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An Architect’s Perspective on Planning and Staffing for Private Cloud Operations

With the introduction of private cloud, skill sets around infrastructure and operations will still be needed, but the number of infrastructure and operations specialists is expected to be lower. Here’s a look at some of the new positions.

Tom Shinder

You probably have been hearing about cloud computing for years and wondered if cloud computing would ever touch your data center. Up until a couple of years ago you could argue that the jury was still out regarding cloud computing. Sure, there were initiatives by Google and Microsoft and other large companies to provide Software as a Service (SaaS) as online offerings, but nothing out there seemed to have much impact on traditional data center operations.

The impact the cloud computing will have on the data center has changed significantly in the last year. The concept of private cloud computing has made significant strides by moving from slideware to something that companies are actually deploying today. The problem for many IT professionals is that they’ve had a hard time understanding the definition of “private cloud” and how it differs from things such as server virtualization, server consolidation, dynamic virtual data centers, or web services hosted in on-premises data centers that are made available to users located somewhere on the Internet.

What is Cloud Computing?

In order to understand what the planning and staffing requirements for private cloud, it’s helpful to understand what constitutes a “cloud”. The United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has put together a definition that almost all cloud architects, designers, implementers and service providers agree upon. The NIST definition of cloud computing, which applies to both public cloud and provide cloud environments, requires that a cloud solution enable the following:

  • On-demand self-service - The consumer of the cloud service should be able to obtain cloud services (such as compute, memory, network and storage resources) using a self-service mechanism (such as a web portal) so that acquiring the service does not require human intervention by the Cloud Service Provider (CSP)
  • Broad network access - The cloud solution should be accessible from almost anywhere (when required) and also be accessible from multiple form factors, such as smart phones, tablet PCs, laptops, desktops, and any other form factor existing currently or in the future.
  • Resource pooling - The cloud solution should host a pool of shared resources that are provided to consumers of the cloud service. Resources such as compute, memory, network and disk (storage) are allocated to consumers of the service from a shared pool. Resources are abstracted from their actual location, and consumers are unaware of the location of these resources.
  • Rapid elasticity - The cloud solution should provide for rapidly provisioning and release of resources as demand for the cloud service increases and decreases. This should be done automatically and without the need of human intervention. In addition, the consumer of the cloud service should have the perception that there is an unlimited resource pool so that the service is able to meet services demands for virtually any use case scenario.
  • Metered services - Sometimes referred to as the “pay-as-you-go” model, the cloud solution must make it possible to charge the consumer of the cloud service an amount based on actual use of cloud resources. Resource usage is monitored, reported, and controlled by the CSP and by service policy, which delivers billing transparency to both the CSP and the consumer of the service.

When you consider the requirements set forth by NIST, you can now realize that cloud computing is much more than server virtualization, server consolidation or “online services” and that the key factors of self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and metered services all work together to present a new paradigm for service delivery. When these principles are realized in the data center, they transform the traditional data center into a private cloud.

What are Some Advantages of Private Cloud Computing?

What are the advantages of private cloud over the traditional data center model? Examples include:

  • The on-demand capability enables teams to quickly develop, test and deploy solutions that would otherwise take weeks or months to instantiate in a non-cloud environment. The service team just fills in the online request form, virtual machines with the appropriate computing capabilities are spun up and the team creates the solution – all without the intervention of the private cloud management team.
  • The rapid elasticity capability enables you to save money on compute, memory, network and storage resources because these resources scale up and are released when needed. When projects start, the resources are allocated to consumers of the cloud service, and when the project ends, these resources are released back into the cloud infrastructure’s resource pool.
  • The metered services capability makes it possible for IT to be seen as a true service provider and moves IT from a cost-center to a business enabler by monitoring cloud infrastructure resource usage by cloud service consumers and then providing comprehensive reports on usage and charge back to the departments consuming the cloud service.

These are just a few of the advantages enabled by the private cloud. The big difference between traditional data center computing, (where the focus was on infrastructure and operations and “keeping the lights on”) and private cloud is that private loud computing is all about “service delivery”. The core architecture of any private cloud environment is focused squarely on this central tenet of service delivery.

Staffing a Private Cloud Infrastructure

The private cloud represents an evolution of on-premises data center computing. In the traditional model, the de facto focus was often on infrastructure and operations, and these were the most common skillsets seen in IT groups. With the introduction of private cloud, these skill sets will still be needed, but the number of infrastructure and operations specialists is expected to be lower.

To fill that gap, there are several new roles required to support a private cloud that you can prepare for. Remember, the private cloud presents an opportunity for you to “start over” and architect a solution that’s well designed and executed from the very beginning. The private cloud enables you to architect and build the solution you would have liked to create for your current data center, but over time, things just “sort of grew that way” and fell away from your ideal data center design. With the introduction of the private cloud, you architect, design, deploy and operate the new infrastructure from the service provider perspective.

With this in mind, what might be some of the new positions that you as an IT professional can prepare yourself for to maximize your company’s investment in private cloud? Here are a few:

  • Private Cloud Infrastructure Architect - The private cloud is a new beginning and evolution of your traditional data center design. Architects of the private cloud will be needed to come up with the architectural principles and blueprints on which your private cloud designs can be made into reality. The Private Cloud Architect might come from the ranks of current data center architects, or they might come from other areas of IT who train themselves up on architectural principles.
  • Private Cloud Security Specialist - While private cloud security has a lot in common with traditional data center security, there are some issues related to private cloud that are specific to the private (and sometime public) cloud. In the private cloud, you need to be aware of the security implications of the hypervisor, the security issues that revolve around resource pooling, the security implications of multi-tenancy, and the security consequences of communications between virtual machines over only virtual networks and the potential visibility (or lack thereof) of those communications to network security professional. These are just a few of the private cloud specific security issues that the Private Cloud Security Specialist will focus on.
  • Private Cloud Infrastructure Specialist - The core infrastructure that supports the private cloud looks different than what we might see in a traditional data center. The private cloud will increasingly focus on a converged infrastructure, where networking, compute, memory and storage are tightly woven together to enable the capabilities that define a private cloud. The Private Cloud Infrastructure Specialist will need to be trained to understand these requirements are be able to source, maintain, manage and troubleshoot the new breed of converged infrastructure.
  • Private Cloud Service Manager - This role relates to the new metering and chargeback capabilities introduced by private cloud. The Private Cloud Service Manager can put together service-level agreements (SLAs) that include the rules for service delivery and pricing that business units agree to when consuming private cloud resources. The Private Cloud Service Manager will have skills in both business and in IT.
  • Private Cloud Application Administrator - While private cloud developers will be responsible for designing applications that can fully leverage the capabilities of the private cloud, new skills sets will be required to install, configure, manage and troubleshoot applications deployed in a private cloud. Application owners of mission critical applications (messaging, collaboration, unified communications, data base and file services), along with line of business applications, will need to update their skill sets to enable these application to get the most our of the private cloud deployment.

These are just a few of the new roles that you’ll need to plan for when staffing your organization for the private cloud. Over time, new roles may be discovered and corporate IT will need to retrain or find new team members to fill these roles. For the IT professional thinking about what the next move is for career development, you will want to investigate these roles and consider how you can ramp up in the near future to fill these critical positions in a private cloud infrastructure. One thing is clear – the future is bright for the IT professional who tools up for a future in the private cloud.

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Tom Shinder
Tom Shinder is a Principal Knowledge Engineer, Microsoft DAIP iX/Identity Management/ICG Anywhere Access Group (AAG).