How to Build a Private Cloud --Real World Lessons

Implementing a private cloud allows you to enjoy the scalability of the cloud coupled with the security of your on-premise infrastructure.  But what's the best way to architect a solution that's right for your operation?

By Drew Robb

"Everybody is eager and excited about implementing clouds, the operational savings they will achieve through automation and reducing the time to market for applications," says Erik Sebesta, Chief Architect and Technology Officer for Cloud Technology Partners Inc. in Boston, Mass. "It's a fun space to be in, but you need people who know what they are doing or it can quickly go awry."

To help keep your cloud implementation on the right track, here is advice from three experts who have successfully built such clouds.

Is a Private Cloud the Right Choice?

Creating a private cloud is a major endeavor. Before launching into the project, the first step is to decide whether it is the best option.

"A lot of conversations start with building a private cloud," says Joe Onisick, National Technical Solutions Architect for World Wide Technology, Inc. (St. Louis, MO),"but when you dig into the business requirements you find that some level of virtualization and automation will cover everything they are looking for."

Even where cloud computing is the best fit for one's needs, a hybrid cloud, which mixes public cloud resources with internally hosted services, may be better than selecting a completely private cloud.

"These are large-scale initiatives and they should be attempted only by large enterprises and not by the mid-market," says Erik Sebesta, Chief Architect and Technology Officer for Cloud Technology Partners Inc. in Boston, MA. He says companies initiating private clouds should have a minimum of 1000 servers and hundreds of applications. "Below that they should be looking at a cloud managed service provider."

Take a Staged Approach

Once it has been determined that a private cloud is the best route forward, Onisick advises using a five step approach: standardize, consolidate, virtualize, automate and orchestrate.

"At each of those five stages, you will build better architectures than what you had previously," says Onisick. "Then if budgets get cut, projects get changed or timelines get pushed, you still have something very usable that you can move forward with, rather than having a half-put-together system that is not going to be able to scale to the next level."

Start Small

Your entire infrastructure, however, doesn't need to be moved to the cloud in one shot.

"Start with something that is isolated with few dependencies," says Siki Giunta, vice president, Global Cloud Computing and Software Services for Computer Sciences Corporation in Falls Church, Virginia. "You gain immediate, positive feedback from end users, finance and IT staff, and are ready to tackle something a little more complex like a cloud infrastructure utility for an ERP implementation."

Then, as you have gained experience and demonstrated the value of migrating to the cloud, take on the larger tasks.

"Let your workloads be the guide," says Giunta. "Assess, select and move workloads that are the simplest to do with the greatest return on investment."

Don't Forget the Details

Setting up a cloud requires more than putting in the basic structure. You also need tools to monitor and manage.

"Cloud architectures are comprised of compute, network, storage and hypervisor," says Giunta. "Around this hardware/software mix you'll need management software that you build or buy – service catalog, method for chargeback, provisioning and some integration with other enterprise systems for monitoring security, performance and availability."

Include the Rest of the Company

In addition to the technical issues, switching to cloud computing entails plenty of coordination with others in the organization.

"The infrastructure architects get all excited and build private clouds, but they don't synch up with the folks controlling for corporate risk, corporate security and corporate applications," says Sebesta. "Equally as important as getting the technical engineering right is getting the organizational alignment right."

He says that he has seen people put in a private cloud, but then the risk and security teams wouldn't allow them to deploy any mission critical applications to run in the cloud. This can delay achieving full benefits of the private cloud for several years until it is shown that the cloud is secure and robust enough.

"Get it worked out in advance as to what systems you will put on the cloud," says Sebesta. "Then you can create an application road map for migration, a server road map for migration, and get the operational server teams aligned with the project."

Standardize and Simplify

As much of the environment as possible should be standardized before converting to the cloud, including the hardware, hypervisors, operating systems and applications.

"It is much harder to automate and orchestrate multiple hypervisors, and much harder to manage, so the operational cost goes through the roof," says Onisick. "The major lesson I have learned is the more standardization you have the better off you will be down the road."

As the cloud market continues to evolve, however this may be less of a priority. For example, Microsoft System Center 2012 supports multiple hypervisors - Microsoft Hyper-v, VMware vSphere and Citrix XenServer - which greatly reduces the custom scripting required for automation and orchestration tasks.

Prepare the Applications

In addition to the infrastructure, the applications must also be reengineered to take advantage of the cloud.

"The lesson learned is that the applications themselves need to change to run effectively and safely on design for failure and private clouds," says Sebesta. "You need to run an application track in parallel with building a private cloud, refactoring and redesigning some of those applications."

He says that the changes aren't necessarily major ones, but if not done appropriately can result in data loss or availability issues. "It is something that has to be architected very carefully," he says.

Sebesta gives the example of a client which had started down the path of a private cloud. It put a large amount of RAM into the cloud, but the applications kept failing. It turns out that the applications hadn't been set up properly to take advantage of all the memory, something which could be fixed by changing the configuration files.

While most applications will be able to be ported to a cloud environment, "Sometimes it's easier to create a new app for the cloud than spend the time and money for refactoring," says Giunta.

Getting Started

Building a private cloud is a highly individualized activity. There is no single path toward creating a private cloud exactly tailored to your organization's particular needs. To help you get started on designing and deploying vendors have tools to help you assess your current status and plan a route to a cloud infrastructure. Microsoft has a Cloud Assessment Tool for Microsoft Private Cloud and VMware has a Cloud Readiness Self-Assessment and HP has a Cloud Readiness Scorecard. Taking one of these assessments will help point the way toward successfully building a private cloud.

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