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Article

How to Make Your Data Center ‘Cloud Ready’

How to build an incremental strategy for transforming an existing physical data center operation into a cloud-ready operation

I speak to a lot of enterprise IT organizations about their desire to move toward a private cloud paradigm within their own data center. In fact, I'd say roughly 20-30 percent of those organizations are serious about not waiting, but starting such a transformation this very year.

Why the heightened interest right now? Many recognize the pressure IT is under to provide a much higher value to the business while dealing with limited resources. In many organizations, the pressure extends to scrutiny of the internal IT organization as a whole and how it might compare to the promise of external cloud services. Many public cloud providers are selling the CEO on the belief that hosting and supporting corporate applications from an external cloud will save the company a bundle of time and money. While that may be easier said than done, the value proposition of more agile, flexible application services opens the door to questioning IT's existing internal approach.

For this reason, it's incumbent upon IT organizations to begin offering many of the same attributes of public cloud providers - elasticity, agility, self-service, automation, metered usage, etc. - in a private cloud infrastructure that operates from behind the company firewall.

According to our research, a private cloud environment that's been successfully deployed for strategic applications should allow applications to run 25 to 40 percent more efficiently than they would run if they had been deployed with an external, or public, cloud provider. This is due to the fact that the internal IT environment is better equipped to handle its company's unique needs surrounding compliance, security, application interdependencies and key quality of service (QoS) requirements. IT also has another benefit: Unlike external providers, IT is not tasked with making a profit on running your organization's applications.

How to Begin: Recognize Where You Are Now
When the IT organizations I work with ask for advice on how best to transform themselves from where they are to a private cloud environment, we start by determining exactly the current state of their IT environment today.

One mechanism I find useful for this is identifying where the organization currently fits within our Five Stages of Cloud Maturity (see figure below).

[Image courtesy Datalink]

As you can see on the chart, the x-axis shows what you are trying to accomplish at each stage of cloud maturity (Stage 1 = Consolidation, Stage 2 = Integration, Stage 3 = Automation, etc.). The y-axis demonstrates your level of IT maturity and the business challenges or drivers propelling you at each stage (from reactive to higher level service- or value-based).

There are different challenges, business drivers, technologies and investments typically associated with each cloud maturity stage. As noted in the chart, we find most IT organizations currently fall somewhere on or around Stage 2, which we'll describe later on.

To help you learn where you're at and which stage you next need to move toward, we'll spend the rest of this article briefly summarizing the attributes, goals and challenges associated with each stage of cloud maturity.

Cloud Maturity Stage 0: Help!
Okay, I know we said there are five stages, but there are actually six if you count "Stage 0." On the figure, we identify this as the stage where IT operations are likely to be highly chaotic, costly and technologically constrained by a proliferation of physical systems that are either overused or underutilized. This is typical of what many organizations had on the floor in the 1990s: Standardized hardware with application silos. This is the least mature environment for moving to a cloud architecture. Much IT infrastructure and team reorganization needs to occur here before you can make much progress toward a private cloud.

Cloud Maturity Stage 1: Let's Consolidate
Thankfully, many of our IT organizations have matured past the early days of constant scrambling to buy more boxes in order to accommodate the growing needs of their distributed environments. At Cloud Maturity Stage 1, the focus changes. Table 1 shows some of the more specific areas of maturity and growth at this stage.

Table 1: Specific Areas of Focus at Stage 1

Stage 1 Characteristics

Your Organization's Focus at Stage 1

Cloud Maturity

  • Consolidation of servers and storage

Challenges

  • Low utilization
  • Growing costs

Business Drivers

  • Reactive

Technology Focus

  • Server virtualization
  • Storage virtualization
  • Consolidation

Investments

  • Server virtualization
  • ROI analysis to validate next steps

 

For many organizations, this type of consolidation of servers and storage began in the mid-2000s. Many now also use server virtualization platforms like VMware to shrink the footprint of physical servers and gain greater efficiency from the systems currently in use.

The data center's use of server virtualization typically progresses first into the area of advanced virtualization (where use of virtual machines becomes more strategic, more fluid and dynamic). From here, development of a private cloud infrastructure becomes a natural evolutionary step for the virtual dynamic data center.

Cloud Maturity Stage 2: Make Way for Integration
Whereas the first stage of cloud maturity centered on consolidation of resources, Stage 2 moves to integration. As mentioned earlier, we find the majority of IT organizations we talk to fall somewhere at Stage 2. Table 2 shows where efforts tend to be concentrated at this stage.

