White Paper: Optimizing the Cloud Infrastructure for Enterprise Applications

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1 White Paper: Optimizing the Cloud Infrastructure for Enterprise Applications 2010 Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved.

2 Executive Summary Given the technological and organizational risks associated with public cloud computing solutions, IT organizations evaluating these solutions need to determine if: The IaaS services are optimized to support their applications Their applications will run on the optimized cloud infrastructure Organizational silos will impede the effective management of the overall solution When evaluating application-optimized public cloud infrastructures, IT organizations should evaluate the following attributes: Standardization, Simplification, and Modularization: The infrastructure should be standardized on one or two vendors for each class of data center device and should support a limited number of device models and operating system releases within each product set. The infrastructure design should be based on the replication of a standard building block consisting of servers, switches, storage, and appliances. Virtualization: The Cloud Computing Service Provider (CCSP) needs to have broadly implemented virtualization technologies. This includes servers, storage, switches and routers, as well as appliances such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), and load balancers. Automated Management System: The CCSP must have automated as many of the data center processes as possible. This includes orchestration and provisioning; change and configuration management; resource reallocation; service monitoring; fault diagnosis; and software updates and maintenance. Availability and Security: There must be an appropriate level of redundancy throughout the infrastructure, coupled with a fast fail-over capability to secondary or backup resources. There also must be a multi-layer security architecture that provides full isolation of virtual data centers and also provides the option of screening all host-to-host traffic within each tenant s virtual data center. Customization for Specific Applications: For example, in the case of an Oracle E- Business 3-tiered application, the CCSP s customization may involve deploying an N+1 redundant hardware-based Real Application Cluster (RAC) for the Oracle 11g database. When evaluating managed application services, IT organizations should evaluate the degree to which those services exhibit the following attributes: Pre-Optimized Infrastructure for Managed Applications: The CCSP should have implemented an infrastructure that has been optimized for the application. Staying with the example of an Oracle E-Business 3-tiered application, the CCSP optimization may involve virtualized servers for the application server and web server tiers in addition to the redundant RAC for the Oracle 11g database. Application Expertise: The CCSP s operational staff must have the highest level of vendor certification and demonstrate a broad and deep understanding of the application Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 2

3 Sophisticated Application Management Processes: The CCSP s must have implemented sophisticated processes for lifecycle application management and maintenance, such as a comprehensive end-to-end process for complying with security regulations. Flexible Service Offerings: This includes services where the customer manages the application and the infrastructure is managed by the CCSP. It also includes services where the CCSP takes full responsibility for the overall management of the application and the infrastructure. Introduction Cloud computing is the hottest topic in IT. It is virtually impossible to read a trade publication or attend an IT conference and not be overwhelmed by discussions of the advantages and benefits of cloud computing. In spite of all of the interest, there is still considerable confusion and disagreement within the IT industry about the definition of cloud computing. The Cloud Computing Journal, for example, published an article that included 21 definitions of cloud computing. 1 Though there is confusion about the definition, the goal of cloud computing is quite clear to achieve an order of magnitude improvement in the cost-effective, elastic provisioning and delivery of IT services. There are three fundamental approaches to cloud computing: Public cloud computing: A company acquires IT services from a third party, often referred to as a cloud computing service provider (CCSP). Private cloud computing: An IT organization implements on-premises solutions that have the same characteristics as the solutions that are implemented by a CCSP. Hybrid cloud computing: An IT organization combines elements of public and private clouds, while potentially incorporating non-cloud resources, such as on-premises applications or physical database platforms that may not be well-suited suited to cloud deployments. Some industry pundits have claimed that one of the advantages of public cloud computing is that it negates the need to know or care about the mechanics of how IT services are provided. To the contrary, it is critically important that IT organizations evaluating public cloud computing solutions understand how those services are provided. This white paper is intended to help IT organizations evaluate public cloud computing solutions. Its primary focus is on identifying the characteristics that IT organizations should look for when evaluating infrastructure-based cloud computing solutions. The white paper will, however, also discuss the critical role that those infrastructure-based solutions often play in supporting a variety of other application-based cloud computing solutions, including Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and managed application hosting solutions. 1 Twenty-One Experts Define Cloud Computing, Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 3

