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Virtual Data Centers — The Goldilocks of Enterprise Cloud Computing

It’s no surprise that just about every customer likes the on-demand, rapid scale nature of cloud computing.

More interestingly, we also heard from enterprises with public cloud experience that this was a double-edged sword. Dynamic and on-demand can also mean unpredictable and hard to control. As one customer explained to me, “We have no idea what the credit card bill is going to be at the end of the month, and we have a finite budget”. In other words, dynamic is great if your budget is dynamic too – which isn’t the nature of budgets and finance folk. And this was for one application. Just imagine a situation where an IT department is providing raw compute to many different business units, and wants to delegate administration to them but also stick to a budget.

Fundamentally, the tension between on-demand infrastructure and predictable costs isn’t going to go away anytime soon. But I do believe that the concept of virtual data centers can provide a “Goldilocks” middle ground solution. Within vCloud Datacenter Services from VMware’s partners, enterprises can subscribe to committed VDCs of a given size. The cost of that VDC is fixed and predictable — related to the amount of resources that are now committed. This puts a control boundary on costs, and your service provider can tell you exactly what that will be – so you get predictable spending against your budget.

Within that VDC, you and your user population can run, start and stop as many VMs as you like – truly dynamic self-service. End-users can never run up a massive bill through over-consumption, because they can never consume more resources than the VDC provides (and vCloud Director offers automated policy controls to clean up forgotten VMs). If it turns out you need a bigger or smaller VDC, you open a ticket with your service provider to make that change. So you haven’t had to give up on-demand compute infrastructure, either.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when “cloudy” types gather over drinks this is a source of vigorous debate. Can opening a ticket really be on-demand? Frankly, I don’t think there will ever be agreement on that, but it does provide a useful middle ground: on-demand self-service for VMs within the boundaries of a virtual data center, which can itself be scaled up or down quicker than you can fill out a PO for a new server. It’s something a geek Goldilocks would love—and understand.

Operations Management in the Virtualized Environment – What’s different?

Hi, I’m Martin Klaus, a member of the vCenter product
marketing team. Growing up in a small town in Europe, I often spent time in the
kitchen watching my mom bake and cook meals for our family. Especially during
holiday season, I was amazed by her incredible skill to transform sugar,
butter, flour and spices into delicious cookies, cakes and tarts. She rarely needed
to look up a recipe, and when she did, they were mostly hand-written, passed on
by her mom, our grand mother. Even though my dad had bought her an electric
mixer and other kitchen gadgets, she always made our favorite strudel
completely by hand because it would taste better that way. It seemed to take
forever, but when the warm scent of cinnamon filled the air, we knew she was
done and it was time to devour the treats we loved.  When we asked how she knew she had blended
the right amount of ingredients into fluffy dough, she always said, “This is
how grandma used to do it.”

What does this little story have to do with operations
management, you might ask?  Just like
microwave ovens, ready-bake cake mixes and 30 minute meals have simplified
cooking and shortened the time for food preparation for the home chef with a
busy work schedule, virtualization has fundamentally changed how IT services
can be delivered to the organization. 

As a result, we need to revisit operations management and
ask ourselves if the “old way” is still the most efficient way of delivering IT
services in virtual environments.

Virtualization is as much about people and processes as
it is about technology. Our most successful customers, those with more than 80%
or 90% of their infrastructure virtualized, have adapted their IT processes and
use virtualization for so much more than server consolidation. These IT
departments can now complete more projects in the same amount of time, have
more virtualized applications protected by disaster recovery plans, and adapt
to change more rapidly.  

So what has changed and
what are highly virtualized organizations doing differently?  Let me frame the conversation with the
following picture:

IT Transformation 

Traditionally, IT operations management is done in silos.
Every application is contained in its own hardware, OS, middleware and
application stack. You have specialized teams that own and operate “their”
application. Unless a major hardware refresh or software upgrade is needed, the
application lives and dies with the hardware. As one major retailer told me, it
would take them 18 months to release a new application into production, and all
systems are completely locked down from change during the Q4 holiday season.

In this model, more applications require more specialized
skills, processes and people who know how to operate the environment. Changes
must be carefully planned because the time and cost to recover from a failed
update is high.  ITIL has emerged as a
result of the need to document and make repeatable processes for problem,
change and incident management.

Moving to the right side in the diagram above, the
architecture of the Private Cloud is quite different from the traditional model
because it is designed to deliver IT services to end users in a more scalable
fashion.

As the foundation for the Private Cloud, virtualization
enables server, storage and networking resources to be shared very efficiently
across applications. Virtualization also allows you to standardize your service
offerings.  Templates for your corporate
Windows or Linux images can be provisioned as virtual machines in minutes. Even
higher-level server configurations with complete web, application and database
server stacks can become building blocks for your Enterprise Java environments or
Sharepoint instances, further simplifying the provisioning process and
lessening the need for one-off admin tasks. 
Automated backup, patch and update processes are additional benefits
that are easy to realize with virtualized infrastructure.

It is pretty clear that in the Private Cloud, the rate of
change will increase rapidly as business teams request more applications and
use external application and service providers as a benchmark against corporate
IT. We hear from customers that anywhere between 10-30% of business
applications already run outside the corporate firewall. It is mostly hosted
HR, Sales and Marketing applications like Salesforce.com that we’re talking
about today, but this trend is likely to increase as Infrastructure-, Platform-
and Application-as-a-Service offerings become more viable from a security and
compliance standpoint.

On the flipside, staffing levels and IT budgets will not
increase and IT organizations will need to do things differently to keep up
with the demand and cost pressures —  as
customers with highly virtualized environments have already discovered.  IT will need to transition into a new role as
a focal point for the central administration of all infrastructure and
application services — regardless of how they’re sourced.

In highly virtualized environments and the private cloud,
operations management must focus on three questions:

  1. How do we automate tasks and do more with less?
  2. How do we manage the service levels of infrastructure
    and applications?
  3. How do we optimize our resource utilization to get
    more return on our investments?

In my next few blog posts I’ll examine each of these
areas in more detail. I’ll share with you what I’ve been hearing from customers
that excel in these categories, and I’ll also talk about some of the work we’re
doing to support the people and process transformation that will simplify
operations management in the private cloud.

In the meantime, please post a comment on how
virtualization has impacted operations management in your organization.