Table 2: Specific Areas of Focus at Stage 2

Stage 2 Characteristics

Your Organization's Focus at Stage 2

Cloud Maturity

  • Integration

Challenges

  • Fragmentation
  • Technical
  • Politics

Business Drivers

  • Proactive

Technology Focus

  • Storage integration
  • Network integration
  • Unified solutions
  • Mission critical
  • Standardization

Investments

  • Architecture blueprint
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • Private cloud or virtual data center blueprint

 

Stage 2 manifests itself in a more mature, proactive IT mindset in the organization. Instead of reacting to the latest high-priority application issue, IT is moving toward being more proactive in its approach and its underlying resources.

Technologically, the focus at Stage 2 will involve efforts to integrate diverse storage and networking systems together. IT may work on establishing security zones or QoS zones of operation as well as work on standardizing operations, processes and practices. The IT organization may have even begun to explore the use of unified solutions that knit the networking, storage and server layers more closely together.

Note: Integration here becomes not only a technological move but may also encompass political moves to restructure IT staff so that the organization can better support business goals within its newly integrated environment. For example, some internal IT support teams may need to be broken down or combined with other teams for a more holistic, efficient operation of the data center at this stage.

Notice that some early investment in cloud is warranted here. This usually takes the form of an early cloud initiative, a cloud roadmap and one or more cloud pilot projects.

Beyond standardizing operations, the focus here should be on more efficient tackling of mission-critical workflows and applications. Key investments at this stage may be associated with TCO studies and a more formalized blueprint of the evolving architecture.

Cloud Maturity Stage 3: Turn-Key Automation
Stage 3 is the mid-stage of cloud maturity within our five-stage evolutionary framework. Here is where organizations start to truly reap the benefits of a highly streamlined, virtualized, automated data center. See Table 3 for more specific work and drivers underway at this stage.

Table 3: Specific Areas of Focus at Stage 3

Stage 3 Characteristics

Your Organization's Focus at Stage 3

Cloud Maturity

  • Automation

Challenges

  • Unification
  • Shared resources
  • Leadership

Business Drivers

  • Integrated

Technology Focus

  • Automated provisioning
  • Infrastructure-in-a-box
    (Architectural bundles, blocks or pods like Vblock, FlexPod and others)
  • Fabric architectures
  • Resource pools

Investments

  • Operational assessment
  • Operating model
  • Organizational impact

 

Stage 3 is where you start to take a holistic view on infrastructure to deliver applications. The well-integrated infrastructure platform can then leverage automation technologies to deliver against an optimized infrastructure. These are technologies that allow you to perform more automated provisioning of virtual resources to meet sudden shifts in business or application needs. This is the stage at which your hard work on integration begins to manifest.

Your integrated data center is now prepared to more readily embrace the next phase of integration: fabric-based architectures, grid technologies and a stronger set of unified solutions that combine networking, server and storage layers together - often from different vendors - into a single offering that has been pre-tested and pre-configured by the vendor consortium that has also determined best practices for deployment to support key application or data center workloads. In Table 3, we loosely refer to these types of integrated solutions as an "Infrastructure-in-a-box." The trade names they go by, however, include such things as Vblocks, FlexPods, and Datalink V-Scape.

Investments at this stage often involve performing an operational assessment of the effectiveness of your automated environment. As you investigate and deploy a unified automation infrastructure, roles progress from specialized operation functions (like provisioning networking or storage resources) to higher level architectural design (where specialists might help architect a unified services delivery platform).

This can have a significant impact on how a siloed organization addresses roles and responsibilities but can lead to a much more streamlined operational model from design to deploy.

Cloud Maturity Stage 4: Welcome to ITaaS and Self-Service
At Stage 4 of our cloud maturity model, your IT organization has begun to manifest most of the components of a private cloud environment. This is where your business units are also likely to see the closest pairing of IT functions to business needs.

This is where IT as a service (ITaaS) begins to bear fruit.

Remember the cloud attributes described briefly at the start of the article? Here's also where you begin seeing the manifestation of such cloud attributes as agility, elasticity, automation, self-service, and, even, metered usage. Table 4 shows specific focus areas for this stage.

Table 4: Specific Areas of Focus at Stage 4

Stage 4 Characteristics

Your Organization's Focus at Stage 4

Cloud Maturity

  • Self-service or IT as a service (ITaaS)

Challenges

  • Business case
  • Integration
  • Management

Business Drivers

  • Service-based or responsive

Technology Focus

  • Service brokers
  • Management
  • Service-oriented
  • Metered usage

Investments

  • Service catalog

 

At Stage 4, your organization has begun to manifest itself as a private cloud environment. This means IT resources are outward-facing to the internal business units. The IT organization's mindset and its underlying infrastructure and processes have become both service-based and service-oriented in an effort to identify top business needs and the accompanying IT services best able to support those needs.

