Midsized enterprises are the growth engines of the economy. They represent one percent of all US companies while generating nearly 30 percent of corporate revenue. To compete against larger rivals, midsize enterprises have to rely on faster speed of execution, greater pricing flexibility and deeper customer relationships. IT organizations in these enterprises face unique challenges. They are expected to squeeze their costs to the level of smaller enterprises while delivering services that match their better-resourced competition. Often, they must manage hardware and software environments that are similar to larger companies, but without a commensurate level of staffing or professional services.
IT has become a key enabler of efficiency and innovation in the midsize enterprise and a distinct competitive advantage for those who harness it. A private cloud gives enterprises security and control of their applications and data, and enables development teams to deliver business value faster and in a frictionless manner.
Building a private cloud is a big investment that can transform an enterprise’s IT operations, but it can also be an expensive science experiment without careful planning and preparation. The following sections describe the complexities and challenges in building, using it and operating a private cloud.
Components of a Private Cloud
A private cloud consists of the following components:
- Servers, storage and networking hardware
- Compute provisioning service
- Storage provisioning service
- Authentication service
- Software Defined Networking
- Metering and chargeback
- Hardware and software services monitoring and alerting
- Log and event analysis services
- Application catalog
- Application orchestration
To build a cloud, IT has to consider the various products available from vendors and make appropriate choices for all of the different components. The team will then have to integrate all the hardware and software components or engage expensive consultants to perform the integration.
Teams which set out to clone a public cloud (AWS, Azure, Google Compute Engine, etc.) on- premises will usually not succeed. The public cloud is designed to serve a large number of clients and provides hundreds of services that might be useless for an enterprise. The design, architecture and the implementation of the private cloud should be driven based on the needs of the business units and their applications rather than the features available in public clouds.
Usage of a Private Cloud
A cloud changes the transactional relationship between IT and business. The transactions between IT and the business units should be simplified and empower the users of the cloud. This empowerment should have tangible benefits in terms of the speed at which business units develop or deploy applications. Both IT and users of the cloud have to focus on evaluating the needs of the application before migrating a traditional monolithic application to the private cloud. The first applications to focus on are cloud native applications that can be scaled on demand in the private cloud and can handle occasional failures of random infrastructure or application components.
Traditional development teams that are not used to the cloud will need assistance in using the cloud at various stages of development. The planning and resource commitments needed for onboarding teams to the cloud should be included in the private cloud project. Migrating applications onto the private cloud is a significant effort on behalf of the development teams; it can only succeed if the development teams have factored it into their schedules.
Operation of a Private Cloud
A private cloud infrastructure has more pieces than physical servers or virtualization, and the complexity of the infrastructure grows non-linearly. The integrated cloud stack of hardware and software presents unique challenges to the operations team, which is used to traditional methods of monitoring the infrastructure according to the physical units. Both the physical infrastructure and software-defined resources have to be monitored and managed together. This requires operations teams to really work together or gain expertise in each others’ domains at a significantly deeper level.
Private Cloud Solutions
There are three main types of private cloud solutions in the market.
An enterprise can build the full cloud solution by designing and integrating all the different components mentioned in the previous section. The IT team would have to spend some time upfront to design a blueprint of the cloud based on the requirements. Then all the components for the different ingredients of the cloud need to be acquired or assembled in-house. This includes hardware and software components.
Managed Private Cloud Solutions
Many enterprises look for solution providers who provide the consulting expertise to build a managed private cloud. The cloud can be in the enterprise data center (managed cloud) or in an isolated environment in the provider’s facility (hosted cloud). In a managed cloud, the enterprise does not hire and build expertise in cloud operations – it retains operations and support personnel from the provider. In a hosted cloud, the provider deploys the personnel needed to manage the cloud infrastructure.
Some vendors offer fully-integrated turnkey solutions for the private cloud. Some of them include remote operations management. These solutions are more expensive than an enterprise trying to build a DIY cloud, but they enable the enterprise to get a private cloud up and running more quickly than a DIY cloud. Turnkey solutions also do not need dedicated personnel to understand the different components and deal with the issues arising in the cloud. Turnkey cloud solutions are also significantly less expensive than managed private clouds.
Private cloud can be a transformative path for midsized enterprises. Like any transformative change, it requires significant thought, dedication and perseverance. Rather than trying to replicate the way private cloud projects are built at large enterprises, midsize enterprises should look for solutions that significantly reduce the operational overhead of building and running the cloud.