10 keys for building private clouds

One of the toughest parts about implementing a cloud computing strategy isn’t choosing the underlying technology to power the deployment; it’s having the processes in place to manage an effective migration to the cloud, says Thomas Bittman, a cloud analyst for Gartner.

“While cloud technologies are just now maturing, that’s one of the easier challenges to solve,” Bittman said during a webinar sponsored by Gartner discussing how to build private clouds.

Embracing the cloud can be a transformational shift in the way IT services are delivered to the business, bringing with it benefits around agility of applications and having IT that is customized to the needs of the business. But getting to that optimum point in is about more than what virtualization technology will be used or what public cloud provider will be hired. It’s about having the processes in place to executive the strategy effectively, Bittman says.

Private clouds are the first step many organizations will take in their cloud strategy. It’s critical, Bittman says, for IT to consider why the cloud is being embraced before executing on the strategy. Most commonly, private clouds are used to deliver server virtualization automatically, giving businesses the benefit of more efficient hardware, automatic provisioning of resources, all with the security of the system being on the company’s premise with native security features in place. But there still needs to be a reason for the business to invest in a private cloud, and to determine that, the IT team needs to work with the business units to determine what problems they face and how IT can be used to solve them.

Once a reason for using the private cloud has been justified, the next step is building the cloud infrastructure. And for that, Bittman has 10 elements to making private cloud computing successful:

1. Leadership. Deploying a cloud strategy requires having someone that understands the needs of the business and the IT shop. The IT department’s job is to serve the business, so IT must understand the needs of the business and create solutions that will address the business’s concern. There also needs to be buy-in at the highest leadership levels of an organization to embrace a cloud strategy, Bittman says.

2. Define your services upfront. A crucial element for deploying a cloud strategy is understanding the services the business offers so that IT can create strategies to solve those problems. The key to doing that is to understand the services that are offered. But Bittman says not everything is optimized for the cloud: Private clouds are usually best for servicing recurring business needs that are dynamic in nature. “The cloud isn’t for the once-every-10-years ERP system you’re installing; it’s for what comes in once a week or several times a week,” he says.

3. Evaluate alternatives. Bittman recommends researching the solution that will create true value-add for your business. In many cases, that may end up being at the platform-as-a-service level, he says, where applications are customized to the needs of the business while taking advantage of the benefits of a cloud environment. “You’re not going to differentiate your company by using SaaS or even IaaS,” Bittman says, because almost every company will eventually be using some of those services. “You differentiate by using new applications that are written specifically for your needs that are scale dynamically.”

4. Create metrics. A successful cloud deployment is about optimizing a business practice so that it is being done more efficiently than before. How is that done? Metrics allow for quantitative evaluation of a strategy. While cost is a natural metric to measure, customer satisfaction and speed of delivery are other metrics that can be used. The most important metric, Bittman says, is the one that is most critical to the business unit.

5. Build a business case for using the cloud. It’s critical for IT to determine where the business has the biggest bottlenecks that would benefit from the cloud. Once that’s determined, start small and grow into a cloud deployment. Typically that means automating virtualization features to create a private cloud, or using a public cloud for development and testing.

6. Develop a people plan. A cloud deployment will in many cases change the roles of IT workers, Bittman says. Cloud architects and orchestration specialists are needed to build and manage a private cloud and service managers are needed to ensure the cloud is delivering what’s needed. Meanwhile, traditional IT roles or maintaining legacy infrastructure will not be needed as much as new roles are created.

7. Have a management plan. Bittman says the future of IT is a hybrid world where a variety of services will be used: Private cloud will be combined with public clouds to create a hybrid cloud, while traditional infrastructure will continue to be used on-site for certain applications. IT should be the broker of those services to the business unit, delivering the service based on the business use case and the service offerings.

8. Have the right technology in place. While business processes are critical, technology cannot be ignored. Fundamentals of the technology plan include access management — meaning who has access to what services — and a service governor that will manage the resources that are delivered through the cloud. There are a variety of vendors that will help enterprises and SMBs manage their cloud deployment. These range from end-to-end providers such as HP, IBM, BMC and CA Technologies, to vendors that focus on the virtualization layer and provide application services on top of that.

9. Mind the processes. Business needs evolve, and IT needs to be able to change with it. “As you build private clouds, look ahead to what’s next,” Bittman says. The future of cloud, he says, is a hybrid model that uses both a private and public cloud resources.

10. Start small, think big. “It’s daunting, so be cautious of how you deploy your cloud,” Bittman says. Learn by experimentation, monitor the usage and feedback, identify needs within the business and architect IT solutions to solve those specifically. “We can’t design everything perfectly from the ground up, so start small and build from there,” Bittman says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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