The Private Cloud
Call it the virtual cloud: Using virtualization software, government agencies, schools and private enterprises are building “private clouds” inside their own data centers to maximize efficiencies, ensure continuity and build a smooth path to the future.
Lew Smith, who manages the virtualization solutions practice for tech consulting firm Interphase Systems says organizations are looking at private clouds because commercial cloud vendors don't quite meet their requirements, especially when it comes to availability and security. But organizations need to prepare for the day the public cloud will be ready for them, he adds. VMware designed vSphere with that change in mind.
“VMware put a lot of things into vSphere that make it consistent with what commercial cloud operators are offering,” says Smith. “That will make the transition easier when people are ready to move into the public cloud.”
The Next Step
Washington State University's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has been using VMware in one form or another since it first appeared on desktops 10 or 11 years ago, says Ryan Makamson, systems engineer for the school. Roughly six years ago, it began using VMware GSX servers; more recently it beta-tested vSphere, which the school put into production earlier this year. Now about 90 percent of its network apps run on virtual servers.
WSU was originally drawn to virtualization “mainly because it was cool,” Makamson says. “Luckily, we discovered it was cool before everyone else did.”
Today that cool factor is saving the university money in a time when everyone's budget is being slashed. Because of money saved by not having to buy more physical servers – or allocating more space to put them in – Makamson says the school was able to expand the range of IT services it offered. It also took on IT operations for two other departments in the school that had open positions for their own tech personnel. “Virtualization saved our bacon,” he says. “We've been able to expand our operations despite the budget cuts. I've gone to faculty members and said, â€˜Rather than spend $3,000 on a server for your next research project, give us a call. We might be able to provision you one for free – and we could do it today.' ”
Butler University in Indianapolis has virtualized about 65 percent of its servers, says Nate Partenheimer, systems administrator for the small private college. As physical servers reach the end of their lifecycle, Butler replaces them with virtual ones running VMware ESX. Though every server isn't a candidate for virtualization (the university still needs to run standalone appliances, such as a security gateway to scan for spam and malware), Partenheimer expects Butler to reach 85 percent to 90 percent virtualization before the school completes its deployment.
Cloud computing by the numbers
$56.3 billion: commercial cloud computing market, 2009
$150.1 billion: projected commercial cloud computing market, 2013
43%: change in virtualization software market, 2008 to 2009
$2.7 billion: total virtualization software market in 2009
1 in 5: number of organizations using some type of virtualization in 2009
Partenheimer warns that virtualization is not a panacea and that offering virtual servers to university faculty for free may not be a good long-term strategy.
“If you give people servers for free, they'll keep coming back until you run out,” he says. “You'll end up with more and more initiatives, and you'll need to develop some way to prioritize and control the requests. If you oversubscribe your ESX infrastructure, you'll make all your customers unhappy.”
But he says the benefits to running VMs in a private cloud are clear cut.
“Without question you will be able to do more with less using virtualization,” he says. “No matter what software you choose, you'll be able to cut costs on many levels: hardware, electricity, cooling and potentially even personnel.”
- Seek out training. Vendors such as VMware offer intensive boot camps that get you up to speed quickly on the intricacies of virtualization.
- Analyze your data and security needs. Building the right architecture from the ground up is key, says Interphase Systems' Lew Smith.
- Classify your data. Sensitive or confidential information needs to be treated differently in a virtual environment, notes Dave Amsler, founder of Foreground Security.
- Consider virtual storage. It will help get your organization up and running much faster when disaster strikes.
- Load up on memory and network bandwidth. Virtual environments can be total resource hogs if not managed properly, but even still, be prepared to plump up your network infrastructure.