4 The Synergy Between Infrastructure Services and Application Services A recent report identified the attributes of an IT environment that enable an order of magnitude improvement in the cost-effective, elastic provisioning of cloud computing services. 2 The primary attributes are: Simplification of the applications and services provided by IT Virtualization of every component of IT Automation of as many tasks as possible Standardization of the IT infrastructure Deployment of converged technology, such as Cisco s Unified Computing System (UCS) 3 That report also identified the primary types of services provided by CCSPs: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): With SaaS, a provider licenses an application to customers as a service on demand, typically through a subscription or a pay-as-you-go model. Oracle, for example, provides a number of its software products in a SaaS model. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Infrastructure services consist of the basic compute, storage, and interconnect services required to run applications. Amazon s EC2 platform is an example of an IaaS solution. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Platform services provide software development environments to support rapid application development and deployment. An example of a PaaS solution is Force.com. When evaluating a provider of IaaS solutions, IT organizations must determine whether or not that provider s IT infrastructure is optimized to deliver their solutions in a cost-effective, agile manner. In addition, when an IT organization is evaluating a SaaS provider or a provider of managed application services, it is important to assess the infrastructure that is supporting the applications. IT organizations must determine if the underlying infrastructure can effectively support the relevant applications. Oracle s partnership with Amazon underscores the importance of this task. Oracle is working with Amazon to deploy cloud solutions that run on Amazon s EC2 platform, but strongly recommends that customers take time to fully understand Amazon s Web Services offerings before using any of the associated Oracle products and services. 4 The Oracle-Amazon relationship also highlights the fact that when an IT organization is evaluating a SaaS provider or a provider of managed application services, it is critically important to fully understand the relationship between the software provider and the infrastructure provider. The importance of that task is crystallized by the Oracle statement that Amazon EC2 is a fully virtualized environment and uses a virtualization engine that is not supported by Oracle. Users will therefore be directed to Amazon for any virtualization related issues Ibid Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 4

5 The Oracle statements highlight some of the pitfalls associated with cloud computing solutions and reinforce the need to thoroughly evaluate those solutions. The Oracle statements also underscore the fact that cloud computing requires an application-optimized infrastructure. From the perspective of the IT organization that means: The IaaS services that they acquire are optimized to support their applications. Their applications run on the optimized infrastructure. There are no organizational silos that will impede effective management of the overall solution. Application-Optimized Public Cloud Infrastructures As CCSPs design their data centers, they have the opportunity to create infrastructures that are optimized to deliver the suite of services they plan to offer. The fact that they are designing and implementing a new data center to support a well-defined and relatively narrow suite of services gives CCSPs a significant advantage over enterprise IT organizations. Enterprise IT organizations are typically constrained by tight IT budgets and the need to support a broad range of legacy applications and services, and can only make gradual, incremental improvements to their data center infrastructures. As previously discussed, there are a number of attributes of an IT environment that enable CCSPs to provide an application-optimized infrastructure. When an IT organization is evaluating a cloud computing solution they need to understand the degree to which the CCSP has implemented those attributes. In particular, IT organizations need to look at the following attributes: Standardization, Simplification, and Modularization In addition to being able to focus its monetary and human resources on a limited suite of services, CCSPs have the freedom to simplify the data center infrastructure by basing the design of the infrastructure on a limited set of components. For example, CCSPs can standardize on one or two leading vendors for each class of data center device. This includes servers, switches and routers, networked storage devices, storage area network (SAN) switches, firewalls, load balancers, application delivery controllers, and network management tools. Further simplification can be gained by limiting the number of device models and network operating system releases within vendor product sets. Another aspect of standardization and simplification is to base the overall data center design on the replication of a standard building block consisting of servers, switches, storage, and appliances, as well as cabling and power and cooling facilities. These building blocks or design modules (sometimes called points of distribution or PODs) reduce complexity and facilitate the rapid scaling of data centers to accommodate new services and additional customers. Virtualization Along with standardization and simplification, the IaaS solution needs to exhibit a high degree of flexibility and agility in responding to the specific requirements of each customer or tenant. For example, the CCSP may need to replicate the security architecture that a tenant has developed and implemented within its internal enterprise data centers. In addition, the ideal data center infrastructure must be able to respond in near real-time to abrupt changes in tenant demand for services Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 5

