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Part 5: A service catalog will help Vmware admins get ready for cloud computing, public or private.

Part 5 of the series “10 Things VMware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management” that I’ll be publishing over the next couple of weeks.

5. A service catalog will help VMware admins get ready for cloud computing, public or private.

When I first came up with the concept of a service catalog to drive fulfillment process back in 1999 (Yep. 10 years ago. Time flies when you are having fun.) it was obvious that internal shared services like IT needed to emulate the likes of Amazon.

Well, here we are in 2009 and the wheel of time has brought us back to the same place.  Now it’s the data center that is being disrupted rather than end user services.   Customers are beginning to ask:  Why can’t you be more like Amazon EC2? Why can’t you provision fast, at guaranteed cost?

Let’s look at how Amazon EC2 uses the concept of a service catalog and lifecycle management to deliver cloud computing in consumer-like experience.

There’s a lot of talk about the technical aspects of cloud computing, and little the customer side:  Amazon communicates with its customers through a service catalog and lifecycle system.  The brochure part of the catalog is found here.  (I wrote this in more detail in my post: Amazon has written your technical services catalog).

To see the full functionality of this service catalog in action, I broke it down into Structure, Benefits, Pricing and Actionable for simplicity.

Structure

The whole structure looks like this:

It covers what it does, what benefits (hightlights), details, major options and pricing! Then what I call the fine print (aka SLA’s).

Benefits

It doesn’t skimp on benefits.  In fact, benefits and outcomes are front and center. We can do the same with with our virtualization offerings.

They tout their unique differentiators are variable (elastic) cost, while re-assuring that you have complete control, flexibility and of course, it’s inexpensive. In fact, if you read that section, it draws a comparison against an internal data center!  And it gets to heart of what customers don’t like about IT costs; highly fixed, over-bought, hard to plan for, etc.

It also covers the OS, database software and middleware choices. This is an example of going beyond the server.

What are your benefits? What are your unique differentiators?

Pricing

Next, the catalog outlines the main packages: Standard and High CPU.  Two choices, and then some three sub-choicess.

There’s a lot more description, links to explanation, FAQs, etc.  It’s the way they standardize these formerly complicated configurations that is a useful take away.

Pricing follows and there three aspects to highlight.  First, it’s completely and easily understandable as a unit of measure. They use per hour.

Standard Instances Linux/UNIX Windows
Small (Default) $0.10 per hour $0.125 per hour
Large $0.40 per hour $0.50 per hour
Extra Large $0.80 per hour $1.00 per hour

Think of all the complexity of running a datacenter: people, machines and facilities, etc. Amazon gets it down to controllable unit of of measure, hours. As a customer, I can choose to consume and hour or not.  That’s a level of control that’s appealing to me.  Is this the right unit of measure for every customer? No. It will depends on your customer and the benefit they want to buy. (More in future postings).

Second, they include all the pricing units for network, storage and servers.  Your complete datacenter (almost) configuration.

Third, some charges like data transfer charges are harder to map to controllable costs, so Amazon provides a pricing calculator to help translate these costs into the potential bill. And they provide sample configurations and estimates.

Except for chargeback, which you are doing or not, every leson is directly applicable to how we present virtual environments.

How does the catalog play a role? In two ways, it establishes the standards which enable self-service and then uses those to meter and report to your account what your consumed.

Actionable!

Finally, this catalog is NOT STATIC. It’s completely actionable.   If you have an account and log in, Amazon provides:

  • Self-service ordering, configuration and deployment. This request management against known, vetted standards is core to making cloud computing work. Think if Amazon had to go back and forth for weeks with a user about their configurations?
  • Account management functions. The customer can perform a variety of actions on their own to manage the lifecycle of virtual instance.
  • Consumption management and billing.  The customer gets clear, hourly consumption metrics.

In other words, Amazon delivers a very complete service catalog tool set to enable cloud computing. I like that they have brought the ease of their regular catalog to a more complex environment. And ease wins.

Amazon has redefined the expectations and pricing for data center services. Make no mistake, they are your competitors. Now the challenge is to respond with your own service catalog and differentiated service definitions.

So if your plans are to provide private cloud computing to your users, or at least behave as one, you need to consider a service catalog very early on to help you establish standards, service levels, and provisioning processes.

This time, we ought to know one thing: No Catalog, No Cloud.

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