Building Private Clouds via Virtualization In a Federal Contracting Environment

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1 White Paper Seven Best Practices for Building Private Clouds via Virtualization In a Federal Contracting Environment Sunrise Valley Drive Suite 300 Reston, VA Phone: (703) Concept-Solutions.com March 2012

2 Many organizations are seeking ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs by using cloud computing, social media, and other innovative technologies. Despite concerns about security and administration, the government is slowly adopting cloud computing paradigms and elements; Federal spending on cloud computing will grow by 27% between 2009 and 2014, INPUT reports. FAA is no exception. We re after demonstrating and proving the viability of cloud computing as a way to more quickly stand up capability, says Steve Cooper, CIO of FAA in an interview with Federal News Radio. We re looking at moving our software development environment into the cloud. We ve got tremendous challenges in replicating our production environments. And, we can t always economically afford all the different types of servers, equipment, whatever, to fully replicate our production environment. But if we could give that to a third party, and again, do this within all compliance, rules, and regulations, why wouldn t I do that? Particularly, if I can also do it in a cost-effective manner. Cooper has summed up the challenges the government grapples with and the ideal contracting solution. The path, however, can be rocky without expertise and experience. Getting there does not mean simply re-packaging technology. As a Federal contractor, an in-depth Seven Best Practices for Building Private Clouds via Virtualization In a Federal Contracting Environment BENEFITS OF CLOUD COMPUTING FOR THE GOVERNMENT As Concept Solutions converted our FAA program s test and development environments to an on-premise, virtualized cloud infrastructure, we have realized many benefits that translate directly into benefits for our Federal client: efficient use of hardware as we consolidated many physical servers into fewer hypervisor servers; the ability to create additional environments on-demand, a feature particularly useful in creating test or development servers; and the ability to quickly add new servers when needed, thereby solving the server scalability challenge. The following are some key benefits: Cost Savings: When you consider that you can consolidate up to 10 virtual servers into one physical server, the overall savings is significant not just in up-front hardware costs, but also in power and cooling costs, data center space, labor costs, and time, by avoiding procurement of software, hardware, and/or licenses. Maximize Resources: With shrinking Federal budgets, tighter schedules, and globally distributed teams, access control and provisioning becomes more important and is certain to impact software quality and schedule. The stakes are higher with support of mission-critical programs. A secure, virtualized private cloud enables self-provisioning of infrastructure, reduces computing provisioning time to minutes, and maximizes labor and physical hardware resources further improving return on investment. Faster development and testing also speeds delivery into production. Better Software Development and Testing: Cloud technology offers developers a centralized method of managing multiple machines configurations allowing them to provision those images on demand in a standardized and repeatable way. Quick Turnaround for Dynamic System Requirements: Missioncritical IT support in the Federal environment can have many stakeholders, with interaction between multiple agencies. In an environment such as this, system requirements are dynamic and a rapid, prototype- and test-based system development life cycle may be best suited. The benefits of using cloud-based development and test environments are magnified in this type of life cycle. The private cloud provides support to the Rapid Application Development (RAD) life cycle, which in turn provides a reduction in development time, increased software quality, and minimized development costs. Minimize the Procurement Life Cycle: Government agencies can minimize the contractor procurement life cycle as cloud-based infrastructures gain ground. understanding of the client s needs is necessary. There must be no compromise to security, storage, data migration, or disaster recovery. As a prime systems developer supporting FAA, DoD, and DHS for over a decade, Concept Solutions, LLC, has evolved with our clients as the technology has matured and as the needs for these Federal agencies to coordinate data (with the agencies themselves and with each other) has become even more Page 1

