Virtualization: Diving Into Cloud Computing
A Contributed Article by David Greschler, director, virtualization and cloud strategy, Server and Tools Business at Microsoft
As industry buzz has shifted from the "what" of cloud computing to focus on the "when," early adopters are likely confused by the wide array of cloud offerings and strategies. As Forrester's James Staten said in a recent blog post, "While it may be tempting to paint your VMware environment as a cloud or to automate a few tasks such as provisioning and then declare ‘cloud,' organizations that fall short of achieving true cloud value may find their investments miss the mark."
Customers I've talked to see the potential of the cloud - agility, scale, automation, new development, cost-savings - but are not always certain their existing IT infrastructures are ready for that plunge. Forget diving in; some customers aren't sure they even have the right swimsuit. The imperative to drive ROI for existing datacenter investments and customized applications means most organizations will eventually end up running hybrid environments-a combination of physical, virtual, private and public cloud endpoints.
With Cloud Connect 2011 taking place this week under the theme of "Accelerate Your Cloud Strategy," now seems like an appropriate time to address the cloud readiness question by sharing a few examples of Microsoft customers who've battled the issue.
Testing the waters
EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services is one of the largest chauffeured transportation companies in the world, with 600 employees operating in more than 650 cities around the globe. Prior to 2007, the company's IT architecture ran on Red Hat Linux and included software and hardware from various vendors. The disparity in technologies drove up complexity and costs, eroded stability, and made it hard to find IT employees who had the needed skill set.
EmpireCLS deployed Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Clusters using Dynamic Memory allocation for servers and VDI clients. Administrators were able to use virtualization and server management capabilities ultimately consolidating their datacenter footprint by more than half, and reduce power expenses by 33 percent.
More importantly, support calls were reduced by 75 percent. Combine that with administrators able to manage IT issues from their desktops, and IT staffers were finally able to work on planning future projects rather than just fighting fires.
Now, mind you, this is not cloud computing. However, EmpireCLS made a wise investment to adopt virtualization and management technologies that benefit the organization now - and clear the swim lane for cloud computing in the future. With Hyper-V and System Center in place, EmpireCLS will be able to adopt a Hyper-V Cloud private cloud environment with little friction - when or if they decide to embrace cloud computing. It's a free-swim that offers choice and flexibility on a platform that's built for the future.
Beginner swim lessons
Once you've multiplied the complexity in your IT environment by adding self-provisioned virtual machines, you've got to have a virtualization-management solution that helps you manage your hypervisors.
The Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA) is among the UK's leading institutions for education in the performing arts. Co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney, it employs 120 staff and faculty and has about 1,000 full-time students in degree-level courses, educating students in the most innovative forms of performing arts, as well as related design, management, and technology.
LIPA wanted an infrastructure system that cost less; took less time and effort for its two Information Communication Technology (ICT) employees to manage; as well as delivered more availability, allowing students to access massive design files any time their schedules allowed. Despite a network of 28 (and growing) servers, LIPA's system lacked features that would promote high availability, such as redundancy and failover clustering.
To address these needs, they decided to deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V along System Center Essentials 2010. LIPA was able to use existing infrastructure solutions to consolidate virtual machines into two nodes in a clustered configuration, which supported the high availability the institute wanted. System Center Essentials 2010 provided the two ICT staffers ‘single pane of glass' management capabilities that saved them precious time and sanity.
Again, virtualization does not cloud computing make. However, virtualization allows you to turn your datacenter infrastructure into a resource pool-an important first step towards cloud readiness.
Doing the Backstroke
If you've transformed your on-premises datacenter enough to maximize your existing investments, you might be ready to extend into the public cloud.
Lionbridge helps businesses adapt their technology and web content to meet the linguistic and technical needs of a global audience. The company provides translation, testing and development solutions, with 4,200 employees in 26 global offices, as well as working with a network of 85,000 independent language and content specialists in more than 100 countries.
Lionbridge uses a system of online portals, workflows and knowledge bases for doing translations based on the expertise of independent, native-language experts around the world. All translations are stored in a private cloud-based application as a database of content that is refined over time. This context-based, automated approach increases translation efficiency.
The company began testing virtualization solutions in early 2008, and its private cloud architecture now includes two server farms with 16 physical servers running the Windows 2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V virtualization technology, and a variable number of virtual machines. By adding the Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self Service Portal 2.0 in mid-2010, Lionbridge was further able to simplify its internal IT processes, making new system onboarding easier for both users and administrators.
Taking the Cloud plunge: Water wings or the high dive?
So what's the difference between EmpireCLS, Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts and Lionbridge? It came down to what each needed most. Empire CLS was most concerned about the IT time spent on support issues and managing the complexity of their system. LIPA had a specific student use scenario its infrastructure had to accommodate in terms of elasticity. Lionbridge valued access to its central translation database, so it made sense to invest in a full private cloud solution. LIPA might be a step closer to testing out cloud computing than EmpireCLS-possibly moving the massive data files its students need access into a public cloud-but the great thing is all three companies settled on infrastructure solutions that give them a clear pathway to move to a public, private or hybrid cloud when they decide they're ready.
Windows Server, Hyper-V, and System Center are all familiar and well-understood with plentiful skill-sets. All of those parts are the building blocks of cloud computing. Investing in these tools ensures you are future-proofed as cloud computing evolves, no matter if you're training for the Olympics or just doing the doggy paddle.
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About the Author
David Greschler is director of virtualization and cloud strategy within Microsoft's Server and Tools Business.
Greschler came to Microsoft with the July 2006 acquisition of Softricity. Prior to joining Microsoft, Greschler was co-Founder of Softricity, developers of SoftGrid and the originator and leading vendor of the application virtualization industry. With more than 20 years of pioneering experience in the computer field, Greschler has held various positions at the MIT Media Lab and The Computer Museum, and holds numerous virtualization patents. Greschler holds a bachelor's degree from Brandeis University.
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