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In addition, none of the benefits specify "the latest storage array," the "fastest disk drive" or "10 Gb Ethernet." In fact, there are no technical specifications. Public cloud benefits are all oriented around better operations: service levels, cost control and responsiveness. But storage vendors generally don't sell better operations, they sell hardware and software. So what exactly are vendors selling with respect to private cloud storage? Surely, it must be more than a hardware upgrade and a fanciful idea. Fortunately, the answer is "yes." It can be more than hardware and a vision, but only if it's all put into the proper context and environment.
Some vendors emphasize the need for scalability and flexibility as requirements for a cloud architecture. Systems that offer a lower cost model contribute to the attractiveness of a cloud scenario. But nearly all vendors claim those attributes, so the definition isn't very helpful. Moreover, a hardware architecture alone doesn't define a cloud implementation because cloud is ultimately more process than product.
Process maturity required for cloud
Many IT advisory organizations have developed business process maturity models, all of which look more or less the same. Your favorite search engine can locate a few in a couple of seconds. They usually describe five levels of maturity similar to the following:
- Level 1. Ad hoc, tactical where few processes are defined or documented.
- Level 2. Repeatable, where processes are defined and documented but may vary between functional areas even for similar tasks.
- Level 3. Processes are documented and standardized across the organization and include performance metrics.
- Level 4. Process metrics are routinely gathered, correlated to business operations and disseminated to stakeholders.
- Level 5. Continuous process improvement is enabled by quantitative feedback; proactive capabilities are implemented.
Within the context of private cloud storage, organizational process maturity is clearly a prerequisite to a successful private cloud implementation. Firms should attain a Level 3 capability at a minimum before considering a private cloud storage implementation. The reasons for standardized processes relate to standardized infrastructure, which will be discussed shortly. If your firm doesn't legitimately have a Level 3 maturity, improving processes to that level is the first step to take before embarking on the road to private cloud storage.
Developing a private storage cloud architecture
The organizational benefits from a cloud implementation flow from the discipline and standardization demanded by a cloud architecture. These include better control, optimized utilization, simplified infrastructure architecture and enterprise-wide management practices.
A key characteristic of private cloud storage is a standardized infrastructure, which is sometimes referred to as a reference architecture. Some may argue that a standardized infrastructure is necessary to standardizing procedures and there's some merit to that argument. However, backup and recovery, provisioning, monitoring and other storage management tasks can be standardized across disparate platforms.
Although a reference architecture can be single-vendor, most are not. A reference architecture is merely a specification of the systems and configurations the organization will support. This will include versions of software and firmware to ensure the technology components are consistent across the organization. For most organizations, storage consolidation will play a key role in evolving to a reference architecture. Because of business acquisitions, business unit autonomy or simply circumstance, organizations often have more variety in systems than can be economically or technologically justified. A private cloud storage initiative is a good opportunity to pare extraneous systems from the data center or to at least prevent them from expanding into other areas.
This was first published in July 2011