IBM SmartCloud: Accelerated, Simplified Private Clouds

Moving to a private cloud implies a new approach to key IT services

Tivoli Beat. A weekly IBM service management perspective.

To IT leaders today, the idea of the private cloud may seem like a best-of-both-worlds situation.

The promise of cloud architectures — a fast, elastic response to unpredictable conditions, exceptionally smart resource allocation, and significantly reduced labor costs — is certainly fulfilled. Added to that already-appealing value proposition: superior control, more flexibility, and more tailored security than are possible from public cloud services.

But moving from the idea of a private cloud to the reality is not such a simple matter. Even for organizations that have taken the necessary first step of extensively virtualizing and consolidating resources and systems, much work remains to achieve a full-blown private cloud. And it's not always clear how best to go about it.

A cloud architecture, for instance, implies a lot more than just virtualization per se. It also implies that new virtual servers running in the cloud can continually be created and provisioned, both automatically and correctly, in proportion to business demand levels and in accordance with business policies. Are the provisioning tools the organization already has really capable of living up to that idea? Can they integrate with other IT management solutions in all the ways they'll have to, to deliver up-and-running services in a cloud with minimal oversight or interaction needed from IT team members?

Similarly, the concept of monitoring takes on new meaning in a cloud context. Though systems, applications, resources, and services are still being monitored for potential issues, and IT staff members are still being notified of those issues, the cloud architecture is so different that conventional monitoring capabilities probably won't suffice. As new virtual servers are created in the cloud, for instance, are monitoring tools smart enough to detect their creation and track their performance against baseline targets? Do they include analytics and trending features to help IT teams anticipate and avoid technical problems that could lead to a service outage?

As a world leader in both cloud computing and IT operations, IBM is exceptionally well positioned to help today's organizations answer all of those questions. And directly on point in the areas of private cloud provisioning and monitoring are two new solutions released this fall as part of the IBM SmartCloud Foundation portfolio: IBM SmartCloud Provisioning and IBM SmartCloud Monitoring. Both deliver a wealth of features and capabilities designed to help organizations implement private cloud architectures in a way that's both relatively fast and relatively simple — then easily manage and leverage the cloud over time for exceptional business value.

Provision virtual servers automatically — and automatically recover from physical failures

"Hundreds of new virtual servers can automatically be created in a matter of minutes, and up to 4,000 can be created in an hour, providing an incredibly quick response to an unexpected workload spike."

Ask yourself what you'd probably need to get a private cloud up and running rapidly, starting with a virtualized infrastructure. Next-generation provisioning capabilities are likely to be at or near the top of the list.

When you can create new virtual servers incredibly fast, provision them with just the right blend of OS, applications, middleware, data, and other elements, and handle all of that automatically instead of manually, you're well on the way to private cloud success.

IBM SmartCloud Provisioning delivers all of that, and much more. To begin with, the solution itself is both relatively low-cost and relatively lightweight; deploying it is a straightforward matter in most cases, taking less than one business day, so you'll start getting value from it almost immediately.

And once it's deployed, its extensive provisioning capabilities directly support cloud requirements. For instance, because in a cloud different servers have to be provisioned in different ways, the solution includes a sophisticated image library, in which predefined server snapshots can be stored. Provisioning a new virtual server is then a matter of copying from the right image and modifying the server if necessary to suit the specific business purpose. Furthermore, the speed of this process is notable: hundreds of new virtual servers can automatically be created in a matter of minutes, and up to 4,000 can be created in an hour, providing an incredibly quick response to an unexpected workload spike.

Additionally helpful is the fact that IBM SmartCloud Provisioning can automatically recover from certain threats to business continuity, such as the physical failure of a particular host. Should that failure occur, the solution will detect it, determine the virtual servers associated with that host, and recreate them elsewhere in the physical cloud. This has the effect of substantially improving business resilience, while driving down the costs and time normally required for such a recovery.

Because the solution supports multiple popular hypervisors, you can mix and match virtualized environments as you see fit — provisioning to any or all at will. Additionally, IBM SmartCloud Provisioning now includes advanced image management capabilities, applicable to all of those environments, that mitigate the common problem of image sprawl. IT team members can now easily search for images based on the specific software they contain — directly on point in identifying images that need updates to eliminate security vulnerabilities, for instance, or in finding the closest possible match to the image needed for a particular purpose. It's also very easy to consolidate images by identifying and deleting duplicates, thus reducing maintenance and license costs and simplifying overall image management.

And because IBM SmartCloud Provisioning automatically tracks physical hosts, you can add new ones to the cloud over time without bringing down services or making configuration changes. That means your private cloud is more continually up, running, and creating business value.

Monitor the complete cloud, and anticipate problems before they happen

IT monitoring, too, has different implications in a private cloud — and IT monitoring solutions will have to be designed with a cloud context in mind from the start to provide best value. Unless they can monitor not just the physical resources (which are largely static) but also the virtual resources (such as servers, which are constantly changing in a cloud), they simply won't fulfill their fundamental job of giving IT automated oversight of the infrastructure.

IBM SmartCloud Monitoring, created specifically for clouds, delivers admirably in both respects. For instance, it matches SmartCloud Provisioning's support for multiple hypervisors with its own. This means organizations can not just provision to, but also monitor, virtualized environments ranging from Xen to Linux's KVM to VMware, all using SmartCloud Monitoring as a central solution. IT can oversee all the virtual servers, in all their environments, under one pane of glass.

Also very helpful are the solution's straightforward, intuitive monitoring dashboards, accessible from any standard Web browser. These give IT administrators the power to track the cloud's server, storage, and network resources, plus the total history of configuration changes, very easily and quickly — and take swift action when action is called for by an emerging problem.

Even deeper insight into the cloud's status is delivered by the solution's capacity planning and reporting, which can determine how heavily utilized different elements of the cloud's infrastructure are, and how that's changing over time. In this way, managers can load-balance the cloud to minimize resource waste and ensure dynamically changing services have all the resources they need.

IBM SmartCloud Monitoring even gives IT a quantified window into the cloud's past — and future — performance. This comes via historical trending features, which look backward to determine baseline performance at different points in the past, and predictive analytics, which provide insight into how conditions are expected to vary from that baseline. Should the difference between the two exceed a predetermined delta, IT team members can automatically be alerted that a future problem is expected. They can then head that problem off before it gets a chance to manifest, reducing its business impact to a de facto zero.

In short, organizations looking to get a private cloud up and running rapidly will find the IBM SmartCloud Foundation an ideal match for their needs. Thanks to accelerated server provisioning and extensive, automated monitoring capabilities, the new cloud will also generate exceptional business value – all while requiring minimal oversight.

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