6 In order to achieve high levels of flexibility and agility, CCSPs need to leverage virtualization technologies throughout their data center infrastructure. This includes the virtualization of servers, storage, switches and routers. It also includes virtualized appliances including firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), and load balancers. Unlike physical resources that are far more static in nature, virtual resources can be more readily provisioned, de-provisioned, cloned, moved, or re-configured to respond to changes in demand in real-time. In addition, the virtualization of data center resources provides CCSPs with the ability to create customized topologies of virtual network elements that can be easily controlled through a single management interface. In spite of these advantages, IT organizations need to realize that virtual entities cannot be expected to completely displace their hardware-based counterparts, especially where the latter devices include specialized hardware-based acceleration of compute-intensive functions. Therefore, an optimized virtual data center architecture needs to be based on achieving the best balance between physical and virtual instances of each type of device. Automated Management System As noted, a key component of the cloud computing value proposition is the ability to enable an order of magnitude improvement in the provisioning of IT services. For CCSPs, the key to providing elastic, on-demand IT services is the ability to automate as many of the data center processes as possible. This includes provisioning, change and configuration management, resource reallocation, service monitoring, fault diagnosis and software updates and maintenance. A high degree of automation is of paramount importance for the CCSP, because it maximizes the efficiency of its operational staff and supports customer expectations of a rapid response to abrupt changes in demand for services. Orchestration functionality is one of the keys to automating cloud computing data centers. Orchestration engines are based on pre-defined workflows for various operational processes, such as provisioning and change management. When an event triggers a particular workflow, the orchestration engine disseminates the needed configuration commands to the appropriate devices across the network in order to enable the infrastructure to respond automatically to the event. For example, in order to provision additional resources to respond to an increase in user demand that is indicated by increased application response time, the orchestration engine can automatically initiate the creation of the required virtual machines while simultaneously making the necessary configuration changes to storage systems, load balancers, switches and routers, and security devices. As this response time threshold example shows, automation is complemented by a well-instrumented infrastructure, which can report a wide range of events in real-time, allowing the orchestration system to respond with the appropriate workflow commands. Availability and Security To meet customer requirements, the CCSP s infrastructure has to offer high levels of availability, reliability, and security. High availability must be based on an appropriate level of redundancy throughout the infrastructure, coupled with fast fail-over to secondary or backup resources in the event of a hardware or software failure. CCSPs with multiple data centers can further enhance reliability by providing disaster recovery and business continuity capabilities as part of their services. Since security is one of the major concerns for enterprises considering public cloud computing services, CCSPs need to implement a multi-layer security architectures 2010 Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 6

