How to cash in on cloud computing

You say you're sick to death of cloud this and cloud that? Don't be. Think of it as a golden opportunity to upgrade your infrastructure

In the past year or two, I wouldn't be surprised if some excitable business management type has come up to you and asked a loaded question: "So what are we doing about cloud computing?"

What that person really meant is, "I hear cloud computing drives down the cost of operations -- can we have some of that?" Or with a little more sophistication, "I hear cloud computing makes it a lot quicker to spin up the new applications I need -- when are we going to be able to do that?"

[ Read other recent Eric Knorr posts on cloud computing: "Cloud computing: IT as commodity" and "What the private cloud really means." | Learn how to prepare your network for the private cloud with our "Virtualization Networking Deep Dive Report" by InfoWorld's Paul Venezia. ]

Depending on who's asking the question, you may have given a guttural, unintelligible response or, more defensively, said, "We already have a cloud. It's called a data center." If it was a vice president or higher, maybe you said, "We're doing really well with virtualization right now. Going great. Very high levels of hardware utilization."

Wrong answers! In each case, the chance for some good old-fashioned lobbying slipped by. Every time there's a huge trend in IT -- and by the sheer quantity of words spilled on the topic, cloud computing surely qualifies -- you need to think opportunistically, not defensively.

Cloud computing is all about scale and agility. And since when have those been anything but the highest aspirations of IT? Instead of saying through gritted teeth that "we're working on it," explain to any business exec who asks that there are just a few things you need to get there:

  • New server hardware. Virtualization is the indivisible foundation of cloud computing. Legacy processors don't support virtualization. Plus, you need to stuff virtualization hosts with enough high-bandwidth NICs to handle all the I/O from those virtual machines. Better still would be some fancy new converged hardware with, in effect, built-in network switches, such as Cisco UCS or HP Matrix servers. And memory? All those virtual machines and jillions of simultaneous sessions really, really eat up the memory. In other words, "We need some new metal, dude."
  • New network switches. In a virtualization scenario of any reasonable size, multiple core switches with redundant interswitch links are highly recommended, with enough ports to support fully redundant virtualization host links on every planned network. Furthermore, these switches should support Layer-3 networking, HSRP (Hot Swap Routing Protocol) or VRRP (Virtual Routing Redundancy Protocol), link aggregation, VLANs, and VLAN trunking to fully realize the benefits of server virtualization. Together these features will help sustain performance, resiliency, and ease of management. In other words, "I need more money."
  • Only VMware will do. Without question, VMware is the cream of the crop among virtualization software solutions -- no wonder it costs so much. Fortunately, VMware the company had the perspicacity to release vCloud Director (that's right, "cloud" is in the name of the product) last fall with all kinds of advanced virtualization management features and even chargeback to support private cloud deployments. You need vCloud and vSphere to do it right. In other words, "We must have VMware because we need a solid foundation for our cloud."
  • More security. The thing about the cloud is that you never know who might want to use it. When you scale internal applications, you may also want to open them to partners. If you extend to the public cloud, you need to make sure you know which employees have subscribed to which services -- and, right away, which are leaving the company so that you can deprovision their accounts immediately. Plus, you need to secure data you move to partner or public clouds. Of course, you should have all these protections in place anyway, but chances are you don't. In other words, "We need two-factor authentication. We need real identity management. And boy oh boy, do we need ubiquitous encryption, although that might require more powerful hardware."

You get the idea. Just as vendors have grandfathered everything they sell into the cloud, you can engage in your own brand of cloudwashing to get the infrastructure you need. I haven't even mentioned storage; of course you need a new SAN for your virtualization farm. Then there's data center automation: "You want agility? Then we really need to be able to auto-provision physical hosts." And on and on.

I've just touched on the obvious, and I'm sure I've missed a bunch. So join the fun and add some of your own cloudwashing suggestions in the comments below. You may not get everything you ask for, but the more you say is necessary, the more you're likely to get. Either that or they'll stop poking you about the cloud. It's a win-win.

This article, "How to cash in on cloud computing," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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