Migrate to a Private Cloud, Not a Virtual Datacenter

A private cloud can be a very attractive solution, but a bad implementation can lead to ugly results.

By Brian Proffitt | Posted Jan 18, 2011
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A private cloud can be a very attractive solution, but just like seeing that attractive person across the room you want to approach, care must be taken so the results don't end up with you getting shot down for your troubles.

The reason for the attractiveness of a private cloud versus, say, the public cloud or even a hybrid cloud usually boils down to one very important reason: trust. When push comes to shove, IT managers are not yet willing to trust their company's data to resources that are not completely owned by their own company.

There is a problem, however, with successfully implementing private clouds: a serious misunderstanding of just exactly what constitutes a private cloud. Walk up to the average IT manager on the street (and they're out there, rest assured) and ask them what it takes to make a private cloud.

"Virtualization!" they will answer with the confident air of someone who knows they've got the right answer. And, indeed they do. Virtual machines and the ability to deploy jobs and resources to said VMs are at the heart of any form of cloud computing. What else?

"Er, inside the firewall!" they will respond with slightly less gusto. They're not as sure, and frankly they've got places to be. But they nailed this one as well: a cloud is private when it is completely within the corporate firewall. Typically this means on-site, though you can locate the actual physical hardware off-site and still meet the definition of a private cloud. Keep going, what else makes a private cloud?

Now, unfortunately, the conversation may go awry, and the answers will almost certainly vary. Half-hearted attempts to answer the question with "provisioning" or "management automation" may be heard, but not always. That's too bad, since these glimmers of the concept of private cloud computing are on the right track.

What is happening right now in IT is that managers are salivating at the ease of use found with VMs, and are assuming that because it's relatively simple to turn such machines on and off, they can easily set up a private cloud. Off they go, building a superior architecture with hundreds of VMs, all ready to run any processing job. But when a user request special task comes in, and more machines are needed, it's the IT team who will have to go in and re-provision the new resources, working with multiple consoles to get things set up.

Congratulations, they now have a virtual datacenter, little different from the physical datacenters from which they were trying to remove themselves in the first place.

What can make this worse is overcorrecting the problem. Administrators will often over-provision VMs, providing a fixed amount of memory, storage and processor cores regardless of a the jobs that will be running. This will often lead to the problem of VM sprawl, which is costly in and of itself. According to "Understanding virtual sprawl," a whitepaper from Embotics, "an environment of 150 VMs will have anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 locked up in redundant VMs."

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