, identify roadblocks and inconsistencies, understand growth patterns and their impact on the business, and prioritize next steps. When IT achieves these milestones, they move from dreaming of the private cloud to reaching it.

Jay Litkey is CEO, founder and president of Embotics Corp., an Ottawa-based private cloud management company.

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