Here, challenges may occur when it comes to determining which business case(s) are best supported by the IT organization's internal cloud services. Today, many organizations start with a more easily definable test case, such as a test and development group, to demonstrate the benefits and deliver an initial service offering.

Some integration and management challenges may also exist as IT works to refine its service orientation and works on how best to manage the delivery of services to meet business group application needs. Some business groups may need purely platform as a service (PaaS) support, some may need just infrastructure as a service (IaaS) support, some may need internal software as a service (SaaS) support. Others may need a mix of all three types of services.

In either case, IT will be investing at this stage in technologies that aid in IT's ability to broker its services to the internal community. IT will also be involved in the use of higher level management tools that focus on managing cloud resources or management of a service-oriented architecture.

One key investment at this stage is the development and availability of an emerging service catalog that categorizes internal cloud services available and, even, the potential cost or chargeback for their use.

Cloud Maturity Stage 5: Enter the World of Hybrid Clouds
Stage 5 actually brings you past the development of a private cloud environment. Instead, this final stage of cloud maturity shows your organization marrying the use of both private cloud and public cloud resources.

At this stage, we see most IT environments ultimately maturing to use a hybrid private/public cloud model. That means your IT organization has the flexibility and the knowledge to choose which type of cloud resource will best support the company's specific application, platform or infrastructure needs. Table 5 shows focus areas at this final stage.

Table 5: Specific Areas of Focus at Stage 5

Stage 5 Characteristics

Your Organization's Focus at Stage 5

Cloud Maturity

  • Federation

Challenges

  • Management
  • Partners

Business Drivers

  • Value-based
  • Choice

Technology Focus

  • Hybrid
  • Cloud services
  • Service brokers
  • SLA-driven dynamic runtime environment

Investments

  • Integrated business and IT management

 

Just as Stage 4 focused on brokering internal IT services, Stage 5 extends this directive to encompass brokering of some portion of private and/or public cloud sectors in which your company's involved.

This brings an even stronger focus on meta-level (or federated) cloud management frameworks or systems and the ability to broker services from either side. Some people call this type of hybrid cloud management "orchestration."

As you march to incorporate public cloud offerings in some part of your IT service model, your challenges will be to select the right type of management and the right type of cloud services partners to assist you and your organization. By focusing on a top-down SLA-driven approach, you are more assured of your investments here towards the ever-closer integration of business needs with IT management.

By moving to a form of federated management at this final stage, you ensure the enterprise IT organization still maintains control, cost and provisioning oversight of the overall hybrid environment.

Many vendors will offer solutions to help relieve IT from the burden of managing cloud orchestration. By maintaining control of orchestration within IT, however, you will be more able to identify the best use of internal or external resources. You will also be able to retain ultimate buying power for external services, including the ability to field bids for external IaaS services based on specific characteristics surrounding cost or performance.

Some Final Words
There's a lot of detail to digest in just this top-level treatment of the various stages associated with transforming your data center to, first, a private cloud - then a hybrid cloud - environment. While this is a high-level guideline, not every organization will follow it as a prescriptive systematic roadmap. However, it makes sense to create a highly efficient unified data center strategy as a foundation to a services-oriented delivery organization. Planning which services will be delivered can be done early and often throughout the process.

Two major takeaways extend from the desire to deliver IT as a service:

  1. The plan and design of the cloud solution is significantly more important than in legacy architectures. To realize maximum benefit, you need to plan properly to build a services-oriented framework that is highly reusable and extensible.
  2. For most organizations, cloud is best defined as the aspects that provide the biggest benefit to them. Clouds do not come in one-size-fits-all offerings. Rather, organizations apply the concepts and technologies to deliver maximum return to their business results. This is why you see Datalink frequently recommending that organizations "Own" "Your" Cloud.

Thankfully, there are many successful use cases and some excellent guidance to help put you squarely on the right path to cloud excellence. As a start, check out the following resources we've provided below.

Additional Resources:

More Stories By Kent Christensen

Kent Christensen brings over 20 years of experience in IT management and software engineering to his role as virtualization practice manager for Datalink. At Datalink, he consults with both Fortune 500 and mid-tier customers on storage consolidation, virtualization, cloud strategies and technologies. You can read his blog here.

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