With a private cloud strategy and dynamic data center you can quickly respond to rapid business fluctuations. But how do you get there?
This post was originaly published as thanksgiving weekend special at virtual-strategy.com.
In the article I discussed some approaches for building a dynamic data center that not only addresses complexity and reduces cost, but also accelerates business response time, to ensure that organization realizes the true promise of cloud computing, business agility and customer responsiveness.
Cloud computing presents an appealing model for offering and managing IT services through shared and often virtualized infrastructure. It’s great for new business start-ups who don’t want the risk of a large on-premise technology investment, or organizations who can’t easily predict what the future demand will be for their services. But for most of us with existing infrastructure and resources, the picture is very different. We want to capitalize on the benefits of the cloud ― on demand, low risk, affordable computing ― but we’ve spent years investing in rooms stacked high with hardware and software to run our daily mission critical jobs and services.
So how do organizations in this situation make the shift from straight-forward server consolidation to a dynamic, self-service virtualized data center? How do they reach the peak of standardized IT service delivery and agility that is in step with the needs of the business? Many virtualization deployments stall as organizations stop to deal with challenges like added complexity, staffing requirements, SLA management, or departmental politics. This “VM stall” tends to coincide with different stages in the virtualization maturity lifecycle, such as the transition from tier 2/3 server consolidation to mission-critical tier 1 applications, and from basic provisioning automation to a private/hybrid cloud approach.
The virtualization maturity lifecycle
The simple answer is to take it step-by-step, learning as you go, building maturity at every step. This will earn you the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to progress from an entry-level virtualization project to a mature dynamic data center and private cloud strategy.
It’s called the virtualization maturity lifecycle, and it builds in four steps. Just like pilots start their training on small planes (going full cycle from take-off to landing) before they move onto large commercial jets, it is advisable for organizations to implement these virtualization maturity steps iteratively. For example, start a full maturity cycle on test and development servers before moving to mission critical servers and applications.
Start easy, by consolidating servers, to increase utilization and reduce your current carbon footprint. To ensure deep insight and continuity in support of the migration from physical to virtual, you might want to leverage image backup and physical-to-virtual restore tools that allow you to move your physical IBM, Dell and HP images directly to ready to run VM images for VMware, Sun, Citrix and Microsoft.
The next step involves optimizing the infrastructure. Apart from maintaining consistency, efficiency, and compliance across the virtual resources (which is proving fast to be even more complex in virtual than in physical environments), we analyze, monitor, (re-)distribute and tune our applications and services.
While optimizing, we also discover and document the rules we will automate in the next phase. Rules about which applications best fit together, what areas are suitable for self service and which type of services are most important. As you can imagine the answers to this last question will be very different for a nuclear plant (safety first) compared to an online video rental service (customers first), which it is why it is such an important step. If you skip this stage and go straight into automation, you’ll likely end up in the same situation that you’re in today, just automated.
A successful cloud strategy is all about agility and flexibility, and the next step in the virtualization maturity lifecycle helps take care of automation and the orchestration of your (now) virtual services. You can empower users to help themselves ― industrialize processes ― without calling IT for every service request. Automation has many advantages here. It is the catalyst to standardize your virtual infrastructure, integrate and orchestrate processes across IT silos, and accelerate the provisioning of virtual cloud services. Once the industrialized provisioning process is live, automation technologies can then also be used to monitor demand volumes, utilization levels and application response times and to assist root-cause analytics to help isolate and remediate virtual environment issues.
The final stage is the centerpiece of a cloud strategy, a position which allows you to manage the definition, demand, and deployment of IT services: the dynamic data center. Your now agile infrastructure, delivered from a secure, highly available data center, enables you to quickly respond to rapid business fluctuations. To reach a dynamic data center, you need to automate the entire process of service delivery from request to fulfilment. This includes centralized service requests, automating the approval process so that department heads can quickly approve or reject requests, a standard and repeatable provisioning process, and standard configurations.
