Transforming the Datacenter

Think the cloud isn’t ready for business critical apps? Time to think again.

Think the cloud isn’t ready for business critical apps? Time to think again.

Summary: Many IT managers are afraid to virtualize business-critical applications, but by neglecting the potential for more agility, they may be exposed to more risk. Safely virtualize business-critical services and enjoy cloud-based efficiencies.

TOPICS: Data Centers

Many IT managers are afraid to virtualize business-critical applications. It’s just too scary! If that’s the way you think, you may be missing a huge opportunity to get more out of your datacenter. In fact, by neglecting the potential for more agility, you may actually be exposed to more risk. But before we jump to any conclusions, let’s take a look at what is at stake.

It’s an easy decision to extract value from non-critical processes by pooling resources to achieve a higher efficiency and economy of scale. The risk is low. If the system crashes, there is little damage done.

When it comes to business-critical services, everyone is more cautious. These applications cannot afford down-time whether it is for planned maintenance or the result of an unexpected outage. Introducing new technologies is therefore an additional risk that could prove to be a career-ending move.

Yet, if high availability could be guaranteed, the same advantages of virtualization and automation that work for non-critical applications will work for mission critical ones. Fortunately, the right choice of architecture can allay many of your concerns and, in fact, cloud technologies offer some options that can actually boost availability.

The best way to maximize uptime is through redundancy in all elements of the services. This implies synchronizing applications and data to other components not likely to be affected by the same incidents.

The most important High Availability technology is clustering. To be able to take advantage of clustering within a virtual environment, the hypervisor must be fully aware of the technology and able to exploit the physical resources. For example, if a hardware or software failure occurs on a cluster node, all clients should be able to transparently reconnect to an alternate cluster node without experiencing any downtime.

There should also be redundancy at the network and I/O layers. So if a virtual machine connects its network adapters to multiple virtual switches, it can withstand the failure of a single adapter as long as the platform supports NIC Teaming. Similarly, Multipath I/O (MPIO) provides fault-tolerance by accommodating multiple physical paths between the CPU and its mass storage devices, for example using multiple controllers.

Regardless of all the resilience built into the components and subsystems, a business continuity plan also needs to consider a solution for the worst-case scenario—a disaster. A starting point is backup, whereby the challenge is often to execute the jobs while the machine is running without impacting the performance of the service. Solutions that require the system to shut down or that can only perform a full backup tend to be too disruptive and may not be appropriate for critical applications.

A more sophisticated solution to protect against datacenter outages is the replication of virtual machines to a separate server, where it would be possible restart the services if required. This implies replication of the databases, but it also involves synchronizing any changes to the guests and needs to be coordinated by the virtual machine manager. Hyper-V Replica, for example, is a function that records the write operations made on the primary virtual machine and then replicates these changes to a Replica server over the network.

Cloud computing is often seen as a drive towards higher efficiency, which is certainly one of its advantages. However, it also entails a new approach to availability, based on pervasive redundancy, which can offer equally compelling benefits. There is another advantage of high availability: greater agility. No matter how critical the services are to the business, you need to be able to configure and reconfigure infrastructure and applications quickly and reliably.

Topic: Data Centers

John Rhoton

About John Rhoton

John Rhoton is a contributor to CBS Interactive's custom content group, which powers this Microsoft sponsored blog. He is a technology strategist who specializes in consulting to global enterprise customers with a focus on cloud computing.His tenure in the IT industry spans over twenty-five years at major technology companies, defining and implementing business strategy. He has recently led corporate technical strategy development, business development, and adoption of cloud services, datacenter transformation, mobility, security and next-generation networking, while also driving key corporate knowledge management and community-building programs.John is the author of six books.

John Rhoton's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of Microsoft or CBSi.

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  • But the data is not secure.

    It has been said a million times, but I'll ask the question again, why would you trust your corporate, government, patent, trade secret and confidential data to another company that can easily access that data?

    A good question to ask is, if cloud providers have no interest in the contents of your data, why then do the main cloud providers not encrypt the data? (Excluding SpiderOak and Mega).

    Such a simple question, yet it remains largely ignored in the media.
    • Re: But the data is not secure.

      In many cases, it is better to keep confidential data in your own datacenter on premises. This blog post actually refers primarily to this internal scenario even though it also applies to an outsourced arrangement.

      The question you ask is fundamental to outsourcing. The basic problem is that you have to trust someone. Even if you do everything internally, you must trust your employees. The only difference is in the contractual arrangement you have with your employees versus that which you have with the outsourcing (or cloud) service provider. Neither approach is necessarily more secure than the other --- it depends on the nature of the contracts and other governance mechanisms that are in place.

      Most cloud provider utilize at least some encryption. At a minimum, they would generally encrypt the data in transit over the public Internet with SSL/TLS. The two main issues related to encryption of data at rest are the difficulty of key management and the fact that the data needs to be decrypted in order to be able to process it easily. I cover these in more detail in my most recent book.

      In any case, you raise some good questions. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      John (@johnrhoton)
  • any company

    that put my info out there will be sued i am dealing with id theft as it is and do not need any more crap
    • Re: any company

      Hi ttx19,

      Identity theft and data leakage are certainly critical problems. You would want to ensure that your cloud provider has adequate safeguards to protect you against both.

      Best regards,

      John (@johnrhoton)