Private Virtual Cloud

Tom Youngblom, IT-Director, Associated Milk Producers
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Tom Youngblom, IT-Director, Associated Milk Producers

Cloud, cloud, cloud, everybody is talking about cloud. The definition of cloud can vary greatly depending on your focus and strategy. I will discuss the concept and development of the virtual private cloud we have in place at Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) for various applications.

Many factors weigh in while constructing a private cloud. First our multi locations inherently create our private cloud via our wide area network. Second, the state of the current existing data center was in need of costly rebuild or an entire remodel. Third, local talent and staffing are difficult to find in our location, so this also played in the deciding factor. Lastly, the private cloud is advancement in the corporate business continuity and disaster recovery.

"Like many IT projects, bringing up the virtual private cloud and integrating in our WAN was the shortest effort and the business applications took the longest to prove functionality"

In general, AMPI IT Department is not in the hardware business, but rather we focus on the business processes and procedures, and tying technology to solve and improve them. Outsourcing the more generic portion of IT such as networking and hardware infrastructure allows in-house resources to shift attention to business processes and software development efforts. Virtual Machine management along with management up to the operating system, hardware maintenance and procurement, storage management and “some” network management are what vendors can do best without having to understand any of our business processes. With this solution we really don’t need to employ networking, server and virtualization skills, plus, vendors offer a 24x7 monitoring that gives current staff a break.

Deciding which vendor can provide managed services and support our network was not easy. Feeling comfortable with whom you partner with must be viewed as long term, with an SLA contract, and separating from your chosen vendor is something your need to plan for but hope it doesn’t happen. We chose our vendor based on price for their offering, depth of knowledge, and network integration, also, being a public company was important.

Get help with contracts; don’t rely on your own ability unless you are an attorney. No one is smarter than all of us combined (Ancient proverb from unknown). Check the Service Level Agreements, migration effort, change management and billing, including renewal guarantees to limit renewal increases. Generally the number of servers and storage size and drive types should be outlined during the contract negotiation. Data belongs to the business, not the hosting company, making sure data clauses fit with your legal team.

Once the contract is agreed on, we then moved on to the analysis phase of servers and functionality, performance points needed, consolidation options, and determining upgradability. Our technical team researched every corporate application and vendor requirement in determining the applications to move and virtualize in our private virtual cloud. We made an effort to standardize on Microsoft Server 2012 datacenter edition, but not all of our applications were completely supported so few servers stayed at 2008 R2, and a few servers just did not make the move. Time and costs efforts to rebuild some applications were not approved so we opted for a Physical to virtual, or virtual to virtual migration. Also, unique hardware situations existed and we had no choice but to house our modem application traditionally until the technology is phased out. Analysis of current application performance allowed us to add additional servers to our application clusters for design future strategy and growth. Now we had a list of applications and servers to build in the private cloud infrastructure.

Servers started coming up. A good relationship with the vendor team is crucial. Weekly status meetings and additional communication was needed to keep the project moving. We first tested communications and tied the network into our domain. Smaller domain and utility servers came up just fine with minimal testing. Managing business applications required much communication and coordination with the end users and the technical teams. The most challenging was us moving the very large virtual machines to the data center. Organization of testing was looked as a major business system lifecycle change and we utilized current application test plans. Once the VM was up and running we tested functionality and security. Since our operations can tolerate downtime, going live required a window to refresh the business data.

Like many IT projects, bringing up the virtual private cloud and integrating in our WAN was the shortest effort and the business applications took the longest to prove functionality. This process solidified our decision to outsource the technology infrastructure and keep the business knowledge in house.

We resulted in improved performance and an easier budgeting process. We know what our monthly expense is per server and overhead management costs are. Overall this move makes the IT department simpler and we can further distinguish us in our business. Next project… Mobile Improvements!

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