Tips for integrating server virtualization in a private cloud

Integrating server virtualization technology in a private cloud can offer benefits including flexibility, cost savings and consolidation -- if implemented and managed correctly.

Deploying server virtualization and eventually transitioning to a private cloud is a question of when, not if, for many businesses today.

Server virtualization and cloud computing are, in many respects, opposite sides of the same coin. Ideally, corporations and their IT departments can meld the two so they work in a symbiotic and synergistic fashion. The goal is to centralize data center resources and efficiently deliver applications and services on demand as user and business needs dictate. When properly deployed and managed, the integration of server virtualization technology in the private cloud results in a flexible, adaptive solution that can net corporations significant cost savings by consolidating resources, cutting power consumption and utility costs and reducing their carbon footprints.

There are, however, no shortcuts or magic formulas to proper deployment and management of a private cloud. Any private cloud project must begin with a strong foundation and a realistic appraisal of the current environment -- particularly server virtualization -- and weigh that against the company's future needs for intracloud services and quality of service.

Companies should take the following steps to implement and manage a private cloud:

Analyze the current environment.

The appropriate members of the IT department, along with C-level executives, should meet and assemble a team to review the strengths and weaknesses of the existing virtualized environment. Make a checklist of pivotal items like CPU utilization, virtualization management, hardware configuration and security. Review your existing virtualization licenses to ensure they comply with license terms of their specific vendors. Apply the appropriate patches across the entire enterprise to ensure standardization on the same version of your software and hardware products; this will optimize performance -- meaning all licenses are the same. You must also align the technology to the business needs. Make a three- to five-year plan that estimates how much the business will grow and match the resources to the estimated plan. Wherever possible, the company should leverage existing technologies.

Construct a business plan and design your private cloud.

Again, make sure you have input from all the appropriate IT managers, C-level executives, software developers and don't forget to include the physical plant facilities manager in these meetings. In estimating the total cost of ownership (TCO) for constructing your private cloud -- whether you plan to manage it yourself or outsource the services and management to an external host provider, your company should know what it's paying for lease/rental facilities space, the cost per kilowatt hours, the configuration of its virtual servers -- will they use older, less powerful and less energy-efficient dual core processors or the newer quad core processors? Your company must construct a concrete plan and timetable in which to configure and test the servers, the applications, backup and disaster recovery, storage and third-party management tools that are crucial to support an on-demand cloud computing services model.

What is a private cloud?

Private clouds are distinctly different from other well-known cloud computing solutions such as Microsoft's Azure, which is an all-inclusive application environment, or cloud implementations from Google or Amazon, in which companies provide their own software environment and use as many server resources at Google or Amazon as they need at a given time.

In a private cloud, the corporation puts its own software and resources into the cloud, where they reside behind the company firewall for the exclusive use of employees. The corporation may or may not employ the services of an outsourcing firm to actually host the private cloud, but manageability is a crucial component to the success or failure of the deployment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that is right for everyone. Rather, companies contemplating a private cloud must learn to manage the service and not vice versa. -- L.D.

Companies should allocate a minimum of six months to develop a migration plan, build a pilot implementation and perform the upgrade. For large organizations, the changeover to a private cloud may take a year or more. You must also construct a detailed blueprint of how you will manage the security aspects of your private cloud including authorization, authentication, access controls, isolation management, integrity and policy management and trusted virtual domains. How will you handle licensing? If your firm opts to outsource its private cloud to an external services provider, you should ascertain the vendor's history and seek customer references.

Assess and manage your costs and billing models.

Private cloud computing deployments can save companies from 40% to 80% on physical space, cooling and utility costs. At the same time, a well-planned private cloud can double or triple the company's utilization and ROI of corporate assets. The results are similar to what an organization may achieve with a well-honed virtualized environment. The differences, though, lay in the architecture.

Most current private cloud computing environments consist of reliable, highly scalable services that are built on virtualized servers and provided as a service via the Internet. Additionally, private and commercial cloud computing environments manage the billing or chargebacks differently from the majority of today's server virtualization deployments. In a cloud computing environment, billing for specific services is often akin to a grid computing model: The corporate customer may be billed like a utility for how much power was consumed, or as a subscription service, based on the amount of time used by a specific application or server by a particular department within the company. Corporations building a private cloud must decide which model to pursue and be sure to purchase the appropriate chargeback utilities to track costs. Results will vary depending on the size and scope of the private cloud environment.

In addition to those issues, corporations must also decide which services to send to the private cloud, which to keep in-house and which are safe to leave outside the relatively safe confines of the firewall.

Manage your contracts and services.

The key to lowering TCO, accelerating ROI and mitigating risk lies in the company's ability to effectively manage its private cloud computing environment. Remember, you will have to manage both the physical and virtual components of your infrastructure. Success is also contingent upon making realistic and achievable goals for your service-level agreements (SLAs) and operational-level agreements (OLAs).

Your SLAs should specifically address such managerial issues as intracloud quality of service, allowable downtime, specific performance levels, cost and time to recover from outages, provisions for lost data and any security breaches, as well as backup, disaster recovery and storage. The company should know the exact cost for each of the aforementioned items. Don't be afraid to ask questions and challenge your cloud computing or services provider to explain any confusing or nebulous terms in the contract. And don't hesitate to negotiate for more stringent requirements, higher levels of availability and uptime and service and support.

Another important aspect of managing your private cloud computing environment will be to determine the exact cost of downtime and the level of uptime you need -- 99.9%, 99.99% or even 99.999%. The old adage "time is money" has never rung truer. Your firm should also seek and receive guaranteed levels for performance and security and make contingency plans and out clauses if the conditions are not met. Remediation can consist of cash rebates or future service credits.

Finally, don't forget to set up OLAs. This oft-overlooked managerial device is the internal mechanism that defines how various departments will work together to meet and maintain the company's service-level requirements. OLAs are designed to set forth a plan of operation and determine which person or group within the company is responsible for specific duties and systems. The OLAs will be an important adjunct to the SLAs for your private cloud computing environment.

Laura DiDio is a principal at Information Technology Intelligence Corp., a consulting firm based in the suburban Boston area. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchcio.com.

This was first published in April 2009

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