A growing number of companies are moving to cloud computing environments to take advantage of potential benefits such as lower IT costs, increased efficiencies and the greater flexibility provided by the cloud model.
Many of them are implementing private clouds or infrastructure-as-a-service environments to handle key parts of their IT infrastructure needs. Research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., has reported that a “vast majority” of its clients are now virtualizing their infrastructures and many are on their way to building private cloud computing services based on their virtualization architecture.
And research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass., reported in October 2011 that cloud computing will be a key driver of new IT spending over the next five years, with enterprise spending on storage for the private cloud expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 29 percent over that period. By 2015, the firm says, combined spending for public and private cloud storage will be $22.6 billion worldwide.
While technology issues are among the challenges companies must face when building private cloud solutions, they are by no means the only hurdles. Enterprises might also need to address even tougher cultural, process, business model and political issues related to the move to a private cloud.
CIOs who are considering making the jump to a private cloud need to prepare their IT organizations, as well as the business user community, for adopting a private cloud computing model.
Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has built a private cloud that supports many areas in IT and business operations. These include administrative systems; applications for students, faculty and administration; desktop services; virtual computing labs; research and development (including business incubation); open source project hosting; collaborative learning environments for its own students as well as 14 high school districts; business analytics services; and Web services for a number of partner institutions.
“Without a cloud infrastructure, we simply could not afford to offer these services to our customers and partners,” says Bill Thirsk, vice president of IT and CIO at the college. “By leveraging our highly virtualized environment, we can provide infrastructure, platform and services to our customers and partners in a secure and satisfactory way.”
Thirsk says the IT organization at Marist “morphs along with the technology and services we support. We did not have to reorganize, but we do move subject matter experts from [area to area] within our collaboratively designed offices, depending on the projects requirements.”
With the move to private cloud computing, roles in IT have changed, as have skill sets, “which is a way to allow for professional and personal growth and to make sure there is enough cross-training so there aren’t too many single-threaded systems managers,” Thirsk says.
There are two main issues that can have an impact on IT personnel when an organization moves into a cloud environment, Thirsk says. “The first is getting staff to understand that although many physical servers will go away — which most systems managers do not like — [the staff] will still have to manage the environment,” he says. “Moving to cloud can be an emotional experience for an ‘old school’ systems manager. It is essential that the [head of IT] makes sure staff understand that their skills are still necessary.”
The other issue is technical, i.e., lifting and moving applications and systems from their physical servers onto virtual platforms.
Shifting to the cloud is especially challenging if an organization is starting from scratch, Thirsk says. “People are attached to equipment, and it must be emphasized that it is the staff members’ skills, not the fact that a server is close to them, that makes them valuable,” he says.
Microsoft has also seen internal change as a result of its move to the cloud. The company’s IT operation “is undergoing a transformation that realigns our workforce to best serve our customers, and part of this involves reorganizing our workforce to optimize for the cloud,” says Jacky Wright, vice president, IT Strategic Services.
Microsoft is using technologies such as Hyper-V, private cloud virtualization, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and storage area networks to create an efficient, flexible research and development facility that serves the company’s development and test environments.
IT’s internal implementation of cloud services “is another example of ‘dogfooding’—or ‘eating our own dog food’—in which we not only test our products internally but we run our products as well in real-world business situations,” Wright says.
In the deployment of its IaaS cloud solutions, Microsoft is enabling self-service for users, simplifying the environment to reduce operational costs, combining all network types into a single location so any host can dynamically be used for any workload, and taking into consideration proximity requirements when planning the fabric of the network, Wright says.
The IT department decided to adopt a private cloud model in the first place because it wanted to reduce lab space server sprawl and introduce a new level of management and support efficiency, Wright says. “The facility needed to be both efficient and flexible enough to support the research and development needs of various product groups at Microsoft,” she says.
To learn more about building private clouds, join Microsoft for an executive webcast discussion: Microsoft Private Cloud: Built for the Future, Ready Now. Learn more and register now.
Also, check out our interview with Microsoft’s Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President, Management & Security Division, to get his perspective on the Evolution of the Data Center.