Interop Preview: Expert Advice On Building Private Cloud

Dave Roberts, founder of cloud blogging site LeverHawk, discusses the type of framework an enterprise can use to build a private cloud environment.

Charles Babcock

February 20, 2013

7 Min Read
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The private cloud computing model isn't a slapped together virtualization environment, with a few management bells and whistles thrown in on top. Instead, it's a standardized set of pooled data center resources that allow end users to self-provision virtual servers, which run in a highly automated fashion.

If you don't plan for such an architecture, you won't get to real cloud computing, warns Dave Roberts, a frequent writer on the private cloud topic as co-founder of LeverHawk, a blogging site he shares with Scott Bils, discussing wide ranging cloud issues. Roberts is also a senior director of solutions marketing at BMC in Houston, Texas.

On May 7, he will be the lead instructor at the Private Cloud workshop of the Enterprise Cloud Summit at this year's Interop Las Vegas. Roberts will tap other experts to join him in panels and sessions during the daylong workshop, part of the Cloud Computing and Big Data track.

Last year, the topic might have been "Public cloud vs. private cloud," but this year, "people have put that debate behind them. Every enterprise customer I know is building out private clouds," said Roberts in a recent interview.

Attend Interop Las Vegas, May 6-10, and attend the most thorough training on Apple Deployment at the NEW Mac & iOS IT Conference. Use Priority Code DIPR02 by March 2 to save up to $500 off the price of Conference Passes. Join us in Las Vegas for access to 125+ workshops and conference classes, 350+ exhibiting companies, and the latest technology. Register for Interop today!

But that still leaves many unanswered questions of how to do it. Roberts hopes to provide his workshop attendees with enough information to allow people to walk away with a framework for which they mainly have to fill in the blanks. No one can dictate the precise steps you need to take to get to private cloud, he adds. The first order of business for attendees will be to return to their organizations and talk to other stakeholders who can help define the cloud services needed and help the IT manager get there.

It's generally assumed that IT builds the private the cloud, but that doesn't have to be the case. There are specialists in some consulting firms, such as CloudOps, CloudScaling or Mirantis, focused on building OpenStack clouds, who have already implemented private clouds in many settings and can bring the benefit of that experience to a customer.

There's also a question of where to build it. While it's generally assumed the private cloud will take over part of the enterprise data center, that also doesn't have to be the case, Roberts said. A company like Rackspace, Terremark or Savvis will help you establish a private cloud in their cloud data centers, or a data center operator, such as Equinix, can provide both data center space and expertise on making the networking connections your cloud will need. Any co-location provider is a potential private cloud site.

These outside providers will have expertise in building a general purpose architecture that helps you avoid lock-in by any single cloud service or software provider. They know how to set up a private cloud that works generically to connect to public services through their public APIs. BMC offers the Cloud Lifecycle Management platform that connects natively to 16 clouds and leaves customers in a position to connect to additional service providers through the provider's APIs.

One trap that Roberts will urge attendees not to fall into: a separate user interface for each form of cloud computing that the enterprise undertakes. "Keep the user interface consistent across all the clouds end users will use," he said.

Even if you like one vendor and want the comfort of working with a familiar product line, you're still just one acquisition away from needing to work with virtual machines or cloud services that are not part of that familiar lineup.

Each of the private cloud software suppliers, a group that includes Nimbula, Eucalyptus, Nebula, Piston, CloudStack, VMware and others, is a layer of cloud functions and management that sits atop the virtualization layer of software. "All of them turn the virtualization layer into cloud," which might sound like hocus pocus but in fact links virtualized resources into a joint system. With private cloud software, the virtualized data center "starts to look like a layered architecture," which is what you want, he said.

The buyer needs to maintain the usual caveats on checking into the bugginess and maturity of the software involved, as with any other set of products, Roberts continued. Almost all of it is geared exclusively to x86 servers, but the private cloud builder doesn't have to exclude another a Unix or Solaris architecture. That just makes the task of running the private cloud more complicated, with the trade-off of enabling the migration of some legacy systems that otherwise might never make it into the cloud, he said. On the other hand, he's not optimistic the power-conserving ARM hardware architecture is a sound choice -- not at least until it becomes much easier to migrate enterprise systems to the ARM architecture.

Those uncertain of what constitutes a good cloud server design can consult the Open Computing project, a hardware open source project founded by Facebook, and see whether what it recommends is suitable for what they want to accomplish. Roberts thinks it's only a matter of time before Taiwanese or other OEMs begin producing server racks built to these specifications. Dell also has become a supplier of server architectures used by several cloud services.

Facebook is engaging in a little power play with Google, which until recently kept its self-designed hardware a closely guarded secret, and it's attempting to broaden the user base of cloud hardware in hopes of creating more of a mass produced, standardized model that holds down costs, Roberts said.

"Cloud computing has the opportunity to make the hardware better for applications. The underlying hardware doesn't have to be optimized for each application. It can be a standard infrastructure, and the virtual machines are optimized to do what you want," he noted.

Whether enterprises build the private cloud themselves or enlist outsiders may depend on how badly you want deep cloud expertise in-house at the end of the project. "Those who build themselves may do it a couple of times before they get it right," but they'll end up with lots of expertise in the environment, he said.

On the other hand, part of the goal of cloud computing is to get away from specific device and component expertise and focus more effort on taking advantage of a standardized infrastructure. Letting someone else provide leadership on best practices may get an organization to private cloud more quickly, without too steep a penalty in understanding the environment.

"Do it yourself? A lot of that will constitute what your time to market is. If you need it quickly, using experts is the way to go. Consultants will have already stubbed their toes with other folks," he advised.

The ultimate goal is to get to an underlying infrastructure that is both resilient and largely runs itself. That won't happen if you inject too many variations and customizations into what you've built. Likewise, accommodating every legacy application: "You need access to the source code. You'll need the skills that know what to do with that source code. You will need non-commodity skill sets," he warned, all of which begin to set back that possible gains in building out the private cloud.

When it comes to embracing legacy needs, "don't be too hasty," he urged. "It's OK to leave that application running where it is on bare hardware."

Attend Interop Las Vegas, May 6-10, and attend the most thorough training on Apple Deployment at the NEW Mac & iOS IT Conference. Use Priority Code DIPR02 by March 2 to save up to $500 off the price of Conference Passes. Join us in Las Vegas for access to 125+ workshops and conference classes, 350+ exhibiting companies, and the latest technology. Register for Interop today!

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