Private Clouds: Selecting the Right Hardware for a Scalable Virtual Infrastructure

by Greg Shields


Private clouds are quickly becoming an effective means of stretching infrastructure to meet growing application needs. But the definition of the term "private cloud" can be somewhat elusive. What exactly is meant by "private cloud"? How do you build one? Once you have a private cloud, what is the benefit for the application consumer? And, finally, how can modular hardware make a cloud infrastructure dead simple for even the most complex of enterprise needs. All of these topics are addressed in Private Clouds: Selecting the Right Hardware for a Scalable Virtual Infrastructure. In it, author Greg Shields reveals how the use of the private cloud enables an enterprise to gain flexibility in application delivery as well as enhanced availability in keeping applications running. You will see first-hand a high-level reference architecture for creating a private cloud, along with a detailed explanation of where the modular hardware approach eliminates risk while reducing complexity. Finally, you'll see the business case for building your own private cloud using modular hardware, proving that today's virtualization infrastructures no longer need to be built from scratch like yesteryear's "white box" servers.


Chapter 1: Deconstructing the Private Cloud: An Application Consumer's Perspective

What exactly is a private cloud? How do you get there? Once you've got one, what is the end result for the application consumer? And, finally, how can modular hardware make a cloud infrastructure dead simple for even the most complex of enterprise needs? You'll get a feeling for the answers to all of these questions in this guide's first chapter.

Chapter 2: Inside the Black Box: The Reference Architecture for Building a Private Cloud

This guide's first chapter is intentionally written to be visionary. In it, you learned about the many fantastic capabilities a well‐designed private cloud infrastructure provides. Those capabilities center around improvements to

  • availability for individual IT services
  • flexibility in managing services, as well as deploying new services
  • scalability when physical resources run out
  • hardware resource optimization, to ensure that you're getting the most out of your investment
  • resiliency to protect against large‐scale incidents
  • globalization capacity, enabling the IT infrastructure to be distributed wherever it is needed

That's an exceptionally strong set of benefits. Particularly so, considering that a private cloud at its core is little more than a virtualization technology, some really good management tools, the right set of hardware, and business process integration. You'll learn more about that last component throughout this guide. But recognize that for the enlightened, a private cloud's hardware infrastructure can be one of its most‐compelling characteristics.

Chapter 3: Modularizing Cloud Hardware for a Scalable IT Services Infrastructure

Did your head spin just a bit after reading the previous chapter? Containing copious detail on virtual processing and memory, storage, and backups, Chapter 2's intent was to document the technical underpinnings that comprise a private cloud infrastructure. Those underpinnings, as you've discovered, are large in number, rich in dependencies, and complex in construction.

Their very complexity explains why many businesses don't immediately see the return on their virtual investments. The problem isn't necessarily the technology or its hardware. Today's hypervisors and virtual hardware are veritably bombproof. Rather, the problem lies in IT's sometimes inability to reap business‐recognizable reward out of that technology investment. Two recent examples highlight this dissonance.

The first is a study from 20071, which reported that 44% of companies are unable to declare their virtualization deployments a success. A key factor in this realization was reported as the business' inability to quantify the ROI on their virtualization investment. Businesses who reported success said that “being able to measure performance of the virtualized environment” represented a key factor.

The second and more recent study happened in May 20092. That study showed that a majority of IT managers report experiencing more problems than benefits with virtualization technology. A quarter of those surveyed noted their negative experience was based on “a lack of visibility and tools to troubleshoot performance problems in virtual environments.”

Challenging numbers but important ones to consider when you're making decisions about how to implement virtualization in your organization. I personally love these two studies, and have referred back to them numerous times. Their focus on the integration of virtualization with actual business processes presents a somewhat less‐rosy picture than other surveys that focus exclusively on technology aspects alone.

Chapter 4: Building the Business Case for Scalable Virtualization Using Private Clouds

At first glance, this book might appear to be all about hardware. Much of its first three chapters are dedicated to an explanation of hardware resources. I talk at length about hardware supply and demand inside the virtual environment. Indeed the book's name itself references selecting the right hardware to help you create a scalable virtual infrastructure.

But that conversation on virtual hardware is only one facet of the story. I mentioned in Chapter 2 that a private cloud is at its core little more than a virtualization technology, some really good management tools, the right set of hardware, and business process integration. It is this business process integration that elevates virtualization from simple technology to powerful business enabler. Correctly constructed, a private cloud will create a flexible and infinitely malleable infrastructure for hosting business services. Correctly managed, that infrastructure will always be capable of meeting the computing needs of an ever‐changing business.

These are indeed some lofty, feel‐good buzzwords, but I find that I honestly believe their promise as they're applied to virtualization. After years in IT, I've heard vendors using statements like these many times to describe something new that will "completely change how you do IT." I'm sure you have too. Yet unlike many other promises, the elevation of simple virtualization to private cloud computing appears to be one of the rare situations where real business value quickly arrives once you make the jump.

That said, you can't get business enablement solely through racks of aluminum and silicon. Nor can you get it from virtualization software alone. You'll need the toolsets that convert these items into something that usefully transacts business processes. It also needs to be affordable. As you know, every IT purchase is scrutinized through the lens of business requirements (or, at least we hope that's the case). No business invests in a virtual infrastructure without being shown a return. No business matures that virtual infrastructure to a private cloud without seeing even greater return.

It's my goal in this chapter to help you build that business case. I'll do so by showing you how a converged infrastructure directly and positively impacts your business processes. That infrastructure's combination of asserted resource supply alongside templatized resource demand will allow you to apply benefit‐side dollar figures to what might otherwise be only costs.