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Wary of public cloud, CIO builds private cloud and transition plan

CIOs reluctant to put cloud pilots into production are investing in private clouds with moves they can then take to the public cloud later.

Many CIOs are holding off on putting their public cloud computing services pilots into production mode, but the ability to spin up services and swap out resources quickly is leading some to develop private clouds with an eye on tapping external providers later, when providers are more mature and issues like security and privacy have been worked out.

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InterContinental Hotels Group PLC (IHG), a chain of more than 4,000 hotels such as Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas, is one such organization. It realized the need for IT infrastructure elasticity during Hurricane Katrina and in the wake of popular marketing campaigns such as the "I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night" commercials.

"We saw demand surge, causing crazy volatility to get new servers up following Katrina, and marketing programs drove up demand, so we were asking 'How do we bring up computing resources at any time?'" said Bill Peer, chief enterprise architect at Salt Lake City-based IHG, during a session at the recent Burton Group Catalyst show.

Not wanting to be at the mercy of a vendor or set of cloud computing providers, Peer last year crafted a four-year plan to develop a private cloud that would eventually put aspects of the company's infrastructure on public cloud services. His reasons for avoiding the public cloud for now: service-level agreements (SLAs) are insufficient, and there are perceived data risks, a lack of services maturity and ambiguity around PCI compliance.

IHG's private cloud architecture
Hardware layer:
  • HP c7000 blade enclosure for Linux and Windows configurations.
  • HP BL460c half-height blade -- small Linux physical and small Windows physical.
  • HP BL680c G5 full-height blade - Linux and Windows virtual, large Linux physical and large Windows physical.
  • Hardware abstraction layer: VMware ESX 3.5
  • Operating systems:

  • Red Hat Advanced Platform 5.3 (64-bit)
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (32-bit)
  • Solaris 10 (64-bit)
  • Base software stack:

  • Monitoring with NetIQ Application Manager version 3.5
  • Backup with Veritas NetBackup version 6.5
  • Network monitoring with OpNet 7.0
  • Configuration management with Opsware version 7.5
  • Service abstraction:

  • ServiceMix ESB
  • But the public cloud does hold appeal for IHG, which wants to focus on its core business -- hotels -- and not be constrained by building out and maintaining its three data centers, with additional smaller data centers living in some of the hotels.

    "We needed to architect our inner cloud so we could easily slide into the public cloud when we are ready," Peer said.

    That has meant building applications that could live on cloud configurations through a service-oriented architecture approach and starting to take data out of two mainframes that predate the 1960s.

    A year into its four-year plan to move aspects of IT to the public cloud, 60% of the data on its hotel loyalty/reward program mainframe has already been moved to servers on its inner cloud (see sidebar) and about 5% of the data has been moved off its reservation system mainframe. Whether or not sensitive data such as customer information will one day be moved to the public cloud remains to be seen, he said.

    A definite move will be IHG's application testing and development and if an application passes muster in the test public cloud environment -- and doesn't contain sensitive customer data -- it will be pushed into production mode on the public cloud.

    For now, IHG is building out its private cloud infrastructure, which serves the additional purpose of establishing some cost metrics around cloud services.

    "We need to understand the funding models in the cloud and run things internally to be able to say, 'This is how we need to proceed going forward.' … We need to prepare our people, processes, finances and mainframes, which takes time to move all that," Peer said.

    Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer

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