Create Your Own 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 government agencies are looking at private clouds because commercial cloud manufacturers 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 those agencies are ready to move into the public cloud."
Driven by the Numbers
Rick J. Scherer, systems administrator for the City of San Diego's nonprofit Data Processing Corp., has probably spent more time managing a virtual environment than any other techie at the state or municipal level. The city began moving its internal IT operations from a standard data center to a virtual one more than six years ago.
The initial driver was cost, says Scherer, who helps oversee IT for San Diego's more than 12,000 employees.
"Like everyone else, we had a ton of underutilized Windows machines. We had a large refresh project coming up, so instead of buying 25 new servers, we bought three larger x86 boxes and installed VMware ESX 2.0 on them."
Consolidating servers led to savings on hardware expenditures, data center space, electricity and personnel, says Scherer. But it also had benefits he didn't anticipate, such as cutting deployment time for new servers from two weeks to 30 minutes. And his IT team can now do maintenance on mission-critical applications during normal business hours; they just fire up a new virtual instance of the apps, so employees can keep working while IT does its thing.
Over the past year, the city has adopted vSphere. The main reason? Performance.
"Before vSphere, we were hesitant to deploy high-end database servers or tier-one critical business machines," he says. "Now we can deploy large virtual machines with up to eight virtual processors and a quarter of a terabyte of RAM for different environments."
Tariq Ali is on the other end of the spectrum. Ali heads up a two-person IT shop for the San Mateo County Employees' Retirement Association (samCERA), whose 16 employees manage pension fund investments for some 5,000 retired county employees.
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
One weekend about eight months ago, Ali and his assistant moved samCERA from two physical servers running Novell and Microsoft Windows to 16 virtual machines on three servers running VMware's vSphere. Ali's primary driver: disaster recovery and continuity of operations.
SamCERA now relies on three physical servers that replicate apps and data among them. If one server goes down, an identical server starts up on the second machine, which is stored in an offsite location. If that one fails, operations shift to the third.
"No other option we had available was as flexible as vSphere," Ali says. "Using their data domain appliances to replicate our servers offsite is seamless. If for some reason we lose a building, we can boot virtual machines at our remote location."
Another reason agencies are looking to implement private clouds is that they offer more control over sensitive data, notes Dave Amsler, founder of Foreground Security, which consults with large government agencies on cybersecurity issues. Vulnerabilities in one virtual machine could allow an attacker to access all machines on the same server. He says state and federal agencies are just beginning to grapple with how to classify different types of data and handle them in a virtual environment.
Scherer says security ultimately comes down to a matter of good system architecture.
"You're only as secure as you've built the environment to be," he says. "I don't believe a virtual environment is any less secure than a physical one."
Even today, though, only slightly more than half of San Diego's IT operations run on virtual machines, in part because vendors of legacy software have been reluctant to support their apps in a virtual environment. That will change, says Scherer.
"Every time we do a server or software refresh, our policy is â€˜virtualize first,' " he adds. "Our goal is to be 100 percent virtual."
- Seek out training. Manufacturers 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 you should still be prepared to plump up your network infrastructure.