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Building a scalable infrastructure: How can cloud providers do it?

Can you name a few steps cloud providers can take to create efficient scalable infrastructures? How do these qualities positively affect a customer's experience?

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Many steps are available for cloud providers to take to enhance their platforms' efficiency and scale. I mention three techniques here that have great upsides and are possible in a number of different platform environments. Of course, the exact method of deployment and the types of outcomes an operator achieves depend on the local circumstances, but each of these provides a relevant and compelling opportunity for service delivery enhancement.

I've chosen three steps for this dialogue that can contribute significantly to efficiency, scale and positive customer experience:

  • Integrating service portal selections with resource auto-provisioning and other operational support system applications;
  • Including software-based appliances in service delivery infrastructures; and
  • Employing workload placement optimizers in cloud orchestration platforms. 

In the first case, we know that a priority in cloud service delivery is that services be made available on demand, preferably in near-real-time, from customer self-service portals. To make this real and as seamless as possible, one approach is to integrate the online service catalogue with the provisioning automation system the operator uses to allocate requested resources. Using templates (or blueprints) in provisioning systems to streamline deployment is one way to make this integration efficient and scalable (by expanding the number of options the operator can offer, and accelerating the rate at which they can be set up and torn down). Cloud orchestration platforms are increasingly incorporating template creation options for service bundle provisioning across a variety of infrastructure resources (virtual machines, storage and networks). Operators who take advantage of these capabilities will not only increase their efficiency and scale, they'll provide customers with responsive and versatile service management that can go a long way toward creating loyalty and enthusiasm for the operator's offerings.

The second item in our list is using software-based appliances as part of service delivery blueprints. Software-based appliances are functions such as firewalling, intrusion detection and load balancing deployable in software as modules in the virtual machines that comprise the operator's cloud service offering. Frequently they are designed to be complementary to the somewhat less flexible hardware-based versions of the same appliances that historically have been placed at different points in the operator's infrastructure. Software-based appliances are increasingly available in a variety of hypervisor environments for an expanding array of functions. By increasing an operator's flexibility in service design, accelerating their deployment speed and lowering overall cost, they provide an attractive approach to strengthening both quality and affordability of services. Customers benefit from the responsiveness and customized functions they can obtain, along with the cloud-scale economics.

The last item in the list is using the workload placement optimizing functions provided in a growing number of cloud orchestration platforms. These modules monitor the state of resources (such as virtual machines and storage) and calculate -- at the time of order placement -- the optimum location for a new resource. Calibrations are usually context-aware, so an understanding of the customer's application and IT workload mix is taken into account. The odds of performing the additions in conformance with the customer's service-level agreement targets are increased. By leveraging these functions, operators can make optimal workload location decisions faster, and their customers will experience a higher quality of service. 

Each of these techniques offers a way cloud service providers can increase their efficiency and scale with a positive effect on customer experience. There are others to consider beyond this list, but using any of these is likely to have a positive impact on a provider's business.

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This was first published in August 2013

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