This goes much further than the traditional dream of a “lights out” data center, which basically was a static conveyor belt-like factory where all labor was automated away. The dynamic data center is like a modern car factory, where robots perform almost all tasks, but in ever changing sequences and configurations, guided by supply-chain-lead orchestration.
The new normal
As we all know, technology changes fast. This advancement in technology is creating a “new normal” where relationships with customers are increasingly in a digital form and technology is no longer an enabler or accelerator of the business― it has become the business.
This is a theme picked up by Peter Hinssen, one of Europe’s thought leaders on the impact of technology on our society. He evangelizes this new normal, arguing that in a digital world there will be new rules that define what is acceptable for IT, including zero tolerance for digital failure, an era of “good enough” functionality (60% functionality in six weeks rather than 90% in six months), and the need to move your architectures―including your new cloud architecture―from “built to last” to “designed to change”.
The lifecycle approach described earlier may be just what you need to help align your IT organization to what Hinssen calls the new normal. First you determine where opportunities exist for consolidation and rationalization across your physical and virtual environments ― assessing what you have in your data center environment and establish a baseline for making decisions that take you to the next stage. Next, to achieve agility, you have to automate the provisioning and de-provisioning of virtualized resources, including essential elements, such as identities, and other management policies such as access rights.
The next step in delivering an on-time, risk-free (zero failure) cloud computing strategy is service assurance. You need to manage IT service quality and delivery based on business impact and priority — top-to-bottom and end-to-end. That includes, for example, delivering a superior online end-user experience with low-overhead application performance management, and end-to-end visibility into traffic flows and device performance. The new normal also needs to be secure. IT security management technologies must be applied against current regulations and end-user needs, which enable the virtual layer to be more secure.
All these factors combined ultimately lead to agile IT service delivery. With agility, you can build and optimize scalable, reliable resources and entire applications quickly. By embarking on the virtualization maturity roadmap, you can move closer to a dynamic data center and successful cloud strategy.
This evolutionary approach may sound very procedural (and safe). You may also be thinking, is this the only way? What if I need it now? Is there no revolutionary approach to help me get straight to a private cloud much more quickly? Just like developing countries, which have skipped the wired POTS phone system and moved directly to a 100% wireless infrastructure, a revolutionary approach does exist. The secret lies in the fact that – in addition to the application itself – the infrastructure required to deploy an application can be virtualized – load balancers, firewalls, NAS gateways, monitoring tools, etc. This entire entity – the application and the required infrastructure it needs to be successfully deployed – can then be managed as a single object. Want to deploy a copy of the application? Simply load the object and all of the associated virtual appliances are automatically loaded, networked, secured and made ready. This is called an application-centric cloud.
With traditional virtualization, the servers are the parts that are virtualized, but afterward, these virtual servers, networks, routers, load balancers and more, still need to be managed and configured to work with the other parts of the data center, a task as complex and daunting as it was before. This is infrastructure-centric cloud. With full application-centric clouds, the whole business service (with all its involved components) is virtualized becoming a virtual service (instead of a bunch of virtual servers) which reduces the complexity of managing these services significantly.
As a result, application-centric clouds can now model, configure, deploy and manage complex, composite applications as if they were a single object. This enables operators to use a visual model of an application and the required infrastructure, and to store that model in the integrated repository. Users or customers can then pull that model out of the repository, reuse it and deploy it to any data center around the world with the click of a button. Interestingly, users deploy these services to a private cloud, or to an MSP, depending on who happens to offer the best conditions at that moment. Sound too futuristic? Far from it. Several innovative service providers, like DNS Europe, Radix Technologies, and ScaleUp, are already doing exactly this on a daily basis.
For many enterprises, governments and service provider organizations, the mission for IT today is no longer just about keeping the infrastructure running. It’s about the critical need to quickly create new services and revenue streams and improve the competitive position of their organization.
Some parts of your organization may not have time to evolve into a private cloud. For them, taking the revolutionary (or green field) approach may be best, while for other existing revenue streams, an evolutionary approach, ensuring investment protection, may be best. In the end, customers will be able to choose the approach that best fits the task at hand, finding the right mix of both evolutionary and revolutionary to meet their individual needs.