Surgient's CTO talks cloud technology

Dave Malcolm discusses must-have components for a successful private cloud, best practices, and what kind of ROI company's can expect

It's been a busy year for cloud computing and for cloud software provider Surgient, which recently launched a new version of their product.

The company has been creating and hosting cloud technology for more than eight years, and the company's CTO, Dave Malcolm, sat down to talk cloud as we near the end of the "year of the cloud." We hit on topics such as must-have components for a successful private cloud, best practices for deploying cloud technology, what kind of ROI can company's expect from the cloud.

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InfoWorld:  You guys have been doing cloud and cloud management for many years now, long before there was even a name for it.  How long has it been and how has Surgient defined the cloud?

Dave Malcolm:  We got started with our core technology development in 2001 and Surgient was launched as a company in May of 2003. We've been at this longer than any other cloud/virtualization management vendor.  As our engineering team tackled the challenges of server virtualization and the abstraction of virtual resources from the physical infrastructure, we naturally referred to the technology as "cloud" even then.  The terminology permeated a lot of our internal vernacular, and it's even ingrained in the IP filed with the U.S. Patent Office over the last decade.  Cloud has been core to our technology and approach from the very beginning.

At a high level, we describe the cloud much as everyone else: an elastic, pooled infrastructure that is globally accessible via a robust self-service model that enables organizations to "pay per use."  Beyond these characteristics, we find there are several more that are critical for a successful cloud. One of the most important is that capacity must be able to be managed dynamically.  Our platform is based on this dynamic capacity management model, enabling administrators and users to see exactly what resources are reserved, used, and reclaimed at any one time, now and in the future.  This detailed insight into capacity usage is critical in a cloud model with finite resources that are shared among different constituent groups. To make this work in practice, we've found that cloud administrators need a management model and platform that enables them to reduce manual intervention and focus on more strategic activities. This eliminates a great deal of the effort necessary to support the dynamic cloud environment.

InfoWorld:  Why the private (or internal) cloud? What's behind Surgient's focus on the enterprise cloud?

Malcolm:  Over the years, we've all seen the pendulum swing between outsourcing and in-sourcing IT due to economic and industry trends, and there are certainly benefits to both models.  Right now, we see a lot of hype around the public/external cloud options, particularly around the promise of significant cost savings to the enterprise.

However, we find that there is and always will be a class of people and organizations for whom it does not make sense to outsource due to security concerns, geographical distribution, and existing infrastructure investments.  For these companies, an internally managed solution that can streamline infrastructure delivery in the virtual world is critical, and these companies are leading the way for private cloud adoption.  At Surgient, we believe that over time, most companies will have some sort of internal, private cloud that can be bursted externally as necessary.

InfoWorld:  From a technology perspective, what are the critical must-have components for a successful private cloud?

Malcolm:  I mentioned above the need for a robust automation platform that supports and manages a highly dynamic infrastructure.  Additionally, an enterprise private cloud needs five additional core technology sets to be truly successful:

a.) Rich Self-Service Model:  A rich self-service model enables users to interact with the infrastructure in a controlled manner while offloading manual administrative intervention.  The self-service model allows users to self-create and deploy complex IT services and reserve infrastructure to support business needs, all within the bounds identified by IT.

b.) Detailed Consumption Insight: Detailed usage records enable administrators to actively manage capacity across groups, plan for future capital purchases, and implement chargeback schemas to share costs across the enterprise.

c.) IT Service Design Tools:  Service design tools allow IT to easily author and create complex services that are made available to end users via self-service.

d.) Real-Time & Future Infrastructure Monitoring:  Real-time dashboards and reservation reports give IT critical insight into exactly how and when capacity is being used.  Events and triggers enable IT to proactively remedy issues as they arise.

e.)  Broad API & Productized Integrations: Productized integrations and open APIs enable end users to leverage cloud technology from the tools they're already familiar with - build and test automation, data center automation, physical server provisioning, and more.

InfoWorld:  Are there any best practices you can share from your experience deploying clouds?

Malcolm:  Surgient has helped our customers deploy more than 150 private clouds over the past six years, and we've learned a number of lessons along the way.  I'll share two key best practices here:

a.) Future-Proof Your Cloud: We've found that the most successful cloud deployments start with a small, defined project and a clear plan for rapid scale.  Rather than trying to convert the data center all at once, create a small cloud, use it aggressively, and gather feedback.  As you fine-tune your processes and systems, scale the cloud organically.

b.) Evaluate Your Processes:  The cloud paradigm is fundamentally different from traditional data center management models.  During the planning and deployment, take the opportunity to evaluate your existing processes to see if they really make sense in the cloud. Keep asking yourself and your team, "is there a better way to do this?"

InfoWorld:  What kind of ROI can companies expect from a successful private cloud deployment?

Malcolm:  In private clouds managed by the Surgient Platform, we've seen dramatic improvements across the big three areas of concern for IT: operating expense, capital costs, and business agility.  We recently did an internal survey of ten of our standard private clouds deployed onsite, and we found that private cloud users with the Surgient Platform averaged:

  • An 8X reduction in operating expense per VM
  • A 75% reduction in initial capital investment
  • A 4X increase in business agility (environment turnover)

Even more exciting, Surgient customers are up and running, driving value in less than 30 days on average.  

Once again, thanks to Dave Malcolm, CTO at Surgient, for taking time out to speak with me about cloud technologies.

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