Cloud computing is all the rage. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have a different definition as to what constitutes cloud computing. Some analysts and service providers define it narrowly as an updated version of utility computing: basically, virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is “in the cloud,” including conventional outsourcing. There seem to be as many definitions of cloud computing as there are cloud service providers. One of the better definitions comes from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and is titled A NIST Definition of Cloud Computing.
Regardless of the definition you use or whether you define it narrowly or more broadly, cloud computing, in one form or another, should be considered as a viable alternative to the physical corporate datacenter. If all of the hype is to be believed, cloud computing can solve all of your IT performance, scalability and reliability issues and more, as well as cost less. Agility, reliability and fault-tolerance, shared multi-tenancy, service-oriented architecture, utility-based models, SLA-driven service management and APIs for software developers are common promises of cloud computing. It’s no wonder cloud is listed as one of the top technologies for 2012 by leading information technology advisory companies.
However, in order to make the transition to cloud computing as smooth as possible and receive the benefits, a great deal of preparation work must first be done. Whether you’re looking at implementing a private cloud (i.e., IaaS) or moving a portion or all of your IT services to a cloud service provider (CSP), you must first get your house in order. The process of moving to the cloud is similar to selling a home and moving. Before you put your home on the market and show it to potential buyers, you first have to prepare and stage your home. This may entail cleaning out over stuffed closets and the garage, making needed repairs, updating the décor, a fresh coat of paint, rearranging furniture, etc. In order to prepare for the big move to the cloud you must stage your data’s ‘home’ (i.e., your datacenter) by going through the process of datacenter rationalization.
Datacenter rationalization addresses the optimization, standardization and consolidation of your datacenter(s) as well as the servers, applications and data contained within. Server, application and data rationalization are all subcomponents of datacenter rationalization and should address the optimization, standardization, consolidation, migration and provisioning of each server, application and data store with the objective of reducing operational inefficiencies and service management complexity.
The old datacenter model of one application per physical server no longer applies in the cloud. Server rationalization is your opportunity to identify and eradicate the rogue, outdated and non-compliant servers and operating systems that can result from unfettered server sprawl. You can standardize and consolidate the number of physical servers through the use of virtualization.
Through application rationalization, you should also identify all of the outdated, unsupportable, non-compliant and hard-coded applications and the hold-out users of these applications. Hopefully, you can consolidate and sunset many of these applications and move users to more centralized and standard applications. Once all of the applications have been rationalized, then you can identify and prioritize to make a business case for the applications that are the best candidates for migration to the cloud.
Database sprawl, fragmentation of data sources, proliferation of repositories, redundant data stores, etc., can prevent your organization from exploiting data effectively. In addition, physical storage can become over — or under — allocated to specific physical servers, resulting in wasted storage or performance issues. Data and storage rationalization should look for data stores that can be archived, consolidated or reduced in size prior to migration to the cloud. Network storage platforms should also be assessed, standardized and consolidated as well.
A good home is built on a firm foundation. This is also true of an organization’s technology infrastructure. If your datacenter(s), servers and end users are interconnected with an outdated or problematic network infrastructure, then any rationalization or cloud computing projects will most likely fail.
Reoccurring issues with your Active Directory, network services (e.g., DNS, DHCP, etc.), mail routing, poor quality of service, unpredictable network latency or unauthorized devices on network, etc. – All of these can hamper cloud computing projects, especially during periods of co-existence when application users are split between the legacy system and the cloud based system. In order to connect your existing infrastructure to a cloud service provider you will need to ensure you’re underlying technology infrastructure is functioning optimally. Identity management and user account provisioning processes and systems should be reviewed and updated to address the introduction of cloud computing, as well. For example, if you have multiple Active Directory forests or a multi-domain forest AD topology, consider collapsing them into a Single-Domain Single Forest model, which will simplify identity management and security management with your cloud service provider(s).
An important consideration with any rationalization project is to decide what it is worth spending the time to rationalize, consolidate or migrate. For a datacenter rationalization project, this is a case of mapping the business value of specific datacenter(s), servers, applications and data repositories against the amount of effort actually required to continue to maintain them. Just as you prepare a house for resale, you look for the repairs and updates that offer the greatest return. You simply leave others as-is and address only if the buyer (or, in our case, the cloud service provider) requires it.
Depending on the current state of your technology infrastructure (i.e., level of virtualization, service management systems, documentation, etc.) and availability and experience of your IT support personnel, datacenter rationalization projects can be a considerable undertaking. Outside technology service providers can assist with such projects and bring experience, toolsets and an unbiased perspective that can help accelerate the rationalization process.