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Looking to modernise your IT? Start with a standards-based private cloud

Private clouds offer many business advantages and adhering to standards will help ease future change

With IT modernisation a clear business imperative, moving away from a mixture of disparate systems to a consistent and repeatable pool of resources is easier said than done for many organisations. The good news is recent developments in private cloud technology is giving a clearer path forward for IT modernisation.

Clouds can be public or private

The concept of a “cloud” is simply a pool of computing and storage resources available on-demand to satisfy a business need. In today’s IT environment public clouds offered by the likes of Amazon Web Service, Google, and Microsoft’s Azure are making waves by offering immediate access to a range of infrastructure, platform and application services.

While public clouds are garnering all the media attention, private clouds are another option for enterprises to offer a pool of resources to the business (also known as Infrastructure-as-a-Service, or IaaS) and can have significant advantages over their public counterparts.

Figure 1: A few benefits of public and private clouds.

Public clouds save the business from purchasing hardware, but the long-term costs can be equivalent to procured infrastructure. Generally, the suitability of each type of cloud will depend on the business case and IT and business managers should consider both options.

Many organisations are jumping straight into the public cloud and realising they are not quite ready. Start by isolating your requirements and try not to move huge amounts straight away. With this approach you will be falling back to monolithic methods to achieve the migration and it will not be an agile outcome.

Getting started with a private cloud

In this blog, we’re focusing on modernising IT infrastructure by adopting a private cloud strategy. To achieve a more agile infrastructure that is more responsive to business demands, start by assessing which workloads can be moved from physical servers (or siloed virtual servers) into a pool of virtual servers and storage.

The essence of a private cloud is a pool of computing and storage resources powered by a hypervisor and management software. In a private cloud all hardware resources are shared by the applications and the share of resources is allocated in line with requirements. For example, big data processing might require more computing and storage resources than a HR application.

What are some of the characteristics of a private cloud that make it well suited to IT modernisation programs? This depends on the organisation and culture, but generally non-critical applications are run on public cloud whereas a private cloud is used for utmost control. Private cloud is about taking the public cloud model and applying it in house.

Combining cloud options also leads to a hybrid approach where workloads are run across different infrastructure.

Standards-based or proprietary? Know the difference

It is important for IT and business leaders to understand the difference between a standards-based private cloud and a proprietary. Standards-based products are supported by more than one vendor and are driven by community review processes. Examples of standards-based private cloud products include:

  • Commodity servers: 64-bit servers (with direct-attached storage) can be grouped together to form a cluster. This "scale out" architecture is the foundation of a private cloud and can grow as workload demands grow.

  • KVM: An open source hypervisor found in most Linux distributions and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV).

  • OpenStack: An open source cloud management tool.

  • Gluster: An open source distributed storage project which can replace proprietary SAN solutions.

Due to their hosted architecture, most public clouds are proprietary and generally only allow data to be transferred at the operating system and application levels, not the virtual machines themselves. Unless a server configuration management tool is used, this makes migrating away from public clouds more complex than many people realise.

A private cloud is not a typical virtualisation environment and proprietary hypervisor software often hits a limit that requires an open-source option to overcome.

To get the most out of your infrastructure – and avoid vendor lock-in – consider adopting standards-based components wherever there is an option. This approach will allow you to continuously keep your IT infrastructure up to date and avoid costly forklift upgrade programs.

Public, private and hybrid?

There’s public cloud, private cloud and now hybrid cloud, but what is this thing called hybrid? Think of thehybrid cloud as a way of automating the allocation of cloud resources between any type of infrastructure regardless of where it is hosted. Hybrid is the “holy grail” of infrastructure management and IT agility as it allows workloads to be hosted in the most appropriate and economical way. Like private, hybrid works best when there are standards-based components involved.