Cloud Computing, Don’t go it alone

The Virtual Evolution.

The release of VMware ESX 3 in June 2006 was arguably a key driver for the mass adoption of Virtualisation in the Enterprise. The then matured company (backed by EMC) and its latest platform had started to become trusted, the ability to realise significant tactical cost savings while enjoying the vast benefits of a resilient, distributed IT model were a welcome relief to those responsible for company IT systems and budgets. Such gains were easy to reach but all too often virtualisation failed to live up to expectations once the big bang of server consolidation had been completed and the initial cost savings realised, it was at this point that the importance of strategic virtualisation became more widely understood and appreciated.

Strategic virtualisation can be described as benefitting from automation; this is where timely routine everyday tasks are scheduled to run automatically without user intervention, or where other more complex tasks are streamlined via scripts – also saving vast amounts of time and human resource.

Building and maintaining Private Clouds that deliver true business value in today’s landscape has become increasingly costly and complex, the plethora of solutions available to aid in streamlining IT infrastructures make for a challenging and daunting task in keeping abreast of all the available options. A small error of judgement when selecting the technologies that make up a virtualised IT infrastructure can result in disaster. After all building out your own virtual infrastructure, or Private Cloud as it is known today, is always a significant investment. Failure to cater for growth, build in resilience and ensure that it will provide the performance required for your business critical applications will lead to much dissatisfaction, and these mistakes are often irreversible once the investment has been made.

Top of the list of priorities for today’s CIO’s is agility, flexibility, greatly enhanced resilience and redundancy as well as a constant drive to lower the Total Cost of Ownership of the IT estate as a whole, so how does one go about ensuring that the road to cloud is a successful one and that when you arrive it does what it says on the tin?

Capacity Planning is KING!

I have been in the IT industry for over 16 years and during my career as a Technical Consultant and Solutions Architect I have consulted with organisations large and small as a trusted advisor for the adoption of cloud based technologies and services. All too often I have been to the rescue of businesses who have failed to carry out the correct diligence and planning when going it alone and building out their own Private Cloud platforms or adopting public cloud platforms.

Typically it is a lack of understanding of the core principles of capacity planning that are at the root cause of the pain, and while there are a number of proven capacity analysis tools available to help in this area their usage is often not understood fully. Making the transition to cloud requires that the current known state of the environment is fully analysed and understood, if you do not have visibility as to how the estate is performing in the current state then how can the correct allocation of cloud resources be determined? Capacity planning when carried out by a professional is an invaluable exercise, as well as delivering accurate resource metrics for cloud sizing it can often highlight bottlenecks and enable the cloud services provider to tune any workloads accordingly following migration to the cloud.

Efficiency

Virtualisation’s primary benefit is the ability to drive up the utilisation of IT infrastructure; the greater the utilisation the less additional infrastructure needs to be procured resulting in reduced TCO.

When sizing environments for cloud it is important to ensure that there is sufficient horsepower available to cater for peak loads without over specifying resources that will end underutilised. It’s all about efficiency across the infrastructure but it’s a challenge to balance this approach while still having to cater for future growth, thankfully cloud computing enables businesses to pay only for the resources that they actually consume.

Cost

Typical cost savings for businesses who migrate their systems to the cloud are in the region of 40 – 60 % when compared to maintaining a traditional physical infrastructure, and with over half of all servers deployed globally today being virtual it’s easy to see that many businesses are benefitting from cloud computing.

Choose a suitable Cloud Services Provider

When evaluating potential Cloud Service Providers there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration to ensure that you make an informed decision, in fact depending on your individual requirements there could be literally hundreds of considerations and certainly too many to include all of them here. However, some common basic criteria will apply to most businesses who are investigating potential Cloud Service Providers:

1. What service levels do they offer?
Is the Cloud Provider capable of meeting the SLA’s for your business and critical applications? Choose a provider who can guarantee 99.95% availability at the very least.

2. What virtualisation/cloud certifications do they hold?
Can the provider demonstrate their expertise in the area of Cloud services? There are currently only 22 VMware vCloud Certified service providers in the UK (correct at time of writing)

3. Professional Services and Managed Services Capability
What capabilities does the provider offer to assist your journey to the Cloud, and once on-board are they able to provide the levels of managed services to meet your requirements? If you require a cloud provider that can take on the day to day maintenance of your operating systems and applications this is an area that can deliver significant cost savings for your business.

4. Data Center Certification Tier
Security in the cloud is paramount, what data center certifications does the provider maintain to ensure that your data is secure at all times? Choose a cloud provider with at least at Tier 2 or Tier 3 data center certification.

5. Support
What is the support structure of the cloud provider and what levels of support do they offer?

6. Location
Do you have any legal requirements regarding the residency of your company data? Make sure you know exactly where your data will reside, both geographically and also with regards to the isolation of your data on the cloud platform.

7. Resource Guarantees
Does the cloud provider offer compute and storage resource guarantees, consider this if you plan to run intensive applications in the cloud. Equally if large scale virtual machines are required you will want to check that the underlying hosts are up to the task, choose a provider who deploys the latest generation host servers.

8. Network
How will you connect to your cloud resources?
How does the cloud provider ensure that their network remains operational at all times and how many diverse links do they have in and out of their datacentres?
Ensure you have sufficient bandwidth and a resilient network infrastructure; choose a cloud provider who has deep expertise in this area.

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