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Cloud building: EMC gets in the game

A Canadian newspaper publisher turned to EMC for cloud-building services that stretched far beyond the vendor’s traditional storage offerings.

EMC Corp. wants to build your cloud, and not just your storage cloud. This week, the vendor officially launched a series of cloud-building services around infrastructure, cloud applications and end-user computing.

EMC’s cloud infrastructure services include storage and converged stacks combining storage, compute and networking to help build private, public and hybrid clouds. Cloud-optimized application services help customers decide which apps they need for the cloud. End-user computing services help customers move to a desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) model using applications such as VMware View and mobile platforms.

But while EMC announced its cloud-building services this week, they’ve actually been offering them for years through a series of acquisitions and expansions of their consulting practices. Some of these services -- particularly around end-user computing -- are outside of EMC’s usual enterprise focus and appear a better fit for VMware, which EMC owns a majority stake in.

Canadian publisher Postmedia Network Inc. engaged EMC services for two projects over the past two years. The newspaper chain built a private cloud to virtualize its data center and then revamped its storage and networking to support its InfoMart digital library of online content.

This new virtual private cloud architecture gives me the ability to add capacity when I need to add capacity. We can move workloads and sacrifice an internal server and push a physical server out to address an Internet performance constraint.

Mark Boucher, VP of Technical Services at Postmedia Network Inc.

Mark Boucher, Postmedia’s VP of technical services, said the company needed to scale resources faster. Constraints of its old system came to light a few years ago when Drudge Report linked to a story from one if its newspapers and its servers couldn’t handle the resulting spike in traffic.  Boucher said the new architecture lets Postmedia shift resources from one if its intranet servers to an Internet site.

“Our focus was on solving a performance/capacity issue,” Boucher said. “We’re a very reactive business, and sometimes we don’t have time to plan to scale. This new virtual private cloud architecture gives me the ability to add capacity when I need to add capacity. We can move workloads and sacrifice an internal server and push a physical server out to address an Internet performance constraint.”

Boucher said Postmedia became heavily virtualized in its new architecture with more than 500 virtual machines. The company shares resources between its main onsite data center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a collocated disaster recovery site.

“Our biggest constraint was aging infrastructure,” said Boucher. “Another constraint was that we couldn’t expand our data center. We had to come up with a new model that could evolve us into a [VMware} vSphere private cloud architecture.”

Boucher said the cloud setup helped last year when Postmedia lost power in its data center. The company recovered by using VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager (SRM) to move its server workload to its secondary data center while power was being restored. “I honestly didn’t think I’d ever experience that,” Boucher said.

When building InfoMart, Postmedia swapped out Hewlett-Packard storage and servers in favor of an EMC VNX5700 unified storage array, Cisco UCS B230 Blade Servers and vSphere. Those are the components of Vblocks sold by those vendor’s VCE joint venture, but Boucher said none of the pre-configured Vblocks gave him the right storage capacity and server resources, so he put the pieces together with EMC consultants.

Since building a cloud, Boucher said his storage utilization improved performance 1,300%. But he didn’t go to EMC just for storage. “This is the full-meal deal, we relied on them end-to-end,” he said. “My approach for these technology projects is to bring the experts in and let them drive the project. At the end, they hand the keys over to us.”

EMC’s services announcement is a likely sign that the vendor expects cloud implementations, and the opportunity for cloud building, to pick up in 2012.

“We’ve been focused on building out services to enable EMC customers to more quickly build a vision around cloud and to build their roadmaps,” said Nina Hargus, EMC’s VP of global services marketing.

Hargus admitted end-user computing “is an area that we never made much noise in. But a few years back we acquired five application-focused integrators that joined EMC Consulting, and all had desktop practices.” She said VMware doesn’t focus on services, and EMC picks up a lot of its customers who need services around virtualization projects, such as Postmedia. “We have become VMware’s partner of choice for Microsoft application virtualization and end-user computing services,” she said. “But we are one of their partners, not the only one.”

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