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The first 5 steps to build a private cloud infrastructure

To implement a private cloud, IT teams must start at the beginning -- and define what a cloud strategy will mean, exactly, to their organization -- before they proceed.

Private cloud adoption isn't a quick endeavor. Enterprises must first map out their goals and expectations, define their cloud computing requirements and then build on that model. The entire organization should play a role in this process -- not just IT.

Here are the first five steps you need to take to conceive and build a private cloud within your enterprise, as well as maintain that infrastructure moving forward.

1. Decide what you want out of cloud

The term cloud computing means something different to everyone. To start your journey, your organization needs to be realistic about its cloud computing goals.

Many organizations look toward private cloud infrastructure after they've realized the promises of virtualization, such as data center consolidation and cost savings, compared to physical hardware. Others want to take virtualization to the next level, with standardization and automation as part of their IT processes.

But few organizations are ready to work on organizational changes and tackle the harder "people problems" that traditional IT fosters, such as silos, duplication of services, security and management. These are not usually technical problems, but issues related to organizational boundaries and long-standing political domains.

And there continue to be some misconceptions about the term cloud. A common one is that private clouds are completely based in virtualization. Even though virtualization usually plays a major role in a private cloud deployment, a private cloud can also mean a shared infrastructure that replaces many duplicate services.

Before you lay the technical foundation on which you'll build a private cloud, carefully define what your goals are -- both from a technical and organizational standpoint.

2. Have realistic expectations of the journey

Expect the journey to cloud to be less about technological challenges and more about personnel challenges.

Again, expect the journey to cloud to be less about technological challenges and more about personnel challenges, as IT teams tear down and recreate processes, increasingly automate routine tasks and promote standardization.

An IT department that is heavy-handed and unresponsive to users' needs might not be in the right place to rethink itself and its work. Similarly, an IT department that is overworked might lack the time to explore cloud services, despite the benefits of the technology. It is critical that management prioritizes IT work appropriately and backs up the IT department in the face of complaints about delays in other work due to the focus on cloud computing.

Finally, all levels of management, including HR, will need to support a transition to the cloud. Not only will all facets of the organization see delays as IT realigns itself, but workers whose primary jobs involve the tasks being automated might fear they'll become less valuable and then undermine the process. Plan for personnel issues, and from the beginning, communicate to staff that they are valuable and these efforts are intended to free them to do more interesting and productive work.

3. Understand enterprise workloads and services

It's difficult to build a private cloud when you don't understand the services on which your organization relies. Documentation is key; without it, it's tough to decipher relationships among systems or keep track of service-level agreements, all of which make a team susceptible to false assumptions. It's also critical to document the needs of users to ensure the new private cloud services are built to meet those needs. This is especially true when an organization wants to centralize duplicate services.

Documentation also lends itself to standardization, because a standard that does not account for all needs and system design requirements will quickly have exceptions. Performance information is also crucial during a move toward shared infrastructure and cloud-based applications. A year or more of historical performance data, as high-resolution as is practical, can be helpful to determine capacity needs and system sizing.

4. Get on the path to virtualization

While it isn't required that a private cloud be based on virtualization, it is the common model. And virtualization usually drives certain knowledge and behaviors within organizations that lend themselves to private cloud. For example, most virtualization software requires centralized storage, and that same centralized storage will be a building block for private cloud infrastructure.

cloud vs. virtualization
Understand the differences between cloud and virtualization.

Likewise, virtualization is usually quite disruptive to data center networks; at the very least, it can turn static traffic patterns into dynamic ones. The move toward shared and cloud-based computing continues that trend and increases the reliance on networks, which usually drives up bandwidth needs. The dialogue that started among your virtualization, storage and network administrators as a result of virtualization will become crucial as you advance into the cloud, especially if you plan to serve remote offices and mobile users.

5. Realize that standardization and automation go hand in hand

For many organizations, automation is one of the key motivators to build a private cloud. However, automation is incredibly difficult without standardization. For example, with standards for OSes and server builds, you can make assumptions about locations of files, sizes of file systems and authentication mechanisms. Based on those assumptions, you can script the installation of application software and middleware, such as web servers, application servers and firewall rules.

Standardization can be difficult for an organization that has not practiced it. But the time savings can be enormous.

Consider an organization that has had no standards for OSes, OS versions or build processes. Every server is different, and every operation needs special attention. Software is installed and patched differently each time, and success rates waver because of the variations in each host. This usually has two consequences: Staff spend an incredible amount of time performing routine tasks and skip many of these tasks, like patching security vulnerabilities, because they are too difficult and unpredictable. If you standardize on one or two OSes and automate the build and application deployment processes, you'll yield massive IT productivity gains.

Once you've automated much of your environment, you can deliver self-service portals and service catalogs. Though it is unlikely your organization will ever be 100% self-service-driven, you can automate many processes with workflows; the only interactions, then, are approval processes. This enables the IT department to focus on more important issues, such as how to best support and monitor an application or service. It also gives application admins and developers a consistent and repeatable platform on which to build. And it means IT operations staff can create useful, repeatable procedures to handle incidents and monitor system alarms, instead of each server being a one-off exception. It may even open the door to automated responses to alarms.

Moving ahead

The steps above to build a private cloud infrastructure are just the beginning. To continue on the cloud journey, IT will also need to implement procedures such as chargeback and showback, which hold business units accountable for the IT resources they provision and consume. It's also critical to carefully monitor private clouds to maintain performance and ensure end users -- as well as the CIO -- are satisfied with the new direction.

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