Smarter Provisioning: Self-Healing, Self-Managing Private Clouds
Wes Simonds 120000EFD6 firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  ibm simonds provisioning smartcloud choilawala software smarter wes virtualization murtuza capabilities cloud
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What's the ideal private cloud? The one you never have to think about. Lately I've done a certain amount of writing on best practices. And as usual, when I write about something, this means I find myself wanting to apply the root idea in all sorts of new ways.
So almost against my will, I come up with best practices for things like making espresso, playing scales on a guitar and finding a restaurant in an unfamiliar part of town.
This morning it struck me that there are underlying concepts that practically all of these best practices have in common:
1. Faster is better.
2. Cheaper is better.
3. More consistent results are better.
4. More automation is better.
That last idea is particularly powerful.
The less I have to think about any of the details of (for instance) making espresso in the morning, the more I can think about whatever I actually need to do that day instead.
This is helpful because without coffee, I am nearly useless and can be confused by doorknob locks. I need all the brainpower I can get. So it's nice being able to pull a shot or two of good espresso -- not a trivial job -- completely on autopilot.
It also occurs to me that if you apply those four concepts I list above to IT infrastructures, you get a pretty clear sense of where things have gone in the last 10 years -- and where they're heading. To wit: higher performance, lower costs, greater consistency and smarter automation.
And once again, the fourth one is particularly powerful. Especially in a cloud context.
A significant chunk of the appeal of cloud architectures, to business leaders, is simply this: You don't have to think about the details of the technology (which is relatively unimportant). You can instead think about what you're trying to accomplish with the technology (which is very important). You can more easily go, in a business sense, from early-morning, pre-coffee haze to clarity about your strategies and their execution.
And this is surely part of why, in recent years, pay-as-you-go public clouds have flourished, but private clouds (despite lower operating costs over time) have been a little slower off the mark. Private clouds, being private, require creating and maintaining the actual cloud infrastructure in-house. I imagine business leaders look at that idea and say, ‘Oh, geez, we're back to the details of the tech.’
This being so, the more IT solution providers can simplify and accelerate private cloud creation and maintenance, the more successful private clouds are likely to be.
Day one: No private cloud. Day two: Killer private cloud.
Well, the IBM SmartCloud initiative, launched last fall, strikes me as being directly on point in this respect.
When I talked to Murtuza Choilawala, Product Manager for Cloud Solutions with IBM Tivoli Software, he agreed -- pointing specifically to provisioning as a key cloud capability.
‘Simplifying and accelerating private cloud rollout -- of new services, new servers or the whole cloud -- is really what SmartCloud is all about,’ he said. ‘A big part of that comes thanks to a particular element of the offering called IBM SmartCloud Provisioning. Using it, organizations can easily get a private cloud up and running, starting with nothing but the hardware, in less than a single business day. If you're looking for a fast, effective implementation of business strategies, where you don't have to struggle with the technical details? You can't do much better than that.’
A single business day? To go from no private cloud to an up-and-running private cloud? ‘Game-changer’ is not a phrase I like to use, but it seems to apply in this case. In fact, an upcoming Tech Talk on Cloud Computing to be held January 18 with Choilawala will show you why.
Further conversation revealed that this is no coincidence. SmartCloud Provisioning was designed specifically for the scenario I described above: An organization is interested in private cloud. It likes the idea of the reduced operating costs that come from owning its own cloud. But it's leery of the expected setup, maintenance and management a private cloud will require.
Forget about the usual hassles of setup, maintenance and management
What IBM SmartCloud does is reduce all three of those problem areas to a bare minimum.
Setup, for instance. In this area, SmartCloud Provisioning discovers new host (node) hardware, then allows administrators to create new virtual servers that will run on that hardware, and provision those virtual servers from an image library, at blistering speeds. How blistering? IBM cites up to 100 VM’s in less than 3 minutes
This strikes me as an incredibly fast, Usain-Bolt-level rollout. I'd watch it happen with a sort of stunned expression, blinking at the painful memory of what it was like to be an IT guy manually provisioning one server at a time, and envious of IT guys who will never have to deal with that experience.
The setup capabilities get stronger yet. Let's say your private cloud services are more successful than you expected and demand is higher. So you decide to scale up your private cloud by adding more hardware.
Turns out that you can simply add that hardware and start using it right away -- basically, hot-swapping in new hosts -- without bringing down your cloud or cloud services. This is because SmartCloud Provisioning will automatically detect the new hardware you've added, reflect the addition in your management console and give you the option to create new virtual servers running there.
Then your services will automatically leverage those virtual servers, scaling to meet the higher demand. It's really that simple.
Maintenance is similarly effective because IBM SmartCloud Provisioning can leverage these same capabilities when things go wrong. Let's say one of those physical hosts, for whatever reason, goes offline. As it does, SmartCloud Provisioning will detect that change. It will also try to solve the problem on its own via rebooting/microbooting (or reinstallation of PXE, which is used to boot servers remotely).
Either that will work, or if it doesn't (due to true hardware failure), the IT team can simply pull the problematic hardware and replace it with a new host. Then SmartCloud Provisioning will detect the new host and reprovision it on demand.
‘SmartCloud Provisioning is actually so advanced in this area that we're using the term self-healing to describe it,’ said Choilawala. ‘The idea is that when things go wrong, the private cloud should always notice that and, whenever possible, fix the thing that went wrong by itself -- like somebody with a headache taking an aspirin. It should hardly ever be necessary to go to the doctor. So medical bills (operational costs) go way down. And cloud productivity? Given the headache-free reality, that goes way up.’
If you've gotten this far, you can probably see that management -- our third potential pitfall for a private cloud -- is also really straightforward. SmartCloud Provisioning keeps administrators constantly apprised of which virtual servers are up and where they are on which hosts. It also supports multiple virtualization environments ranging from VMware to Xen to KVM (Linux). The everyday management functions it doesn't handle automatically, it empowers IT team members to handle with minimal ado and (more importantly) practically zero service downtime.
Learn more at Pulse 2012
All this means that the private cloud becomes a much simpler, less intimidating and more pragmatic possibility for organizations today. And over time, as IBM continues to revise and enhance SmartCloud, that's just going to become more and more powerful an argument.
‘SmartCloud Provisioning is best understood as a foundational offering,’ said Choilawala. ‘Already we offer complementary solutions like IBM SmartCloud Monitoring, that tracks cloud assets and status levels in more granular detail, to give organizations higher service availability and performance with what-if analysis and capacity management. And as more capabilities are added to SmartCloud, in areas like service management, it's going to become an increasingly superior private cloud platform.’
Interested in knowing more? Attend Pulse 2012, to be held in Las Vegas March 4-7. Attendees can expect both an in-depth look at SmartCloud's capabilities today, via technical demos, as well as a sneak peek into its future roadmap of development for the immediate future.
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Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.