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MicroStrategy credits vCloud Suite with putting its PaaS on the map

Business intelligence provider MicroStrategy was able to reduce its physical server footprint by more than 30 racks using the vCloud Suite.

With virtualized technology maturing, companies that have developed a solid private cloud are going public and extending expertise beyond the borders of their data centers by offering Platform as a Service (PaaS) to their customers.

MicroStrategy, a business intelligence and mobile software provider, is using vCloud Enterprise Suite to cut in-house costs by reducing the number of physical servers it uses and increasing sales by offering PaaS. Alex Freixas, vice president of worldwide information systems at MicroStrategy, explains the company's strategy and where he hopes VMware will go in the future.

Why did you choose vCloud Suite? What does your infrastructure look like?

Alex Freixas: VCloud offers a centralized compute provisioning and centralized resource management. We can bring back wasted resources that previously were scattered around different workloads. Our customers needed more database power for a lot of database interfaces. We had hundreds of physical servers deployed for that.

The up-front cost of adding servers for database hosting was offset by reducing our production server footprint with the private cloud. Implementing vCloud allowed us to decommission 33 racks of physical servers.

End users can self-provision resources from templates with vCloud Enterprise Suite. We prevent VM sprawl/[virtual data center] sprawl by giving users quotas. For example, User A can only have x number of VMs at a given time. There are also quotas on VMs in the app catalog and on storage. VCloud can put leased resources into a 30-day quarantine, then delete the VM and recover the resources after 60 days. Reminders go out to the end users automatically.

We use vCenter Operations Manager to gain insights into over- or underprovisioned servers. For example, a VM might deploy with eight vCPUs [virtual CPUs], but we can tell from vCOps [VMware vCenter Operations Manager] that it only needs four vCPUs for the workload. We can resize on the fly.

We have a 30-blade cluster with 3,000 servers, so capacity planning is crucial. VCenter Ops' forecasting reports prevent resource issues before they happen. We've had 100% uptime on our private cloud since November 2011. Resource planning, cluster balancing and VMware High Availability all contribute to this uptime. There are hundreds of vMotions taking place on any given day, but users aren't affected.

What's different between your private cloud and public cloud deployments?

Freixas: The private cloud for our developers and users was a test bed to prove that an environment that complex could be managed. The public cloud supports our customers who are constrained by large BI [business intelligence] environments and need to procure compute resources, as well as people to manage those resources.

It usually takes months to implement new computing infrastructure. With the public cloud, we can stand up turnkey environments in less than 48 hours. We offer Platform as a Service [PaaS]. It's much faster to get in place, and it also avoids capital expenditures on projects that could either fail or have a planned end time. For example, our customers in the pharmaceutical sector may need to stand up a significant BI environment for the molecules they're developing for a new drug. But once the drug has been designed, the capital expenditures would just go into standby.

The public cloud PaaS offering has scalability and elasticity. Our workloads on it vary from customer to customer. Retail sector customers are another good example. For retail BI, 90% of the workloads are run on Mondays between 7 a.m. and noon. And there's a huge scale-up around the holiday season.

The public cloud infrastructure also allows our sales team to spin up proof-of-concept demos nearly instantly.

Public cloud has different SLAs [service-level agreements] and use cases [from] our private cloud for developers and internal staff. Public cloud users don't directly access vCloud Director, for instance. They arrive in the platform hosted on the vCloud infrastructure. But vCloud Director has been equally suited to our private and public cloud use cases, just deployed in different ways.

How would you improve vCloud?

Freixas: I hope to see VMware put [virtual desktop infrastructure] onto vCloud in the next or near-future product iterations. We're going to jump on that wagon as quickly as possible. We don't want to provision physical desktops any more. The goal is to have terminals that connect via vCloud worldwide, from any device. PCs are going to disappear.

I'm also expecting VMware to enhance [VMware High Availability], disaster recovery and Site Recovery Manager features in the near future. We're closely considering [storage resource management] now, but it needs more integration with the rest of the vCloud suite.

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