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Private Clouds: Savings in the Sky

Despite all the hype, public-cloud computing isn't for everyone; savings and management efficiencies vary from one organization to the next, and not every IT department wants to move its entire IT infrastructure into the ether. But private cloud computing is another matter. As my colleague Michael Brandenburg reveals in a recently published Frost & Sullivan study, businesses are embracing private clouds to help them deliver an increasingly complex array of communications and collaboration applications.

IT is exploring new infrastructure deployment models to implement and support unified communications, which, despite the vendor hype, often increase costs (at least in the short run) and almost always cause implementation, management and operational challenges for IT. Virtualization and software-based UC&C platforms are coming together to offer a new approach to enterprise communications solutions deployment and delivery.

Private clouds take advantage of convergence technologies to optimize the delivery of services to end users, essentially turning the IT organization into a services provider. It's a logical approach for handling UC&C applications when the bulk of media traffic will reside on the corporate local area network.

Our research shows that the drivers for the move toward private clouds are plentiful and include:

* Self-Healing Architecture--In any type of cloud deployment, the underlying hardware and software become transparent to the platform, which sees a nearly limitless supply of resources. Hardware failures are managed by the virtualization environment itself to maintain mission-critical applications without redundant hardware.
* User Self-Service--Self-service and self-provisioning are the hallmarks of a private-cloud deployment. Under this model, IT can offload basic administrative tasks to the user community, freeing up skilled IT resources for higher-value tasks.
* Agility--With a private-cloud deployment, enterprises can move their UC&C solution between physical servers or data centers as needed. This lets IT reconfigure UC platforms cost effectively, and it enables "cloud bursting," which allows enterprises to use cloud resources during peak utilization within the data center—to support seasonal employees or temporary contact center agents, for example.
* Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity--Virtual machines can be replicated to a disaster recovery facility and quickly ramped up in the event of a disaster. While traditional hot sites required matching or mirrored hardware, a virtual recovery site can operate on generic hardware, lowering costs.
* SIP Trunking--As service providers and enterprises replace traditional TDM voice channels with SIP trunks and soft phones, the reliance on media gateways and desktop hardware endpoints will decline. Without those hardware limitations, a private-cloud UC solution is extra portable and can be moved among data center or recovery sites for maximum efficiency and survivability.

Frost & Sullivan research shows that almost three-quarters of mid-size and large enterprises are taking advantage of virtualization in private data centers, and that is setting them on the road to private-cloud computing. Of course, the two are not the same: virtualization optimizes systems; private cloud optimizes the delivery of IT services.

But these deployments don't come in a turnkey solution. The processes required to deliver services to users must be identified and automated, and any successful private cloud deployment requires a highly agile infrastructure, as well as an agile IT organization. IT silos, the slow pace of innovation, architecture reengineering, lack of turnkey solutions, and existing vendor lock in all pose roadblocks to new private cloud deployments. Successful private cloud deployments require that every component of the enterprise data center and the IT staff that supports it comes together to operate as a single entity.

Frost & Sullivan recommends businesses take a three-step approach to deploying a private cloud:

1. Develop cross-functional teams to design, develop, and support the Unified Communications infrastructure.
2. Virtualize first, deploy cloud later. The first step toward achieving the benefits of a cloud infrastructure is moving to a virtualized environment.
3. Identify points of automation. Many of the processes performed by administrators are manual and undocumented.