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Internal cloud toolkit: Ten questions to ask

What's one thing you need to know before you start an internal cloud project? The answer is the end goal -- the reason for doing it -- in the form of a list of questions with quantifiable answers attached.

That was the message cloud storage expert and Storage Decisions speaker Mark Staimer gave to storage pros who attended his seminar, "How you can build an internal cloud storage service." The reasons for wanting to build an internal cloud are many, he said. For starters, it can "radically simplify storage administration" and increase user productivity, which, in turn, can lead to increased corporate revenue and profits -- and, obviously, it can reduce or eliminate any outside sources. However, there is plenty of confusion surrounding internal clouds, and Staimer offered storage pros two cheat sheets to aid them in the process of building an internal cloud.

The first cheat sheet contains a short list of criteria your internal cloud storage must meet. These five requirements can serve as a checklist to determine if your project meets the definition of a private cloud, Staimer said.

  • Multi-tenancy. An architecture that allows for a single instance of software to run on a server, serving multiple clients and organizations (tenants).
  • Metered. Chargeback or showback? Either way, the service needs to provide the ability to charge or show how much of the cloud is being utilized by various departments.
  • Self-service. Users can provision and do their own data protection. If it can't do self-service, it's not a cloud service.
  • Scalability. We don't want to build a service and then have to rebuild it every three years. This is where object storage often comes into play.
  • Always on. The concept of downtime goes away with the service.

Storage pros often ignore a seemingly obvious question at the outset of big cloud projects, Staimer said. That question is this: "What do I want to accomplish?" Determining in advance the sort of goals you want the technology project to accomplish will help you determine what to buy or build, he said.

"Let's say you want easy self-service," he explained. "That means you need a really intuitive user interface. That means point and click. They can just follow the wizards -- and they can self-provision, self-data-protect, self-recover -- they can do it all." Or if your goal is sharing files across users and platforms -- sync-and-share technology -- you have to buy software that runs across physical and virtual machines, and those servers are going to sit in front of your storage. "It can be NAS, SAN, unified or object -- doesn't matter." And if your goal is long-term durability, for the sake of compliance, then you have to remember that "all media will corrupt," said Staimer. "You're going to need next-gen data durability." This is where erasure coding and multi-copying mirroring enter the picture. When shopping for software to help a cloud storage project aimed at compliance, Staimer said, users must focus on continuous data validation and autonomic healing.

Here's another useful cheat sheet containing 10 questions that Staimer said can help guide storage pros by forcing them to examine the goals of their internal cloud storage project at the outset of an internal cloud project:

1. What needs to be provided as a service?

2. To whom will it be delivered?

3. What are the minimum acceptable results?

4. What results will be considered a success?

5. What results will be considered a failure?

6. Can services be phased in, or do they have to be implemented all at once?

7. What is the maximum number of users?

8. What are the maximum storage capacities to be managed?

9. What is the maximum storage performance to be provided?

10. Over what period of time will this storage performance be provided?

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