The Bumpy Road to Private Clouds

Building an internal cloud isn't easy, warns a veteran IT analyst. You'll need new tools and procedures.

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You'll need to acquire management tools that can bridge the physical infrastructure and the virtual infrastructure. So choose tools that let you see the same view across execution environments.

One layer of management is the infrastructure, which includes managing virtual machines, storage, backup/recovery and so on. While vendors often claim that their products are targeted at private cloud infrastructures, they sometimes use a very loose definition of "cloud," so carefully investigate the functions of each product.

The second layer, service-level management, involves managing workloads at a level of abstraction above virtual servers. This is where automation is applied. It is also where traditional management tools such as IBM's Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Insight work within the private-cloud stack. Vendors that claim to have automation management tools include IBM Tivoli, HP, CA, LineSider Technologies, DynamicOps, VMware and BMC.

Iams says that almost all system and hardware vendors are pursuing some type of virtualization or cloud management tools. Microsoft's System Center management product, for example, offers visibility into hypervisors and virtual servers.

But Iams says you should plan on managing multiple hypervisors, such as VMware's ESX, Microsoft's Hyper-V, the open-source Xen, and various implementations of the Linux KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine). Microsoft can manage Hyper-V virtual servers and some aspects of ESX virtual servers. Other cloud vendors, such as VMware and Red Hat Inc., can also manage virtual machines created by multiple hypervisors. Ideally, you want to control multiple hypervisors from a single interface.

Buy or Build?

The downside of commercial, off-the-shelf tools is that they will likely need to be customized to work with your environment. On the other hand, the downside of rolling your own tools is that your in-house IT group will need to maintain them and make feature enhancements. One alternative to homegrown tools is building mixed-component cloud stacks by acquiring various third-party components and putting them together. The question then becomes: Who do you call when there's a problem?

You could choose to go with a single provider, such as Microsoft or VMware, but that can result in vendor lock-in.

Open-source software -- from the OpenStack project and from vendors such as Abiquo,, Eucalyptus Systems and Red Hat -- is a good choice for building private clouds. The software is essentially free and provides more flexibility than proprietary software licensed on physical CPUs. For example, proprietary software can create difficult licensing issues when migrating virtual machines from host to host.

Each alternative has its pluses and minuses, so weigh your options carefully, because switching gears once you're already under way is expensive and time-consuming. Don't lock yourself into a single vendor's cloud stack. In particular, avoid vendors with cloud stacks that perform well when using only their components. Reserve the option to plug in third-party or homegrown tools.

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