7 that provide full isolation of tenant virtual data centers and also provides the option of screening all host-to-host traffic within each tenant s virtual data center. Customization for Specific Applications In addition to offering effective IaaS solutions, CCSPs can further optimize their infrastructures to support particular applications. This is true whether those applications are provided directly by the CCSP or they are applications that customers or an independent software vendor are transitioning to run on top of IaaS solutions. While many applications can be easily hosted by the standardized infrastructure, there are a number of more complex enterprise applications that require some degree of customization of the infrastructure in order to have optimal performance and reliability. One such enterprise application, the Oracle E-Business suite, is discussed below. A logical first step in the process of transitioning an application to run on top of an IaaS solution is an assessment of the application's characteristics and an evaluation of the application s compatibility with the standard infrastructure. A key aspect of this assessment is to leverage the expertise of the CCSP to determine how well the application will perform on the CCSP s virtualized servers. For example, some applications will scale well as additional VMs are provisioned in response to surges in workload. Other applications, however, may require load balancing across a number of physical servers for optimum performance and scalability. In either case, the IT organization needs to understand the capability that the CCSP has to support surges in workload and what cost, if any, is associated with that capability. After the assessment, the next step in the process of transitioning an application to the cloud is to install the application on the recommended cloud infrastructure. After a period of testing and validation, the CCSP should be in a position, based on their expertise and management tools, to further optimize the application configuration and/or the infrastructure. If the CCSP s infrastructure is both highly automated and well instrumented, it can facilitate a number of iterations en route to the optimum configuration for the application. Managed Applications in the Application-Optimized Cloud In addition to customizing the infrastructure services for new tenant-specific applications that was described in the previous section, the CCSP may also provide a range of managed application services targeted at a small number of complex enterprise application suites, such as the Oracle E-Business suite or SAP. Applications in this class often require fairly complex specialized infrastructures and a high level of expertise in understanding how the various components of the application interact. There are a wide range of potential benefits that may be gained from outsourcing applications to a CCSP providing managed application services in conjunction with more basic application-optimized infrastructure services. This includes: Pre-Optimized Infrastructure for Managed Applications By specializing on an application suite, the CCSP is able to deploy an infrastructure that has been optimized for the application. For example, in the case of an Oracle E-Business 3-tiered application, the CCSP optimization may involve an N+1 redundant hardware-based Real Application Cluster (RAC) for the Oracle 11g database, and virtualized servers for the application server and web server tiers. This pre-optimization means that the assessment, 2010 Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 7

8 optimization, testing, and validation stages involved in transitioning to a cloud computing-based application service are greatly streamlined. Because of economies of scale, CCSPs can take full advantage of advanced technologies such as RAC clusters, Fibrechannel SANs, blade servers, and server processors optimized for virtualization -- to support service delivery. As a result, managed application services customers can gain the benefits of technologies and facilities that otherwise be beyond the scope of a typical IT budget. Application Expertise In most cases, a CCSP specializing in an enterprise application, such as Oracle E-Business, will have a highly experienced operational staff that has achieved the highest level of vendor certification. Therefore, the CCSP s application experts can be expected to have broader and deeper application-oriented technical prowess than most enterprise IT organizations can afford to accumulate. This higher level of expertise can fully exploit all available technologies and yield optimal application configurations that can increase performance, improve reliability, and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO). CCSPs can leverage their application expertise in a number of ways, including: Identifying and removing any software modules and services that are not needed by the customer. This improves security and optimizes resource utilization. Customizing software parameters to improve on default or vendor-recommended settings. Patching, updating and upgrading all software modules in use to the most current levels, improving performance and security. Sophisticated Application Management Processes The CCSP s wealth of experience in managing specific enterprise applications can result in the development of sophisticated processes for lifecycle application management and maintenance. For example, CCSPs can offer a comprehensive end-to-end process for risk avoidance in complying with security regulations. This process can leverage the multi-layer security architecture to include documented policies, audit trails, third-party audits, vulnerability testing, and other measures that guarantee full compliance with regulations such as SAS70, PCI and HIPAA. The CCSP s highly automated management tools in conjunction with sophisticated management processes greatly enhance the efficiency and productivity of operational staff and improve the value of the managed application service. Enhanced Flexibility CCSPs that offer both an application optimized infrastructure and managed application services provide the enterprise customer with the highest degree of flexibility in application management. At one end of the spectrum, the customer can choose self-management of the applications and full control of the level of resources consumed by the application, with only the infrastructure managed by the CCSP. This option may appeal to customers such as ISVs, who are developing and testing applications for large-scale production environments. At the other end of the spectrum are fully managed application services where the CCSP takes full responsibility for the management of the application, resource allocation, infrastructure, and the service levels that are delivered to enterprise users Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 8

9 Summary Enterprise applications running on an optimized cloud infrastructure can yield attractive benefits efficiency, agility, and a lower total cost of ownership to IT organizations. But, to accrue those benefits and mitigate the technological and organizational risks IT organizations must conduct thorough up-front assessments of both their own IT environments and CCSP offerings. For more information, please visit Ashton, Metzler, & Associates. All rights reserved. 9

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