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Private Cloud on a Pauper Budget

Private clouds were once expensive undertakings, but times have changed and they can now be launched by companies with incredibly limiting financial resources. But make the right decisions or you'll end up with the wrong private cloud solution, says one CTO.

Once upon a time, only the Fortune 500 could afford private clouds. The time, internal and external development resources and the technology products required were simply too much for mid-sized organizations or those with limited IT budgets. Times have changed, and now private clouds are much more accessible thanks to significant innovations in virtualization.

However, before taking the plunge, a word of caution. Private clouds come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak, and one solution providers' version of a private cloud may be very different than another's and, if not thoroughly vetted, may fall short of serving your needs. A meticulous approach is called for during the selection process or you can end up with a low-cost private cloud that is wrong for you.

Affordable Private Clouds Pitfalls
Compliance and security are the biggest risks of public cloud computing. Private clouds, on the other hand, offer the appealing qualities of an agile and reliable enterprise IT infrastructure that shields an organization from these risks. Nonetheless, all of this needs strong, effective management and rich functionality, and that is where many pitfalls come into play. Often, low-cost private clouds are limited in these capabilities or lack the computing capability or back-end visibility needed to be effective. So what happens? The organization goes out and seeks such tools to add on to the "affordable" private cloud solution and as a result, all the time and money spent in researching and procuring these capabilities ends up costing the same, or even more, than if the these capabilities were part of the solution up front.

Integration and custom development are other stumbling blocks for low-cost private cloud solutions. If you're not careful, your affordable private cloud may require you to install and integrate a number of components before you get the functionality promised. These solutions are not turnkey; rather they require the added cost of scripting and custom development to make them effective.

Management or lack thereof, is another gray area making private clouds more complex and expensive. For a private cloud to be truly affordable, it must be easy to manage and maintain. Understand, you may be taking on a management burden if a combination of solutions and add-ons make up your private cloud. The cost total cost of ownership also increases here as well.

Unveil the Mystery Behind Truly Affordable Private Clouds
Finding a truly affordable private cloud solution shouldn't be a mystery. In fact, by asking a few questions to a prospective solution provider you should be able to quickly determine if that solution will fit your needs and more importantly, avoid the time and money pitfalls discussed above. Questions you should consider asking include:

  • Are there multiple parts to the solution installation or is it an integrated, single installation?
  • Will the solution require any custom development or scripting? If so, please describe.
  • Is a common language available and being implemented throughout, which aids in describing all the components of the virtual environment.
  • What type of professional services will be required to install and then maintain the solution?

Asking such questions can help determine if the answers will lead you to an effective, affordable, private cloud solution that will provide a holistic approach to provisioning, visibility, security and resource management. Using a solution that automates the management of private clouds will help in reducing complexity and the ratio of administrators to virtualized servers, and as a result, leave you with a purpose-built virtualization management solution.

Private clouds can obfuscate visibility. A virtualization management solution brings visibility back, enabling IT administrators to see their entire virtual infrastructure and visualize connections between virtual machines and distributed virtual networks that can be extended to the cloud. The correlation of infrastructure events, security events and performance analysis provide a contextual view of the virtual environment resulting in faster more efficient management, security response and performance.

Organizations should look for a virtualization management solution that offers a lean, agentless approach, providing simplified management, security and compliance, automated deployment, and comprehensive reporting and alerts. The ability to automate data center operations is also critical. A private cloud solution with virtualized management should be able to define and enforce policies. By automating mundane daily tasks, administrators are able to prioritize more important tasks and set up triggers and alerts to notify them if specific events occur within the private cloud. For example, each time a new VM is provisioned, the administrator should receive an e-mail that includes detailed information about who provisioned it, at what time, what zone it is in and what applications are running on the VM.

Organizations using a private cloud need a means to simplify policy management and enforcement. An effective private cloud solution will enable administrators to segment different groups or zones, classify them and then define policy or best practice based on these classifications. A policy containing a rule and an automatic response can be set up and applied throughout the virtualized data center. For example, in a VDI environment, a policy can be set for any new desktop machines that are provisioned to make sure they have the appropriate software and NAC policies on them. If a new desktop machine is provisioned and it does not meet policy criteria, the virtualization management solution should quarantine it and notify the administrator.

Private cloud solutions must also address security and compliance requirements. Look for an integrated firewall and deep packet inspection, reporting, application awareness, software inventory and change control around and between virtual machines to reduce the risk of virtual machine intrusion, infection, compliance violations or other consequences. Administrators also need the ability to easily prove they are meeting compliance and audit regulations with daily, weekly or monthly reports of all changes or security events that have occurred in the virtual environment.

As stated earlier, visibility into the private cloud infrastructure is critical for resolving issues and keeping operations running smoothly. Administrators need granular, timeline-based insight into who is doing what, when and where within the virtual infrastructure. An effective private cloud should give administrators the ability to quickly find virtual machines, hosts, switches, networks and software installed on the virtual machines. This will help them identify an issue and solve it in minutes instead of hours and restore performance of affected applications.

Virtual Environments and Importance of Domain-Specific Languages
Now let's turn our attention to the complexity of the virtualization infrastructure. Historically, a factor that has added to the costs of implementing and maintaining private clouds is tied to the cumbersome common practice of using programmatic API methods to manage the private cloud.

Instead, a much better approach, and one that mirrors the cost-effective solutions in private cloud management, is the use of domain-specific language to link together different types of data. There are a number of benefits in using common language in private clouds:

  • Ease of data extraction from the virtual environment
  • Ability to handle large environments
  • Search ability
  • Visual filtering
  • Business logic assurance
  • Ease of extracting contextual information
  • Seamless scripting languages integration
  • Third-party systems integration

Organizations will realize improved data management capabilities for their virtual infrastructure when using the simplified approach of a common language. A common language is less error prone and offers improved data management capabilities for virtual infrastructures.

When implemented properly, private clouds can be affordable and effective. Companies need to carefully evaluate a solution providers' offering and understand what comes out-of-the box and what needs to be added on prior to implementing as the unforeseen additions in time and resources can quickly add up and surpass the potential benefits. With information in hand and by asking the right questions you can improve service delivery, speed application deployment and provisioning and decrease IT costs overall, and that, after all, is the silver lining for the pauper with a private cloud.

About the Author

Aaron Bawcom is Chief Technology Officer at Reflex Systems and is responsible for shaping the company's technology strategy and defining the roadmap for future design and development as well as managing the engineering teams. Prior to Reflex, he was CTO at Intrusion Inc. and a chief architect at Network Associates (McAfee). Aaron is co-author of Virtualization for Security (Syngress, 2008). He earned a Bachelors' in Computer Science from Texas A&M University.

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