With more companies interested in private clouds, what do you need to know to build one?

By Mathew Schwartz

Want to have your head in the clouds? While you can always pursue a job with a cloud computing vendor, an increasing number of opportunities are becoming available creating private clouds. According to Forrester Research, 4 percent of enterprises already have a private cloud, and 17 percent are interested in, or already planning to build, one.

Want to become the private cloud point person? First it helps to know what's involved.

(Private) Cloud-Spotting

According to Michael Sheehan, technology evangelist at GoGrid in San Francisco, a private cloud is:

  • Internal: "Exists only within the corporate data center. That is to say, it is created, managed, upgraded (and so on) by the corporation, and not by a third party like GoGrid, Amazon EC2, or RackSpace."
  • Private: "Completely contained within a private network."
  • Virtual: "Frequently employs some sort of virtualization, such as VMware (or) Xen."
  • Cloud-like: "Needs to be dynamically scalable, on-demand and self-service."

Private clouds are attractive because they offer the benefits of cloud computing - such as infrastructure automation and virtualization - while keeping sensitive data in-house. And, as with Amazon EC2, developers can use a self-service portal to "stand up" a Web application to the cloud in very little time.

However, private clouds may be most notable for what's they don't include: hands-on IT operations support or systems administrators. In their place, companies use automation to bring software to market more quickly, reduce headcount, and create a more cost-effective and secure infrastructure. At least that's the plan.

Skills Check

What types of skills are needed to run a private cloud? Tony Baer, senior analyst at market research firm Ovum, lists a solid grounding in these areas:

  1. IT Services Management: "ITSM by definition puts a business service wrapper on the jobs that IT operations groups (the data center and service/help desk teams) perform. When you regard your role as providing IT services to the enterprise, as opposed to running IT infrastructure, it supports in concept the virtualization that ¿ private clouds are supposed to provide."
  2. Virtualization: "On a more nuts-and-bolts level, it requires knowledge of managing virtualization - e.g., not simply spawning VMware or Xen containers, but providing policy-based management so you don't wind up with an undifferentiated sprawl of them."
  3. Workload Distribution: Configuring tools which allocate resources based on "real-time monitoring of workloads and performance, based on service-level agreements," again to prevent sprawl.
  4. Service Oriented Architecture: "Abstracting the data and processes - or services - that software performs, from where it¿s implemented."
  5. Automation: Knowing how to "automate processes such as performance management, failover, (and) provisioning" on a more virtualized infrastructure.

 Tool Talk

Beyond mastering these skills, you can also gain private-cloud experience via:

  • Clouds in a box: Tools from 3tera (AppLogic), Elastra and Zimory.
  • Virtual servers: Both Citrix (Citrix Cloud Center or C3) and VMware (vCloud) have announced that they'll build cloud capabilities into their product lines.
  • IBM WebSphere Cloudburst: This new appliance "manages, stores, and deploys IBM WebSphere Server images to the cloud," says Baer.
  • Hybrid clouds: Services such as Layered Tech and GoGrid help build a secure bridge between public and private clouds.
  • DIY: Build your own cloud using Eucalyptus, an open source project from UC Santa Barbara's MAYHEM lab, which began as a research tool for building elastic computing environments running on Xen and Linux. The developers are now offering commercial backing via Eucalyptus Systems, and baking it into multiple Linux distributions.

Going forward, expect private-cloud capabilities to become part of much more existing hardware and software. In other words, one way or another the private cloud is coming to you - providing you know how to use it.

Mathew Schwartz writes about business and technology from Pennsylvania.