Is a private cloud with Windows Azure Pack your next best move?

Managing and maintaining the virtualization of servers received a boost with a practical and easy implementation of Windows Azure Pack.

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Public cloud offers plenty of enticing features and benefits for IT professionals, but security concerns and other setbacks are a reason for hesitation. Fortunately there's a way to get those same benefits without the drawbacks.

Windows Azure Pack (WAP) is a product that might help you get your cloud computing strategy off the ground (or help invent one) and gain the benefits from public cloud, without the politics and planning of actually moving to one. In other words, you get all of the benefits of public cloud without the setbacks and it's all in your own local data center in a private cloud.

There is a reason you want to focus on this now. I'm not going to discuss all the benefits that come with a cloud; you can read about those in other articles. I want to focus on the copious amount of time you spend in your current virtualization environments building tools and automation, creating your own self-service portals and building processes to control the build and release of new virtual machines (VMs). Most of this work gets thrown out when you do move to a public cloud and switch to the vendor's tools and processes. Even the change of the management screens will throw you off for a few days. Think about how much effort and time you will spend -- once again -- to learn and implement the new tools and rebuild all the work that has been lost and wasted.

Some might argue that because of this, you should move to the public cloud now, but not everyone is ready to do so, for a variety of valid reasons. For example, some applications, like Microsoft SharePoint, require large compute or storage requirements that may not make financial sense for a public cloud. Your business may have a strict security or compliance need that can't be met in a public cloud. Some companies just don't trust the public cloud, similar to how many originally felt about server virtualization.

So how does an IT pro gain the benefits of a cloud, build tools and process that won't need to be redeveloped later and be ready to easily move into a public cloud space? The answer is consistency.

While there are other vendors that can supply similar features, I'm focusing on Microsoft and its Windows Azure cloud offering. Before you go running away, be aware that it's the lesson that's important, not necessarily the brand. Microsoft has a battle-tested cloud platform that you can set up internally as a private cloud for free.

The Microsoft WAP is a free download that, when coupled with System Center, provides you a consistent cloud platform, from the management interfaces and APIs to the tools and automation capabilities. Put simply, it creates a private cloud looks and feels like the Windows Azure public cloud.

With WAP in place, you can begin to turn your existing server virtualization and application deployment environments into a complete private cloud with all the benefits of public cloud. You can start the process of integrating and building self-service portals, building your workflow automation, all the needs of an agile business. When the business decides it wants to scale out to the public cloud, all your hard work in the private cloud -- on that consistent platform -- lets you easily move to Windows Azure, saving you hundreds, if not thousands, of hours.

Regardless of your vendor selections, the focus on consistency between your on-premises environment and the public cloud should be part of your cloud strategy.

Now for the technical part. Take a few research hours in a lab environment and try out how a consistent experience should feel and work.

First, set up a free Windows Azure account from the Azure website and try building a few VMs from the gallery.

Second, set up the Windows Azure Pack in your own lab environment. I'm not going to lie and say this is easy. You need to meet several additional requirements, but there is a great series of blogs by Microsoft team members that will get you started here.

I think you'll quickly find that having a consistent platform and being able to solve problems once for both on-premises and off-premises is how the smart IT pro tackles the cloud strategy problem.

This was first published in April 2014

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