How to build a better cloud: do like the big commercial players

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Forrester Research says it got enough request from big enterprises for advice on how to run their clouds like the big service providers, that it sat down to outline what best practices enterprises could pick up from the service providers.

In a recent report, Forrester interviewed Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, Rackspace, SoftLayer and Colt and concluded that businesses can’t get all the benefits those companies enjoy because of their size but that they can learn a lot from the commercial service providers.

Here are the top tips:

--Buy cheaper servers. Forrester said that it found that mainstream vendors charge a 10-times premium over the raw cost of capacity. But a large storage service provider that bought the bare minimum configuration reduced that premium to low single digits. This is one that we’ve heard a lot about but it sounds like most businesses are stuck in their long-time vendor relationships and haven’t yet made the leap to the cheaper stuff.

--Standardize. By that, I don’t mean use official standards. Forrester found that the big service providers save costs by setting a standard configuration and sticking with it. Using a consistent workload architecture, middleware or virtual infrastructure layers drive a lot of efficiencies, Forrester found.

--Automation. Automation is huge, Forrester found. And, it said the cloud providers do as much as they can via scripts, open source tools and internally developed tools. Those options work out better than the enterprise management stacks offered by the traditional vendors, Forrester said.

--Smart human resources. The big cloud providers get buy with fewer but smarter engineers. Partly, that’d due to scale. For instance, Forrester found that 11 people manage the tens of thousands of servers running its cloud offering in its Dallas data center. The same facility require 90 people to manage the hundreds of servers that support its managed services offerings.

Forrester talked to another company, PeakColo, that said it hires fewer engineers but goes for those with different kinds of skills. Its admins spend 20 percent to 30 percent of their time scripting. Any kind of manual work slows everything down.

--Do better at power management. While cooling and power are bigger issues for service providers, enterprises can benefit from the advanced techniques used by the service providers, Forrester said. Taking advantage of those tools can help cut costs.

--Go public. Forrester’s final piece of advice is that if for whatever reason you can’t adopt many of these practices, why not start using a public cloud or even go hybrid.

As Forrester noted, size means that the service providers will always be able to drive more efficiencies into their businesses. But why not learn what you can from them.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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