3 Virtualization on our FAA program has increased capacity utilization from an average 50 percent to 99 percent without disrupting performance. paramount. We have become a champion of cloud computing learning first-hand how to streamline ways to build private clouds via virtualization in the Federal environment and overcoming potential security issues in moving the production environment of mission-critical applications to the cloud. Successfully implementing a secure, private cloud using enterprise-class, open-source products enabled Concept Solutions to satisfy two of its core corporate goals: (1) delivering on our clients requirements in the most secure, cost-efficient manner possible, and (2) efficiently managing all of our resources and providing a high return on the government s investment. This paper presents eight best practices that we have learned along the way. 1. Build Connected Virtualized Environments to Form Your Cloud Virtualization is a key element in cloud computing with many advantages efficiency from conversion of a physical environment to a virtual environment, and reduction of costs in operating expenses and energy. Many Federal contractors deploy virtual infrastructures; however, virtualization by itself does not mean you have a cloud. To achieve maximum benefits, the virtualized environments must talk to each other, thereby forming a cloud. You can use cloud computing without virtualization, but building it on a virtual infrastructure provides greater benefits. The main thing that differentiates a private cloud from a virtualized data center, however, is a management layer that allows you to treat your IT infrastructure as a pool of resources from which users or business units can request and receive resources automatically. 2. Use Open Source Products It is not always necessary to invest in proprietary products to implement a cloud approach. Using open source tools is an enabling technology that offers many of the same features as costly proprietary tools. They also off-set the possible high costs of building and maintaining your data center. If we were to provision a completely new physical server, it would take days or even weeks to be approved. Says Mike Shields, Chief Technology Officer at Concept Solutions. Procurement has two phases corporate approval and client approval. By using enterprise-ready open source products, we eliminate all this time, and get development going that much quicker. 3. Inventory and Assess Your Physical Environment Introducing virtualization will have a ripple effect on all parts of your infrastructure, including administration. Therefore, all elements of the infrastructure must be assessed. Thorough knowledge of existing resource requirements is vital to accurately sizing the virtual environment these resources will eventually handle the virtual servers. Before embarking on implementation, take an inventory of and document your existing physical environment. This includes your data center s servers that you plan on virtualizing and their performance statistics. Also perform a complete inventory of all applications currently running on the servers you plan to virtualize so there will be no support or licensing issues after conversion. Page 2

4 4. Make Incremental Changes After you have decided to make the move from a physical to a virtualized environment, introduce changes to existing processes incrementally. Deciding what to transition to a virtual environment is a key. For example, you can virtualize your development and test servers first. Start with the lowhanging fruit such as legacy applications using old hardware, before moving on to more complex applications. This phased approach allows time for documenting lessons learned and making improvements as you build. 5. Use Community Resources Encourage your team to participate and collaborate in the open source community. This can be a powerful tool from technical support and sharing lessons learned with other users to understanding the advantages of new versions. For example, the Xen online community offers many resources that facilitate implementing and maintaining Xen solutions forums, Wiki groups, tutorials, blogs, issue tracking, and more. Concept Solutions constantly challenges its employees to explore new technologies, think solutions through, and innovate, says John Krahulec, Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer of Concept Solutions. 6. Recycle Old Servers Recycle your older physical servers especially if they are over five years old. In using recycled servers as the physical/hardware layer in your virtual server pool, you will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also extend the life of your hardware. Leave your old servers powered down as much as possible and concentrate the workload on the newer servers. You can then configure your Virtual Machine management tools to fire up the resting servers, if required, and migrate lower priority workloads from over-loaded servers to the older ones. 7. Enhance Security Not only does a move to a private cloud not compromise security, the use of Virtual Machines (VMs) makes data more secure. Because of their virtual nature, VMs make it that much more difficult to hack into. You can eliminate the very common threat of terminated employees attempting to access secure code and data by configuring the Pool Manager settings in your cloud computing platform. For example, when a threat is detected, you can direct the Pool Manager to immediately shut the instance down. * * * We would do well to remember the three blind men in the ancient oriental legend, who by virtue of touch only, tried to visualize an elephant and ended up arguing with each other about what the creature really was like. A poet sums up the men s ignorance thus: So oft in theologic wars, The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance With planning and a management dedicated to innovation best practices, your team can successfully use cloud-based virtualization. For an FAA missioncritical system, Concept Solutions started small, building on the success of one or two virtualized infrastructures to form a cluster, connecting clusters, and then introducing load balancing, resource pooling, storage virtualization, foolproof failover, and high availability strategies along the way. Page 3

5 Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen! The heated debates about the meaning of tech-trendy words such as cloud computing and virtualization seem similarly lacking the gift of wholesome perception. Some of this confusion also comes from companies who have lost the cloud train and are trying to overcome this weakness by rebranding collections of their products and services as private cloud. However, in the Federal contracting space, the vision for a successful cloud-based virtualized environment, such as that expressed by Steve Cooper, requires familiarity with the Federal client s needs, involvement with cutting-edge technologies, and a leadership that knows how to give the customer exactly what they want without compromising data or system security. Simply put, the cloud is about leveraging economies of scale whether it is public or private. And by using evolving best practices shared by those who have done it, you can convert your traditional Data Center to a secure, private cloud. Concept Solutions, LLC, headquartered in Northern Virginia, is a management and technology Small Business providing solutions to Government clients that save money, improve performance, increase productivity, and provide critical information for strategic decision-making. For further information regarding cloud-based solutions or other requirements, contact Mr. Phong Mai, CEO, at or Page 4

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