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Are Datacenters Transforming into Private Clouds? Sort Of ...

I've given up on being frustrated and annoyed with the IT marketing industry's profligate use of the word "cloud." I now am a happy user of cloud mail (formerly "Outlook Web App"), cloud storage (formerly "FTP server"), cloud computing (formerly "hosted virtual machine") and cloud services (formerly "Web site"). My last point of resistance -- the "private cloud" -- has been whittled away by the incessant efforts of Microsoft and other vendors' marketing machines.

Fine. Private cloud it is.

There's actually an emerging definition for what that means, and how it is distinct from what we used to call "datacenter."

  • Automated provisioning. When you spin up a new Amazon EC2 virtual machine, you don't have to call someone on the phone or file a support ticket. Heaven forfend -- the idea of engaging a human being in the process is anathema to Amazon's entire business model. No, you click a few buttons, you type in your credit card number and a virtual machine is born. In the private cloud, this simply means automation -- something Microsoft is making excellent strides with through its growing integration of PowerShell. This is a good benefit for organizations because it helps reduce error and improve business agility, lower response times and alleviate plain old administrator fatigue.

  • Pay as you go. Another excellent analogy that uses Amazon EC2: You pay for what you use. Now, in the private cloud we perhaps don't need to be as nitpicky as to get down to the compute cycle, disk block, RAM usage and bandwidth utilization -- but certainly the idea of internal charge-backs isn't new. The main reason IT hasn't done charge-backs on everything to this point is that we haven't had the tools to do so. Anyone promising to help you implement "the private cloud" needs to make charge-backs easy -- and some vendors like IBM and HP are actually doing just that. Allocating the costs of IT to its actual consumers is beneficial, even if the company doesn't do the funny-money internal transfer of numbers. Simply knowing, rather than guess, where your costs are going is a good thing.

  • Abstracted. This is a big deal. I buy an Amazon EC2 virtual machine, I have no idea what physical host it runs on. I don't care. Amazon can shift it around all day to balance their workload, and that's fine with me. Ditto the private cloud: Ubiquitous hypervisor availability lets us treat server hardware as Giant Pots O' Resources, and we shift VMs around to suit our needs and whims. Again, a good thing. Server hardware lasts longer (old servers can just run less-needy VMs) and we can start to think of our datacenters in terms of capacity rather than of functionality.

So will your entire datacenter become one fluffy white private cloud? Doubtful. But pieces can. Whatever pieces are frequently requested by, and granted to, individuals or departments; VMs for software developers to test with, VMs for department or project file servers, you name it. Heck, with the right front-end, you could make some of those things entirely self-service. Why not let devs spin up their own VMs based perhaps on predefined, easy-to-select templates when they need to test something? It's basically the premise of commercial ventures like CloudShare.com, and there's no reason you couldn't offer it as part of your private cloud.

Plus, you'd get to use the phrase private cloud a lot. And it's a hip phrase, so everything would have to pretend you were cool.

There's another bonus to cloud-ifying the right bits of your datacenter: mobility. Suddenly decide that you don't want to own some particular piece of functionality? Find a way to outsource it more cheaply? Fine -- you've already abstracted the important bits away from the users, so does it matter that a bit of "your" cloud lives in  to own some particular piece of functionality? Find a way to outsource it more cheaply? Fine -- you've already abstracted the important bits away from the users, so it doesn't matter if that bit of "your" cloud lives in your datacenter or not.

What's this do for your IT team? Well, if I were an IT person who'd taken the initiative to learn automation techniques and technologies -- say, PowerShell or something like it -- I'd be sittin' pretty. I'd be building the private cloud (the cloudy bits, anyway), and I'd be a key player in the organization. If, on the other hand, my main job in IT was clicking the buttons that are about to stop existing in favor of better automation, I'd be against the cloud. In any form. Which is certainly why some IT pros (not all, just some) are against the cloud -- they fear for their jobs.

So be prepared. Build the cloud and you'll have a job for the next decade or two. Get run over by the cloud (see, they're not always so fluffy) and you obviously weren't planning ahead. I'm a bet-hedger, so even if this whole private cloud thing is a bust (and it won't be -- the business reasons for an intelligently built datacenter to become at least partly cloudy are too compelling), I'm spending the time to make sure I'm up to speed on the enabling technologies: Automation. Virtualization. Systems management. Because when the cloud does come, I want to be sitting on Number 9, not huddled in a rainstorm.

Posted by Don Jones on 05/24/2012 at 1:14 PM


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