The Private Cloud

The Private Cloud

Running a Computer Within a Computer

Before we can talk about the Private Cloud, we need to look at the infrastructure that runs on top of it: the server virtualisation software. The concept at the core of server virtualisation is the hypervisor[1] (also called a virtual machine monitor).

A hypervisor is a thin software layer that intercepts operating system calls to hardware. Hypervisors typically provide a virtualised CPU and memory for the guests running on top of them. What this means in layman’s terms is that you can run multiple virtual servers within one physical server.

Here is an example of a three-node server farm:

Figure 1 – A Three-node Server Farm

In this case, ten virtual servers live on two physical servers; five more servers could be added if the capacity on the third physical server were used.

The History of Virtualisation at CBC/Radio-Canada

Seven years ago, Information Technology (IT) deployed a virtualisation technology developed by a start-up company called VMware[2] well before the concept of Cloud solutions was discussed. The idea of consolidating multiple servers on a single hardware platform had been developed by IBM over 30 years ago for mainframes, but it had never been attempted on Intel commodity servers.

Initially, VMware was used exclusively in non-production environments whilst waiting for the technology to gain maturity. However, over the course of the last five years, IT has used VMware to virtualise physical servers as they reached the end of their lifecycles, which allowed for a reduction of the total numbers of physical servers required within CBC/Radio-Canada’s Data Centres. The technology has been used primarily for Windows servers, but Linux servers are now also virtualised. New server deployments, with very few exceptions, run on VMware as virtual machines.

The Private Cloud

The Cloud software is an automation layer that sits above the virtualisation software and allows for the central management of all of the virtual servers. The interface is normally a website, and users access the portal to manage their systems and request new ones.

Here is a screenshot of the provisioning section user portal of our system:

Figure 2 – Provisioning Section User Portal

Administrators access the portal to manage the health of the entire infrastructure.

Here is a screenshot of the administration portal of our system:

Figure 3 – Administration Portal

Some of the benefits of Cloud computing are that:

  1. Agility improves with the users' ability to re-provision technological infrastructure resources
  2. Capital costs are reduced, as less hardware is required to run the same number of servers
  3. Reliability is improved due to the clustered nature of the virtual server hosts. Virtual servers can move to a new physical server in the event of a hardware failure; consequently, this also makes maintenance much easier.
  4. Scalability and elasticity of resources are improved due to the ability to grow or shrink the resources on the fly.

All-in-One or À la Carte

An assessment of the market for Cloud management software was conducted and two products were selected for a Proof of Concept evaluation: the VMware vCloud Director[3] and the Embotics V-Commander[4].

Neither product met all of the selection criteria, but V-Commander from Embotics was the clear winner due to its cost, ease of configuration, and features. While the individual features in the various vCloud modules (e.g., chargeback and reporting) were often more extensive than the Embotics equivalents, they were also more difficult to set up and considerably more expensive due to vCloud’s individual licensing of modules.

Building the Cloud

During the course of the 2010 fiscal year, the purchase was made and the first phase of the Private Cloud was implemented. The IT Applications development team was the initial customer, and the Private Cloud allowed the team to quickly deploy new environments and manage these resources independently. The two primary functions of the implementation were:

1. The deployment of new servers – CBC/Radio-Canada has over 1,000 virtual servers between the test, development, quality assurance, and production environments.
2. The implementation of virtual desktops to test new technology – the Corporation’s virtual test lab normally has between 50 and 100 virtual desktops.

Where We Are Now

Here is a screenshot of the Operational Dashboard in Embotics as of mid-June 2013:

Figure 4 – Embotics Operational Dashboard

What all of this means is that CBC/Radio-Canada is supporting 1,182 machines hosted on 130 physical servers in 53 different locations. Most of the Corporation’s infrastructure is in Montreal and Toronto, with two thirds of the virtual machines residing in those locations. By using this management interface, the IT team is able to:

  1. Migrate resources from one physical location to another
  2. Clone servers
  3. Deploy new servers through automation
  4. View and manage the performance of any virtual machine or physical host
  5. Adjust the RAM, CPU, or storage capacity of any virtual machine
  6. Perform capacity planning to see when new hardware will be needed.

Future Direction

Support for Amazon Web Services[5] (AWS) is currently in beta testing and will be available for general release later on this year. This will allow IT’s Private Cloud to connect to the Public Cloud; consequently, resources will be able to move between both Clouds without any difficulty. This will provide CBC/Radio-Canada with the flexibility to run systems on the Corporation’s premises or in the Public Cloud. One of the potential use cases is for testing new platforms. For example, a new software application could be implemented and tested in the AWS Cloud. If the testing should prove successful, the system could then be migrated to our internal Private Cloud, where operating costs would be lower; if the testing should not prove successful, the AWS server(s) can simply be deleted.

Thanks to this, CBC/Radio-Canada will be able to avoid purchasing infrastructure for projects until the Corporation has absolute certainty that projects will be implemented. This is one of the many ways in which CBC/Radio-Canada is making the most of new technologies to increase efficiency and do more with the resources that it receives from the Canadian taxpayer.


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