If your enterprise's virtualization deployment is humming along nicely, it may be time to consider taking it to the next level. For many enterprises, that next level is a private cloud, which can provide benefits far beyond the initial cost savings of virtualization.
Virtualization alone does not a private cloud make. What defines cloud computing, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), are several additional features, among them self-service capabilities and elasticity – features that enable the kind of agility many modern enterprises need.
So what do you need to know before you seed your private cloud? I spoke with Branko Miskov, director of product management at IP address management (IPAM) and network intelligence vendor BlueCat, to find out.
1. "Private clouds are real."
While the sometimes blurry line between virtualization and the cloud can make substantive research a challenge, it seems clear enough that enterprise interest in private clouds is growing. Almost half of all North American and European enterprises will dedicate funds to private cloud investment in 2013, according to Forrester. A plethora of other predictions all point to significant growth in private cloud exploration and deployment in the next few years, too. Miskov said, "A lot of large enterprises have primarily been operating clouds in trial mode, but this is changing as consumers of IT demand greater value from IT services." It's time to treat "cloud" not as a buzzword, but a business reality.
2. "It isn't just VMware."
No discussion of virtualization or cloud is complete without a mention of VMware, but according to Miskov, sticking to a single hypervisor – even if it's the clear leader in its category – is a mistake. He recommends that organizations consider having more than one hypervisor. "VMware's cost structure is not as advantageous as some of the other vendors. We see organizations looking at open source alternatives like KVM and Xen, which offer a much cheaper alternative than creating the same structure in VMware," he said. For their part, BlueCat supports VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, Xen, and KVM.
3. "The cloud needs automation."
One key purported benefit of the cloud is its agility, the speed with which requested resources can be provisioned and provided to users and applications. Agility at the cloud level requires automation. "You can't have things happen manually between the virtualization and network teams anymore; to provision the network and virtual sides, you need to take the human out as much as possible," Miskov said. Only by doing so can enterprises eliminate IT bottlenecks and minimize provisioning errors that tack additional time onto SLAs.
4. "The cloud is self-service."
Also key to eliminating IT bottlenecks, Miskov told me, is self-provisioning. Self-provisioning by non-IT personnel does have its risks, of course, but solutions exist to mitigate those risks. Companies can implement validation rules and access controls to limit the changes users can make and the areas those changes can affect. BlueCat's IPAM solution also provides "a workflow engine that allows a review process, so that after the user provisions what they need or requests a host, that goes to the virtualization or networking team in question, who can review that and make sure it's okay before it goes through," Miskov said.
5. "IP is key."
In the virtual sprawl of a private cloud, knowing what and how many devices have been provisioned and where they are in the network is both vital and challenging. Every virtual machine needs an IP address and DNS host name. "When you look at applications moving between virtual infrastructures and being able to spin up on demand, you need to know where things are and what's been added, how many resources you have, and where those might be, and IP addresses are often the only things you have to go on," Miskov said. IPAM solutions that integrate into networks of virtual machines help provide the necessary visibility and management needed in complex, constantly changing cloud environments.
6. "Virtualization and cloud will get even more complex."
IP-enabled devices continue to proliferate – it isn't just smartphones, tablets, and laptops anymore, after all – and "this is really going to put a strain on the network," Miskov said. Some companies still use spreadsheets to track their IP addresses. That barely flies now, with many devices coming online over WiFi and getting their IP addresses dynamically. It won't fly at all in the future. "IPAM is hugely critical, because you need an understanding of what your network looks like" to take full advantage of its capabilities, he said. "Getting a handle on it today is important." Understanding how these elements fit together in your network is crucial to future-proofing a nascent private cloud against the changes taking place in the networking world.
"Everything is becoming connected. If you don't know how your network is set up and which devices are on the network and where those devices might exist, you won't be able to act in an agile way," Miskov said. If you do have that understanding and apply it to your private cloud, however, you can begin to take advantage of the elasticity, on-demand capacity, agility, and responsiveness of your private cloud. This, Miskov says, is "the promised land of virtualization."
Jude Chao is executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.